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Japan’s citizen scientists map radiation, DIY-style

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With the Japanese government only providing spotty information about the radiation leaking from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant in the early days after the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami, a group of tech-minded citizen scientists set out to fill in the “black holes” in the knowledge base.

They did so by crafting their own Geiger counters and handing them out to volunteers in the disaster area to measure the fallout. Months later, they have assembled thousands of radiation readings plotted on maps that they hope will one day be an invaluable resource for researchers studying the impact of the meltdown at the crippled nuclear complex.

Volunteer Toshikatsu Watanabe, left, and Safecast’s Kalin Kozhuharov take radiation measurements in Koriyama, Japan.

The volunteer network of scientists, tech enthusiasts and residents of Japan collectively known as Safecast (an amalgam of “safety” and “broadcast”) sprang to life in the weeks after the devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, cutting off power to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and knocking out its backup generators. That shut down the plant’s cooling system, triggering meltdowns or partial meltdowns in three of the plant’s four reactors, followed by explosions that released radioactive substances into the air and allowed contaminated water to leak into the ocean.

“For the scientific community, this is a huge chance to further understand what this all means,” said Pieter Franken, co-founder of Safecast and a senior researcher at Keio University in Tokyo, which is collaborating on the project. “Chernobyl was 25 years ago and delivered lots of information. But we’re now in the Internet age, and we have a huge opportunity to do a much better job in measuring it and tracking it.”

Residents in the surrounding areas were understandably alarmed, but in the early days after the disaster, information from the government came in bits and pieces, and was difficult to find.

Franken and Sean Bonner, a Los Angeles-based technology buff involved in numerous online citizen-involved projects, saw an opportunity to use technology to augment the government’s reports and to make the information widely available.

The pair found Uncorked Studios, a Portland, Ore., website development firm, which wanted to map the radiation numbers from all sources “to try to get a better picture of things on a larger scale,” Bonner said.

‘Unknowns’
The initial effort resulted in a map that revealed the dearth of information available: “We realized that there were some massive holes and that the data that was being published was not that specific,” said Bonner. “There would be one reading for an entire city. But we wouldn’t know exactly where in the city that reading was taken.”

With so many “unknowns,” the group decided to buy as many Geiger counters as possible and distribute them to people in the map’s “black holes,” Bonner said. But that wasn’t feasible because the supply of the radiation-measuring devices was limited, he  said.

So Safecast turned to a source they knew well: Hackerspaces, a loose confederation of high-tech tinkerers around the globe.

The TokyoHackerSpace had already drafted a to-do list in the disaster’s aftermath that included radiation monitoring. But with Safecast’s encouragement, the group stepped up its efforts. Members soon figured out how to build basic Geiger counters with Geiger tubes (which measure radiation) purchased through an initial fundraising campaign and modified so they could be attached to vehicles and upload data to the Internet, Christopher Wang, a specialist in sensor networks also known by his hacker nickname of “Akiba,” wrote in an email to msnbc.com.

After meeting Safecast, the hackers decided the best use of the jury-rigged devices would be to drive around taking measurements, allowing one “Geiger counter to cover a huge amount of range,” Wang wrote.

“We put together a custom circuit board that would mount on the outside of a car and had GPS (for timestamp and location data), an input for the Geiger counter, an SD card slot (for data logging), and wireless communication (to send the data inside the car and let the driver know if they are in an area with high radiation),” he said.

Other hackerspaces around the world — such as CRASH space in Los Angeles — soon enlisted in the effort and before long Safecast had the resources to launch an ambitious measuring and mapping effort.

Components of the jury-rigged Geiger counters.

While signing up volunteers, Safecast also developed a training regimen so the recruits would be able to take reliable readings with the instruments and send the data to the group.

Having average citizens involved was crucial, Franken said.

“We want to bring the radiation levels to people’s doorstep, so people can see around their house what is happening,” he said.

Safecast took its first reading on April 16. Today, it has about 50 regular volunteers who collect data from their homes or while driving, build devices or assist in other ways. Those using vehicles equipped with Geiger counters cover an area that Franken estimates to be about 620 miles long by 185 miles wide. To date, they’ve collected 251,000 data points from their drives and fixed reporting stations, and have received about 60,000 more from other sources, including people with their own Geiger counters.

Safecast publishes the data on its website and publishes it to a number of other places so the information can be used by the greatest number of people, Bonner said. It also aggregates radiation data from a number of sources, including the Japanese government.

A Safecast map shows radiation readings from northeastern Japan.

The color-coded maps that Safecast has published don’t always agree with the government’s readings. But Franken said the effort isn’t intended to suggest that the government’s information is bad. The government currently has available a website with the readings of environmental radioactivity level by prefecture.

“We really don’t want to say that the government is wrong,” he said. “And, in fact, in many cases we find that the measurements are fairly much in sync where they are comparable — we have just much more data points and locations measured.”

For example, Safecast’s mapping has revealed some radiation hotspots far from the plant, while other areas closer to it show lower levels. This is due to local weather conditions and air flow, meaning distribution of radioactive materials is not just a matter of proximity, Franken said.

“It’s not so predictable and it really pays to go and map the whole area, and literally find areas that are higher or lower as we go,” he said, noting that in some cases radiation levels can vary by street and even within a home.

“It’s kind of a heavy task because it requires a certain amount of guts to go and do it,” he said of the volunteers, noting he had recently trained a woman and her 12-year-old son in Fukushima City how to measure radiation.

Anxiety
But knowing what the levels are has helped ease some of the anxiety over the radiation exposure, Franken said.

“The measurements may or may not affect people’s decisions but in many cases we see that it more or less gives a sense of confidence that this is what it is and, ‘yeah, I’m going to stay and this is probably going to be manageable,’ or ‘no, I really don’t want to take the risk for my family, I’m going to avoid this.’”

One of the volunteers helping in the effort is Brett Waterman, a 46-year-old Australian who runs an English-language after-school program for children nearly 30 miles from the Fukushima plant, in the city of Iwaki. He has been surveying the radiation levels using a Geiger counter mounted on his car.

“There are many people who have decided that the lack of information implied that there was too much risk so they just decided to leave,” he said.

But through his work, he has learned that the radiation levels were low in the area.

“We can’t see it, but if we map it out, like we are doing street by street, we can sort of start to see it in a sense. We can get a picture of what this radiation stuff is,” he said.

His 13-year-old son is a “significant motivator” for him to take the readings. He noted that though residents don’t yet know what the long-term effects of the radiation will be, the information will be key in the future.

“In 10 years or 20 years’ time, you can’t go back to three months after the event and then find out what the data was like. But if we record it now, and then we continue to record it over the months and years to come, then from a scientific and a community point of view there is a database that can be referenced.”

Some researchers and government agencies welcome Safecast’s endeavor. Andrew Maidment, associate professor of radiology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, said the efforts were “necessary and helpful,” though he added two “cautionary notes.”

“The first is that the data are only useful, if it is clear (1) how the measurements were performed and (2) exactly where the measurements are performed,” he wrote in an email to msnbc.com. “In general, it is very easy to get erroneous measurements; consistency in following a specific protocol and lots of practice are necessary to do this right. … However, I will say that the data looks consistent since there are repeated measurements and they are spatially correlated. The second problem is that interpretation of the data is hard. Thus, the use of a color code is questionable.”

Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology did not respond to emails and a call seeking comment on the project.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it was not in a position to comment on the initiative, but public affairs officer Scott Burnell noted in an email: “Speaking very generally, significant training and specialized equipment is required to provide the most accurate surveying and analysis of radioactive materials in the environment.”

Franken said Safecast encouraged dialogue with critics and supporters: “We feel that it is good to have an independent measurement available to people … I think just having more is probably better,” he said.

And Bonner said the initiative has the potential to eventually extend far beyond Japan.

“What all of this did sort of brought to light the fact that this data doesn’t exist in the quantities that it should and is not as readily available as would be helpful,” he said. “So while Japan is the focus at the moment, you know, longer term we sort of are shifting to a global outlook. There is a lot more ground to cover once everything in Japan is wrapped up.”

 

Via MSNBC/Miranda Leitsinger

Fusion Experiment Faces New Hurdles

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The world’s most-ambitious nuclear experiments have escalated at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Federal researchers there are seeking to fuse some of the lightest atoms in the universe to study — and hopefully harness — the type of energy produced by hydrogen bombs and the sun.

The tests were delayed six months while safety devices were installed to protect workers from radiation at the National Ignition Facility, a stadium-sized laboratory that contains 192 lasers trained on a target the size of a BB. The goal is to generate temperatures of more than 100 million degrees to fuse hydrogen atoms and release nuclear energy.

Scientists describe this process, which they hope to achieve next year, as the creation of a miniature star on earth.

But the $3.5 billion ignition facility, derided by some critics as taxpayer-financed science fiction, is running into new challenges that may further delay and perhaps scuttle its goal.

Among those challenges is the unanticipated presence of particles that clog filters designed to prevent the escape of radioactive material. Officials have proposed bypassing the filters for some experiments and venting radioactive particles directly into the air.

Officials say the radiation risks to people living in the surrounding area and to Lawrence Livermore researchers not involved with the experiments will be negligible. But according to a worst-case scenario outlined in a draft environmental report, an average of one worker involved in the experiments could die every 18 years from cancer caused by radiation exposure.

Tri-Valley CAREs, a watchdog group that monitors Lawrence Livermore, argues that the National Nuclear Security Agency, which financed construction of the facility, should not allow an increase in the amount of radiation produced by the fusion project.

“There is no safe level of exposure,” said Marylia Kelley, the group’s executive director.

The ignition facility was designed to help the United States government monitor the safety of nuclear weapons without having to test them. One of its primary missions is to help improve the United States’ weapons arsenal, but officials also describe the facility as an effort to revolutionize nuclear power.

If researchers can fuse atoms and control the energy that is released, an era of abundant carbon-free power could dawn. The technology would minimize the waste and storage issues faced by fission-based nuclear power plants, which split heavy atoms into smaller ones.

The tipping point for nuclear fusion is “ignition,” the moment when the lasers release the same amount of energy that is required to power them.

But that goal has remained elusive.

“If it was easy, we would have done it 50 years ago,” said Doug Eddy, a senior nuclear security agency operations manager working on the project.

Mr. Eddy said the ignition facility was engaged in a “tuning campaign,” raising the amount of fuel used and the amount of energy generated by the lasers.

“You keep bringing it up a bit more and more and more,” he said. “You don’t want to go big-time straight off the bat.”

Researchers have discovered that more power will be needed for some tests than first thought, Mr. Eddy said. They propose nearly tripling the amount of laser power to 120 megajoules, roughly the equivalent amount of energy produced by 50 pounds of TNT, which will increase radiation levels.

The types of hydrogen that will be fused are called deuterium and tritium. Tritium is radioactive, and fine molecular filters are installed at the facility to prevent it from escaping.

But the tritium is proving difficult to manage. The molecules are so small that other tiny atoms are also captured in the filters. Workers frequently enter the experiment chamber to change the clogged filters.

To solve that problem, officials propose allowing more tritium to accumulate before the filters are removed and sent to Nevada as low-level radioactive waste.

More controversially, the officials have proposed bypassing the filters during some experiments and venting tritium through an exhaust system into the air.

Tritium dissolves in water, persists for decades in the environment and can cause cancer.

“It will bind to DNA, so it gets pretty much everywhere in the body once it’s been absorbed,” said Mark Little, a senior scientist at the National Cancer Institute who has published papers dealing with tritium’s hazards. “With large quantities, damage can be done. As long as the releases are kept within mandatory limits, I would imagine the risks are small.”

Officials at the Department of Energy say the tritium releases at Lawrence Livermore would remain below safety limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency. But Tri-Valley CAREs points to a long list of tritium accidents and airborne releases from Livermore facilities, which have caused radioactive material to accumulate in Livermore’s water, food, honey and wine.

“When tritium gets into the environment and it’s on top of radiation being released from other parts of the laboratory, it potentially increases the dose and potentially increases the risk,” Ms. Kelley said.

And tritium is not her organization’s only concern, she added.

When tritium and deuterium fuse to create helium, a neutron is squeezed out and radiation is released. The neutrons can seep out of the building and rise into the atmosphere, where they cause additional radiation called skyshine to rain back down.

“If it’s high-enough energy, it can scatter and go up to the atmosphere, scatter in the atmosphere and bounce back down,” Mr. Eddy said. “Where it will scatter down is mostly around the site, but there’s no guarantee.”

Officials said that they would determine an area around the Livermore building where radiation might exceed federal safety standards and that Livermore personnel not involved with the research would be evacuated from those areas. Employees will be warned not to enter the area until after the experiment.

Despite several delays, Mr. Eddy said he was confident that ignition would occur next year. But some scientists question whether ignition will ever be possible.

“It’s a tough job, and some of the peer review questioned whether it would work,” said Frank von Hippel, a Princeton University physics professor and former science adviser to President Bill Clinton. “I think there are still skeptics out there.”

 

Via NYTimes

Japan nuclear: Radiation halts water clean-up

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Operators of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant have suspended an operation to clean contaminated water hours after it began due to a rapid rise in radiation.

Some 110,000 tonnes of water have built up during efforts to cool reactors hit by the 11 March earthquake and tsunami. The contaminated water, enough to fill 40 Olympic-sized swimming pools, has been at risk of spilling into the sea. The disaster caused meltdown at three of the reactors, and radiation leaks. It is the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986. The powerful earthquake and the tsunami it generated are now known to have killed more than 15,280 people, while nearly 8,500 remain unaccounted for.

Radioactive sludge?

A spokesman for the plant operators, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), said engineers were trying to find the cause of the jump in radiation levels. “The level of radiation at a machine to absorb caesium has risen faster than our initial projections,” the spokesman said.

He added that until they knew what was causing the rising levels they would not know when the operation would be able to resume.

“But I’d say it’s not something that would take weeks,” he added.

Dealing with the radioactive water is a key step to bringing the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant under control, reports the BBC’s Roland Buerk from Tokyo.

It is the rainy season in Japan and the pools of contaminated water could overflow, adding to radiation already released into the sea, adds our correspondent.

Earlier this week, officials had warned the radioactive pools were in danger of spilling into the sea within a week.

The Fukushima power station went into meltdown after its cooling systems were crippled by March’ s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The teams at the plant suspect the radiation rise may be linked to sludge flowing into the machinery intended to absorb caesium or the pipes surrounding it. The tsunami destroyed both power and back-up generators at the plant, breaking the cooling systems. The three unstable reactors are supposed to be brought to “a stable and cold shutdown” by January 2012. Despite the setbacks Tepco says it is still on track to meet that deadline.

 

Via BBC

Nuclear Plant threatened by Missouri River flood

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  • Nuclear plant inches from being totally flooded
  • Damage would be likely to cause energy prices to soar
  • Six to 12 inches of heavy rainfall over the last few weeks
  • Record floods hit 44.4 feet, topping 44.3 feet record set in 1993
  • Levees fail to stem surge of water from rain and melting snow
  • Flooding expected to continue until August
  • Residents begin burning wood to avoid it becoming flood debris
  • Meanwhile, engineers close the Bonnet Carre Spillway near New Orleans

A nuclear plant was inches away from being engulfed by the bloated Missouri River after several levees in the area failed to hold back its surging waters.

Dramatic pictures show the moment the plant was threatened with being shut down today, as water levels rose ominously to within 18 inches of its walls.

The river has to hit 902 feet above sea level at Brownville before officials will shut down the Cooper Nuclear Plant, which sits at 903 feet.

Engulfed: The nuclear power station in Nebraska came within inches of having to be shut down

Engulfed: The nuclear power station in Nebraska came within inches of having to be shut down.

Flooding is a major concern all along the river because of the massive amounts of water that the Army Corps of Engineers has released from six dams. Any significant rain could worsen the flooding especially if it falls in Nebraska, Iowa or Missouri, which are downstream of the dams.

The river is expected to rise as much as five to seven feet above the official ‘flood stage’ in much of Nebraska and Iowa and as much as 10 feet over in parts of Missouri. The corps predicts the river will remain that high until at least August.

Nebraska Public Power District spokesman Mark Becker said the river rose to 900.56 feet at Brownville on Sunday, then dropped to 900.4 feet later in the day and remained at that level on Monday morning.

The Missouri River set a new record Sunday at Brownville when its depth was measured at 44.4 feet, topping the previous record of 44.3 feet set during the 1993 flooding, according to the National Weather Service.

Stranded: Cars stop hopelessly, stranded by floodwaters over a bridge

Stranded: Cars stop hopelessly, stranded by floodwaters over a bridge.

 

Carnage: Other vehicles were not quite so lucky and were swept away by the floods

Carnage: Other vehicles were not quite so lucky and were swept away by the floods.

Meanwhile, just north of New Orleans, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers workers finally closed the final bays of the Bonnet Carre Spillway today.

The gates were opened weeks ago in an effort to redirect high water on the Mississippi River which threatened levees.

The Cooper Nuclear Plant remains operating at full capacity today but the Columbus-based utility sent an emergency ‘notification of unusual event’ to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission when the river rose to 899 feet early on Sunday morning.

‘We knew the river was going to rise for some time,’ Becker said. ‘It was just a matter of when.’

The nuclear plant has been preparing for the flooding since May 30. More than 5,000 tons of sand has been brought in to construct barricades around it and access roads, according to NPPD.

Should water levels engulf the facility, forcing closure and repairs, energy bills in the area would be likely to rocket to cover the cost.

‘In that case we may have to raise rates,’ a spokeswoman said.

Damage: A worker surveys they scene as he scales a levee attempting to hold back the floodwater

Damage: A worker surveys they scene as he scales a levee attempting to hold back the floodwater.

 

Man versus nature: A levee manages to keep the water from passing

Man versus nature: A levee manages to keep the water from passing.

No passing: Flood waters from the nearby Missouri River cover a county highway

No passing: Flood waters from the nearby Missouri River cover a county highway.

The Army Corps of Engineers said the river level at Brownville had surged about two feet from Saturday morning to Sunday morning and that it continued to rise because of heavy rain on the Nishnabotna River, which flows into the Missouri River from Iowa.

The Cooper Nuclear Station is one of two plants along the Missouri River in eastern Nebraska. The Fort Calhoun Station, operated by the Omaha Public Power District, is about 20 miles north of Omaha. It issued a similar alert to the regulatory commission on June 6.

Deluge: Statues of workers, part of Monument for Labor by Matthew J. Placzek, stand in the rising waters of the Missouri River, in Omaha

Deluge: Statues of workers, part of Monument for Labor by Matthew J. Placzek, stand in the rising waters of the Missouri River, in Omaha.

The river has risen at least 1.5 feet higher than Fort Calhoun’s 1,004-foot elevation above sea level. The plant can handle water up to 1,014 feet, according to OPPD. The water is being held back by a series of protective barriers, including an 8-foot rubber wall outside the reactor building.

Its reactor already had been shut down for refuelling and maintenance since April, and it won’t be turned on again until the flooding subsides.

The entire plant still has full electrical power for safety systems, including those used to cool radioactive waste. It also has at least nine backup power sources.

A spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the NRC thinks OPPD managers have ‘done everything that they need to do to respond to the current conditions’ at the nuclear plant.

Over the weekend, several northern Missouri levees failed to hold back the raging floodwaters, and the hole in a Holt County levee that ruptured last week continued to grow.

The water started pouring over levees on Saturday night and Sunday morning in Holt and Atchison counties, flooding farmland, numerous homes and cabins.

Hope: Engineers close the final bays of the Bonnet Carre Spillway just above New Orleans

Hope: Engineers close the final bays of the Bonnet Carre Spillway just above New Orleans.

 

 The recreational community of Big Lake, which is home to a state park and less than 200 people, is being threatened by the floodwater.

Most of Big Lake’s residents have already evacuated. The area 78 miles north of Kansas City has been high for the past couple weeks, has experienced major flooding in three of the last five years.

Disaster: Flood waters from the Missouri River engulf homes in neighbouring Iowa. More than 250 residents have now been evacuated from Missouri after levees broke

Disaster: Flood waters from the Missouri River engulf homes in neighbouring Iowa. More than 250 residents have now been evacuated from Missouri after levees broke.

Water flooded two highways, several homes were under as much as five feet of water and there was extensive farmland flooding, said Diana Phillips, clerk and flood plain manager for the village of Big Lake.

‘It’s only going to get worse because there is lots of water coming in,’ Phillips said.

In Atchison County, where farmland was flooding, people have been evacuating for days, said Julie Fischer, a dispatcher for emergency services.

Gushing: The powerful waters rush through a ruptured levee near Hamburg, Iowa, last week‘Everybody is pretty much gone,’ Fischer said. ‘The roads are closing, there is no way in or out.’

Authorties have urged around 250 people in northwester Missouri to leave their homes.

Jud Kneuvean, chief of emergency management for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Kansas City District, said the Missouri River dipped by almost 1 foot after the Big Lake breach in Missouri but that the water started to rise again by Sunday afternoon.

He said Big Lake is seeking permission to cut a relief hole in an already-damaged county levee to allow water trapped behind the levee to flow back into the river.

The Corps increased water releases on Saturday from two dams — Oahe above Pierre, South Dakota’s capital, and Big Bend Dam just downstream — to make room for expected potentially heavy rains through early next week.

They have been increasing water releases from five dams in North Dakota and South Dakota to roughly double prior records to relieve reservoirs

Most people left their homes well in advance of the flooding. Those who stayed were told Saturday night that water was flowing into the area.

The Big Lake area, where water has been high for the past couple weeks, has experienced major flooding in three of the last five.

Mike Crecelius, the Fremont County Emergency Management chief, said that in Hamburg, Iowa, the river was expected to crest at 10 feet over flood stage in the coming days.

Crecelius said the river has been over flood stage since late April, and that forecasters are projecting river flows of 150,000 cubic feet (1.1 million gallons) per second through August.

‘[The levees] are not designed for this amount of pressure for this length of time,’ Crecelius told CNN. ‘They’ve never been tested like this.’

Raging: Residents burn wood to avoid it becoming flood debris

Raging: Residents burn wood to avoid it becoming flood debris.

Flames: Residents burn a pile of pallets in near Rock Port, Missouri, to avoid them from becoming debris in flood waters after a levee broke

Flames: Residents burn a pile of pallets in near Rock Port, Missouri, to avoid them from becoming debris in flood waters after a levee broke.

‘There was some talk this morning about more than 150,000 cubic feet per second coming out of Oahe,’ said Jerry Compton, working on Sunday at a convenience store in Missouri Valley.

The threat of flooding is stressful, said Compton, who knows her customers by name and even knows what brand of cigarettes they buy.

‘People either moved out of their homes to another house, or they’re trying to live in a camper. Some people have had their utilities cut off,’ she said. ‘We just sit here and wait.’

Peak releases are planned until at least mid-August and high flows are expected until December.

The National Weather Service said that the six to 12 inches of rainfall in the upper Missouri basin in the past few weeks is nearly a normal year’s worth of raid, while runoff from the mountain snowpack is 140 per cent of average levels.

 

Via DailyMail

Fukushima: It’s much worse than you think

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Scientific experts believe Japan’s nuclear disaster to be far worse than governments are revealing to the public.

“Fukushima is the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind,” Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president.

Japan’s 9.0 earthquake on March 11 caused a massive tsunami that crippled the cooling systems at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan. It also led to hydrogen explosions and reactor meltdowns that forced evacuations of those living within a 20km radius of the plant.

Gundersen, a licensed reactor operator with 39 years of nuclear power engineering experience, managing and coordinating projects at 70 nuclear power plants around the US, says the Fukushima nuclear plant likely has more exposed reactor cores than commonly believed.

“Fukushima has three nuclear reactors exposed and four fuel cores exposed,” he said, “You probably have the equivalent of 20 nuclear reactor cores because of the fuel cores, and they are all in desperate need of being cooled, and there is no means to cool them effectively.”

TEPCO has been spraying water on several of the reactors and fuel cores, but this has led to even greater problems, such as radiation being emitted into the air in steam and evaporated sea water – as well as generating hundreds of thousands of tons of highly radioactive sea water that has to be disposed of.

“The problem is how to keep it cool,” says Gundersen. “They are pouring in water and the question is what are they going to do with the waste that comes out of that system, because it is going to contain plutonium and uranium. Where do you put the water?”

Even though the plant is now shut down, fission products such as uranium continue to generate heat, and therefore require cooling.

“The fuels are now a molten blob at the bottom of the reactor,” Gundersen added. “TEPCO announced they had a melt through. A melt down is when the fuel collapses to the bottom of the reactor, and a melt through means it has melted through some layers. That blob is incredibly radioactive, and now you have water on top of it. The water picks up enormous amounts of radiation, so you add more water and you are generating hundreds of thousands of tons of highly radioactive water.”

Independent scientists have been monitoring the locations of radioactive “hot spots” around Japan, and their findings are disconcerting.

“We have 20 nuclear cores exposed, the fuel pools have several cores each, that is 20 times the potential to be released than Chernobyl,” said Gundersen. “The data I’m seeing shows that we are finding hot spots further away than we had from Chernobyl, and the amount of radiation in many of them was the amount that caused areas to be declared no-man’s-land for Chernobyl. We are seeing square kilometres being found 60 to 70 kilometers away from the reactor. You can’t clean all this up. We still have radioactive wild boar in Germany, 30 years after Chernobyl.”

Radiation monitors for children

Japan’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters finally admitted earlier this month that reactors 1, 2, and 3 at the Fukushima plant experienced full meltdowns.

TEPCO announced that the accident probably released more radioactive material into the environment than Chernobyl, making it the worst nuclear accident on record.

Meanwhile, a nuclear waste advisor to the Japanese government reported that about 966 square kilometres near the power station – an area roughly 17 times the size of Manhattan – is now likely uninhabitable.

In the US, physician Janette Sherman MD and epidemiologist Joseph Mangano published an essay shedding light on a 35 per cent spike in infant mortality in northwest cities that occurred after the Fukushima meltdown, and may well be the result of fallout from the stricken nuclear plant.

The eight cities included in the report are San Jose, Berkeley, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Portland, Seattle, and Boise, and the time frame of the report included the ten weeks immediately following the disaster.

“There is and should be concern about younger people being exposed, and the Japanese government will be giving out radiation monitors to children,” Dr MV Ramana, a physicist with the Programme on Science and Global Security at Princeton University who specialises in issues of nuclear safety.

Dr Ramana explained that he believes the primary radiation threat continues to be mostly for residents living within 50km of the plant, but added: “There are going to be areas outside of the Japanese government’s 20km mandatory evacuation zone where radiation is higher. So that could mean evacuation zones in those areas as well.”

Gundersen points out that far more radiation has been released than has been reported.

“They recalculated the amount of radiation released, but the news is really not talking about this,” he said. “The new calculations show that within the first week of the accident, they released 2.3 times as much radiation as they thought they released in the first 80 days.”

According to Gundersen, the exposed reactors and fuel cores are continuing to release microns of caesium, strontium, and plutonium isotopes. These are referred to as “hot particles”.

“We are discovering hot particles everywhere in Japan, even in Tokyo,” he said. “Scientists are finding these everywhere. Over the last 90 days these hot particles have continued to fall and are being deposited in high concentrations. A lot of people are picking these up in car engine air filters.”

Radioactive air filters from cars in Fukushima prefecture and Tokyo are now common, and Gundersen says his sources are finding radioactive air filters in the greater Seattle area of the US as well.

The hot particles on them can eventually lead to cancer.

“These get stuck in your lungs or GI tract, and they are a constant irritant,” he explained, “One cigarette doesn’t get you, but over time they do. These [hot particles] can cause cancer, but you can’t measure them with a Geiger counter. Clearly people in Fukushima prefecture have breathed in a large amount of these particles. Clearly the upper West Coast of the US has people being affected. That area got hit pretty heavy in April.”

Blame the US?

In reaction to the Fukushima catastrophe, Germany is phasing out all of its nuclear reactors over the next decade. In a referendum vote this Monday, 95 per cent of Italians voted in favour of blocking a nuclear power revival in their country. A recent newspaper poll in Japan shows nearly three-quarters of respondents favour a phase-out of nuclear power in Japan.

Why have alarms not been sounded about radiation exposure in the US?

Nuclear operator Exelon Corporation has been among Barack Obama’s biggest campaign donors, and is one of the largest employers in Illinois where Obama was senator. Exelon has donated more than $269,000 to his political campaigns, thus far. Obama also appointed Exelon CEO John Rowe to his Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.

Dr Shoji Sawada is a theoretical particle physicist and Professor Emeritus at Nagoya University in Japan.
He is concerned about the types of nuclear plants in his country, and the fact that most of them are of US design.

“Most of the reactors in Japan were designed by US companies who did not care for the effects of earthquakes,” Dr Sawada told Al Jazeera. “I think this problem applies to all nuclear power stations across Japan.”

Using nuclear power to produce electricity in Japan is a product of the nuclear policy of the US, something Dr Sawada feels is also a large component of the problem.

“Most of the Japanese scientists at that time, the mid-1950s, considered that the technology of nuclear energy was under development or not established enough, and that it was too early to be put to practical use,” he explained. “The Japan Scientists Council recommended the Japanese government not use this technology yet, but the government accepted to use enriched uranium to fuel nuclear power stations, and was thus subjected to US government policy.”

As a 13-year-old, Dr Sawada experienced the US nuclear attack against Japan from his home, situated just 1400 metres from the hypocentre of the Hiroshima bomb.

“I think the Fukushima accident has caused the Japanese people to abandon the myth that nuclear power stations are safe,” he said. “Now the opinions of the Japanese people have rapidly changed. Well beyond half the population believes Japan should move towards natural electricity.”

A problem of infinite proportions

Dr Ramana expects the plant reactors and fuel cores to be cooled enough for a shutdown within two years.

“But it is going to take a very long time before the fuel can be removed from the reactor,” he added. “Dealing with the cracking and compromised structure and dealing with radiation in the area will take several years, there’s no question about that.”

Dr Sawada is not as clear about how long a cold shutdown could take, and said the problem will be “the effects from caesium-137 that remains in the soil and the polluted water around the power station and underground. It will take a year, or more time, to deal with this”.

Gundersen pointed out that the units are still leaking radiation.

“They are still emitting radioactive gases and an enormous amount of radioactive liquid,” he said. “It will be at least a year before it stops boiling, and until it stops boiling, it’s going to be cranking out radioactive steam and liquids.”

Gundersen worries about more earthquake aftershocks, as well as how to cool two of the units.

“Unit four is the most dangerous, it could topple,” he said. “After the earthquake in Sumatra there was an 8.6 [aftershock] about 90 days later, so we are not out of the woods yet. And you’re at a point where, if that happens, there is no science for this, no one has ever imagined having hot nuclear fuel lying outside the fuel pool. They’ve not figured out how to cool units three and four.”

Gundersen’s assessment of solving this crisis is grim.

“Units one through three have nuclear waste on the floor, the melted core, that has plutonium in it, and that has to be removed from the environment for hundreds of thousands of years,” he said. “Somehow, robotically, they will have to go in there and manage to put it in a container and store it for infinity, and that technology doesn’t exist. Nobody knows how to pick up the molten core from the floor, there is no solution available now for picking that up from the floor.”

Dr Sawada says that the creation of nuclear fission generates radioactive materials for which there is simply no knowledge informing us how to dispose of the radioactive waste safely.

“Until we know how to safely dispose of the radioactive materials generated by nuclear plants, we should postpone these activities so as not to cause further harm to future generations,” he explained. “To do otherwise is simply an immoral act, and that is my belief, both as a scientist and as a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing.”

Gundersen believes it will take experts at least ten years to design and implement the plan.

“So ten to 15 years from now maybe we can say the reactors have been dismantled, and in the meantime you wind up contaminating the water,” Gundersen said. “We are already seeing Strontium [at] 250 times the allowable limits in the water table at Fukushima. Contaminated water tables are incredibly difficult to clean. So I think we will have a contaminated aquifer in the area of the Fukushima site for a long, long time to come.”

Unfortunately, the history of nuclear disasters appears to back Gundersen’s assessment.

“With Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and now with Fukushima, you can pinpoint the exact day and time they started,” he said, “But they never end.”

 

Via AJTV

 

China no threat, Chinese general says on U.S. trip

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A top Chinese general rejected growing American concerns about China’s military buildup Wednesday, telling audiences at the National Defense University and the Pentagon that the People’s Liberation Army was no threat.

“The world has no need to worry, let alone fear … China’s growth,” said General Chen Bingde, chief of the PLA general staff, in a rare address to a packed room of U.S. military officers and faculty at the National Defense University.

But the reassurances by Chen during a high-profile visit to the United States were also accompanied by fresh warnings against any future U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, which underscored the fragile nature of the relationship.

As members of Congress press for the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a renegade province, Chen warned that new U.S. weapons sales to the self-ruled island would damage military ties.

“As to how bad the impact will be, it will depend on the nature of the weapons sold to Taiwan,” Chen told a Pentagon media briefing.

With an occasional smile, Chen quoted U.S. presidents including Abraham Lincoln to drive home his points. He turned to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous quote “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” trying to allay concerns about China.

Military ties are perhaps the weakest link in relations between the world’s two largest economies — which have also been tested in the past year by disputes over trade, currency, North Korea and human rights.

Chen is the highest ranking official to lead a military delegation to the United States since Beijing cut off ties to the United States in 2010 over a U.S. arms sale to Taiwan worth up to $6.4 billion.

Those ties appeared to gain new footing during Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ January trip to Beijing, even though it was overshadowed by a test flight of China’s J-20 stealth fighter that again stoked concerns about its military buildup.

China also plans to develop aircraft carriers, anti-ship ballistic missiles and other advanced systems which have alarmed the Asian powers and the United States, the dominant power in the Pacific. U.S. officials accuse Beijing of designing their weapons system to counter U.S. capabilities.

DECADES BEHIND THE WEST?

Chen played down Chinese military advances on his trip, telling the audience of U.S. military officers and faculty at the National Defense University the People’s Liberation Army lagged at least 20 years behind developed Western nations.

“To be honest, I feel very sad after visiting (the United States), because I think, I feel and I know, how poor our equipments are and how underdeveloped we remain,” Chen said.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and Chen’s host, stressed the importance of renewed dialogue to minimize the risk of misunderstanding.

“What he and I have both talked about is a future that is a peaceful future and a better one for our children and grandchildren. That does not include a conflict between China and the United States,” Mullen told reporters.

But some members of Congress criticized the U.S. military for too openly engaging with Chen and his delegation, particularly his access to U.S. military facilities. Chen will visit Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, home to some high-tech U.S. defenses.

“There can be no doubt that every scrap of information this expert delegation collects will be used against us,” said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in a statement.

“The Chinese military openly regards the United States as an enemy,” she said. “We should not undermine our own security by thinking we can make friends with self-proclaimed adversaries with hospitality and open arms.”

Still, the Chinese and U.S. economies, Chen noted, are inextricably linked. China has the world’s biggest foreign exchange reserve, with about two-thirds estimated to be held in dollars. Jokes about U.S. dependence on China to finance its debt are commonplace in the United States, and Chen appeared to seize the opportunity in Washington.

Talking about fiscal constraints on China’s military, Chen got a long round of laughter from his U.S. audience by joking: “If you can lend us some money, I think that would be easier.”

Provided by NewsDaily

Russia may take action over U.S. missile shield

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Russia says it may take action if Washington and Moscow fail to agree on a joint missile shield

Russia’s deputy defense minister has said action could be taken if the United States deploys its new missile defense system near Russia’s borders.

In a news conference on Friday, deputy defense minister Anatoly Antonov said the Russian military was looking at ways to “protect our nation if Russia is not consulted in talks with NATO.”

“There is not only talk, some serious work is also being done,” Antonov said. “The Defense Ministry should allow for the worst possible scenario.”

His comments come just hours after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Kazakhstan that the talks were going through a complicated phase.

“So far this matter is proceeding with difficulty, but the [U.S.] Secretary of State [Hillary Clinton] has assured us that measures are being taken on her side,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov added that he had met Clinton during an Arctic Council meeting in Greenland on Thursday and had discussed missile defense.

“We agreed that it was necessary to give a political impulse to the work of experts, so that before our two presidents meet in Deauville for the G8 summit it will be possible to set out some results,” Lavrov said.

The United States and Romania announced last week a deal to deploy missile interceptors in Romania as part of its plan to erect a missile shield over Europe.

The move immediately drew criticism from Russia, which fears the scheme may compromise its security by weakening its nuclear missile arsenal.

But U.S. Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher said Moscow need not worry.

“We have good relations with Russia. We have just ratified the New START treaty, we are working together on various other issues,” she was quoted as saying in media reports last week.

“It is a system that will defend NATO and, if Russia chooses to work with us in a cooperative manner, the system will defend Russia, too.”

Russia agreed to cooperate on NATO’s European missile defense program at a NATO summit in Lisbon last year.


Russia ‘disappointed’ by U.S. failure to provide missile guarantees

Moscow is concerned by the United States’ refusal to provide legally binding guarantees that its European missile defense system will not be directed against Russia, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Monday.

“The Americans are insisting on the importance of launching practical cooperation without any preconditions,” he said, adding that Russia “cannot start cooperation on specific projects without legal guarantees that a future system will not be directed against our security interests.”

Moscow reserves the right to pull out of the new START Treaty, he warned.

“The new START Treaty may become hostage to the U.S. approach,” the official said.

“The qualitative and quantitative buildup of the U.S. missile defense system, which will jeopardize Russia’s strategic nuclear capability, can be regarded as an exceptional event under Article 14 of the said Treaty whereby Russia has the right to withdraw from this agreement,” Ryabkov said.

Russia and NATO agreed to cooperate on the so-called European missile shield during the NATO-Russia Council summit in Lisbon in November 2010. NATO insists there should be two independent systems that exchange information, while Russia favors a joint system.

Russia is opposed to the planned deployment of U.S. missile defense systems near its borders, claiming they would be a security threat. NATO and the United States insist that the shield would defend NATO members against missiles from North Korea and Iran and would not be directed at Russia.

Via Rian & Russia

Third worker dies at Japan’s troubled nuclear plant

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A worker at Japan’s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant died on Saturday, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co said, bringing the death toll at the complex to three since a massive earthquake and tsunami in March.

Despite the prolonged nuclear crisis, Prime Minister Naoto Kan is set to announce at a G8 summit in France that Japan will keep using nuclear power, the Yomiuri newspaper said.

The cause of the worker’s death was unknown. The man, in his 60s, was employed by one of Tokyo Electric’s contractors and started working at the plant on Friday. He was exposed to 0.17 millisieverts of radiation on Saturday, Tokyo Electric said.

The Japanese government’s maximum level of exposure for male workers at the plant is 250 millisieverts for the duration of the effort to bring it under control.

The worker fell ill 50 minutes after starting work at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday (5 p.m. EDT on Friday) and brought to the plant’s medical room unconscious. He was later moved to a nearby hospital and confirmed dead, a Tokyo Electric spokesman said.

Working conditions at the plant are harsh. Goshi Hosono, a special adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan and a ruling Democratic Party lawmaker, voiced concerns about the working environment at the Fukushima complex on Wednesday.

“I would like to spend my energy to improve working conditions. Many people told us working environment (at the plant) is way too bad,” Hosono told a news conference.

The March quake and tsunami triggered cooling system malfunctions at the plant, and caused radiation to leak into the atmosphere and the sea, prompting Kan to review Japan’s nuclear-leaning energy policy from scratch.

Kan plans to tell the G8 summit at the end of May in Deauville, France, that Japan will rely more on renewable energy, but it will also enhance safety of atomic power and continue nuclear power usage, making it clear the country is not withdrawing from nuclear power generation, the Yomiuri said.

Engineers are still struggling to bring the Fukushima plant under control. Two Tokyo Electric employees went missing while patrolling the plant soon after the quake and were later found dead.

The government plans to soon unveil a timetable to show how it aims to proceed with the nuclear crisis-related steps such as containing the radiation leak, and investigating the cause of the accident, the Asahi newspaper said.

In what might be a fresh hurdle to bringing the troubled plant under control, Tokyo Electric said it found a large amount of water in the basement of the building that houses the No.1 reactor at the Fukushima plant.

It is likely that water that was injected into the reactor to cool it down leaked out into the basement, a Tokyo Electric official said.

Via NewsDaily 

Written by Nokgiir

May 14, 2011 at 8:24 pm

North Korea, Iran trade missile technology

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North Korea and Iran appear to have been regularly exchanging ballistic missile technology in violation of U.N. sanctions, according to a confidential United Nations report obtained by Reuters on Saturday.

The report said that the illicit technology transfers had “trans-shipment through a neighboring third country.” That country was China, several diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The report was submitted to the U.N. Security Council by a U.N. Panel of Experts, a group that monitors compliance with U.N. sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after it conducted two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

The U.N. sanctions included a ban on trade in nuclear and missile technology with North Korea, as well as an arms embargo. They also banned trade with a number of North Korean firms and called for asset freezes and travel bans on some North Korean individuals.

“Prohibited ballistic missile-related items are suspected to have been transferred between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Islamic Republic of Iran on regular scheduled flights of Air Koryo and Iran Air,” the report said.

“For the shipment of cargo, like arms and related materiel, whose illicit nature would become apparent on any cursory physical inspection, (North) Korea seems to prefer chartered cargo flights,” it said.

It added that the aircraft tended to fly “from or to air cargo hubs which lack the kind of monitoring and security to which passenger terminals and flights are now subject.”

Several Security Council diplomats said that China was unhappy about the report.

Beijing has prevented the publication of expert panel reports on North Korea and Sudan in the past. Earlier this week, Russia took similar steps to suppress an equally damning expert panel report on Iran.

The report said the possibility of exports of weapons-grade nuclear material from North Korea or nuclear technology to other countries remains a concern and presents “new challenges to international non-proliferation efforts.”

U.S., Israeli and European governments have said that North Korea was helping Syria build a nuclear reactor that Israel destroyed in 2007.

In its report, the panel said that North Korea’s uranium enrichment problem, which Pyongyang says is for civilian purposes, is “primarily for military purposes.”

It added that North Korea “should be compelled to abandon its uranium enrichment programme and that all aspects of the programme should be placed under international monitoring.”

The report also said there were concerns about safety at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear complex. It said “safety issues should be discussed an integral part of the denuclearization of (North Korea).”

It added that “reckless decommissioning or dismantlement at Yongbyon could cause an environmental disaster.”