Monthly Archives: July 2013

WSJ criticizes TEPCO July 28, 2013

The Wall Street Journal has continued its criticism of TEPCO in  a recent article.

TOKYO—As problems mount at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant, more experts and overseers are accusing the operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.9501.TO -9.84% of incompetence in how it is dealing with one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents.

An advisory panel of outside experts—appointed by Tepco itself—blasted the utility on Friday for its slow release of information about a recent leak of radioactive water.

The panel, which is tasked with making recommendations to improve Tepco’s performance after the missteps surrounding the 2011 accident, said that the company needed to improve its risk management, communication and water-management planning.   “I’d like to say myself how disappointed and distressed I was when I arrived in Japan,” said Barbara Judge, a former chair of the British Atomic Energy Authority and deputy chair of the panel. “To find that communications with respect to the leak problem have been so difficult and so late was very devastating,” she said.

As previously mentioned,  Lady Judge had been identified as someone to turn the corporate culture around.  The article goes on to say that TEPCO will need government help

Earlier in the week, Japan’s nuclear regulator had also expressed skepticism about Tepco’s ability to keep the situation at the damaged plant under control.   The values of the stock fell nearly 10%.    The article goes on to say:

“It is simply too big for one company to handle,” said Shunichi Tanaka, Nuclear Regulation Authority chairman, at a news conference Wednesday. “Placing all the burden (of controlling the site) on them won’t solve the problem.”

Mr. Tanaka suggested that the government may have to eventually step in with money and other resources to help out.

The article again reports billions of becquerels in Fukushima.   I have been unable to find reports of this in other main stream media articles.   Are we really dependent on the Wall Street Journal to cover the stories that other papers will not or do not cover?

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Vernon Radiation Safety Meeting 7/28/13

The Vernon Radiation Safety Committee had a meeting last night at Robin’s home in Northfield, about 5 miles from  the reactor.   Andy brought Geiger Counters.   Ed had one.   Andy demonstrated how real time data could be shown on RadiationNetwork using the Inspector Geiger counter.  Andy started to set up Robin’s PC, but did not get the driver device installed.  The driver can be found at http://www.ftdichip.com/Drivers/VCP.htm.     He demonstrated how the Inspector could also be set up for a 12 hour time sample.   We talked about plans for reporting data and the different ways of presenting data.   Andy has used a format of reporting time and average, as shown in this blog.   Screen shots are another form of data presentation.   We hope to have a group of monitoring stations around the reactor at Vernon, and report if and when spikes greater than 100 cpm occur.

Billions of Becquerels: New highs at Fukushima July 27, 2013

The Wall Street Journal reported  on July 27, 2013 that:

TOKYO—Extremely high concentrations of radiation have been detected in water from near one of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant,   The levels recorded haven’t been seen since soon after the March 2011 disaster, it added.  The radiation is millions of times higher than Japan’s acceptable limit under normal circumstances.

Radiation of 750 million becquerels a liter of cesium-134 and 1.6 billion becquerels a liter of cesium-137 was recorded, Tepco said. The normal limits for the two potentially harmful isotopes are 60 and 90 becquerels, respectively. In April 2011 a combined 1.8 billion becquerels was recorded.

“The level of radioactivity is potentially serious but the impact would depend on where it is found,” a Tepco official said. The sample came from a trench near the No. 2 reactor turbine building, the utility said.

This level of Cesium 137 is 200 million times the “safe level.”   This article neglects to mention that if  levels of cesium are high, then so probably are the levels of some of the many other nuclear isotopes being produced.   The total becquerels in the water is probably much higher.  A recent  post about  Fukushima on July 23 talked about a cesium 137 being 22,000 becquerels, and the total count of 900,000 counting cesium 134, cesium 137, tritium, strontium 90, iodine, radon, and multiple other isotopes.  If the mixture is the same, and the  cesium  137 makes up about 2% of the total, then the total for the water would be on the order of 100 billion becquerels!   Something big is happening now at Fukushima that is not understood.   There is a source of these isotopes, the melted reactors, making a stew for the past several years, and this  radioactive water  is a vent to the outside.    Is this like a volcano, where vented gases are sometimes followed by much bigger events?   I hope we never know.

Alarms at Vernon

A recent report (h/t to Tom Reney) states

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont Yankee nuclear plant officials say two high radiation readings in the reactor building at the Vernon plant were false alarms. Vermont Yankee reported to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Wednesday that on June 14 and again on July 11, a radiation detector on the plant’s refueling floor issued notifications that it was getting high readings.  Plant spokesman Robert Williams says the plant’s ventilation system began shutting down, as it’s designed to do when high radiation readings are recorded. But he said follow-up checks showed that the high readings were false.

Williams says the problem has been addressed by the replacement of four radiation detectors in the plant.

If these were the only alarms, how do they know that the information was false?

In another story about Vernon  there remains debate over whether the reactor is hurting the fish.   When I first came to town, in spring the river was full of shad that had spawned and then died.  At times the river stank.   Today, dead shad are rarely seen.

Finally, in another brief report  a chemist was arrested for falsifying safety reports at the Energy reactor at Indian Point in an effort to prevent the plant from closing.   An internal audit brought out the problem.    The question in this situation is: how much is lying a part of the corporate culture in the nuclear industry.

James Hansen on nuclear power July 27. 2013

There was a video published in the New York Times by James Hansen (h/t my brother, Tim, and Hattie have asked me to comment on the piece). As many know, Hansen is the former head of NASA who recently left government to campaign about global warning. I found some difficulties in blogging, as his piece is the form of video, without the usual links to references.   For a meticulous scientist, he expresses his opinions on a wide range of topics such as economics, nuclear safety, without references.    In his piece he advocates on behalf on the new, fourth generation nuclear reactors without reference to what they were.   He says they are safe, despite the fact that they have not yet been developed.   This is a common plea, that, indeed, the old technologies are flawed, but that the new ones solve the problems.  He reports that Fukushima is “unfortunate,” at this time, and because it makes people doubt nuclear reactors.  He does say that the old reactors are unsafe with old technologies, but he does not say that they should be shut down.  He states that the problem of nuclear waste remains unsolved.   He minimizes the events at Three Mile Island, saying that the release of radiation is comparable to flying back and forth across country.  Unfortunately, he mistakes the release of one isotope, iodine, from the total release.

He does offer an interesting analogy about the airplane industry. However,  In the airplane industry, if a plane crashes, the entire fleet is grounded until the problem is resolved and the next version is made to be safer.  There are many lessons to be learned from the events at Fukushima, and the NRC plans to implement them at some time in the future.   Meanwhile, the aging reactors continue to run.

He makes a plea that objective scientists and not Jane Fonda should be the people to make the decisions about the safety of nuclear reactors.   However,   since the dawning of the nuclear age,  the information about the health effects of radiation have been suppressed and science has been politicalized.

He makes the argument that currently fossil fuels are the cheapest argument, without doing a reasonable economic analysis about the total costs of fossil fuels:  tax breaks for the oil companies, subsidies of the highways, involvement in foreign wars such as Iraq, source of so much oil.

There is also a movie, Pandora’s Promise, just released.  There is essay in the New York Times about Pandora’s Promise.   There is a strong voice from the pro-nuclear side.   I am reminded of my Friend the Atom.   Then I recalled that Paul Allen had been linked to Pandora’s promise, and googled Paul Allen and Pandora’s Promise.   The oldest link appeared in the Hollywood Reporter:

Paul G. Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, is lending his support to Robert Stone’s documentaryPandora’s Promise, which explores the idea that nuclear power can be used to combat climate change and provide energy to the developing world.  Vulcan Productions, Allen’s production company, is joining Jimand Susan Swartz and Impact Partners as a producing partner on the the film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

The next piece appeared in Forbes magazine.   Allen is quoted as saying: “Even before Pandora’s Promise was made, I’d become convinced that nuclear energy should be part of the climate change solution.”

The third piece comes from the Seattle News, written by Brian Miller, and is entitled: Pandora’s Promise: Would you buy a nuclear reactor from Paul Allen.  He states that the movie portrays 5 environmentalists who have changed their anti-nuclear stance and have come to believe in a nuclear future.   The only anti-nuke piece shows Helen Caldicott in an unflattering light.  He goes on to say:

But you have to study the credits and press notes to see how close Pandora’s Promise is to its subject. Gates, Nathan Myhrvold, and other tech-world peers of Allen are backers of Bellevue-based TerraPower, which seeks to make fourth-generation “traveling wave” reactors that are supposedly cleaner, safer, and more efficient than the kind that gave our state the costly Hanford and WPPSS debacles

Now the story seems clear to me.   The billionaires of this country have taken an interest in a local company, TerraPower.  They have the money to produce films to express their point of view.  Within this context, the piece by Hansen becomes part of a series of trailers for the movie about a company that is seeking R&D funds for their latest start-up.  It is a brave, new world.  Orwell would be impressed.  This piece is consistent with the corporate response that there will be nuclear reactors in the future and that dissent is to be marginalized.   Finally, in the ancient myth, Pandora is told not to open a box given her by the Gods.  She yields to temptation, and opens the box, and all the evils of the world escape.  Did we not open Pandora’s box with the explosion of atomic weapons, and has not evil come out with the world wide spread of radioactive material. Pandora’s Promise is that evil will come to the world?

Vermont Yankee fiscal woes, July 20, 2013

In a report in the Vermont Digger  (h/t to my wife, Anneke) Andrew Stein says:

A source inside the Vernon plant says managers are telling workers that the company could lay off 10 percent of the facility’s roughly 650 workers.

This news comes shortly after Entergy announced that it anticipates decreased earnings in the second quarter of 2013, dropping from $2.11 a share last year to an estimated $1 per share. Representatives of the Louisiana-based company said in a news release that the decrease is due to “substantially higher income tax expense.”

Mark Cooper, a senior economics fellow at Vermont Law School, published a paper Wednesday titled, “Renaissance in Reverse: Competition Pushes Aging U.S. Nuclear Reactors to the Brink of Economic Abandonment.” Cooper drew from the Wall Street reports of Moody’s, UBS and Credit Suisse for his analysis.

“Economic reality has slammed the door on nuclear power,” Cooper concluded. “In the near-term old reactors are uneconomic because lower cost alternatives have squeezed their cash margins to the point where they no longer cover the cost of nuclear operation … In the long term new reactors are uneconomic because there are numerous low-carbon alternatives that are less costly and less risk (sic).”

In 2013, the fair value of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant fell 69 percent, from $517.5 million to $162 millionUBS Securities downgraded Entergy Corp.’s stock from “neutral” to “sell.” The Swiss financial services firm also projected the closure of an Entergy nuclear facility in 2013, saying “Vermont Yankee is the most tenuously positioned plant.”

 Such exciting news.   Entergy has  been acting like the monster  that cannot be killed.  Now its capitalistic colleagues, the banking corporations, are beginning to attack.   Their blows may be lethal.  What will happen with a work force reduction of 10 %?   Will the works be told that have to become more efficient?

Geiger Counters in airplanes

An intrepid traveler, Greg,  recently posted Geiger Counter reading during a plane ride from Chile to Atlanta and then on to Portland, Oregon.   He used an Inspector Geiger Counter, and took photos of the readings.  He reports level in the range of 1100 cpm, 10 times the level to call the Hazmat officials.  His study would be more useful if it reported baseline data, as there is general agreement that baseline should be about 13 cpm, and then his results would have been more useful as a means of comparison.   Have any other people collected data while traveling with a Geiger Counter in air planes?  Or have you been able to find other hot spots?   Has anyone checked the air filter on a snow plow that was working near a nuclear reactor?   If you do, I would like to post it on this web site.    Reasonable standards to my thinking.    Collate the data by photo, as Greg has done.   Show baseline data, then event data, and finally baseline data.   With the Inspector, one gets continuous data.   With more sophisticated instruments, such as the Mazur 8000, one can collect data over a period of time, more like a dosimeter.  Give an account of the story.  I look forward to hearing from you.Image

I have written to his web site and asked him to comment on baseline data.   He has not yet responded.

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