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Emails Show Panic Within US Nuke Agency in Wake of Fukushima Disaster

US experts for Nuclear Regulatary Commission disagreed over best way to contain ongoing nuclear disaster

Common Dreams staff

'Fog of information': U.S. experts said they were not getting accurate details of the scope of the Fukushima disaster after reactors melted down last year. (AP)

Emails posted on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) website show an agency that was ill-informed about the state of the crisis taking place at the failing Fukushima nuclear plant last year in Japan. The emails reveal some of the mitigation plans advisors to the NRC were contemplating, show an agency reluctant to share its own research on spent fuel pools, and unwilling to articulate worst-case scenarios, including a nuclear fallout plan for Alaska.

The Washington Post reports:

The NRC e-mails reveal disagreement about how to advise the Japanese. The NRC staff chafed at some un­or­tho­dox advice coming from an ad hoc group of scientists assembled by Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Famed physicist Richard Garwin, one of Chu’s group, proposed setting off a controlled “shaped” explosion to break through the concrete shield around the primary steel containment structure to allow cooling water to be applied from the outside. One NRC scientist called the idea “madness.”

Another idea from the Chu group was to attempt a “junk shot” — a variation on what some engineers proposed to stop the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico — to plug leaks of radioactive water from Fukushima’s nuclear reactors into the sea. When using a mixture of sawdust, newspapers and other junk failed, Japan’s Tepco ultimately used a compound known as liquid glass.

“The e-mails provide a candid picture of the level of uncertainty and confusion within the U.S. government and indicates that even U.S. experts had major divisions about what was going on and how to best mitigate the crisis,” said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist and nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

And The Daily Mail reports:

The agency was asked by several countries about pools used to house spent nuclear reactor fuel. [...]

France, Germany and Japan sought access to NRC information on the pools on March 17, but it was reluctant to share the data over fears of potential attacks on reactors triggered by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Mr Lyman added: 'There is a whole base of information about spent fuel fires and pools that the NRC is not sharing with the public.

'We understand that when you're concerned about terrorist attacks that you want to conceal information, but I don't think there's any reason to maintain such a broad blackout over this type of information.'

Other emails reveal people in the U.S. calling for all nuclear power stations to be temporarily shut so tests could be carried out as well as Freedom of Information Act requests for details of correspondence on Fukushima.

The emails, available on the NRC website, also reveal concerns over a U.S. reactor similar to one of the stricken units at Fukushima.

And The Washington Post story adds:

While assuring Americans publicly that there was no danger [to those living in the United States], the NRC did not disclose one worst-case scenario, which did not rule out the possibility of radiation exceeding safe levels for thyroid doses in Alaska, the e-mails show. “Because things were uncertain, we considered it but the data that was available . . . did not support that very pessimistic scenario so no, it was not discussed publicly at that point,” NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said. In the end, Alaska was not affected.


Rising temperatures at Fukushima raise questions over stability of nuclear plant

The Guardian reported late Tuesday:

Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant say they are regaining control of a reactor after its temperature rose dramatically this week, casting doubt on government claims that the facility has been stabilised.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco] was forced to increase the amount of cooling water being injected into the No 2 reactor after its temperature soared to 73.3C earlier this week.

By Tuesday night, the temperature had dropped to 68.5C at the bottom of the reactor's containment vessel, where molten fuel is believed to have accumulated after three of Fukushima Daiichi's six reactors suffered meltdown after last year's tsunami disaster.

The temperature at the bottom of the No 2 reactor vessel had risen by more than 20C in the space of several days, although it remained below the 93C limit the US nuclear regulatory commission sets for a safe state known as cold shutdown. Tepco said it had also injected water containing boric acid to prevent a nuclear chain reaction known as re-criticality.


Nobel Winner Oe Urges Japan to Decommission Nuclear Reactors

And Bloomberg reports on the growing anti-nuclear movement in Japan:

Japan should decide quickly to abandon its nuclear reactors, according to Nobel Prize laureate Kenzaburo Oe.

“If we are to take ethical responsibility for children of tomorrow, we need to decide now to abandon all reactors,” the 77-year old author said today at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

“Another severe nuclear accident could occur,” said Oe, who is among the nine founding members of the “Sayonara Nuclear Power Plants” campaign launched last June. “There is no proof it won’t happen again.”

The initiative aims to collect 10 million signatures to urge the government to phase out nuclear power generation and shift to clean energy and energy-saving measures. So far, 5 million signatures have been collected, said Satoshi Kamata, a freelance journalist and another founding member.


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