Archive for the 'nuclear power' Category

Fukushima Ghost Towns Struggle to Recover Amid High Radiation Levels

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“Namie is nobody’s town now. Nobody lives here, and nobody visits for long. Even the looters have stopped bothering, and no one knows exactly when the inhabitants may be allowed to return permanently – or whether they will want to.

The 2011 catastrophe faded from world headlines long ago, but in Namie, Tomioka, Okuma, Futaba and other blighted towns in the 20-mile evacuation zone around the Fukushima plant,  it is a disaster that never ends.

At the plant itself, recent leaks of contaminated water into the sea and a fraught operation to remove fuel rods from one of the damaged reactors have shown how critical the situation still is – and will remain during a decommissioning process that could take up to 40 years.

For Fukushima’s displaced population, the effects of the disaster continue to be deeply felt. The evacuation area was subdivided earlier this year into three zones of higher or lower radiation risk. In the worst affected zone, return will not be allowed before 2017 at the earliest.

In other areas, families and businesses face difficult decisions about whether or not to go back. At present,  no one is even allowed to stay overnight. Locals say that whatever happens, many younger people will not return.”

Read more: AlterNet


Fukushima Water Radiation Doubles Overnight

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“Water radiation levels at Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant more than doubled in the span of one night to levels 14,000 times the maximum level for safe drinking water, owner TEPCO admitted Thursday, setting new records for drainage ditch contamination as toxic spills and heavy rains continue to ravage the crippled facility.

Water samples taken on Wednesday from a drainage ditch near tanks storing contaminated water found beta radiation levels of 140,000 becquerels per liter. This is more than double the 59,000 becquerels measurement taken Tuesday at the exact same location, TEPCO announced in an email statement reported by Bloomberg.

The spike in radiation appears to be widespread. Water samples from another ditch measured at 15,000 becquerels, as compared to 2,200 becquerels in an Oct. 1 sample from the same location.”

Read more: Common Dreams


Disaster Spiraling Out of Control at Fukushima as Japan’s Prime Minister Asks for Global Help

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“Japan’s pro-nuclear Prime Minister has finally asked for global help at Fukushima. It probably hasn’t hurt that more than 100,000 people have  signed petitions calling for a global takeover; more than 8,000 have viewed a  new YouTube on it.

Massive quantities of heavily contaminated water are pouring into the Pacific Ocean, dousing workers along the way. Hundreds of huge, flimsy tanks are leaking untold tons of highly radioactive fluids.

At Unit #4, more than 1300 fuel rods, with more than 400 tons of extremely radioactive material, containing potential cesium fallout comparable to 14,000 Hiroshima bombs,  are stranded 100 feet in the air.

All this more than 30 months after the earthquake/tsunami led to three melt-downs and at least four explosions.

“Our country needs your knowledge and expertise” he has said to the world community.  “We are wide open to receive the most advanced knowledge from overseas to contain the problem.”

But is he serious?

“I am aware of three US companies with state of the art technology that have been to Japan repeatedly and have been rebuffed by the Japanese government,” says Arnie Gundersen, a Vermont-based nuclear engineer focused on Fukushima.”

Read more: Alternet


Fukushima radiation readings spike to highest levels

Radiation readings around tanks holding contaminated water at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have spiked by more than a fifth to their highest levels, Japan’s nuclear regulator said Wednesday, heightening concerns about the cleanup of the worst atomic disaster in almost three decades.

Radiation hot spots have spread to three holding areas for hundreds of hastily built tanks storing water contaminated by being flushed over three reactors that melted down at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011.

The rising radiation levels and leaks at the plant further inflamed international alarm, one day after the Japanese government said that it would step in with almost $500 million of funding to fix the growing levels of contaminated water at the plant.

Readings just above the ground near a set of tanks at the plant showed radiation as high as 2,200 millisieverts (mSv), Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) said Wednesday. The previous high in areas holding the tanks was the 1,800 mSv recorded Saturday.

READ MORE: Al Jazeera

Japan finds highly toxic strontium in Fukushima

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“TOKYO- High levels of toxic strontium-90 have been found in groundwater at the devastated Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, the utility that operates the facility said on Wednesday.

Strontium-90 is a by-product of the fission of uranium and plutonium in nuclear reactors as well as nuclear weapons, according to the website of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

It was not immediately clear how much of a setback the discovery would be for efforts by Tokyo Electric Power to clean up the plant, which was devastated when an earthquake and tsunami two years ago caused three reactor meltdowns.

Officials from the utility, known as Tepco, told a news conference that testing of groundwater outside the turbine building of reactor No 2 had shown that the level of strontium-90 had increased by more than 100 times between Dec 2012 and May of this year.

Tepco said it was likely the radioactive material entered the environment after water poured over the melted fuel in unit No 2 and leaked out via the turbine building, which is located between the reactor and the ocean.

The elevated readings of strontium are more than 30 times the legal limit.”

Read more: China Daily


Parting the Radioactive Water: Can the Nexus Guide Us Through Our Nuclear Legacy?

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Parting the Radioactive Water: Can the Nexus Guide Us Through Our Nuclear Legacy?

by Miles Ten Brinke

Miles, Peak Water columnist and avowed Hydrophilic energy-head, has found his way to Britain where he’s lost his California perma-tan and is studying an Energy Policy MSc at the University of Exeter on a Fulbright.

Not so long ago it seemed that the 21st century was going to be the era of Nuclear Renaissance. A global industry which had largely stagnated after the 80s in a post Three Miles Island and Chernobyl world found powerful resurgence in the 2000s. The argument and now is generally framed along a cost-benefit landscape dotted with divergent rhetorical flair. It reached a zenith with climate change mitigation- in electricity generation nuclear power produces negligible (or zero depending on the calculation) carbon emissions. It can replace coal to provide baseload power and drastically reduce emissions- a vision of the future (again).
Today when folks talk about low-carbon versus renewable in alternative energy debates the low-carbon means either nuclear or carbon capture and storage, but mostly nuclear (CCS hasn’t been commercialised yet as a whole socio-technical system, not even at demonstration scale yet actually). The argument has held enormous sway and is still heavily influential, particularly in the UK. I’m far from a champion of nuclear power, but theoretically this positive potential is real. Particularly in comparison to coal, depending upon your risk parameters nuclear power can almost be benign.
Along every step of the commodity chain from exploration to generating electricity coal is marked by inefficiency and negative externalities (economics’ fun euphemism for those costs to socio-natural health not included in price). Look no further than mountaintop removal and strip mining, or coal’s emission profile relative to almost any other source. Its easy to see why some folks in the environmental and climate change communities push nuclear as a real alternative.
Its my estimation however that the most accurate and holistic accounts of the life cycle costs of nuclear energy are still damning. Setting aside issues of cost, decision making  or general policy implications the problem is that the uranium still has to be mined and the waste dealt with. Both have considerable socioenvironmental impacts, potential and realised. Water for energy is exemplified by nuclear power, acting as a constant vital coolant. Its in this arena we face the Nexus full force (though of course it pervades the entire energy chain up to and including reactor coolants).
Contemporary developments in nuclear power have come to be defined by this. Yes, I’m going to start here with Fukushima. A set of reactors on the coast, dependent upon sea water and in a seismically active region. An earthquake and tsunami devastated the Japanese coastline and helped initiate one of the worst industrial disasters the world has seen.
Through sea-level rise and increased storm severity climate change poses a grave threat to this kind of nuclear system. They tend to be built on coastlines, anywhere close to readily available source of water for cooling .The threat is far from insurmountable, but considerable. the world has taken notice, and the drive for more nuclear power which had already slowed ground to a halt as the disaster unfolded. Fukushima was the inflection point for nuclear, in all likelihood the death knell of the Renaissance. Japan and Germany renounced nuclear power, expansion around the world stagnating. The industry and all its challenges continue all the same.
In Washington state six underground storage tanks are leaking radioactive waste. The threat currently seems to manageable, potentially threatening the area’s soil and groundwater but far from contaminating the Columbia river.  There are however 149 single-shell tanks at the Hanford facility filled with waste and previous leaks have damaged the soil already. The tanks are ageing, leaks are more and more likely. One tank for instance was leaking 150-300 gallons per annum of radioactive fluid. Developing the right policies to deal with this waste once its been produced is extremely difficult.
The US is a major producer of nuclear waste but doesn’t have a strategic solution. The planned national storage facility at Yucca Mountain outside of Las Vegas has been effectively shut down. Just about every major politician in Nevada has been fighting the federal government against the Yucca project for years. There’s mass opposition at all levels. Coming from that area you develop a strong aversion to any such proposal, whether or not its well informed. Not only was the potency of nuclear waste as a symbol at work, but folks just couldn’t see any benefit for them in taking in the country’s waste. When locals especially can’t find an economic benefit the legitimacy of big infrastructural projects stands on shaking ground. Much as I do personally support the opposition it makes a tough policy area all the more complex.
This adds further pressure on facilities like Hanford and exemplifies the strident NIMBYism of nuclear waste in the US and UK. The UK too has a waste problem and planned to build an underground storage centre in Cumbria. Its the site of both the world renowned Lake District and the Sellafield nuclear facilities. Last month the county council voted down the proposal, killing off for now the hopes of a central holding site. Cumbria was really the only viable place currently available, and with so many residents dependent on nuclear power for jobs and the proximity to reactors and current holding sites made it ideal.
As with Hanford, at Sellafield and nuclear sites all across the UK and US the kit is ageing and ageing rough. In the past mass dumping, such as into the Irish Sea has been acceptable and left a legacy of radioactivity, ecological destruction and socio-political strife in its wake. Historic uranium mining has shattered the land, water and people of Southwestern reservations in the US. The waste is there and will continue to grow for the foreseeable future no matter what energy choices are made. The legacy of the atomic age is inescapable.
The question is how that waste is managed, and may the Water-Energy Nexus be a guide.
~ Miles on Water


Plying the Water-Energy Nexus

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Plying the Water-Energy Nexus

by Miles Ten Brinke

Miles, Peak Water columnist and avowed Hydrophilic energy-head, has found his way to Britain where he’s lost his California perma-tan and is studying an Energy Policy MSc at the University of Exeter on a Fulbright.

Growing up the in the American Southwest is an education in the triumph of human ingenuity and the creeping hazards of its peril. From Palm Springs to Las Vegas we’ve made the desert bloom- a green oasis of shopping malls, suburban lawns and sprawling golf courses. It is a socio technical system built on a foundation of innovative engineering large and small, from the proliferation of air conditioning to the California aqueduct and the Hoover Dam. Even amidst the bust of the Great Recession and its aftermath, the boom of these places is so resonant* it’s easy to forget just how fragile and contingent the whole enterprise truly is. Climate change looms ahead, and the water’s running out. Even amidst all the changes ahead, the world’s driest places will see their rains dwindle. They’ll only get drier. In the Southwest, the Colorado no longer feeds into the sea. In California in particular, the vast majority of the water (and other resources) is consumed in the South yet it’s sourced in the North. This system defined by overconsumption is no longer tenable; the region’s decision makers need search out viable alternatives. Much as the global energy system needs a transition to a more equitable, secure, efficient and decarbonized alternative so too must our water socio-technical systems change. I’ve personally come to be defined by that reality.

Though I’ve lived now around the world, for the vast majority of my life my family and I lived in the Southwest, split mostly between Las Vegas and the Inland Empire of Southern California. We lived in Vegas for most my primary and secondary education, my folks moving us to California when I started high school. It’s where I started my post-secondary education, at Mount San Jacinto College. These spaces, Nevada and California, have shaped me and the course my life’s taken. Resource management is a priority for any public policy, but it’s vital in the desert. For all the clever development, water shortages are an ever-present and deepening concern in these places. The efficient consumption of water and other resources is both a necessity and a central source of contention. People get used to their cars, to their lawns, their shopping malls, housing developments and rapid economic growth. We forged an oasis and struggle to maintain it. This dynamic, this dilemma is one I’ve grappled with from the onset of my career in energy over five years ago. I got my start in Socal as a student participant in a K-12 energy efficiency education program which provided the training, tools and support to conduct an energy audit of one’s campus and even implement changes. The lesson, amidst the greatest recession we’d known since the 30s, was the value maximal throughput at minimal expense. Our resources are finite, precious. How we choose to consume defines not only our economic activity, but shapes our culture and socio-natural landscapes all around us.

This has resonated with my experiences ever since. Through further jobs and voluntary work I came to an understanding of everyday energy use efficiency beyond simply the kWh; demand management in energy policy is as much about the careful management of our water for the future and the planet as innovations in energy conservation and technologic efficiency. Energy and water are inextricably linked, whether the connection between the energy inputs to the mass agricultural sector of California and its behemoth thirst or suburban sprawl with its house-as-castle populism and everything in-between. These parallels and intersections are deep, and many.

After completing a B.S. in Society & Environment at UC Berkeley focusing on Global Environmental Politics I’m now on a Fulbright-University of Exeter Postgraduate Student Award pursuing an Energy Policy MSc at the Exeter Cornwall campus. I’m in my second term now, developing another energy specialism-in water policy as it relates to energy. From this entry on, Peak Water readers you can join me on this new path as I explore the energy-water nexus. I’m as a much a student on this journey as you, let’s pursue it with an unquenchable curiosity and a humble openness to learn. Maybe in the process we can even start to shape a new vision of the global water transition, of its interconnections with energy and its realization.

Best of luck to us along the way, it should prove an interesting ride.

~ Miles on Water


Fukushima Operators Struggle to Contain ‘Outrageous Amount’ of Radioactive Water

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“The plant currently holds 200,000 tonnes of highly contaminated waste water, used to cool the broken reactors, but operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, continues to struggle to find ways to store the toxic substance. TEPCO has said they are running out of room to build more storage tanks and the volume of water will more than triple within three years.

“It’s a time-pressing issue because the storage of contaminated water has its limits, there is only limited storage space,” Okamura said.

After the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe of 2011, the plant’s broken reactors have needed constant cooling and maintenance, including the dumping of massive amounts of water into the melting reactors — the only way to avoid another complete meltdown.

Adding to the excessive amounts of cooling water is ground water, which continues to leak into the reactor facilities because of structural damage.”

Read more: Common Dreams


Fracking, Coal and Nukes Wreak Havoc on Fresh Water Supplies

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“The undisputed champion of the current U.S. energy debate is  hydraulic fracturing or fracking. As conventional oil and gas resources become more difficult to come by, energy companies now have to dig deeper than ever to unearth the rich deposits of fossil fuels still available. In order to fracture shale formations that often exist thousands of feet below the surface, drillers use anywhere from 1 to 8 million gallons of water per frack. A well may be fracked up to 18 times. The water, usually drawn from natural resources such as lakes and rivers, is unrecoverable once it’s blasted into the earth, and  out of the water cycle for good.

Even if there wasn’t a problem with  water contamination , deforestation, and noise and  air pollution from fracking, the pro-drilling agenda would still be hit hard with an insurmountable roadblock—access to abundant water.

On June 28, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission  suspended 37 separately approved water withdrawals for fracking due to localized streamflow levels dropping throughout the Susquehanna Basin in Pennsylvania and New York.

In Kansas, oil and gas drillers are running out of options due to the tenth driest July on record. Companies with dwindling access to water resources are resorting to paying farmers for what water they have left, or more, drilling their own water wells, digging ponds next to streams or trucking in water from places as far way as Pennsylvania, according to  CNN Money .”

Read more: Alternet


US West Coast to receive dangerous levels of Fukushima radiation

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“Researchers have released the findings of an intense study into the aftermath of last year’s Fukushima nuclear disaster and warn that the United States isn’t exactly spared just yet. In fact, scientists now fear that incredibly contaminated ocean waters could be reaching the West Coast of the US in a matter of only five years, and the toxicity of those waves could eventually be worse than what was seen in Japan.

A team of scientists led by Joke F Lübbecke of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory have published the findings of an experiment recently conducted to measure the impact of last year’s nuclear disaster and the results are eye-opening to say the least. By simulating the spreading of contaminated ocean waters and seeing how currents could carry them across the Pacific from Japan to the US, scientists believe that the worst might be still on the way.

“Within one year it will have spread over the entire western half of the North Pacific and in five years we predict it will reach the US West Coast.” Claus Böning, co-author of the study, tells the website Environmentalresearchweb.

Böning adds that “The levels of radiation that hit the US coast will be small relative to the levels released by Fukushima,” yet fails to exactly stand by that statement in the fullest. “But we cannot estimate accurately what those levels will be because we do not know for certain what was released by Fukushima,” the doctor adds.

In fact, others fear that contaminated ocean waters may collect in packets and produce waves of highly concentrated nuclear toxins that could pose a dangerous toll to Americans.”

Read more: RT