On this 30th anniversary of the onset of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe, the Alliance To Halt Fermi-3 (ATHF3), in association with the Swords Into Plowshares Peace Center and Gallery (33 East Adams, Detroit, MI) is proud to announce the opening of “Chernobyl + 30: Half-Lives, Half-Truths” by photojournalist Gabriela Bulisova. The display will begin on Friday, May 27th, 2016 from 6 PM until 9 PM and extend into Summer 2016.
Ms. Bulisova traveled to the region in the 2000’s and captured startling images of Chernobyl landscapes and the affected population. Her artist statement and captions, coupled with the photos, reflect the story not only of an environmental and human health disaster, but also of a monstrous event resulting in an enormous psychological toll on millions of people.
“Alliance To Halt Fermi-3 is profoundly grateful to the Swords Into Plowshares Peace Center and Gallery for giving us the opportunity to display Gabriela Bulisova’s extremely powerful work,” said Keith Gunter, Co-Chair of ATHF3. “This will be a tremendous opportunity for Detroiters to have a long look at what the after effects of a nuclear meltdown look like.”
Carol Izant, the Alliance’s other Co-Chair, added “This exhibit should give residents of this area reason to pause and think, since a partial meltdown occurred at Detroit Edison’s Fermi-1 reactor on October 5, 1966. We’ve already had our own close call.”
Admission to the exhibit will be free, and will include a display addressing the situation at Chernobyl as it stands three decades later. “Chernobyl + 30” will open simultaneously at the Gallery with another exhibit addressing the compelling issues surrounding drones.
TAKOMA PARK, MD, March 10, 2016 — Beyond Nuclear, a leading U.S. anti-nuclear watchdog group on reactor oversight, health impacts and radioactive waste, decried the absence of reasonable plans to prevent and protect against a nuclear disaster in the U.S., five years after the March 11, 2011 triple meltdowns began at the FukushimaDaiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.
More than 32 million Japanese have been exposed to Fukushima’s radioactive fallout. Close to 160,000 people were forced to evacuate, many of whom are being urged to return — under threat of loss of compensation -— into areas the government claims to have “cleaned up”. Costs have ballooned to at least $100 billion and will soar higher once economic losses, compensation and decommissioning costs are factored in.
In the U.S., 30 GE Mark I and Mark II boiling water reactors identical in design to those at Fukushima, are still in operation. While the GE model is considered the most vulnerable to catastrophic failure, every operating U.S. reactor poses a risk. Beyond Nuclear launched its Freeze our Fukushimas campaign shortly after the Japan disaster to get the GE reactors shut down.
“Not only is there no Plan B for what to do if and when a Fukushima-style disaster happens in the U.S., there is no Plan A to prevent one either,” said Cindy Folkers, Radiation and Health Specialist at Beyond Nuclear. Public health is woefully under-protected she said.
“For example, the distribution of potassium-iodide, or KI, which at least protects the thyroid from fast-arriving iodine-131 released during a major nuclear disaster, is not mandatory in the U.S.,” Folkers said.
Although available free with an industry voucher from designated U.S. pharmacies, only 5% of impacted Americans voluntarily pick up KI. To effectively block radioactive iodine absorption in the thyroid, KI must be readily at hand.
“That is why Beyond Nuclear is urging compliance with the American Thyroid Association’s recommendation for the direct delivery of KI to the door of all residents within 50-miles of every nuclear power plant,” Folkers said.
The GE Mark I and II reactors have an inadequately small reactor containment that, during a serious accident, can only be saved by venting extreme pressure, heat, explosive gas and highly radioactive releases into the environment.
But the industry has refused to mitigate this problem, blocking efforts by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to mandate the installation of highly efficient radiation filters that could reduce public exposure to radiation during a nuclear power plant disaster. The NRC subsequently capitulated to the industry’s financial motives, and will not now mandate the retrofit.
“All of Fukushima’s lessons warn against a nuclear industry that protects its profit margins over public safety margins,” said Paul Gunter, Director of Reactor Oversight at Beyond Nuclear.
“The Japanese concluded that Fukushima was a preventable tragedy resulting from collusion between industry, government and regulator,” Gunter added. “But here in the U.S. the NRC has chosen to cave to industry financial concerns while gambling with public health.”
While Fukushima was precipitated by an earthquake and tsunami, there are multiple factors that could lead to a similar calamity in the U.S.
“The U.S. risks an American Fukushima, not just due to a variety of natural disasters, age-degraded equipment breakdowns, or operator errors, but also due to sabotage or attack,” said Kevin Kamps, Beyond Nuclear’s Radioactive Waste Watchdog.
“Numerous security vulnerabilities remain fifteen years after 9/11, including high-level radioactive waste storage pools, which could release catastrophic amounts of hazardous radioactivity in the event of a successful airborne or waterborne attack,” Kamps added.
The flaw is in the original design of the electrical system, and has escaped notice for decades. According to the engineers’ petition, as well as a series of staff analyses on file at the NRC, the design flaw occurs in what is called a “single phase” condition in which little or no electricity is entering the plant to operate its backup cooling systems in the event of a blackout or other event cutting off power from the grid. The result is that the motors of backup generators are underpowered and this can cause their motors to burn out. When that happens, there is no way to keep the reactor core cool.
…the petition states, if the plants are not ordered to immediately redesign their electrical systems then the Commissioners should “issue Orders to immediately shutdown the operating nuclear power plants since the licensees are operating their facilities without addressing the significant design deficiency…and with inoperable electric power systems….”
The situation evolved from an unplanned shutdown in January 30, 2012 in Unit 2 of the Byron Station Nuclear Power Plant in Illinois. At the time, it was thought that the shutdowns resulted from a string of unfortunate coincidences. But further examination by the NRC’s electrical engineering branch found something more alarming.
Alternating current comes out in three currents, or phases, which are positive, negative, and neutral. At the high voltage levels coming directly from the power plant, the currents are on separate lines, labeled A, B, and C. David Lochbaum, nuclear safety expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, explained that “the output from A and B are constantly monitored to make sure they are together, or in phase.
“There are circuit breakers and sensors within the system noting if there is a fault and the two are not in phase. When that happens, a circuit breaker opens to block that line and reroute the electricity. The grid operates on the same principal, with circuit breakers isolating lines when there are interruptions so the entire Northeast doesn’t have a blackout.
“Within the plant there are electrical breakers signaled to open to isolate the problem and others will close for the systems around it. At Byron that didn’t happen. And they didn’t monitor the phase that failed.”
At Byron, however, the single phase, Line C, was not monitored and, in fact, had broken and fallen to the ground between the plant’s main transformer and the nearby power substation. Unfortunately, the staff analysis stated, the line on the ground “did not result in a detectable ground fault” since single phases were not monitored. Because of this power shortage, none of the plant’s four reactor coolant pumps were operable.
Plants are required to have two separate sets of electrical power lines and monitors for their core cooling systems so that operators can still control the reactor even if one line, or train, is damaged by fire or another event.
The loss of a single phase of alternating current, the NRC staff found, “can potentially damage both trains of the emergency core cooling system.” In that case, there is nothing to prevent a meltdown.
The NRC engineers are petitioning that this problem, which exists in most if not all US nuke plants, be resolved or those plants should be immediately decommissioned. Dave Lochbaum, a nuclear expert at nonprofit group the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Reuters it was encouraging the engineers stepped forward without fear of retribution.
It might seem ironic to worry about a power outage at a power generation facility, but when it comes to nuclear, the irony is long worn out.
An element of the Fukushima disaster that is not widely known was the fact there were two Fukushima plants. Fukushima Daiitchi (number 2) was the sight of the infamous explosion that poisoned a large swath of Japanese countryside and a small city. Fukushima Daiini (number 1) was also damaged in the earthquake and flooded by the following tsunami, but Daiini was able to avoid meltdown thanks to one operating offsite power line. One.
That single offsite power source meant the difference between the most famous nuclear accident in the last decade, and a close call most people never heard about. Now this new evaluation by NRC engineers suggests that faith in such offsite power supply systems are misplaced.