Japan’s Nuclear Nightmare

Japan’s nuclear nightmare continues today as a small crew of technicians remaining onsite braved both fire and radiation throughout the day in attempt to “prevent three nuclear reactors in northeastern Japan from melting down and to stop storage pools loaded with spent uranium fuel pods from bursting into flames.”

Apparently officials with Tokyo Electric Power Company are as clueless about how to stop the leaks, fires and meltdowns, as BP Oil was when it came to stopping the leak in the oil well in the Gulf of Mexico months ago:

Officials with the Tokyo Electric Power Company announced Tuesday evening that they would consider using helicopters in an attempt to put cold water into a boiling rooftop storage pool for spent uranium fuel rods. The rods are still radioactive and potentially as hot and dangerous as the fuel rods inside the reactors if not kept submerged in water.

“The only ideas we have right now are using a helicopter to spray water from above, or inject water from below,” a power company official said at a news conference. “We believe action must be taken by tomorrow or the day after.”

My faith in the safety of nuclear power, already quite limited, has plummeted in recent days, like so many people watching this nightmare unfold on 24/7 news. We know now that the danger is long-term from this disasterous consequence of Japan’s 9.0 earthquake.

The NY Times reported today that design of the reactor used in Japan has been questioned all the back to 1972:

The warnings were stark and issued repeatedly as far back as 1972: If the cooling systems ever failed at a Mark 1 nuclear reactor, the primary containment vessel surrounding the reactor would probably burst as the fuel rods inside overheated. Dangerous radiation would spew into the environment.

Marketed as “cheaper and easier to build,” G.E. began making the Mark 1 boiling water reactors in the 1960s.

Questions about the G.E. reactor design escalated in the mid-1980s, when Harold Denton, an official with the N.R.C., asserted that Mark 1 reactors had a 90 percent probability of bursting should the fuel rods overheat and melt in an accident. A follow-up report from a study group convened by the commission concluded that “Mark 1 failure within the first few hours following core melt would appear rather likely.”

In an extreme accident, that analysis held, the containment could fail in as little as 40 minutes.

Industry officials disputed that assessment, saying the chance of failure was only about 10 percent.

The chance of failure is here. We’ve all seen how quickly this unfolded. The bottomline is nuclear plants and earthquakes are a bad combination. It takes just one big one and… MELTDOWN.

The sobering truth as the NY Times editorial board notes today is that Japan, “a technologically advanced nation that puts great emphasis on disaster mitigation,” has suffered widespread destruction and devastation:

Japan’s protective seawalls proved no match for the high waves that swept over them and knocked out the safety systems that were supposed to protect nearby nuclear reactors from overheating and melting down.

As the NY Times suggests:

The unfolding Japanese tragedy also should prompt Americans to closely study our own plans for coping with natural disasters and with potential nuclear plant accidents to make sure they are, indeed, strong enough. We’ve already seen how poor defenses left New Orleans vulnerable to Hurricane Katrina and how industrial folly and hubris led to a devastating blowout and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

We must step back from the mindset that we need nuclear power here in the United States. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima, should make it clear that it is time to seek alternative sources of energy that are not only safe but clean.

The Lede has ongoing updates on the nuclear crisis in Japan.

Please contact Congress and let them know you are against nuclear power in the U.S., now and forever.

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