SUMMARY: Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen: Fukushima continues to irradiate the Pacific. Plume reaching West Coast. Where is next American Fukushima? Diablo Canyon in California? Then Naomi Klein’s new vision “This Changes Everything”.
Welcome to Radio Ecoshock and what a show we have for you this week! Arnie Gundersen covers the world’s worst nuclear dangers, from
the on-going poisoning of the Pacific Ocean by the melt-downs at Fukushima Japan, to America’s disaster-in-waiting – right in California. Oh yeah, and the nuclear plume is hitting the West Coast right now.
Then we’ll talk through the battle of capitalist profits versus the climate, and all of nature. Our guest will be Naomi Klein, author of the new book “This Changes Everything”.
Or listen to it on Soundcloud right now!
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ARNIE GUNDERSEN WITH NEW NEWS ABOUT FUKUSHIMA AND UNSAFE AMERICAN REACTORS
We get an update on the Fukushima mess from our favorite correspondent, Anrie Gundersen. He’s a former nuclear industry executive who now gives expert testimony on reactor safety. His videos on the web site fairewinds.com are the best anywhere. This interview ranges from Japan to California reactors unsafe at any speed, and even to the possibility of a massive nuclear melt-down right near New York City. Why not… Tokyo is already radioactive!
We begin by talking about the impact of the big typhoons that just swept over the site of the Fukushima nuclear disaster complex. There were two typhoons in a row, Phanfone and Vongfong. The second one dumped 10 inches of rain (254 mm.) in 24 hours – right on to a site where groundwater running through the melted reactor cores is already overwhelming TEPCO’s ability to pump it into temporary storage tanks.
Three hundred tons of radioactive water runs off the site each and every day into the Pacific Ocean. It was much more during these two storms. The operator hasn’t said how much more, but we know in one previous incident Fukushima leaked 600 tons of water into the Pacific, twice the “normal” highly nuclear runoff. We also know from other news reports that new record high levels of radiation was measured after these typhoons in various trenches and wells. Consider the giant amounts of radiation previously measured at Fukushima, we don’t wan’t to hear about new record highs.
The Japan Times reported “Tritium up tenfold in Fukushima groundwater after Typhoon Phanfone“
“Some 150,000 becquerels of tritium per liter were measured in a groundwater sample taken Thursday from a well east of the No. 2 reactor. The figure is a record for the well and over 10 times the level measured the previous week.”
“Tepco also revealed that, at a separate well also east of the No. 2 reactor, a groundwater sample was giving off a record 2.1 million becquerels of a beta ray-emitting substance, nearly double the level from a week earlier.
The cesium activity in the sample was 70 percent higher at 68,000 becquerels.”
There was even worse news after Typhoon Vongfong, one of the strongest in a generation.
Arnie Gundersen makes this stunning statement: just one month after the accident “there were things they could have done back then. I recommended pumping down the groundwater, but between the pumps and the nuclear reactor [they should] have something called a zeolite trench. Zeolite is a really good material – it’s volcanic – that would capture all the radioactive Cesium, and most of the other isotopes.
Well I was told three years ago that Tokyo Electric didn’t have the money. It’s one of those ‘pay me now or pay me later’. Because they didn’t keep that groundwater under control three years ago now they are paying the price.”
Arnie says the total releases from Fukushima now are much higher than from the Chernobly nuclear accident in the Ukraine in the 1980s. It is without a doubt the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
One sign of that: the site is so highly radioactive that even now, three years later, nobody knows where the nuclear cores of those 3 reactors are. Within about a year and a half, the world saw photos of the nuclear cores at Three Mile Island (in Pennsylvania) and Chernobyl. There are no such photos, or any kind of record, of the reactor cores at Fukushima.
By the way, a Korean government report estimates Fukushima may have released up to 4 times as much Cesium as Chernobyl did.
Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds.org
EARTHQUAKE RISK OF STORAGE TANKS
Every week, TEPCO has to construct two new giant storage tanks to hold still more radioactive water pumped from the site. There is a vast tank farm on the hill above the former reactors. But, Gundersen warns, these temporary tanks are not “seismically qualified”. That is, they are not intended to withstand a serious earthquake. If such a quake hits Fukushima, “they’ll all fail and run down into the Pacific en masse, which would be an insult to the Pacific which has never occcured in the history of the world”. But hey, what are the odds Fukushima will be hit by a major earthquake (again)!
ANOTHER UNTOLD PROBLEM
Arnie Gundersen is the only person I’ve heard raising yet anothe serious problem arising from this triple reactor melt-down. Major media have completely missed the fact that TEPCO is filtering out up to 90% of the major radioactive materials. Essentially, they are reconstituting nuclear cores in these filters. But what will they do with this brand new form of super-radioactive waste? Where will the filters be stored safely (for at least 300 years)? What place in Japan will have that dark honor? The filters contain not just cesium, but uranium and plutonium. They may need 250,000 years to be really safe.
When the water is filtered, with just 10% of the radiation left, the Japanese want to dump it, and probably already are dumping it, straight into the Pacific Ocean. As Gundersen says, they think 90% is good enough. If any other nation, in any other circumstance, was dumping even that 10% of radioactivity into the ocean (how much is it?) – there would be international outcry. Japan is using the Pacific as a nuclear waste dump.
Gundersen: “So by filtering the water, they’ve reduce the liquid problem, but they’ve created a huge solid radioactive waste problem that no one… you’ve got an exclusive here Alex. No one in the world is talking about where in the world are they going to store all of these filters for a quarter of a million years.”
REMOVING THE OUTER SHELL OF REACTOR 1
TEPCO needed to reduce the continuing airborne emissions of highly radioactive materials floating out of the wreck of the Number One
Reactor building. They constructed a fabric shell around the building (which also hid the wreckage from international photographers). Now that shell is absolutely loaded with radioactivity. The company is in the process of removing it. We discuss the dangers.
This week, an unexpectedly high gust of wind shook a crane removing the cover, and tore a large hole in it. It’s a very risky operation. Gundersen says without the cover, more radioactivity will be carried away by the winds.
THE HUMAN HEALTH IMPACT: SECRECY IN JAPAN
Alex: In these first few years after the nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima, we’ve heard almost nothing about the impacts on people in that region. There are accounts of strange tumors, kids dying, pets dying. What have you heard, and can we ever expect an honest accounting from Japanese authorities?
Gundersen: That’s a pretty good summary, frankly. We continue to get information from people who live there about cancer rates and illnesses in general. Not just cancer. You know we think of radiation as a cancer-causing thing, but it also causes many other ailments.“
Arnie then tells us about a woman 30 miles from Fukushima who has grown and stored seeds for a very long time. Now three years after the accident, she is see “gargantuism” (a.k.a. gigantism) in plants. When plants (or animals) mutate to become abnormally large, or have certain organs or parts growing very large, this is a sure sign of genetic damage caused by radiation.
Gundersen: “We are also working with doctors in Japan. Some brave doctors are saying that they are being threatened, that their hospital rights have threatened. If you tell your patient ‘this illness is radiation related’ you will lose your right to practice, and things like that. So there’s an enormous pressure on the medical community to tell the patients that what they are experiencing is not at all related to radiation.”
They key, Gundersen says, is statistics. We haven’t received real verifiable date on cancer rates and other illness from Japan, since the reactor accident. We’re not likely to get it. It turns out that under a prior agreement, all the statistics and reports have to go first to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) who must approve them. “Article Two of the IAEA’s Charter, is to promote nuclear power” Gundersen tells us.
WILL ANYONE BE PROSECUTED FOR THE ERRORS AND LIES OF FUKUSHIMA?
Reuters news service reports Japanese prosecutors are once again considering criminal charges against executives from the Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO. Last year they said “no charges”. But a special citizens’ panel is forcing them to reconsider. The almost invincible insider reputation of TEPCO is legendary. Is there any chance those who allowed this disaster to happen will be exposed to justice?
Gundersen thinks it’s unlikely under the Japanese system of authority that any charges of TEPCO executives will be successful. The
charges, if any, would not be for allowing the accident to happen (e.g. they knew the sea-wall was too low…) – but for hiding the true risks after the accident (and thereby endangering people’s health). Lawyers in Japan are progressive, Gundersen thinks, but the judicial system is legendary for its conservative nature.
Shortly after this interview, we received news that the Japanese prosecutors have delays their recommendation about charges for another three months. Don’t hold your breath.
Gundersen has a chance to speak in depth with former Prime Minister of Japan Naoto Kan, who was in charge at the time of the accident. Kan said he got bad information from both TEPCO and MITI, the organization responsible for nuclear matters. TEPCO wanted to abandon the site, Kan told Gundersen, but the Prime Minister said “no”.
IS TOKYO RADIOACTIVE? MOVE THE 2020 OLYMPICS?
We also talk about the move by former Japanese Ambasador Mitsuhei Murata to have the 2020 Olympics held somewhere other than Tokyo, due to the continuing health risks. I ask Arnie whether Tokyo is radioactive.
Gundersen: “Yes Tokyo is radioactive. I’ve spoken to Ambassdor Murata. My problem is we worry about the exposure to Olympic athletes who are going to be there for three weeks, what about the exposure to the people who live in Tokyo for the last ten years – nine years, from 2011 until the two thousand twenty Olympics. I’m afraid it’s a little bit elitist to worry about visiting athletes who are going to be there for three weeks, when in fact 35 million people are exposed to this radiation for nine years.
Now I think the government of Japan should be aggressively cleaning up Tokyo. But to do so would spread fear, and that in turn would stop the Olympics, which would then crush nuclear revival that the [current Prime Minister] Abe regime is so desiring. It’s so desirable to the Abe regime to get those nuclear plants running again.”
WHY TOKYO IS RADIOACTIVE?
Why is Tokyo radioactive? You would need to scan back through my past Fukushima shows, and the special podcasts I sent out at the time to get the details. All of that is available at my web site at ecoshock.org. Just type “Fukushima” into the search box there.
In a nutshell here are just some of the pathways radioactivity took to get to Tokyo:
1. In the first days of the accident, most of the radiation was blown north and west, but there were some reversals of wind, where the radiation was carried south and bathed Tokyo with nuclear particles. These were measured around the metropolis at that time. Various Japanese corporations considered moving their head offices out of Tokyo (some did). It later came out the whole government considered moving out of Tokyo.
2. For weeks after the accident, and especially after three reactor buildings blew up, there was continuing air-borne radiation of
3. The hills around Tokyo, were also bathed in radioactivity. Each successive rainstorm brought more radiation into the city. Tokyo has a vast amount of undergound water. Some of the city is build out over what was the ocean. Radiation was measured in the underground water.
4. More difficult to quantify, large amounts of radioactive materials were dumped or burned after the accident. Some radioactive hot sewage sludge was trucked around the country. So was radioactive cement, which used that sludge. Some of all that arrived, as almost everything does, in the hub of Tokyo.
The point is this: radioactivity doesn’t go away like yesterday’s news. It lasts and lasts, for decades, even generations. Residents of Tokyo hosed down some hot spots, but the city never really admitted the magnitude of the problem. There was no massive clean up of Tokyo (which would help but couldn’t get it all). Perhaps this was not done to avoid alarming the population, or to save the economy, which would have crashed in Tokyo was abandoned. So this giant metropolis remains radioactive, worse in some places than others. In my opinion, pregnant mothers should go to a less polluted area, and perhaps raise children to at least the age of 5 before returning.
THE SENDAI NUCLEAR PLANT AND VOLCANOES
The Japanese authorities released a report saying the Sendai nuclear plant would not experience a volcanic eruption for the next 30 years. That’s convenient, because that would be the expected operating life of this reactor site, if it is restarted. How polite for the volcanoes to wait!
However, on September 27th, there was an unexpected major eruption by another volcano not so near to Sendai. And influential volcanologists in Japan said there is absolutely no way to predict when a volcano will go off, and certainly no 30 year guarantee. br>
Gundersen says the real risk to Sendai is not so much that a volcano would immediately destroy the nuclear plant. The problem is a volcano can dump twelve feet or more of ash on the site, and on all roadways leading to it. It could become impossible to keep cooling the reactor core. If that is not cooled, it blows up, just like Fukshima did. The cooling system has to be kept going at least 5 years without any pause, even after the reactor is shut down. That applies to the nuclear reactor near you! Not that it matters if there is a reactor near you. Fukushima blew radioactive particles around the Northern Hemisphere, and as we are about to find out, the radioactive plume from the leaking site is just now reaching North America.
FUKUSHIMA’S PLUME HITS NORTH AMERICA
This spring of 2014, a citizen found a sample of Cesium-134 in a park in British Columbia, Canada – inland from the ocean. What does that tell us? Unlike Cesium-137, which lasts a long time, Cesium-134 only lasts about two years. That means this particle arrived from Fukushima. I think it may be from continuing airborne radiation, but Gundersen suggests it came from the original blowout three years ago.
Gundersen told us in previous interviews that his company Fairewinds tested automobile air filters from Seattle Washington after the
accident and found highly radioactive hot particles in those filters. We know from another Radio Ecoshock interview that radioactivity from Fukushima was found in seaweed, and in Vancouver, Canada. Similar Fukshima radiation was found in California, and in fact in many U.S. states including Pennsylvania, and those in New England.
Now we’re looking at a new wave of radiation reaching the West Coast. The slowly moving ocean currents are finally bringing the first part of the radioactive plume to Canada and the United States.
A Canadian research scientist named John Smith just told the meeting of the American Geophysical Union that this group has measured a
radioactive plume from Fukushima in Canadian waters. The blog Live Science reports:
“Smith and his colleagues tracked rising levels of cesium-134 at several ocean monitoring stations west of Vancouver in the North Pacific beginning in 2011. By June 2013, the concentration reached 0.9 Becquerels per cubic meter, Smith said. All of the cesium-134 was concentrated in the upper 325 feet (100 m) of the ocean, he said. They are awaiting results from a February 2014 sampling trip.”
There’s a long list of proof and sightings.
Ken Buesseler, the senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, had to arrange crowd-funding to measure this radioactivity in the Pacific. The American and Canadian governments don’t appear to care. So far Buesseler says the radiation found is weak, and not yet dangerous. We’re still in the early days. Buesseler set up this web site.
Gundersen says he receives a lot of worried calls and emails about the safety of West Coast beachs. This follows a couple of erroneous reports of high radioactivity on California beaches which turned out to be not from Fukushima, but left over from Cold War days. Yes, radioactivity from atmospheric atomic testing is still with us – which shows how long lasting any radioactivity is! Thanks to the Japanese experiment with nuclear power, the Pacific will still be more radioactive long after you and I are dead.
However, don’t panic surfers! Gundersen says the risk is still very, very low for people swimming in the Pacific. Go for it, if you can stand the cold water. The fish living there are not so lucky. The bottom feeders especially will soak up radioactivity, and this will bio-concentrate as these are eaten by other predators. Is that why the local pod of killer whales (Orcas) in southern British Columbia did not have a baby in two years? The pod just had their first birth, but the baby died soon after. There may be many factors at work, but increased radioactivity in the Pacific is not good for marine mammals. Nobody disputes that.
Gundersen also suggests that fresh water fish in British Columbia, and likely the whole West Coast, may also be accumulating radioactivity. The place to test, if anyone cares, would be bottom-dwelling feeders like Catfish, who live in waters above a dam. The runoff from the surrounding mountains would accumulate in those dam lakes.
Arnie says he won’t eat any fish from the Pacific until the government starts testing, and releases the actual data found, so he can make an informed decision about his own health.
THE NEXT FUKUSHIMA IN AMERICA
So what American nuclear plant will blow up? There’s a too long list of possible candidates. All American plants were built at least 30 years ago, and many are operating on extentions granted by the NRC. All that concrete, all those pipes and equipment deteriorating.
NEW YORK CITY AT RISK
That doesn’t even include known design flaws. Arnie and I were talking about earthquake risk and of course the last remaining California reactors at Diablo Canyon. Then he surprised me with this:
“By the way, we think of earthquakes as something that happens in California, but the plant with the highest what we call ‘core damage frequency’ is actually Indian Point. [38 miles from New York City – Alex] It’s only a mile away from a Richter point 7 and a half earthquake fault that wasn’t discovered until after it was built. So we could have an East Coast earthquake at Indian Point, which would be disastrous.”
We talk about the unsafe storage of 1600 tons of nuclear waste at the now-closed San Onofre nuke plant in California. Gundersen says that waste needs to be put into casks right away. The nuke materials in casks at Fukushima were not damaged by the earthquake or the tsunami.
THE MOST DANGEROUS REACTOR IN AMERICA: DIABLO CANYON, CALIFORNIA
Now to America’s biggest nuclear risk: the Diablo Canyon reactors half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles, right on the coast.
Gundersen: “Diablo Canyon is in my mind the most dangerous reactor in the United States. It was known when they built the plant that ground accelerations of .4 G – [which is] four tenths the acceleration of gravity – could hit the plant. And that’s the way they built it.
Well, as they were building it, they discovered other earthquake faults that were much nearer to the plant that could double that, to .75 G. They didn’t change the plant, they just changed the numberical analysis to make the plant fit an earthquake that was twice as
The two reactors at the Diablo Canyon site. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
INSTRUMENT CHATTER – THE EARTHQUAKE RISK NO ONE WANTS TO TALK ABOUT
Gundersen: Fairewinds just produced a report that we sent to the NRC. The big thing that they’re ignoring is not the gross collapse of the [reactor] building in the event of a Richter .7 G earthquake. It’s something called ‘instrument chatter’.
It’s really not spoken about very often in nuclear circles, but hopefully Fairewinds can bring it to the forefront. You know you have switches on the wall that turn the light on. Well they have switches in nuclear plants too. We call them ‘relays’. And if the ground shakes, the relays turn on and off without any human intervention. Now we found an NRC report that shows that the NRC has said there’s a hundred percent probability that in the event of an earthquake, some of those relays are going to end up in the wrong position. So if you want a pump to be ‘on’ the relay’s going to be ‘off’. If you want a pump to be ‘off’ the relay’s going to be ‘on’, because this relay chatter will cause them to bounce back and forth, and at the end of the earthquake they won’t be in the right position.
It’s a really serious problem that has been un-analyzed at Diablo Canyon. In my opinion, Diablo Canyon should be shut down until they analyze that problem. But of course that would be a four or five year effort and they may as well throw in the towels. So they are choosing to ignore the problem rather than really analyze this relay chatter issue.
Alex: This is the first I’ve heard of this. I guess we can say we are breaking this on Radio Ecoshock.
Gundersen: You are. You are. You know it’s in the deep bowels of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s files, but they don’t want to talk about it either. People who work with relays have seen them buzz. We’ll be posting a video in the next couple of weeks about relay chatter. They routinely will buzz when they are not working right, when the springs are worn and tired, they’ll sit there and go bzzzz.
Well, in the event of an earthquake that will happen anyway, even if it’s a brand new relay, because they’ll just bounce. The switches will turn on and off, on and off, and then when the earthquake ends there’s no guarantee they’ll be where you want them to be.”
So what? If a series of pumps need to be on, to cool the reactor, and the quake leaves them off, the reactor could heat up and blow. These reactors are such complicated systems, that we are not talking about one or two switches that some human will reset. We are talking about a vast system of interdependent switches that will reset themselves in chaotic patterns. It may not be easy to recover… in time.
We go on to discuss a report by David Lochbaum, a nuclear expert working with the Union of Concerned Scientists. Lockbaum says Diablo Canyon has never met basic fire regulations, and the NRC doesn’t make them meet the standards. Why can anyone operate a nuclear reactor with faulty fire protection? Arnie Gundersen says Diablo Canyon falls into Region Four of the NRC, which has a history of being lax about enforcing nuclear regulations.
The other trick, applied to dozens of American reactors which fail to meet safety standards, is to “grandfather” them. They are built, it’s too expensive to fix (the operators say) and so they must be safe, even though they aren’t. That’s the kind of nuclear logic that led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
DIABLO CANYON VIOLATES FEDERAL LAW
Gundersen: “We published a … I think it’s about q 45 page expert report that was sent to the NRC about a week and a half ago, with a legal filing that was sponsored by Friends of the Earth. Basically we determined that Diablo Canyon never should have been allowed to run. Because it violated a federal law. It’s called 10 CFR 50. That’s a nuclear law and it’s part 50-59, which basically says that when you know a plant has problems, and you change your analytical approach to solve that problem, the public has a right to know it.
That didn’t happen at Diablo Canyon. The public was not informed that Pacific Gas and Electric, the owner of Diablo Canyon made gross changes in all of the assumptions in order to get Diablo Canyon qualified to a much larger earthquake. The argument should have been made in 1980 and now Friends of the Earth is taking forward the argument 35 years later.“
HOW TO SHUT DOWN NUCLEAR – INSTALL SOLAR!
I asked Arnie Gundersen how can we finally shut down these aging dangerous reactors, before another Fukushima happens in America. His answer surprised me: install as much solar power as you can, personally, as a community, as a State.
It turns out nuclear plants actually lose money at night. They only make money supplying electricity during peak usage hours during the day. That’s exactly when solar produces it’s peak power. If enough solar power comes on line, nuclear plants will no longer make money. That’s when they shut down.
Arnie recommend his latest video talk, given in San Francisco at the WAVE conference. Find it here, on his web site at Fairewinds.org
Please listen to this whole interview. There’s more than I could capture in one blog.
NO NOTES FOR NAOMI KLEIN
Speaking of limitation – apparently Blogger only allows posts of reasonable length, or it chokes. So I’m not going to include my notes on the Naomi Klein interview. She was brilliant as always, pointing out capitalism seems unable to do what is necessary to avoid a global climate disaster. It’s a wide-ranging interview with Klein, and I hope more original than the generic Klein interviews now swamping the Net.
Learn which big green groups take money from fossil fuel companies, and which “green” billionaire isn’t living up to his 3 billion dollar pledge. Find Naomi’s new book “This Changes Everything, Capitalism Versus Climate Change” here. Everyone will be reading it, it’s already a hot topic of discussion here and on many blogs around the Net.
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