Citizen scientists are uncovering risks that governments would rather cover up
By Cindy Folkers
When reactors exploded and melted down at the Fukushima nuclear power complex in March 2011, they launched radioactivity from their ruined cores into the unprotected environment. Some of this toxic radioactivity was in the form of hot particles (radioactive microparticles) that congealed and became airborne by attaching to dusts and traveling great distances.
However, the Fukushima disaster is only the most recent example of atomic power and nuclear weapons sites creating and spreading these microparticles. Prior occurrences include various U.S. weapons sites and the ruined Chernobyl reactor. While government and industry cover up this hazard, community volunteer citizen science efforts – collaborations between scientists and community volunteers – are tracking the problem to raise awareness of its tremendous danger in Japan and across the globe.
After the Fukushima nuclear disaster began, one highly radioactive specimen, a particle small enough to inhale or ingest, was found in a private home where it should not have been, hundreds of miles from its source, in a vacuum cleaner bag containing simple house dust.
This “high activity radioactively-hot dust particle” came from a house in Nagoya, Japan – after it had traveled 270 miles from Fukushima. The only radioactive particle found in the home’s vacuum cleaner bag, it was an unimaginably minuscule part of the ruined radioactive core material from Fukushima – many times smaller than the width of a human hair. We know it came from Fukushima because it contained cesium-134, meaning that the particle came from a recent release, and we know it is a piece of core material specifically because it was so radioactive that it could not have come from any other material.
By Dr. David Lowry
A very important, path-breaking report on radioactive waste was released in Berlin on November 11, 2019 at a press conference held at the headquarters of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, major sponsors of the research that informs the content of the study, titled World Nuclear Waste Report (WNWR).
It is the brain-child of former German Green Party/ Alliance 90 MEP, Rebecca Harms – a forty year campaigner against nuclear power – and independent Paris-based international energy consultant, Mycle Schneider, the team behind the now internationally respected and encyclopedically comprehensive annual World Nuclear Industry Status Report.
The WNWR concludes “The final disposal of high-level radioactive waste presents governments worldwide with major challenges that have not yet been addressed, and entails incalculable technical, logistical, and financial risks.”
It spells out in nearly 150 pages of detailed analysis that over 60,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel (one type of highly dangerous and long-lived) alone are stored in interim storage facilities across Europe (excluding Russia and Slovakia, as the data published by these two countries is inadequate, according to the authors). It adds that within the European Union, France accounts for 25% of the current spent nuclear fuel generated, followed by Germany (15%) and the United Kingdom (14%).
According to the WNWR press release, “In addition, more than 2.5 million m³ of low- and intermediate-level waste has been generated in Europe (excluding Slovakia and Russia). Over its lifetime, the European nuclear reactor fleet will produce an estimated 6.6 million m³ of nuclear waste. Four countries are responsible for most of this waste: France (30%), the UK (20%), the Ukraine (18%) and Germany (8%).”
By Linda Pentz Gunter
When at last she raised her fist in a trademark salute, then held out her hands to be zip-tied by police, it was the end of another long day for Jane Fonda, 81.
The two-time Academy Award and BAFTA winning actress has spent four of the last five Fridays getting herself arrested in Washington, DC, protesting for action — or against what she sees as inaction — on climate change.
It’s a script for which this long-time activist needs no rehearsal. For Fonda, this is now the most important role of her life.
Fonda is participating in a weekly protest she has dubbed Fire Drill Fridays — in a nod to teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg’s warning that our house is on fire. She has moved temporarily to Washington, DC and, sporting a fiery red coat, has vowed to demonstrate and face arrest every Friday until mid-January when she must resume filming her hit television show, Grace and Frankie. The first Fire Drill Friday was October 11.
By Jack Cohen-Joppa, The Nuclear Resister
“…You are the hope you have arrived to find.”
So ended a brief message that Fr. Steve Kelly wrote from jail last month to be read to more than 100 friends and supporters. We had travelled from across the United States for a Festival of Hope on the eve of the trial of the Kings Bay Plowshares in coastal Brunswick, Georgia.
While many of us hoped for their acquittal, Steve reminded us that hope in the nuclear age comes first from building community, and hope is sustained every time we act together for a nuclear-free future.
The 70-year-old Jesuit knows something about sustaining hope in hard places. This time, he’s already been in jail for over a year and a half. He was arrested with six other Catholic nuclear abolitionists – Mark Colville, Clare Grady, Martha Hennessy, Elizabeth McAlister, Patrick O’Neill and Carmen Trotta – in the wee hours of April 5, 2018, inside the United States’ Submarine Base Kings Bay. There they cut fences and used hand tools, paint and human blood to condemn nuclear weapons and carry out symbolic acts of disarmament.
The Kings Bay Plowshares joined a nearly 40-year tradition of more than 100 nonviolent direct actions where participants give form to the Biblical prophecy of Isaiah and “beat swords into plowshares.” Five of the seven took part in earlier Plowshares actions and have spent time in federal prison – in Steve’s case, more than ten years.
By Helen Caldicott
As Australia is grappling with the notion of introducing nuclear power into the country, it seems imperative the general public understand the intricacies of these technologies so they can make informed decisions. Thorium reactors are amongst those being suggested at this time.
The U.S. tried for 50 years to create thorium reactors, without success. Four commercial thorium reactors were constructed, all of which failed. And because of the complexity of problems listed below, thorium reactors are far more expensive than uranium fueled reactors.
The longstanding effort to produce these reactors cost the U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars, while billions more dollars are still required to dispose of the highly toxic waste emanating from these failed trials.
The truth is, thorium is not a naturally fissionable material. It is, therefore, necessary to mix thorium with either enriched uranium-235 (up to 20 per cent enrichment) or with plutonium – both of which are innately fissionable – to get the process going.
While uranium enrichment is already very expensive, the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from uranium powered reactors is enormously expensive and very dangerous to the workers who are exposed to toxic radioactive isotopes during the process. Reprocessing spent fuel requires chopping up radioactive fuel rods by remote control, then dissolving them in concentrated nitric acid from which plutonium is precipitated out by complex chemical means.
Vast quantities of highly acidic, highly radioactive liquid waste then remain to be disposed of. (Only 6 kilograms of plutonium-239 can fuel a nuclear weapon, while each reactor makes 250 kilos of plutonium per year. One-millionth of a gram of plutonium, if inhaled, is carcinogenic.)
By Tommy Rock, Ph.D.
My name is Tommy Rock, PhD., and I am from the Navajo tribe in the southwest U.S. I live in Monument Valley, Utah, which is in southeastern Utah near the Four Corners area (where the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah meet). Monument Valley is also on the Navajo Nation. Monument Valley was made famous by John Wayne and John Ford when it appeared in their western movies such as She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and Fort Apache, just to name a few. This place has a beautiful red stone hovering above the arid desert landscape.
My story begins with my being raised by my grandparents. During the winter months, we lived in Copper Canyon, which is in the northwestern part of Monument Valley. Copper Canyon has a spring that flows year-round. We have our livestock there, our cattle and horses. The area is surrounded by redstone walls like a corral with two ways out. The area is also arid with desert shrubs. During the summer we went to our summer camp out of Copper Canyon.
We lived in a wooden shack. I think my grandfather built it long ago. Seems like the structure was there an eternity because that is all I remember. My grandmother was the only one that had a bed. My grandfather and I had a sheepskin that we slept on. Every morning my grandfather would tell me to go run, and, if I did not get up, he poured water on me. He said that it would make me strong.