Rattling the Reactor

On July 15th, 2007, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake killed 9 people and damaged the Kashiwazaki nuclear power generating station, the world’s largest nuke facility. No one knows when the facility will reopen.

More than a dozen separate leaks of radioactive materials have been reported, some going offsite via air and water. Approximately four hundred drums of so-called “low-level” radioactive waste toppled over (of more than 22,000 such drums located at the site). At least 40 of the toppled drums lost their covers when they fell over.

Plant officials are now claiming the earthquake was larger than any they had planned for at the facility.

Previous earthquakes produced wildly differing Richter Scale values, when measured at different spots at one Japanese nuke facility. So who knows what the reactors might have really experienced, or what they can really withstand?

Four reactors were operating at the facility at the time of the quake. All four automatically SCRAMed when the jarring started. A “SCRAM” of a reactor is a violent, sudden, dangerous stoppage which causes enormous wear and tear (and sometimes causes leaks).

The other three reactors at the facility were already shut down “voluntarily, for inspection” when the quake hit. Lucky, that.

The facility produced about 7% of Japan’s electricity, so undoubtedly the Japanese power companies will cause energy shortages and blackouts while the reactors remain closed, so that the Japanese people are fooled into thinking they MUST have MORE NUKES! Indeed, many more nukes are planned in Japan, as well as in America and elsewhere. And not one is truly “earthquake-proof,” and most have never been given a reality check.

Kashiwazaki’s 8,212 megawatts of total generating capacity is enough for about 16 million homes in Japan (or for about half that many homes in America).

So, just when hospitals, pumping stations, and individuals desperately needed power to recover from the earthquake, NONE was being delivered by the facility.

Reports now say over 50 separate problems occurred at the facility because of the earthquake, including burst pipes and cobalt-60 and chromium-51 being released in gaseous form, but not including delayed reporting (which aggravated and endangered citizens).

Several hundred gallons of radioactive liquid spilled into the Sea of Japan. The highest reported volume leaked was about 600 gallons. But early, widespread reports assured the public there were NO radioactive leaks. Early reports of no leakage were wrong and, as usual, have been replaced with reports of “minimal leakage” with “no danger to the public.”

In America, the Curie quantity (or, just as useful, the Becquerels) released is almost NEVER given to the public after an accident. However, reportedly “90,000 Becquerels of radioactivity” were released, so evidently the Japanese have a leg up on us for honest nuclear accident reporting in THAT department. (A Becquerel is one radioactive decay per second.)

But the Becquerels alone is still not enough — people also need to know the actual isotopes that were released (for example: strontium-90, iodine-131, cesium-137, etc.), since only then does one begin to have the ability to express, in concrete terms (i.e., numerically), the true danger from any specific accident. The number of gallons of diluted liquid, at some unspecified level of radioactivity, of some unspecified isotope of some unspecified element, tells you almost nothing.

A fire at the facility kept local firefighters busy for several hours, as it spewed thick, terrifying black smoke into the air. But the real danger from a nuclear reactor accident — radioactive poison — is INVISIBLE.

In some news reports, the fire was blamed for causing the leak (before it became “leaks”). If this is true in some way, it would be cause for concern in itself, since the fire was apparently in the switchyard, at the tail end of the operation, generally not considered part of the nuclear side of the plant.

The feared tsunami never came. Nuclear power plants worldwide are NOT protected against reasonably foreseeable tsunami wave heights.

The Japanese should be especially able to realize the insidious nature of radioactive poisons, since the effects of DNA damage from Hiroshima and Nagasaki still continue to this day, and could be carefully measured.

But of course, the power companies don’t want you to think about this, and government also won’t fund proper research, probably in part due to pressure from American corporate and government interests. All those “special interests” don’t want Hiroshima and Nagasaki to be properly studied, because of the effect such studies would have on the debate about the dangers of “Low Level Radiation.” Many pro-nukers STILL CONTEND that “LLR” might be healthy — like a vitamin or nutrient! (Similarly, the DNA damage in plants, animals, or humans in the area around Chernobyl is seldom carefully investigated.)

Japan dodged a bullet THIS TIME, but disaster awaits those who do not learn from history.

Japan can SURELY get along fine without nuclear power — don’t believe any other story!

Modern technology CAN solve virtually ALL of humanity’s environmental problems, but it requires reason and balance. Not all technology is good.

There is no minimum threshold — all ionizing radiation exposure carries with it some risk of cancer, leukemia, heart problems, genetic damage and other “health effects.”

The local mayor in Japan has forbidden any immediate restart of any of the Kashiwazaki reactors (in America, he would probably not be allowed to do that).

May they NEVER open!

Russell D. Hoffman, a computer programmer in Carlsbad, California, has written extensively about nuclear power. His essays have been translated into several different languages and published in more than a dozen countries. He can be reached at: rhoffman@animatedsoftware.com



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