FUKUSHIMA, JAPAN - March 12, 2011
On April 19, 2011, five weeks after the Fukushima disaster, the Japanese government raised the As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA) legally accepted level of public exposure to commercial radiation from 1 to 20 milliSeverts per year (mSv/y). This 20-fold increase applied to children as well as adults, and was rapidly implemented despite sound research showing the hightened mortality risks of exposure, even to low levels of radiation, especially to women and children (see our Radioactive Poison page). These elastic regulations are revealing, and we ourselves are in jeopardy of EPA drastically lowering U.S. standards, an issue we are actively working to prevent. The following graph illustrates data in the National Academy of Sciences Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR VII Phase 2, 2006, pg. 275) report, "Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation,"available in the right column of this page. It should be noted that radiation exposure is cumulative, increasing with the time length of exposure, and that women and children are clearly at the highest risk.
The Fukushima plant in Japan contains six nuclear reactors, three of which have suffered explosions. There is concern about the containment integrity of the reactor cores, and the perhaps equally as serious danger from the spent fuel cooling pools.
'Spent' fuel is a misnomer, since the rods are much more radioactive after being irradiated in the reactors. These fuel rods are used for 18 - 24 months in a reactor, then they must be submerged in deep circulating water to cool for 5 to 20 years before they can be dry stored in steel and concrete casks (designed to contain them for 60 to 100 years).These cooling pools contain massive amounts of radiation and require constant electricity to pump water in. If they are damaged and leak water, they can rapidly boil down, exposing the fuel rods and risking a nuclear fire and explosion. This necessary cooling is why each reactor uses about 23 million gallons of fresh water per day and needs adequate backup power to provide it.
Fukushima is not a situation where the fire is put out, but where the rods must be cooled for a long period of time.The rods have become heated enough to interact with one another and melt-down, hence the toxic radioactive poisons released into the atmosphere. It should be stated about spent fuel rods, that they are not as physically hot as the rods in the reactor core, depending on how long they have been cooling down since being removed from the reactor, but they do contain far more toxic poisons. The danger includes the release of radioactive gases – including iodine, cesium, strontium and even plutonium radionuclides.
Man-made nuclear fission creates about 200 radionuclide isotopes that do not exist in nature. Living organisms try to make sense of them, so they identify them as the elements they most closely resemble and treat them as those analogs, absorbing them as though they were calcium, potassium, iodine, etc. Some nuclear reactor released isotopes burn out very quickly, but others remain radioactive for millions of years. There are three kinds of known radiation, which you can read more about on our Radioactive Poisons page.
GAMMA radiation is similar to X-rays. It passes straight through the human body, but can mutate regulatory or reproductive genes. ALPHA radiation is not considered dangerous by the nuclear industry because it does not travel far nor penetrate human skin. It can however be ingested or inhaled and is extremely mutagenic. BETA radiation is light and can travel farther distances. It is also very mutagenic and carcinogenic.
Radiation poisoning is invisible and insidious, what Japanese Prime Minister called "the invisible enemy". The various radioactive elements become incorporated into specific human organs depending on the natural elements they resemble. Some people appear more resistant than others, but radiation poisoning is cumulative and women and children are extremely vulnerable.
Iodine 131 is a very volatile radioactive isotope with a half-life of 8 days, which means it remains radioactive for about 23 weeks. It is a Beta and a high-energy Gamma emitter, and as such is very carcinogenic. It enters the blood stream through the alveoli in the lungs or can be ingested by eating contaminated foods or milk. It is avidly absorbed by the thyroid gland at the base of the neck, and children are at very high risk of exposure. Potassium iodide cannot prevent this absorption, but it can slow it. Potassium iodide pills are formulated to protect the thyroid of people exposed to a radioactive plume. It should NOT be taken unless exposed.
Cesium 137 is a potassium analog, that mimics potassium in the cells of the human body. It deposits in human muscles where it irradiates muscle cells and nearby organs. According to the founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, a leading expert in the field of radiation poisoning, "It is a dangerous beta and high-energy gamma emitter and is very carcinogenic." (Dr. Helen Caldicott, Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer, The New Press, New York, 2006, p. 64.)
Strontium is a calcium analog (which means the body mis-identifies it as calcium and absorbs it as such). Strontium 90 is a beta and gamma emitter with a half-life of 28 years, which means it is radioactively dangerous for about 300 years. Strontium 90 released from nuclear power plants lands on the soil and is taken up by grass and concentrated in cows and goats milk and in the breasts of lactating women. Caution should be taken to protect babies from drinking this milk, as it can induce bone cancer and leukemia in the child's body years later.
Unit 3 at the Fukushima plant exploded on the second day, possibly spreading MOX plutonium oxide into the atmosphere. MOX fuel contains some reactor-grade plutonium, whereas most reactors run on uranium fuel. This Unit 3 is the one they dropped water on from helicopters and shot water canons onto, because the cooling pool has lost water and the 'spent' fuel rods needed cooling. Many brave and heroic workers gave their all to the effort.
Plutonium, named after the Greek god of hell, was declared by its discover, Glen Seaborg (1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry), to be the most dangerous substance on earth. It is so toxic and carcinogenic that less than one-millionth of a gram if inhaled will cause lung cancer. It translocates via white blood cells to the lymph glands and can mutate regulatory genes in white blood cells of lymphocytes causing lymphoma or leukemia. It resembles iron, combines with transferrin and moves into the bone marrow and hemoglobin molecules in red blood cells. It irradiates bone cells causing bone cancer and white blood cells in bone marrow causing leukemia. It is stored in the liver, causing liver cancer, and crosses the placenta into a developing embryo. Plutonium is also stored in the testicles, adjacent to spermatocytes, causing mutations in reproductive genes, increasing genetic diseases in future generations, and causing testicular cancer in men.
Dr. Helen Caldicott, founder of Physicians for Social Responsibilty, informs us that every male in the northern hemisphere has a tiny amount of plutonium in his testicles from radioactive fallout that is still falling on the earth from the upper atmosphere, which was polluted by the atmospheric weapons tests conducted by the United States, the Soviet Union, China, France, and Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. (See USGS map in right side-bar of the Radioactive Poisons page.)
In the interview "Fukushima and the Dangers of Nuclear Power" (right column), Dr Caldicott says that doctors will begin seeing lung cancer and leukemia in Japan in 2 to 5 years, and solid cancers in 15 to 17 years, but that the contamination of the food chain will last for hundreds of thousands of years.
For more information on radiation health risks,
see our "Radioactive Poisons" page.
Evolution of Evacuation Zones around Fukushima.
From left to right – April 2011, 16 April 2012, 17 July 2012, 10 August 2012
World Nuclear News, Source: Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI)
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says Japan is not releasing accurate information (CNN 3/18/2011).The deception continues, even in the face of multi-national radiation exposure.
Fukushima briefings at the Union of Concerned Scientists: http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/nuclear_power_risk/safety/japan-nuclear-crisis-briefings.html
Misinformation has been the norm in the field of nuclear power – a multi-trillion dollar industry tied to nuclear weapons, which spends hundred of millions [see American University Investigative Report] on lobbying Congress and on campaigns to convince the public that nuclear power is what it decidedly is not, i.e. not cheap, not clean and not safe. The evidence clearly shows that nuclear power is in fact expensive, dirty and dangerous. Our own government' studies and those published in respected journals throughout the world show that nuclear power is economically expensive, biologically dirty for the environment, and medically dangerous to human beings, especially children and the unborn.
Our group of dedicated environmental activists regularly attend meetings of the NRC and the TVA, and are repeatedly appalled by the deliberate distortion of truth and outright falsehoods fed to the public. In a Scientific American article (July 2011), "Whistle Blowers Say Nuclear Regulatory Commission Watchdog Is Losing Its Bite", three former members of the NRC's Office of the Inspector General describe how the Commission fails to protect the public. The CBS News video on the right shows the lowly backwoods tactics which the TVA stoops to, in attempts to cover up its inexcusably poor record of safety and financial mismanagement.
The triple catastrophes that crashed upon Japan in 2011 are simply beyond imagining. The earthquake and tsunami were natural disasters, but Fukushima-Daiichi was a preventable man-made disaster caused by the nuclear power industry. The only good that can come of such tragedy is in the innumerable acts of human caring, and in determined and diligent efforts – by those in a position to do so – to prevent future disasters and human suffering caused by nuclear power.
Japan was better prepared for nuclear disaster than the U.S. is, partially because both Japan and Europe move their so-called spent fuel out of cooling pools and into dry cask storage as soon as possible, whereas U.S. regulations allow the cheaper storage for indefinite periods in less secure spent fuel cooling pools. The U.S. can embrace lessons learned from Fukushima to protect its people – or the TVA and the NRC can just carry on with their business-as-usual cronyism until America experiences our own devastating nuclear disaster.
The first lesson can be to insist on accuracy in reporting, independent scientific reviews, and accountability for the nuclear power industry. We can learn from the critical experiences highlighted by Japan''s tragedy in this revealing Huffington Post article, "Interview with Akira Tokuhiro, Nuclear Engineer; Fukushima and the Mass Media" and by this article, "Architect of Reactor 3 Warns of Massive Hydrovolcanic Explosion." The second lesson can be to accept scientific findings and employ the tools put in place to protect the health and safety of citizens. Although the Japanese had exceptionally advanced equipment to predict where the radioactive plume would go and how to evacuate, someone in the chain of command ignored the data and misdirected citizens in the aftermath of the power plant explosions. This New York Times article, "Japan Held Nuclear Data, Leaving Evacuees in Peril", explains in detail what went wrong in Japan and how data can be ignored when someone decides to protect their government, or industry, or even the people from the truth. Nuclear power requires scientific accuracy and human beings deserve to know the truth regarding their own safety.
U.S. citizens are deliberately misinformed by the nuclear power industry, and our Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is complicit in the lies. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has completed extensive research: see Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) VII Phase 2 report (at right), "Health Risks from Exposures to Low Level Radiation." As you can read on our Radioactive Poisons page, England, Germany, Russia and France have all conducted studies finding dangers to human health from the nuclear power industry. Women and children are the most vulnerable to cancer and mutations caused by low level radiation.
CHERNOBYL, RUSSIA - 1986
There was a massive cover-up when the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded in 1986. The full story of what happened at that time was not revealed until 2006. More than 500,000 Russians waged a battle for 7 months and succeeded in preventing a second explosion, which would have wiped-out half of Europe and rendered it uninhabitable. We highly recommend viewing this reasoned 90 minute documentary with interviews of the key official players in the crisis, including Mickhael Gorbachev, "The Battle of Chernobyl". This film shows what the heroes who go in to fight a nuclear meltdown are facing. What the Russians faced is much like what the Japanese are facing today.
New York Academy of Sciences 2009 report, "Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for the People and the Environment", is a collection of papers written by leading authorities in Eastern Europe translated from Russian. The authors say the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Chernobyl Forum reports have largely downplayed or ignored much of the scientific literature in their assessments. An international example of the characteristic industry deception. BEST/MATRR owns a copy of the report and will help you in your research, if their is a specific chapter you would like to review (see Table of Contents, WileyOnlineLibrary). In the chapter on the Consequences for Public Health, the study concludes:
"The calculations suggest that
the Chernobyl catastrophe has already killed
several hundred thousand human beings . . .
The number of Chernobyl victims
will continue to grow
over many future generations."
– "Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe
for People and the Environment",
Annals of the New York
Academy of Sciences, Vol. 1181
The Physicians for Social Responsibility report, "Dirty, Dangerous and Expensive: The Truth About Nuclear Power", estimates "220,000 people were displaced from their homes, and the radioactive fallout from the accident made 4,440 square kilometers of agricultural land and 6,820 square kilometers of forests in Belarus and Ukraine unusable. It is extremely difficult to get accurate information about the health effects from Chernobyl. Government agencies in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus estimate that about 25,000 of the 600,000 involved in fire-fighting and clean up operations have died so far because of radiation exposure from the accident.⁵
5 Chornobyl.info. “Overview of health consequences”. Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. http://www.Chornobyl.info/index.php?userhash=10786534&navID=21&lID=2#Sources
"At least 3 million children
in Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation
require physical treatment [due to the Chernobyl accident]."
– Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations
THREE MILE ISLAND (TMI), USA - March 28, 1979
In 1979, the United States had its own accident at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Reactor in Pennsylvania. Although there were no immediate deaths, the incident had serious health consequences for the surrounding area, and 33 years later the population still suffers.
A 1991 Columbia University School of Public Health study, "Cancer Rates after the Three Mile Island Nuclear Accident and the Proximity of Residence to the Plant" showed that the number of observed cancers doubled after the accident within twelve kilometers of the reactor – including lymphoma, leukemia, colon, breast, endometrium, ovary, prostate, and testis.
A 1997 study, "Reevaluation of Cancer Incidence Near the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant: the Collision of Evidence and Assumptions," found that those people living downwind of the reactor at the time of the event were actually 2 to 10 times more likely to contract lung cancer or leukemia than those living upwind of the radioactive fallout.² As you can see from Table 3, the study period was 2 to 6 years after the accident, but nearly half of the cancer cases were observed in just the last year, 1984-1985. Cell damage is not immediately apparent, and the latency period seems to encourage complacency in the media and the public.
According to the Chairman of Three Mile Island Alert (TMIA), " A great deal of radiation was indeed released by the core melt at TMI. The President's Commission estimated about 15 million curies of radiation were released into the atmosphere. A review of dose assessments, conducted by Dr. Jan Beyea, (National Audubon Society; 1984) estimated that from 276 to 63,000 person rem were delivered to the general population within 50 miles of TMI. David Lochbaum of the Union of Concern Scientists, estimated between 40 million curies and 100 million curies escaped during the Accident."
Ironically, nuclear power plants must have another source of power in order to keep them from blowing up or melting down. If incoming power to a nuclear power plant fails, for whatever reason, it results in a critical shutdown of the reactorsʼ cooling systems. If emergency backup generators or water cooling pumps are damaged, as in Fukushima, then water in a reactor (and in spent fuel cooling pools) will start to boil off and expose fuel rods to the air. As zirconium cladding on the rods melts and interacts with water, hydrogen gas is released, which can cause explosions – as it did at three reactors at Fukushima.
This issue first surfaced at Three Mile Island, and U.S. plants of this design had to install vent pipes of hard carbon steel that could withstand more pressure as hydrogen is released. Fukushima had installed improvements to the GE Mark I design a few years before Japan's multiple disasters to avoid "severe accidents", but clearly the improvements did not prevent the explosions or meltdowns.
1 Maureen Hatch, PhD, Mervyn Susser, MB, BCh, et al., "Cancer Rates after the Three Mile Island Nuclear Accident and the Proximity of Residence to the Plant". American Journal of Public Health (June 1991); Vol. 81, No. 6.
2 Wing S, Richardson D, Armstrong D, Crawford-Brown D. "A Reevaluation of Cancer Incidence Near the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant: the Collision of Evidence and Assumptions". Environ Health Perspective (January 1997); Vol. 105, No.1, pp. 52-57.
3 Wing Eric Epstein, "A Summary of Findings at Three Mile Island: 1979-2005", Three Mile Island Alert, Inc., (October 2011)
EMERGENCY SHUT-DOWNS, USA - just one quarter, 2010
BEST member, Garry Morgan of Scottsboro, AL has collected a list of numerous accidents and near misses at nuclear plant sites. According to Morgan, faulty and aging equipment have led to serious emergency shutdowns, conditions called "SCRAMS", at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant. One of the most recent serious scrams occurred on September 29, 2009, involving the #2 reactor. 50 inches of coolant was lost. An initial false report was provided to the plant operators and the NRC. Upon the required event review it was discovered a critical piece of emergency coolant equipment failed and was not reported accurately at the time of the accident. [Event Report 45391]
In the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Emergency and Serious Event Reports for the 1st Quarter FY 2010, it was reported that from October-December 2009, forty events were reported consisting of serious contamination events, fires, security breeches and failed safety systems. Twenty-four reactor scrams were reported, but in all cases the reactor's control rods inserted properly and the reactors were reported as stable. Pump failures, electrical systems failures, high-pressure fluid leaks, reactor core coolant level drops and valve failures were the primary cause of the reactor scrams.
The BREDL, BEST, and MATRR grass-roots organizations have compiled a list of reasons we need to end future development of nuclear power in the Tennessee Valley:
The design for the three nuclear reactors at Brown’s Ferry is the same design as the failed ones at Fukishima Daichi Plant in Japan. The regulations in effect in Japan are similar to the ones in the U.S.
Since the actual loss of Fukishima Daichi nuclear reactors and release of radiation was due to loss of power and failure of backup systems, the similar systems in our region should be reviewed and flaws in the system remedied.
The ice condenser design at Sequoyah and Watts Bar is a flawed old technology that does not give adequate coolant protection in case of an accident in the containment building.
All three nuclear plants are at least 30 years old and therefore subject to aging. With aging comes inevitable pipe cracking, defects in zirconium cladding on the fuel rods, pump and valve failures, corrosion holes, rusting electrical switches and junctions and failing backup diesel generators.
See Our Nuclear Valley page for more current information.
Several accidents have occurred at all of TVA’s operating nuclear plants including tritium leaks.
Most accidents are caused by human error.
All high level radioactive waste is stored on site in spent fuel pools or in casks outdoors. Waste is not stored within a containment building and since there is no permanent repository the amount of radioactive material continues to accumulate on site.
Evacuation plans are inadequate and the public is ill informed about what to do in case of a meltdown.
There is concern over the proposed use of weapons-grade Plutonium/MOX radioactive fuel at Browns Ferry and the discovery of secret meetings between TVA & NRC requesting reduced security for transporting this material.
Energy Efficiency creates more immediate and long term jobs and is the first line of defense against rising energy costs. It is the least costly means of ‘increasing’ production (by decreasing demand) and can be implemented more quickly than building new plants.
Renewable Energy is now less expensive than nuclear with none of the dangers to the people of the Tennessee Valley or our environment.
We contend that nuclear power is a dangerous and costly dinosaur, and that TVA should lead us toward of a truly clean and safe energy future – with solar, wind, heat recycling, geothermal and other sources for electricity generation.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Join BEST /MATRR - Because It Matters
Print our 'check'' voucher and send it in with your electric bill payment.
Support Green Legislation in Your State.
Send a link to your friends
so they can learn about energy at MATRR.org.
Bellefonte Efficiency & Sustainability Team
Mothers Against Tennessee River Radiation
Because It Matters
Copyright © 2010-2013 BEST/MATRR
You are encouraged to copy our written material,
but please credit all referenced sources.
All rights reserved.