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Nuclear Safety

Tag Archives | Nuclear Safety

Radiation and the USS Ronald Reagan

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DoD Photo
DoD Photo

DoD Photo

The USS Ronald Reagan is in the news because several dozen crewmembers of the Reagan are trying to sue TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Corporation, for concealing the radiation release and thereby damaging their health (unsurprisingly, members of the armed services are precluded from suing the US military for damage to their health, so redress must be sought elsewhere). I try to tiptoe between the two extremes of radiation alarmism and, I guess, radio-blasé-ism, but in the end I come down on the side that the contamination was pretty serious. The Ronald Reagan was caught in a washout. As the Fukushima plume was passing overhead, a snowstorm brought radioactive nasties down to the ship, and the water surrounding the ship.

The “nothing to see here” position is that the Reagan was exposed to the equivalent of an extra few weeks of background radiation. Trouble is, washed-out fallout isn’t distributed in a neat, uniform radioactive haze. It’s lumpy, sticky, filled with hot particles, and prone to “hot spots.” It is not terribly reassuring to Sailor A that measured radioactive contamination is averaging out to a gentle buzz if he or she is worried about standing on or next to a hot spot. The USS Ronald Reagan spent a couple months at sea after contamination trying to clean itself up; then, according to a lawyer for the sailors claiming injury, it was decontaminated at a port in Washington state for another year and a half before returning to service.

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A Sane and Sober Look at the USS Reagan Radiation Contamination Incident

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DoD Photo
DoD Photo

DoD Photo

From Radiation - Exposure and its treatment: A modern handbook, “During the Manhattan Project, a squad of infantry soldiers without protection dug foxholes a quarter mile from one of the Alamogordo bomb tests. When the atom bomb exploded atop its tower, it was so bright a soldier said he saw through his eyelids, through the blood vessels, skin and muscles of his arm, to the grains of sand on the side of his foxhole. After the blast, the squad marched to ground zero as ordered and disassembled their rifles…The squad reassembled their rifles and marched out through clouds of dust. All of them got serious radiation sickness.”

“All of them recovered, went home and had families. Their children were normal. At 20 years past their exposure they started to die of lymphomas and sarcomas. By 30 years, all of them had died of some type of cancer. Even with a dose that nearly kills you, it takes decades to develop cancer – if you do.”

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Contamination of USS Ronald Reagan During Fukushima Response Underreported

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DoD Photo
DoD Photo

DoD Photo

“The U.S. Navy took proactive measures throughout and following the disaster relief efforts to control, reduce and mitigate the levels of Fukushima-related contamination on U.S. Navy ships and aircraft.” – Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. Anthony Falvo

[Update: In 2013, Japan Focus published two superb pieces by investigative reporter Roger Witherspoon on the US military's response to radioactive contamination during Operation Tomodachi: click here and here. His interviews with servicemen and women who served on the Reagan--and in many other locations and capacities during the relief operation, describe the harrowing circumstances of trying, sometimes unsuccessfully, to predict and dodge the Fukushima plume and deal with onboard contamination of people as well as equipment. Witherspoon's account begs the question of why the Department of Defense saw fit to discontinue the Todomachi Medical Registry, which would have established baseline data for exposed personnel and monitored them for health problems. CH 2/5/14]

As was reported in 2011, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was exposed to radiation contamination from Fukushima during its earthquake/tsunami rescue operations—“Operation Tomodachi”-off the Japan coast. The original coverage minimized the significance of the contamination, saying it was equivalent to an extra month’s background radiation.

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Chuck Hagel Calls for U.S. Nuclear Review

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U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered a wide-ranging review of the nation’s nuclear forces following a series of high-profile scandals.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

The Pentagon chief has summoned senior leaders to meet in the coming weeks. The officials will then have 60 days to create a plan to identify and correct problems with the US nuclear force. The review follows recent revelations that 34 US Air Force officers in charge of launching nuclear missiles cheated on proficiency tests. “Secretary Hagel believes it is time for the Department of Defense as a whole to place renewed emphasis on examining the health of the nuclear force, in particular those issues that affect the morale, professionalism, performance, and leadership of the people who make up that force,” Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters on Thursday. Recent allegations of misconduct among military personnel “raise legitimate concerns about the department’s stewardship of one of our most sensitive and important missions,” he added.

The US military has been rocked by a series of scandals in recent months, including the suspension of 34 missile officers at a base in Montana. That cheating ring was uncovered during an unrelated investigation into a US Air Force drug ring involving 10 officers at six military bases. Two nuclear launch control officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana were said to be targeted in the probe. Prior to that, the general in charge of the US Air Force’s long-range nuclear missiles was sacked for conduct “unbecoming of a gentleman.”

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Sekai no Owari? Fukushima Deserves Closer Attention

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Greg Webb/IAEA
Greg Webb/IAEA

Greg Webb/IAEA

There are reports of starfish off the cost of Hawaii with disintegrating arms and the U.S. government has issued a warning not to eat certain seafood’s caught off the coast of the United States because the water is contaminated by radioactive iodine as a result of the Fukushima power plant disaster. Shouldn’t this garner significant news coverage?

“Fukushima is the most terrifying situation I can image,” said environmental activist David Suzuki. And according to Arne Gundersen, Chief Engineer at Fairewinds, a non-profit founded to educate the public about nuclear energy, “Amazing how many people are still in denial about Fukushima!” Three years after the triple disasters of 3/11- the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown - Tokyo is finally responding to the urgent cries from Suzuki, Gundersen and anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott.

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Nuclear Actors: Rot in the U.S. ICBM Forces

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Pictured: Vice Admiral Tim Giardina and Major General Michael Carey

The U.S. Air Force has fired both Major General Michael Carey and Vice Admiral Tim Giardina for misconduct, reports Binoy Kampmark. Both were in charge of U.S. ICBM forces.

Pictured: Vice Admiral Tim Giardina and Major General Michael Carey

Imperial powers can be the greatest moralists. The Roman Empire projected the ius gentium as a principle of collective worth, the fictitious laws of the peoples that remains the cornerstone of international law. As much as one believes it, it remains a belief, the spirit written into conventions with the hope that states will follow a form of good conduct, provided they are compelled to do so. At the end of the day, please don’t ask one to prove it. The pudding is presumed to be there.

This might explain why the U.S. military complex, for all its heavy handedness, remains one of the world’s most morally inclined establishments, a murderous outfit policed by misguided Boy Scouts and bible bashers. They might kill, maim and violate their own ethical frameworks, but that need not matter. The principle is clear: bad behaviour is not tolerated. Especially in the nuclear forces.

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Did Japan’s Shinzo Abe Lie to Get the Olympics?

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Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Washington.  Source: CSIS

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Washington. Source: CSIS

In order to secure the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for Tokyo, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe assured the IOC that the Fukushima situation was “under control”.  Per Agence France-Presse, “Let me assure you the situation is under control,” [Abe] said. “It has never done or will do any damage to Tokyo.”

Abe replied decisively when pressed by veteran Norwegian IOC member Gerhard Heiberg over Fukushima.  “You should read past the headlines and look at the facts,” he said.  “The contaminated water has been contained in an area of the harbour only 0.3 square kilometres big.  There have been no health problems and nor will there be. I will be taking responsibility for all the programmes with regard to the plant and the leaks.  It looks like the key point, to paraphrase Bill Clinton is “what your definition of ‘situation’ is”.  If the “situation” is currently officially stated radiological hazards to Tokyo and Olympic participants thanks to Fukushima, the answer is a qualified “yes”.

That is, if the Japanese government continues to give public credence to rather unfounded TEPCO optimism that the Fukushima clusterfuck will simply maintain the current trend of dumping radioactive water into the ocean and the main danger to denizens of Tokyo involves getting radioactive sushi from some tuna caught out in the Pacific.  After Shinzo Abe came home from scoring the Olympics, he announced that the Japanese government would participate more actively in the faltering TEPCO effort.

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Radioactive Water Leak found at Fukushima

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Source: Euronews

Radioactive water has leaked from a storage tank into the ground at Japan’s Fukushima plant, its operator says. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said the leak of at least 300 tonnes of the highly radioactive water was discovered on Monday.  The plant, crippled by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, has seen a series of water leaks and power failures. The tsunami knocked out cooling systems to the reactors, three of which melted down. An employee discovered the leak on Monday morning, TEPCO said in a statement.

Officials described the leak as a level-one incident - the lowest level - on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (Ines), which measures nuclear events. This is the first time that Japan has declared such an event since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, however. Under the Ines, events have seven levels starting with Level 0 (“without safety significance”), and Levels 1-3 denoting “incidents” and Levels 4-7 denoting “accidents”.  A puddle of the contaminated water was emitting 100 millisieverts an hour of radiation, Kyodo news agency said.  Masayuki Ono, general manager of TEPCO, told Reuters news agency: “One hundred millisieverts per hour is equivalent to the limit for accumulated exposure over five years for nuclear workers; so it can be said that we found a radiation level strong enough to give someone a five-year dose of radiation within one hour.”

A TEPCO official told a press conference on Tuesday that the water probably leaked from a tank after escaping a concrete barrier.  Workers were pumping out the puddle and the remaining water in the tank and would be transferring it to other containers, Kyodo added.  Water is being pumped into the reactors, after cooling systems were knocked out by the tsunami. Hundreds of tanks were built to store the contaminated water. Some of them had experienced similar leaks since 2012, but not on this scale, a TEPCO official said.

TEPCO had been instructed to retrieve contaminated soil and to strengthen monitoring of the surrounding environment, a regulatory official told Agence-France Presse news agency. No major changes in radiation levels outside the plant had been observed so far, the official added.  The incident comes days after TEPCO admitted that as much as 300 tonnes of contaminated water a day was leaking from the damaged reactor buildings to the sea.

Japan’s Solar Boom

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Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg
Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

As Japan still struggles to contain leaks from its tsunami-wracked Fukushima nuclear plant, its alternative energy sector is growing rapidly to meet electricity demand. The island nation is poised to overtake Germany as the world’s largest solar revenue market this year. In the first quarter of 2013, 1.5 gigawatts (GW) of solar PV systems were installed in Japan. Analysts expect to see $20 billion in PV installed this year, up 82 percent from $11 billion in 2012. The market could top out at 6.1 GW by year’s end. One GW can supply about a quarter million homes with electricity.

Japan’s energy reformers celebrate the solar boom as proof of the country’s smooth transition away from nuclear—technology deemed too dangerous after Fukushima’s meltdown. The country is projected to install solar capacity this year equivalent to five to seven nuclear plants.

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Amidst Japan’s 3/11 Anniversary, Dubious Progress at Rebuilding

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A woman carries an elderly woman on her back, away from the piles of debris that flattened Tohoku, Japan shortly after the tsunami struck in 2011. Photo: Kahoku Shimpo

The anniversary of Japan’s 3/11 is approaching.

A woman carries an elderly woman on her back, away from the piles of debris that flattened Tohoku, Japan shortly after the tsunami struck in 2011. Photo: Kahoku Shimpo

“3/11” is what the Japanese call the series of disasters which struck northern Japan in March of 2011; the earthquake, tsunami, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown. It is time yet again to examine what happened, how it happened, what the prognosis is for the future. Japan is the only country in the world to have suffered two atomic attacks by a foreign power during World War II and a third, a homegrown nuclear disaster fomented by its own Nuclear Power Company, just two years ago.

I have spent most of the last year closely following Japan and the world’s response to that nation’s string of disasters. I spoke on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013 to the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and addressed the country’s progress in dealing with the disasters and creating constructive change for the people of northern Japan. I was joined via telephone from Osaka, Japan by RIT alumnus Deven Neel. Neel’s speech, which I moderated, dealt with his experiences volunteering with the relief efforts in the region.

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Fukushima’s Rice: Mental Health Crises in Fukushima

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Rice farmer planting rice in Fukushima, Japan. colincookman/Flickr

In Japan, rice is life. It is the core of the Japanese diet and its importance cannot be overstated.

Rice farmer planting rice in Fukushima, Japan. colincookman/Flickr

After the Fukushima meltdown, since radioactivity in rice grown in the irradiated ground is not visible to the naked eye, tests must be conducted to determine its levels of radioactive cesium. If the levels are too high, the rice can’t be sold. As a result of tests instituted by the government, shipments of rice from an extensive area around Fukushima prefecture have been banned after the tests revealed they contained levels of radioactive cesium that exceeded safe levels. It is the first time the government has banned shipments of rice since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that badly damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

A larger issue remains: health problems faced by the Japanese people after the meltdown, particularly mental health problems, did not appear to command the same degree of importance with government officials, farmers, and the people at large. The negative effects of the meltdown are not limited to just the harm caused by radiation levels present immediately after the Fukushima disaster. Simply living through this catastrophic disaster caused severe and persistent shock and trauma.

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The Island of Miyatojima: An Architect comes to its Rescue

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Members of the IAEA fact-finding team in Japan visit the emergency diesel generator at Reactor Unit 6 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on 27 May 2011. Source: IAEA

For Americans, unless you live in New Orleans, it’s very hard to imagine the extent of the devastation of this year’s earthquake, subsequent tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown which the Japanese call “3/11”.

Members of the IAEA fact-finding team in Japan visit the emergency diesel generator at Reactor Unit 6 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on 27 May 2011. Source: IAEA

“I have seen disaster zones around the world, but none compare in the scale of damage to the latest disaster,” said architect Shigeru Ban, after visiting Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, and other devastated areas. Miyatojima Island in Higashimatsushima, Miyagi Prefecture suffered severe tsunami damage. Shots of the island show that built structures were virtually leveled. Over 70% of the 260 homes on the island, engulfed by the tsunami, were washed away. Not only were the islanders’ homes battered by the tsunami, severe damage was sustained to three of its key industries, fishing, tourism, and seaweed harvesting.

Since the earthquake, the island has become depopulated. Although Miyatojima had a population of 971 in 2010, many families have left the island along with many young people looking for work. In the Community Restoration Plan announced at the end of September, three of the four communities on Miyatojima were marked for moving from the seriously damaged coastline to the higher ground behind them. It is unclear if there will be enough land and funding available for the reconstruction. The local people have great fortitude and resilience but these qualities alone will not help them revive local industries and rebuild housing. But they do have some remarkable allies.

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Voices from the Ground in Japan: Still a Disaster Zone

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Members of the Fairfax County Urban Fire and Rescue Team head into downtown Ofunato to search for survivors following an 8.9-magnitude earthquake

“Four months after the devastation wrought in northeastern Japan by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the area must still be called a disaster zone.” – Tatsuaki Kobayashi, Deputy Director General, The Japan Foundation

Members of the Fairfax County Urban Fire and Rescue Team head into downtown Ofunato to search for survivors following an 8.9-magnitude earthquake

On July 21, 2011, a Town Hall-style discussion hosted by the Asia Society (New York), the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership (CGP) and the Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE), featured speakers from Japanese civil society organizations working to address the devastation wrought by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The affected areas in Japan were the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima, an area roughly equivalent in the US to the coastline from Boston to Washington. The disasters left 15,544 dead, 5,383 missing, and 107,347 homes destroyed. 112,405 have been left homeless.

Open questions: By the end of the evening, it is fair to say that while we were given a clear picture of the disaster statistics and of the activities of NGOs and volunteers working to reconstruct and rebuild Tohoku’s communities, some larger questions remained.

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Securing Japan’s Clean Energy Future

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Warren Antiola
Warren Antiola

Warren Antiola

As Japan recovers from the spring tsunami and Fukushima nuclear station disaster, it plans for a clean energy future. It is tempting for its energy industry officials to categorize all the lessons of the nuclear crisis as specific to the atomic energy industry. Accidents happen, however, in all complex energy production systems. Accidents in the most abstruse technology systems, from commercial airplanes to tankers to space shuttles to nuclear plants, can overwhelm even the most conscientious designers and operators.

As Japanese clean energy hardware makers Toshiba, Panasonic, and Sharp expand production and design prototypes to meet a new national demand for renewable energy, they should heed one of the lessons of the nuclear industry: keeping it simple keeps it safe.

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Nuclear Energy after the Fukushima Disaster

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Greg Webb/IAEA
Greg Webb/IAEA

Greg Webb/IAEA

The potential nuclear meltdown of two Japanese nuclear reactors resulting from the March 11th earthquake and subsequent tsunami has the nuclear industry anticipating questions regarding overall plant safety. Nuclear power plant safety in developed nations like Japan and the U.S. does not elicit the same levels of alarm as potential disasters in developing nations. Several Eastern European states still use the same High Power Channel Reactor design as the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine that has since been taken offline.

Around 200,000 people have been evacuated from a 12-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. All four Units at the Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant were shut down because of radiological contamination. If the situation worsens at Fukushima additional evacuations will become necessary. Officials are under the assumption that a meltdown at Daiichi’s Unit 3 reactor is under way. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters that a meltdown is “highly possible” at Daiichi’s Unit 1 reactor and briefed reporters on Daiichi’s Unit 3 reactor, “Because it’s inside the reactor, we cannot directly check it, but we are taking measures on the assumption of the possible partial meltdown.”

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