Nuclear power misunderstood, just wants to be friends, says Irish Times editorial, Friday March 11 (pasted below)
Fri, Mar 11, 2011
IN THESE days of “revolution” and rethinking of politics, it is perhaps time to revisit another cherished national taboo: nuclear power. A plausible case for doing so was made this week by Prof Philip Walton, NUI Galway emeritus professor of applied physics and an advocate for the group Better Environment with Nuclear Energy (BENE). He urged the new Government to rescind legislation that bans nuclear power.
New Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte takes over from Green predecessor Eamon Ryan with a programme for government that shares the latter’s emphasis on developing renewable sources of power, specifically geothermal, marine and wind energy. This approach has undoubted merits but there are practical limits to what such sources can do to reduce our 90 per cent dependence on carbon-emitting fossil fuels. As the UK recommitted itself to nuclear plant building in 2008, Ryan himself acknowledged a need to reopen the debate.
That view is shared by an increasing number of interested parties, including the business and employers representative group Ibec, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Irish Academy of Engineers whose 2009 report warns of the huge lead time involved in the debate. A new plant in Ireland would almost certainly take up to 15 years to plan and construct.
In recent years even within the environmental movement, the argument for nuclear power has gained ground in the face of the climate change challenge of finding low-emission solutions to energy demand, and of the proven safety record of the modern industry in OECD countries. BENE contends that previously “insuperable” challenges such as disposal of radioactive waste have been overcome.
Walton argues that global warming, the increasing insecurity of fossil fuel sources, and vastly improved safety have changed the context of the debate since the late 1970s when thousands marched on Carnsore Point in Co Wexford. Or even more recently when Ireland protested to Britain over the notoriously accident-prone Windscale/Sellafield plant in Cumbria. Politically and environmentally we are in different times, not least because voters are less prone to confuse the debate with that on nuclear weapons.
Today 31 countries operate nuclear power plants and some of those which had decided to stop construction of new facilities – like Britain, Finland and Italy – are pressing ahead again. Ireland is at liberty to adopt a different approach but it is prudent to consider all options.
Irish Times breaking news the same day, but everything might still be okay, officials say
Emergency declared at nuclear plant
Fri, Mar 11, 2011
Thousands of residents were evacuated from an area around a nuclear plant in Japan after a powerful earthquake raised fears of a radiation leak, but local officials said problems with the reactor’s cooling system were not at a critical level.
There were no signs of a radiation leak, but the US air force delivered coolant to the nuclear plant to avert a disaster within the wider disaster of the biggest earthquake on record to hit the country.
Experts said there could be leakage if water levels in the Fukushima reactor – some 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo – fell and the temperature of the nuclear rods rose, but that this danger did not appear to be imminent.
Work has begun on restoring the reactor’s cooling function, Jiji news agency quoted the Trade Ministry as saying.
“Even if fuel rods are exposed, it does not mean they would start melting right away,” said Tomoko Murakami, leader of the nuclear energy group at Japan’s Institute of Energy Economics.
“Even if fuel rods melt and the pressure inside the reactor builds up, radiation would not leak as long as the reactor container functions well.”
Residents that live within a 3 km radius of the plant have been told to evacuate from the area, chief cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference.
“The government is making every effort to restore the cooling system.” Kyodo news agency said 3,000 residents were being evacuated.
But Mark Hibbs, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, warned the situation could turn grave.
“This is no laughing matter,” he said. TEPCO confirmed that water levels inside the reactors at its Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant were falling but it was working to maintain water levels to avert the exposure of nuclear fuel rods.
The company has been trying to restore power to its emergency power system so that it could add water inside the reactors, a TEPCO spokesman said.
“There is a falling trend (in water levels) but we have not confirmed an exposure of nuclear fuel rods,” a TEPCO spokesman said.
Reactors shut down due to the earthquake account for 18 per cent of Japan’s nuclear power generating capacity.
Japan’s nuclear power sector produces about 30 per cent of the country’s electricity and has been rocked periodically over the past decade by safety concerns.
Many reactors are located in earthquake-prone zones such as Fukushima and Fukui on the coast. Japan has also told the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, that a heightened state of alert was declared at the Fukushima facility.
TEPCO had been operating three out of six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant at the time of the quake, all of which shut down.
The spokesman added that there were no concerns of a water leak for the remaining three reactors at the plant, which had been shut for planned maintenance.
Well blow me down, everything isn’t okay
Explosion and radiation leak at Japanese nuclear plant
Sat, Mar 12, 2011
Radiation leaked from a damaged Japanese nuclear reactor north of Tokyo today, the government said, after an explosion blew the roof off the facility in the wake of yesterday’s massive earthquake.
The developments at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant raised fears of a Chernobyl-style disaster as officials worked to contain the leak.
The Japanese plant was damaged by yesterday’s 8.9-magnitude earthquake, which sent a 33ft tsunami ripping through towns and cities across the northeast coast. Japanese media estimate that at least 1,300 people were killed.
Japanese authorities have told the UN’s atomic watchdog they are making preparations to distribute iodine to people living near nuclear power plants affected by the earthquake, the International Atomic Energy Agency said. Iodine can be used to help protect the body from radioactive exposure.
Tokyo Electric Power Co plans to fill the leaking reactor with sea water to cool it down and reduce pressure in the unit, Japan’s top government spokesman said today.
“The nuclear reactor is surrounded by a steel reactor container, which is then surrounded by a concrete building,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. “The concrete building collapsed. We found out that the reactor container inside didn’t explode.
“We’ve confirmed that the reactor container was not damaged. The explosion didn’t occur inside the reactor container. As such there was no large amount of radiation leakage outside,” he said.
“At this point, there has been no major change to the level of radiation leakage outside [from before and after the explosion], so we’d like everyone to respond calmly,” Mr Edano said. “We’ve decided to fill the reactor container with sea water.”
Mr Edano said it would take about five to 10 hours to fill the reactor core with sea water and around 10 days to complete the process.
He said an evacuation radius of 10km from the stricken 40-year-old Daiichi 1 reactor plant in Fukushima prefecture was adequate, but later the boundary was extended to 20km. TV footage showed vapour rising from the plant, 240km north of Tokyo.
Along Japan’s northeast coast, rescue workers searched through the rubble of destroyed buildings, cars and boats, looking for survivors in hardest-hit areas such as the city of Sendai, 300km northeast of Tokyo.
NHK television and Jiji news agency said the outer structure of the reactor building that houses the reactor appeared to have blown off, but nuclear experts said this did not necessarily mean the nuclear reactor had been breached.
Earlier the operator released what it said was a tiny amount of radioactive steam to reduce the pressure and the danger was minimal because tens of thousands of people had already been evacuated from the vicinity.
The international community started to send disaster relief teams today to help Japan, with the United Nations sending a group to help co-ordinate work.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said the Irish Embassy in Tokyo had no reports as yet of any of an estimated 2,000 Irish people in Japan being injured or in need of assistance as a result of yesterday’s earthquake.
The Embassy has been contacting Irish citizens who previously registered with it in areas most affected by the quake.
It said those with family and friends in Japan may contact the department in Dublin on 01-4180233. They can also leave details on the department’s website at dfa.ie.
The earthquake yesterday was so huge that thousands fled their homes from coastlines around the Pacific Rim, as far away as North and South America, fearful of a tsunami.
Most appeared to have been spared anything more serious than some high waves, unlike Japan’s northeast coastline which was hammered by the huge tsunami that turned houses and ships into floating debris as it surged into cities and villages, sweeping aside everything in its path.
The unfolding natural disaster, which has been followed by dozens of aftershocks, prompted offers of search and rescue help from 50 countries.
In one of the worst-hit residential areas, people buried under rubble could be heard calling out for rescue, Kyodo news agency reported. TV footage showed staff at one hospital waving banners with the words “Food” and “Help” from a rooftop.
In Tokyo, tens of thousands of office workers were stranded overnight after the quake shut down public transport. Many were forced to bed down where they could, with newspapers to lie on and briefcases for pillows.
Kyodo said at least 116,000 people in Tokyo had been unable to return home on Friday evening due to transport disruption.
The northeastern Japanese city of Kesennuma, with a population of 74,000, was hit by widespread fires and one-third of the city was under water. City mayor Shigeo Sugawara said: “A huge number of houses have been washed away.” He said fuel storage tanks had been destroyed, sending oil flowing out which then caught fire.
The airport in coastal city Sendai, home to one million people, was on fire, Japanese media said.
TV footage showed a black torrent of water carrying cars and wrecked homes at high speed across farmland near Sendai, 300km northeast of Tokyo. Ships had been flung onto a harbour wharf, where they lay helplessly.
Kyodo news agency reported that contact had been lost with four trains in the coastal area.
Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology said the Earth’s axis shifted 25 cm as a result of the quake and the US Geological Survey said the main island of Japan had shifted 2.4 metres.
The earthquake was the fifth most powerful to hit the world in the past century. It surpassed the Great Kanto quake of September 1st, 1923, which had a magnitude of 7.9 and killed more than 140,000 people in the Tokyo area.
The 1995 Kobe quake caused $100 billion in damage and was the most expensive natural disaster in history.