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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Nuclear Energy Issues - Japan and Hanford

Everyone in the Northwest is obviously watching with horror the events in Japan. We were actually affected in a minor way watching for the tsunami to reach our shores, but never felt any real impact.

We all probably know someone who either has friends or relatives in Japan. 
The Seattle Times has some incredible photographs today of the disaster, and these give you some sense of the magnitude of this catastrophe. 

The town of Minamisanriku rests submerged in the tsunami's receding water on Saturday, March 12, 2011, after Friday's strong earthquake triggered a 30-foot tsunami in Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan.
Everyone feels the anguish of the victims of this tragedy.

But now, the nightmare has deepened. Japan has few homegrown energy resources and has built up quite a large network of Nuclear Plants to produce their own energy. Several of these reactors are in
a crisis of historic proportions right now.  Over 170,000 people have been ordered away from the Fukishima Nuclear sites. Meltdowns and partial meltdowns seem to be underway. "Hail Mary Passes" have been thrown by on site workers, in last ditch efforts to control the overheating of the reactor cores and "venting" of radioactive steam has already been deployed. They've flooded the reactors with seawater, which is guaranteed to destroy the reactor, but not necessarily stop the meltdown. All the expert engineers and nuclear scientists on site, at the NISA (Nuclear Agency) and even the UN are trying to contain the problem, but it seems to be growing in urgency.  

And of course the aftershocks continue, further threatening the nuclear reactors, which ironically do not have any electrical power, and that is why they are overheating.  

Here in the Pacific NW the irony continues since we have our own legacy of the nuclear energy programs. Hanford Nuclear Reservation was the birthplace of nuclear energy and the atomic bomb which devastated two cities in Japan to end WWII. 

Heart of America Northwest is a citizen advocacy group that has been working for many years to guarantee that the clean-up of Hanford is carried out effectively, and to prevent further damage from misuse of the site and impacts of nuclear energy. 

The Japanese reactor crisis has important implications for Northwest: We recently helped expose how Energy Northwest, formerly WPPSS, was secretly planning to use experimental Plutonium fuel in the commercial reactor at Hanford. This is the same type of experimental Plutonium fuel that is in Reactor 3 in Japan, which news reports this afternoon state, has had its fuel uncovered for several hours and that a partial meltdown and release would be far more catastrophic due to the Plutonium fuel than at the adjoining Reactor 1 (which is the reactor whose sceondary containment building blew up yesterday).

Ironically, we have been working last week to prepare lawsuit over Energy Northwest's falure to provide all public records on its secret plan to use Plutonium fuel, with deadline to file suit this coming week. 
Heart of America is asking supporters and interested citizens to weigh in on the clean up  process underway at Hanford. Upcoming public meetings where you can make a difference -

Join us at public meetings with Hanford and regulator decision makers: Tuesday March 29th Seattle Center Northwest Rooms; Thursday March 31 Portland Red Lion Jantzen Beach Hotel                 town hall style meetings begin 7 PM   open house at 6PM 
Hearing on USDOE's Plan to import and bury EXTREMELY radioactive "GTCC" waste: Portland Thursday May 19th 6:30 PM  Doubletree Hotel Lloyd Center  Fact Sheet click 
UPDATES: Vitrification Plant, HoA's lawsuit to stop USDOE from using Hanford as a National Radioactive Waste Dump, Hanford’s Unlined Trenches: 

click here for  our  Citizens' Guide on the 40 miles of unlined ditches into which radioactive and chemical wastes were dumped for over 30 years.     
 click here for Recommendations on safety - explosion risks - and $12 billion cost of Hanford's Vitrification Plant to turn liquid High-Level Nucelar Waste into glass - on our blog with fun read
The New York Times quoted Heart of America Northwest in a July 11, 2010 article about Hanford, "A New Analysis Triples U.S. Plutonium Waste Figures."  Our testimony to President Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission was also featured on the NY Times Green Blog

So the Nuclear Energy issue is back in the spotlight in a big way. People's foggy memories are being jogged with a 2 x 4 to the brain, of past nightmares at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. 

 Of course the nuclear industry wants us all to believe that this is no big deal, and we shouldn't rush to judgement on renewing permits for new nuclear plants in America. The experts say "No Danger" and we should all go back to business as usual. 

What do you think?


  1. Any money spent on nuclear energy is money that could be spent on wind, solar, or tidal power. Why are some people so intent on destroying this beautiful planet?

  2. There is a lot of misinformation out there about nuclear power, and I am trying to become better educated. Some types of radiation releases are more dangerous than other types, for example. For example, the steam releases are less dangerous than the release of radioactive iodine and cesium. As far as nuclear powerplants, it seems there are some design features of the Japanese reactors that make them inherently riskier than other designs. No matter the engineering, the problem of what to do with the nuclear waste, including the used but still extremely radioactive fuel rods, has yet to be addressed and it may be unanswerable.
    The economic advantage of nuclear power is it is extremely dense - that is, only a relatively small amount of material is needed to produce a large amount of power. Not so with solar or wind, as far as I know.

  3. Thanks! I'm also looking at more input to attempt to understand this crisis from sources like Heart of America, Union of Concerned Scientists, Greg Palast and others. The traditional sources seems to be rushing to calm fears, rather than really examine this from the "precautionary principle" attitude, for instance.

    If you have good source material, please contact me.