America sent U.S. Navy sailors on the USS Ronald Reagan to Japan for support and help with the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. After a few days off the coast, a snow fall fell upon the ship, a snowball fight between sailors on deck and contaminated water used on-board, many after returning home were reported to have thyroid cancer, Leukemia and brain tumors. If this is true and the report about 71 sailors only in their twenties, having radiation sickness caused by Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy plants that exploded, this is a horror. Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) downplayed the dangers of nuclear radiation leaking from the site initially, thus causing many to enter into harms way.
Nature and humankind is damaged far greater by the nuclear power plants exploding then by a tsunami. Seals have been reported to be losing hair and dying off the coast of Alaska and California. Also Sea Lions, Polar Bears, Bald Eagles, Sea Stars, Turtles, King and Sockeye Salmon, Herring, Anchovies and Sardines in the Western part of North America are suffering and dying in large numbers. If this is from Fukushima Daiichi's disaster, then we have contaminated a major food supply.
We humans are our own worst enemy. We drill up oil in the gulf and it leaks into the gulf coast. We polluted the waters of the east coast, and now the west cost and Gulf of Alaska may need to post warnings.
Therefore, my blog posting written back on April 20, 2011 is published once more below. With today's news about the sailors and wildlife, the words I wrote 3 years ago about nuclear power, hold an unpropitious truth.
Perhaps our prayers have prevented a full melt down at Japan's nuclear plants, but one thing is for sure - Man's illusion of playing God or at least having control over our planet's environment, evaporated as the first plant exploded and then the other.
You may now say the previous paragraph was a rash statement. After all, nuclear power is safe, right? Please allow me to substantiate why I stand by those words:
In 1979 I interned with an Environmental Company that was conducting several studies at a new nuclear power plant that had yet to start operations. These studies were to have results "before" operating so they can be compared to "after" starting up. The plant to this day has never operated to create energy from nuclear power, but that is another story.
This nuclear power plant was reported to have a long operating life of forty years. A plant engineer told that to me very proudly. I eventually asked that engineer two questions. The first was, "What occurs after forty years, reconditioning of the reactor or replacement?" The answer depended on different variables. If necessary, the contaminated core could be sealed up and the plant would be closed down. Welcome to the real world of making money today, leaving major problems for tomorrow. How fast is forty years? Well if this plant did open, today it would be about 9 years away from its expected life span expiring.
The second and last question I was able to ask was, "What are you going to do with forty years of radioactive waste?" This time I remember the answer having a smug overtone. I was told that the first twenty years of waste was going to be buried right there on the property by the nuclear power plant. I thought to myself, not far from a fairly large body of water and not far "above" the domestic drinking water table. I was then informed that the second twenty years of radioactive waste would be shipped to a facility in another state and buried within a mountain. Additionally, I was told shipping the waste out of state would not be necessary, because in twenty years we will have the technology to breakdown the radioactive waste to harmless levels.
My response caused my brief tour to end abruptly. I had spoken words similar to the following, "It takes Mother Nature over 5,000 years to complete one half-life* of radioactive waste and the stuff can still kill us, but we are going to figure out how to make it harmless in twenty years?"
*One half-life is the amount of time for the atoms, that are radioactive, to disintegrate to half of their original radioactive level. However, even then that radioactive level can still kill humans.
Now this is the concerning part. That line the engineer tried to sell me 32 years ago, is being used again by a "few" politicians and people in the nuclear industry. I personally was told this line again by a young, want-to-be-a-politician. When I heard, "In twenty years we will have the technology to make radioactive waste safe" my mouth dropped open.
Because of this complacency presented to me 32 years ago and the naive beliefs presented today, I do not believe that I made any rash statement. So the question that begged to be asked then and now is:
What are you going to do with the waste?**
Also how can we be sure the containment packages for the waste will not fail? How can we be sure the stored waste is secured not just from nature, but man himself?
**UPDATE: As of 2020, significant improvements and changes have been made in waste storage and new 4th generation nuclear plants will have less waste and reuse old waste. My concerns were always about the waste because we were building the cheaper boiling-water reactors that produce more waste than a pressurized-water reactor. Sadly, when a new reactor that had far less waste and was proven to prevent the same kind of disaster at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the Clinton administration in the 1990s ended the program and killed the budget. So due to lies by the process of omission and politics, the newest generation nuclear reactor was Axed. This Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) achieved safe, efficient, and low-waste nuclear energy.
Nevertheless, let us continue to examine additional facts:
***UPDATE: The word "excess" was used and is always questionable. Especially now that reports from the UN, WHO and several other organizations state the death toll directly related to this disaster is less than 100 people. Of course, just one death is a horror. Additionally reports from 2006, state the debatable number of 16,000 deaths could be realized over time for the entire continent of Europe. Also note, Chernobyl had no containment structure!
From this disaster the country of Italy made a decision to shut down all of their nuclear power plants and they did. Within years the made up for the difference in power with wind turbines and solar. Then prior to Japan's ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Italy had a committee begin to explore the possibility of using nuclear power again. Within days of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plants exploding, the decision for Italy's nuclear future was made. There will be no nuclear power in Italy, they will find a better way.
A mother of a 32 year old worker at the Fukushima Daiichi facility spoke to reporters while crying. Her son and his fellow workers accept that some of them will probably die from radiation sickness within a few weeks. They accept this in hopes to save the lives of others and their nation.
Now as all this is occurring, I have to endure radio commercials from owners of nuclear power plants. I say endure because of the way the words in the commercial are spun. Words like, "Our nuclear power plant was built to withstand an earthquake 100 times more than the strongest earthquake in this area". Saying 100 times more, does not mean much because the Richter Scale indicates a tenfold increase between whole-numbers. A level 6 earthquake is ten times greater than a level 5 earthquake. The difference between a level 7 and a level 9 earthquake increases 100 times. So if the strongest earthquake recorded in the area is a 5.2, and then a level 8.5 earthquake hits, you are well beyond the "100 times stronger than" statement in that commercial.
What does this all mean? After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe, this means that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must wake up a see the writing on the wall and in the air, on the rain drops, and across the crops. No more nuclear power plants in the world will also come with a bonus when we implement other ways of producing energy. This will set a precedent and other countries will no longer be able to use nuclear power as an excuse. Any program to obtain enriched uranium will be seen as a facade.
We are better than this nuclear risk, because we already have the technology such as fuel cells from our space program. We just have to make them readily available. When the price to pay for nuclear power includes our own lives and our planet's ability to support us, then it is time to find another way.
Bill Lauto, GTG