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Earthquake Meltdown At California Nukes: It Can’t Happen Here?
by Michael Steinberg (blackrainpress [at]
Saturday Mar 12th, 2011 10:50 PM
The unfolding disaster at Japans nuclear power plants, in the wake of catastrophic earthquake and tsunamis, all too graphically demonstrates why California's San Onofre and Diablo Canyon nukes should be shut down immediately.
As a result of the 8.9 earthquake and subsequent tsunamis in Japan, the 40 year old Fukushima No. 1 nuclear reactor there is in big trouble.

Fukushima 1 is one of six reactors at the Daiichi nuclear complex 150 miles north of Tokyo.

The LA Times reported on March 11 that the nuclear reactor’s “emergency cooling system has not been functioning properly and authorities fear a meltdown.”

Japanese officials initially ordered 3000 people living within 2 miles of Fukushima 1 to evacuate. They also instructed others residing within six miles to stay in their homes.

Fifteen other nuclear plants, out of 33 in Japan, also shut down because of the 8.9 shaker.

Uncool Nuke

Inside a reactor a controlled nuclear reaction produces heat that is subsequently is used to generate electricity. But that reaction also creates lots of deadly radioactivity and “excess” heat.

If the nuclear fuel gets too hot, it will start to melt, causing potentially catastrophic amounts of radioactivity to threaten to escape into the environment.

To avoid this calamity, the nuclear fuel must be constantly bathed in cooling water. The system that supplies the cooling water is powered by electricity.

At Fukushima 1, the supply of cooling water was stopped when the earthquake knocked out the electrical supply that powered the cooling system. Ironically, the source of that electricity must come from outside the plant.

There is a backup system of diesel powered generators at Fukushima 1, but that system also failed when a tsunami hit the nuke, which is located on the ocean.

The final line of defense to prevent a meltdown consists of batteries that can power the cooling system. The Times reported that these batteries went into operation “less than an hour” after the disaster cut off the juice.

But these batteries only last about eight hours, a stretch of time that quickly passed at Fukushima 1.

The Washington Post reported that US nuclear safety expert Margaret Harding, who has been “in touch with experts in Japan,” said “the entire complex was blacked out for a period of time before new backup generators arrived.”

The US Air Force and Japanese ground troops had been racing replacement generators to the troubled site, the LA Times reported.

Saturday: Explosion, Meltdown, Mass Evacuations

Nevertheless, pressure inside the reactor containment building rose “to 50% above normal,” according to the Times. To deal with this dangerous development, authorities at the plant started venting radioactive gases to the outside environment.

As usual, they claimed this is a safe practice. And while it might be preferable to the pressure inside the containment building blowing it apart, the National Academy of Science has established that there is no such thing as a risk free dose of radiation.

On Saturday further evacuations were ordered, including people living around the nearby Daini nuclear complex, which has four reactors. Those ordered to evacuate numbered in total over 200,000. Reuters reported that radiation levels in the control room at the Fukushima 1 plant were “1000 times the normal level.”

”Only the gravest danger would justify an evacuation at such a moment,” former NRC commissioner Paul Bradford told the Washington Post.

Then the government announced that the cooling system at Fukushima 2 “can no longer cool radioactive substances,” CNN reported.

Subsequently an explosion at Fukushima 1 blew apart the building that housed the nuclear reactor fuel and its containment building. The Post reported that this was likely a sign that a meltdown was going on in the reactor.

“The explosion was caused by hydrogen,” the Post reported, “that could only have been produced from inside the reactor vessel by exposure of zirconium cladding [covering] that surrounds [nuclear] fuel rods. The rods are supposed to be covered by water, but at extremely high temperatures steam reacts with zirconium and produces hydrogen.”

Another indication that a meltdown was underway, according to the Post, was that Japan’s Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency reported the plant “could be nearing meltdown and that two radioactive substances, cesium and radioactive iodine, were detected nearby.”

The government also was distributing potassium iodide to people near the plant, which blocks radioactive iodine from entering the human thyroid, where it can cause cancer.

Levels of radiation at the Fukishima plant were well above the legal limit, Reuters reported on Sunday. Reuters also reported “Japanese news reports cooling water in the plant decreased so much that up to three metres of fuel rods were exposed."

Tokyo Electric, the owner of Fudushima 1, has been flooding its reactor core with sea water and boric acid to cool off the fuel rods. Even if this succeeds, it’s likely this dosage will further ruin the plant.

“We’re past worrying about running the reactor,” Victor Galensky, another former NRC commissioner told the Post. “It’s gone.”

Toyko Electric is venting radiation into the environment from other Fukushima nuclear plants. Most of them seem to have compromised cooling systems as well.

Another of them is reported to be suffering a meltdown as well.

Another potential problem looms in the spent fuel pool at these nuclear complexes. These hold nuclear fuel rods that are commercially spent but are still highly radioactive. Like the fuel rods in the reactors, they have to be kept cool, or else they will melt down as well. These cooling systems are electrically operated as well.

The Post also reported “23 reactors in the US have the same design as Fukushima 1.”

Why It Can Happen Here

On Friday’s Pacifica radio show, “Letters and News,” guest Robert Alvarez of the Institute of Policy Studies, a former US Department of Energy official, reported that California’s two operating nuclear facilities, San Onofre and Diablo Canyon, were built to withstand an earthquake of only 7.5.

An 8.9 earthquake is many times more powerful.

Southern California’s Orange County Register reported Saturday that the owner of San Onofre said the plant in fact was built to withstand only a 7.0 earthquake.

Scientists are predicting a major earthquake is likely in California sometime in the next 10 years.

California's San Onofre and Diablo Canyon nuclear plants are also sitting on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, convenient to any tsunamis that might be speeding their way at up to 500 mph, and in seismically active areas..

The owners of both facilities, however, would like to have the operating licenses of their aging nukes extended for an additional 20 years past the current 40 year licenses.

Diablo Canyon applied for such a license extension in November 2009, and could have it granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as soon as next year.

But the Japan disaster demonstrates not only why this should not happen, but also why Diablo Canyon and San Onofre should cease operations immediately.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by R. Robertson
Monday Mar 14th, 2011 12:45 AM
Hey there, Michael, thanks for posting and directing us to the KPFA interview with Robert Alvarez of March 11. I listened to the interview and others can hear it too @ (note: archived programs aren't kept up more than 2 o 3 weeks). Here is what I found interesting in the interview.

Robert Alvarez, from the Institute of Policy Studies and a former US Department of Energy official, reported that California’s two operating nuclear facilities, San Onofre and Diablo Canyon, were built to withstand only earthquakes of only 7.5 or less and are in earthquake hazard zones! Alvarez said (paraphrasing): This could cause a "political tsunami" in CA which might threaten efforts of owners of these to facilities to extend their licenses.

Alvarez said further that San Onofre (San Luis Obispo County) and Diablo Canyon (in San Diego County) are sitting near earthquake faults and that with USGS predicting with near certain probability that a major earthquake will occur in the CA coastal zone, this will create a great deal of discussion... depending on how things play out in Japan.

You might ask why these reactors are built on coasts, as is Daichi in Fukushima, Japan and as are the California facilities...that is because they use the sea water.

If indybay readers get a chance to listen to the program the interview with Alvarez starts at 50:19.
by Anit-Nuke
Monday Mar 14th, 2011 12:33 PM
Greg Palast, March 14, 2011

I need to speak to you, not as a reporter, but in my former capacity as lead investigator in several government nuclear plant fraud and racketeering investigations.

I don't know the law in Japan, so I can't tell you if Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) can plead insanity to the homicides about to happen.

But what will Obama plead? The Administration, just months ago, asked Congress to provide a $4 billion loan guarantee for two new nuclear reactors to be built and operated on the Gulf Coast of Texas — by Tokyo Electric Power and local partners. As if the Gulf hasn't suffered enough.

Here are the facts about Tokyo Electric and the industry you haven't heard on CNN:

The failure of emergency systems at Japan's nuclear plants comes as no surprise to those of us who have worked in the field.

Nuclear plants the world over must be certified for what is called "SQ" or "Seismic Qualification." That is, the owners swear that all components are designed for the maximum conceivable shaking event, be it from an earthquake or an exploding Christmas card from Al Qaeda.

The most inexpensive way to meet your SQ is to lie. The industry does it all the time. The government team I worked with caught them once, in 1988, at the Shoreham plant in New York. Correcting the SQ problem at Shoreham would have cost a cool billion, so engineers were told to change the tests from 'failed' to 'passed.'

The company that put in the false safety report? Stone & Webster, now the nuclear unit of Shaw Construction which will work with Tokyo Electric to build the Texas plant, Lord help us.

There's more.

Last night I heard CNN reporters repeat the official line that the tsunami disabled the pumps needed to cool the reactors, implying that water unexpectedly got into the diesel generators that run the pumps.

These safety back-up systems are the 'EDGs' in nuke-speak: Emergency Diesel Generators. That they didn't work in an emergency is like a fire department telling us they couldn't save a building because "it was on fire."

What dim bulbs designed this system? One of the reactors dancing with death at Fukushima Station 1 was built by Toshiba. Toshiba was also an architect of the emergency diesel system.

Now be afraid. Obama's $4 billion bail-out-in-the-making is called the South Texas Project. It's been sold as a red-white-and-blue way to make power domestically with a reactor from Westinghouse, a great American brand. However, the reactor will be made substantially in Japan by the company that bought the US brand name, Westinghouse — Toshiba.

I once had a Toshiba computer. I only had to send it in once for warranty work. However, it's kind of hard to mail back a reactor with the warranty slip inside the box if the fuel rods are melted and sinking halfway to the earth's core.

TEPCO and Toshiba don't know what my son learned in 8th grade science class: tsunamis follow Pacific Rim earthquakes. So these companies are real stupid, eh? Maybe. More likely is that the diesels and related systems wouldn't have worked on a fine, dry afternoon.

Back in the day, when we checked the emergency back-up diesels in America, a mind-blowing number flunked. At the New York nuke, for example, the builders swore under oath that their three diesel engines were ready for an emergency. They'd been tested. The tests were faked, the diesels run for just a short time at low speed. When the diesels were put through a real test under emergency-like conditions, the crankshaft on the first one snapped in about an hour, then the second and third. We nicknamed the diesels, "Snap, Crackle and Pop."

(Note: Moments after I wrote that sentence, word came that two of three diesels failed at the Tokai Station as well.)

In the US, we supposedly fixed our diesels after much complaining by the industry. But in Japan, no one tells Tokyo Electric to do anything the Emperor of Electricity doesn't want to do.

I get lots of confidential notes from nuclear industry insiders. One engineer, a big name in the field, is especially concerned that Obama waved the come-hither check to Toshiba and Tokyo Electric to lure them to America. The US has a long history of whistleblowers willing to put themselves on the line to save the public. In our racketeering case in New York, the government only found out about the seismic test fraud because two courageous engineers, Gordon Dick and John Daly, gave our team the documentary evidence.

In Japan, it's simply not done. The culture does not allow the salary-men, who work all their their lives for one company, to drop the dime.

Not that US law is a wondrous shield: both engineers in the New York case were fired and blacklisted by the industry. Nevertheless, the government (local, state, federal) brought civil racketeering charges against the builders. The jury didn't buy the corporation's excuses and, in the end, the plant was, thankfully, dismantled.

Am I on some kind of xenophobic anti-Nippon crusade? No. In fact, I'm far more frightened by the American operators in the South Texas nuclear project, especially Shaw. Stone & Webster, now the Shaw nuclear division, was also the firm that conspired to fake the EDG tests in New York. (The company's other exploits have been exposed by their former consultant, John Perkins, in his book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.)

If the planet wants to shiver, consider this: Toshiba and Shaw have recently signed a deal to become world-wide partners in the construction of nuclear stations.

The other characters involved at the South Texas Plant that Obama is backing should also give you the willies. But as I'm in the middle of investigating the American partners, I'll save that for another day.

So, if we turned to America's own nuclear contractors, would we be safe? Well, two of the melting Japanese reactors, including the one whose building blew sky high, were built by General Electric of the Good Old US of A.

After Texas, you're next. The Obama Administration is planning a total of $56 billion in loans for nuclear reactors all over America.

And now, the homicides:

CNN is only interested in body counts, how many workers burnt by radiation, swept away or lost in the explosion. These plants are now releasing radioactive steam into the atmosphere. Be skeptical about the statements that the "levels are not dangerous." These are the same people who said these meltdowns could never happen. Over years, not days, there may be a thousand people, two thousand, ten thousand who will suffer from cancers induced by this radiation.

In my New York investigation, I had the unhappy job of totaling up post-meltdown "morbidity" rates for the county government. It would be irresponsible for me to estimate the number of cancer deaths that will occur from these releases without further information; but it is just plain criminal for the Tokyo Electric shoguns to say that these releases are not dangerous. Indeed, the fact that residents near the Japanese nuclear plants were not issued iodine pills to keep at the ready shows TEPCO doesn't care who lives and who dies whether in Japan or the USA. The carcinogenic isotopes that are released at Fukushima are already floating to Seattle with effects we simply cannot measure.

Heaven help us. Because Obama won't.
by Samuel H
(nudhalls [at] Saturday Mar 19th, 2011 8:54 PM
We owe it to the rest of America. A meltdown in CA will ruin the rest our country.
Two plants decommissioned in CA is the goal.
I am ready for civil disobedience at the gate. How many of us will they have to arrest to win the day?
It's unknown, but if we commit, we can win.

It would be a real victory for progressives and maybe give us the steam (people power) to stop wars, persecute criminals (politicians and financiers), and bring about a new age.