Close your eyes, hold hands

News from #Fukushima is a slow drip of terror. Recently there have been several releases concerning the failure of TEPCO to create and sustain the ice-wall. A big failure that has very little coverage. And this week the report that the ground water will be filtered then dumped into the Pacific. As per OilPrice: As Radioactive Water Accumulates, TEPCO Eyes Pacific Ocean As Dumping Ground.

Up until now, TEPCO has been storing radioactive water in giant storage tanks on the site of its Fukushima reactor. But groundwater continually flowing into the reactor site becomes contaminated as it does so. Containing and storing an ever-increasing volume of contaminated water is a bit like running on a treadmill – new groundwater becomes contaminated just as TEPCO succeeds in removing previously contaminated water. Meanwhile, the storage tanks multiply around the reactor complex.

In June, TEPCO began construction on what it hoped would be a more permanent solution – an “ice wall.” This is how it is supposed to work: TEPCO would insert 1,500 pipes into the ground around the damaged reactors. It would then flow liquid through the pipes at -30 degrees Celsius, which would freeze the soil. That way, as groundwater rushed downhill towards the complex, the ice wall would block the water from flowing underneath the plant.

Separately, TEPCO is trying to freeze the contaminated water that has leaked directly from the reactor buildings into undergroundtrenches. In total, a staggering 11,000 metric tons of water containing substances like uranium and plutonium has accumulated. TEPCO has thus far failed to freeze the contaminated water, and had to resort to dumping ice onto the site in an effort to freeze the area.

Now the company has admitted that it can’t keep up. So it wants approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Authority to pump out the water, treat it, and begin dumping it into the Pacific.

“We know we have to get an agreement from the relevant government authorities, the prefecture and local fishing unions,” a TEPCO spokesman said recently.

But pushback from the public could present a problem. “We would never consider dumping the water into the ocean unless we received the consent of local residents,” the TEPCO official toldAsahi Shimbun. “The water close to the plant buildings is already contaminated. Fishermen are sure to raise objections to the plan, so it will be difficult to gain their understanding.”

Close your Eyes, Hold Hands

I am reading a book by Chris Bohjalian called Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands which is a dystopian novel set in the near future after a bad meltdown at a fictitious nuclear power plant in northern Vermont. The biological, social and future scenarios for the US are presented from the viewpoint of a teenage girl who has lost everything in the ‘incident.’ It follows and prophesizes what I am grappling with here.

Conspiracy of silence

There are things here that we, apparently don’t really want to know. I have many friends who will not talk about Fukushima because it is too hard, too terrifying.  It is clear that the Government of Japan is covering up the seriousness of the accident and supporting TEPCO in its multiple, serial #FAIL. It is clear that we have US scientific establishment purveying pablum:

 Tests of water off the U.S. West Coast have found no signs of radiation from Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, although low levels of radiation are ultimately expected to reach the U.S. shore, scientists said on Tuesday.

Results obtained this week in tests of water gathered by an Oregon conservation group and tested by East Coast scientists came in as expected with no Fukushima-linked radiation, and five more tests are planned at six-month intervals to see if radiation levels will climb.

Nothing to see here, move along.

The biological anomalies are beginning to pile up. Just recently a report in California of weird illnesses in horses. But also starfish melting, sea lions dying, and at Fukushima itself monkeyscattle, birds and butterflies affected by the effects of radiation poisoning. Thyroid cancers are up in children in Japan. The US avers that sailors on the USS Reagan were not exposed to too much radiation,  while the DOD itself issues a report that the illnesses are significant. The slow motion effects of radiation on the whole ecosystem of the Pacific is unfolding before our eye. Yet we remain blind. Nothing to see here, move along.

It can’t happen here

We think that the effects of this are far away. We actually have two or three unfolding slow motion nuclear disasters unfolding in the USA as well. The one that has gotten the most recent press is the explosion of a nuclear waste container and subsequent shutdown of the only US nuclear waste facility the WIPP in New Mexico.

I just have to comment that the “official page on the incident at the WIPP performs a case study in agnotology. It mentions first an unrelated fire on a salt truck, and then downplays the enormity of the release of radioactive materials into the atmosphere:

060114_2254_Nuclearpowe1.jpgNine days later, late in the evening of February 14, a second unrelated event occurred when a continuous air monitor (CAM) alarmed during the night shift, when only 11 employees were at the WIPP site on the surface, no employees were in the underground. Two other WIPP employees reported to the site a couple hours later. The continuous air monitor measured airborne radioactivity close to the operating location where waste was being emplaced. Ventilation air is pulled from the underground repository by huge fans on the surface. This exhaust consists of unfiltered clean air.

When the CAM alarmed, two dampers were automatically closed in the exhaust duct that redirected the exhaust through high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters that removes radioactive particles.

The next day an aboveground exhaust air monitor on the WIPP site detected very low levels of airborne radioactive contamination. The 140 employees at the site were kept indoors as a precaution while air samples were taken. The 13 employees present during the radioactive release event on February 14 were tested for internal radioactive contamination after the event. The 140 employees have also been offered testing.

It is believed that a small amount of radioactivity leaked by the exhaust-duct dampers, through the unfiltered exhaust ducts and escaped aboveground. The exhaust duct dampers are large “butterfly” valves that are designed to close and cut off the air flow through the exhausters. However, the valves do not fully seal the exhaust ducts and still allowed a small amount of unfiltered air to escape.

The site as of this posting this has not told the story of what really happened. A barrel of waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory, which had organic kitty litter in it as a stabilizer, exploded. Los ALamos is the second unfolding disaster in this saga. There are 300-500 of these barrels still there in the open air.

Spent fuelThe third unfolding disaster is Hanford Nuclear Facility in the south-eastern corner of Washington state. It is the most polluted nuclear dump in the USA.

There is also the issue of our failure in the USA to deal with the long term storage of spent fuel. I found it hard to find information on the amount of nuclear waste from power plants in the USA. An article in Forbes in 2013 suggested more than 70,000 tons was to be sequestered in Yucca Mountain in Nevada. This is still undecided.

Today the Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates that we will run out of space in spent fuel pools next year. The US has no permanent storage facility such as Onkalo in Finland. We cant/don’t/won’t do that level of planning for the whole community, the Earth. This is a failure of political will more than anything else.

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