The one year anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan is on March 11. When the 8.9 (9.0) magnitude earthquake occurred, it knocked out power to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. This event was followed by a 250 mile long, 38 foot high tsunami that easily overwhelmed the 16½ foot high seawall at the plant. This sequentially flooded the backup generators (that were located slightly above sea-level) that were to run the pumps that kept the water flowing to cool the reactors in case of power failure. The battery backup was only good for several hours. This in turn started the meltdown of three reactors at the site and caused several hydrogen and steam explosions at the site.
Explosion at Fukushima Reactor 3, March 14, 2011
Partial Meltdowns Led to Hydrogen Explosions at Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant
Fukushima throws spotlight on quake zone nuclear power
Cold shutdown (in a sense) was achieved in December, 2011, nine months after the initial crisis. According to the U.S. NRC, cold shutdown is a term used to define a reactor coolant system at atmospheric pressure and at a temperature below 200 degrees Fahrenheit following a reactor cool down.
There is currently a 12 miles exclusion zone in effect around the plant.
An interesting article from inside the exclusion zone by Richard Engel, NBC’s Rock Center, March 7, 2012
With estimates coming in that it will take Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) 10 years to remove the melted fuel rods, and another 20-40 years to completely decommission the plant site. With so many conflicting reports on the true condition of the reactors, and the amount of radiation released over the region, the real question that remains is: Who or what are we to believe?
I can only wish the people of Japan the best on their continuing recover from the earthquake, tsunami and ongoing nuclear disaster.
Map of Fukushima Plant and Epicenter of Earthquake (Page 3)
Examining the Missteps in Japan’s Nuclear Crisis
After Fukushima: The Fear Factor-World bytes (Video)
Fukushima: It’s much worse than you think
Tokyo Electric Power Company Press Release
Will Davis “Atomic Power Review”
His blog on November 30, 2011 is the only one I’ve been able to find that shows what’s going on with the reactor core vessel at Fukushima.
Other Items about Nuclear Power
As far as nuclear power ties into our story, we have so many other things to cover, that the nuclear power discussion will be limited. We will be briefly discussing the Hanford Reservation in Washington, the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, and the Idaho National Laboratory in Southeast Idaho. Our story will center around the people that have been affected by living near or working at these sites, and the overall environmental impact on the regions.
Several of the issues that we will be covering on nuclear power are:
- How safe are nuclear power plants?
- Are there reactor designs that use more of their fuel?
- The spent fuel issue, is it for real?
- What has been learned, and what is being done to make it safer.
We will be looking at the mining and milling, chemical separation, and enrichment of uranium that is the fuel for nuclear power.
The best way for me to look at both sides of the nuclear power debate (the whole story really) is explained by what Bill Watterson calls “Neo Cubist”, the ability to see both sides of the argument. (Calvin & Hobbes is still by far my favorite comic strip).
“Calvin and Hobbes” as a Critical Medium on Art & Philosophy
By Constantine Koutsoutis
The Pro Side
Some Key Points:
- Nuclear power does produce about 20% of the electricity used in the United States.
- It provides jobs for the local economy, jobs in mining, milling, fuel processing, etc.
- There are less CO2 emissions then fossil fuel power plants.
There are 104 reactors at 65 power plants currently operating in the United States, with more being built or proposed. The first nuclear reactor construction permit in over 30 years was approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on February 8, 2012 for the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in eastern Georgia.
NRC Approves Vogtle Reactors
The Augusta Chronicle-February 9, 2012
Westinghouse AP1000 Reactor Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR)
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Map of Power Reactors-Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Nuclear Street.Com, Proposed New Nuclear Power Plants
The Anti Side
Some Key Points:
- The environmental impact of mining, milling, and fuel processing of uranium.
- Spent fuel
- Accidents involving nuclear power plants
- The issue of depleted uranium.
So, am I Pro or Anti nuclear? I need to clarify this question because it breaks down into two parts; nuclear weapons and nuclear power.
Leslie Corrice “The Hiroshima Syndrome” is a well written website that best describes what I’m talking about; that nuclear power and nuclear weapons are two different categories.
I am against nuclear weapons. They are nothing but weapons of annihilation. I also believe that there will never be a total disarmament in my lifetime. The main reason I’m writing this story is because of my father and the several hundred thousand other veterans who were exposed to high levels of ionizing radiation during the atmospheric testing from 1945-1963, and forgotten about. And that’s just one area.
2) Am I for or against nuclear power? As I write this, I cannot truly answer this question. For the sake of presenting an unbiased story, I have to remain neutral.
I see the need for alternative energy to help run our country. We just can’t shut down every power plant in the nation because we don’t think it’s safe. This just will not happen. Yes, there are other sources of clean energy, and coal, gas, and nuclear can be produced cleaner, and with the advancing technology in these areas, they can be made safer for us to use, and for the environment.
The half life (the rate at which a radioactive isotope decays) of Uranium 238 is 4.5 billion years (The same age as the earth).
“The vast majority of the heat in Earth’s interior—up to 90 percent—is fueled by the decaying of radioactive isotopes like Potassium 40, Uranium 238, 235, and Thorium 232 contained within the mantle. These isotopes radiate heat as they shed excess energy and move toward stability. “The amount of heat caused by this radiation is almost the same as the total heat measured emanating from the Earth.”
Probing Question: What heats the earth’s core?
It’s what we’ve been doing to it here on the surface that has put us in danger for the last 65 years.