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It’s been three years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the bad news continues.  In December, it was widely reported that 51 US sailors assigned to the nuclear carrier, Ronald Reagan, have incurred cancer, as a result of that vessel’s 2011 deployment to the area of the Fukushima reactor failure.  The actual cleanup is painfully slow.  What have we learned from the Fukushima disaster?

On March 11, 2011, Japan experienced a 9.0 earthquake.  The six nuclear plants at Fukushima Daiichi – about 136 miles north of Tokyo – survived the quake but were swamped by a 45-foot wave that overwhelmed the 19-foot seawalls.  Fukushima units 5 and 6 were in cold shutdown for maintenance and Unit 4 had been deactivated.  Units 1,2, and 3 lost power and were unable to cool down properly; they experienced full meltdown.  In the ensuing three years, we learned four grim truths.

Disaster communication was terrible.
At the time of the earthquake and tsunami, the USS Ronald Reagan was in the Gulf of Japan and was deployed to aid the relief effort.  Now, 51 sailors, who were part of the 2011 rescue mission, are suing the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) “alleging that the utility mishandled the crisis and did not adequately warn the crew of the risk of participating in the earthquake relief efforts.”

Journalist William Boardman reported:

Although the potential seriousness of the Fukushima accident was widely apparent, Japanese officials publicly and privately minimized the danger for as long as they could, lying to their own people and rescue personnel from other countries alike. At the time, the first meltdown was thought to have happened on March 12.  [Two years later] on December 12, 2013, Naoto Kan, the former prime minister who was in office at the time, told a meeting of the Japan Press Club that his government had known that “the first meltdown occurred five hours after the earthquake” which hit at 14:46 on March 11.
The U.S.S. Reagan and accompanying ships were coming into an environment where radiation levels in the air and water were far higher than the Navy was being told officially.  That lying is at the heart of the lawsuit against TEPCO, which… argues that TEPCO’s lies led the U.S. Navy to sail unknowingly into intensely and dangerously radioactive waters.

The Reactors weren’t designed to be safe.
In February the Union of Concerned Scientists published Fuskushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster written by scientists David Lochbaum and Edwin Lyman together with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Susan Q. Stranahan.  They observed:

Fukushima Daiichi unmasked the weaknesses of nuclear power plant design and the long-standing flaws in operations and regulatory oversight.  Although Japan must share this blame, this was not a Japanese nuclear accident [alone]… The problems that led to the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi exist wherever reactors operate.  Although the accident involved a failure of technology, even more worrisome was the role of the worldwide nuclear establishment: the close-knit culture that has championed nuclear energy – politically, economically, socially – while refusing to acknowledge and reduce the risks that accompany its operation… In many respects, the emergency communication system at Fukushima Daiichi reflected the underlying premise of the plant’s comprehensive accident management plan, which read: ‘the possibility of a severe accident occurring is so small that from an engineering standpoint, it is practically unthinkable.’  The follies resulting from this complacent attitude began to build catastrophically.  

We still don’t understand what happened,
As horrific as the Fukushima nuclear disaster was, one would hope that we’ve learned important lessons from it.  Sadly, that’s not the case.  Lochbaum, Lyman, and Stranahan reported that, so far, accident modelers have not been effective:

The computer simulations could not reproduce numerous important aspects of the accidents.  And in many cases, different computer codes gave different results… When computer models cannot fully explain yesterday’s accident, they cannot accurately simulate tomorrow’s accident.  Yet the nuclear establishment continues to place ever-greater reliance on these codes to develop safety strategies and cost-benefit analyses.

Meanwhile, TEPCO struggles to clean up Fukushima Daiichi.  Recently, the TEPCO president Naomi Hirose said:

we have set an ambitious goal to remove the fuel debris from at least one of the reactors by the first half of fiscal year 2020. It will not be easy. The technology for safely doing so is not yet in place, and there can be no shortcuts."

On March 10th a senior advisor to TEPCO warned, “[the company] may have no choice but to eventually dump hundreds of thousands of [tons] of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.”

What does this mean to the United States?
We shouldn’t build any more nuclear plants and we should shut down the 65 currently operating.  Lockbaum, Lyman, and Stranahan observed that our nuclear facilities are also vulnerable to natural disasters (and terrorist attacks) and “U.S emergency plans are not designed to protect the public in the aftermath of Fukushima-scale accidents or fully address the problem of long-term land contamination.”

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Comment Preferences

  •  Baby & bathwater. (4+ / 0-)

    Nuclear has its problems, but the greater enemy is coal. I'm fine with nuclear as a bridge technology till we get rid of fossil fuels. We especially need to invest in safer nuclear tech, like liquid thorium or pebble bed.

    death-rate-per-watts-Seth-Godin

    "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

    by HeyMikey on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 06:51:53 AM PDT

    •  sorry, gotta resize the graphic... (3+ / 0-)

      death-rate-per-watts-Seth-Godin

      "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

      by HeyMikey on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 06:52:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  and the mutagenesis rate (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Joieau

        per watts produced? that's the main difference between nuke and fossil fuels.  they both have their problems, and when things go wrong, they go very, very wrong.  and when nuke goes wrong, shit gets weird.

        Please don't dominate the rap, Jack, if you got nothin' new to say - Grateful Dead

        by Cedwyn on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 08:02:08 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Fossil fuels are highly mutagenic (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Joieau, Ozy, Cedwyn

          For example, they are full of PAHs

          which are  carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic.

          •  Hey Joieau - looks like we agree on (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Joieau, Cedwyn

            * something * - i.e., that fossil fuels are bad!

            Who'd ever thunk it?

          •  And coal ash pond failures (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            the dogs sockpuppet, Cedwyn

            are happening all over the place. My state [NC] has been having serious problems, and we've at least 6 more big ash impounds in constant danger of collapse. One of which will take out all lanes of an interstate highway when it lets loose.

            Nukes don't do anything with their waste either, beyond keeping it in impound holding ponds (a.k.a. spent fuel pools). Because proper management and constant revolving casking are too expensive.

            Coal is definitely gnarly, its wastes dangerous to health and environment. Nukes are worse. Around here [DKos] there's a constant drone of political pragmatism - lesser of evils. That's a consideration in too many issues, many of which transcend mere politics.

            Politicians aren't very long-minded. Their concerns these days are almost entirely philosophy-based and focused on minutia. Addressing something like energy policy in terms of global climate change and expanding scientific understanding of the interconnected dynamics affecting multiple issues, change is beyond their ken and capacity. To prevent and/or diminish disaster(s), the impetus is most probably slated to arise from the people's end.

            Picture state legislatures and US congress arguing (or pointedly delaying) even just the debate about these serious issues. Whole party contingents all the way to flat-out denial that there are any issues worth debating. Meanwhile, the people and their 'invisible hand' in the markets are going in a whole different direction. Home solar installations and cooperative/utility wind farms have boomed so significantly since Fukushima that the big 'tron purveyors just can't compete. In either turnover time from conception to grid switch or in economics of investment and return.

            Anti-nuke does not equal pro-coal.

            There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves. - Will Rogers

            by Joieau on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 10:38:02 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Nukes are not worse. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Cedwyn

              Coal has killed well over a million so far, and that's not even counting the present and future deaths from AGW.

              The reason many choose 'less of two evils' is because the other choice is 'more evil', it harms many more people.

              While you may not believe anti-nuke equals pro-coal, it is indeed the practical result to date. Germany says hi.

              As does Al Gore to all the Nader supporters from 2000.

              It is irresponsible to disavow the consequences of your actions just because you claim you're acting from some deeply moral principle.

      •  You are Johnny on the spot with BIG BAD COAL. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        the dogs sockpuppet, Joieau

        It isn't either or, as you would like us to believe.  There's solar, you know.

        The cost to the planet, destroying the ecosystem of entire ocean is way too high with nukes.

        Information is the currency of democracy. ~Thomas Jefferson

        by CIndyCasella on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 08:02:46 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Ebola is worse than Cancer. Don't want either. nt (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chmood, Joieau


      Talk sense about reality: you're not viable says Political Sophisticate Wisdoom.

      by Jim P on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 09:24:51 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Who says thorium is any safer than uranium? (0+ / 0-)

      The really dangerous stuff, in the short to medium term, is fission fragments.  Does not thorium (actually U-233, which is bred from thorium) produce fission fragments?

      It doesn't produce plutonium, but U-233 works just fine in nuclear weapons.

      Bello ne credite, Americani; quidquid id est, timeo Republicanos et securitatem ferentes.

      by Sura 109 on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 12:12:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  according to The Internet... (0+ / 0-)
        Unlike conventional light water reactor designs, the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) is a type of molten salt reactor (MSR), that was first demonstrated in the 1960s. It is generally considered inherently safer, cleaner and more economically viable than conventional reactors, but was not chosen by DOE as the technology of choice  because it did not produce weapons grade material as a byproduct, something DOE was looking for at the time. That would be considered an advantage today. (11)

        This design is less radioactive and more proliferation resistant. Its reaction in a molten-salt reactor (MSR) does produce U233 but that is apparently not a weapons-grade material. Thorium is about four times more abundant in nature than uranium (6). The largest reserves are in Australia, India, and the U.S.

        LFTR reactor cores are not pressurized. Any increase in temperature results in a reduction in power, thus eliminating the problematic runaway meltdown scenario. If the fluid should get too hot, a salt plug at the bottom of the tank simply melts dumping the entire mess in to a storage vessel directly below the reactor. (1,4)

        The question of waste (8,9,10) is also far better. Thorium produces about a thousand times less waste throughout the supply chain than uranium. It is mostly consumed in the reaction. Of the remaining quantity, which is quite small (I’ve been told it’s  about the size of a coke can for every billion kilowatt hours), 83 percent is safe within ten years and the remaining 17 percent requires 300 years of storage before it becomes safe. While that is still a long time, it is far more manageable than the 10,000 years required for today’s spent fuel.

        It is expected to cost far less than conventional reactors and because of its simplicity, it can be assembled in a factory (2) scaled down to the point where one can be carried on the back of a tractor-trailer and used in a distributed manner.

        http://www.triplepundit.com/...

        "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

        by HeyMikey on Sat Mar 15, 2014 at 04:26:29 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  we've also learned: (4+ / 0-)

    1. of all the reasons why nuclear power died in the 1970's, none of them have been solved yet.

    and

    2. too many on the anti-nuke side don't understand basic science, and we are no more immune to CT silliness than the rightwingers are.

    In the end, reality always wins.

    by Lenny Flank on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 06:53:23 AM PDT

    •  Here you are crying CT once again. n/t (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Joieau

      Information is the currency of democracy. ~Thomas Jefferson

      by CIndyCasella on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 08:03:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Your problem is we understand science all too well (4+ / 0-)

      The problem on the pro-nuke side is that they are gullible, use too much magical thinking, and have delusions of omnipotence, omniscience, and infallibility. With almost no grasp of how real-world money/profit interests and the attendant corruption degrades the quality and safety of plants from their very construction through their maintenance and disposal of waste.

      It's a bit ludicrous to say that the Union of Concerned Scientists, for one example, doesn't understand science. There are tens of thousands of scientists who reject nuclear because they can think clearly about reality.


      Talk sense about reality: you're not viable says Political Sophisticate Wisdoom.

      by Jim P on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 09:34:13 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Yeah, let's frack more. (4+ / 0-)

    That won't cause any problems.

    •  Hey, they have to pollute every drop of water on (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Joieau

      the planet.  

      Gulf of Mexico.  Check.  Thanks, BP.
      Pacific Ocean.  Check.  Thanks, TEPCO and GE.

      They can't let the interior water stay healthy, therefore they frack.

      Seriously, when are we all going to realize that we must reduce our population via responsible birth control, thus reducing this great need for dirty energy before we reduce our population by killing off our planet's habitability.

      Information is the currency of democracy. ~Thomas Jefferson

      by CIndyCasella on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 08:15:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The "choose your poison" argument (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      the dogs sockpuppet

      that keeps being presented whenever a Fukushima diary appears... well, it's not exactly relevant to what's happening over there.

      Anyone who's paying attention to that unfolding mess knows that the situation is nowhere near being under control, nor is it likely to be, any time soon. It's not getting better, it's getting worse, and no one seems to have a realistic plan for what to do about it, least of all TEPCO.

      The exact extent of the damage caused, and being caused, is perhaps debatable, but only because it remains mostly unmeasured. And the strong possibility of much greater damage to come is not debatable at all.

  •  thanks bobburnett (4+ / 0-)

    for the comprehensive and smart report.

  •  I completely disagree with you (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Roadbed Guy

    Nuclear power is the safest viable form of mass electrical production if measured by deaths per kilowatt-hour produced. Despite all the hubbub about Fukushima, no one has died from the radiological aspect of the plant, and it's likely that very few will. Getting rid of 20% of our electrical grid is asinine, absurd, and beyond the pale. If we want to save hundreds of millions of lives from climate change, the very first thing I would do is convert most of our grid to nuclear power.

    I agree with Lenny Flank - Too many on the anti-nuke side do not understand basic science. It's sickening. We're supposed to be the reality-based community. Why aren't we on issues like this and GMO?

    TX-17 (Bill Flores-R), TX Sen-14 (Kirk Watson-D), TX HD-50 (Celia Israel-D). Senate ratings map (as of 3/10/14)

    by Le Champignon on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 08:03:56 AM PDT

    •  Because we're also people, and a certain % of (0+ / 0-)
      Why aren't we on issues like this and GMO?
      ...people aren't capable of basic math. I assume that this poses an evolutionary advantage for the species somehow, as it's otherwise highly unadaptive.
    •  There is no need for everyone (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      native

      on the anti-nuke 'side' to understand more basic science than they managed to take out of school with them and bother to keep up with on the news. Opposing nukes as just a human, parent, householder, citizen of earth is perfectly okay. For any reason financial or personal (health and safety).

      The pro-nuke 'side' welcomes science groupies and ideological idiots with open arms - people who know basically nothing about the science or the technology. Insisting the opposition can't welcome the hippies and tree-huggers because they [non-absolute] don't know everything about the science and technology is pure noise.

      There are enough who do understand the science and technology. Everyone else gets to decide for themselves which 'side' they'll occupy. For whatever reasons they like.

      There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves. - Will Rogers

      by Joieau on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 10:56:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Kind of misleading (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      native
      Despite all the hubbub about Fukushima, no one has died from the radiological aspect of the plant, and it's likely that very few will.
      Narrowing the definition of nuclear accident costs to only those who died from short term radiation is disingenuous. As of a couple months ago the deaths of almost 7,000 people displaced by the exclusion zone were attributed to said displacement. Not radiation deaths, but they are dead just the same as a direct result of a nuclear accident. When people tally the death toll from coal they get to include all those downstream consequences. Claiming nuclear deaths must and can only be those from acute radiation poisoning is not honest.

      Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. --Edward Abbey

      by ricklewsive on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 12:07:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  First the Pacific, then the Atlantic and Cape Cod. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joieau, native

    Study of Japan disaster may affect Pilgrim plant: Reactor design in both facilities

    The 40-year-old Pilgrim nuclear power plant has the same kind of plant design, called a General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactor, that failed in Fukushima. Nuclear industry critics have called for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the five-member presidentially appointed commission in charge of overseeing the industry, to suspend operations of the country’s 23 General Electric Mark 1 reactors while regulators study lessons learned from the nuclear accidents in Japan.

    Beyond Nuclear, a coalition of nuclear opponents and watchdog groups that petitioned the NRC to shut down plants like Pilgrim, called these reactors “almost identical to the Fukushima reactors that melted down in Japan’’ and said they are “dangerous and seriously flawed.’’

    Nothing to see here, move along, let the "good things to life" time roll.

    Information is the currency of democracy. ~Thomas Jefferson

    by CIndyCasella on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 08:10:46 AM PDT

    •  Ah, Cape Cod in tsunami season... (0+ / 0-)

      How I miss it.

      But sure, great, let's replace all 23 with more modern designs. I'm in.

      •  Hurricane Sandy barely missed us. Do you not (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Joieau

        remember it?

        Information is the currency of democracy. ~Thomas Jefferson

        by CIndyCasella on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 08:32:45 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes and Turkey Point took a direct hit from Andrew (0+ / 0-)

          Atlantic hurricanes were a known factor in considering the design specs for these plants ...

          In 1992, Turkey Point was directly hit by Hurricane Andrew, destroying its main water tank, causing severe damage to the water treatment plant, and to a smokestack of one of the site's fossil-fueled units. The smokestack had to be demolished and rebuilt. It also suffered a loss of offsite power, requiring the onsite emergency diesel generators to start. No damage was done to the plant's containment buildings.[10][11] The plant was built to withstand winds of up to 235 mph (380 km/h), greatly exceeding the maximum winds recorded by category 5 hurricanes.

          Free: The Authoritarians - all about those who follow strong leaders.

          by kbman on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 01:12:22 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  "Nothing to read here" is more like it (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      native

      The reactor design may be the same, but it wasn't the reactor design that caused all the trouble, it was the design of the plant site and the backup power system, and the location near a highly seismically active seacoast with tsunamis every once on a while guaranteed.

      Cape Cod is seacoast, I'll grant you that.  But I resent people making meaningless and bogus comparisons to advance their agenda.  We have too many "competing narratives" and not enough facts.

      Moving out to a larger frame, reactor designs exist that cannot melt down, and only these (if any) should be allowed to be built.  Most existing reactors, unfortunately, were built by the "steam boiler" crowd who at first saw nuclear simply as a different source of heat.  They have since learned a few tough lessons.  These old designs should be phased out, starting with the most risky ones.

      At the rate renewables are exploding under our feet, they'll cut the economic nuts off of nuclear pretty soon anyway.

      Their real God is money-- Jesus just drives the armored car, and his hat is made in China. © 2009 All Rights Reserved

      by oblomov on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 01:34:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Some of your other material may be accurate (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Remembering Jello

    but the USS Ronald Reagan - Fukushima - cancer link is very dubious.

    You might want reconsider hyping that . . . .

  •  We need to continue to focus attention on (0+ / 0-)

    Fukushima, otherwise they're going to make even more mistakes (willfully or not) while we're not looking.

    I want to live in a world where George Zimmerman offered Trayvon Martin a ride home to get him out of the rain that night. -Bishop G. Brewer

    by the dogs sockpuppet on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 10:17:35 AM PDT

    •  "Willfully or not?" What a dropshot remark. (0+ / 0-)

      When you choose a dropshot, you gotta make sure it clears the net.

      Their real God is money-- Jesus just drives the armored car, and his hat is made in China. © 2009 All Rights Reserved

      by oblomov on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 01:37:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Hate to disappoint but there was no particular (0+ / 0-)

        intent, just covering all eventualities... but whatever floats your boat.

        I want to live in a world where George Zimmerman offered Trayvon Martin a ride home to get him out of the rain that night. -Bishop G. Brewer

        by the dogs sockpuppet on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 02:35:20 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  they should store the water in tankers (0+ / 0-)

    its the least worst choice

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