Fukushima Fall-out in San Diego and Japan

by on March 14, 2012 · 11 comments

in American Empire, California, Civil Rights, Energy, Environment, Health, Organizing, Popular, World News

Rally in Japan to commemorate Fukushima, March 11, 2012.

By Sheila Johnson

Last December, on a visit to Japan, I had a chance to spend a day being driven around Sendai and its environs to see at first hand some of the earthquake and tsunami damage of March, 2011. We did not go anywhere near the ‘dead-zone’ around Fukushima’s nuclear reactors, but what I saw was shocking enough — lamp-posts bent like pretzels by the force of the water, entire towns wiped from the map, and rice-fields that would normally have been covered with rice-stubble instead scrubbed clean of all topsoil.

Marchers about to begin, Japan, March 11, 2012.

Even worse, these rice-fields had been covered, I was told, by six feet of sea water. How long, I wondered, will it take for the salt to be leached from the soil so that rice can grow there again? And what about the nuclear fall-out and its damage to soil, plants, and animals?

When I came home I began to reflect on these matters. I live in a house within sight of the Pacific Ocean, about thirty miles north of downtown San Diego but also about thirty miles south of two nuclear reactors at San Onofre. These reactors became operational in 1983 and 1984 (except for one, now being used to store spent fuel, which dates from 1968). The two operating reactors have had several “problems” and are currently closed down for repairs. But as recently as February of this year a water leak resulted in a small escape of radioactive gas. Nearby residents have not been told about the nature or seriousness of these problems.

Protesters gather at San Onofre, March 11, 2012.

So I was interested when a local group of peace activists organized a protest at San Onofre both to commemorate the tragedy at Fukushima and to call attention to our own vulnerability in case of an earthquake and tsunami. On Sunday, March 11th, I joined several hundred protesters who gathered at noon near the reactors.

We began with a prayer by a member of an Indian tribe that used to live near where the reactors now stand. Then we had a minute of silence in memory of last year’s tragedy in Japan, and we heard from two Japanese visitors from Fukushima prefecture. Both of them carried small geiger-counters and spoke about their worries about their children, the milk they drink, the playgrounds they use, and the long-term effects of radiation. They stressed that Japanese authorities had not been forthcoming about the dangers of the nuclear melt-down, and several American speakers warned that in fact the Fukushima plant was not yet secure and was continuing to leak radiation.

As I listened and looked at our own two reactors, I reflected on how similar my situation is to that of the people of Fukushima. I, too, live near a major earthquake fault that could rupture at any time. The San Onofre nuclear plant sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, behind a seawall less than five meters tall at high tide. There is no emergency plan for evacuating our area’s approximately 3 million people. The coastline where I live, like Fukushima’s coast, has often been described as a beautiful earthly paradise, but it is also a fool’s paradise. We are foolish because we neither take proper care of this fragile environment, nor do we plan for the natural (let alone the man-made) disasters that may occur.

The nuclear reactors in both countries are run by businesses intent on making a profit. For every day they remain shut down, these businesses lose money. In the U.S. no insurance company will insure them against nuclear accidents, and in Japan Tepco may go bankrupt not only because of the clean-up cost but also the law suits it faces. In both countries, the “regulators” who are supposed to monitor and regulate nuclear industries are in collusion with the industries themselves.

The rally I attended left me with one hopeful impression, and that was the extent to which both our Japanese visitors and more and more Americans have begun to distrust their governmental authorities and business spokesmen. The Japanese told us that many of the things Americans had learned about the Fukushima disaster were kept from people in Japan. But Americans are becoming equally cynical about what their newspapers and government are telling them.

There is a famous Latin phrase — Quis custodiet ipsos custodes — which means “who guards the guardians?” The answer is that only watchful citizens can and must do that. Attend local city government meetings and hearings, we were told. Ask questions of your officials. Sign petitions. Become more active in your communities.

Many people at the rally were carrying signs about Fukushima and nuclear energy. They also wore T-shirts with peace signs on them. I wore a T-shirt that said “Pogo was Right.” Pogo was a much-loved comic strip character of the 1950s and 60s — a politically-minded possum who lived in a Louisiana swamp. His most famous utterance — printed on the back of my T-shirt — was “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

This T-shirt was actually a gift to my husband, Chalmers Johnson, by an admirer who had heard him use the phrase in a speech he gave about the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wore it in his memory and also as a reminder to myself and others that many of the dangers we face are self-inflicted.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar J. Gordon March 14, 2012 at 11:03 am

The fear-mongering over nuclear power is ridiculous. All power generation is risky and can lead to potential disasters – even renewables: damns have broken before, people have fallen off of windmills. All being told, nuclear’s record makes it among the safest forms of power generation in existence. Additionally, it has no emissions and is cheap. And although it is true that when something goes wrong with a reactor, it goes really wrong, the U.S. nuclear record is nearly spotless (even the 3-Mile Island disaster wasn’t really a disaster). Nuclear has to be a continued part of California’s generation mix.

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avatar Talk Nukes March 14, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Actually, nuclear DOES have emissions– just ask Gil Alexander who, when pressed, is willing to admit “a tiny emission of radiation” came out of San Onofre Jan 30.

And that is one he is willing to own up to as PR for SC Edison. When and what else does San Onofre emit?

I know, I know…ignorance is bliss–and the rest of us are just fear mongers–the types who love nuclear are usually also the types who love a good Pink Ribbon Cancer Walk and all the other fun that may (or may not?) be connected with Nuclear power so close to populated areas.

Ask the people living in fallout areas around Three Mile whether or not they’d consider it a disaster–and ask Dr. Helen Caldicot if there is such thing as a “safe emission” of radiation—

thanks for playing, J. Gordon

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avatar Talk Nukes March 14, 2012 at 12:59 pm
avatar Bearded OBcean March 15, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I grew up in the shadow of 3 Mile Island, a small burb across the river from Harrisburg. My family stayed up in Wilkes Barre during the meltdown. Going across the bridge everyday, I can still see the plumes of smoke lifting from the reactors. So, I spent the first 18 years of my life in the fallout area before going to college. And no, none of us considered it much of a disaster; more a sense of pride almost that our small area was world renowned.

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avatar Rwerkh March 14, 2012 at 11:55 am

The truth (and not fear mongering) that I go by is the NRC.

Internally the NRC was planning for what was quite likely to happen at Fukushima, but due to a few mistakes, didn’t happen.

What was likely to happen was fuel pool fires in 4 fuel pools containing way more fuel than Chernobyl, along with a likely 3 meltdowns that could have caused major releases.

The net effect of the likely scenario would have required evacuation to a distance that the NRC could not even calculate, as the scenario was beyond what their software could handle.

So J Gordon, when you shill for california’s nuclear industry, consider that some of those who oppose unsafe and inneficient nuclear power may be well informed and know why we oppose it.

Besides the safety angle, there is the small matter of global warming. Nuclear power, contrary to the sales pitch, does cause global warming. It is a short term answer at best to our power needs.

So if California makes itself more dependant on nuclear it will have to replace it soon at great expense anyway.

Better to do the right thing now, and reap the long term financial benefits, than to waste money and place the population at greater risk.

The official death toll from Fukushima is 573, so if you think it’s zero – you are listeneing to the wrong people.

Of course there are the plant workers who now cannot be found by Tepco (their website is asking for information on them). Their health status is unknown.

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avatar J. Gordon March 14, 2012 at 12:58 pm

The Fukushima disaster is just that, a tragic disaster. But much like a plane crash makes big headlines, despite air travel being the safest overall option, nuclear remains the safest overall option despite that big headlines occur when it has a problem.

“The right thing now” would be to create an energy policy that diversifies generation to create a balance between nuclear, renewable and fossil fuel sources, smart grid technology, and better transmission investment to ensure safety, reliability, reasonable cost, and environmental friendliness. The idea that renewables alone will solve these problems is a pipe dream – they are expensive and environmentally unfriendly when you consider the amount of desert and mountain habitats that have to be destroyed to build them.

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avatar unspokenhermit March 14, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Nuclear power was never proved to be safe compared to the other alternatives available. Therefore I do not agree with your idea that nuclear remains the safest energy generation option. I recently discovered the following dispersion model, which someone had linked to Berkeley’s discussion page. It uses TEPCO emission data to model possible dispersion patterns for Neptunium and Plutonium

datapoke.org/blog/89/study-modeling-fukushima-npp-p-239-and-np-239-atmospheric-dispersion/

datapoke.org/partmom/a=114

If this model is accurate, it is very disturbing. Where are all of the so-called experts who claimed these elements were too heavy to travel far from the plant site?

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avatar Rwerkh March 14, 2012 at 2:01 pm

No – it’s only portrayed as a pipe dream by those choosing not to keep up with the technology.

The research has been done, and by reputable institutions that shows that it is possible, and cost effective.

There is a study being done near me as to the effects on the grid of local generation and storage. The cost of storage is coming down fast. The storage solves the baseload argument.

Your assertion about big headlines is a sneaky weasel way of denying the reality of what has happened in Japan, and what’s more what almost happened.

Seriously, Japan was saved by a maintenance error and a gate leak!!!

How many plane crashes does it take to put 100,000 people out of their houses, kill 573 people and cost $30 billion+ dollars to sort out???

You either have no sense of scale of the situation in Japan, or choose to hide the reality for some reason???

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avatar Rwerkh March 14, 2012 at 2:24 pm

As for the right thing now – yes you only have to do what is necessary for the short term requirements.

Short term you can roll out a mix that would include existing plants, and you do what is necessary to deal with growth.

To deal with growth the renewables are a useful option. Solar is a good way to reduce much of peak demand, and mostly without any increased footprint.

Solar is also coming down in price quite rapidly, largely due to volume. What 5 yrs ago was a 20 yr payoff I can now get with a 5 yr payoff.

Of course that is subsidised, but in the next 2-3 years solar will not need subsidies to achieve a sale price that will be very attractive to the homeowner, so Rooftop PV will take off.

Rooftop PV mostly feeds the grid during peak commercial/industrial demand times as well as peak A/C times. So you get peak reduction, lower distribution overhead and no land used.

To give you some idea, in my country it would cost $8 per household to go 100% renewable, and before you make a fool of yourself like many have on this, my country has an energy intensive and successful economy.

But the point is why would you build a nuclear plant that costs big dollars when it is simply unnecessary and will only cost big dollars to tear down, as you must one day anyway?

Instead you roll out the technologies that are available now, are economically viable now, and improving in price all the time, and can manage the growth path.

Nuclear is just plain dumb, and the safety that is claimed is based on lies.

The nuclear power industry was not meant to be commercially viable on it’s own, it is Uranium based as the only way to make it economically viable was to make the defence dept pay for it. (again this is based on the actual documents)

Thorium was a better option but was killed off.

Nuclear plants are often about 30% thermally efficient, and only about 6% fuel efficient, so the fuel is largely thrown away. If Uranium is so important we just wouldn’t do that.

Uranium prices have already risen due to demand, increasing demand will make that worse.

It just makes no sense to go nuclear, and contrary to your denials, renewables are viable enough to use now.

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avatar Gary Headrick March 15, 2012 at 7:07 am

It sounds like SCE is going to restart Unit 2 before we know the CAUSE of the rapidly deteriorating tubes. As usual, I’m sure the NRC will not have a problem with it, but I sure do.
If three tubes out of 19,000 resulted in a questionable amount of radiation being released, imagine if it were thousands of tubes that ruptured. A licensed nuclear operator from San Onofre told me a chain reaction of highly pressurized tubes bursting can result in a meltdown!
Amazing how well we’ve gotten along without nuclear power for 43 days now. Maybe we don’t need them as much as we thought we did. Let’s leave them shutdown and start investing in safe and sustainable technology.
We are living on borrowed time. We’ve had many warning signs of trouble coming from many angles at San Onofre. It has the worst safety record in the USA. It is reaching its intended lifespan in 2013. It has a well documented problem with employees fearing retaliation for reporting safety concerns. It sits next to a fault line that is known to exceed the design basis of the plant.
Even if we started today it would take 5 years to cool things down enough to put all of those 4000 tons of radioactive waste into dry storage. We just need to hope that the much anticipated big earthquake (which is 150 years over-due) doesn’t come before then. It is not a matter of IF it will happen; it is a matter of WHEN.
We simply don’t need to take the risk of becoming the next Fukushima. There is still time to put the safety of all before profit for the few.

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avatar J. Gordon March 15, 2012 at 10:51 am

There is conjecture, there is theory, then there is fact and service records. The fact is the the 3 Mile Island “disaster” exposed people w/in 10 miles of the plant to about the same amount of radiation as a chest x-ray – this is because the safety systems worked as they should have. The fact is that more people died building the Hoover Damn than have died as a result of the civilian nuclear power industry in the U.S. The fact is that when you consider this state’s other initiatives to boost usage of other “environmentally-friendly” technology such as plug-in cars, electric-powered public transportation, et al, the only way to reliably supply that power at a reasonable cost, and without other highly negative impacts (like turning Nevada into a giant solar panel), is to create a diverse generation mix that includes natural gas, renewables, and nuclear. Already having somewhat of a diverse mix is why the power stays on despite San Onofre being down – power is being diverted from AZ and other parts of CA. It is primarily natural-gas generated.

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