Monthly Archives: September 2013

One of America’s worst laws and you’ve probably never heard of it

It’s the 1950s. America is enjoying a huge postwar boon. Detroit is the 4th largest city in America with the highest per capita income of any city in America. Elvis is beginning his reign as king of rock and roll.

President Eisenhower launches his “Atoms For Peace” program. The US congress passes the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. It is believed that nuclear energy offers a nearly inexhaustible supply of cheap energy. The new law is created to remove restrictions on materials and technology to allow for the commercial development of nuclear power.

At first development of the nuclear power industry is slow. The technology is simply too dangerous. No company is willing to take on the risk of running a nuclear reactor, because of the potential liability should something goes wrong. And no insurer is willing to insure such a venture.

In order to remove these impairments and give corporations an incentive to invest in nuclear power, congress passes the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnification Act of 1957. The law sets up an insurance fund which all operators of nuclear reactors pay into. In the event of a nuclear accident, the operator’s total liability is limited to the amount paid into the fund. In other words, if there is a major accident at a nuclear power plant, the operator would pay only a small fraction of the actual costs of cleanup, the US taxpayer would foot the rest of the bill.

The law was originally intended to last 10 years but has been extended several times, the last being in 2005 when it was given a 20 year extension to 2025. The act also completely indemnifies any contractor working for the Department of Energy even in the case of willful gross negligence. In other words the DOE hires a corporation to manage a nuclear facility building bombs and no matter how poorly they manage the environmental safety issues involved in running such a facility, their liability is zero.

The nuclear industry loves this law and why wouldn’t they? The government is essentially guaranteeing they will pay only a fraction of the costs of a nuclear accident. The law essentially transfers the risks of running a nuclear reactor from the operator to the American taxpayer. The nuclear power industry continually tells the public how safe nuclear energy is. If it’s so safe, why do they need this legal protection?

This is simply an unjust bad law. If nuclear power is so dangerous that no insurer in their right mind will touch it, then maybe it’s just too dangerous period. And the provisions in the law for DOE contractors are simply ludicrous. An operator of a DOE facility can cut corners, violate safety and environmental laws and there is no way to hold them accountable for it. The Price-Anderson Act is simply bad legislation (unless you’re in the nuclear industry) and should be repealed at once. It is just another example of the American government putting profit over people and corporate financial health over public health.

Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors are now idle but for how long

Earlier this month, the last 2 of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors were shutdown for routine inspection with no schedule for if or when they would be restarted. This marked just the second time in decades that Japan was without nuclear power. The first was in 2011, when all the country’s reactors were shutdown for inspection after the nuclear accident at Tepco’s Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant in Fukushima.

On Friday, Tepco applied to Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority for safety checks at 2 of its reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power plant in Niigata Prefecture. This brings the number of reactors seeking safety checks from the NRA to 14.

Tepco spent more than 2 months seeking local support for the move. On Thursday Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida gave the utility the go ahead to apply for the safety checks.

Economic and fiscal policy minister, Akira Amari, welcomed the news, saying,”It is a good thing for nuclear power safety, for the stable supply of electricity and for the local economy.”

Tepco hopes bringing the reactors back online will help bring the utility back into the black and show its creditors it is making progress in improving its business. The utility hopes to restart more of its reactors in the future.

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant is the largest in the world. It also has a history of trouble. After a 6.8 earthquake struck the area in 2007, the plant experienced leaks and other malfunctions and was shutdown for inspection and repair. It has since undergone seismic upgrades that Tepco believes will allow the plant to withstand future earthquakes.

Excuse me while I strike my palm to my forehead. This plant is located on the coast of the Sea of Japan in a very active earthquake zone. How does Tepco choose their locations to build plants? 1) In an active earthquake zone- check 2) Located near the sea-check

I’m appalled that the government of Japan is applauding the possibility of restarting reactors at the plant. The plant might be vital to Tepco’s finances, but it is a menace to the people of Japan. With Fukushima still contaminating the environment more than 2 and a half years after the accident, you would think Japan would have learned its lesson by now.

High levels of radiation found in new well at Fukushima plant

The Asahi Shimbun is reporting that high levels of radiation were found in a recently dug well on the seaward side of the plant between reactors 1 and 2. Radiation levels of 400,000 becquerels per liter were found in samples taken from the well Tepco reported on Friday. Contaminants found in the water included strontium.

Strontium is known for being carcinogenic. It tends to mimic calcium and is stored in the bones where it can lead to leukemia or bone cancer.

Readings of 900,000 becquerels per liter were detected in a different well in the same area on July 5.

These two incidents appear to indicate that highly radioactive water flowing thru the basements of the reactors and underground tunnels are escaping into the groundwater.

These findings belie Prime Minister Abe’s continued assurances that the situation is “under control” and effects of radioactive contamination are “perfectly blocked”. The truth of the matter appears that little or nothing has changed since the leakage of radioactive water was first disclosed back in July.

The public realizes this is a difficult problem to solve and may take time to do so. But the public also expects accurate information and assessment of the situation, not meaningless reassurances from Japan’s “Dishonest Abe”.

Japan Agrees To French Help In Dealing With Fukushima

According to ABC News, Japan has made an agreement with France, accepting French help in the process of decommissioning and dismantling the Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant in Fukushima. After 2 and a half years of refusing foreign assistance, this marks a change in Japanese policy.

The agreement was struck between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and French President Francois Hollande after they met on the sidelines of the United Nations meeting in New York. No details as to exactly how the French will help have yet to be disclosed. However France is a leader in nuclear power technology and certainly will bring expertise to the situation.

I believe this is welcome news. The Russians have said that any nuclear accident is an international not national problem. They have also offered to help but no agreement has yet been reached. I think with their experience in dealing with Chernobyl, Japan would be well served to bring the Russians on board. In any event, let’s hope that the agreement between Japan and France marks the start of international cooperation in finding solutions to the many challenges Fukushima poses. This situation affects the whole world and the brightest minds on the planet should be brought in to address it.

Japanese Government Spent Only 40% of Funds Allocated For Fukushima Cleanup

According to an article in the Asahi Shimbun, the Japanese central government in fiscal 2012 withheld more than 60 per cent of the ¥255 billion ($2.57 billion) allocated for radioactive cleanup projects overseen by 36 municipal governments in Fukushima Prefecture.

The central government deposits fund with the prefectural government, which pays for the cost of the work and then sends the bill to Tepco, the operator of the Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant.

Documents from the prefectural government showed that only 40 per cent of the allocated funds were used. 32 municipal governments carried over unused funds with 17 of them using less than half.

Apparently the main reason for these unused funds is taking Tepco’s ability to pay into account. Officials in the municipalities also say that the Environment Ministry often rejects the clean up methods proposed. There has also been delays in finding land for temporarily storing waste. Another issue is a shortage of workers to do the cleanup.

The Environment Ministry holds meetings with municipal government officials to decide on clean up methods. Discussions were held on 284 cleanup issues in fiscal 2012. It can take up to 6 months for a decision to be reached.

Asahi spoke with an official from the Environment Ministry’s Fukushima Office For Environmental Restoration, who said Tepco’s opinion must be taken into account when making decisions. “We cannot approve methods that TEPCO does not approve,” the official explained.

The paper also spoke to a senior official in the central government who agreed with the Environment Ministry’s position. “It’s only natural to negotiate matters so that TEPCO would not refuse payments,” the senior official said.

Tepco has so far refused to pay 15.9 billion yen of the 21.2 billion yen in bills from the central government, citing ambiguities in the decontamination methods. The central government will likely end up picking up the tab for the unpaid bills.

One official from the Fukushima city government was quoted as saying, “The cleanup processes will speed up only if the municipal governments are given the authority to make decisions.”

There is distrust of the central government among municipal government officials who feel the government is being overly strict in regulating the cleanup to lessen the use of funds.

So once again we see Tepco as a hindrance to the decontamination work in Fukushima. And again we see the lack of urgency on the part of the central government. So what if there’s “a bit” of radioactive stuff lying around, we’ll get around to it eventually. Such a blatant disregard towards the public health is both irresponsible and reprehensible.

As far as Tepco’s ability or willingness to pay the expenses of the cleanup, that is completely irrelevant. The responsibility of protecting its citizens from threats to the public health rest squarely on the shoulders of the Japanese government. Does not the government have the authority to force Tepco to pay seizing its assets if necessary?

Why does the central government show more deference towards Tepco than it does towards victims of the accident?Tens of thousands of evacuees are still living in evacuation centers, while the government callously drags its heels on decontamination work that might allow their return. The government can find billions of dollars for building olympic facilities while it scrimps on spending money for the important decontamination work.

It is long past time for the Japanese government to make resolving the issued surrounding the nuclear accident its number one priority. The full resources of the Japanese government must be made available for dealing with the numerous problems in Fukushima. And after more than 2 and a half years, the Japanese government needs to wake up and approach Fukushima with the sense of urgency the situation deserves.

Japanese town protests against Prime Minister Abe’s assertions

Namie is a small town in Fukushima prefecture. After the Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant suffered meltdowns in 3 of its reactors, the entire town of 21,000 people were forced to evacuate. Half the town sits within the mandatory 20 km evacuation zone which surrounds the crippled nuclear plant.

After Prime Minister Abe toured the plant and stated the contaminated water is perfectly blocked by the plant’s artificial bay, the town’s council decided to protest Abe’s statements. The council unanimously adopted a resolution stating Abe’s remarks conflicted with facts on the ground and that the 300 tons of contaminated water leaking from the plant daily was a “serious problem”. The statement also said radioactive water is “far from being controlled or blocked completely.” The statement went on to voice its anger saying, “Members of the town cannot help feeling furious at the government and TEPCO which neglected Fukushima,”

It would appear that people living in the area, whose lives are more directly affected by the situation at the plant hold a much different point of view from Abe’s. As stated previously in this blog, the member of Japan’s upper house who represents Fukushima Prefecture in the country’s Diet, Teruhiko Mashiko, went so far as to say Abe lied in his presentation to the Olympic committee. I have yet to see any evidence that contradicts Mr.Mashiko’s statement.

Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s Meaningless Publicity Stunt

Last Thursday Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe donned a protective suit and toured the crippled Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant in Fukushima. While touring the plant he asked Tepco to present him with a timeline for solving the problem of leaking radioactively contaminated water and suggested that all 6 reactors be eventually decommissioned.

There are 6 reactors at the plant. 1,2,3,and 4 have been heavily damaged but 5 and 6 are still in tact. Abe urged that 5 and 6 also be scrapped. Tepco responded that it would respond to Abe’s requests by the end of the year.

After finishing the tour, Mr. Abe then repeated reassurances that “effects from cintaminated water have been perfectly blocked within the bay.”

Is this the Japanese government taking a lead in solving the problems? Mr. Abe offered absolutely nothing new. All he did was order Tepco to come up with a timeline for solving the mess. The same Tepco that has botched the cleanup process from the beginning.

Abe’s tour of the plant was nothing but a publicity stunt designed to make people think he is actually doing something. In reality he demonstrated no leadership whatsoever and just passed the buck to Tepco which has demonstrated it is not up to job.

Mr. Abe, the Japanese government is ultimately responsible for the safety of its citizens and others worldwide affected by the situation in Fukushima. So tell us what is your plan for dealing with the contaminated water and what is your timetable for implementing a solution. No one was impressed by your publicity stunt. We want real solutions not photo ops.

Japanese Lawmaker says Abe lied to Olympic committee

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared before the International Olympic Committee that the situation at Fukushima was “under control” and that “effects from the contaminated water have been perfectly blocked within the (man made) bay” adjacent to the nuclear plant.

After touring the plant on Thursday, Abe repeated his assurances. He told reporters, “effects from cintaminated water have been perfectly blocked within the bay. By stating this clearly, I want to bring to an end harmful rumors about Fukushima.”

Other government officials have backed Abe’s claims, pointing to monitoring results which show radiation levels within the bay within safety limits set by the government. However, some experts say the levels only remain low because seawater entering the bay is diluting its contents.

In fact Tepco itself admitted that a large volume of water was escaping the bay and entering the ocean. According to a simulation Tepco ran, a maximum of 10 trillion becquerels of radioactive strontium-90 and 20 trillion becquerels of cesium-137 may have already reached the ocean. That doesn’t sound “perfectly contained” to me.

Teruhiko Mashiko, a member of Japan’s diet’s upper house and vice president of the opposition party. The Democratic Party of Japan, said in an interview with The Japan Times, “During the presentation for the Olympic Games, Prime Minister Abe told a lie. This is a big problem. The government should invest more people, money and technologies to turn their lies into truths.” Mr. Mashiko represents Fukushima Prefecture in the diet.

Mashiko has voiced his concerns about the storage tanks holding contaminated water at the plant. Of the more than 1000 tanks at the site, 350 are of the less sturdy flange type instead of the more durable welded tanks. Of the 350, 5 have already sprung leaks. Mashiko also claimed that last spring, a local tank manufactured warned that the tanks were not very good quality and could start linking within 2 years. Tepco approached the tank maker, asking for 6 low cost tanks to be made within a month. The company refused because the quality would have been poor and the contract conditions were bad.

At recent news conferences, a Tepco spokesman has repeatedly refused to comment on Mashiko’s remarks or give any information about storage tank contracts. He stated Tepco does not disclose information about private contracts. Many believe Tepco has been using the cheaper tanks to try and save money on the growing costs of the operation.

Instead of making blanket statements and giving empty reassurances, the Japanese government should be taking action. The area of the plant has been hit by an earthquake and a typhoon in the past week alone. Every single one of those 350 cheaply built tanks should be replaced immediately. The Japanese government needs to stop relying on Tepco to manage the situation. It is abundantly clear that Tepco is not up to the job, nor does it have the confidence or trust of the public.

As far as Mr. Abe is concerned, I think we should start calling him “Dishonest Abe”. (For non Americans “Honest Abe” was a title given to American President Abraham Lincoln.) We need to see actions not just words from Dishonest Abe. Declaring dangerous situations safe and under control is not just dishonest, it is dangerous. It is time for Dishonest Abe to come up with real solutions and not empty platitudes.
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US advice to Japan on avoiding groundwater contamination ignored

Just 2 months after the tsunami caused a triple meltdown at the Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant, the US strongly urged Japan to take immediate steps to avoid groundwater contamination. That advice was ignored.

The advice was given in a memo to Japanese government officials. It urged the building of a barrier wall to prevent the flow of groundwater into the plant. The operator of the plant, Tepco opposed the plan calling it infeasible. Tepco was worried that the news of such a costly project would rattle investors in the company and raise the specter of bankruptcy. The Japanese government sided with Tepco and the plan was shelved.

Now more than 2 years later, the Japanese government has pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to create an ice wall to stop the flow of water into the plant which then flows into the Pacific. The ice wall will take nearly 2 years to build while every day 300 tons of highly contaminated water flows into the Pacific.

This issue demonstrates the fundamental flaw in Japan’s approach from the very beginning of the crisis. That flaw is this leaving a financially distressed, for profit company in control of the clean up and decommissioning of the reactors. The Japanese government should have taken charge of the situation from the beginning. Tepco had neither the resources or the proper motivation to manage the situation. Time and time again Tepco has cut corners to save on costs, such as using poorly made storage tanks to contain the contaminated water. 5 of those tanks have already leaked and surely more will follow, since the tanks were not made for long term use.

We are witnessing the daily polluting of the Pacific all because of the concerns of one company about its financial well being. But ultimately the fault rests with the Japanese government in shirking its responsibility to take control and manage the situation. This ceased to be just Tepco’s problem the minute the accident occurred.

Medical Marvel: Man gets drunk by eating

Talk about beer bellies! This guy’s belly is a distillery.

A 61 year old Texas man visited an emergency room at a local hospital complaining of dizziness. The doctors thought the man to be drunk and took a blood alcohol reading. The man wasn’t just drunk, he was smashed. His blood alcohol reading was 0.37 more than 5 times the legal limit for driving in Texas. And yet the man swore he hadn’t had a droo. Doctors figured the man was simply lying to mask a drinking problem.

Dr. Justin McCarthy and a nurse, Barbara Cordell decided to look into the case. They kept the man hospitalized for 24 hours and fed him a high carbohydrate diet. They found that even without ingesting any alcohol the man’s blood alcohol level still rose. In an article in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, McCarthy and Cordell wrote they believed the man had “Auto-Brewery Syndrome”. Basicly the man had an infection that caused a large amount of yeast in his stomach. Whenever he ate carbohydrates, the yeast would cause them to breakdown and ferment producing ethanol.They treated the man by giving him anti-fungal drugs and putting him on a low carb diet.

I wonder if this means teetotalers should refrain from eating pasta….

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