Radioactivity at a hobbled nuclear plant in Fukushima was 10 million times more than normal

A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reveals that carbon emissions from nuclear power facilities clock up between 100 and 200 grams of carbon emissions per kilowatt hour. Wind turbines emit no carbon whatsoever when producing electricity.

Steve Sawyer, secretary-general of the Global Wind Energy Council, told a European Wind Association conference held earlier this month in Brussels: "Nuclear power is generally the most expensive, complicated and dangerous means ever devised by human beings to boil water." Nuclear advocates, to keep their dream alive, need to claim that nuclear is the only hope, and that wind energy cannot produce enough electricity to do the job. Attention disinformers: last chance to belittle wind power. It’s kind of surreal–who would think that a nuclear emergency would lead to a new round of attacks on wind energy?

Japan is fighting to contain what could be the world´s worst nuclear disasters in 25 years after the cooling failed at a third nuclear reactor. All six reactors at the complex have problems — be it blown-out roofs, potentially cracked containment structures, exposed fuel rods or just the risk of explosion that has been great enough to force emergency measures. Of particular concern are a fire in a massive pool holding spent atomic fuel rods and a blast at the building housing the pool and reactor No. 4.

The Chernobyl accident in Ukraine in 1986 was the worst in the history of industry, as an explosion led to a cloud of radioactive material being spewed over big parts of Europe. The accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania in 1979 was the biggest in U.S. history.

Yet that is what is happening. Nuclear advocates, to keep their dream alive, need to claim that nuclear is the only hope, and that wind turbines cannot produce enough electricity to do the job. Coal advocates, meanwhile, are saying that nuclear is dead, and coal is the only hope, because wind farm plants cannot produce enough electricity to do the job.

The numbers tell a different story, and they also tell us that this is the last chance–if it’s not already too late–to belittle wind power and pass the laugh test. Here are some of them:

– In the last three years, enough new wind farm power was installed in the U.S. to generate as much electricity as five nuclear power plants.

– This year, U.S. wind turbines will generate as much electricity as 10 nuclear power plants.

– During the Bush Administration, the U.S. Department of Energy found that wind energy could supply 20% of U.S. electricity (roughly what nuclear supplies today) by 2030. To do that, wind would have to generate as much electricity as 75 nuclear plants.

– During the past decade, wind energy installations have surged around the world, going from 17,000 MW in 2000 to 194,000 MW–more than 10 times as much–by 2010. This year, the world’s wind turbines will generate as much electricity as 50 nuclear plants.

– The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates the total U.S. wind resources at 14 MILLION MW–enough to generate roughly 10 times all of the electricity our nation uses. Wind energy is clean, affordable, homegrown, and overwhelmingly abundant. End of story.

Wind turbines in Japan survive both tsunami and earthquake

While some of Japan’s nuclear plants have suffered disaster and are spewing dangerous radiation into the skies, Japan’s wind energy facilities escaped damage.

The Kamisu facility which is an offshore wind farm was only 186 miles from the epicenter of the largest quake ever recorded in Japan. Despite assertions by its detractors, the Japanese wind energy industry is still functioning and helping to keep the lights on during the Fuksuhima nuclear power crisis. Wind turbines do not need to be near a source of water. If they fail no one is going to possibly loose their lives as a result. Compared to nuclear power plants they are relatively simple.

Wind Power Plants Survive Japan Disasters Unscathed and Are Stepping Up Operations to Provide Power to Devastated Country. As the world collectively holds its breath to see how the Fukushima crisis plays out (the quote of the day has got to be: "The worst-case scenario doesn’t bear mentioning and the best-case scenario keeps getting worse…") there’s a positive story which is not yet being reported.

Japanese engineers have struggled to pump radioactive water from the plant 240 km north Tokyo two weeks after it was hit by an earthquake and tsunami. Engineers trying to stabilise the plant had to pump out radioactive water after it was found in buildings housing three of the six reactors.

Meanwhile, tests by the Japanese nuclear safety agency revealed levels of radioactivity up to 1,850 times the usual level in seawater offshore the crippled plant compared to 1,250 measured on Saturday. "Ocean currents will disperse radiation particles and so it will be very diluted by the time it gets consumed by fish and seaweed," said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a senior agency official.

The nuclear crisis has overshadowed a big relief and recovery effort from the magnitude 9.0 quake and the huge tsunami it triggered on March 11. On Thursday, three workers were taken to hospital from reactor number 3 after stepping into water with radiation levels 10,000 times higher than normal. That raised fears about the core’s container being damaged.

Experts still had to determine where to put some of the contaminated water while engineers were still trying to fully restore the plant’s power, the company said. It said it was now using fresh water instead of seawater to cool down at least some of the reactors after concern arose that salt deposits might hamper the cooling process.

The issue with using sea water is that it is corrosive, salt in water can become activated and it can cause further contamination. Two of the plant’s reactors are now seen as safe but the other four are volatile, occasionally emitting steam and smoke. However, the nuclear safety agency said on Saturday that temperature and pressure in all reactors had stabilised.

The government has said the situation was nowhere near to being resolved, although it was not deteriorating. "We are preventing the situation from worsening – we’ve restored power and pumped in fresh water – and making basic steps towards improvement but there is still no room for complacency," Yukio Edano, the chief cabinet secretary told a news conference.

Radiation levels 40 per cent higher than the yearly limit for the general public have been detected just over 30k from the Fukushima plant. The government has not told residents outside the 30km radius of the plant to evacuate, or even to stay indoors.

The science ministry says a reading of 1.4 millisieverts was taken on Wednesday morning in Namie Town northwest of the plant. Someone staying outdoors for 24-hours at that location would exceed the annual limit of one millisievert. The limit is based on a recommendation by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.

The science ministry obtained the reading after monitoring 10 locations outside the 30km zone following reports that relatively high levels of radiation were found outside that area.

Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the New York Times that the emergency "is a very serious accident by all standards" and could go on for weeks. The IAEA has sent new teams to Japan to monitor radiation and assess contamination of food. Prolonged efforts to prevent a catastrophic meltdown at the 40-year-old plant have also intensified concern around the world about nuclear power. Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, said it was time to reassess the international atomic safety regime.

Some advocates of nuclear power have long argued that a major accident is about as likely as being hit by a meteorite. In 1975, the nuclear industry asked Professor Norman Rasmussen to produce a report that would reassure the public about the safety of nuclear energy. The report concluded that the probability of a complete core meltdown is about 1 in 20,000 per reactor per year.

Reality has shown this to be a gross underestimation. The three best known serious nuclear power accidents are those of Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl 1986, and now Fukushima. But there have been many more accidents and partial core meltdowns releasing radioactivity.

A study commissioned by Greenpeace concluded that the Chernobyl accident may have resulted in an estimated 200,000 additional deaths in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine alone between 1990 and 2004. The nuclear power plants in Fukushima have about thirty times as much radioactive material as the reactor that exploded in Chernobyl, and Japan is much more densely populated.

Even if there were no accidents, no solution has yet been found in over 50 years for the safe storage of the radioactive waste produced by nuclear power plants. One of the
by-products, plutonium 239, has a half-life of 24,100 years. That means, after 24,100 years, the intensity of radiation has declined by only 50%. It will take 241,000 years until the radiation has declined by a factor of 1000, which is considered a safe level. How can we guarantee that our descendants will not be exposed to those wastes for 10,000 generations?

The "precautionary principle" urges us to avoid the worst possible outcome of any decision. This implies that we should dismantle all nuclear power plants.

Are there any alternatives to nuclear energy? Indeed there are safe ways to produce renewable energy with wind, solar power, wave and ocean-thermal energy, which do not contribute to the greenhouse effect, unlike the burning of fossil fuels.

The Desertec project aims to generate electricity in deserts using solar power plants, wind parks and to transmit this electricity to consumption centers. The first region for application of this concept is in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Europe. Solar power systems and wind parks spread over 17,000 km2 (0.2% of the Sahara desert) would provide a considerable part of the electricity demand of the MENA countries and provide continental Europe with 15% of its electricity needs.

Why do we have nuclear power despite all of its dangers for current and future generations? There is a simple reason. Nuclear power plants are highly profitable for a few, at the expense of other people’s safety. Electricity from a nuclear power station can be cut off if people do not pay their bills, but energy from the sun collected on house roofs cannot be cut off. It makes people independent. The nuclear lobby does not want that.

Democracy requires that decision are made by those affected, and that voters be fully and truthfully informed. People have been lied to about the safety of nuclear energy, and have in most cases not been allowed to participate in decisions about nuclear energy. That must change. It is remarkable that all insurance companies have so far refused to insure against nuclear accidents, because they argue that they do not want to risk their money based on some professor’s calculations claiming the risk is low. What if he is wrong? Insurance companies insist to base their risk calculations on real experience.

It is true that solar energy is currently more expensive than electricity from nuclear plants. But this is partly because of the indirect subsidy for nuclear power, and the shortage of research into alternative sources of energy. If a fraction of the research funds spent for nuclear power had been devoted to safe sources like wind and solar, we would most likely have cheap alternatives today.