Thursday, April 14, 2011

The least Fortunate Island

My final wrap up of the Fukushima (fortunate island) Nuclear Power Plant, starting with the media driven “he said, she said” spat between two high profile campaigners.

The Guardian has published an article by Helen Caldicott as a rebuttal to George Monbiots earlier article. This stoush could go on for a while.

Central to Monbiots argument was this quote:

"In no sense did Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences or the New York Academy of Sciences commission this work; nor by its publication do we intend to independently validate the claims made in the translation or in the original publications cited in the work. The translated volume has not been peer reviewed by the New York Academy of Sciences, or by anyone else."

Which is very similar to the text available at the website of the Annals of the New York Academy of Science posted 4/28/2010:

The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences issue “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment”, therefore, does not present new, unpublished work, nor is it a work commissioned by the New York Academy of Sciences. The expressed views of the authors, or by advocacy groups or individuals with specific opinions about the Annals Chernobyl volume, are their own. Although the New York Academy of Sciences believes it has a responsibility to provide open forums for discussion of scientific questions, the Academy has no intent to influence legislation by providing such forums. The Academy is committed to publishing content deemed scientifically valid by the general scientific community, from whom the Academy carefully monitors feedback.

What the top quote says is that it is only the TRANSLATED volume that has not been peer reviewed. This quote could be misread to imply that none of the source material:

published in Russian, presented an analysis of the scientific literature, including more than 1,000 titles and more than 5,000 printed and Internet publications mainly in Slavic languages, on the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.

had any form of peer review. Nevertheless the NYAS deemed the work to have enough scientific merit to publish but would monitor the views of the general scientific community. So, unless the NYAS issues some kind of statement soon, perhaps it should not just be dismissed.

Monbiot cites a “devastating review” in the Journal of Radiation Protection Dosimetry. Presumably it is the review by Ian Fairlie; George does not tell us that there are in fact TWO reviews. And again the argument is over the Linear No Threshold (LNT) model.

Unfortunately I can not get access to the complete reviews as Oxford Press requires a log in (or $US32: my alumni account doesn't extend that far). Up to the point that the abstract peters off, I wouldn't call either review total devastating, perhaps highlighting short comings.

Chernobyl: consequences of the catastrophe for people and the environment

Ian Farlie

In the context of the Chernobyl accident Jaworowski ( 1) criticises publications, which use a linear-no threshold (LNT) dose response to evaluate cancer risks at very low doses and contrasts predictions of thousands of late cancer deaths with deficits (compared with Russian national statistics) of solid cancers in Russian emergency workers and the populations of most contaminated areas.

In the opinion of this reviewer, the wide range of estimates that can be found in the scientific literature is mainly due to different estimates of population dose, the use of different radiation risk figures and different interpretations of epidemiological data (particularly the use of different control groups). Published estimates of excess deaths also frequently differ in terms of which countries and time periods they refer to. This often makes meaningful comparisons difficult or impossible although it often remains clear that there is a large disparity between different authors. With such a range of views, an already vast and increasing literature, and …

The abstract of the other review never gets to anything controversial.

Chernobyl: consequences of the catastrophe for people and the environment

Monty Charles

Alexey Yablokov, founder and president of the Centre for Russian Environmental Policy, is a correspondent member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and former environmental advisor to Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Vassily Nesterenko was director of Ukraine's nuclear power establishment in the 1980s and 1990s. In August 2009, he died mainly as a result of his radiation exposures from the Chernobyl reactor, but earlier he established the independent Belarussian Institute of Radiation Safety (BELRAD). Alexey Nesterenko is the Institute's senior scientist. The book under review here was translated by Janette Sherman-Nevinger, Adjunct Professor at the Environmental Institute of Western Michigan University.

The authors summarise studies demonstrating health effects in humans, animals and plants exposed to Chernobyl fallout over eastern and western Europe and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere. Their main conclusions are that the health and environmental consequences of the Chernobyl disaster are much larger than previously estimated. Exposures to affected people are reported to be increasing from …

IF anyone can verify the devastating contents of either review I would love to receive a comment from you.

Wikipedia currently has a page up that does dispute Monbiots reading  which is apparently that of Monty Charles.

A more devastating review is that of Mona Dreicer in Environmental Health Perspectives.

The references are largely in Slavic languages and represent only a fraction of the material that is available worldwide. This volume presents the authors’ reaction to reports, such as those from the Chernobyl Forum (organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency in cooperation with eight other international organizations and the governments of Belarus, Russian Federation, and Ukraine), that have not shown the full scale of negative impacts that have resulted from the Chernobyl accident.

To document the negative impacts of the accident—the authors’ objective—many of the articles present lists of excerpted facts, tables, and figures taken from the large number of referenced studies to support the stated conclusions. The inconsistent use of scientific units, the grouping of data collected with variable time and geographic scales, the lack of essential background information, and the consistent exclusion of scientific research that reported lesser or no negative impacts leave objective readers with very limited means for forming their own judgments without doing their own additional extensive research. In fact, many major technical studies and reports on the impacts of the Chernobyl accident have been excluded. (It is not known whether this is due to the time of publication or lack of access to English-language reporting.) That said, this volume provides a roadmap to non-English-language literature that can be considered as scientific research into this topic continues.

The New York Times has a sadly disturbing article about the life of nuclear day workers.

Japanese Workers Braved Radiation for a Temp Job

NYT April 9, 2011

Collectively, these contractors were exposed to levels of radiation about 16 times as high as the levels faced by Tokyo Electric employees last year, according to Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which regulates the industry. These workers remain vital to efforts to contain the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plants.

They are emblematic of Japan’s two-tiered work force, with an elite class of highly paid employees at top companies and a subclass of laborers who work for less pay, have less job security and receive fewer benefits.

Of roughly 83,000 workers at Japan’s 18 commercial nuclear power plants, 88 percent were contract workers in the year that ended in March 2010, the nuclear agency said. At the Fukushima Daiichi plant, 89 percent of the 10,303 workers during that period were contractors.

“Your first priority is to avoid pan-ku,” said one current worker at the Fukushima Daini plant, using a Japanese expression based on the English word puncture. Workers use the term to describe their dosimeter, which measures radiation exposure, from reaching the daily cumulative limit of 50 millisieverts. “Once you reach the limit, there is no more work,” said the worker, who did not want to give his name for fear of being fired by his employer.

Since the mid-1970s, about 50 former workers have received workers’ compensation after developing leukemia and other forms of cancer. Health experts say that though many former workers are experiencing health problems that may be a result of their nuclear work, it is often difficult to prove a direct link. Mr. Kawakami has received a diagnosis of stomach and intestinal cancer.

News of workers’ mishaps turns up periodically in safety reports: one submitted by Tokyo Electric to the government of Fukushima Prefecture in October 2010 outlines an accident during which a contract worker who had been wiping down a turbine building was exposed to harmful levels of radiation after accidentally using one of the towels on his face. In response, the company said in the report that it would provide special towels for workers to wipe their sweat.

Working conditions have improved over the years, experts say. While exposure per worker dropped in the 1990s as safety standards improved, government statistics show, the rates have been rising since 2000, partly because there have been more accidents as reactors age.

The union, he said, made 19 demands of plant operators, including urging operators not to forge radiation exposure records and not to force workers to lie to government inspectors about safety procedures. Although more than 180 workers belonged to the union at its peak, its leaders were soon visited by thugs who kicked down their doors and threatened to harm their families, he said.

“They were not allowed to speak up,” Mr. Nakajima said. “Once you enter a nuclear power plant, everything’s a secret.”

Which should serve as a reminder of the hierarchical nature of Japanese society1. The heroes spoken of in the press are not just the technicians in the control room, but average workers running into the hot zone. Much has been made of the technological prowess of modern Japan, and how this accident may open some questions on that front.

Can Japan ever put its faith in science again?

The Age, April 14th 2011

'TECHNO-nationalism'' is a belief that the nation is made powerful by the creation, ownership and ongoing advancement of technology. This is not a particularly Japanese phenomenon, but Japan's national identity was restored after the defeat in World War Two through economic successes derived not from natural resources, but from technology.

To the Japanese people, radiation is irrevocably connected to their wartime experience. Radiation disease strikes violently at an innocent victim, and then becomes a powerful contaminant imparting both medical and ritual pollution. The Hibakusha, survivors of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings and their descendants, have been reviled by mainstream society for more than half a century.

Why take these risks? Japan is seen as a ''resource poor'' nation, not self-sufficient in its food production. Its current strength comes from technology, which has to be powered somehow. At first, the Japanese electric industry was hydro-powered, but as early as 1910 it was producing excess electricity. This pushed the manufacturers to encourage producers to find new uses to expand energy markets. Consumer electronics companies entered a kind of complicit relationship with the energy companies: we will make more products that require electricity, which will in turn enlarge the need for power. Today, the three major industrial producers of nuclear power in Japan are familiar names to consumers: Hitachi, Toshiba and Mitsubishi.

In a sense, this trust in technology was affirmed on March 11 when we saw the video clips showing Tokyo skyscrapers bending and then straightening. In the lifts of Tokyo and on the high-speed train tracks, there were happy endings to the story, and the Japanese collectively sighed in relief that their experts had risen to the occasion.

Even if the infrastructure and the personnel could be replaced, to what extent can the government convince the public that food from the Tohoku area is safe?

This potential rift in the public trust demonstrates doubt in expert advice: we can keep a skyscraper from toppling, but can we be truly confident that the land will not be poisoned for years to come?

We can only interpret behaviour and values in context: technology has saved the Tokyo skyscrapers but failed the people of Fukushima. Will their trust in science survive?

The contamination situation may force further factory closures.

Japan Nuclear Evacuation May Force Hitachi, Boehringer to Abandon Plants


Hitachi Chemical Co. and Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH may abandon factories largely unscathed by last month’s Japan earthquake and tsunami as engineers struggle to contain radiation spewing from a crippled nuclear plant.

Boehringer, the world’s largest family-owned drugmaker, halted production at a factory that makes energy drinks in Namie, about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the leaking power station following the March 11 temblor and tsunami. Hitachi Chemical shuttered a plant making carbon brushes for train motors in the same town, causing a parts shortage that disrupted rail services.

Auto-Parts Makers

Tomiyama Pure Chemical Industries Ltd. and Japan Brake Industrial Co. have both shuttered plants in the evacuation zone supplying automakers including Honda Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Corp. The closures have contributed to carmakers being forced to curtail production, according to Citigroup Inc. analysts Noriyuki Matsushima and Manabu Hagiwara.

The shutdowns “are having a major impact on auto-part production,” the analysts wrote … as they downgraded to “sell” Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co., and Honda. “Employees cannot access the plants and there are absolutely no prospects in sight for recovery.”

Other industries affected inlude JR West Services, Japan Brake and Tomiyama, which made electrolytic fluids for lithium-ion batteries.

The World Health Organisation is planning a long term monitoring program for the area as a precautionary measure.

WHO eyes 20 year nuclear health watch in Japan


The World Health Organisation is seeking studies for up to 20 years to keep watch over public health in Japan following the Fukushima nuclear emergency, a senior official said on Wednesday.

WHO environmental health chief Maria Neira played down a current risk to public health outside the 30-kilometre exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant, based on tests and monitoring by Japanese authorities.

"There is no need for new public health measures," Neira told journalists.

She nonetheless underlined that the UN health agency could not let its guard drop while the radiation emergency at the plant was underway, as the WHO maintained permanent monitoring with the Japanese and global detection networks.

Meanwhile, Rio Tinto subsidiary ERA may still harbor hopes of one day restarting Jabiluka.

Jabiluka still on, says ERA

The Age, April 14, 2011

ENERGY Resources of Australia continues to harbour ambitions to develop the $20 billion Jabiluka uranium deposit near its Ranger mine in the Northern Territory despite traditional owners recently renewing their opposition.

The listed Rio Tinto subsidiary told shareholders at its annual meeting in Darwin yesterday that the undeveloped Jabiluka deposit was world class and that ERA continued to ''think about how this could be developed to the benefit of all stakeholders''.

But he did not add that this month a senior traditional owner, Yvonne Margarula, had called for the inclusion of Jabiluka in Kakadu after expressing sadness that Ranger uranium had been exported to Japan to be used by nuclear power companies, including at the stricken Fukushima plant.

ERA shares were savaged on the market yesterday, falling 84¢, or 10.8 per cent, to $6.88. This was in response to its announcement after trading on Tuesday that it would be extending the closure of Ranger because of concerns about the operation's tailings pond.

The region has had near record rain. The extended closure means output for 2011 will be well short of sales commitments, forcing ERA to buy in third-party material.

But see also the earlier report,

Kakadu owners want stop to uranium mining

The Age, April 7, 2011

Kakadu traditional owners say the nuclear crisis in Japan has only strengthened their resolve to oppose uranium mining at Jabiluka.

She said it was likely Kakadu uranium was at least in part fuelling some of the radiation problems being experienced at Fukushima.

TEPCO, the company which owns and operates the Fukushima plant, is a long-time customer of Rio Tinto's Energy Resources Australia (ERA), which operates Ranger uranium mine.

Ms Margarula, in her letter, said the Ranger mine was forced on the Mirarr people 30 years ago, undermining the legitimacy of Aboriginal Land Rights.

Mr Sweeney [Australian Conservation Foundation] said regulatory regimes were not getting to the source of the problem.

He said ERA was fined on two occasions in 2004 for breaches of occupational health and safety, when an operator mistakenly linked industrial contaminated water from the mine into the water supply.

"Workers showered in it, people drank it, local Aboriginal people drank it in Jabiru and 20-plus people presented with headaches, skin rashes and stomach irritations."

I’ve actually been to Ranger. The drainage problems at Ranger there stem from the fact that the site is actually a slight hill, and the operating license requires all wastes and contaminated water to remain on site. Evaporation is the only means of disposing of the water in the tailings. Safety did seem to be a major concern. Accidents like the one above  demonstrate the human ability to inadvertently sideline the best operating procedures.

Radioactive water threatens Kakadu
The Age, 16th April 2011

Rio Tinto-controlled Energy Resources of Australia relies on the Ranger mine, 230 kilometres south-east of Darwin, to supply 10 per cent of the world's uranium market, including Japan's stricken Fukushima plant.

ERA will be forced to pump more than 10 billion litres of highly contaminated water from an almost overflowing dam into its operating open cut mine, known as Pit 3, if the Kakadu area receives about 100 millimetres more rain.

But Pit 3 - the only place available to put the water - already contains 3.6 billion litres of water that is sitting above high grade ore deposits.

If forced to pump water containing heavy metals and radioactive material from the tailings dam into the pit, ERA would then have to treat all of the water there as highly contaminated.

As a water crisis at the long-troubled mine worsened since September, ERA obtained approval from regulators to lift the height of the existing leaking tailings dam by three metres - six metres above its original design height.

The Bureau of Meteorology forecasts unpredictable wet season weather for several weeks.

Two important sites notably missing from the side bar at BNC are The Union of Concerned Scientists and The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (the time is 6 minutes to midnight). Both of these sites have alternative and perhaps more prudent views on nuclear power.

The Bulletin has extensive coverage but makes two points that should be highlighted. The Japanese Nuclear Industry has a history of lies and coverups AND given the relatively small number of Nuclear Reactors (of different designs), reliable statistical inference of the safety is problematic.

Fukushima, risk, and probability: Expect the unexpected

Article Highlights
  • Experts ignored or underestimated major risks at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, even though these risks should have been obvious.
  • Risk assessments that rely on probability do not offer sufficient protection against accidents that happen rarely, or have never happened before.
  • Nuclear plants are complex facilities housing concentrations of extremely dangerous materials, so they must be more reliable and tightly regulated than they currently are.

Ignored warnings. The Japanese nuclear industry has a history of falsifying data and hiding accidents. An engineer acknowledged that he falsified documents when casting one containment vessel for the Fukushima complex…

A representative in the Japanese national parliament, concerned that the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi facility were required to withstand only a 19-foot-high tsunami, discussed his concerns at least 20 times with Tepco in 2003 and sent a warning to Japan's president. A seismology professor at Kobe University resigned in protest from a nuclear safety board in 2006 because of lack of attention to earthquake and tsunami risks.

But as my colleague John Downer of Stanford University points out, the database for nuclear plants is so small as to be statistically meaningless. The number of reactors in operation in the world is very small, and there are many different designs and configurations. Equally statistically meaningless is the limited experience with tsunamis hitting nuclear plants.

The UCS Position on Nuclear Power and Global Warming is:

    1. Prudence dictates that we develop as many options to reduce global warming emissions as possible, and begin by deploying those that achieve the largest reductions most quickly and with the lowest costs and risk. Nuclear power today does not meet these criteria.
    2. Nuclear power is not the silver bullet for "solving" the global warming problem. Many other technologies will be needed to address global warming even if a major expansion of nuclear power were to occur.
    3. A major expansion of nuclear power in the United States is not feasible in the near term. Even under an ambitious deployment scenario, new plants could not make a substantial contribution to reducing U.S. global warming emissions for at least two decades.
    4. Until long-standing problems regarding the security of nuclear plants—from accidents and acts of terrorism—are fixed, the potential of nuclear power to play a significant role in addressing global warming will be held hostage to the industry's worst performers.
    5. An expansion of nuclear power under effective regulations and an appropriate level of oversight should be considered as a longer-term option if other climate-neutral means for producing electricity prove inadequate. Nuclear energy research and development (R&D) should therefore continue, with a focus on enhancing safety, security, and waste disposal.

The Union does not support the position of Monbiot, noting that the estimates of cancer cases vary widely… and that in a manner similar to climate change, except for those at the site no individual cancer can be directly attributed to Chernobyl. Exposure increases the probability.

How Many Cancers Did Chernobyl Really Cause?

For example, for a collective dose of 600,000 person-Sv, the expected number of cancer cases would be 68,000, of which some 34,000 would result in death. If we apply the lower and upper confidence bounds, we find a range of 34,000 to 140,000 excess cancer cases, of which 16,000 to 73,000 would be fatal.

Note that because exposure only increases the probability of developing cancer, in general no given cancer can be attributed to Chernobyl. Moreover, because these additional cancers will be distributed among hundreds of millions of people, they will not be discernable among all the other cancer cases. (Table ES-1 indicates that on average, about 42% of people have cancer at some point in their lives, and about 20% of people die of cancer.) However, the large increase in thyroid cancers among children in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia following the accident clearly indicates that it was the cause of the increase.

And there is a series of pictures that suggest that conditions in the control rooms may leave the operators with less then full knowledge of the state of the reactors.

How Much Does Japan Know About the Status of its Reactors?

Figure 2 is a picture said to have been taken yesterday in the control room of the Unit 2 reactor at Fukushima Dai-Ichi. I’ve also annotated it to show the lack of readily gleaned information.

While Japanese workers seem to have restored lighting to the control room, no other source of power seems to have been restored. All the computer monitors are blank. The clock is dead. None of the equipment status lights and gauges appear to be functional. None of the annunciator windows are lit—and the plant is far from a condition where no parameters are in alarm status.

Which could make some of the detailed technical analysis at pro nuclear sites moot. A point clearly expressed by a poster at BNC.

Shelby, on 13 April 2011 at 12:59 AM said:

I was thinking about something last night. If good scientific observation depends on a controlled test environment, then we can ever expect to have solid scientific analysis of Fukushima. If nothing else, I’m convinced that all data recorded thus far has been done in an uncontrolled, or perhaps uncontrollable environment. For much of the disaster gauges and systems have not been working, on site and off site monitoring of radiation is spotty, inconsistent and haphazardly done. A long period of time has gone by now with less than scientific observation. At this point regardless of the data received or to be mined, no one can make concrete scientific analysis of the situation, the best we can hope for is theories and conjecture based on inconsistent data. Because so much has transpired now with inconsistent scientific observation, and frankly still is transpiring, it would seem to me the truth is something that will forever be mired in theories and opinions, some of them more accurate than others.

What troubles me is the lack of transparency and the lack of good scientific monitoring. That was either by design, or by incompetence. But the real crime is the public will never really know exactly what happened at Fukushima.

And that will be my last nuclear post for a long time.

For high resolution photos of the site go to Cryptome. Notice that the majority of the damage is not on the seaward side of the plant which leads me to speculate that the two breakwaters and sea wall coupled with the raised elevation (the site is at least 10m above sea level on a headland) did a surprisingly good job at reducing the energy of the wave. The plant was however swamped by the wave run up.

Most of the visible physical damage appears to be due to the explosions.

It seems tragically ironic that these explosions were caused by attempts to forestall larger explosions and led to a cascade of other problems (including more explosions).

1. I lived in Japan for approximately 2 years.

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