Thursday, March 31, 2011

Center Says Japan Should Cover Fukushima Plant: NOW

According to the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), four out of six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were damaged beyond repair in Japan’s devastating tsunami. The International Atomic Energy Agency has urged the Japanese government to consider widening the evacuation zone around the facility. Recent radiation readings outside the exclusion zone show radiation substantially higher than levels at which the U.N. nuclear agency would recommend evacuations.

The debate about the evacuation zone ignores the necessity to seal the site.  The Center is recommending around the clock dumpings of boron, sand, salt, gravel, cement, concrete, and anthing else that will cover that site.  A boron saturated 'rubble fill' should rise to about 500 feet.  That should seal the radiation and prevent it from escaping the site.  A 300 foot bulkhead should be bored into the ocean side of the site to prevent additional releases into the ocean environment.

Japanese officials have told residents to evacuate within a 12-mile zone and to stay indoors within 18 miles of the damaged complex, but U.S. NRC officials have recommended that American citizens stay at least 50 miles away.
Japan appears to be trying to salvage reactors No. 5 and 6 at the plant for some future operation.  Forget about it.  Seal the entire site.  It is dead.  And will remain so FOREVER.

Levels of iodine-131 were 3,355 times the legal safety limit, up from the previous high of 1,850 times the limit that was recorded Sunday, officials said.

Hundreds of engineers are working to bring the nuclear plant under control, including many consultants from other countries. This is stupid at this point.  The site is devastated and there is no redeeming value for the site.  Anything other than constructing a sarkofagus is futile.  Why don't the engineers GET THAT?
Any worker stupid enough to sacrifice his or her life to try to do anything except seal the site is just stupid. 


EPA Still Finds No Significant Radiation in USA

EPA Monitoring Continues to Confirm That No Radiation Levels of Concern Have Reached USA

During detailed filter analyses from 12 RadNet air monitor locations across the nation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified trace amounts of radioactive isotopes consistent with the Japanese nuclear incident. Some of the filter results show levels slightly higher than those found by EPA monitors last week and a Department of Energy monitor the week before. These types of findings are to be expected in the coming days and are still far below levels of public health concern.

EPA’s samples were captured by monitors in:

Alaska, Alabama, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands and Washington state over the past week and sent to EPA scientists for detailed laboratory analysis.

Detailed information on this latest round of filter results

EPA Proposes 'Common Sense' Approach to 316(b)

EPA to Open Public Comment on Proposed Standards on Cooling Water Intake Structures 

On March 28, 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as required by the Clean Water Act and pursuant to a settlement agreement,  is proposing for public comment standards to protect billions of fish and other aquatic organisms drawn each year into cooling water systems at large power plants and factories. The proposal, based on Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act, would establish a common sense framework, putting a premium on public input and flexibility.  The public’s comments will be instrumental in shaping safeguards for aquatic life and to build a commonsense path forward. The input EPA receives will make certain that we end up with a flexible and effective rule to protect the health of our waters and ecosystems.

The Center supports the EPA proposal and believes a 'Common Sense' approach will provide needed flexibility for case by case consideration of power plants.  State agencies can now exercise “best professional judgment” when deciding what cooling system a plant can use.  This judgment can also consider whether requiring a utility to build unneeded and expensive cooling towers will run them out of business.
The EPA proposal establishes a strong baseline level of protection and then allows additional safeguards for aquatic life to be developed through a rigorous site-specific analysis, an approach that ensures the most up to date technology available is being used. It puts implementation analysis in the hands of the permit writers, where requirements can be tailored to the particular facility.

Safeguards against impingement will be required for all facilities above a minimum size; closed-cycle cooling systems may also be required on a case by case basis when, based on thorough site-specific analysis by permitting authorities, such requirements are determined to be appropriate. EPA is proposing this regulation as a result of a settlement agreement with Riverkeeper, Inc. and other environmental groups.

Flexible Technology Standards:

Fish Impingement (Being pinned against screens or other parts of a cooling water intake structure):

Existing facilities that withdraw at least 25 percent of their water exclusively for cooling purposes and have a design intake flow of greater than 2 million gallons per day (MGD) would be required to reduce fish impingement under the proposed regulations. To ensure flexibility, the owner or operator of the facility will be able to choose one of two options for meeting best technology available requirements for reducing impingement. They may conduct monitoring to show the specified performance standards for impingement mortality of fish and shellfish have been met, or they may demonstrate to the permitting authority that the intake velocity meets the specified design criteria. EPA estimates that more than half of the facilities that could be impacted by this proposed rule already employ readily available technologies that are likely to put them into compliance with the proposed standard.

Fish Entrainment (Being drawn into cooling water systems and affected by heat, chemicals or physical stress):

EPA is proposing a site-specific determination to be made based on local concerns and on the unique circumstances of each facility.

This proposed rule establishes requirements for the facility owner to conduct comprehensive studies and develop other information as part of the permit application, and then establishes a public process, with opportunity for public input, by which the appropriate technology to reduce entrainment mortality would be implemented at each facility after considering site-specific factors.

Because new units can incorporate the most efficient, best-performing technology directly into the design stage of the project, thus lowering costs and avoiding constraints associated with technology that has already been locked in, the proposed rule would require closed-cycle cooling (cooling towers) for new units at existing facilities, as is already required for new facilities.

The public will be able to comment on the proposal upon its publication in the Federal Register. EPA will conduct a 90 day comment period, and will carefully consider those comments before taking final action on the proposal. The administrator must take final action by July 27, 2012. (EPA)

More Information

Advocacy for Jobs Affected by Regulation (AJAR) Project

Center Initiates Unit To Examine Jobs & Regulations

Cheryl Bly-Chester
Cheryl Bly-Chester has been named as the Center's new California Representative and Director of the Advocacy for Jobs Affected by Regulation (AJAR) project. AJAR is the Center's public education project for government accountability and due process. The mission of AJAR is to educate the public and elected representatives on the direct and indirect effect of legislative and regulatory actions on job security; advocating for economic growth by promoting accountability, transparency, and due process in governmental proceedings and by participating in public policy design of the regulatory board system.

Cheryl Bly-Chester has been involved with past Center projects and co-authored a newsletter on environmental policy issues for one of the Center's affiliated associations. She has recently completed her doctoral dissertation studying the California regulatory board system and is eager to apply what she has learned.

Dr. Bly-Chester is a Licensed Professional Engineer with an MBA in International Management specializing in global resources. She has been involved in permitting alternative energy plants in California, holds a Nuclear Reactor Safety Certificate from MIT earned during the Chernobyl Era, and is the owner of Rosewood Environmental Engineering located in the Sacramento Area of California.

Cheryl Bly-Chester, Director
Advocacy for Jobs Affected by Regulation (AJAR)
Center for the Environment, Commerce, and Energy
1079 Sunrise Boulevard, Suite B-168
Roseville, California 95661

(916) 721-8557
(916) 721-8339 (fax)
(916) 747-2293 (cell)

Obama Energy Speech


Georgetown University
Washington, D.C.
March 30, 2011


We meet here at a tumultuous time for the world.  In a matter of months, we’ve seen regimes toppled.  We've seen democracy take root in North Africa and in the Middle East.  We’ve witnessed a terrible earthquake, a catastrophic tsunami, a nuclear emergency that has battered one of our strongest allies and closest friends in the world’s third-largest economy.

And one big area of concern has been the cost and security of our energy. Obviously, the situation in the Middle East implicates our energy security. The situation in Japan leads us to ask questions about our energy sources.

So here’s the bottom line:  There are no quick fixes.  Anybody who tells you otherwise isn’t telling you the truth.

Now, today, we’re working to expedite new drilling permits for companies that meet these higher standards.  Since they were put in, we’ve approved 39 new shallow-water permits; we’ve approved seven deepwater permits in recent weeks. 

I am directing agencies to purchase 100 percent alternative fuel, hybrid, or electric vehicles by 2015.  All of them should be alternative fuel.

I think that with the right incentives in place, we can double our use of clean energy. And that’s why, in my State of the Union address back in January, I called for a new Clean Energy Standard for America: By 2035, 80 percent of our electricity needs to come from a wide range of clean energy sources -- renewables like wind and solar, efficient natural gas. And, yes, we’re going to have to examine how do we make clean coal and nuclear power work.

And it’s important to recognize that nuclear energy doesn’t emit carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So those of us who are concerned about climate change, we’ve got to recognize that nuclear power, if it’s safe, can make a significant contribution to the climate change question.

So in light of what’s happened in Japan, I’ve requested a comprehensive safety review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to make sure that all of our existing nuclear energy facilities are safe. And we’re going incorporate those conclusions and lessons from Japan in design and the building of the next generation of plants. But we can’t simply take it off the table.

My administration is leading global discussions towards a new international framework in which all countries who are operating nuclear plants are making sure that they’re not spreading dangerous nuclear materials and technology.
• The President’s remarks on America’s Energy Security

• The Blueprint for America’s Energy Security

• America Energy Security Factsheet

Friday, March 25, 2011

PG&E Corp Fined $6 Million by Calif Public Utilities Commission

The California Public Utilities Commission fined PG&E Corporation $6 million for failing to provide all required safety records for its network of natural-gas pipelines. The agreement is the latest development following the explosion last fall of a PG&E Corp. pipeline in San Bruno, Calif. that killed eight people and destroyed 38 houses. Investigators of the blast identified defects in the San Bruno pipe, which dated to the 1950s, that were not properly described in company records.

PG&E also agreed to do safety tests on pipelines that run through populated areas if records are missing, and to replace them if necessary. And it will continue to search for records to verify that all pipelines are being operated at safe pressures.

The California Public Utilities Commission said it would suspend $3 million of the fine if PG&E met all deadlines and finishes the work by August 31. The fines were to be paid with corporate money and will not be passed on to ratepayers, according to the agreement. (WSJ, 3/24/2011)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Radioactive Iodine 131 Found In Japan's Drinking Water

The urgency of halting the spread of radioactive contamination from the Fukushima Daiichi site was underlined on Wednesday by the health warning that infants should not drink tap water, even in Tokyo, 140 miles southwest of the stricken plant, which raised alarms about extensive contamination.

The United States Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday that it would prohibit imports of dairy goods and produce from the affected region.

Nuclear engineers in Japan say some of the most difficult and dangerous tasks are still ahead in mitigating the damage at the Daiichi nuclear power plant.  The tasks include manually draining hundreds of gallons of radioactive water and venting radioactive gas from the pumps and piping of the emergency cooling systems. Preventing the reactors and storage pools from overheating through radioactive decay would go a long way toward limiting radioactive contamination. But that would require pumping a lot of water through them.

The Japanese government has suggested that recent rains might have washed radioactive particles from the Daiichi into the water.  But prevailing breezes for the past two weeks should have been pushing the radiation mostly out to sea. And until Wednesday, some experts had predicted that radioactive iodine would not be much of a problem, because the fission necessary to produce iodine, which breaks down quickly, with a half-life of just eight days, stopped within minutes of the earthquake on March 11. The fear is that more radiation is being released than has been understood.
Radioactive Iodine 131 had been detected in water samples at a level of 210 becquerels per liter, about a quart. The recommended limit for infants is 100 becquerels per liter. For adults, the recommended limit is 300 becquerels. (The unit is named for Henri Becquerel, one of the discoverers of radioactivity.)

Pregnant women, nursing mothers and fetuses, as well as children, face the greatest danger from radioactive iodine, which is taken in by the thyroid gland and can cause thyroid cancer. Children are at much higher risk than adults because they are growing, and their thyroid glands are more active and in need of iodine. In addition, the gland is smaller in children than in adults, so a given amount of iodine 131 will deliver a higher dose of radiation to a child’s thyroid and potentially do more harm.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if an adult and a child ingest the same amount of radioactive iodine, the thyroid dose will be 16 times higher to a newborn than to an adult; for a child under 1 year old, eight times the adult dose; for a 5-year-old, four times the adult dose.

Pregnant women also take up more iodine 131 in the thyroid, especially in the first trimester. The iodine crosses the placenta and reaches the fetus, and the fetal thyroid takes up more iodine as pregnancy progresses.

Potassium iodide can protect the thyroid by saturating it with normal iodine. People in Japan have been advised to take it. (NYT, 3/23/2011, NYT, 3/23/2011)

Ionizing radiation

A form of radiation, which includes alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays, x-rays, neutrons, high-speed electrons, high-speed protons, and other particles capable of producing ions. Compared to non-ionizing radiation, such as radio- or microwaves, or visible, infrared, or ultraviolet light, ionizing radiation is considerably more energetic.

When ionizing radiation passes through material such as air, water, or living tissue, it deposits enough energy to produce ions by breaking molecular bonds and displace (or remove) electrons from atoms or molecules. This electron displacement may lead to changes in living cells. Given this ability, ionizing radiation has a number of beneficial uses, including treating cancer or sterilizing medical equipment. However, ionizing radiation is potentially harmful if not used correctly, and high doses may result in severe skin or tissue damage. (NRC)

Deepwater Horizon Blowout Preventer Failed on Design Flaw

(Image Courtesy WSJ)
In a report released Wednesday on the failure of the Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer, engineers hired by U.S. investigators (Norwegian risk-management company Det Norske Veritas) say the force of the blowout bent the drill pipe, knocking it off-center and jamming the shears. Rather than seal the well, the blades got stuck 1.4 inches or less apart, leaving plenty of space for 4.9 million barrels of oil to leak out. The investigators concluded the blowout preventer failed as a result of a design flaw, not because of misuse by BP or any of the other companies involved, and not because of poor maintenance. The fail-safe device, the last line of defense against a disaster, wasn't designed to handle a real-world blowout, according to investigators, who called for further study of the devices.

Even if the device had worked, it wouldn't have saved the lives of the 11 rig workers killed in the accident. That's because no one even tried to activate the shears until after massive explosions killed the men and crippled the rig. But the device could have mostly prevented the oil spill that began when the Deepwater Horizon sank two days after the initial explosion.

The blowout preventer was owned and maintained by rig owner Transocean Ltd. and built by Cameron International Corp. The report could turn attention to Cameron, manufacturer of the device.  (WSJ, 3/24/2011)

Radiation Exposure

Fukushima Workers Trying To Stabilize Radioactive Plant Site

Workers attempting to repair power lines
 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant
(Courtesy Tokyo Electric Power
Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are wearing protective gear and a mask and must have had training in dealing with radioactive environments in order to work at the damaged plant. Each person also wears two badges, in chest pockets under gear, to track radiation exposure on each visit. Each worker is limited to a total of 250,000 microsieverts for the duration of the crisis, a limit that was lifted last week from 100,000 microsieverts, which is the borderline for what is considered "low-dose" exposure.

A material is radioactive if its nucleus is unstable.  The SI (Systeme International) unit for radioactivity is the becquerel (Bq), which refers to one radioactive disintegration per second.  An older unit (which is still widely used) is the curie (CI), which is the quantity of a radioactive nuclide in which the number of disintegrations per second is 3.7 x 10^10.  Thus, 1 Ci = 3.7 x 10^10.
The amount of radiation energy absorbed per kilogram in a material is called absorbed dose.  The SI unit for absorbed dose is the gray (Gy).  The older units is the rad (radiation absorbed dose). One gray is equal to 1 joule of energy absorbed per kilogram.  The gray and the rad are related: 1 Gy = 100 rad.  Dose absorbed throughout a person's entire body is referred to as whole body dose (effective dose). 
The most common radiations, x-rays, gamma rays, and beta particles, have about the same effect on tissue.  However, heavier radiation particles such as neutrons, protons, and alpha particles do considerably more damage on the average per unit of energy deposited.  This effect is known as the relative biological effectiveness (RBE) of the radiation.  Thus, heavy particles generally have a higher RBE than x-rays.
To place all types of radiation to tissue on an equivalent basis for radiation protection purposes, a new quanty was needed, called the equivalent dose (particular organ).   Its unit is the sievert (Sv).  The original unit was the rem, which stands for rad equivalent man.
Again, the two basic radiation protection quantities in use are the equivalent dose (particular organ) and the effective dose (whole body), both reported in sieverts.  Since in many radiation protection situations the radiation to a worker or to a member of the public is not uniform but instead is concentrated in a particular organ of the body, such as the lungs, it is desirable to convert a partial-body absorbed dose in grays to a whole-body effective dose in sieverts.

Three fundamental techniques are used to protect people from ionizing radiation.  These are the use of (1) time, (2) distance, and 3) shielding.  (WSJ, 3/24/2011, "Bluebells and Nuclear Energy, Albert B Reynolds")

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant Relicensed by NRC

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on Tuesday extended a 20-year license to Entergy's Vermont nuclear power plant. The Center supports the relicense.

Some are a bit disturbed that the relicense was approved while the Fukushima disaster is still in progress.  Yet one has nothing to do with the other.  Vermont Yankee sits on the Connecticut River and is not threatened by a tsunami.  Moreover, the 650 megawatt facility employs 650 people.  Vermont Yankee is the largest producer of electricity in Vermont, providing reliable base load generation. In fact, it represents 80% of Vermont's in-state generation and supplies approximately one-third of the state's electricity demand.

Vermont Yankee was slated for closure in 2012 without the new license. Vermont lawmakers may still look to block the extension.  {Vermont Yankee Nuclear Station - NRC Relicense Application}

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Judge Puts California Cap & Trade Program on Hold

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith has put California's law, known as AB 32, to curb greenhouse gas pollution on hold, saying the state did not adequately evaluate alternatives to its cap-and-trade program.  In a 35-page decision, the judge said the Air Resources Board (ARB) had failed to consider public comments on the proposed measures before adopting the plan, which affects a broad swath of the state's economy. In particular, the judge noted, officials gave short shrift to analyzing a carbon fee, or carbon tax, devoting a “scant two paragraphs to this important alternative” to a market-based trading system in their December 2008 plan.

The Center disagrees with, and opposes, the judges decision.  The Center also opposes carbon taxes or carbon fees.

The Air Resources Board appealling the judge's decision, which was filed late Friday and released Monday.

The Center supports the ARB appeal.
In the November election, Californians voted down a oil-refinery-sponsored ballot initiative (Proposition 23)  to delay the state's global warming law, which is touted as a spur to California’s fast-growing renewable energy industry. The 2006 law requires the state to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

The California lawsuit against ARB was filed by six environmental groups that represent low-income communities, including the Association of Irritated Residents, based in the San Joaquin Valley, and Communities for A Better Environment, which fights pollution around the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The groups contend that a cap-and-trade program would allow refineries, power plants and other big facilities in poor neighborhoods to avoid cutting emissions of both greenhouse gases and traditional air pollutants.  The environmental justice-oriented groups believe that cap and trade means that oil refineries, which emit enormous amounts of greenhouse gases and contribute to big health problems, cannot simply keep polluting by purchasing pollution credits, or doing out of state projects.  The Center believes the trading system can be leveraged to create innovative energy efficieincy jobs.

The board’s attorneys will meet with plaintiffs about complying with the order without halting all aspects of its global warming plan. Besides the cap-and-trade program, which covers 600 industrial plants, the plan includes rules to curb the carbon intensity of gasoline production and distribution, slash motor-vehicle emissions and control potent greenhouse gases such as refrigerants.

The green groups Environmental Defense Fund, the Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center backed a cap-and-trade approach, and did not join the lawsuit by environmental justice groups.

If all actions under AB 32 are suspended, that might mean that California's rules requiring utilities to provide 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources are suspended, or that the state's low-carbon fuel standard is in question.

The rules were drawn up under AB 32, which requires that California's greenhouse gas emissions be cut to 1990 levels by 2020, a drop of about 15 percent from current levels.

The particular issue regards a document called a Functional Equivalent Document (FED) prepared to assess environmental consequences of the Scoping Plan, which sets out cap-and-trade goals. The Superior Court case is Association of Irritated Residents vs. California Air Resources Board, CPF-09-509562.

Conservatives have defeated national cap-and-trade proposals in Congress, but the California legal challenge comes from a different direction - grassroots "environmental justice" groups that consider the plan too weak.

(Silicon Valley Mercury News, 3/21/2011, Reuters, 3/21/2011, L.A. Times, 3/21/2011, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/22/2011)

Proposed Texas Nuclear Power Plant Affected by Fukushima

San Antonio municipal utility CPS Energy said March 15 it has suspended talks with NRG Energy about a prospective agreement to purchase additional power from the planned expansion (Units 3 & 4) of the South Texas Project (STP) nuclear plant. CPS holds a 7.625% ownership interest in the expansion project, and with that stake would be entitled to a total of about 206 MW from the planned South Texas Project units 3 and 4. The municipal utility also had been in talks with NRG about the possibility of purchasing unspecified amounts of additional power from Nuclear Innovation North America, the 88%/12% joint venture of NRG and Toshiba that owns the 92.375% of the planned units not held by CPS.

CPS and NRG decided "by mutual agreement that until more information is available about the situation in Japan and its impact on the industry worldwide, it makes sense to put our purchase power agreement discussions on hold."

CPS believes it is too soon to comment on whether the Japanese nuclear crisis might affect plans by Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), operator of the stricken Fukushima-I plant in Japan, to take up to a 499-MW stake in the planned South Texas units.

Tepco said last May that it would pay $125 million for a 10% share of the NINA joint venture once DOE has issued a conditional commitment to the project's developers for a federal loan guarantee.  One of the problems is that the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which owns the Fugushima plant, was going to invest in the expansion of the South Texas Nuclear Project. NRG Energy, a majority partner in the expansion, was also going to rely on loan guarantees from the Japanese government. Naturally any thought of any Japanese entity investing in nuclear power is on hold for the foreseeable future.

It would appear that the issues facing NRG’s Japanese partners (including Tepco, the beleaguered owners of the doomed Fukushima nuclear plant) are giving everyone pause in their relentless pursuit of the STP expansion.

Two reactors of the South Texas Nuclear Project have been providing power for the region since the mid 1980s. (UPI, 3/22/2011, Yahoo News, 3/15/2011, Public Citizen, 3/15/2011, Platt's Energy Week, 3/18/2011)

Obama Admin Approves 1st Deep-water Gulf Drilling Plan

The Obama administration approved on Monday, through the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), the first new deep-water exploration plan in the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon disaster last April.  The Royal Dutch Shell PLC plan still needs a separate permit to start drilling. Shell plans to drill wells in about 2,950 feet of water 130 miles off the Louisiana coast.

The Interior Department approved Shell's environmental assessment of the specific site, clearing an important regulatory hurdle. In the past, Interior had granted drilling permits in the Gulf without requiring environmental studies for the specific projects. The department discontinued issuing these "categorical exclusions" in August 2010 as part of a broader overhaul of offshore-drilling regulation in the aftermath of the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Currently, 13 similar exploration plans are pending before Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE).

After the explosion at the BP PLC-leased Deepwater Horizon, Interior imposed a moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf and required operators to meet more stringent safety standards. It lifted the moratorium in October, 2010, but the department has faced criticism for limiting deep-water permit approvals to three sites where operators had already been drilling before the moratorium. By contrast, the Shell plan approved Monday would tap new wells. (WSJ, 3/22/2011)

Monday, March 21, 2011

EPA Administrator to Travel to California

For Meetings with Agriculture, Business Leaders

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, left, will make a long-planned visit to California this week, where she will meet with state and local agriculture and business leaders. Having just returned from Brazil, where she traveled with President Obama and other members of the president’s Cabinet, Administrator Jackson’s two-and-half-day California trip will include stops in Los Angeles and Fresno.

In Los Angeles, Jackson will hold a roundtable discussion with LA business leaders from the energy sector and the African-American community and will be joined by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass to visit one of Los Angeles’ top performing schools, which serves predominantly minority and low-income students. Administrator Jackson will also spend a full day in Fresno, where she will visit farms, meet with agricultural leaders, hold discussions with Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and meet with local environmental justice activists.  (EPA)

2:45 p.m. Tour of Stella Middle Charter Academy
2636 South Mansfield Ave.
Los Angeles, Calif.

9:45 a.m. Visit to Terranova Ranch
16729 W. Floral Ave
Helm, Calif.

11:00 a.m. Meeting with growers at J and L Vineyards
7455 W. Lincoln, Ave.

Fukushima Disaster Demonstrates Need For Yucca Mountain


By Norris McDonald

Norris McDonald at Yucca Mountain
The tsunami that created the disaster at the Fukushami Daiimi nuclear power station demonstrates the need for Yucca Mountain as the repository for America's nuclear waste.  I toured the Yucca Mountain repository in 2002 and it is the perfect place to store, retrieve and reprocess (recycle) America's nuclear waste. If spent nuclear fuel would be deposited at this repository, it would significantly reduce the sort of vulnerability that ended up becoming a disaster for Japan.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 established Yucca Mountain as the repository for nuclear waste.  If Japan had such a repository, the disaster would not have been nearly as bad because the spent nuclear waste pools would be empty.  America needs to empty its spent nuclear reactor fuel at such pools at reactor sites around the country.

Unfortunately, although expressing pronuclear positions on the front end in terms of loan guarantees, the Obama administration is constipating the process by opposing Yucca Mountain.  That was a political decision to protect Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  Fine.  Reid has been reelected.  Now we need that site.  It is in the national interest, which trumps Reid's political career. 

Unfortunately, NRC Chairman Jaczko is a former Reid staffer and is philosophically opposed to Yucca.  I met Jaczko in the Senate and, well, let's just say that he is not that approachable.  Whereas, other NRC commissioners are approachable.  Get a clue Jaczk, and be nice to the public.

Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Creating Thousands of Refugees

Tens of thousands of evacuees are fleeing from Japan's northeast coast because of the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  They are running from radiation.  These refugees are streaming away from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where overheating reactors have been leaking dangerous levels of radiation into the air.

The Saitama Super Arena north of Tokyo, normally home to concerts by Japanese pop artists and football games, is serving thousands.  Many of the refugees are from the hot zone within a 12-mile radius of the Fukushima plant, 150 miles north of Tokyo, where the Japanese government has deemed it unsafe to stay. Others lived in a radius that stretches six miles farther out, where people were ordered to stay inside their homes. An estimated 136,000 people lived in that 18-mile radius alone.

But as fear of radiation spreads, evacuee camps are being swelled by people from beyond the 18-mile perimeter—including those from the city of Iwaki, population 341,402, where officials extended their own order for people to avoid radiation by staying in their houses.

Some of the towns most affected by radiation—at first dispersed to numerous facilities in Fukushima prefecture, or state—are starting to move as a block. Some 1,200 residents of the town of Futaba-machi, neighboring the Fukushima reactor, on Saturday moved to the Saitama Super Arena in a convoy of 40 buses.

Hundreds huddled in groups around the 27,000-seat arena Saturday evening, holding plastic bags with blankets and food, waiting for officials to tell them where to go. This sounds like the Superdome in New Orleans during the Katrina Hurricane crisis, except without the exaggerated news reports about rape and rioting and looting.  In fact, the media seem to go out of their way to describe how 'calm' the Japanese are in the face of this crisis.  I think we all know that the Japanese are not some stereotypical docile people who are immune to the emotion horror that has occured on the island.  Geez.

The Fukushima nuclear power plant.had been a support for the townspeople for 40 years, supplying jobs and buoying the economy. Now, some are saying that nuclear plants had a normal lifespan of 20 years and that operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. had been trying to stretch out its tenure too long.  Well, a super tsunami was not anticipated by TEPCO. (WSJ, 3/21/2011)

The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Fuel Management Issue

Image Courtesy Union of Concerned Scientists
The Fukushima Daiichi power plant, like other nuclear plants in Japan, removes fresh fuel from a reactor and parks it for weeks or months in a less-protected "spent fuel" pool during maintenance.  This standard practice at Japanese nuclear plants appears to have been a significant contributor to the tsunami-induce disaster at the Daiichi facility.  

When the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck, all of the fresh fuel at the plant's Reactor No. 4 had been removed and stored in a pool that must remain filled with cooling water. That pool became one of the biggest problems for plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, after much of the protective water dissipated, threatening fire and widespread radiation release.

At the time of the quake, Reactor 4 was offline and not generating power amid annual maintenance. As part of that, five months ago Tepco relocated all the fuel rods from inside the reactor to what's called a spent-fuel pool, a concrete holding tank that is less robustly protected than the reactor itself. The active rods were in that pool when the March 11 quake struck. When the tsunami wiped out the plant's emergency generators, the water in the spent-fuel pool adjacent to the No. 4 reactor could no longer circulate, and fresh water could not be pumped in. Rods in the pools began to overheat, causing the water to evaporate as steam and exposing parts of the radioactive rods to the air—a critically dangerous situation. The heat spawned fires and the roof above the pool was partly destroyed, letting radiation out.

The Japanese argue it's safer to move all the fuel to the pool, but the practice of full-core discharge caused a problem, in the case of the tsunami.  They believe the practice of removing still-usable fuel and stowing it in the spent-fuel pool can be done safely if ample water is available and sufficient space is maintained between the rods.

In the U.S., reactors shut down for refueling typically retain most of their fuel in the thick steel reactor pressure vessel that provides much more protection against a radioactive release. During refueling outages, when operators swap out depleted fuel for fresh fuel and do other maintenance, these rods are shuffled around in a process somewhat akin to rotating tires on a car to even out the wear.  In the U.S., only the most worn-out rods typically are removed and transferred to a spent-fuel pool for storage, where they can stay for decades. Thus, U.S., pools hold only the oldest spent fuel, which is also the coolest in terms of temperature and radiation.

Outdoor Dry Casks: Image UCS
  By contrast, at Tepco and other utilities, it's common to temporarily remove all the fuel rods. The freshest are eventually moved back to the reactor pressure vessel and supplemented with new rods to replace the oldest ones, which are left in the storage pools.

Rods can be left in pools for many years for two reasons. First, they need to cool down. Second, no nation has yet solved the problem of what to do with large stockpiles of used nuclear fuel. As a result, much of it remains in utility holding pens. (WSJ, 3/21/2011)

Friday, March 18, 2011

EPA & DOE Say No Significant Radiation Has Reached USA

The United States Government has an extensive network of radiation monitors around the country and no radiation levels of concern have been detected. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency RadNet system is designed to protect the public by notifying scientists, in near real time, of elevated levels of radiation so they can determine whether protective action is required. The EPA’s system has not detected any radiation levels of concern.

In addition to EPA’s RadNet system, the U.S. Department of Energy has radiation monitoring equipment at research facilities around the country, which have also not detected any radiation levels of concern.

As part of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization’s International Monitoring System (IMS), the Department of Energy also maintains the capability to detect tiny quantities of radioisotopes that might indicate an underground nuclear test on the other side of the world. These detectors are extremely sensitive and can detect minute amounts of radioactive materials.

Today, one of these monitoring stations in Sacramento, California that feeds into the IMS detected miniscule quantities of the radioactive isotope xenon-133. The origin was determined to be consistent with a release from the Fukushima reactors in Northern Japan. The levels detected were approximately 0.1 disintegrations per second per cubic meter of air (0.1 Bq/m3), which results in a dose rate approximately one-millionth of the dose rate that a person normally receives from rocks, bricks, the sun and other natural background sources. This validates a similar reading of 0.1 Bq/m3, taken from March 16 through 17 in Washington State.

Xenon-133 is a radioactive noble gas produced during nuclear fission that poses no concern at the detected level.

These types of readings remain consistent with expectations since the onset of this tragedy, and are to be expected in the coming days.

Following the explosion of the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine in 1986 – the worst nuclear accident in world history – air monitoring in the United States also picked up trace amounts of radioactive particles, less than one thousandth of the estimated annual dose from natural sources for a typical person.

As part of the federal government’s continuing effort to make our activities and science transparent and available to the public, the Environmental Protection Agency will continue to keep all RadNet data available in the current online database. (EPA)

More information

Damaged Fukushima Spent Fuel Pools Are Big Concern

Norris McDonald with Spent Fuel Pool in background

By Norris McDonald

I have toured half a dozen spent fuel pools at various nuclear power plants.  They always fascinate me.  To look down on the boron-laced bluish looking water to observe the spent fuel assemblies below is just one of the most interesting things I have ever done.  It never ceases to amaze.  Being shown and instructed on how the fuel assemblies are brought into the plant, inserted into the reactor vessel, and ultimated romoved for storage in the spent fuel pools and dry cast outdoor storage is very enlightening.

The fuel rods at all six reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex contain plutonium. But only six percent of the fuel rods at the plant's Unit 3 were a mixture of plutonium-239 and uranium-235 when it was first put into operation. The fuel in other reactors is only uranium, but even there, plutonium is created during the fission process.  Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 25,000 years, meaning it takes that long to lose half of its radioactive potency. Uranium-235 has a half-life of 700 million years. And cesium, which tends to go airborne much more easily, has a half-life of 30 years.

When the pellets of uranium dioxide inside the thin fuel rods are split to create energy in the reactor, they release neutrons that, in turn, create highly radioactive plutonium-239. Some of the U-238 is transformed into PU-239.  This plutonium also splits, creating even more energy. By the end of a uranium fuel cycle, 40 percent of the energy produced comes from the splitting of plutonium.  The spent fuel rod that remains at the end of the process contains uranium, plutonium, and a mix of other radioactive byproducts.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi site has 3,400 tons of fuel in seven spent fuel pools within the six-reactor plant, including one joint pool storing very old fuel from units 3 and 4. There are 877 tons in five of the reactor cores. Officials have said that the fuel in Unit 4's reactor vessel was transferred to its spent fuel pool when the unit was temporarily shut in November.

Japan has recently built a facility to remove the byproducts and reprocess the plutonium and uranium into a substance called MOX for reuse in its reactors.  MOX mixes plutonium or highly enriched uranium from warheads with regular uranium for a blend that can be used in commercial reactors.  I toured the LaHague reprocessing facility in France (see photo below) in 2007. Japan's reprocessing plant, in Rokkasho, a village 300 miles (500 kilometers) north of Fukushima, is only starting up, and hasn't yet begun full operation.  I also toured the two nuclear reactors in the United States that use MOX fuel.

Norris Mcdonald (center) with tour group at LaHague nuclear fuel reprocessing facility in France

The explosions at the 3 containment buildings compromised the spent fuel pools.  Now those highly radioactive fuels assemblies are left unshielded by water.  The assemblies are not only radioactive, they are extremely hot.  This is a real problem for Tokyo Electric Power. I think they will have to bury the site much as the Russians did at Chernobly.  Sand, boron, dirt, cement, concrete, steel and everything else they can put on top of the site to block radiation releases into the environment. (FOX News, 3/18/2011)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Germany Overreacts To Japan Nuclear Disaster

Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has ordered a three-month shutdown of nearly half of the country's 17 reactors built before 1980. Several of these reactors may never come back online and that others be phased out ahead of schedule.

The Center believes this is a gross overreaction to the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan.

The seven reactors shut down this week were generating 5% of Germany's electricity. Nuclear power provides about 23% of the Germany's total electricity production. Abandoning nuclear power soon would oblige Europe's largest economy to draw more electricity from fossil fuels, endangering the government's ambitious self-imposed commitment to slash greenhouse-gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.  Dropping nuclear power entirely could raise the share of German electricity generated by coal-fired plants to over 60% from 45% currently. That would push up the price of emissions permits issued through the EU's carbon trading scheme, and in turn the price of electricity.

Germany's electricity prices, among the highest in Europe, have already more than doubled in the past decade, thanks in part to the country's aggressive subsidy push into renewable energies. Another traditional alternative to nuclear power, natural gas, burns more cleanly than coal but has its own drawbacks. Some 45% of the natural gas Germany uses to generate electricity and heat homes comes from Russia, and price disputes between the national utility, Gazprom, and its customers in Eastern Europe have endangered that supply several times since 2005.

Turning away from nuclear power would hit utilities' profits and the federal budget, too. The agreement Chancellor Merkel negotiated last fall for power companies to operate their reactors up to 14 years longer than planned would have brought them billions of euros in unexpected profits. And the government stood to take in more than half of that windfall through new levies and taxes. The four utilities with German reactors—E.ON AG, RWE AG, Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg AG and Vattenfall Europe AG—agreed to pay a tax on new fuel rods worth €2.3 billion ($3.2 billion) annually through 2016, which the government earmarked for its budget consolidation efforts, and planned to contribute some €25 billion more to a new fund for renewable energy research. It isn't clear whether that fund will survive the current review. (WSJ, 3/17/2011)

China Halts Approvals of New Nuclear Power Plants

The Chinese government has halted approvals of new nuclear-power plants pending changes to safety standards. The government also ordered integrity checks at existing plants.  The reviews are due to the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan. The Chinese National Nuclear Safety Administration is sending monitors onto the East China Sea with radiation-detection equipment. So far, nothing unusual has been discovered.

China has 13 nuclear reactors in operation, at least 25 more under construction, and a five-year plan adopted by the National People's Congress just this month contains approvals for dozens more units. According to the World Nuclear Association, more than 70 additional reactors are in the proposal stage, including for regions with known seismic activity.

Derry Bigby, Zhang Xiaoping, Norris McDonald at Daya Bay

Center President Norris McDonald, Center Vice President Derry Bigby and Center China Office Director Zhang Xiaoping toured the Daya Bay nuclear power station in China's southern city of Huizhou in Guangdong province in 2007.  They also toured China's cutting edge Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) being developed about 40 miles from Beijing.

2 Reactors Under Construction at Daya Bay (2007)

Containment dome head for new reactor in background

Center staff with Dr. Wang Hong - PBMR in distant background

Among the major suppliers to China is Toshiba Corp.'s Westinghouse Electric, which produces a reactor called the AP1000 that features a passive safety system that doesn't require the same kind of pumps that failed in Japan. China also intends to utilize reprocessing spent uranium. China cannot achieve its clean-air goals without significant investment in nuclear power. (WSJ, 3/17/2011)

Fukushima Emergency Power Failure Crippled Plant

Current Status of Fukushima (WSJ Graphic)

Fukushima Damage
The record earthquake and tsunami  that crippled the Fukushima nuclear power plant's emergency power supply far exceeded all engineering assumptions.  With no power, the pumps could not provide needed water to keep the reactors cool.  Depending on the damage to the spent fuel pools by the explosions, the lack of electrical power also prevented pumping water into those pools that lost their water.  Now at least one spent fuel pool is buring out of control.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex's back-up diesel-powered generators were built below ground level. This bunker-like positioning would protect the generators from an air strike, cyclone or typhoon—but made them more vulnerable to an earthquake-driven tsunami. When the giant waves struck, they immobilized the generators despite being designed to protect against water. The tsunami also apparently washed away the generators' fuel tanks, which were above ground. (WSJ, 3/17/2011)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Pronuclear Advocate's Worst Nightmare Comes True


Norris McDonald

I was the first environmentalist in the United States to publicly support nuclear power starting in 2000.  The Center is the only environmental organization in the United States that has aggressively promoted nuclear power.  Although the nuclear industry has not acknowledged our role, they know these facts to be true. Ask them if you do not believe this to be true.

I dreaded the day that I would awaken to a nuclear meltdown or any serious nuclear accident.  Now that nightmare scenario is reality.  I woke up on March 11th to the news that there was a major nuclear accident in Japan.  Three explosions have followed and Fukushima is now being touted as an accident worse than Chernobyl.

What is a pronuclear environmental advocate to do?

The physics and energy reality have not changed.  Nuclear power is still the best way to provide base load electricity to millions of households.  Yet San Onofre and Diablo Canyon are in the path of some future tsunami.  Although they are vital to California's electricity power pool, I fear that they might have to be shut down.  I submit that California should figure out some way to build 4 reactors to replace them, just not on the coastline.  I also worry that the American nuclear fleet is aging.  Yet climate change remains the most vicious environmental issue facing us today and tomorrow, bar none --  not even a 300 year Japanese tsunami that decimated an aging nuclear facility that was located on the wrong side of the island.

The tsunami crippled the Fukushima plant.  Knocked out the backup cooling systems and produced the nightmarish scenario that is still working itself out.  Yet that was an historic earthquake and a horrific resulting tsunami.  If Japan is to build new nuclear reactors, I believe they have learned to not build them on the susceptible Pacific Ocean  side, but to build them on the opposite side of the island facing China.  Thus, the island will serve as a barrier to the sort of damage that occurred during this terrible, historic, nightmarish tsunami.

I was called crazy to support nuclear power way before other environmentalists followed.  I put it out there because I knew that I was right.  And that the science and logic supported my position.  I will accept the crazy label as I continue to support the technology.  Even as I am vilified by the anti crowd and not acknowledged by the nuclear industry.  Science, logic and the right energy policy are their own great rewards.

EPA Proposes Standard for Mercury from Power Plants

National Pollution Standard

In response to a court deadline, today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the national standards for mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollution from power plants. The new power plant mercury and air toxics standards would require many power plants to install widely available, proven pollution control technologies to cut harmful emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases.

The standards will prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year. The new proposed standards would also provide particular health benefits for children, preventing 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 11,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year. The proposed standards would also avert more than 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions and 850,000 fewer days of work missed due to illness.

Toxic air pollutants like mercury from coal- and oil-fired power plants have been shown to cause neurological damage, including lower IQ, in children exposed in the womb and during early development. The standards also address emissions of other toxic metals linked with cancer such as arsenic, chromium and nickel. Mercury and many of the other toxic pollutants also damage the environment and pollute our nation’s lakes, streams, and fish. In addition, cutting these toxic pollutants also reduces fine particle pollution, which causes premature death, heart disease, workdays lost to illness and asthma.

Power plants are the largest remaining source of several toxic air pollutants – responsible for half of mercury and more than half of acid gas emissions in the United States. In the power sector alone, coal-fired power plants are responsible for 99 percent of mercury emissions. Currently, more than half of all coal-fired power plants already deploy the widely available pollution control technologies that allow them to meet these important standards. Once final, these standards will ensure the remaining coal-fired plants, roughly 44 percent, take similar steps to decrease dangerous pollutants.

The proposed rule provides up to 4 years for facilities to meet the standards and, once fully implemented, will prevent 91 percent of mercury in coal from being released into the air.

More than 20 years ago, the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments mandated that EPA require control of toxic air pollutants including mercury. Since then, EPA has taken action to reduce mercury emissions from many high-emitting sources; however, there is still no national standard for mercury emissions from power plants. Today’s announcement is long awaited, coming 11 years after EPA announced it would set such limits for power plants, and following a February 2008 court decision that struck down the previous administration's mercury rule. In October 2009, EPA entered into a consent decree that required a proposal to be signed by March 16, 2011, and a final rule to be completed by November 2011.

The proposed standards also ensure that public health and economic benefits far outweigh costs of implementation. EPA estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, the American public and American businesses will see up to $13 in health and economic benefits. The total health and economic benefits of this standard are estimated to be as much as $140 billion annually.

As part of the public comment process, EPA will also hold public hearings on this proposed rule. Additional details on these events will be announced at a future date. (EPA)

More Information

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fire at Fukushima Unit #4

A fire is out of control at the #4 Unit at the Fukushim Daiishi nuclear power complex.  This comes after hydrogen explosions at Units 1, 2 & 3.  Plant workers are spraying ocean water laced with boron on those reactors to keep them from melting down.

Radiation hazards are causing massive evacuations near the facility.  Residents are being monitored for radiation exposure.

A 6.4 scale earthquake also rocked Tokyo today.

(Various news & agency sources)

Obama Still Supports Nukes & San Onofre Under Scrutiny

The Obama administration is maintaining its support for nuclear power even after three explosions at crippled nuclear power plants in Japan.  Senator Charles Schumer is also standing by nuclear power.  However, Senator Joe Lieberman has called for a 'time out' and Congressman Ed Markey is calling for a moratorium on building new plants. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is planning legislation aimed at streamlining the approval process for new plants.  The Japanese incidents come as a number of power companies have begun applying for Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licenses to build what would be the first new U.S. reactors in decades. The White House has supported the efforts.

Last year the administration approved $8.3 billion worth of Energy Department loan guarantees for utility giant Southern Co. to add two new reactors to its Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia — a decision Obama announced personally. But the project would still need an NRC construction and operating license to move ahead.  The White House fiscal 2012 budget plan would give the Energy Department another $36 billion in loan guarantee authority for supporting new reactors, in addition to the roughly $10 billion worth the department has remaining.

And Obama used January’s State of the Union speech to float a “clean energy standard” that would require power companies to collectively supply 80 percent of U.S. electricity from various low-carbon sources — including nuclear power — by 2035.
The Center agrees with the position of the Obama administration.

Norris McDonald at control room
Norris McDonald touring plant
The San Onofre nuclear power plant in San Clemente, California is receiving scrutiny because it sits right on the coast like the Fukushima plant. There are worries that it is vulnerable to a tsunami.  Center President Norris McDoanald toured San Onofre on June 6, 2005. San Onofre is about an hour's drive south of Los Angeles and can be seen from Highway 5.  It is about a 30 minute drive from San Diego.  (The Hill, 3/14/2011)

San Onofre nuclear power plant