Archive for August, 2012

How nuclear bombs were tested over the Pacific ocean

August 16, 2012

Going Nuclear Over the Pacific , Past Imperfect, August 15, 2012“…Fifty years ago this summer there were strange doings in the skies above earth as well…..  But of all the things happening in the skies that summer, nothing would be quite as spectacular, surreal and frightening as the military project code-named Starfish Prime . Just five days after Americans across the country witnessed traditional Fourth of July fireworks displays, the Atomic Energy Commission created the greatest man-made light show in history when it launched a thermonuclear warhead on the nose of a Thor rocket, creating a suborbital nuclear detonation 250 miles above the Pacific Ocean. (more…)

Need to carefully monitor diseases and deaths from Fukushima radiation

August 16, 2012

[in the 12 months after Fukushima]  an excess of 38,700 Japanese deaths, with no obvious cause.

Nobody should yet race to conclusions that 38,700 Japanese died from Fukushima exposure in the first year after the disaster.  

The final element needed before conclusions are made is patience; vital statistics must continue to be tracked, and compared with radiation exposures to the Japanese people.

[In 2009] A team of Russian researchers, led by Dr. Alexey Yablokov, published results of 5,000 reports and articles on Chernobyl – many in Russian languages never before made public. Yahlokov’s team concluded that near Chernobyl, increases in disease sand deaths were observed for nearly every human organ system.

Let the Counting Begin Fukushima’s Nuclear Casualties by JOSEPH MANGANO, 15 Aug 12 It’s been nearly 18 months since the disastrous nuclear meltdown at Fukushima.  There have been many reports on the huge amounts of radioactivity escaping into the air and water, unusually high levels in air, water, and soil – along with atypically high levels of toxic chemicals in food – that actually “passed” government inspection and wasn’t banned like some other food.

Conspicuously absent are reports on effects of radiation exposure on the health of the Japanese people.  Have any health officials publicly announced post-March 2011 numbers on fetal deaths, infant deaths, premature births, birth defects, cancer, or other health conditions? The answer so far is an emphatic “no.”

The prolonged silence doesn’t mean data doesn’t exist.  Japanese health officials have been busy with their usual duties of collecting and posting statistics on the Internet for public inspection.  It’s just that they aren’t calling the public’s attention to these numbers.
Thus, it is the public who must find the information and figure out what it means.  After locating web sites, translating from Japanese, adding data for each of 12 months, and making some calculations, mortality trends in Japan after Fukushima are emerging. (more…)

USA nuclear reactors can’t cope with extremely hot weather

August 16, 2012

Extreme Heat, Drought Show Vulnerability of Nuclear Power Plants  By Robert Krier, InsideClimate News, 15 Aug 12, “……— The Vermont Yankee plant near Brattleboro had to limit output four times in July because of low river flow and heat. At one point, production was reduced to 83 percent of capacity.

— FristEnergy Corp’s Perry 1 reactor in Ohio dropped production in late July to 95 percent of capacity because of above-average temperatures.

— Operators of the Braidwood, Ill., nuclear plant 60 miles southwest of Chicago sought and were granted a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency to raise the temperature of a cooling pond to 102 degrees—2 degrees above the established limit. The pond holds water cycled through the plant for cooling and then discharged. If the plant had not received the waiver, it would have had to scale back production in the middle of an intense heat wave. Kraft said the nuclear plants’ operating difficulties are part of a recurring pattern. In the summer of 1988, drought, high temperatures and low river volumes forced Commonwealth Edison to reduce power by 30 percent or shut down, in some cases, at the Dresden and Quad Cities plants in Illinois.

“That was the first wake-up call that plants would be vulnerable in a climate-disrupted world,” Kraft said.

There have been many more instances since:

— Europe, summer of 2003. During the heat wave that killed more than 30,000 people, France, Germany and Spain had to choose between allowing reactors to exceed design standards and thermal discharge limits and shutting down reactors. Spain shut down its reactors, while France and Germany allowed some to operate and shut down others.

— Illinois, summer of 2005. EPA and state officials considered easing thermal discharge standards because of drought, but a break in the weather made it unnecessary.

— Illinois, Minn., July 29 to Aug. 2, 2006. The Prairie Island (Minn.) plant had to reduce output by 54 percent. The Quad Cities, Dresden and Monticello plants in Illinois also cut power to moderate water discharge temperatures.

— Michigan, July 30, 2006. The Donald C. Cook reactors in Michigan were shut down during a severe heat wave because temperatures in a containment building exceeded the regulatory limit of 120 degrees.

— Southeast U.S, Aug. 5-12, 2008. The Tennessee Valley Authority lost a third of nuclear capacity due to drought conditions. All three Browns Ferry reactors in Alabama were idled to prevent overheating of the Tennessee River.

— France, July 2009. France had to purchase power from England because almost a third of its nuclear generating capacity was lost when it had to cut production to avoid exceeding thermal discharge limits.

— Southeast U.S., July, August 2011. The TVA reduced power at Browns Ferry to stay within discharge limits. At one point, all three of the reactors cut output to about 50 percent. Had the plant been operating at full capacity, the downstream temperature on the Tennessee River would have exceeded the 90-degree limit….

Thorium and molten salt reactors – full of problems

August 16, 2012
Thorium: Not ‘green’, not ‘viable’, and not likely   Oliver Tickell, April / May 2012. 1. Introduction ”With uranium-based nuclear power continuing its decades-long economic
collapse, it’s awfully late to be thinking of developing a whole new fuel cycle  whose problems differ only in detail from current versions.” Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute, March 2009.
A number of commentators have argued that most of the problems associated with  nuclear power could be avoided by both:
 using thorium fuel in place of uranium or plutonium fuels
 using ‘molten salt reactors’ (MSRs) in place of conventional solid fuel reactor
The combination of these two technologies is known as the Liquid Fluoride Thorium  Reactor or LFTR, because the fuel is in form of a molten fluoride salt of thorium and  other elements.
In this Briefing, we examine the validity of the optimistic claims made for thorium  fuel, MSRs and the LFTR in particular.
We find that the claims do not stand up to  critical scrutiny, and that these technologies have significant drawbacks including:
 the very high costs of technology development, construction and operation.
 marginal benefits for a thorium fuel cycle over the currently utilised uranium /
plutonium fuel cycles
 serious nuclear weapons proliferation hazards
 the danger of both routine and accidental releases of radiation, mainly from
continuous ‘live’ fuel reprocessing in MSRs
 the very long lead time for significant deployment of LFTRs of the order of half  a century – rendering it irrelevant in terms of addressing current or medium  term energy supply need….
…. We therefore see little prospect that LFTRs will present an economic solution if and  when they are ever ready for large scale deployment. Any money invested in LFTRs,
whether by governments, utilities or other investors, is likely to be wasted.
Far better to invest in the renewable technologies that are already shaping our national  and global future, and whose cost is rapidly falling – in the process developing  valuable UK-based expertise and technologies, and accelerating the renewables  revolution.

Thorium reactors – the great white hope for the nuclear industry? Not really

August 16, 2012

Thorium: Not ‘green’, not ‘viable’, and not likely
Journalist, Oliver Tickell, author of the Kyoto2 climate initiative, (1) editor of the Nuclear Pledge website (2) and Green Party candidate for Oxford City Council in three elections, has published a new briefing on Thorium reactors.
A number of commentators have argued that most of the problems associated with nuclear power could be avoided by both, using thorium fuel in place of uranium or plutonium fuels and using ‘molten salt reactors’ (MSRs) in place of conventional solid fuel reactor designs. The combination of these two technologies is known as the Liquid Fluoride Thori um Reactor or LFTR, because the fuel is in form of a molten fluoride salt of thorium and other elements.
The briefing examines the validity of the optimistic claims made for thorium fuel, MSRs and the LFTR in particular, and finds that they do not stand up to critical scrutiny – these technologies have significant drawbacks including: very high costs; marginal benefits for a thorium fuel cycle over uranium; serious nuclear weapons proliferation hazards; the danger of both routine and accidental releases of radiation, mainly from continuous ‘live’ fuel reprocessing in MSRs and the very long lead time for significant deployment of LFTRs of perhaps 50 years  – rendering it irrelevant in terms of addressing current or medium term energy supply needs.
The thorium-uranium fuel cycle has some advantages over the dominant uranium-plutonium cycle, in terms for example, of the reduced production of long-lived actinides and somewhat diminished radio -toxicity overall. However, it also creates new hazards of its own. As far as radioactive fission products are concerned, there is little to choose between the two.
Thorium reactors do not produce plutonium. But an LFTR could (by including 238U in the fuel) be adapted to produce plutonium of a high purity well above normal weapons-grade, presenting a major proliferation hazard. Beyond that, the main proliferation hazards arise from the need for fissile material (plutonium or uranium) to initiate the thorium fuel cycle, which could be diverted, and the production of fissile uranium 233U.
LFTRs are theoretically capable of a high fuel burn-up rate, but while this may indeed reduce the volume of waste, the waste is more radioactive due to the higher volume of radioactive fission products. The continuous fuel reprocessing that is characteristic of LFTRs will also produce hazardous chemical and radioactive waste streams, and releases to the environment will be unavoidable. Spent fuel from any LFTR will be intensely radioactive and constitute high level waste. The reactor itself, at the end of its lifetime, will constitute high level waste.
The UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) believes that considerable research, development and testing lies ahead before thorium fuels will be ready for operational use. As the NNL states,  “Thorium reprocessing and waste management are poorly understood. The thorium fuel cycle cannot be considered to be mature in any area.” It estimates that 10-15 years work is required before thorium fuels will be ready for use in current reactor designs, and that their use in new types of reactor is at least 40 years away. (3)

(3)  Thorium: Not Green, Not Viable and Not Likely, Oliver Tickell, June 2012

How one USA President slowed down the nuclear war danger

August 16, 2012

Carter entered office and promptly pushed through Congress the 1978 Non-Proliferation Act

Carter’s U.S. nuclear doctrine was enormously unpopular among America’s nuclear science elite

To the chagrin of the powerful nuclear weapons and nuclear power lobbies, Carter abandoned the idea of a new nuclear renaissance.

 Jimmy Carter’s re-election defeat brought the nuclear establishment another opportunity.

United States Circumvented Laws To Help Japan Accumulate Tons of Plutonium, DC Bureau By Joseph Trento,  April 9th, 2012 “….Stopping the Spread of Fissile Material After Jimmy Carter won the presidency in 1976, he instituted an aggressive policy to control the spread of fissile materials. As a former nuclear reactor engineer on a Navy submarine, Carter knew better than any other world leader the immense power locked up in plutonium and highly enriched uranium. He was determined to keep it out of the hands of even our closest non-nuclear allies – including Japan.
Carter had good reason for this policy. Despite Japan’s ratification of the NPT in 1976, a study conducted for the CIA the following year named Japan as one of the three countries most able to go nuclear before 1980. Only the Japanese people’s historic opposition to nuclear weapons argued against Japanese deployment. Every other factor argued for a Japanese nuclear capability.

By now the CIA – and its more secretive sister agency, the NSA — had learned the position of Japan’s inner circle.

Carter knew the incredibly volatile effect plutonium would have on world stability.  (more…)

Low level radiation affects later generations – butterfly research shows

August 16, 2012

When second generation butterflies with abnormal traits mated with healthy ones, the rate of abnormalities rose to 34 percent in the third generation

It was after breeding them, they  noticed various abnormalities that hadn’t been seen in the previous generation, such as malformed antennae.

Radiation from Fukushima power plant meltdown ‘triggers genetic mutations in butterflies’
Abnormal wings and antennae found in Japan’s insects Genetic damage ‘can be passed down generations’ Defect rate as high as 52 per cent in some offspring
  DAILY MAIL, 14 August 2012 Butterflies in Japan are suffering from ‘serious abnormality’ following the radioactive fallout after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. (more…)

Poor monitoring a likely danger for rare earths mining in Greenland

August 16, 2012

Will Mining For Rare Earth Metals Destroy Greenland?  12 Aug 12,  To stop China’s stranglehold on the minerals necessary for our digital economy, mining companies are looking to the icy expanse of Greenland. But with no regulation, no light, and no oversight, what will those mines do to this pristine Arctic landscape?

Without rare earth metals, we can’t have a digitally driven, cleantech-powered economy. Up until recently, that has put the world at the mercy of China, which is responsible for 97% of global output of these 17 minerals, found in lithium-ion batteries, laser pointers, electric car motors, solar panels, wind turbines, and more. But that may be about to change. The U.S. is gearing up to start mining for rare earth metals, and now Greenland is as well. The only problem: Greenland may not be ready to handle the huge mining operations that are about to arrive.

Greenland is a wealth of rare earth metals, with enough of the minerals to supply a quarter of global demand–if mining companies can extract them. In many cases, the minerals lie below thick ice sheets. And even the ones that don’t are in such remote locations that any impact from accidents would be multiplied, much like the offshore drilling operations planned off the coast of Alaska.

There are currently four large-scale mining projects that are about to be initiated in Greenland, two of which are for rare earth metals. Over 120 mining sites are being explored, according to the Guardian. “If you look at mining in other places, it’s kind of similar problems but in Greenland the thing that makes it different is the lack of ability to control the companies. There are not enough people–there are 57,000 people in the whole country,” says Jon Burgwald of Greenpeace. And the Greenland Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum that’s supposed to oversee everything from finances to environmental impact? It’s made up of about 30 people.

Mix a tiny agency with mining behemoths and you have a recipe for bad behavior. With no natural light for huge chunks of the year, it’s difficult for companies to monitor waste water spills. Not that they would care–Greenland doesn’t have any facilities to process waste water in the first place.

The operations could potentially endanger fish stocks and marine mammals that are already under pressure from climate change. And while Greenland has a zero tolerance policy for uranium mining, Burgwald is concerned that might soon change. “From the time you take [uranium] out, there’s nuclear waste involved. There are no real examples of uranium mining where you don’t see quite serious discharge of nuclear hazardous waste into the local environment.” Uranium can be extracted as a byproduct from rare earth deposits.

So what’s the world to do? Without rare earths, we can’t ditch oil, coal mines, and other dirty sources of energy. Clearly, though, rare earths come with all sorts of hazards themselves (for more, check out this piece on the health hazards of rare earth mining in China).

There are ways to mine in “a decent manner,” according to Burgwald. That would involve an extreme scaling-up of the Greenland Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum, strengthening best-practice terms for companies, and implementing a zero-discharge policy. “Right now the Greenland administration is going forward at such a high pace they’re losing themselves in the process,” says Burgwald. “The EU has a fairly good track record. Closer collaboration would help.”

Cancer from dental X rays

August 16, 2012

Dental X-Rays Linked To Meningiomas    13 Aug 12, – W. Gifford-Jones M.D.  What should you do the next time the dentist tells you he or she is going to take full dental X-rays? A new study shows that just as porcupines make love very, very carefully you should also take care to limit the amount of radiation exposure during your lifetime, particularly the amount your children receive.

Dr. Elizabeth Claus of Yale University reports in the American Cancer Society Journal “Cancer”, that there’s a link between dental x-rays and the risk of developing a brain tumour called a meningioma.

These tumours grow from the meninges, the layers of tissue that cover the brain. Fortunately, most meningiomas are benign. Others are slow growing, but they can become life-threatening when they become as large as a baseball, compressing brain tissue. Meningiomas account for 34 percent of all primary brain tumours, can occur at any age, and are twice as common among women as in men.

Formerly it was believed that the main cause of meningiomas was ionizing radiation due to atomic bombs or radiation received during cancer treatment. Now, Dr. Claus says the main risk is dental x-rays.

Dr. Claus and her colleagues studied 1,433 Americans who had meningiomas with 1350 others who did not have this tumour, but who were of the same age profile, sex ratio and geographical area. The researchers then analyzed the dental and medical history of both groups.

For instance, they were questioned whether their dentist had ordered standard X-rays, known as bite-wings, every year, never, or now and then. Finally they were asked if they had ever had braces which involve full mouth X-rays.

Dr. Claus concluded that those who reported having full mouth X-rays before 10 years of age were 4.9 times more likely to develop a meningioma. Those who had full mouth X-rays later than 10 years of age were three times more prone to this tumour.

This should flash a red light for parents.   So how can you avoid needless dental radiation? According to Dr Claus all children who get braces today also get full mouth X-rays. None of my children had braces, but most of my grandchildren have had them. The question is how many of them really needed braces and has this practice become a fashionable trend? Is the risk worthwhile if only for cosmetic reasons?

Never accept this rationale if a dental technician says, “Don’t worry. You get more radiation exposure from a day in the sun or flying to the Caribbean”. I agree that today dental X-rays expose patients to less radiation than in the past. But little bits of radiation mount up, particularly when one totals the exposure received from other X-ray tests. Radiation isn’t like an infection that’s cured by antibiotics. Rather, radiation is cumulative and, like elephants, our bodies never forget the amount received during a lifetime.

I’ve always worried about needless radiation and many years ago one of my columns made headline news. I discovered that some patients were receiving huge amounts of radiation from dental and other X-rays. For instance, some X-ray equipment had not been serviced for 15 years! This sparked a major investigation by the government.

Dental X-rays are, of course, required for legitimate reasons. But like anything they can be overdone. So always ask if the X-ray is really needed. No one really knows how much radiation we can receive before it causes trouble.

Ideally we should all have radiation cards that show how much radiation we’ve accumulated. Particularly since one of the major tests today is the CT scan that delivers large amounts of radiation. But hell will freeze over before such cards are in general usage.

So what should parents do? I’d agree that markedly crooked teeth deserve to have braces as the radiation dose does not compare with a CT scan. But for lesser imperfections it may be prudent for parents to ask, “Should I subject my child to potential risk of radiation and a meningioma, and how important is it for my child to have the perfect smile?”

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Low level radiation: effects on Chernobyl ‘s and Fukushima’s small wildlife

August 16, 2012

University of South Carolina, Prof Tim Mousseau et al, genetic survey of small wildlife, Fukushima.   “…….  Abundance of birds was negatively related to radiation in Chernobyl and Fukushima. ► Effects of radiation on abundance differed between Chernobyl and Fukushima and among species. ► For 14 species common to the two areas the effects of radiation on abundance were stronger in Fukushima than in Chernobyl.…..

Low-level radiation in Fukushima Prefecture appears to have had immediate effects on bird populations, and to a greater degree than was expected from a related analysis of Chernobyl, an international team of scientists reported Feb. 8 in Environmental Pollution.

In July 2011, the researchers identified and counted birds at 300 locations in Fukushima Prefecture, ranging from 15 to 30 miles from the damaged nuclear complex. Largely still open to human occupation, these areas had external radiation levels from 0.5 to 35 microsieverts per hour.

Overall, the bird community as a whole was significantly diminished in the more contaminated areas.

Moreover, the team compared the results to a similar study they undertook in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone from 2006 through 2009. For 14 species of birds found in both locations, the diminution of population size from increased radiation dose was more pronounced at Fukushima than Chernobyl.

According to co-author Timothy Mousseau, a biologist in the University of South Carolina’s College of Arts and Sciences, this suggests that “these birds, which have never experienced radiation of this intensity before, may be especially sensitive to radioactive contaminants.”

However, when comparing all birds, including the species that are not common to both areas, the overall strength of the negative relationship was stronger in Chernobyl than in Fukushima. The authors believe that this may reflect the fact that many species in the most contaminated regions of Chernobyl have now almost completely disappeared.

The study, among the first published scientific reports concerning impacts on terrestrial animal populations in Fukushima, suggests that there are many similarities between the Chernobyl and Fukushima events and provides new insight into the first-generation effects of radiation exposure on animals in the wild. “Our results point to the need for more research to determine the underlying reasons for differences among species in sensitivity, both initially and following many generations of exposure,” said Mousseau.

Although these early data are critical for setting a baseline, Mousseau added that it’s imperative that “large-scale studies be initiated in Fukushima immediately to make the research potentially much more revealing.”…