Beyond Nuclear International

The wrong crisis stopped the Olympics

Radiation risks couldn’t kill the Games, but Covid-19 has

The Japanese government allowed 50,000 people to cluster around the Olympic flame, then hesitated to postpone the Games, until the IOC (and a reluctant Abe) called them off until 2021. Now those concerned about the persistent radiological contamination, which could harm athletes and spectators, have one more year to organize to stop the Tokyo Olympics altogether.

By Linda Pentz Gunter

On Saturday, March 21, 50,000 people queued up at Sendai station to see the Olympic flame displayed in a cauldron there. Packed together, not all of them wearing masks, the eager spectators waited as long as three hours to glimpse a flame that should have been extinguished in Japan months ago. 

Sendai is just 112 kilometers up the Japanese coast from the stricken Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear reactors that exploded and melted down on March 11, 2011.

Around the same time that those 50,000 people, and the authorities who govern them, failed to take the novel coronavirus pandemic seriously, Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was making lukewarm noises about maybe possibly postponing the Olympic Games.

After some skillful negotiating designed to spare Japan embarrassment, that decision was finally made on March 24, when the International Olympic Committee, and the Abe government, each announced that the Games would be postponed until the summer of 2021.

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The 50,000 who queued to see the Olympic torch in Fukushima will not see Japanese Olympians or any others this summer. (Photo: Kyriazis/Creative Commons)

Yes, it was beyond stupidity to have continued contemplating an event that would have brought tens of thousands of corona-carrying athletes and spectators to Tokyo and beyond. But it was worse that the persistent radiological contamination of Japan in the now 9-year long aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster didn’t cancel the Games months ago. Or better still, disqualify Japan’s bid in the first place. Things in Japan won’t be significantly better in that regard one year from now. But radiation remains untouchable as a topic.

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Put people and health before nukes

Government should wash its hands of Trident during coronavirus crisis

The Pentagon is working on developing new nuclear warheads. Britain, totally under the US nuclear thumb, is lining up to buy them. But while both governments pour billions of dollars into these destructive projects their health services are sinking in a time of pandemic crisis. That now all has to change.

By Ken Livingstone

With the ongoing coronavirus crisis, these are frightening times for millions of people here in Britain and around the world.

It is important to note that pandemics have been designated as tier-one threats to our security for many years.

Successive national-security risk assessments have rightly identified such human-health crises as worthy of the highest level of concern and planning, so why has Britain seemingly found itself unprepared for this crisis?

We had insufficient equipment, staff and infrastructure, and have been widely seen internationally as being slow to respond to the spread of the virus, while failing to implement fully World Health Organisation suggestions.

Despite the tier-one designation of pandemics, for many years totally wrong priorities have seen billions wasted on nuclear weapons rather than preparing for situations such as we now find ourselves in with the spread of Covid-19, or indeed climate-change emergencies including severe flooding.

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Outgoing CND General Secretary, Kate Hudson, has frequently spoken out against Trident. (Photo: Garry Knight/Wikimedia Commons)

It was good therefore to see that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has launched a vital campaign for the government to wash its hands of Trident so we can begin to spend the money saved to address the real security threats we face.*

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Out of control?

While industry looks for handouts, NRC gives nod to reduced safety oversight

By Linda Pentz Gunter

It was no surprise really, when the first to line up with outstretched palms as Congress debated and formulated its now passed $2 trillion coronavirus-prompted emergency relief bill, were nuclear corporations.

The sinking nuclear power industry spotted an economic lifeline and couldn’t wait to make a grab for it. The Nuclear Energy Institute, the lobbying arm of the nuclear power industry, rushed off a letter to congressional leaders asking for a 30% tax credit and waivers for existing regulatory fees.

One of NEI’s apparently needy recipients is the financial fiasco known as Vogtle 3 and 4, the new nuclear power plant construction project in Georgia, which is already more than five years behind schedule and is projected to cost $28 billion, double the original predicted price.

NRC at Vogtle

The nuclear industry wants federal funding to keep construction going at the over-budget, behind schedule and unneeded Vogtle 3 and 4 nuclear power plant site in Georgia. (Photo: NRC)

The two new Georgia reactors aren’t needed, and their continued slow progress is by no means a matter of national security right now — or at all. But the NEI would like to see a nice fat grant go to Georgia Power to continue construction there, even though the company has already received two federal loan guarantees totaling $12 billion. 

In addition, the company is also gouging ratepayers in advance to cover the costs for the two reactors through the state’s Construction Work in Progress law, with no guarantee that they will ever reach completion.

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Nuclear flame fizzles in Japan

But leaders still cling to failing nuclear power

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the “nuclear village” hoped the Olympics would normalize Japan’s radiological aftermath. But the Fukushima effect has meant zero nuclear exports, leading the government to shore up the nuclear industry at home at the expense of renewables.

By Cassandra Jeffery and M.V. Ramana

Last week, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to delay the 2020 Summer Olympic Games because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they will keep the Olympic flame burning in Fukushima Prefecture. The torch relay route was to have begun there, a poor decision, given the meltdown of multiple reactors in Fukushima nine years ago in March 2011.  While radiation levels may have declined since 2011, there are still hotspots in the prefecture, including at the sports complex where the torch relay would have begun and along the relay route.

The persistence of this contamination, and the economic fallout of the reactor accidents, should remind us of the hazardous nature of nuclear power. Simultaneously, changes in the economics of alternative sources of energy in the last decade invite us to reconsider how countries, including Japan, should generate electricity in the future.

Japan is not alone in having experienced severe nuclear accidents. The 1986 Chernobyl accident also contaminated very large areas in Ukraine and Belarus. As in Japan, many, many people had to be evacuated, about 116,000 according to the 2000 report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. Many of the evacuees never did return; thirty-four years after the accident, thousands of square kilometres remain closed off for human inhabitation.

Events such as these are, naturally, traumatic and result in people viewing nuclear power as a risky technology, a view that has led to persistent and widespread public opposition around the world.

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There is widespread opposition to nuclear power in Japan as well as around the world. (Photo: 保守 for Wikimedia Commons)

This opposition is evident in Japan too, where opinion polls show overwhelming lack of support for the government’s plans to restart nuclear plants that have been shut down after the Fukushima accidents. One poll from February 2019 found 56 percent of respondents were opposed to resuming nuclear operations; only 32 percent in favour of resumption. Other polls show significant local opposition, one example coming out of the Miyagi Prefecture, where some local residents have filed an injunction to ban the Miyagi governor from approving a utility plan to restart a nearby reactor.

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Nuclear lessons from the coronavirus

No place for atomic power amidst climate chaos and pandemics

By Linda Pentz Gunter

There is nothing like being shut in your own home, alone with your human and animal nearest-and-dearests, to focus the mind on the crises that now swirl outside.

And it is “crises” in the plural, because while all the focus is of course on the novel coronavirus, there is one giant crisis steamrollering toward us that will wreak orders of magnitude more devastation, but somehow does not merit the same kind of emergency action. And that, of course, is climate change.

Reflecting on the coronavirus pandemic from my peaceful office eyrie, with no traffic rolling past my windows and only the now audible city birdsong to distract me, it is clear how we got climate change. It is exactly the same mentality that brought us the covid crisis. Recognize a problem; assume it might just right itself; then assume it might not get as bad as predicted; then realize it’s pretty bad but do too little to stop it; then confront a crisis now impossible to adequately mitigate.

Denial seems to be one of the greatest of human achievements. It’s also why we have nuclear power. It will be too cheap to meter. An accident will never happen. We will solve the radioactive waste problem later.

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Storm surges and sea level rise are an inevitable risk to all coastal properties, but especially nuclear power plants. (Photo: Creative Commons)

With the climate crisis upon us, it should be patently obvious that building new nuclear power plants anywhere is not an intelligent plan. Sea level rise is a certainty, and fires, flooding, storm surges, and earthquakes are likely to increase both in frequency and force. Building power plants that contain an inventory of long-lived lethally radioactive fuel in such an environment is insane. And then to build them on shorelines, as is currently happening at Hinkley, and is threatened for similar settings at Sizewell and possibly Wylfa — all of them in the UK— is irresponsible in the extreme.

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Nuclear espionage

Cyber security should be a concern at nuclear plants worldwide

By M.V. Ramana and Lauren J. Borja

On October 28, 2019 a computer security analyst tweeted that computer hackers had gained “Domain controller-level access at Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant” (KKNPP) in Tamil Nadu.

KKNPP has two operational nuclear reactors that had been connected to the electric grid in October 2013 and August 2016.

The tweet was based on an information drop on the Dtrack virus at VirusTotal, which is an online repository of malware code. A version of the Dtrack virus found on the VirusTotal website included credentials specific to KKNPP’s internal network, indicating that Dtrack had infected computers inside the nuclear power plant.

Nuclear energy is a unique source of electricity. One of its peculiarities is its capacity to suffer severe accidents that can spread hazardous radioactive contamination across thousands or even tens of thousands of square kilometres requiring evacuation of populations for decades or centuries.

To avoid such accidents, the construction of nuclear power plants requires vast quantities of concrete and steel, exacting manufacturing standards, and layers upon layers of control systems at nuclear plants.

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Kudankulam nuclear power plant, India. (Photo: indiawaterportal.org /Wikimedia Commons)

Despite such measures, there have been a number of accidents, of both small and large magnitude, since the beginning of the nuclear age. Each accident typically exposes a new vulnerability and often these accidents occur through pathways that were not conceived of by plant designers. The realization that hackers might be able to infect the computers in a nuclear power plant, potentially affecting the physical operation of the nuclear reactors themselves, is another safety vulnerability that had initially not been fathomed.

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