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Japan’s Biggest Problem

It’s hard to say what Japan’s biggest problem is right now.

Is it mud in Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1, which is preventing proper cooling? A criticality event and accompanying steam or hydrogen explosion of the reactor pressure vessel cannot be ruled out, which would spew much higher levels of deadly radiation throughout the site, likely causing complete abandonment — leading to more meltdowns and spent fuel pool fires.

Cracks in the reactor pressure vessel of Unit 2? These cracks are causing highly radioactive water to leak out, making it difficult to approach many parts of units 1, 2, and 3.

Melted fuel in Units 1 through 3? That’s all but confirmed.

Cracks in Unit 4’s spent fuel pool? That’s where the fuel had just been taken out of the reactor and is extremely “hot.” They can’t keep it covered because the pool is leaking.

The cesium-134 and 137, and Iodine-131 that’s showing up in Unit 4’s spent fuel pool? It indicates an ongoing chain reaction: A criticality! That’s certainly very bad news!

The radioactive water that’s evaporating and flowing into the ocean and seeping everywhere? In some places it’s 100 million times more radioactive than the legal limits (billions of times above normal levels).

The aftershocks? There have been nearly a thousand since The Great Sendai Quake of March 11th, 2011.

The effects of those aftershocks on other nuclear power plants as well as on Fukushima Daiichi? That certainly could become their biggest problem very quickly.

Public apathy in spite of it all? That’s always a killer, just like mob action is.

Public ignorance? Another killer.

A falling yen?

A plummeting world market for Japanese products, especially food products?

A criminal, inept, bankrupt Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)?

More than likely, the biggest problem facing Japan is STILL the official lies and secrecy of the nuclear establishment: Government and industry working in collusion to downplay the seriousness of this accident, and to deny what this event portends for the future of nuclear power around the world.

We’re only just learning how much information TEPCO and the Japanese government withheld right from the start: Lots. And we still haven’t seen any American spy satellite thermal imaging from those first few crucial days. I find THAT very strange! But now we know why the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan ran away — those invisible clouds were thick with poison in those early days. They still are.

I wonder what mattered most to the average Japanese citizen on March 10th, 2011, the day before the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear tragedy?

Were they thinking about how badly they should shut down Fukushima Daiichi and all the other old nuclear power plants they have in Japan — about 55 — and switch to renewable energy solutions?

Probably not.

Probably most Americans aren’t giving it much thought now, either. If they think about it at all, they probably think switching off the nuclear power plants would be too difficult. But the only difficult part is convincing ourselves to do it! Overcoming the ignorant belief that it CAN’T be done is the hard part!

Right now, millions of Japanese are undoubtedly wondering if they should continue to live just outside the official exclusion zone for Fukushima Daiichi. Should they move further away? Where can they live in Japan that’s NOT near a nuclear power plant? Not many places!

There are reports that the Japanese government has been bulldozing hot (radioactive) fuel into the ground, fuel which was blasted as far as a kilometer from the reactor complex (most likely, from the explosion in reactor unit 3).

Of course, retrieving the fuel isn’t easy since you can’t go near even a little pellet of it. It’s speculated they were “just” bulldozing a “safe” (all things are relative, aren’t they?) route to and from the reactor, and plan to pick up the fuel pellets later.

If they can find them.

Will they ever try to retrieve the fuel from the water? Maybe half-heartedly, but most will probably stay there, and drift with the tides, and kill dolphins, whales, tuna and every other creature that comes near, just as those pellets would kill us.

A dead zone will remain if they don’t clean it up. Don’t swim there. Tell that to the dolphins, supposedly the most intelligent animal on earth besides us. I can’t believe we’re all that much brighter, really. We show so few signs of intelligence these days…

What a mess!

What can we do?

Here is a link to a chart produced by LLNL, showing their estimate that Americans waste more than HALF the energy we “use”!

http://cdn.physorg.com/newman/gfx/news/hires/2011/usenergyuse.jpg

The chart shows that Americans waste more than TWICE the output of ALL our nuclear power plants combined!

Adding those two facts together, it’s easy to conclude that we could shut down ALL the nuclear power plants in America — and half the coal plants as a bonus — if we JUST stopped wasting electricity!

And that’s without making a single improvement in gas mileage!

And without a single improvement in the 0.11% of energy we get from solar power, or the 0.70% we obtain from wind, or the 0.37% we obtain from geothermal sources. Raise those properly, and we could close ALL the nuclear power plants and ALL the fossil fuel plants!

Is it “that simple”?

YES.

It’s not even that hard.

Over 50 MILLION cars are produced each year around the world — about 4 million of them in America. Plus trucks, buses, airplanes, buildings, roads, bridges., rockets and yes: Weapons. Lots of weapons. We may be in a slump, but there’s lot’s going on even so.

The average car lasts about ten years. With better maintenance (change your oil!) and fewer accidents (drive defensively!) we could easily stretch that to eleven — without even building better cars — couldn’t we? (But if we DO want more reliable cars, I know where we can get them — cheap! A whole boatload reportedly got sent back to Japan last week from Russia for being “twice” as radioactive as normal…)

If the assembly lines for one year’s output of automobiles were converted to produce wind turbines instead, and one wind turbine equals 100 cars worth of effort (which I think is not unreasonable…) then America could build 40,000 wind turbines instead, in just one year.

At 5 megawatts each, and 20% duty factor, not unreasonable figures, that would produce an average daily output of 40,000 megawatts of energy. Pumped storage and other peaker plants would take up the slack on calm days and, of course, the better our national energy grid — the more interconnected and reliable it is — the better this plan will work.

I think we could build half a MILLION wind turbines in a year, not merely 40,000. And I think we could still turn out a few cars, too.

If not, perhaps Japan can help us automate our manufacturing procedures and improve the quality of our output?

I’m really sick of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Why don’t we protect ourselves? Who needs another warning?

We’ve seen earthquakes recently in three of the four “corners” of the “Ring of Fire.” The one that’s missing is the United States’ west coast, where San Onofre, Diablo Canyon, and I are all located.

And of course, we’ve also had another warning: Tsunamis in the Pacific Ocean which have already destroyed at least three reactors as radioactive smoke, steam and water billow and waft and spew, and will probably continue to do so for a decade or more. The 2004 tsunami that struck Indonesia damaged a nuclear reactor complex in India, thousands of miles away from the epicenter of the quake which caused the tsunami. Now we know how lucky we really were back then!

We also know what happens when no one pays attention. In the intervening years, all these old reactors could easily have been shut down. The warning could have been heeded.

Besides the earthquakes and tsunamis, we’ve had other warnings: The root causes of the nuclear catastrophes in Europe (Chernobyl) and the Far East (Japan) were, in a word, negligence. On that count, America’s surely been VERY lucky! Negligence at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Ohio in 2002 only caused a near-miss. Negligence, with or without an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, or terrorism to push it along, has been a factor in scores of near-misses at nuclear power plants in America and around the world.

Smart gamblers don’t rely on luck. Smart gamblers either have an edge (a cheat), or they don’t gamble more than they can afford to lose — they play only for fun. At every nuclear power plant, somebody gambles with far more than they can afford to lose: Your life. They’re betting your life that their luck will hold out, but luck never holds out forever.

Our fate doesn’t have to be like that of Japan. Their’s didn’t have to, either — they had plenty of warnings.

We’ve had plenty of warnings too. We COULD be different from the Japanese.

We could heed the warnings. We could learn from their tragic mistakes.

Or we can learn for ourselves, the hard way.

RUSSELL D. HOFFMAN is author of The Code Killers: An Expose of the Nuclear Industry. He lives in Carlsbad, California, 25 miles south of the San Onofre nuclear generating station and runs a blog: acehoffman.blogspot.com

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