On December 27, Holtec International, which makes storage casks for high level radioactive waste, was surprised to learn that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was bringing enforcement action against the firm. In an unusual move, the NRC filed a complaint against Holtec for neglecting to conduct a written evaluation prior to installing a new bolt design system for inside its radioactive waste casks. Holtec challenged the enforcement action and at a January 9 hearing before the NRC, its president Krishna Singh described the issue as “Much ado about nothing.” The firm’s cask specifications, originally approved by the NRC, state that the bolts are “required for cooling of the system to prevent [waste] fuel damage and to prevent the [waste] from going critical” (an uncontrolled nuclear reaction), said Donna Gilmore of San Onofre Safety. As a result of the flawed design that was later approved by the NRC, bolts inside as many as 51 casks have bent or fallen off. The exact number is unknown, since the interior of a loaded cask cannot be inspected, according to the NRC. The Brattleboro Reformer reported that similar Holtec casks are being used to store radioactive waste at reactor sites in California, Vermont, Illinois, Mississippi, Georgia, Washington, Tennessee, and Missouri. Despite the generally permissive relationship between the regulatory agency and Holtec, they also threatened to bring additional unnamed charges. A final decision regarding the complaint and further enforcement actions will take up to 60 days.
Spring 2019 Nukewatch Quarterly
The Japanese fishing community and watchdog groups have raised alarms over government plans to dump over one million tons of highly contaminated waste water from the three devastated Fukushima nuclear reactors into the Pacific Ocean.
The London Telegraph reported last October that Japan’s “plan to release the approximately 1.09 million tons of water currently stored in 900 tanks… has triggered a fierce backlash from local residents and environmental organizations, as well as groups in South Korea and Taiwan fearful that radioactivity from the second-worst nuclear disaster in history might wash up on their shores.”
Making matters worse, Greenpeace issued a report last January 22 slamming the dumping plan, reminding readers that Tokyo Electric Power Co. or TEPCO—owners of the destroyed reactors—admitted in 2018 that its water decontamination system had never worked. The Telegraph noted, “[T]he Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) has consistently failed to eliminate a cocktail of other radioactive elements, including iodine, ruthenium, rhodium, antimony, tellurium, cobalt and strontium.” Further, “In late September , Tepco was forced to admit that around 80% of the water stored at the Fukushima site still contains radioactive substances above legal levels…” the Telegraph said.
The South China Morning Post reported, “Despite the much-vaunted ALPS plant… TEPCO has confirmed that levels of strontium-90 are more than 100 times above legally permitted levels in 65,000 tons of water that have already been through the ALPS system.” Some of the “treated” waste water still has strontium-90 concentrations 20,000 times the allowable limit.
Japan’s fishing community was outraged about the dumping threat during a series of public hearings last year that were designed to convince skeptical observers that pouring more radiation in the Pacific is a good idea. The magnitude-9 earthquake, and the tsunami it caused on March 11, 2011, left more than 27,500 people dead or missing in northeast Japan and triggered the largest oceanic radioactive contamination in history.
Fukushima’s contaminated water continues to flow into the Pacific at a rate of around 2 billion Becquerels a day, Japan Times reported on March 29, 2018.
Dumping Radioactive Water Poisons Fish
Since Fukushima’s meltdowns began in 2011, there has been regular news of seafood contamination. As recently as Feb. 2, the Japan Times reported that cesium-137 far above Japan’s legal limit was detected in fish caught off Fukushima. According to the local Fishery Cooperative Association, skate that were caught over 180 feet deep were found with 161 Becquerels-per-kilogram of radioactive cesium-137, exceeding the allowable limit of 100 Bq-per-kg.
Cesium-137 from Fukushima has been found in fish in the US and Canadian waters. The Haida Gwaii Observer in Queen Charlotte, British Columbia reported March 16, 2018 on a study by Simon Fraser University. Author Krysztof Starosta discovered that cesium-137 “levels found in both the salmon and soil samples remained below Canada’s safety guidelines, posing minimal health risk to B.C.’s salmon and human populations.” The use of the word “minimal” by Starosta is not a scientific term of art. “Minimal” means there is some risk, especially considering the cumulative effect of eating contaminated fish over many years.
“You can’t say there is absolutely zero risk because any radiation is assumed to carry at least some small risk,” said Delvan Neville of Oregon State University’s Department of Nuclear Engineering & Radiation Health Physics. The Oregon Statesman Journal reported on Neville’s 2014 study which found that cesium-137 from Fukushima in albacore tuna caught off Oregon’s coast had tripled since the three meltdowns. In 2012, albacore and blue fin tuna caught off the west coast, were also found contaminated.
Until 2018, TEPCO repeatedly claimed, and news reporters often noted, that its “advanced [ALPS] processes had reduced the cancer-causing radioactive contaminants” such as strontium-90, iodine-129 and ruthenium-106 in the water “to non-detectible levels.”
NOTE: This piece was shortened for space from for print version of Spring 2019 Nukewatch Quarterly from a Nuclear Information Resource Service press release by Diane D’Arrigo and Leona Morgan.
Ten citizens’ organizations and two industry groups have blasted an application by Holtec International, Inc. for a license to build the world’s largest radioactive waste dump—in New Mexico. If licensed, the “parking lot dump” would lead to tens of thousands of cross-country shipments of the waste—by trains, trucks, and barges—for decades.
Official waste transport routes show containers moving across nearly 90% of US congressional districts, through neighborhoods, cities, farmlands, ocean-fronts, and across major lakes and rivers. Representing seven of the groups, attorney Terry Lodge said at a recent New Mexico hearing, “The Holtec proposal is a corporate welfare trough that will make the [radioactive] waste problem worse, putting millions of people along transport routes at unnecessary risk.”
The interveners filed 40 objections, demanding that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board halt the licensing process, charging that the plan is unlawful. The federal Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) allows the Department of Energy (DOE) to take possession of the commercial reactor waste, but only at a permanent underground dump site. The NWPA does not permit “title and liability transfer” of the waste to a private “interim” dump site as Holtec proposes. The NWPA precaution is intended to prevent temporary storage from becoming permanent. Holtec’s proposed site in New Mexico is not suitable for long-term waste isolation, the groups argue, and not even suitable for short-term storage.
At the hearing in New Mexico, Holtec lawyer Jay Silberg admitted that under current law, DOE cannot take title to the waste at its “interim” dump site. The admission prompted Diane Curran, an attorney for Beyond Nuclear, to say, “We should not even have to argue this hypothetical case. We call on the licensing board to dismiss the application.”
Sierra Club lawyer Wallace Taylor said at the hearing, “It is irresponsible and illegal to grant a license for 20, 40 or 60 years and ignore that the waste will be dangerous for centuries longer with no plans to continue managing and isolating it.”
Among the objections are environmental racism; water contamination; inadequate waste containers; inability to inspect, monitor or repackage waste inside the casks; waste abandonment costs and funding; and needless transport endangerment.
The 3-judge NRC panel could decide in April which groups have “standing” to intervene, and which of the 40 objections will be considered.
- Nuclear Information Resource Service, Jan. 31, 2019
By John LaForge
On its 8th anniversary, a brief rundown of Fukushima’s triple reactor catastrophe and the failed recovery schemes is in order.*
Fukushima caused the worst dump of radioactivity to the Pacific Ocean in history. “This event is unprecedented in its total release of radioactive contamination into the ocean” wrote Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for PBS News Hour in March 2016. Buesseler has been recording Fukushima’s Pacific Ocean contamination since it started 3/11/11. While Fukushima is often called the “2nd worst” radiation accident behind Chernobyl, Buesseler said, “More than 80% of the radioactivity from the damaged reactors ended up in the Pacific — far more than reached the ocean from Chernobyl.” Buesseler reported this radiation gusher continues. “It is incorrect to say that Fukushima is under control when levels of radioactivity in the ocean indicate ongoing leaks, caused by groundwater flowing through the site and enhanced after storms,” he wrote.
- The worst airborne radiation spill in 25 years: Like the Chernobyl disaster that spread radiation across the Northern Hemisphere, Forbes reported March 28, 2011 that the US EPA recorded Fukushima’s radioactive iodine-131 in rainwater in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts at levels above the max allowed in drinking water. The EPA’s air monitoring also found Fukushima’s radioactive iodine-131 in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Washington, and Nevada. Nothing close to this immense, hemisphere-wide radiation dispersal had happened since Chernobyl in 1986.
- Japanese foods were tainted widely. Traces of radioactive cesium were found in popular baby formula according to Japan Today, Dec. 7, 2011. How many hundreds of thousands of babies had eaten it? The Japan Times reported April 22, 2011 that Fukushima’s iodine-131 was detected in the breast milk women living near Tokyo, 150 miles from the meltdowns. The public demanded an investigation into the impact on mothers and babies. In April 2013, Japan’s Ministry of Health reported that cesium-137 and cesium-134 found in produce and rice crackers 225 miles away from Fukushima “are high enough to cause residents to exceed the annual radiation exposure limit in just a few months, or even weeks.”
- Fukushima is the world’s worst reactor disaster by volume of fuel melted and waste in cooling pools. Major reactor meltdowns at Santa Susanna in California (1959), Windscale in England (1957), Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania (1979), or Chernobyl in Ukraine (1986), involved a single fuel inventory. Fukushima’s meltdowns involve three reactors’ full of melted and mangled fuel rods, and an additional 1,573 uranium fuel rods in damaged condition in damaged pools of cooling water. The three masses of melted fuel may never be recovered much less containerized.
- Fukushima caused the largest evacuation in the history of nuclear power: 160,000 evacuated from the zone first set at 12, and later expanded to 19 miles. (116,000 were forced to leave Chernobyl’s dead zone.) Two weeks after the start of the meltdowns, people from between 12 to 19 miles away were encouraged to “voluntarily evacuate.” The US government recommended that US citizens stay 50 miles away.
- Of the colossal volumes of radioactive debris produced by the catastrophe, the New York Times listed these on March 2017: 400 tons of contaminated cooling water produced every day since March 11, 2011; 3,519 containers holding 60,000 tons of radioactive mud or sludge; 64,700 cubic meters of discarded protective clothing; branches and logs from 220 acres of deforested land; 200,400 cubic meters of radioactive rubble; and 3.5 billion gallons [17 million cubic yards] of radioactive soil. According to Greenpeace, 11 million tons of this radioactive soil is to be being incinerated, spreading new airborne contamination. (Will the resultant contaminated soil itself be collected and incinerated.)
- This most vexing of reactor disasters has seen ever-changing estimates of the amount of radiation released. The amount released to the air was “twice as large as previous estimates by research institutions both in Japan and overseas,” according to a Feb. 2012 report by the Meteorological Research Institute. The volume and variety of radioactive waste is astounding. Greenpeace reported in December 2017 that while heavily contaminated towns like Iitate and Namie had topsoil scraped off from populated areas, the problem remained because the soil removal left “islands … which are surrounded by forested mountains, for which there is no possible decontamination.” Consequently, the cleaned-up areas “are subject to recontamination through weathering processes and the natural water and lifecycle of trees and rivers.” Because of how long cesium-137 persists in the environment, “this will be an on-going source of significant recontamination for … 300 years.”
- The failed “ice wall” made to divert groundwater away from the reactors’ foundations — smashed and cracked by the earthquake — means that hundreds of tons of water keeps pouring every day into the wreckage of reactor chambers where it is contaminated by contact with the masses of melted uranium fuel, and either rushes out to sea or is collected for filtration in the failed Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS).
- The notorious failure of the APLS, intended to partially clean up highly contaminated cooling water and groundwater, means that one-million tons of waste water now held in 1,000 giant tanks near the coast is not cleaned up at all, and must be filtered again by an as-yet-unknown method that needs to be designed and engineered from scratch. Meanwhile the tanks are vulnerable to another earth quake that could happen any time. Japan Times reported March 29, 2018, “Seven years on, radioactive water at Fukushima plant still flowing into ocean.”
*Detailed well-documented reports by Greenpeace provide some of the best background and investigative information. See:
* Reflections in Fukushima: The Fukushima Daiichi Accident, Seven Years On,” March 2018 (https://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/publication/1657/reflections-in-fukushima-the-fukushima-daiichi-accident-seven-years-on/)
* Nuclear Scars: The Lasting Legacies of Chernobyl and Fukushima,” 9 March 2016 (http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/publications/reports/climate-energy/2016/nuclear-scars/)
* Fukushima Fallout: Nuclear business makes people pay and suffer,” 16 February 2013
* “Lessons from Fukushima,” February 2012 (http://www.greenpeace.org/slovenia/Global/slovenia/Dokumenti/Lessons-from-Fukushima.pdf)
By John LaForge
The Japanese fishing community and nuclear watchdog groups are raising alarms over government plans to dump into the Pacific over 1-million tons of highly contaminated waste water from three devastated nuclear reactors at Fukushima.
The London Telegraph reported last October that Japan’s “plan to release the approximately 1.09 million tons of water currently stored in 900 tanks … has triggered a fierce backlash from local residents and environmental organizations, as well as groups in South Korea and Taiwan fearful that radioactivity from the second-worst nuclear disaster in history might wash up on their shores.”
Greenpeace issued a report Jan. 22, 2019 condemning the plan, reminding the public that the owners/operators of Fukushima — Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) — admitted in 2018 that its waste water treatment system (the Advanced Liquid Processing System or ALPS) had failed. “Despite the much-vaunted Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) plant at Fukushima, Tepco has confirmed that levels of strontium-90 are more than 100 times above legally permitted levels in 65,000 tons of water that have already been through the ALPS system,” the South China Morning Post reported last January.
Outrage within the fishing community was palpable during a series of public hearings last year which were designed to convince skeptical observers that pouring more radiation in the Pacific is a good idea. The magnitude-9 earthquake, and the tsunami it caused on March 11, 2011, left more than 27,500 people dead or missing in northeast Japan, and triggered the largest release of radioactivity to the ocean in history.
Dumping Radioactive Water Poisons Fish
Since Fukushima’s triple catastrophe — earthquake, tsunami, and radiation plumes — there has been relentless news of seafood contamination. On Feb. 2, 2019, the Japan Times reported that radioactive cesium far above the legal limit was detected in fish caught off Fukushima, according the Fukushima Prefecture’s Fishery Cooperative Association. Skate, a variety of ray, that was caught over 180 feet deep, was found with 161 Becquerels-per-kilogram of radioactive cesium-137, exceeding the allowable limit of 100.
However, since cesium-137 is a reactor-borne element not found in nature, the established 100 Bq/kg limit is arbitrary. None whatsoever should be “permitted” because any internalized cesium-137 can potentially cause health problems. Any cesium that we eat and which is not excreted, adds to previously ingested radioactive materials. Radioactive water is continuing to flow into the Pacific Ocean from the site of three mangled reactors at a rate of around 2 billion Becquerels a day, according to a 2018 Japanese study, the Japan Times reported March 29, 2018.
Cesium-137 has been found in Canadian fish as well. The Haida Gwaii Observer in Queen Charlotte, B.C. reported last March 16, 2018 on a press release issued by Krzysztof Starosta, a chemist at Simon Fraser University’s nuclear science lab. Starosta reported that in his study, cesium-137 “levels found in both the salmon and soil samples remained below Canada’s safety guidelines, posing minimal health risk to B.C.’s salmon and human populations.” The use of the word “minimal” by Starosta is a trivialization of “some” risk, especially when considered in view of the cumulative effect of eating contaminated fish over a lifetime.
Likewise in the United States, in April 2014 the Oregon Statesman Journal reported on a study by Oregon State University that found that Fukushima radiation in albacore tuna caught off the Oregon coast tripled after the 2011 meltdown. “You can’t say there is absolutely zero risk because any radiation is assumed to carry at least some small risk,” said lead author, Delvan Neville, in OSU’s Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics. In October of 2012, Albacore tuna caught off Washington and Oregon and Blue fin tuna off of California were also found contaminated with Fukushima cesium.
Since 2016, TEPCO has repeatedly claimed — and news reports repeatedly noted — that its “advanced [ALPS] processes had reduced the cancer-causing radioactive contaminants” such as strontium-90, iodine-129 and ruthenium-106 in the water “to non-detectible levels.” Then, last October, the Telegraph noted, “[T]he ALPS has consistently failed to eliminate a cocktail of other radioactive elements, including iodine, ruthenium, rhodium, antimony, tellurium, cobalt and strontium.” According to the Telegraph, “Iodine 129 has a half-life of 15.7 million years and can cause cancer of the thyroid; ruthenium 106 is produced by nuclear fission and high doses can be toxic and carcinogenic when ingested.”
“In late September , Tepco was forced to admit that around 80% of the water stored at the Fukushima site still contains radioactive substances above legal levels…” the Telegraph said.
TEPCO has admitted for example that in several of the storage tanks, levels of deadly, long-lived strontium-90 are 20,000 times the allowable limit levels set by the government. Pouring this carcinogenic brew into the sea is reckless endangerment of the commons. There ought to be a law.