Beyond Nuclear International

The devilish dangers of Diablo Canyon

Nuclear plant sits on fault lines and needs to close as planned

The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, sitting on the California coast near San Luis Obispo, first came on line in 1985. It was protested then, given its location on several active fault lines. 

As a “once-through cooling system” design, the two reactors at Diablo Canyon draw in millions of gallons of sea water a day from Diablo Cove for cooling, then discharge it at heat back into the cove. This has resulted in a massive destruction of marine species and habitat, wiping out the bull kelp, causing withering syndrome among black abalone, and driving away indigenous marine species.

Diablo Canyon’s owners, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), have long been planning to close the plant by 2025, given the high cost of making the necessary repairs and safety upgrades needed to shore up the plant against earthquake risk. The danger of this latter runs beyond meltdown to the large inventory of highly radioactive waste stored at the precarious site.

In 1971, more than 14,000 abalones were removed from Diablo Cove during construction of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. Later, the abalone were further harmed by the hot water discharges from the plant. (Photo: US Department of Energy)

But recently, California governor, Gavin Newsom, publicly pondered the idea of seeking part of the Biden administration’s $6 billion bailout to keep old nuclear plants running, using the funds to delay Diablo Canyon’s closure.

It’s not actually Newsom’s decision, as PG&E would have to apply for the funds and, so far, the utility has signaled little enthusiasm. Given the billions of dollars needed to refurbish and upgrade the plant to reduce its marine impacts and protect against earthquakes, it makes more economic sense for PG&E to invest in renewable energy alternatives. And, as NRDC’s Ralph Cavanaugh pointed out to the LA Times, “solar, storage and other clean energy sources could replace Diablo cheaply and reliably.” 

The Times article itself pointed out “Rescuing Diablo Canyon is far from California’s only option for averting blackouts.” Some of those options, the Times, said, were “adding batteries to the grid, paying homes to use less energy and coordinating electricity supplies more closely with Western states. Longer-term options include investing in geothermal energy and offshore wind.”

In the meantime, Diablo Canyon keeps operating and the seismic risks persist. Just how great are they? California activist, Harvey Sherback, has studied them for years. Here is his assessment:

By Harvey Sherback

California’s Central Growing Valley is America’s most productive agricultural region providing more than half of the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the United States. Sadly, Diablo Canyon’s two nuclear reactors sit on our state’s central coastline and because coastal winds have a tendency to blow inland, there’s the frightening prospect that a megathrust earthquake, “The Big One”, could trigger a nuclear meltdown sending radioactive clouds into the Central Valley which would irradiate and poison much of the Central Valley’s produce.

Furthermore, Diablo’s radioactive plumes could contaminate the drinking water that flows from the Sierra Mountains through the Central Valley and into cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, which would lead to a mass migration out of California.

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Meltdown at Palisades averted

Political leaders must now do the right thing and secure lethal radioactive waste

The May 20 announcement that one of the country’s most dangerous nuclear power plants, long scheduled to close, had shut down 11 days early, was welcome news. But even though the closure means a meltdown cannot now happen — putting in danger the Great Lakes drinking water supply — grave risks remain at the site. Political moves are also afoot to cut short the closure and apply for a portion of the Biden administration’s $6 billion bailout fund to keep struggling reactors open. But the plant should not start back up. The following is the statement by Beyond Nuclear’s radioactive waste specialist, Kevin Kamps, following the shutdown announcement.

By Kevin Kamps

We are thankful that Palisades shut down before it melted down. The 51-year old atomic reactor has the worst embrittled reactor pressure vessel in the U.S., which was at increasing risk of catastrophic failure due to pressurized thermal shock. 

To accommodate Palisades’ operation, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) simply weakened and rolled back the safety standards, multiple times over decades. 

Palisades also has a severely degraded reactor lid, and worn out steam generators that needed replacement for the second time in the reactor’s history. 

All three were major pathways to core meltdown, which an NRC commissioned report, CRAC-2 (short for Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences, also known as the 1982 Sandia Siting Study or as NUREG/CR-2239) estimated would have caused a thousand peak early fatalities (acute radiation poisoning deaths), 7,000 peak early radiation injuries,10,000 peak cancer deaths (latent cancer fatalities), and $52.6 billion in property damage. 

When adjusted for inflation alone, property damages would have surmounted $150 billion in Year 2021 dollar figures. 

And as Associated Press investigative reporter Jeff Donn wrote in his four-part series “Aging Nukes,” shortly after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe began in Japan in 2011, populations have soared around U.S. atomic reactors, so casualties would now be even higher. 

Diagram of a reactor pressure vessel. Palisades has the worst embrittled one in the country. (Image: en.Wikipedia)

Donn cited reactor pressure vessel embrittlement and pressurized thermal shock risk as the top example of NRC regulatory retreat. Thank goodness no such nuclear nightmare unfolded at Palisades during its operations, but Consumers Energy (from 1971 to 2007) and Entergy (from 2007 to 2022) were willing to take those risks on the shoreline of the Great Lakes, drinking water supply for more than 40 million people in eight U.S. states, two Canadian provinces, and a very large number of Native American First Nations downstream and downwind, as well as up the food chain. 

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After the meltdown

Reactors in a war zone and potential health consequences

By Cindy Folkers, Beyond Nuclear (US) and Dr Ian Fairlie, CND (UK)

Nuclear power plants are vulnerable to meltdown at any time, but they are especially vulnerable during wars, such as we are seeing in Ukraine, as evidenced by Russian attacks on the six-reactor Zaporizhizhia nuclear power facility and on the closed nuclear facility at Chornobyl

Media articles often dwell on the conditions that could spark a meltdown, but attention should also be paid to the possible human health consequences. We answer some questions about the short-term and long-term consequences for human health of a radiological disaster at a nuclear power plant.

What happens at a reactor during a major nuclear power disaster?

The main dangers would arise at the reactor and at its irradiated fuel pool. Loss of power can result in both of these draining down, as their water contents leaked or boiled away. This would expose highly radioactive fuel rods, resulting in meltdowns and explosions as occurred at Fukushima in Japan in 2011, where large amounts of radioactivity were released into the environment. 

Explosions, as happened at both Chornobyl and Fukushima, eject radioactive nuclides high into the atmosphere, so that they travel long distances downwind via weather patterns, such as winds and rain. The result is radioactive fallout over large areas, as occurred at Chornobyl and Fukushima. The map below, from the European Environment Agency, shows that the dispersion and deposition of caesium-137 (Cs-137) from the Chornobyl catastrophe in Ukraine in 1986 was far-reaching — covering 40% of the land area of Europe, as it followed weather patterns over the 10-day period of the accident.

Dispersion and deposition of caesium-137 (Cs-137) from the Chornobyl catastrophe in Ukraine in 1986.

Contrary to what many people think, the radioactive fallout from Chornobyl reached the UK (2,500 km away) in 1986 as also shown in the above map.

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Nuclear dependence

Europe must cut off Russian nuclear supply routes

From Ecodefense, Russia

Europe needs a plan in place for cutting ties with Russia’s nuclear giant Rosatom, says 2021 Right Livelihood Award winner and co-chairman of Ecodefense Vladimir Slivyak.

With the European Union tightening its sanctions against Russia, banning Russian imports of oil, gas, and coal has emerged as one powerful tool to starve the Kremlin’s war machine of funding it needs to continue its brutal aggression in Ukraine.

But one other major source of Russia’s revenue in Europe has largely remained unnoticed: Russia’s supplies of nuclear fuel and services to European nuclear power plants.

Seeking to close this gap in Europe’s concerted action against the war in Ukraine and to provide a comprehensive picture of the union’s reliance on Russian nuclear technology, environmentalists Patricia Lorenz, of Friends of the Earth Europe, and Vladimir Slivyak, a 2021 Right Livelihood Award laureate and co-chairman of the Russian environmental group Ecodefense, jointly presented over Zoom Russian Grip on EU Nuclear Power – an overview of Russia’s businesses and supply chains serving the European nuclear market.  

The report comes on the heels of the European Parliament’s resolution demanding a full embargo on Russian nuclear fuel as well as oil, gas, and coal, and as Moscow’s war reveals the terrifyingly irresponsible actions at the hands of Russian troops at or near the sites of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants.

President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, meeting with Rosatom CEO, Alexey Likhachev. Rosatom in its current form is a state corporation created by Putin. (Photo: Presidential Executive Office of Russia/Wikimedia Commons)

Through its uranium-producing mines, the fuel manufacturing subsidiary TVEL, and a number of other enterprises – including the German firm NUKEM and the Czech-based Škoda JS – as well as ties with France’s Framatome, Russia’s nuclear giant Rosatom earns billions supplying uranium, fuel assemblies, and maintenance, storage and transport services to nuclear companies and power plants in European countries. This includes fuel deliveries to Soviet-built nuclear power plants in Ukraine.

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Tritium isn’t harmless

Japan plan to dump tritiated water into the ocean comes with big risks

On May 18, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority gave its initial approval for Tokyo Electric Power to release radioactive water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean, claiming that there are no safety concerns. But science disagrees with this conclusion. In a September 2019 blog entry, now updated by the author, Dr. Ian Fairlie looks at the implications of dumping largely tritiated water into the sea and whether there are any viable alternatives.

By Ian Fairlie

At the present time, over a million tonnes of tritium-contaminated water are being held in about a thousand tanks at the site of the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power station in Japan. This is being added to at the rate of ~300 tonnes a day from the water being pumped to keep cool the melted nuclear fuels from the three destroyed reactors at Fukushima. Therefore new tanks are having to be built each week to cope with the influx.

These problems constitute a sharp reminder to the world’s media that the nuclear disaster at Fukushima did not end in 2011 and is continuing with no end in sight.

Recently TEPCO / Japanese Government have been proposing to dilute, then dump, some or all of these tritium-contaminated waters from Fukushima into the sea off the coast of Japan. This has been opposed by Japanese fishermen and environment groups.

Former Japan prime minister,Yoshihide Suga, is handed a sample of contaminated water at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site. (Photo: 内閣官房内閣広報室/Wikimedia Commons)

There has been quite a media debate, especially in Japan, about the merits and demerits of dumping tritium into the sea. 

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Peace action for Mother’s Day

Nine people cited in a demonstration at Trident nuclear submarine base at Bangor, WA

By Leonard Eiger and Glen Milner

Over 50 people were present on May 7 at the demonstration against Trident nuclear weapons at the Bangor submarine base.  Nine demonstrators blocked the main highway entrance into the base for about 10 minutes and were cited by the Washington State Patrol.

At around 2:15 pm, on the day before the May 8, 2022 celebration of Mother’s Day, the nine demonstrators entered the highway carrying a large banner stating, “THE EARTH IS OUR MOTHER—TREAT HER WITH RESPECT” and blocked all incoming traffic at the Main Gate at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor.  They were removed from the highway by the Washington State Patrol.

All nine demonstrators were cited for violating RCW 46.61.250, Pedestrians on roadways, and released at the scene.

Those cited by the Washington State Patrol: Brenda McMillan and Caroline Wildflower of Port Townsend; Margarita Munoz of Seattle; Sue Ablao of Bremerton; Carolee Flaten of Hansville; Rev. Gilberto Perez of Bainbridge Island; Ramon Nacanaynay of Shoreline; Michael “Firefly” Siptroth of Belfair; and Tom Rogers of Poulsbo, WA.

Mother’s Day in the United States was first suggested in 1872 by Julia Ward Howe as a day dedicated to peace.  Howe saw the effects on both sides of the Civil War and realized destruction from warfare goes beyond the killing of soldiers in battle.

Nine demonstrators were cited for violating RCW 46.61.250, Pedestrians on roadways, and released at the scene of the Mother’s Day protest. (Photo: Glen Milner, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action)

Earlier, on Saturday morning, a tribute was held for Robert C. Aldridge, peacemaker and guiding inspiration for Ground Zero and Trident resistance who passed away on April 29.  Statements for Robert Aldridge were read from Shelley Douglass and Jim Douglass.  

Shelley Douglass stated, “This campaign began with a Trident designer, and a conscientious family making a decision to resist, together.  That’s why, from the very beginning, this campaign has seen Trident workers as potential partners in the work.  It’s why we leafleted for so long, why we try to build relationships and community across fences and lines.  It’s why so many people who once disagreed have become part of the community.”

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