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Monday, March 14, 2011

Nuclear Disaster Update from Heart of America's Gerald Pollett

Second Explosion at Fukushima Plant
AFP/Getty Images
A screen grab taken from news footage by Japanese public broadcaster NHK shows the moment of a hydrogen explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station number three reactor on Monday.
Keeping a Sharp Eye On Japan's 
Nuclear Disaster and the NW Connections

Gerald Pollett of Heart of America NW has issued the following statement:

Japanese Nuclear Reactor Crisis Implications for Northwest:
Working to Prevent Same Nuclear Mistakes Here --- Your public utility and local elected officials, e.g. City Light and Mayor of Seattle, need to hear from you
The Japanese reactor crisis has important implications for Northwest:

The explosion Sunday night at Reactor 3 involved a reactor using Plutonium fuel. We have recently exposed secret plans by Energy Northwest, formerly WPPSS, to have its Hanford reactor be first in US to experiment using Plutonium fuel with higher risks of accident and more radiation release. Law suit being prepared.

 Photo: Explosion destroying Reactor 1’s containment building – which means uncontrolled venting of radioactive gas which comes out of the reactor vessel, even if vessel is intact. However, fuel in Reactors 1 and 3 appears to remain exposed to air and not getting cooled by water.  Reactor 3 – which had an explosion in the Reactor Vessel on Sunday night – is the most dangerous due to Plutonium Fuel. Heart of America Northwest has recently been warning and preparing a lawsuit over Energy Northwest secretly planning to use such dangerous weapons grade Plutonium Fuel.

We recently helped expose how Energy Northwest, formerly WPPSS, was secretly planning to use experimental Plutonium fuel (dubbed “MOX” fuel) in the commercial reactor at Hanford. This is the same type of experimental Plutonium fuel that is in Reactor 3 in Japan. News reports indicate that Reactor 3 continues to have its fuel rods partially uncovered after the hydrogen explosion inside the reactor vessel on Sunday night.

A partial meltdown and release from a reactor with Plutonium fuel would be far more catastrophic due to the Plutonium fuel than at the adjoining Reactor 1 (which is the reactor whose secondary containment building blew up yesterday).

The Plutonium has higher temperatures in the reactor compared to uranium fuel. “Higher temperatures increase gas release” and offsite dose according to internal Energy Northwest documents we obtained through the Public Records Act. Essentially, Plutonium fuel releases into the air, burns and releases more readily into air – as when left uncovered in Reactor 3 – and has a greater amount of highly radioactive elements to release into the air.

The news reports have not discussed the “spent fuel” pools atop the reactor buildings at the Japanese reactors. These apparently also lost cooling and are presumed to be having seawater pumped into what are essentially swimming pools used to cool the fuel. Again, if the fuel is uncovered both a critical reaction can begin along with fuel rods catching fire and releasing vast amounts of radiation. For Unit 1, no answers have been forthcoming about the condition of the fuel pool.

Reactor Vessels Do NOT Contain All Radioactivity from Reactor:

The Reactor containment vessels at the Tokyo Electric reactors are not designed to seal in all radiation from the reactor. They normally release about one percent of the radiation coming off of the fuel rods into the reactor containment building. This is normally held and slowly released after scrubbing to remove most radioactive gas before venting from the containment building.

However, there is no longer a reactor containment building at Unit 1 after the explosion –See photo.

Reports of radiation levels over 600 millirems per hour in the vicinity of the reactors after the explosion in Unit 1 are NOT “safe”.  This is a level equivalent to 60 x-rays per hour.

Spent Fuel Pools at Risk:

Despite calls for Energy Northwest to move its Spent Fuel from what is essentially an unshielded swimming pool vulnerable in event of earthquake or attack, into hardened concrete casks, Energy Northwest’s fuel remains in a swimming pool.  The Japanese reactors’ cooling pools are generally above the reactor in the containment building.  Presumably, with loss of normal coolant pumping, the Japanese are pumping seawater into the cooling pools.

Danger from Secret Plan by Energy Northwest to Begin use of Weapons Grade Plutonium Fuel in Columbia Generating Station at Hanford:
Ironically, we were working last week to prepare a lawsuit over Energy Northwest's failure to provide all public records on its secret plan to use Plutonium fuel beginning in 2013, with a deadline to file suit this coming week.

Working with Friends of the Earth, we have uncovered documents showing that Energy Northwest staff was far along in plans to have Energy Northwest be the first reactor in the US to use weapons grade Plutonium fuel. Numerous documents were improperly blacked out, including those showing what costs Energy Northwest is incurring to pursue this with public funds.

Energy Northwest is a consortium of publicly owned utilities – utilities who were not being consulted about the very dangerous, high risk venture that Energy Northwest staff want to undertake for political purposes. Their political purpose is to demonstrate that Plutonium can be extracted and reused from fuel rods.

Documents uncovered through a Public Records Act request demonstrate the high risks and costs that Northwest utilities would bear again – bringing back the mistakes of WPPPS – if Energy Northwest is allowed to proceed to use Plutonium (“MOX”) fuel:

“MOX fuel has reduced thermal conductivity compared with LEU (Low Enriched Uranium) fuel which causes the MOX fuel rods to operate with higher centerline temperatures…Higher temperatures increase gas release from fuel pellets and hence, fission product gap inventory, which may impact offsite
dose calculations.” From document labeled “Official Use Only” and Business Sensitive obtained from Energy Northwest.
Another document acknowledges higher accident consequences from “larger inventory of actinides” (which are radioactive elements), higher temperatures which increase radioactive gas releases “which may impact offsite dose calculations.”

Many of the records requested were blacked out.  Energy Northwest has no plan to prepare an environmental impact statement and provide for a public debate.In order to bring this dangerous scheme to light and allow our local public utilities to debate it, we are preparing to file suit.

The risks and costs from use of Weapons Grade Plutonium fuel were not apparently presented in PowerPoint presentations to the Energy NW board. Instead, slides made political statements repeating nuclear boosterisms: “Assist nuclear industry in closing the fuel cycle”, without revealing the higher costs and enormous safety risks.

Impacts for public:
·         Trucking weapons grade Plutonium to Hanford, after years of work to remove the Plutonium, has very high security and accident risks;
·         The scheme involves using Hanford buildings in the 300 Area to fabricate the Plutonium into fuel and dissect it, preventing closure and cleanup of already contaminated buildings and areas at Hanford, and creating NEW waste to be disposed;
·         Northwest public utilities would be the financial backers of use of the reactor as the guinea pig for the nation in using Plutonium fuel – placing us at risk as ratepayers and taxpayers in an enormous financial gamble.
·         Use of Plutonium fuel is far more expensive than uranium fuel, and there is no lack of uranium for fuel in sight for decades to come.

What you can do:
1)      Email, write or call your local city mayor, council members and public utility district commissioners depending on where you live. In Seattle, City Light reports to the Mayor and City Council. Other areas, e.g., Snohomish, have an elected PUD board.
2)      Contribute to support our ability to file suit to expose this scheme – the deadline for filing suit under the Public Records Act is this week. If we don’t meet that deadline, we will then pursue requiring an impact statement and public hearings, along with having local utilities withdraw and challenge this scheme.
3)      Write a letter to editor, forward to friends and ask them to write local elected officials;
4)      Write Members of Congress calling on them to drop the proposed $50 billion in subsidies to build new reactors, and calling on those funds to be used for renewable energy, schools and health care.
5)      Stay informed!

Gerry Pollet, JD;
Executive Director,
Heart of America Northwest
"The Public's Voice for Hanford Clean-Up"(206)

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