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Here’s How Much The Government Shutdown Cost The Economy

Swampland

$24 billion.

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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.

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.

US Government Response to Leaking Aging Reactors

Yesterday, I wrote about the Associated Press’s investigation into the state of the US’s aging nuclear reactors. That report came out over 2 years ago. Nothing has been done since. In fact that investigation found something that I find more troubling than the reactor leaks. That is the US government’s response.

The AP’s investigation found that government regulators have been working closely with nuclear plant operators often lowering standards or simply ignoring violations in order to allow these aging reactors to remain in use. The AP found a recurring pattern. Some system or part would fail to meet present government standards. The nuclear indistry and regulators would do a study which showed the present standard was unnecessarily stringent and the standards were lowered. Voila! The offending plant is back in compliance. Many of these plants were built back in the 60s and 70s with 40 year licenses. As the time approached for the licenses to expire, the cost of replacing or upgrading the plants was found to be too high. The solution: the plants have been applying for and receiving 20 year license extensions.

What is the situation now 2 years later? The watering down of safety standards continues. Just this April the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) quietly posted new relaxed health guidelines in the event of a radiological attack or nuclear accident. The document suggests that in the aftermath of such events health guidelines could be made thousands of times less stringent than usual. One example should be sufficient to show the spirit of the new guidelines. For drinking water, the document refers to the International Atomic Energy Guide which suggests no intervention is necessary until drinking water contamination reaches 81,000 picocuries per liter. That is 27,000 times higher than the EPA standard of 3 picocuries per liter.

In the wake of Fukushima, we need to be strengthening our standards not weakening them. The regulators seem to be living in some kind of Orwellian world where government fiat makes it so. A reactor doesn’t meet safety standards, just lower the standards and by government decree a substandard facility is now safe. Such an irresponsible cavalier approach to regulating the country’s nuclear plants only spells disaster. If you are an American, you need to write your congressman and senators and demand that all nuclear power plants in the US regardless of age need to pass the same stringent standards or be taken offline. And standards need to be strengthened not weakened.

To continue down the present course of regulators accommodating operators of old creaky plants with corroding cracking parts is the single greatest health threat to the American public, mostly done quietly behind closed doors. Stand up and let them know you are not going to tolerate this kind of laxness towards threats to you and your family’s health.

What dangers do aging nuclear plants pose to the environment?

Much attention has been focused on the Fukushima nuclear power plant and the dangers posed by radiation leaking from the plant. Many people thousands of miles from Fukushima are concerned about how the radiation being released may affect them or their children. I share those concerns. However, there are other dangers that should receive our attention as well.

An investigation done by the associated press published 2 years ago showed there had been leaks of radiation at a shocking 75% of U.S. nuclear plants. The most common material released was tritium and the most common cause was corrosion in piping in aging plants.

The corrosion of piping also raises other issues. Much of the piping lies underground where leaks can go undetected for years. One plant may have as much as 1 mile of underground piping. Usually this piping is encased in concrete, but after decades of use, corrosion is inevitable. This also raises the issue of piping used in cooling systems leaking and causing overheating of the fuel cores themselves.

These aging plants post a serious danger. The utilities that operate them depend on them for energy production and have little incentive to spend the money to replace aging piping. Unfortunately, often nothing is done until disaster strikes. New Orlean is a good example. It was known that New Orlean’s levee system could prove inadequate in the face of a major hurricane. Nothing was done until afterHurricane Katrina devastated the city.

The aging nuke plants in the U.S. pose a very real danger. Let’s hope this issue is addressed before there is a major leak or worse.

Typhoon brings heavy rains to Fukushima

Typhoon Man-yi struck Japan on Monday causing at least 2 fatalities. The typhoon also brought heavy rainfall to the Dai-ichi Nuclear Plant in Fukushima. Workers pumped water out from the storage tank areas where it is believed contaminated water has been seeping into the groundwater. “But we decided to release the water into sea as we reached a conclusion that it can be regarded as rainfall after we monitored levels of radiation,” Tepco spokesman Yo Koshimizu said.

The released water contained strontium and other radioactive substances. According to the Tepco spokesman, the water had radiation readings of 24 berequels per litre, below the 30 berequels per liter limit set by the Japanese government for any releases into the environment. However Koshimizu stated the actual amount of water that was released is unknown.

This just highlights the precarious situation at the plant. If the typhoon had been stronger and approached closer, there could have been much more radiation released. The already heavily damaged buildings of reactors 1,2,3 and 4 have spent fuel pools with thousands of fuel assemblies sitting on top of them.

It is playing radioactive russian roulette to not firmly secure those buildings from possible natural disasters. Removal of the fuel assemblies stored in the pools is set to begin within the next 2 months. It will be a slow, dangerous and painstaking procedure. A collapse of any of the 4 buildings could cause a release of radiation worse than Chernobyl. Just doing some shoring up of the buildings and hoping they don’t collapse before removal of the fuel rods is accomplished is not good enough. Everything possible must be done to secure those buildings. To not do so is testing fate.

One typhoon that did not even hit the plant at full force caused Tepco to release unknown amounts of contaminated water into the sea. What happens when a bigger typhoon comes full force at the plant?

First International Expert Appointed By Tepco

More than 2 years after the Great Hanshin Earthquake and Tsunami devestated the Tohoku region of Japan and caused the triple meltdown of 3 reactors at the Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant, Tepco has appointed an international expert as an outside advisor.

Lake Barrett led the clean up effort after the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident. He will now work as an advisor to Tepco in the clean up and decommissioning process. Mr. Barrett is not without controversy. He recently wrote an article for atomic scientists, where he expressed the opinion that water stored at the site should be released into the ocean after it has been filtered to bring the radiation down to safe levels. He is of ghe opinion that the current tanks cannot permanently store the water and building more permanent structures would just be a waste of resources and counterproductive.

In other words, Tepco’s only effort at seeking international help is to find someone who endorses what they already wish to do. I am not impressed. My idea of an international assistance would be an international panel of experts who would review the situation and make recommendations. It seems to me like Mr. Barrett’s appointment is just another in a series of moves to try and manipulate opinion without offering anything new.

The Pacific Ocean belongs to all of mankind. One Japanese fisherman opposed to the dumping put it like this, “They tell us the dumping is safe, but they also told us nuclear power is safe.” Dumping into the Pacific may be the most convenient and economical way to dispose of the thousands of tons of contaminated water being stored at the site, but that does not mean it is the wise one. The decision should not be left up to the Japanese alone, the international community should oppose the further dumping of any radioactive products into the Pacific and come up with a safer alternative. Mr. Barrett is just one man and does not represent the rest of the world regardless of his expertise or credentials.

Tepco Scrambles at Damage Control

Tepco was scrambling Friday to do damage control after one of its senior executives contradicted the Prime Minister’s assurances that the situation was “under control”.

The executive, Kazuhiko Yamashita was speaking at a hearing in Fukushima prefecture. When asked about Prime Minister Abe’s remarks to the International Olympic Committee, he said, “I think the current situation is that it is not under control.”

Tepco later issued a statement that read :“It is our understanding that the Prime Minister intended his statement ‘the situation is under control’ to mean that the impact of radioactive materials is limited to the area within the port of the power station, and that the densities of radioactive materials on the surrounding waters are far below the referential densities and have not been on continuous upward trends. According to this understanding, we share the same views.” The company also said that Yamashita was aware that the contaminated water was only affecting the inner part of the harbor.

It seems Tepco and the Japanese government are more concerned about appearances than substance. When someone comes forward and speaks honestly, it is downplayed and spun to mean something else. It is long past time for word games and subtleties. The people of Japan and the entire international community deserve a frank assessment of the situation. It is natural for any government to try and reassure its people in the face of difficulty, but when those reassurances veer from the truth, it only causes more anxiety. I hope Mr.Abe will stop playing politics and be more open and honest when he addresses this issue. Not only Japan, but the whole world is listening.

Japanese government voices outrage over French cartoons

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed outrage over 2 cartoons published in a French satirical magazine, Le Canard Enchaine.

One cartoon depicts multi-limbed sumo wrestling in front of the wrecked nuclear plant as an announcer in radiation protective gear says, “How wonderful! Thanks to Fukushima sumo is now an olympic sport!”

In the second cartoon 2 people in protective suits, one holding a geiger counter. The caption reads, “The pool for the Olympics is already constructed in Fukushima.

Suga said the cartoons were hurtful to victims and gave the wrong impression of the water problems at Fukushima. The Japanese government formally protested to the magazine.

This is not the first such incident between Japan and France. Last year the French TV channel, France-2 showed an altered picture of Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima with 4 arms. The program said it was the “Fukushima effect” that allowed Kawashima to block goals so effectively in Japan’s 1-0 defeat over France. The station later apologized for the incident.

I have to say I too find such gallows humor highly offensive. Japanese culture has no tradition of black humor and their outrage is understandable. Unfortunately, in a democracy, French satirists have the freedom to be insensitive jerks if they wish to be.

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