Archive for March, 2015

Fukushima’s intractable and ever mounting problem of nuclear wastes

March 13, 2015

Fukushima nuclear plant cleanup has cost $13 billion and counting  After 4 years, Fukushima nuclear cleanup remains daunting, vast LA Times, By JULIE MAKINEN contact the reporter 12 Mar 15 “…..Karimata is in charge of the work here in an evacuation zone about 12 miles north of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant—part of the most extensive, and expensive, nuclear cleanup ever attempted.

The scale and complexity of what Japan is trying to do in the aftermath of the 2011 meltdown at Fukushima is mind-boggling. Decontamination plans are being executed for 105 cities, towns and villages affected by the accident at Fukusima Dai-ichi, 140 miles northeast of Tokyo.

Many Japanese regard this massive undertaking as a solemn obligation to right a terrible wrong. Others, even some of the people directly affected, question whether it’s a quixotic waste of resources.

Karimata’s delegation marches up a side street to check on a brigade of laborers wearing gloves, masks, helmets and fluorescent vests with radiation detectors tucked in their chest pockets. Some are spreading fresh soil in the yard of an uninhabited home. Next door, workers are up on a scaffold, preparing to wipe down the roof and gutters.

Across the street, near a bamboo grove, two men are erecting a plastic frame to support a massive double-lined garbage bag about the size of a hot tub. Dozens of identical black sacks, each weighing about a ton and stuffed with radiation-contaminated soil, leaves, wood chippings and other debris, stretch out behind them, awaiting transport at some uncertain date to a yet-unspecified final resting place.

Four years after the Great Tohoku Earthquake shook northern Japan to its core, touched off a deadly tsunami and precipitated the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster, hundreds of square miles remain off-limits for habitation due to radioactivity. Some 79,000 people still cannot return home.

But unlike the 1986 accident at Chernobyl, where authorities simply declared a 1,000 square-mile no-habitation zone, resettled 350,000 people and essentially decided to let the radiation dissipate over decades or centuries, Japan is attempting to make the Fukushima region livable again. It is an unprecedented effort.

The sheer manpower and money dedicated to the house-to-house effort is staggering: In the last four years, the government has spent $13.5 billion on decontamination efforts outside the nuclear plant, and the budget request for the fiscal year starting in April is another $3.48 billion, said Seiji Tsutsui, director of the international cooperation office for radioactive decontamination at the Environment Ministry.

At the peak, some 18,000 people were doing decontamination work; as of early February, that number had dropped to 12,000. But around Minamisoma, there are still so many workers that residents in the northern part of town – which is not under evacuation orders – complain of heavy traffic as laborers commute to job sites and orange, yellow and turquoise backhoes and other equipment is moved from field to field.

The fruits of the laborers’ efforts are stacked in those giant sacks—5.5 million of them and counting. They are spread out across Fukushima province, along roadsides, in parking lots and backyards. They are tagged and bar-coded so authorities know what’s inside and how radioactive it is – and when the bags might start to wear out.

As the bags pile up and workers fan out across the landscape, some locals are questioning the cost-benefit analysis.

“Decontamination – the activity is endless. The huge amount they are spending, maybe it would be better spent helping residents” resettle elsewhere, says Iwao Hoshi, a former city official in Minamisoma. Unlike tsunami victims whose homes were ruined and realized they had to move on, he says, many radiation evacuees are stuck in limbo, knowing their homes are still standing……..

In addition to wiping down roofs, gutters and walls, the workers scrape several inches of soil off the most contaminated farmland and replace it. Less-contaminated ground is “turned over” to a depth of 12 to 16 inches. Forest areas are also being attended to as well—within 65 feet of homes. That work is complex, Karimata says, because radioactive material fell on leaves in 2011, and those leaves then dropped to the ground, and have been covered over by several more seasons of detritus.

“Now, if you remove the top layer, radiation actually goes up. There’s also an erosion problem,” he says. “Many people want us to do the whole forest, but it’s expensive and can create more dangers than we have now.”……

The Environment Ministry wants to wrap up the cleaning brigades by 2017, but where to put all the material they’ve collected remains a vexing challenge. Authorities recently started construction on a massive specialized landfill in a pink zone just outside the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. When complete, it is expected to hold between 16 million and 22 million bags of debris – enough to fill about 15 baseball stadiums…….

Even if all those details could be worked out immediately, there is still the question of just how to get millions of bags of radioactive debris to the landfill. A 10-ton truck can only carry seven bags at a time. At that rate, transport could take decades. Material might have to be put into fresh bags if they start to break down before they can be moved.

Tatsuhiko Kodama, director of Tokyo University’s Radioisotope Center, who has been recruited by Minamisoma to chair its Committee to Promote Decontamination, says the government’s plan is “nearly impossible” and makes no sense.

“The government is simply putting soil into bags with no plan for recycling,” said Kodama, who has been visiting the area on a weekly basis. “The residents don’t trust the government so much.”

Only if the material is condensed will it be possible to gather it in a central location, Kodama believes.

Kodama believes some decontamination of bagged waste can be done locally. To that end, he has been trying to encourage authorities to build local waste recycling facilities that heat soil to high temperatures to remove radioactive material like cesium. A demonstration project that can process 10 tons a day has already been built in Iitate, a ghost town just west of Minamisoma that just before the disaster had been named one of Japan’s most beautiful villages………..http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-fukushima-nuclear-cleanup-20150311-story.html#page=2

 

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How USA media minimised health effects of Fukushima nuclear catastrophe

March 13, 2015

News coverage of Fukushima disaster minimized health risks to general population http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150311124202.htm March 11, 2015 Source: American University

 
Summary:
A new analysis finds that U.S. news media coverage of the Fukushima disaster largely minimized health risks to the general population. Researchers analyzed more than 2,000 news articles from four major U.S. outlets.
Four years after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the disaster no longer dominates U.S. news headlines, though the disabled plant continues to pour three tons of radioactive water into the ocean each day. Homes, schools and businesses in the Japanese prefecture are uninhabitable, and will likely be so forever. Yet the U.S. media has dropped the story while public risks remain.

A new analysis by American University sociology professor Celine Marie Pascale finds that U.S. news media coverage of the disaster largely minimized health risks to the general population. Pascale analyzed more than 2,000 news articles from four major U.S. outlets following the disaster’s occurrence March 11, 2011 through the second anniversary on March 11, 2013. Only 6 percent of the coverage — 129 articles — focused on health risks to the public in Japan or elsewhere. Human risks were framed, instead, in terms of workers in the disabled nuclear plant.

Disproportionate access

“It’s shocking to see how few articles discussed risk to the general population, and when they did, they typically characterized risk as low,” said Pascale, who studies the social construction of risk and meanings of risk in the 21st century. “We see articles in prestigious news outlets claiming that radioactivity from cosmic rays and rocks is more dangerous than the radiation emanating from the collapsing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.”

Pascale studied news articles, editorials, and letters from two newspapers, The Washington Post and The New York Times, and two nationally prominent online news sites, Politico and The Huffington Post. These four media outlets are not only among the most prominent in the United States, they are also among the most cited by television news and talk shows, by other newspapers and blogs and are often taken up in social media, Pascale said. In this sense, she added, understanding how risk is constructed in media gives insight into how national concerns and conversations get framed.

Pascale’s analysis identified three primary ways in which the news outlets minimized the risk posed by radioactive contamination to the general population. Articles made comparisons to mundane, low-level forms of radiation;defined the risks as unknowable, given the lack of long-term studies; and largely excluded concerns expressed by experts and residents who challenged the dominant narrative.

The research shows that corporations and government agencies had disproportionate access to framing the event in the media, Pascale says. Even years after the disaster, government and corporate spokespersons constituted the majority of voices published. News accounts about local impact — for example, parents organizing to protect their children from radiation in school lunches — were also scarce.

Globalization of risk

Pascale says her findings show the need for the public to be critical consumers of news; expert knowledge can be used to create misinformation and uncertainty — especially in the information vacuums that arise during disasters.

“The mainstream media — in print and online — did little to report on health risks to the general population or to challenge the narratives of public officials and their experts,” Pascale said. “Discourses of the risks surrounding disasters are political struggles to control the presence and meaning of events and their consequences. How knowledge about disasters is reported can have more to do with relations of power than it does with the material consequences to people’s lives.”

While it is clear that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown was a consequence of an earthquake and tsunami, like all disasters, it was also the result of political, economic and social choices that created or exacerbated broad-scale risks. In the 21st century, there’s an increasing “globalization of risk,” Pascale argues. Major disasters have potentially large-scale and long-term consequences for people, environments, and economies.

“People’s understanding of disasters will continue to be constructed by media. How media members frame the presence of risk and the nature of disaster matters,” she said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American University. The original article was written by Rebecca Basu. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Politics and problems in dealing with dead nuclear reactors

March 13, 2015

Questions remain over future plan for Japan’s aging nuclear plants Japan Times, 12 Mar 15 BY ERIC JOHNSTON As the debate about what to do with Japan’s aging nuclear reactors intensifies, questions remain about the ramifications of decommissioning plants, and how to tear down the facilities in a way that’s efficient, affordable, safe, and that has the support of the local community.

In the United Kingdom, these concerns formed the basis of a policy that has led to the decommission of numerous power stations, two of which began operating in the 1950s……

Seven of Japan’s 48 commercial reactors are at least 40 years old — in principle their maximum operating life. Another five are at least 35 years old and their fate will have to be decided within the next few years.

Kyushu Electric plans to decommission the 40-year-old Genkai No. 1 plant, while Kepco is expected to shut down the Mihama No. 1 and 2 reactors, both of which are over 40 years old. Chugoku Electric plans to decommission the 41-year-old Shimane No. 1 reactor, while the Tsuruga No. 1 reactor, which is 45 years old and run by Japan Atomic Power, will be closed.

Decommissioning a plant is a decades-long process that does not necessarily immediately involve the most crucial step of tearing down the reactors and hauling away radioactive material.

“During the decommissioning of the Berkeley power station in southwest England, we’ve left the reactor building standing because it’s safer to remove the nuclear material in another 60 years,” Franklin said. “We’ve closed the doors on the reactor building until 2074.”

However, he acknowledged publicly visible gestures were important because they could help reassure local communities that the plant was actually being dismantled.

“A skyline change helps garner support for the decommissioning process and for difficult decisions, such as not tearing down and hauling away nuclear materials in reactor buildings,” he said.

“In one case, we destroyed the plant’s cooling towers, which were not actually a major hazard but could be seen for miles. If you live nearby and you see them come down, you feel progress is being made, and that’s more effective than simply telling people about the progress.”

Perhaps the biggest lesson the U.K. learned was that effective decommissioning starts with addressing the corporate and bureaucratic culture at a nuclear plant.

“Changing your culture from making something — electricity — to actually taking power stations down requires a huge cultural change on a nuclear site. That’s something we’re really working on sharing with Japanese nuclear operators,” Franklin said. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/03/11/national/questions-remain-over-future-plan-for-japans-aging-nuclear-plants/#.VQH9CNKUcnk

Fracking used by Halliburton &co, for decades, to inject nuclear waste underground

March 13, 2015

Shock: Fracking Used to Inject Nuclear Waste Underground for Decades By Aaron Dykes and Melissa Melton Global Research, March 06, 2015 Activist Post 5 March 2015 Unearthed articles from the 1960s detail how nuclear waste was buried beneath the Earth’s surface by Halliburton & Co. for decades as a means of disposing the by-products of post-World War II atomic energy production.

Fracking is already a controversial practice on its face; allowing U.S. industries to inject slurries of toxic, potentially carcinogenic compounds deep beneath the planet’s surface — as a means of “see no evil” waste disposal — already sounds ridiculous, dangerous, and stupid anyway without even going into further detail.Alleged fracking links to the contamination of the public water supply and critical aquifers, as well as ties to earthquake upticks near drilling locations that are otherwise not prone to seismic activity have created uproar in the years since the 2005 “Cheney loophole,” which allowed the industry to circumvent the Safe Drinking Water Act by exempting fracking fluids, thus fast tracking shale fracking as a source of cheap natural gas.

Now, it is apparent that the fracking industry is also privy to many secrets of the nuclear energy industry and, specifically, where the bodies are buried, err… dangerous nuclear waste is buried, rather — waste that atomic researchers have otherwise found so difficult to eliminate.

TruthstreamMedia.com uncovered several published newspaper accounts from the Spring of 1964 concerning a then-newly disclosed plan to dump nuclear waste produced by the atomic energy industry into hydraulic fracturing (fracking) wells using a cement slurry technique developed by Halliburton & Co. The top two fracking companies in the nation at the time were Halliburton and Dowell, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical.

And here we thought fracking was a relatively new industrial phenomenon growing in popularity over just the last couple of decades. Boy were we wrong. Revealed within these articles is Halliburton’s long-standing relationship with the secret government and deep ties between the oil and nuclear industries.

Teaming up with the U.S. Government and Union Carbide Corp., who operate nuclear materials divisions at the Oak Ridge National Laboratories in Tennessee, Halliburton was then credited with “solving” the radioactive waste problem faced by America’s secretive nuclear industry. Dumping waste via fracking had apparently been going on since 1960, according to the reports, but was only made public here in 1964.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Each of the articles Truthstream found carries the same account under different headlines, with four of them using identical copy; and the fifth, published in the San Antonio Express, slightly rewritten based upon the same source information. The photo captions of each story also add some useful tidbits:

These ran in the:

April 19, 1964 edition of the Great Bend Tribune,

the April 22, 1964 edition of the Warren Times-Mirror,

the April 26, 1964 edition of the Lubbock Avalanche Journal,

the May 3, 1964 edition of the San Antonio Express News (original)

and the June 15, 1964 edition of the Denton Record Chronicle.

The story read, in part:

Two techniques originated by the petroleum industry for its own uses are expected to solve a major problem in the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The problem is the disposal of dangerous, sometimes deadly, radioactive waste by-products.

Researchers at Halliburton Co’s. Technical Center here working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists, have combined the oil well cementing technique with the hydraulic fracturing production stimulation technique to entomb radioactive wastes in an impermeable shale formation a thousand feet underground.

The method used at Oak Ridge begins by mixing the waste with a cement slurry, pumping the mixture down a hole drilled into the Conasuaga shale and then fracturing the shale to create a horizontal crack. The crack fills with the mixture to form a thin, horizontal sheet several hundred feet across. The mix sets to permanently hold the radioactive waste in the formation.

Union Carbide Corp., which operates facilities at Oak Ridge for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, and Halliburton, which provides specialized oil field services such as cementing fracturing worldwide, have collaborated on the project since 1960.

The mix remained liquid for 48 hours before it was supposed to permanently set and remain there, entombed, forever.

The articles make clear that the Atomic Energy Commission was preparing to use fracking as a means of disposing of nuclear wastes at additional facilities, with Oak Ridge being simply one of the largest, and the first to publicly disclose these out-of-sight disposal procedures:

Oak Ridge has a radioactive waste disposal problem typical of the nation’s nuclear sites. Each year about four million gallons of waste, including such fission products as strontium 90, cesium 137 and ruthenium 103, are generated at Oak Ridge.

Among the disposal methods already tried have been dumping concrete-encased barrels of waste in the ocean or burying the waste in lead-lined containers. These are considered either too dangerous or too expensive or both.

Unfortunately, the ocean has been used as a giant trashcan not only by the nuclear industry, but municipal garbage and landfill companies and many other entities as well, without any real concern about its significant effects on the food supply and larger ecosystem of the planet.

If this process is successful for disposal of Oak Ridge National Laboratory intermediate-level wastes, it has potential application at other atomic energy sites where suitable geological conditions exist,” the Atomic Energy Commission says.

The slightly different version in the San Antonio Express News added these details:…….

Aaron Dykes and Melissa Melton created TruthstreamMedia.com, where this article first appeared, as an outlet to examine the news, place it in a broader context, uncover the deceptions, pierce through the fabric of illusions, grasp the underlying factors, know the real enemy, unshackle from the system, and begin to imagine the path towards taking back our lives, one step at a time, so that one day we might truly be free. http://www.globalresearch.ca/shock-fracking-used-to-inject-nuclear-waste-underground-for-decades/5435114

 

Fish far away from Fukushima found to be radioactively contaminated

March 13, 2015

Report: Fukushima fallout detected in U.S. fish — Dose equal to samples caught 100 miles from plant — Persistently high levels detected in marine life offshore “not anticipated… orders of magnitude” more than expected — “Measurements needed… along predicted plume trajectory” http://enenews.com/report-fallout-japan-reactors-detected-freshwater-fish-radioactive-dose-equivalent-fish-caught-100-miles-fukushima-reactors-ongoing-measurements-needed-along-predicted-plume-trajectory

Excerpts from Radiological Dose Rates to Marine Fish from the Fukushima Daiichi Accident: The First Three Years Across the North Pacific’, includes authors from Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences and Oregon St. Univ., 2015 (emphasis added):

  • A more complete record is emerging of radionuclide measurements in fish [from]across the Pacific… Fish 100–200 km east of [Fukushima], coastal fish in the Aleutian Islands… and trans-Pacific migratory species, all had increased dose rates as a consequence of the FDNPP accident.
  • FDNPP produced the largest single-event influx of radioactive cesium isotopes into the Pacific [137Cs up to 90 PBqChernobyl total: 70-85 PBq].
  • Dose rates to the most impacted fish species near the FDNPP have remained above benchmark levels for potential dose effects at least three years longer than was indicated by previous, data-limited, evaluations.
  • [Strontium-90] was estimated to contribute up to approximately one-half of the total 2013 dose rate to fish near the FDNPP.
  • Evaluations… suggested that the dose rates to fish near the FDNPP… only briefly remained above the benchmark levels for potential harmful effects… However, subsequent data have indicated highly elevated and persistent accumulation of Cs.
  • Maximally exposed fish near the FDNPP [had] an increase of more than six orders of magnitude… The elevated activity concentrations were not isolated to one sample, or one species. In 2013, activity concentrations of 134,137Cs exceeding [100,000 Bq] kg were measured in more than 100 fish from ten species sampled from FDNPP port… concentrations in [some species] are orders of magnitude higher than predicted.
  • Some of the released radionuclides are being carried long distances
  • At Amchitka Island [in Alaska] the 134,137Cs dose rates to [greenling and rockfish] were only slightly higher than pre-event levels… The increase… appears to be due to atmospheric transport from Fukushima as 134Cs was measured… in freshwater fish[11 Bq/kg in trout].
  • Detections of 134Cs in California water samples gathered in August 2014… suggest incremental dose rate increases to resident fish.
  • Fish at 100–200 km east of the FDNPP, coastal fish in the Aleutian Islands, and trans-Pacific migratory species all had increased dose rates.
  • Persistence of the radionuclides in fish was not anticipated by existing models…ongoing measurements are needed at locations near the FDNPP and further along the predicted plume trajectory… Some areas that have experienced air deposition in 2011 (e.g. Aleutian Islands), should continue monitoring as they may experience a second arrival of 134,137Cs in subsequent years via an oceanic plume.
  • This study was in collaboration with the… IAEA

See also: Gov’t: Alaska island “appears to show impacts from Fukushima” — “Significant cesium signature” — Scientists anticipate further impact as ocean plume arrives (VIDEO)

Deep Borehole Disposal – a way to dispose of SOME radioactive wastes

March 13, 2015

Can’t We Just Throw Our Nuclear Waste Down A Deep Hole?  http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2015/03/05/cant-we-just-throw-our-nuclear-waste-down-a-deep-hole/  James Conca 5 Mar 15 Um…yes, we can. It’s called Deep Borehole Disposal and is pretty easy for some nuclear waste. Especially some highly radioactive materials that have sat in some fairly small capsules for almost 40 years.

This was exactly the topic of discussion in Washington this week when Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz answered questions from Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) at a House Science, Space and Technology committee hearing (Tri-City Herald).

The answer from Moniz was positive. He discussed a pilot project that would demonstrate the idea of deep borehole disposal using these capsules.

Deep borehole disposal is simple. Drill a very deep hole – 3 miles or so – put the waste in it and fill it up with some special layers, but mainly crushed rock and cement. As geologists, we know how many millions of years it takes for anything to get up from that depth in the Earth’s crust.

As long as you don’t put it under an active volcano!

The nice thing about deep borehole disposal is that it doesn’t matter where you put it in the country. At that depth, you’re so deep in the crust that the overlying rocks don’t matter. The water table doesn’t matter. The climate doesn’t matter. Human activities don’t matter.

But why these capsules? Because the material, cesium-137 and strontium-90 chloride salts (137CsCl and 90SrCl2), is in an easy waste form compared to that sludgy gooey stuff that makes up most of the tank waste left over from weapons production. These capsules are dry solid material in relatively small containers – less than 3-inches in diameter and only 2-feet long – very small compared to the large spent fuel assemblies and high-level waste glass logs usually discussed in geologic disposal plans.

Deep borehole disposal for the larger waste containers is trickier and more expensive because we haven’t yet drilled large-diameter holes that deep. Like all technological advances, we will (Sandia National LabsEthan Bates et al 2014). But these capsules are less than 3-inches wide, and we’ve drilled 6 and 8 inch holes that deep many times, so nothing really new needs to be developed for this project.

There are 1,936 capsules filled with radioactive 137CsCl and 90SrCl2 that are stored underwater at the Waste Encapsulation Storage Facility at DOE’s Hanford site in Washington State. Because these radionuclides, left over from plutonium production for weapons, are the primary heat-generator in nuclear waste, they were separated from the rest of the waste almost 40 years ago to reduce heat in the tanks, as well as to use in research.

But there is a time-sensitive nature to these capsules. Although CsCl doesn’t melt until 645°C (1,193°F), it goes through a bizarre solid-state phase change at 450°C (842°F). This means that without melting it’s atoms change their arrangement in space from one structure to another with a very different density. So as the temperature changes across this boundary, the material swells and shrinks. And that tends to degrade the containers it’s in.

The existing containers are beginning to get a little degraded, so best to get rid of them as soon as possible. They’re small, so deep borehole disposal would be cheap and easy.

Since there isn’t much of this boutique nuclear waste, only 5 cubic yards, and it’s in a great form, this is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate deep borehole disposal and clean out this facility.

Like all really hot nuclear waste, these capsules were destined for the proposed deep geologic nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, which was halted in 2010. Since a new permanent federal repository for high-level waste won’t be chosen for decades, we need to rethink our nuclear disposal program.

And this is a good idea, one of the few looked at by thePresident’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future that was formed to come up with a new strategy in the wake of Yucca Mountain’s closure. Their recommendations were basically to pick disposal options suited to the waste and the need. And to get everyone to buy off on them before you start!

These capsules “could be very well suited perhaps for much earlier disposal through a borehole approach,” Moniz said. “We have to drill — we have to do the demonstration project, do the science, which is what we want to do in 2016.”

Budget proposal documents show $2 million for technology development to support plans in fiscal 2016 for what is anticipated to be a multi-year test using a non-radioactive waste substitute. Since Yucca Mountain was projected to cost over $200 billion, this is a steal.

The test would demonstrate technology for sealing the borehole, tools to characterize waste in the borehole and controls on waste isolation. DOE has also sought communities interested in being the site for the borehole test.

Malaysia’s thorium disaster – chronology

March 13, 2015

The Star has discovered that 80,000 200-litre drums containing radioactive waste are currently being kept at the dump located in the Kledang Range behind Papan town. The site is about 3km from Bukit Merah and Papan and about 15km from Ipoh. And the waste is thorium hydroxide, not amang.


Chronology of events in the Bukit Merah Asian Rare Earth developmenthttp://www.consumer.org.my/index.php/health/454-chronology-of-events-in-the-bukit-merah-asian-rare-earth-developments
 Eight men — a welder, a shoemaker, a general worker, a pensioner, a barber, a tractor driver, a crane-operator and a cancer victim who was to die shortly — sued Asian Rare Earth in 1985 on behalf of themselves and 10,000 other residents of Bukit Merah and the environs in Perak. They wanted to shut down this rare earth plant in their village near Ipoh because its radioactive waste was endangering their lives.

When the Mitsubishi joint venture plant opened over 1982, the villagers soon began complaining of the factory’s stinging smoke and bad smell which made them choke and cry. Worse was to come. Their health began failing, indicated not only by frequent bouts of coughs and colds, but a sharp rise in the incidence of leukaemia, infant deaths, congenital disease and lead poisoning.

For the first time in Malaysian legal history, an entire community has risen to act over an environmental issue, to protect their health and environment from radioactive pollution.

Below is the chronology of what happened when a radioactive rare earth plant was set up in Bukit Merah. Today, about 30 years later, the Government is allowing a new rare earth plant to be set up by Lynas in Gebeng, Kuantan. This new project should be scrapped if the Malaysian Government puts the health of Malaysians before profits.

1979  November: The Asian Rare Earth Sdn Bhd (ARE) is incorporated to extract yttrium (a rare earth) from monazite. The major shareholders are the following: Mitsubishi Chemical Industries Ltd (35%), Beh Minerals (35%), Lembaga Urusan dan Tabung Haji or the state-owned Pilgrims’ Management Fund Board (20%) and other bumiputra businessmen (10%). ARE seeks the advice of the Tun Ismail Research Centre (Puspati) of the Science, Technology and Environment Ministry about radioactive waste produced by processing monazite. It is decided that the waste, the property of the Perak State Government, will be kept in view of its potential as a source of nuclear energy.

1982  June : Residents of Parit in Perak learn that a nine-acre site six kilometres away has been chosen by the government as a storage dump for ARE’s radioactive waste.

30 June : Following strong protest by the residents’ committee and other political and social organisations, the plan is scrapped by the government which begins to look for another site to locate the dump.

11 July : ARE factory begins operations at 7.2 km Jalan Lahat in Bukit Merah New Village.

1983  November : Residents of Papan (about 16 kilometres from Ipoh) find out that ARE is building trenches of a waste dump near their town to store radioactive waste. The site had been picked by the government.

1984

24 May : About 6,700 residents of Papan and nearby towns sign a protest letter and send it to the Prime Minister, Perak Menteri Besar, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Science, Technology and Environment.

31 May : About 200 residents from Papan protest against the proposed waste dump. They block the road leading to the site.

5 June : The Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad says the government has taken every precaution to ensure safety and that construction of the radioactive dump in Papan will go ahead.

18 June : About 300 Papan residents demonstrate for the second time against the proposed location of the dump.

28 June : The Minister of Science, Technology and Environment, Datuk Amar Stephen Yong, states that the Papan dump is safe because it is being built according to stringent standards. He challenges critics to prove that the dump will be hazardous to health and the environment. In the meanwhile, ARE continues operating, dumping the thorium waste into an open field and pond next to the factory.

1 July : About 3,000 people, including women and children, hold a peaceful demonstration to protest against the Papan dump.

4 July : About 2,000 people continue with the demonstration despite an order from the Perak Chief Police Officer to call it off.

18 July : A Bukit Merah Action Committee is formed, comprising residents from Bukit Merah, Lahat, Menglembu and Taman Badri Shah to support the Papan residents. Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) sends a memorandum to the Prime Minister stating that high levels of radiation exist at the open field and pond next to the ARE factory in Bukit Merah. One reading taken by SAM officials in a recent visit was 43,800 millirems/year, 88 times higher than the maximum level permitted by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) for the public.

29 August : Michael O’Riordan from the British National Radiological Protection Board is invited by the government to inspect the dump site in Papan.

19 September : A three-man team from the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visit the Papan site at the invitation of the Malaysian government. They declare the trenches there as unsafe………….

1992

11 July : The people of Bukit Merah win their suit against ARE. The factory is ordered by the Ipoh High Court to shut down within 14 days. ARE announces that it will appeal to the Supreme Court.

23 July : ARE files an appeal at the Supreme Court against the Ipoh High Court order to cease operations. PARC chairman Hew Yoon Tat and Lau Fong Fatt, one of the plaintiffs in the suit against ARE, meet top management personnel of Mitsubishi Chemical in Japan. They are told that ARE filed the appeal without the corporation’s consent.

23 December 1993: The Supreme Court overturned the High Court decision on 2 grounds. The Court was of the opinion that ARE’s experts were more believable in terms of the results of the tests conducted by them showing that radiation was within permissible levels. Secondly, the Supreme Court said that the residents should have gone back to the AELB to ask that it revoke ARE’s licence, because AELB has the power to do so under the Atomic Energy Licensing Act. ……Despite the success of ARE in their appeal, the company later stopped operations and began cleaning up, due to public pressure both nationally and internationally.

1994

19 January 1994: ARE announced the closure of its Bukit Merah plant………

2003

A decommissioning and decontamination exercise started in 2003 and 2005.

2010

13 June 2010 : Former premier Dr. Mahathir Mohamad disagreed with the proposal for Malaysia to build nuclear power plants and reported that “a small amount” of nuclear waste was buried in Perak.

Mahathir said, “In Malaysia, we do have nuclear waste which perhaps the public is not aware of. We had to bury the amang (tin tailings) in Perak, deep in the ground. But the place is still not safe. Almost one square mile of that area is dangerous.”

Following his remarks, The Star has discovered that 80,000 200-litre drums containing radioactive waste are currently being kept at the dump located in the Kledang Range behind Papan town. The site is about 3km from Bukit Merah and Papan and about 15km from Ipoh. And the waste is thorium hydroxide, not amang.

In fact, it is only January this year that work finally began on the building of a proper underground storage facility called an engineered cell (EC).

The ongoing cleanup of the 30-year-old problem is estimated to cost a massive RM300 million.

The story of Malaysia’s thorium caused leukaemias and birth defects was quietly covered up

March 13, 2015

Mitsubishi Quietly Cleans Up Its Former Refinery  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/09/business/energy-environment/09rareside.html?_r=0 By  : March 8, 2011 BUKIT MERAH, Malaysia — Hidden here in the jungles of north-central Malaysia, in a broad valley fringed with cave-pocked limestone cliffs topped with acacia and durian trees, lies the site of the largest radiation cleanup yet in the rare earth industry.

Residents blamed a rare earth refinery for birth defects and eight leukemia cases within five years in a community of 11,000 — after many years with no leukemia cases. Seven of the leukemia victims have since died.

The Bukit Merah case is little known even elsewhere in Malaysia, and virtually unknown in the West, because Mitsubishi Chemical quietly agreed to fix the problem even without a legal order to do so. Local protesters had contacted Japanese environmentalists and politicians, who in turn helped persuade the image-conscious company to close the refinery in 1992 and subsequently spend an estimated $100 million to clean up the site.

Image-burnishing was important because the company is part of the Mitsubishi Group of Companies, which has long made Malaysia the cornerstone of its southeast Asian operations. The group has dominant positions in manufacturing a range of products, including air-conditioners and cars.

Mitsubishi Chemical also reached an out-of-court settlement with residents here by agreeing to donate $164,000 to the community’s schools, while denying any responsibility for illnesses.

Osamu Shimizu, the director of Asian Rare Earth, the Mitsubishi Chemical subsidiary that owns the mine, declined to discuss details of the factory’s operation before it closed in 1992. But he said that the company was committed to a safe and complete cleanup.

Workers in protective gear have already removed 11,000 truckloads of radioactively contaminated material, hauling away every trace of the old refinery and even tainted soil from beneath it, down to the bedrock as much as 25 feet below, said Anthony Goh, the consultant overseeing the project for one of Mitsubishi’s contractors, GeoSyntec, an Atlanta-based firm.

To dispose of the radioactive material, engineers have cut the top off a hill three miles away in a forest reserve, buried the material inside the hill’s core and then entombed it under more than 20 feet of clay and granite.

The toughest part of the Bukit Merah cleanup will come this summer, when robots and workers in protective gear are to start trying to move more than 80,000 steel barrels of radioactive waste from a concrete bunker. They will mix it with cement and gypsum, and then permanently store it in the hilltop repository.

The refinery processed slag from old tin mines — material rich in rare earth ore. The company and Malaysian regulators said that it was statistically possible that the leukemia cases were a coincidence because tin mining towns tend to have above-average levels of background radiation. But an academic study of another tin mining town suggested that communities of Bukit Merah’s size should only have one leukemia case every 30 years.

Lai Kwan, aged 69, still recalls how she cheerfully moved in the 1980s from a sawmill job to a better-paying position in the refinery that involved proximity to radioactive materials. She remembers that while pregnant, she was told to take an unpaid day off only on days when the factory bosses said that a particularly dangerous consignment of ore had arrived.

She has spent the last 29 years washing, dressing, feeding and otherwise taking care of her son from that pregnancy, who was born with severe mental and physical disabilities. She and other local residents blame the refinery for the problems, although birth defects can have many causes.

“We saw it as a chance to get better pay,” Ms. Lai recalled. “We didn’t know what they were producing.”

U.S. Navy knew that sailors from USS Ronald Reagan took major radiation hits

March 13, 2015

Documents Say Navy Knew Fukushima Dangerously Contaminated the USS Reagan http://ecowatch.com/2014/02/26/navy-knew-fukushima-contaminated-uss-reagan/ | February 26, 2014

A stunning new report indicates the U.S. Navy knew that sailors from the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan took major radiation hits from the Fukushima atomic power plant after its meltdowns and explosions nearly three years ago.

If true, the revelations cast new light on the $1 billion lawsuit filed by the sailors against Tokyo Electric Power. Many of the sailors are already suffering devastating health impacts, but are being stonewalled by Tepco and the Navy.
The Reagan had joined several other U.S. ships in Operation Tomodachi (“Friendship”) to aid victims of the March 11, 2011 quake and tsunami. Photographic evidence and first-person testimony confirms that on March 12, 2011 the ship was within two miles of Fukushima Dai’ichi as the reactors there began to melt and explode.
In the midst of a snow storm, deck hands were enveloped in a warm cloud that came with a metallic taste. Sailors testify that the Reagan’s 5,500-member crew was told over the ship’s intercom to avoid drinking or bathing in desalinized water drawn from a radioactive sea. The huge carrier quickly ceased its humanitarian efforts and sailed 100 miles out to sea, where newly published internal Navy communications confirm it was still taking serious doses of radioactive fallout.
Scores of sailors from the Reagan and other ships stationed nearby now report a wide range of ailments reminiscent of those documented downwind from atomic bomb tests in the Pacific and Nevada, and at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. A similar metallic taste was described by pilots who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and by central Pennsylvanians downwind of Three Mile Island. Some parts of the atolls downwind from the South Pacific bomb tests remain uninhabitable six decades later.
Among the 81 plaintiffs in the federal class action are a sailor who was pregnant during the mission, and her “Baby A.G.,” born that October with multiple genetic mutations.
Officially, Tepco and the Navy say the dose levels were safe.
But a stunning new report by an American scholar based in Tokyo confirms that Naval officers communicated about what they knew to be the serious irradiation of the Reagan. Written by Kyle Cleveland and published in Japan Focus, “Mobilizing Nuclear Bias” describes the interplay between the U.S. and Japanese governments as Fukushima devolved into disaster.
Cunningham writes that transcribed conversations obtained through the Freedom of Information Act feature naval officials who acknowledge that even while 100 miles away from Fukushima, the Reagan’s readings “compared to just normal background [are] about 30 times what you would detect just on a normal air sample out to sea.”
On the nuclear-powered carrier “all of our continuous monitors alarmed at the same level, at this value. And then we took portable air samples on the flight deck and got the same value,” the transcript says.

Serious fallout was also apparently found on helicopters coming back from relief missions. One unnamed U.S. government expert is quoted in the Japan Focus article as saying:

At 100 meters away it (the helicopter) was reading 4 sieverts per hour. That is an astronomical number and it told me, what that number means to me, a trained person, is there is no water on the reactor cores and they are just melting down, there is nothing containing the release of radioactivity. It is an unmitigated, unshielded number. (Confidential communication, Sept. 17, 2012).

The transcript then contains discussion of health impacts that could come within a matter of “10 hours. It’s a thyroid issue.”

Tepco and the Navy contend the Reagan did not receive a high enough dose to warrant serious concern. But Japan, South Korea and Guam deemed the carrier too radioactive to enter their ports. Stock photographs show sailors working en masse to scrub the ship down.

The $4.3 billion boat is now docked in San Diego. Critics question whether it belongs there at all. Attempts to decontaminate U.S. ships irradiated during the Pacific nuclear bombs tests from 1946-1963 proved fruitless. Hundreds of sailors were exposed to heavy doses of radiation, but some ships had to be sunk anyway.
Leaks at the Fukushima site continue to worsen. Despite its denials, Tepco recently admitted it had underestimated certain radiation releases by a factor of 500 percent. A new report indicates that particles of radioactive Cesium 134 from Fukushima have been detected in the ocean off the west coast of North America.
Global concerns continue to rise about Fukushima’s on-going crises with liquid leaks, the troubled removal of radioactive fuel rods, the search for three missing melted cores, organized crime influence at the site and much more. The flow of information has been seriously darkened by the pro-nuclear Abe Administration’s State Secrets Act, which imposes major penalties on those who might report what happens at Fukushima.
But if this new evidence holds true, it means that the Navy knew the Ronald Reagan was being plastered with serious radioactive fallout and it casts the accident in a light even more sinister than previously believed.
The stricken sailors are barred from suing the Navy, and their case against Tepco will depend on a series of complex international challenges.
But one thing is certain: neither they nor the global community have been getting anything near the full truth about Fukushima.

Visit EcoWatch’s NUCLEAR page for more related news on this topic.

 

Strong impact of Chernobyl radiation on mutation rates

March 13, 2015

Strong effects of ionizing radiation from Chernobyl on mutation rates, Scientific Reports, Anders Pape MøllerTimothy A. Mousseau Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 8363doi:10.1038/srep08363 Received 25 September 2014  Accepted 16 December 2014  Published 10 February 2015

In this paper we use a meta-analysis to examine the relationship between radiation and mutation rates in Chernobyl across 45 published studies, covering 30 species. Overall effect size of radiation on mutation rates estimated as Pearson’s product-moment correlation coefficient was very large (E = 0.67; 95% confidence intervals (CI) 0.59 to 0.73), accounting for 44.3% of the total variance in an unstructured random-effects model. Fail-safe calculations reflecting the number of unpublished null results needed to eliminate this average effect size showed the extreme robustness of this finding (Rosenberg’s method: 4135 at p = 0.05). Indirect tests did not provide any evidence of publication bias.

The effect of radiation on mutations varied among taxa, with plants showing a larger effect than animals. Humans were shown to have intermediate sensitivity of mutations to radiation compared to other species. Effect size did not decrease over time, providing no evidence for an improvement in environmental conditions.

The surprisingly high mean effect size suggests a strong impact of radioactive contamination on individual fitness in current and future generations, with potentially significant population-level consequences, even beyond the area contaminated with radioactive material………http://www.nature.com/srep/2015/150210/srep08363/full/srep08363.html