Anti-Nuclear Hysterics, not Melted Reactors to Blame for Fukushima Health Impacts
Mar11

Anti-Nuclear Hysterics, not Melted Reactors to Blame for Fukushima Health Impacts

As is often the case, the passage of time yields clarity about events, and the nuclear power plant accident at Fukushima is no different.  It has become clear that the misinformation and hysterics by anti-nuclear groups and individuals were mostly wrong.  Their doomsday prophesizing actually worsened human suffering and environmental impacts by contributing to unwise decisions by political leaders in Japan and elsewhere to shut down nuclear plants.  In contrast, bloggers and experts from within the nuclear community accurately predicted outcomes and human health impacts. As was predicted on this blog and elsewhere, the multi-barrier reactor containment design protected the public.  Contrary to claims by anti-nuclear groups, the melted cores did NOT burn through the reactor vessels.  The containment structures remained virtually intact. The damaged reactor fuel remained inside the reactor vessels and containment systems. Despite preposterous claims by Greenpeace and others, there were no chunks of plutonium scattered across the countryside.  Only radioactive gasses escaped over the land, and most of that gas was short lived Iodine that has long since decayed away. As reported on Bloomberg and other news sources, no one in the public was harmed by radiation from the damaged reactors.  A small number of plant workers received higher than normal radiation exposures, without lasting effects.  Any hypothetical future health effects will be immeasurably low and will be indistinguishable from normal disease rates within the general population. No one, not even the “Fukushima 50”, was exposed to life threatening amounts of radiation.  Journalists who flew across the Pacific to cover the story received more radiation exposure from cosmic rays in flight than they received from the reactors once on the ground. The visually spectacular hydrogen explosions of the plant buildings, while providing great fodder for anti-nuclear rhetoric had little impact on the safety of the reactors, and harmed no one. The unit 4 fuel storage pools did not empty of water and did not catch on fire.  The fuel there remained safely submerged and suffered no damage of any consequence. Finally, there was no need for the 50-mile evacuation zone ordered by NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko. His decision still has nuclear experts scratching their heads and wondering why.  Jaczko’s actions demonstrated he lacks the experience and knowledge to ask the right questions at crucial moments.  In addition, he lacked the wisdom to recognize other more credible information was available that contradicted his view.  He needlessly rushed forward with an ill-advised decision that was horribly wrong. This is not to imply there were no environmental or economic impacts from the reactor accident – of course there were!  The expensive cleanup in surrounding areas will take years...

Read More

MOX Fuel in Fukshima Daiichi Adds Little Risk to Public

There is a good deal of misinformation being circulated about the potential harm to people in Japan from plutonium present in mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in the unit 3 reactor at Fukushima Daiichi.  The real story comes from an independent group of scientists who make up the American Nuclear Society Special Committee on Nuclear Non-Proliferation .  Their conclusion? Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel has been used safely in nuclear power reactors for decades.  The presence of a limited number of MOX fuel assemblies at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 has not had a significant impact on the ability to cool the reactor or on any radioactive releases from the site due to damage from the earthquake and tsunami. Here’s a link to their full report.  It’s a short read and provides an excellent explanation of the current situation and risks associated with MOX fuel. Back in TWiN Episode #77 I covered the topic of MOX fuel, where it comes from, and where it is used.  Here are some important facts about MOX nuclear fuel: MOX present in nuclear plant fuel changes some aspects of the fuel’s performance in accident conditions, but these changes are relatively minor (see the ANS letter for details on this). MOX fuel comes from two main sources; recycling former weapons material into nuclear fuel, and recycling used nuclear power plant fuel for reuse. Creating MOX for power reactors is a safe way to dispose of weapons grade plutonium. MOX fuel can not be used to make nuclear weapons.  The NRC states “Using the plutonium in the reactor as MOX fuel makes using it for any other purposes difficult.” Plutonium in nuclear fuel is not unique to MOX fueled reactors.  All nuclear reactors contain plutonium after the reactor has been in operation for any period of time.  In fact, at the end of life of a typical low enriched uranium core up to about 20% of the heat being generated is from the fission of plutonium atoms. Plutonium in MOX fueled reactors can not cause the reactor to explode.   John Wheeler This Week in...

Read More

Is NRC’s Jaczko Positioning the Administration to Ratchet US Nuclear Emergency Planning Zones from 10 to 50 miles?

The Japanese government had established a 20 km (12.8 mile) evaluation zone around the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, a recommendation supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency.  The US NRC had several experts on the ground to assist the Japanese government.  The Americans had access to the same information that was available to Japanese authorities and the IAEA.  Then on Thursday March 17, 2011 an unusual thing happened. NRC Chairman Jaczko came straight from a meeting in the White House and told members of Congress that Americans in Japan should evacuate to a distance of 50 miles from the reactors.  His comments sparked alarm across the globe because he also stated the Fukushima Daiichi Unit 4 fuel storage pool was dry, the uncovered used nuclear fuel was overheating, and they could expect large releases of airborne radioactive contamination. Jaczko’s statement included this: Now, in addition to the three reactors that were operating at the time of the incident, a fourth reactor is also right now under concern.  This reactor was shut down at the time of the earthquake.  What we believe at this time is that there has been a hydrogen explosion in this unit due to an uncovering of the fuel in the fuel pool. We believe that secondary containment has been destroyed and there is no water in the spent-fuel pool.  And we believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures. Jaczko’s statements were factually wrong and the NRC’s recommendation to evaluate 50 miles were not based on any credible assessment of the risks.   The Japanese government and the IAEA disputed Jaczko’s recommendation.  In the days since, the media and anti-nuclear groups have jumped on the 50 mile bandwagon, questioning the basis for the current 10 mile emergency planning zone (EPZ) criteria in US regulations.  Jaczko has yet to issue a retraction or apologize for his remarks. Did Chairman Jaczko jump to conclusions and simply misspeak? OR Was he intentionally setting the stage to ratchet US nuclear plants into a much larger emergency planning zone? Anti-nuclear groups have long been arguing for expanding nuclear emergency planning zones from the current 10 miles to 50 miles.  They know this would create an almost impossible financial burden on nuclear plants, and would foster political pressure to shut them down. Issuing overly conservative evaluation orders can have serious consequences.  The unnecessary movement of large numbers of people carries significant risks: traffic accidents and panic alone can kill people.  Jaczko should have issued a retraction as soon as the basis for his recommendations were proven to be wrong.  Instead he has been silent. This is not the behavior we...

Read More

Japan’s Nuclear Plants and their Operators are Performing Amazingly Well to Protect the Health & Safety of the Public

My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Japan as they deal with this natural disaster of unprecedented magnitude. While I’ve been unable to post blogs or record a podcast this weekend, I’ve been trying to stay engaged by sharing news and bits of analysis via my twitter feed. There has been some excellent fact based coverage of the reactor damaging event at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.  Unfortunately, very little of the excellent coverage is coming from mainstream media sources. When the opportunity arises, please point your friends and colleagues to one of the following sources for factual coverage of the events: · The Atomic Insights blog · The American Nuclear Society Blog · The Depleted Cranium blog · Idaho Samizdat · Brave New Climate This is an incomplete list, but these are a good starting point and they will lead you to other accurate reports and analysis. As I have watched the events unfold I am encouraged by the deliberate and methodical actions of the plant’s operators and the performance of the robust nuclear reactor design.  Even in these incredibly adverse conditions that far exceeded the plant’s design basis the public is being kept safe.  When the dust has settled we’ll be able to say once again that even in worse case situations nuclear energy is a safe and important part of our energy supply. As one person commented on my twitter feed, the refineries, natural gas plants, and other  fossil fuel infrastructure in the quake affected area are all damaged beyond recovery.  By contrast, the nuclear plants held up amazingly well.  Most will be able to resume operation after repairs and thorough inspections.  As I write this post there are no reports of members of the public being harmed by the nuclear plants and the World Health Organization has issued a statement that no public health effects are expected from the nuclear fuel damaging events. John...

Read More