Monthly Archives: April 2013

Atoms for Peace

When I was a child my father gave me a Disney book called Our Friend the Atom. As I recall, we would have radioactive toasters for our bread in the morning.  It was part of the propaganda about Atoms for Peace.   In 1954 Eisenhower gave a speech about Atoms for Peace, in which he proposed that there were peaceful uses for the atom.   “Operation Candor” was to enlighten the American public on the risks and hopes of a nuclear future.  Although Eisenhower may have been advocating for peace, during his time in office the nuclear holdings of the US rose from 1,005 to 20,000 weapons.  Commercial reactors were designed for the production of electricity, but all these reactors also produced plutonium, which was needed for weapons.

In a Congressional Research Service report Anthony Andrews summarizes:

As part of the World War II effort to develop the atomic bomb, reprocessing technology was developed to chemically separate and recover fissionable plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel. In the early stage of commercial nuclear power,
reprocessing was thought essential to supplying nuclear fuel….With the development of commercial nuclear power after the war, reprocessing was considered necessary because of a perceived scarcity of uranium. Breeder reactor technology, which transmutes non-fissionable uranium into fissionable plutonium and thus produces more fuel than consumed, was envisioned as a promising solution to extending the nuclear fuel supply. Commercial reprocessing attempts, however, encountered technical, economic, and regulatory  problems. In response to concern that reprocessing contributed to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, President Carter terminated federal support for commercial reprocessing.

Although the US is no longer reprocessing its spent fuel, reprocessing from commercial reactors is being done in other countries.

According the Council on Foreign Relations among the beneficiaries of the Atoms for Peace was  Iran.   Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear energy can be  traced to 1957, in connection with a push from the Eisenhower administration to increase its military, economic, and civilian assistance to Iran. On March 5 of that year, the two countries announced a “proposed agreement for cooperation in research in the peaceful uses of atomic energy” under the auspices of Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program. The deal was intended to open doors for U.S. investment in Iran’s civilian nuclear industries, such as health care and medicine. The plan also called for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to lease Iran up to 13.2 pounds of low-enriched uranium (LEU) for research purposes.

 Several countries that received training and technology transfers through Atoms for Peace eventually used that knowledge platform for illicit weapons programs. India, Pakistan, South Africa and Israel all received direct or indirect support through Atoms for Peace. Each of these countries later built secret nuclear weapons stockpiles.

There seems to be little distinction  between atoms for peace and atoms for war.


Radiation on the West Coast found in sea lions

I recently reported the die off of sea lions off of the coast of California.  Hattie Nestle shared with me   Yoichi Shimatsu’s report of  using a Geiger counter near  San Onofre reactor looking at sea life.  Yoichi used a Radex radiation detector, which measures information on a 40 second sample.  It seems to be an end plate design.   Baseline data is about .13 microseverts per hour, which is consistent with the data I have found.   This short sample time can lead to great variabiliity in results.  I have found that averages of 13 can vary from lows of 5 to highs in the 30’s.   Much of what he reported to be high could be variability.   However, he also   reported:

A quick scan with a dosimeter revealed that the sea lion was radioactive. More careful measurements disclosed a shocking 0.48 microsieverts in the heart and liver region.

This quick scan shows a result that is 3.7 times baseline does seem significant and consistent with the hypothesis that the there was radioactivity concentrated in the sea lion.  At this point a longer scan of 5-10 minutes would increase the value of this data.      HIs report that the boat is radioactive at  .13 microseverts is puzzling, as that is consistent with baseline radiation.  His observation of high levels of 1.2 microseverts in Japan is a correct  assessment of high levels.

Some wonder how this could happen, because the ocean is so large.  Part of the answer is that biological tissues avidly take up potassium, because it is so rare, being only 400 parts per million in the ocean, but a major component of intracellular electrolytes  The tissues cannot distinguish potassium and cesium.   Thus, cesium will be actively taken up by tissues, starting with plankton and up the food chain to the sea lions.

Japan Experts: Up to 93 billion becquerels a day may still be leaking into Pacific from Fukushima plant, much in the form of cesium 137.

Radioactivity continues to leak, and life from plankton to sea lions will  be effected.

Hot Fish in Fukushima 4/19/13

The disaster at Fukushima continues to unfold.   Fish have been found with very high levels of cesium.

TEPCO announced that on February 17th, they captured a Greenling fish which was found to contain 510,000 becquerels per kilogram of Cs-134 and Cs-137, twice the amount of the fish captured on February 12th.  This is the highest levels of radiation ever detected in fish, and over 5,100 times the safety standards in Japan.

Plutonium is being found outside of the containment area.  A rat  gnawing at the wiring at caused an electrical short, that has lead to failure of the cooling system at Fukushima.

Vermont Yankee has too much waste

A recent report states that “Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, reports that Vermont Yankee has generated more than 600 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste during its 41 years of operation. He urged that it be moved more quickly from the plant’s spent fuel storage pool to dry concrete and steel casks on the plant’s grounds, where he said it would be safer.  Here is his full report.

spent fuel rods

The pool “contains about nine times more cesium-137 (a radioactive isotope) than was released from the more than 600 atmospheric nuclear weapons tests around the world,” said Alvarez… Alvarez added that the Vermont Yankee pool “contains more than the entire inventory of spent fuel in the four damaged reactors at the Fukushima site” in Japan.

A separate scholar named Alvarez, Luis Alvarez, reported a layer of iridium  marks the KP border,  The boundary marks the end of the Cretaceous period, which is the last period of theMesozoic era, and marks the beginning of the Paleogene period of theCenozoic era. The boundary is associated with the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, a mass extinction, thought to be an asteroid that hit in the Yucatan about 60 million years ago and marked one of the major extinctions of the world.  The iridium, from the asteroid, settled in a thin layer found around the world.

Cesium 137, so abundant at Vermont Yankee, is only found as the byproduct of nuclear reactors.  There are now deposits of cesium found around the world, and its presence is used as a dating marker.     It is water soluble and the body identifies it as being like potassium.  Cesium 137 is a significant problem in Chernobyl and Fukushima.

When sentient beings arrive on our plant in a few million years they will see the iridium layer, and say how unfortunate.   When they see the layer of Cesium 137 around the world, they will say, but this is what they did to themselves.  Will we cause our own extinction because of a  failure to  control the nuclear power, which is our civilization’s Pandora’s box.

NRC coming to town April 30

In a post yesterday the Safe and Green Campaign reported that the NRC is coming to town,  for a discussion  about safety for the past year at VY.  The meeting is on April 30, at 5:30 Pm  at the Brattleboro Union High School, Fairground Road, Brattleboro (just off Exit 1, I91), in the Multi Purpose Room at the far end of the school.    Their post lists the safety issues for the last year, and also states that other issues, such as former NRC head saying all the nuclear reactors should be shut down, the GAO saying that evacuation plans are inadequate, or that the EPA is changing standards, are not to be discussed.  Come and see democracy in action in the 21 century.

EPA updates standards. Cancer rates to soar

A report on 4/14/13 in the NYT stated that EPA has revised the standards in light of what they have learned at  Fukushima

By reducing the projections for how much radiation exposure is likely in the years after such an episode, the proposal could also reduce the amount of contaminated land that would have to be abandoned…the report prepared for the Department of Homeland Security would allow a sharp increase in the amount of radioactive contamination allowed in food and water, and the allowable doses from irradiation by radioactive particles that would be deposited in an accident.

Some of the changes are not in the documents but are in other reports that are mentioned in footnotes, said Daniel Hirsch, president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, a California group. The E.P.A., he said, was “trying to bury the bad stuff in footnote references to a whole series of other documents.”

One clear change in the protective action guidelines, which are being updated for the first time since 1991, was to change the assumption of how much radiation people might be exposed to over time in an affected area. That is because after Fukushima, Mr. Edwards said, it became clear that the initial radiation level could be reduced significantly by cleanup.

In soil, the PAGs allow long-term public exposure to radiation in amounts as high as 2,000 millirems. This would, in effect, increase a longstanding 1 in 10,000 person cancer rate to a rate of 1 in 23 persons exposed over a 30-year period;

  • In water, the PAGs punt on an exact new standard and EPA “continues to seek input on this.” But the thrust of the PAGs is to give on-site authorities much greater “flexibility” in setting aside established limits; and
  • Resolves an internal fight inside EPA between nuclear versus public health specialists in favor of the former. The PAGs are the product of Gina McCarthy, the assistant administrator for air and radiation whose nomination to serve as EPA Administrator is taken up this week by the Senate.
  • Despite the years-long internal fight, this is the first public official display of these guides. This takes place as Japan grapples with these same issues in the two years following its Fukushima nuclear disaster.

“This is a public health policy only Dr. Strangelove could embrace. If this typifies the environmental leadership we can expect from Ms. McCarthy, then EPA is in for a long, dirty slog,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the EPA package lacks a cogent rationale, is largely impenetrable and hinges on a series of euphemistic “weasel words.”

“No compelling justification is offered for increasing the cancer deaths of Americans innocently exposed to corporate miscalculations several hundred-fold.”

Alice in Wonderland.    In light of the success of the cleanup of Fukushima, disasters can be mitigated.   Don’t they know that the disaster is not yet over?

Nuclear reactors do not produce energy

In a lengthy article David Swanson, who worked with Dennis Kucinich on his 2004 campaign, summarizes one of the key findings of the International Forum on Globalization report:

The energy put into mining, processing, and shipping uranium, plant construction, operation, and decommissioning is roughly equal to the energy a nuclear plant can produce in its lifetime. In other words, nuclear energy does not add any net energy.

Not counted in that calculation is the energy needed to store nuclear waste for hundreds of thousands of years.

Also not counted is any mitigation of the relatively routine damage done to the environment, including human health, at each stage of the process.


The article reports that one of the primary products of the nuclear reactor is plutonium, the preferred element for weapons.  It all started with Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace Program, in which a civilian cover was developed for the weapons industry.

The United States then launched an “Atoms for Peace” program that supplied equipment and information to schools, hospitals, and research institutions within the U.S. and throughout the world. The first nuclear reactors in Iran and Pakistan were built under the program by American Machine and Foundry.

Today some are concerned that Iran is working on nuclear reactors and that Pakistan has developed nuclear reactors.   How many know that it was the US that introduced these countries to this technology?

The nuclear reactors are dirty, expensive, and dangerous.  They are a relic of the cold war.  According to the recent head of the NRC they are not safe and they should be shut down.

What are we waiting for?