Thursday, July 12, 2012

Beyond Fukushima - When will we learn? Paul Gunter & Kevin Kamps on The Big Picture with Thom Hartman

Beyond Fukushima - When will we learn? Paul Gunter & Kevin Kamps P1 - YouTube

Published on Jul 9, 2012 by 
On the afternoon of March 11th, 2011 - a massive 9.0 earthquake struck just off the main island of Japan - rattling the nation to its core. Nestled on the east coast of Japan - not too far from the epicenter of that quake - was the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant - a plant with six nuclear reactors - three of which weren't designed to handle an earthquake of that magnitude. Right after the ground started shaking - reactors 1, 2, and 3 at the plant went into automatic shutdown. Reactors 4, 5, and 6 were already shutdown for inspection. The main power source to keep the reactors cool - the electric grid - was knocked out by the earthquake - so 13 emergency diesel generators immediately kicked in to keep the reactors cool. But within ten minutes, the emergency cooling systems at reactor 1 failed - and radioactive fuel rods within the reactors began to melting down.


But things were about to get a lot worse. Approximately 50 minutes after the earthquake - a giant 45-foot tsunami slammed into the east coast of Japan - and right into the Fukushima Daiichi plant. It swept across the plant's seawalls - and flooded the turbine buildings - shutting down the emergency diesel generators - and cutting off critical cooling to the reactors. At this point - the operators of the Fukushima plant knew they had a crisis on their hands. At approximately 3:41 in the afternoon - less than an hour after the earthquake - TEPCO, which operated the plant, notified the authorities that they had a "First level Emergency" on their hands - reactors were melting down. To buy themselves time - operators begin relieving pressure from the reactors - by releasing radioactive steam out of the reactor buildings and into the air.

And in a frantic attempt to keep the reactors cool - nearby seawater is pumped into the plant. But that wasn't enough - and there's not much else that plant operators can do, since the radiation around the plant was spiking. Soon - reactor buildings begin exploding. One day after the earthquake - on March 12th - reactor 1 suffered a hydrogen explosion - collapsing its roof. Over the next few days - reactors 2, 3, and 4 would give way to similar hydrogen explosions - mangling the reactor buildings - and exposing highly radioactive spent fuel - which was stored in pools built into the ceilings of the reactors - to the atmosphere. Helicopters flew in to drop seawater into the crippled reactor buildings, trying to prevent the spent fuel pools from igniting.

Beyond Fukushima - When will we learn? Paul Gunter & Kevin Kamps P2 - YouTube
Meanwhile - on the ground - teams of TEPCO workers began working in shifts to bring the melting down plant under control. These shifts were essentially suicide missions - as radiation levels were well above lifetime dosages. During that March - an estimated 900,000 terabecquerels of radiation were released into the air. That's roughly one-sixth of the radiation released during the Chernobyl nuclear crisis - but again - that was just during the month of March. Between then and December of 2011, when TEPCO finally said the plant was stable, more than 300 workers were exposed to lethally high levels of radiation - and millions of gallons of highly radioactive sea water were dumped into the ground and into the ocean.The effects of this radioactive dump are still not known.

In February of this year - TEPCO began pouring cement around the plant as part of the decommissioning process - a process that operators believe could take as long as 30 years. But despite assurances from TEPCO that the plant is stable - evidence shows the nuclear crisis is still far from resolved. The Unit 4 reactor building, with tons of radioactive fuel and waste still stored in its roof, is leaning - and in danger of toppling over and triggering a chain-reaction radioactive fire that could blow exponentially more radiation in the atmosphere than Chernobyl And radiation levels at reactor one recently reached all-time highs. Yet - Japan is moving forward with nuclear power. Just this month - a reactor at the Oi nuclear plant was turned on - marking the first time a Japanese nuclear reactor was operational since the March earthquake.

But the question is - have the lessons of Fukushima been learned? And not just in Japan - where the crisis continues and could yet worsen - but also in the United States? That's the topic for tonight's Bigger Picture discussion.... Joining Thom for Conversations with Great Minds are...Paul Gunter - the Director of Reactor Oversight Project at Beyond Nuclear - and 2008 recepient of the Jane Bagley Lehman Award for environmental activism - who's been on the front lines fighting back against nuclear power for more than thirty years now. And - Kevin Kamps - Radioactive Waste Watchdog at Beyond Nuclear - who's testified before the officials at the highest levels U.S. Federal Agencies dealing with radioactive Waste Management - including the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the EPA.

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