Home > Uncategorized > The Fukushima blues come to the UK

The Fukushima blues come to the UK

Map of Japan with Fukushima highlighted

Image via Wikipedia

In my last blog post I talked about how catastrophic the Fukushima nuclear accident was. Now, after two months, it is even more catastrophic than I first thought, as the latest information dribbling out about the accident indicates that there has been very severe nuclear core meltdown resulting in: at least one, and probably multiple, breaches of primary containment, and at least one, probably multiple, breaches of secondary containment, one massive spent fuel pool explosion due to the fuel going ‘recritical’, and there is still massive and continuing leakage of radioactive substances from the reactors into the groundwater, seawater, and air resulting in widespread and increasing accumulation of radioactivity over large areas of Japan, including the Tokyo metropolitan area. And the crisis is still not at an end: attempts to control the reactors are still badly hampered by massive radioactive contamination of the reactor sites, the inability to restore adequate cooling systems, the inaccuracy of the original monitoring equipment inside the reactors and control rooms due to earthquake and tsunami damage, and the lack of specialist equipment and personnel that the Japanese have had, for most of this time, for dealing with a nuclear disaster of this magnitude. The knock-on effects of the disaster for electric power generation generally has contributed significantly to the recent collapse in industrial production and in the subsequent negative growth in the Japanese economy, which just exacerbates the overall financial vulnerability of an economy mired in excessive sovereign debt.

Just about all that has happened at Fukushima was never regarded as possible according to most nuclear authorities. The nightmare scenario of  four nuclear reactors, all next to each other, all going out of control, and leaking radioactivity continuously over many months was just considered impossible. But the impossible has happened, has not ended, and might even get worse if new explosions of incidents of  ‘recriticality’ occur. And the radioactive contamination has not just affected Japan, but now also the entire northern hemisphere, which will lead to illness and deaths from such contamination wherever people have had the misfortune to ingest or come into contact with minute particles of radioactive dust in soils, food, water, etc. Fukushima is now far, far worse than Chernobyl because of its sheer scale, its longevity, and its continuing  and accumulating effects in a much more densely populated part of the world, although as usual various nuclear and government authorities are doing their best to downplay the seriousness of the situation. For example, the Japanese authorities have allowed schoolchildren to go back to school even in areas that are still accumulating excessively high levels of radiation, and have been very slow to enlarge the evacuation zones around Fukushima and to evacuate them fully. And all of this need not have happened at all, as there were plenty of scientists and campaigners in Japan over the last few decades warning that building nuclear power stations in earthquake and tsunami prone areas was too dangerous, and the design standards were known, even by some of the engineers designing them, to be way below the standards required by the worse case scenarios that some experts realised needed to be taken into consideration in the design stage.

And yet the British government will continue to try to build a new generation of nuclear power plants, declaring them to be ultra safe and that the UK is an area where devastating natural phenomena like Japanese-style tsunamis are too unlikely to worry about! The UK government can be this confident partly because the HM Chief Inspector of Nuclear Inspections has declared in his Interim Report on the implications of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami for the UK nuclear industry:

The direct causes of the nuclear accident, a magnitude 9 earthquake and the associated 14 metre high tsunami, are far beyond the most extreme natural events that the UK would be expected to experience. We are reassuringly some 1000 miles from the edge of a tectonic plate, where earthquake activity is more common and severe.

Yet a quick look at Wikipedia in the ‘Tsunamis in the UK’ entry confirms that tsunamis have hit the UK in the past, and in recent times too, in 1607 and 1755, and is at risk from future tsunamis, particularly from one triggered by fresh volcanic eruptions in the Canary Islands. Indeed a tsunami, that was 21 metres high, far bigger than the tsunami that hit Fukushima, hit the UK in 6100 BC caused by the Storegga Slide off Norway. We might be a long way from the edge of a tectonic plate, but we are on the edge of an ocean riven by tectonic plate edges and volcanic islands, and tsunamis can travel vast distances across oceans, even ones as big as the Pacific Ocean. And most of our nuclear power stations are situated at, or very near, the coast, at very low elevations. It is simply the height of hubris to claim that UK nuclear power stations are free from potential tsunami damage. It only takes one tsunami to create one nuclear accident of such severity that massive, catastrophic  damage is done to people, homes, and livelihoods in an extremely densely populated country such as the UK is.

A devastating tsunami hitting the UK might be perceived by the UK authorities as impossibly remote to worry about, but a tsunami-damaged nuclear reactor is such a dangerous scenario, as Fukushima proves, that it is simply insane to even contemplate having nuclear reactors at all, let alone ones that are on the coast, close to sea level. Catastrophic consequences from very low-risk events means that even very low-risk events must be protected against, and certainly built into the design standards for  nuclear reactors, if you are going to have the damned things. But then again, I just have an acute case of the Fukushima blues…

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  1. May 22, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Hi Andrew, your article might give the casual reader the impression that you are an expert in nuclear power generation and safety but that is far from the truth, isn’t it.

    The experts in this subject are fully aware of the risks involved and undertake careful risk analyses/assessments for every nuclear installation and the same applies to all other industrial activities that might impact us. We place our trust in these experts every second of our lives, so why should it be different for nuclear power installations?

    Do you drive a car, take medicines, etc. etc? I suspect so, even though you would not answer me when I asked a similar question on your All that you were prepared to say then was “As for me enjoying the benefits of modern living, what has that got to do with anything?” (your comment on 6th February at 5:41 pm on “a positive side to global climate change?” – http://andydharma.wordpress.com/2010/12/28/a-positive-side-to-global-climate-change/#comment-22).

    We don’t have long on this earth so make the most of it. Relax and enjoy life instead of being so uptight about climate change, about which we humans can do very little other than to adapt to whatever nature has n store for us.

    Best regards, Pete Ridley

    • andydharma
      May 22, 2011 at 7:36 pm

      Hi Pete,
      Wow, you replied very quickly indeed, despite me not having posted for a long while! Anybody would think you were a computer generated troll like those paid for by the climate deniers funded by fossil fuel producers! If you read the article more than casually you would see that I do not make any claims to be a nuclear expert. Anyway, why can I not express an opinion about nuclear energy, despite not being myself an acknowledged nuclear expert? After all, it affects my life just as it does everybody else’s. I just keep myself well informed about the Fukushima accident by reading what some journalists and nuclear experts say about it, and interestingly you do not try to refute any of the details I summarise about the Fukushima accident. Various nuclear experts may well think they have carried out thorough risk assessments for nuclear installations, but they have to make assumptions about what risks to design for, just like we all have to in various ways in our everyday lives. The trouble with Japan is that their nuclear experts designed their nuclear power stations correctly for the risks they thought they would face, but then scientists later found that there were more earthquake fault lines near, or under them, than the nuclear experts realised, and there is much evidence that the companies owning the nuclear reactors ignored the historical data shown to them by scientists revealing that tsunamis much bigger than they had planned for had wreaked great damage to Japan regularly in the past. I am simply pointing out that there might be a great danger of the UK authorities underestimating the possible threat from tsunamis to the UK.

      Like any reasonable person, I would like to reassure myself by my own research that the ‘experts’ do indeed probably know what they are talking about when they make public assurances. The Japanese nuclear experts kept telling the Japanese public that nuclear reactors could never lose their cooling, that they could never meltdown, and even if they did, their containments would never breach. By the way, when researching which car I next buy, or which medicine my doctor prescribes me, I also do some basic fact-checking on what the risks are for that car or that medicine. Trust experts by all means, to whatever degree you feel comfortable with, but never place blind faith in them. Just as you never place blind faith in those climate scientists who are experts on global warming; indeed, you don’t trust them at all! We all choose which experts to listen to, or reject.

      Also, I do indeed relax and enjoy life. But then people like you and me are fortunate in living in places which are not yet too adversely affected by global warming, unlike those many unfortunate people, usually in much poorer countries, who are already experiencing the dire consequences of global warming and who cannot afford to adapt to it as much as we can. For them, “relaxing and enjoying life” is usually not on the agenda.
      Best wishes,
      Andy.

  2. May 22, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    I had a look at your references and Chris Martenson comes across to me as another scare-monger like you, speculating without having supporting evidence (and he’s supposed to have had scientific training). He said back in 2010 “ .. it is my contention that that next shock has a very strong chance of being a lot worse than the last one, meaning that we could see much larger volatility in the currency markets, we could see some markets shut down, we could see that whole portions of the economy basically cease to function, particularly the portions that were predicated on ever expanding credit growth .. ” (http://www.energybulletin.net/node/53040) – could, could, could. I wonder how much money he makes out of his evangelism.

    Then you link to renewables enthusiast and long-time Greenpeace supporter Terry Macalister of The Guardian – enough said about him.

    Greg Laden is no better. He says “Carbon Dioxide is a deadly poison. .. There are places in the Western Rift Valley where puddles of Carbon Dioxide form overnight while the air is still. These gas puddles can occur over puddles of water. When animals (such as antelopes) put their head down to the water to drink, they take a few whiffs of the gas and die”. Horrific, isn’t it – but those other essential life supporting substances DiOxygen, DiHydrogen Oxide and DiNitrogen are just as toxic in high enough concentrations, so why no mention of them? Could he have an agenda?

    You may be interested in looking at the more reliable report by the International Atomic Energy Agency “Fukushima Nuclear Accident Update Log Updates of 12 – 18 May 2011” (http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/tsunamiupdate01.html).

    Best regards, Pete Ridley

    • andydharma
      May 22, 2011 at 7:56 pm

      Chris Martenson bases his analysis very much on what independent nuclear experts say about Fukushima, such as the excellent analyses given by Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates at http://www.fairewinds.com/

      I dare you to visit that link and not be at least a little awed by the ever growing scale and consequences of the Fukushiuma accident. Also, Gundersen makes the point frequently, as others do, that it is difficult to get hold of accurate data from TEPCO, the company which operates the Fukushima nuclear facility, or the data arrives much delayed and is often partial or incomplete. The link you gave me to the IAEA Fukushima update log just lists uncritically all the information and assessments that TEPCO chooses to supply the IAEA with. Even so, I followed your link and even what TEPCO admits is a good indication of just big the Fukushima accident is and what an ongoing mess it is. I can’t think how your link to the IAEA is going to reassure anybody, and it certainly does not undermine Chris Martenson’s summary nor my own summary of what happened at Fukushima. What is scary are the actual facts; no need to scare-monger on top of those. But as always, my readers can check out for themselves and come to their own conclusions, and I’m very happy with that.
      Best wishes,
      Andy.

  3. May 23, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Hi Andrew, you must try harder not to misinterpret evidence just to support your own pet theory. You said “Wow, you replied very quickly indeed, despite me not having posted for a long while! Anybody would think you were a computer generated troll like those paid for by the climate deniers funded by fossil fuel producers!”

    Only a conspiracy theorist would conclude from the evidence that I has responded promptly to your article for the reasons that you suggest. The real reason that I was so quick to respond has nothing to do with computer generated trolls or fossil fuel producers, despite how much you might like that to be the case. The reason is much simpler than that so let me enlighten you. I received an E-mail on 22nd from your blog advising me of your new article and inviting comments.

    If you find that too hard to believe then open a new article and I’ll forward it to you at Bexhill.

    Best regards, Pete Ridley

    • andydharma
      May 23, 2011 at 8:06 pm

      Hi Pete,
      Lighten up, please! My tongue-in-cheek attempt to lace my reply with a bit of the same conspiratorial flavour that permeates much of the responses from human-influenced global warming deniers such as yourself obviously went way over your head. You don’t take me seriously anyway, so I’ve given up on any serious debate with you, and humour and levity will form a part of my responses from now on.
      Best wishes,
      Andy.

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