Nuclear Problems In Britain, Japan, France and the U.S.

Preface: I am not necessarily against nuclear power. But I am against reactor designs chosen – not because they are safe – but because they work on Navy submarines and produce plutonium, and cutting every safety measure in the book, and covering up every nuclear accident worldwide (and see this).

UK

The British government has finally admitted widespread contamination from the Sellafield plant.

The Guardian reports:

Radioactive pollution from the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria has led to children’s teeth across Britain being contaminated with plutonium.

The Government has admitted for the first time that Sellafield ‘is a source of plutonium contamination’ across the country. Public Health Minister Melanie Johnson has revealed that a study funded by the Department of Health discovered that the closer a child lived to Sellafield, the higher the levels of plutonium found in their teeth.

***

Johnson claimed the levels of plutonium are so minute that there is no health risk to the public. But this is disputed by scientists, MPs and environmental campaigners who have called for an immediate inquiry into how one of the world’s most dangerous materials has been allowed to continue to contaminate children’s teeth. There have long been claims of clusters of childhood leukaemia around Sellafield.

***

Professor Eric Wright, of Dundee University Medical School, is one of the country’s leading experts on blood disorders and a member of the committee. He believes that the tiny specks of plutonium in children’s teeth caused by Sellafield radioactive pollution might lead to some people falling ill with cancer.

He said: ‘There are genuine concerns that the risks from internal emitters of radiation are more hazardous [than previously thought]. The real question is by how much. Is it two or three times more risky… or more than a hundred?’

For more information on internal emitters, start here.

Japan

A Japanese nuclear power company was caught using employees to ask questions during televised hearing. The employees were told to impersonate private citizens who want nuclear reactors restarted.

Reuters reports on the political fallout of this and other shenanigans:

A Japanese nuclear power plant has come under fire for trying to sway the outcome of a public forum on atomic safety, dealing a fresh blow to the industry’s credibility four months after the world’s biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

An employee with Kyushu Electric Power Co instructed workers at the utility and its affiliates to pose as ordinary citizens and send e-mails backing the restart of nuclear reactors in southern Japan to a televised public hearing.

***

Analysts say the scandal reflects panic in Japan’s atomic power industry, long coddled by political, corporate and regulatory interests dubbed the “nuclear village” but now facing growing anti-nuclear sentiment as workers battle to end the Fukushima crisis.

“There is growing suspicion that power companies are playing fast and loose with data to support their cause and will go so far as to orchestrate public support,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Japan campus.

“The more the media pulls back the veil, the angrier the public is getting.” The e-mail scandal has been daily fodder for mainstream media, often accused of being soft on the industry.

Public trust in utilities and their regulators has already been dented by patchy and slow disclosure about the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima plant.

“They (Tokyo Electric) have zero credibility,” Kingston said.

Industry critics said the e-mail scandal was no surprise, but added it nonetheless deepened doubts about both safety and whether threatened power outages were a real risk.

“The public reaction is leaning against nuclear power and I think the utilities feel a sense of crisis,” said Harumi Kondaiji, a local lawmaker in the western city of Tsuruga, host to three reactors. “At this point, we cannot believe them.”

***

Even local authorities previously inclined to take the utilities at their word expressed anger.

“We thought we had a relationship of trust, but now there are cracks,” Hideo Kishimoto, mayor of the southern town of Genkai which hosts the Kyushu Electric reactors in question, told a TV broadcaster.

Similarly, the Japan Times reports:

The Atomic Energy Society of Japan … issued a statement criticizing the government, Tokyo Electric Power Co. and other related institutions for delays and insufficiency in their disclosure of information concerning the accidents at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant

***

Since the Atomic Energy Society of Japan is regarded as close to Japan’s nuclear power establishment, the criticism bears importance all the more.

***

The following point is especially important. The society notes that there is the possibility that the damage to people’s health from radiation exposure has increased because the government, Tepco and other related institutions did not properly disclose information on the status of the nuclear accidents and the environmental contamination by radioactive substances.

***

The society notes that such vital information as the temperature of the lower section of the pressure vessels, the volume and temperature of the coolant water in the lower part of the pressure vessels, and the temperature of the molten nuclear fuel have yet to be released.

Tepco temporarily shut down the cooling system at the Fukushima Daini power complex, 7 miles from the leaking Fukushima Daiichi reactors. As Reuters notes:

The operator of Japan’s Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant, located near the tsunami-crippled Daiichi plant, on Thursday halted the cooling system at one of its reactors after electrical sparks were detected, Kyodo news agency reported.

While Tepco promised to restart the cooling system the same day (and presumably has or will soon re-start it), I have found no confirmation yet that this has occurred.

There was a fire at a third Japanese plant. As AGI reports:

[A] fire started in the nuclear waste disposal plant near reactor No. 2 in Tokai, in the East of Japan.

Official sources reported that the blaze is now under control and that no radioactive material leak occurred.

The Japanese are “stress testing” other nuclear plants. For example, as NHK reports:

Nuke plant fails quake-resistance check …

The Japanese government has found that electrical equipment at a nuclear power plant in eastern Japan does not meet earthquake-resistance standards.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency inspected nuclear power plants nationwide after the March 11th earthquake damaged equipment at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant …

The agency found that the level of quake-resistance of the electrical equipment at Tokai Daini nuclear power plant in Ibaraki Prefecture was below the standard set by power companies.

The one bright spot out of Japan was that the 3.3-ton device which had fallen into and crushed the Monju fast-breeder reactor was successfully removed, after a year of trying.

France

A transformer exploded and caught fire at the Tricastin, Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux (Drôme) nuclear power plant. Deutsche Presse Agentur noted on July 2nd:

In the southern French nuclear plant Tricastin it came to French media reports of an explosion.

On the grounds of the southern French nuclear plant Tricastin, there have been media reports in France after a transformer explosion and fire. The fire department was able to bring the fire under control in the afternoon, it said on the website of the regional newspaper “Dauphine Libere” on Saturday. People were not injured. The management of the nuclear power plant north of Marseille on the incident itself did not immediately comment.

The transformer was part of the reactor block 1, which is currently shut down, and was located outside the nuclear zone. Residents had reported thick black smoke. The nuclear power plant Tricastin with four pressurized water reactors of 915 megawatts each is in operation since 1981.

This wasn’t a huge accident, but it shows that the French are not immune from problems.

United States

There was a small leak in a nuclear reactor on a North Carolina college campus.

WRAL notes:

North Carolina State University officials said Thursday that there is a low-level water leak in the liner that surrounds the campus nuclear reactor, but that it poses no danger to the public.

University spokesman Keith Nichols described the leak, discovered Saturday, as the size of a pinhead and that it was leaking about 10 gallons per hour from the 15,000-gallon tank.

***

Nichols said it would be considered a public threat if the reactor were leaking at 350 gallons per hour.

The university is in the process of repairing the leak

WTVD reports:

NC State said the leak was suspected on Friday and confirmed on Saturday. It said the public was not informed sooner because of the low level of danger. The amount of radioactivity was compared to what someone might receive getting an x-ray.

The school says the leak is so small that special equipment is required to detect its location in the reactor’s lining. The company that can do that will not be in Raleigh until next week. In the meantime, the leak is being closely monitored. The reactor has been shut down since the leak was discovered.

(I’m not trying to blow this out of proportion; it was, indeed, a small leak.)

The Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant is still surrounded by floodwaters. Because there is so little information being released, it is difficult to assess the situation. As Xinuanet notes:

The Fort Calhoun plant north of Omaha in the US state of Nebraska has been surrounded by flood water from the Missouri River for over ten days. As worries mount, US authorities have reassured the public the plant is safe.

Could this be another Fukushima?

Operators of the Fort Calhoun plant say no.

But pictures like this make it hard to believe the official statement that only part of the utilities are flooded.

***

Plant operator, Omaha Public Power, says all key buildings in the plant are secure. No flooding, no meltdown, no radioactive leakage.

They say the plant has nine power sources, and two backup generators, making a Fukushima scenario impossible.

They’ve received some backing from the independent Union of Concerned Scientists. The group says despite some flooding inside, there are no severe safety problems.

Indeed, the plant’s operator is attempting to reinstall the AquaDam barrier tomorrow.

But nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen warns that the greatest danger would be if the intake structure – which is closest to the river – floods, as that is the structure which cools the reactor and spent fuel:

As the New York Times pointed out last month:

A year ago, those new defenses were not in place, and the plant’s hard barriers could have failed against a 1,010-foot flood, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission contends in a yearlong inspection and enforcement action against the plant’s operator, the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD).

***

NRC inspectors concluded that at flooding levels above 1,008 feet, the plant “would experience a loss of offsite power and loss of intake structure” and water pumps providing essential cooling water to the plant.

Here’s a photo and drawing of the intake building:

My gut feeling is that Fort Calhoun will remain safe unless one of the upstream dams fails, or unless there is alot more rain than forecast.

A raging wildfire threatened to release plutonium and uranium from the Los Alamos National Laboratory. While the fire has burned areas polluted in the past with radioactive waste, firefighters have been heroically battling to keep the blaze away from the lab grounds itself. With help from rain, they appear to have largely succeeded (with the exception of some radiation released when radioactive vegetation was burned), although a new one-acre blaze broke out at a sensitive part of the lab. Officials blamed a squirrel.

As Reuters reports:

A squirrel sparked a small blaze on lab property on Saturday when it touched a transformer. That fire, which measured about an acre, was quickly extinguished, the lab said in a statement.

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