Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Truth about Nuclear Power

UPDATE 4/4: Well, this latest catastrophic development (via) sure makes this rosy-tinted bullshit look like what it is.

That's 7 tons of radioactive water per hour into our ocean, with an optimistic path to containment still months away. Sound familiar?

As the first photos to be released of the human guinea pigs inside Fukushima, earning only $100/day (and they are strikingly few) fail to reassure anyone...and as the estimated levels of radiation released only so far amount to 50% that of Chernobyl...

The following is from Andre Delattre, U.S. PIRG Executive Director:
People across the country are clearly grappling with this contentious issue, so I wanted to provide answers to some of the most common questions that have crossed my inbox.

Q: Just how risky is nuclear power?

A: Very. Every operating nuclear power plant in the United States has a pool of spent fuel on site, and the possibility of a Fukushima-like loss of coolant—and ensuing release of radiation—is quite real. A worst-case accident involving one of these pools could make more than 2,700 miles of land unfit for human habitation, lead to as many as 143,000 cancer fatalities within 500 miles of the accident site, and cause more than $700 billion in property damage.[i]

Even minor exposures to radiation released during a nuclear accident can cause health problems, including cancer later in life.[ii] Radioactive materials stay dangerous for thousands of years.

Q: Wasn’t the disaster in Japan caused by a combination of events—the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent power outage—that couldn't happen here?

A: Between hurricanes, tornadoes, human error, the potential for terrorist attack, mechanical failure, the age of our nuclear reactors and yes—earthquakes and tsunamis—it’s not outrageous to think that a major incident could happen at any one of the 104 nuclear reactors operating at the United States. Each of America's nuclear power stations share the same vulnerabilities as the nuclear reactors in Japan.[iii]

Q: Don’t we need nuclear power to keep the lights on?

A: Not necessarily. Nuclear power currently generates about 20 percent of the U.S. electricity supply, and it would be difficult to immediately shut existing reactors down. But we don’t need to continue to allow nuclear reactors to operate beyond the 40 years they were originally designed for, and we don’t need to build new reactors.

We have vast safe energy resources that can do a better job of keeping the lights on. And they don’t explode, spill, or contaminate food supplies with radiation. For example, if we improved efficiency, in the next 20 years we could free up as much electricity as 100 new nuclear reactors could generate.[iv]

And America’s entire electricity needs could be met by the sunlight falling on a 100 square mile patch of Nevada desert, or by the wind blowing across North Dakota.[v]

Q: But isn’t nuclear power cheap?

A: No, it’s expensive and a bad investment. Nuclear power is among the most costly approaches to solving America’s energy problems. You just have to look at the history of nuclear power to understand. Of 75 nuclear reactors completed between 1966 and 1986, the average cost was more than triple the original construction budget.[vi] In 1985, Forbes magazine wrote that “the failure of the U.S. nuclear power program ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business history, a disaster on a monumental scale.”[vii]

The industry instead turned to taxpayer support. Over the last fifty years, American taxpayers have subsidized nuclear power to the tune of $145 billion.[viii] That’s more than the entire value of the electricity produced.[ix]

Wall Street investors still won’t touch nukes because the technology is too risky and too expensive. In contrast, investors are lining up to support newer renewable technologies, because they are more cost effective. Per dollar of investment, safe energy solutions—such as energy efficiency and wind power—deliver far more electricity than nuclear reactors.[x]

Q: Isn’t nuclear power better for the environment?

No. Energy efficiency is better. So are wind and solar power. These energy sources are better at preventing the kind of pollution that comes from fossil fuel plants than nuclear reactors because they are cheaper. They also don’t pose any risk of contaminating land, water or food with radioactive pollution.

For more information, and to get regular updates, visit our blog.


Andre Delattre
U.S. PIRG Executive Director

P.S. Please feel free to share this message with your friends and family.

[i] (In 2011 dollars.) A Safety And Regulatory Assessment of Generic BWR and PWR Permanently Shutdown Nuclear Power Plants, Brookhaven National Laboratory for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, August 1997.

[ii] According to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, a single dose of 0.1 Sieverts would result in approximately 1 person in 100 developing cancer over their lifetime. Lower doses produce proportionally smaller risks. For example, a single exposure of 0.01 Sieverts would cause 1 person in 1,000 to develop cancer during their lifetime. Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation, National Academy of Sciences, 2006.

[iii] U.S. Nuclear Plants Have Same Risks, and Backups, as Japan Counterparts, New York Times, March 13, 2011.

[iv] The High Cost of Nuclear Power: Why America Should Choose a Clean Energy Future Over New Nuclear Reactors, U.S. PIRG, March 31, 2009.

[v] Wind: U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, 20% Wind Energy by 2030: Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to U.S. Electricity Supply[pdf], DOE/GO-102008-2567, July 2008.
Sun: Bernadette del Chiaro, Tony Dutzik and Sarah Payne, Environment America Research & Policy Center, On the Rise: Solar Thermal Power and the Fight Against Global Warming, Spring 2008.

[vi] This figure actually underestimates the degree to which nuclear projects exceeded budget targets. It excludes escalation and finance costs incurred by construction delays, and does not include data from some of the most over-budget reactors. See Congress of the United States, Congressional Budget Office, Nuclear Power’s Role in Generating Electricity[pdf], May 2008, based on data from U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, An Analysis of Nuclear Power Plant Construction Costs, Technical Report DOE/EIA-0485, 1 January 1986.

[vii] J. Cook, “Nuclear Follies,” Forbes, February 1985.

[viii] Nuclear Power: Still Not Viable without Subsidies[pdf], Union of Concerned Scientists, February 2011.

[ix] Federal energy subsidies: Not all technologies are created equal [pdf], Renewable Energy Policy Project, July 2000.

[x] The High Cost of Nuclear Power: Why America Should Choose a Clean Energy Future Over New Nuclear Reactors, U.S. PIRG, March 31, 2009.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Nuclear-related readings...

A letter written by my brother, David:
Dear Governor Shumlin,

My farm is ten miles from Vermont Yankee in Halifax. I am very concerned about the Vermont Yankee plant, which is the same GE Mark 1 design as the Japanese Fukushima reactors. Although it is scheduled to be shut down in 2012 -- and must be! -- there is a massive amount of spent fuel on-site which is obviously not safe from terrorism or any unforseen event that could cause a prolonged power outage. (And in Vermont, we sometimes have those just due to weather!)

If there is one lesson above all from the Fukushima disaster, it is that the spent fuel -- housed outside the containment structure -- is even more dangerous than the reactor core itself. Obviously we must look again more closely at the plan to maintain the spent fuel on-site after the plant is decommissioned. The simple fact is that just keeping the spent fuel pool wet can be impossible once cooling is interrupted and radiation drives workers away from the site. Fail safe, passive backup water delivery systems should be in place at all spent fuel repositories, with no assumptions allowed about the continued availablity of electric-powered systems.

Proper maintenance after shut-sown will be expensive. This is where Entergy's feet must be held to the fire! I have no doubt they will try to do only the minimum, and will not want to provide additional backup systems.

Vermont is at least ahead of the curve in having voted to shut down, rather than reauthorize and extend the life of, our creaky old reactor. Other states are not so lucky, and now face an uphill battle to rescind reauthorizations.

Please read the attached technical article by Christian Parenti about aging U.S. nuclear reactors.

At Fukushima each reactor has between sixty and eighty-three tons of spent fuel rods stored next to it. At Vermont Yankee, with its GE reactor of the same design as the Fukushima plant, there are a staggering 690 tons of spent fuel rods onsite. What’s worse, spent fuel rod pools at Vermont Yankee are not equipped with backup water-circulation systems or even backup generators for the existing water-circulation system.

Thank you again for your insistence that Vermont Yankee be closed in 2012, and please work to ensure proper safeguards are put in place in light of what we are learning from the Japanese experience.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fun facts vs. Republican lies

Domestic oil and gas resources are nowhere near enough to fulfill US need, no matter where or how deep we drill, and that is just a stubborn fact (whether NPR has any actual journalists on its staff to report on it or not).

Let me repeat that: There is NO CONCEIVABLE SCENARIO in which the U.S. becomes oil-independent from Saudi Arabian dictators by drilling (and inevitably polluting and despoiling), or expanding natural gas production (which is also dirty) more domestically than it already does.

On the other hand, government land in the mid-west of the United States alone has the potential to supply enough solar and wind energy for 1/3 of the entire current US demand.

And that's only on government-owned land.

What about now?


Regarding this ongoing radiation disaster....

The above link is an informative primer, although I have to say, it smacks more than a bit of that insider's/scientist's/industry-friendly pretension (I prefer the outsider's alarmism, as the public's normal state is already one of false trust and complacency) particularly in what its author chooses to either gloss over or simply omit. That being said, basic ignorance (my own included) has to rectified somewhere, and this provides a start.

Meanwhile, live television from Japan (in English) is extremely interesting, here.

As for the necessary grains of salt (corrections welcome if any of this is factually wrong):

The scale of the earthquake, for which there is already precedent in human history, was over five times what the plants were built to sustain. Why?

What greasy politician on earth lets an industry with potentially apocalyptic risks get away with being so unprepared? These things should be built to sustain a natural disaster 10 times as strong as the largest thing on record (particularly as with global warming, natural disasters will only get worse), or not built at all. We need a fundamental change in principle from corporate profits with lies and gambling about risks, to 'first do no harm.'

They also claim the tsunami was unusually large. In other breaking news, it turns out that large tsunamis are often caused by large earthquakes, say fucking geniuses.

Or let me guess: maybe it was yet another "perfect storm".... just like the ever-increasing cancer epidemic, clearly caused by all those woman who don't exercise and get tested enough.

There were mixed reports originally about the overall integrity of the containment can only trust the industry to measure accurately and everywhere inside and outside the vessel...taking a notoriously deceitful industry (and government) at their word, on this point. Meanwhile further large aftershocks are very likely.

The elaborate practice they "train" for is literally as sophisticated as this: they are using fire hoses to pump sea water at the problem, without any way of measuring the temperature to know when to stop.

Some idiot turned the wrong valve off and apparently nobody was paying attention; simple human error caused the explosion and fuel rod exposure at Reactor 2. It should be mentioned that anyone working at these plants, including the 10 or so experts requested from the US, are doing so at enormous personal risk of dangerous exposure (again, reassuringly all part of "the plan").

Any further interruption to this jerry-rig cooling operation could still result in a meltdown that breaches the containment vessel at any of these sites, and is still a real possibility (outside experts agree). Especially with a 70% chance of further large aftershocks.

The industry as a whole routinely lies about the magnitude of earthquake nuclear plants (including those in the US) are built to sustain.

Japan is one of the most highly-regulated, technologically sophisticated countries using nuclear power. Whatever potential for disaster exists in Japan (whether that complete disaster comes to pass or not), exists in the US as well.

Also no mention that #3 is fueled in part by plutonium, much more difficult to control than just enriched uranium, although the extent of that leak seems, at least until the next aftershock, to be "controlled..." whatever that means (the truth is, they don't even know, because there's no corporate incentive to know).

That an aircraft carrier 100 miles away detected radiation and was ordered to leave the area isn't particularly reassuring.

More, and more:

....“We are on the brink,” said Hiroaki Koide, a senior reactor engineering specialist at the Research Reactor Institute of Kyoto University. “We are now facing the worst-case scenario. We can assume that the containment vessel at Reactor No. 2 is already breached. If there is heavy melting inside the reactor, large amounts of radiation will most definitely be released.”

Another executive said the chain of events at Daiichi suggested that it would be difficult to maintain emergency seawater cooling operations for an extended period if the containment vessel at one reactor had been compromised because radiation levels could threaten the health of workers nearby.

If all workers do in fact leave the plant, the nuclear fuel in all three reactors is likely to melt down, which would lead to wholesale releases of radioactive material — by far the largest accident of its kind since Chernobyl.

Even if a full meltdown is averted, Japanese officials have been facing unpalatable options. One was to continue flooding the reactors and venting the resulting steam, while hoping that the prevailing winds did not turn south toward Tokyo or west, across northern Japan to the Korean Peninsula. The other was to hope that the worst of the overheating was over, and that with the passage of a few more days the nuclear cores would cool enough to essentially entomb the radioactivity inside the plants, which clearly will never be used again. Both approaches carried huge risks...

And more...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Recall the Wisonsin Republicans–Make Them Pay

The movement grows against these greedy, lying, worthless scumbags.

We just contributed what we can, every month for the next five months. So should you.

The hell is Obama thinking. Coward.

Regarding the McCarthyite Hearings on Muslim "Radicalization"

Mother of 9/11 Victim Condemns King Hearing on Muslim "Radicalization"

See also this devastating take-down of both the hearings and the public embarrassment that is Peter King: The Lyin' King.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

General Strike!

Think you're immune? This is not just about Wisconsin.

(image via)

It's time.

Rethuglicans aren't even pretending that it's about the budget anymore. They think they can just screw working families with impunity. Democracy and "The People" aren't even in their vocabulary.

Fast forward to the 6:45 mark...

Somebody, perhaps PCCC or DFA, needs to produce a recall ad campaign, not just one tv ad in one state, right now. And someone with deep pockets needs to drop a couple million dollars into it. Just consider it back-taxes. Moveon, I suppose, can still run their tweets, and raise money from the yuppies.

Meanwhile, Robert Greenwald has launched a new battle in the war against the Koch brothers' pollution (to the tune of $324 million in dirty money) of the democratic process, here.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Monday, March 07, 2011

America is not broke

Keep fighting the anti-democratic Koch brothers, right here. Update: and now here!

After spending over $324 million on an extremist political agenda that is devastating to the lives of 98% of Americans, despoiling what was once a potentially good planet for everyone while they personally prosper to the tune of $43 billion, David Koch and Charles Koch are finally getting the sort of embarrassing attention they deserve, as every freedom-loving, hard-working American should be glad to see.

And remember, even though a self-employed woodworker in North Carolina pays over three times as much in property taxes as Tom Cruise, and on a (far less desirable) fraction of the acreage, has no health insurance, and still owes tens of thousands in college loans well over a decade after graduating even though he went tuition free, "class war" is still a dangerous fiction invented by elitist poor people to subvert Jesus (link, or something).

The hell is Obama thinking.

This is the reality.

• Also, to hell with polite progressive groups like (especially the absolutely boring local Asheville chapter). Those folks lost their critical exigency years ago, and have resigned themselves to knocking on doors in the projects, once every four years. A good summary of the Wisconsin fight is here (via Jodi Dean).

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Scott Walker has lost the war

So sayeth Forbes magazine.

The Wall Street Journal reports -- "Conservatives in Wisconsin are getting nervous that three Republican state senators may defect on the collective-bargaining reform vote."

NBC news in Wisconsin reports -- "four moderate Republicans are wavering and could break with the GOP and vote against Walker's budget repair bill."

The New York Times reports -- "Billionaire Brothers' Money Plays Role in Wisconsin Dispute."

And Talking Points Memo reports on a brand new poll by a Republican leaning pollster -- "Rasmussen Poll: Almost Six In Ten Wisconsin Voters Disapprove Of Gov. Walker."

Do your part. Fight the greedy bastards, here.