Posts Tagged ‘Radiation’

The Shroud of Fukushima

Artist rendering of the Shroud of Fukushima

According to the London Telegraph, Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) has announced that they will start construction of a shroud over the No. 1 reactor at the ill-fated Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant where a hydrogen explosion destroyed the walls and roof of the reactor building on March 12, the day after the cooling system was knocked out by the Japanese earthquake and the tsunami that it triggered.

The shroud will stand 177 feet high and be 154 long with a roof that can be opened to give cranes access to the interior. It will also be fitted with filters that, over time, will scrub the air inside the building of radioactivity, enabling workers to enter the plant.  The frame of the shroud will be put together off-site and once in place, it will be covered with polyester fiber panels coated with a resin designed to prevent further radiation leaking into the atmosphere – at least that’s the plan.

Tepco is using the operation at the No. 1 reactor to test the construction methods and effectiveness of the shroud.  In truth, they are not sure how effective the temporary cover may be in limiting emissions of radiation from the reactors and spent fuel pools, but it will at least prevent more rainwater entering the buildings and becoming contaminated with radiation.  If it proves effective they have plans to build similar covers over the No. 3 and No. 4 reactor buildings, which were also damaged by explosions after the tsunami.

Eventually, Tepco plans to erect a concrete structure around the reactors, but that will take several years to achieve.  A similar concrete sarcophagus was built over the remains of the reactors at the Chernobyl power plant after that facility was destroyed in an accident in April 1986.

In hearings on Capitol Hill, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works was questioning the NRC’s chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko about the implications of Japan’s nuclear accident for the United States.  A statement by a commission official on Wednesday indicated that the nation’s nuclear safety rules had failed to consider the possibility of losing both off-site power from the electric grid and on-site emergency diesel generators.

NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis said that this condition produces a station blackout, and the commission has a rule covering such blackouts, but Mr. Jaczko said that the thrust of the statement was that the agency had not thought enough about a single event that would damage both the grid and the diesel backup generators, causing a plant to take longer to recover.

Let’s hope the US is not the next country designing a sarcophagus for a nuclear facility.

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Wanted: Short term, possibly long term position that pays thousands of dollars for up to an hour of work requiring little training working in perilously radioactive environments.

A Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) official said this week that the company has tasks fit for “jumpers” (ジャンパー) — workers so called because they “jump” into highly radioactive areas to accomplish a job in a minimum of time and race out as quickly as possible.  Sometimes jumpers can make multiple runs if the cumulative dosage is within acceptable limits — although “acceptable” can be open to interpretation.  In cases of extreme leaks however the radiation might be so intense that jumpers can only make one such foray in their entire lives, or risk serious radiation poisoning.

Asked how the contaminated water could be pumped out and how long it would take, a TEPCO official replied: “The pump could be powered from an independent generator, and all that someone would have to do is bring one end of the pump to the water and dump it in, and then run out.”

Translation: Jumpers wanted.

In its attempts to bring under control its radiation leaky nuclear power plant that was severely damaged by last month’s massive earthquake and tsunami,  TEPCO is trying to get workers ever closer to the sources of radiation at the plant.

Workers are reportedly being offered hazard pay to work in the damaged reactors of up to $5,000 per day.

So if you aren’t concerned about the quality of your life 10 to 15 years down the line and are not planning on having children, this may be the job for you.

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In a three part story, KHOU-TV reports on a four-month investigation into radioactive contaminants in the Houston area drinking water. Revelations that came to light shows hundreds of water providers around the Gulf Coast region are providing their customers with drinking water that contains radioactive contaminants that raise health risks, according to state lab results and public health scientists. The data, from thousands of state laboratory tests from water providers across Texas, provided by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), ranged from 2004 to the present.

Watch part one of this investigative report.
Radiation in Houston’s Tap Water

The radiation was first discovered as a part of required testing, under federal regulations, of all drinking water provided by community water systems in America. (more…)

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An Open Pit Uranium Mine

An Open Pit Uranium Mine

Proponents of nuclear power do a lot to paint it as an environmentally friendly, cheap fuel source. It is not, and we at Public Citizen work hard to dispel these kinds of myths. We have said a lot about how expensive a major nuclear undertaking can be (San Antonio is on verge of dumping several billion dollars into one of these projects) and how they emit radiation into the air and produce radioactive waste that hangs around for thousands of years and can be a huge contamination risk. None of this gets much attention in mainstream discourse, so it is up to concerned citizens like us to shed light on these things.

There is one destructive aspect of nuclear power that public discourse tends to be especially silent on. Just as coal industry apologists brush over the enormous damage caused by coal mining, any discussion of nuclear is power is likely to be silent on the damage done by uranium mining.

The damage to human health associated with uranium mining is huge. Historically, uranium miners have had a significantly higher risks of developing small cell Carcinoma, which is a likely product of their exposure to Radon-222 — a cancer causing agent created by decaying uranium. The presence of Radon gas also makes uranium mines a very dangerous work environment. This led to the 1990 passage of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), which awards $100,000 to miners, millers, and transporters who subsequently got cancer after exposure to uranium — though families of many of the victims have had difficulty receiving this money (many cancer stricken miners were Navajo, and their marriage licenses were not universally recognized).

Last year the French mining company Areva was nominated for a Public Eye Award (a recognition intended for companies who brought about the most social or ecological damage) by Pro Natura (Switzerland’s branch of Friends of The Earth), and the Berne Declaration development campaign. The nomination came from the company’s perceived failure to adequately disclose the risks associated with uranium mining to its workers in Niger, as well as neglecting to treat patients who are unable to pay at company hospitals. Workers also mentioned deaths caused by radioactive contamination of air and ground water.

Aside from the dangers of uranium exposure, mining projects  also cause considerable damage to the local environments and to the health of people who live nearby. The American Southwest is covered with abandoned uranium mines from the Cold War Era that have yet to be cleaned up, not to mention waste piles, open tunnels, and pits — all of which emit cancer causing radiation and leach arsenic and heavy metals into the soil and drinking water. Oddly enough, much of this radioactive debris eventually came to be used as building material for local houses. It is likely that exposure to this material is at least partially responsible for the increased cancer rates among Navajos (from almost non-existent) to well above the national-average by the end of the cold war.

Currently all uranium mining done in the United States is in the form of in-situ leaching, a process in which boreholes are drilled into a deposit, it is filled with an acid or alkali, and the dissolved ore content is pumped to the surface for recovery. It is a controversial process, often objected to by local land owners, because it acidifies ground waters and can release toxic heavy-metals as well as radioactive materials. There have also been concerns about spillage of acid leachates into the soil or water supplies. In other parts of the world, open pit mines and underground mines are still used, which continue to expose workers to danger, damage the local landscapes, and create waste heaps of toxic and radioactive waste rock.

There are a lot of hidden expenses and environmental as well as human health problems with nuclear power, despite claims that it is a “clean”  fuel source. I think we need to be a lot more skeptical and a lot more forward in our rejections of these claims. I also think that the dangers of uranium mining give us another reason to support new clean energy sources like wind and solar power.

The Disappointed Environmentalist

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