Category Archives: Features

History of Nuclear Power Needs to Be Addressed, Expert Says

Ohi Nuclear Power Plant, Fukui prefecture, a western mountainous region surrounding Wakasa Bay. Photo source: ©© IAEA Imagebank


The long-standing conflicts over nuclear power and the risks of radiation exposure are nothing new, in fact, the debate over the damaged Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant in Japan are similar to arguments happening between scientists, governmental agencies and the public since 1945, according to an Oregon State University expert on the history of science…

Read Full Article, Science Daily

Engineers pin hopes on polymer to stop leak, after concrete seal failed

tsunami japan

By Ryan Nakashima and Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press

Engineers pinned their hopes on chemicals, sawdust and shredded newspaper to stop highly radioactive water pouring into the ocean from Japan’s tsunami-ravaged nuclear plant Sunday as officials said it will take several months to bring the crisis under control, the first time they have provided a timetable.

Concrete already failed to stop the tainted water spewing from a crack in a maintenance pit, and the new mixture did not appear to be working either, but engineers said they were not abandoning it.

The Fukushima Da-ichi plant has been leaking radioactivity since the March 11 tsunami carved a path of destruction along Japan’s northeastern coast, killing as many as 25,000 people and knocking out key cooling systems that kept it from overheating. People living within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the plant have been forced to abandon their homes.

The government said Sunday it will be several months before the radiation stops and permanent cooling systems are restored. Even after that happens, there will be years of work ahead to clean up the area around the complex and figure out what to do with it.

“It would take a few months until we finally get things under control and have a better idea about the future,” said Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama. “We’ll face a crucial turning point within the next few months, but that is not the end.”
His agency said the timetable is based on the first step, pumping radioactive water into tanks, being completed quickly and the second, restoring cooling systems, being done within a matter of weeks or months.

Every day brings some new problem at the plant, where workers have often been forced to retreat from repair efforts because of high radiation levels. On Sunday, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. announced it had found the bodies of two workers missing since the tsunami.

Radiation, debris and explosions kept workers from finding them until Wednesday, and then the announcement was delayed several days out of respect for their families.

TEPCO officials said they believed the workers ran down to a basement to check equipment after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that preceded the tsunami. They were there when the massive wave swept over the plant.

“It pains us to have lost these two young workers who were trying to protect the power plant amid the earthquake and tsunami,” TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said in a statement.

On Saturday, workers discovered an 8-inch (20-centimeter) crack in a maintenance pit at the plant and said they believe water from it may be the source of some of the high levels of radioactive iodine that have been found in the ocean for more than a week.

This is the first time they have found radioactive water leaking directly into the sea. A picture released by TEPCO shows water shooting some distance away from a wall and splashing into the ocean, though the amount is not clear. No other cracks have been found.

The radioactive water dissipates quickly in the ocean but could be dangerous to workers at the plant.

Engineers tried to seal the crack with concrete Saturday, but that effort failed.

So on Sunday they went farther up the system and injected sawdust, three garbage bags of shredded newspaper and a polymer, similar to one used to absorb liquid in diapers, that can expand to 50 times its normal size when combined with water.

The polymer mix in the passageway leading to the pit had not stopped the leak by Sunday night, but it also had not leaked out of the crack along with the water, so engineers were stirring it in an attempt to get it to expand. They expected to know by Monday morning if it would work.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people are still living in shelters, 200,000 households do not have water, and 170,000 do not have electricity.

Running water was just restored in the port city of Kesennuma on Saturday, and residents lined up Sunday to see a dentist who had flown in from the country’s far north to offer his services. Many were elderly and complaining of problems with their dentures.

Overhead and throughout the coastal region, helicopters and planes roared by as U.S. and Japanese forces finished their all-out search for bodies.

The effort, which ended Sunday, is probably the final hope for retrieving the dead, though limited operations may continue. It has turned up nearly 50 bodies in the past two days.

In all, more than 12,000 deaths have been confirmed, and another 15,500 people are missing.

Original Article

Efforts to Plug Japanese Reactor Leak Seem to Fail
Experts estimate that about seven tons an hour of radioactive water is escaping the pit. The water contains one million becquerels per liter of iodine 131, or about 10,000 times the levels normally found in water at a nuclear plant.

Newly Discovered Crack Leaks Radioactive Water Into Sea Off Japan

Photo source: Washington Post

By Ken Benson and Hirocko Tabushi

Highly radioactive water is leaking directly into the sea from a damaged pit near a crippled reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Japanese safety officials said Saturday, from a crack discovered at a nuclear power plant destabilized by last month’s earthquake and tsunami.

Although higher than normal levels of radiation have been detected in the ocean water near the plant in recent days, the breach discovered Saturday is the first identified direct leak of such high levels of radiation into the sea.

The leak, found at a maintenance pit near the plant’s No. 2 reactor, is a fresh reminder of the dangerous side effects of the strategy to cool the reactors and spent fuel storage pools by pumping hundreds of tons of water a day into them. While much of that water has evaporated, a significant portion has also turned into runoff.

The Japanese authorities have said they have little choice at the moment, since the normal cooling systems at the plant are inoperable and more radiation would be released if the reactors were allowed to melt down fully or if the rods caught fire.

Three workers at the plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company, have been injured by stepping into pools of contaminated water inside one reactor complex.

Workers are racing to drain the excess water, but they have struggled to figure out how to store it. On Saturday, some contaminated water was transferred into a barge to free up space in other tanks on land. A second barge also arrived.

“The more water they add, the more problems they are generating,” said Satoshi Sato, a consultant to the nuclear energy industry and a former engineer with General Electric. “It’s just a matter of time before the leaks into the ocean grow.”

Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director general of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said it was possible that water in the pit had leaked from the reactor, although it was also possible that it came from other sources, like leaking pipes. In either case, any leak would be exacerbated by the enormous amounts of water being used to cool the reactor.

Tetsuo Iguchi, a professor in the department of quantum engineering at Nagoya University, said that the leak discovered Saturday raised fears that contaminated water might be seeping out through many more undiscovered sources. He said that unless workers could quickly stop the leaking, Tokyo Electric could be forced to re-evaluate the feed-and-bleed strategy, in which they flood the reactors and fuel ponds with water and then release the steam it creates.

“It is crucial to keep cooling the fuel rods, but on the other hand, these leaks are dangerous,” Mr. Iguchi said. “They can’t let the plant keep leaking high amounts of radiation for much longer,” he said.

Plant workers discovered a crack about eight inches wide in the maintenance pit, which lies between the No. 2 Reactor and the sea and holds cables used to power seawater pumps, Japan’s nuclear regulator said.

The space directly above the water leaking into the sea had a radiation reading of more than 1,000 millisieverts per hour, Mr. Nishiyama said, a level that could be dangerous to humans. Tests of the water within the pit later showed the presence of one million becquerels per liter of iodine 131, a radioactive substance. That level of iodine is 10,000 times what is normal for water at the plant. However, iodine 131 has a half life of about eight days.

Mr. Nishiyama also said that higher than normal levels of radioactive materials were detected about 25 miles south of the Fukushima plant, much farther than had previously been reported.

At the time the leak was discovered, the deep pit was filled with four to eight inches of contaminated water, according to Tokyo Electric. But it was impossible to immediately judge how much water had escaped and over how long a period of time.

Workers had started to try to fill the crack with concrete, Mr. Nishiyama said late Saturday.

Saturday’s announcement of a leak came a day after the United States energy secretary, Steven Chu, said that roughly 70 percent of the core of one reactor at the Fukushima plant had suffered severe damage. The statement was the most specific yet from an American official on how close the plant came to a full meltdown after it was hit by a severe earthquake and massive tsunami on March 11.

Emergency crews poured concrete into the crack Saturday afternoon and again in the evening in a bid to stem the leak, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported.

The discovery raised the disconcerting possibility that the power company’s decision to drench the reactors with tens of thousands of tons of water in an attempt to submerge the exposed spent fuel rods is having an unintended side effect.

Radiation worries have compounded the misery for people trying to recover from the tsunami.

Original Article

Associated Press

Flotsam From Japan’s Tsunami to be Carried by Currents and Pushed Onshore

Plastic Pollution
Oceanographer Curt Ebbesmeyer displays debris, a survey marker, child’s toy and shoe, he’s picked along Washington state’s beaches.

By Phuong Le, the Associated Press

John Anderson has discovered just about everything during the 30 years he’s combed Washington state’s beaches, glass fishing floats, hockey gloves, bottled messages, even hundreds of mismatched pairs of Nike sneakers that washed up barnacled but otherwise unworn.

The biggest haul may come in one to three years when, scientists say, wind and ocean currents eventually will push some of the massive debris from Japan’s tsunami and earthquake onto the shores of the U.S. West Coast.

“I’m fascinated to see what actually makes it over here, compared to what might sink or biodegrade out there,” said Anderson, 57, a plumber and avid beachcomber who lives in the coastal town of Forks, Wash.

The floating debris will likely be carried by currents off of Japan toward Washington, Oregon and California before turning toward Hawaii and back again toward Asia, circulating in what is known as the North Pacific gyre, said Curt Ebbesmeyer, a Seattle oceanographer who has spent decades tracking flotsam.

Ebbesmeyer, who has traced Nike sneakers, plastic bath toys and hockey gloves accidentally spilled from Asia cargo ships, is now tracking the massive debris field moving across the Pacific Ocean from Japan. He relies heavily on a network of thousands of beachcombers such as Anderson to report the location and details of their finds.

“If you put a major city through a trash grinder and sprinkle it on the water, that’s what you’re dealing with,” he said.
As to whether any of the debris might be radioactive from the devastation at Japanese nuclear power plants, James Hevezi, chair of the American College of Radiology Commission on Medical Physics, said there could be.

“But it would be very low risk,” Hevezi said. “The amount that would be on the stuff by the time it reached the West Coast would be minimal.”

Only a small portion of that debris will wash ashore, and how fast it gets there and where it lands depends on buoyancy, material and other factors. Fishing vessels or items that poke out of the water and are more likely influenced by wind may show up in a year, while items like lumber pieces, survey stakes and household items may take two to three years, he said.

If the items aren’t blown ashore by winds or get caught up in another oceanic gyre, they’ll continue to drift in the North Pacific loop and complete the circle in about six years, Ebbesmeyer said.

“The material that is actually blown in will be a fraction” of the tsunami debris, said Curt Peterson, a coastal oceanographer and professor of in the geology department at Portland State University in Oregon. “Some will break up in transit. A lot of it will miss our coast. Some will split up and head up to Gulf of Alaska and (British Columbia).”

“All this debris will find a way to reach the West coast or stop in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a swirling mass of concentrated marine litter in the Pacific Ocean, said Luca Centurioni, a researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

“The dispersion is pretty large, so it’s not like a straight shot from Tokyo to San Francisco,” said Centurioni, the principal investigator for the Global Drifter Program funded by NOAA. The program deploys about 900 satellite-tracked drifting buoys each year throughout the world to collect sea surface temperature and other data.

Much of the debris will be plastic, which doesn’t completely break down. That raises concerns about marine pollution and the potential harm to marine life. But the amount of tsunami debris, while massive, still pales in comparison to the litter that is dumped into oceans on a regular basis, Ebbesmeyer said.

Ebbesmeyer and retired NOAA researcher Jim Ingraham are using a computer program to plot the path of debris from March 11 tsunami to add to growing knowledge about ocean currents. The modeling relies on weather data collected by U.S. Navy, and the researchers are waiting for the monthly release of that data to make their first projections.

Ingraham developed the program to figure out the effects of ocean currents on salmon migration, but the two also have been using it plot the path of a multitude of floating junk.

Ebbesmeyer first became interested in flotsam when he heard reports of beachcombers finding hundreds of water-soaked shoes in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. An Asia cargo ship bound for the U.S. in 1990 had spilled thousands of Nike shoes into the middle of the North Pacific Ocean. He was able to trace serial numbers on shoes to the cargo ship, giving him the points where they began drifting in the ocean and where they landed.

The oceanographer also has tracked plastic bath toys, frogs, turtle, ducks and beavers, that fell overboard a cargo ship in 1992 in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and were later found in Sitka, Alaska.

Anderson says he constantly scans the beaches watching for something that catches his eye. He’s found about 20 bottled messages, mostly from schoolchildren, and the several hundred Nike sneakers, which he cleaned up by soaking in water and eventually gave away, sold or swapped.

“In two years, there’s going to be stuff coming in (from Japan), and probably lots of it,” he said. “Some of it is bound to come in.”

Original Article

BP is finished with coastal Alabama cleanup

By The Associated Press

Petroleum giant BP says it has finished with the bulk of its oil spill cleanup work on Alabama’s coast.

BP PLC said Friday it has removed workers and machinery from its deep-cleaning operation on the state’s tourist beaches.

The company says it will continue monitoring beach conditions with workers who are patrolling the coastline. And it says locally based teams will remove any tar balls that continue washing in from the Gulf of Mexico.

But the company says it’s done with a portion of the work that saw huge sand-sifting machines moving east and west along beaches as they dug down to remove buried oil. Coastal leaders had pressed the company to complete the work before the start of tourist season.

Original Article

Radiation Leaks Into Groundwater Under Japan Nuclear Plant

Photo source: ©© mithrandir3


Radiation exceeding government safety limits has seeped into groundwater under a tsunami-crippled Japanese nuclear plant, according to the operator, but experts said Friday that it was unlikely to contaminate drinking supplies…

Read Full Article, AP

Cleanup Questions as Radiation Spreads, The New York Times
As it struggles with a nuclear crisis, Japan’s government must decide whether and how to clean up areas that have been heavily contaminated by radioactivity.

Sebastian Inlet, Florida; By Eddie Jarvis

By Eddie Jarvis

Around 1885, a local turpentine baron named David Gibson decided that his land on the Indian River should have more direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. His solution to this problem was to dig an inlet, connecting the Indian River Lagoon to the Atlantic Ocean, and essentially cutting North Hutchison Island (sometimes called Orchid Island) in half. After all, barrier islands are sometimes pesky little buggers and often get in the way of commerce. Unfortunately for Gibson, the inlet was filled in a decade later when a tropical storm, followed by a Category 3 hurricane hit the central Florida coast.

Today, Gibson’s attempt to tame Mother Nature is called “Gibson’s Cut” or “Gibson’s Folly,” depending on who you ask. 63 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, Gibson’s dream was realized when a “permanent” inlet was established. The reincarnate of Gibson’s Folly was dubbed Sebastian Inlet.

Sebastian Inlet is not alone in its manufactured appearance. Practically every inlet on the East Florida coast is man-made. The long sand spits that historically protected the Eastern Florida seaboard have forever been altered. Presently, the Sebastian Inlet is the sight of the second most popular state park in Florida and home to one of the premier surf spots on the East Coast.

Last March, I packed my 2003 Toyota Matrix with camping gear, three surfboards, and two buddies and drove to Sebastian Inlet State Park. It was the perfect time for a road trip: the economy was in the tank, millions of sharks were making their annual migration down the Florida coast, and midterms Coastal Carolina University were two weeks away. I had been checking the surf report religiously and was confident that there would be an ample amount of waves to satisfy our thirst.

Every year, thousands of pilgrims flock to the Central Florida coast, braving irate fishermen and an abundance of sharks, to surf the tasty barrels created by the north jetty. Legend has it, the first ever aerial on a surfboard was done here. The inlet was the proving grounds for ten-time world champion Kelly Slater. In short, it is the Mecca of East Coast surfing.

Sebastian Inlet State Park straddles two barrier islands, connected by an arching bridge that also serves as a revered source of shade in the parking lot. To the south, towering sand dunes are interrupted by the occasional mansion, usually adorned with a sea wall. This is the product of a combination of money and erosion. The majority of the park lies on the northern island, ensuring far less development. Sand dunes surround the bathrooms, a ranger station, and a snack shop. This is where the throngs of visitors tend to go, so expect massive crowds in the water and on the beach.

The inlet is guarded by two jetties, a smaller rock jetty to the south, and a large curving cement monstrosity to the north. Real estate on the north jetty is hard to come by, as it is generally packed with fishermen, some of whom cast their line directly into the surf lineup. This has created a heated controversy among the park’s surfers and fishermen. The overdeveloped and highly toxic Indian River Lagoon defines the park’s western boundary. Mangroves dot the shoreline, but mansions can be seen in the distance. A pamphlet I picked up at a local gas station titled “A Guide to Living on Indian River Lagoon,” touted the abundance of marine life in the lagoon, including the beleaguered manatee, but admitted 92 percent of the lagoon’s mangroves have been sacrificed to development.

With jetties come erosion, and Sebastian Inlet is no exception. Like most of Florida, the erosion is concentrated on the southern island since it is downdrift from the jetty, which explains the presence of the sea walls. To combat this bothersome process, the inlet is dredged on a regular basis and the sand is used to restore the southern beach. For the past hundred years, the State of Florida and the Army Corps of Engineers have quite literally thrown money into the inlet, attempting to fix a problem that they created in the first place by building the jetties so the inlet wouldn’t fill in, so Floridians can drive their boats from their mansions on the lagoon to the ocean.

Progress is truly amazing.

But I am a hypocrite, as are all environmentally conscious surfers who flock to Sebastian Inlet. The reason Sebastian Inlet has such world class surf in the first place is the very reason the shoreline continues to erode.

The reason Sebastian Inlet has such world class surf in the first place is the very reason the shoreline continues to erode.

Swells barreling in from the northeast run smack-dab into the north jetty, whose slight curve causes the wave to wedge, making for truly amazing barrels, especially when you consider you’re still in Florida, and not G-Land. Surfers have dubbed this spot “First Peak.”

To the north of First Peak are its slightly less industrious twins,” Second Peak” and “Third Peak.” These breaks owe their prowess to the sandbar situated roughly twenty-five yards offshore, but they do not come close to achieving the levels of surf that grace First Peak. However, they do offer a glimpse of what surf would have looked like before the jetty was built.

This begs the question: are we as surfers willing to give up our favorite surf spots in order to restore the environment to its natural state?

It’s hard to imagine a surfer-run environmental organization such as Surfrider rallying around the destruction of the north jetty. It’s one thing to support the demolition of the Elwha River Dam in Washington State, a project that has no bearing on the surf, but quite another to destroy one of the best surf spots on the generally surf deprived East Coast.

I don’t have the answers, but if pressed I would vote to keep First Peak and all of its glory. Anyway, just something to think about…