Thursday, June 23, 2011


To have another Fukushima-like nuclear accident doesn't require a massive earthquake followed by a massive tsunami. It can occur under many conditions, including a massive snowfall that leads to flooding massive enough to threaten dams with breaking. A broken dam would lead to a rapid flooding and any nuclear reactor unfortunate enough to happen to be downstream (say, in Nebraska) would be threatened with a sudden inundation of water leading to a potential catastrophe of the sort occurring today in Japan.

At least that's what this weeks cheerful news from Alex Smith (Radio Ecoshock) is warning us over. Oh, and he has a bit about sea level rise, the dieoff of fish in the ocean, the egregiously bad oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ... it's enough to make me quip that "Business Friendly means Bad for People"

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

Many of the words below are copied wholesale from Alex Smith's transcript. There was a couple sections where I wrote a summary pulling together threads from several places in the episode.

Professor Chris Reid, Marine Institute, the University of Plymouth in Britain, talking about a report that must be the greatest headline of our times. A new report from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, or IPSO, features 27 top experts on the oceans. They warn the oceans are in a state of dying from multiple causes, all of them human. See:

Climate change is not coming. It is here.

Carbon is not only flooding the atmosphere but the deep sea. The oceans, stripped of the big species we eat, poisoned by our waste into expanding dead zone, with corals richness turning into white deserts - but changing chemically, becoming more acid.

Dr. Peter Ward from the University of Washington makes a career studying the five previous mass deaths on planet Earth. His book "Under A Green Sky" set the scientific world on edge, as he proposed the way a change in ocean life could extinguish almost everything that breathes on land. Judging by the geological record, Life, Ward said in a later book, "The Medea Hypothesis" - tends toward mass suicide.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has failed to enforce regulations on American nuclear plants since 1999. From multiple sources, lax regulation has left well-known dangerous problems unfixed in U.S. reactors for decades. An American Fukushima nuclear disaster is just waiting to happen. Three sources back that up.

Democracy need not apply. You are not allowed to ask about safety. Neither are the State governments, or Governors. No matter how dangerous, we can argue about the esthetics or economics of nuclear plants, but nobody can present safety issues.

David Lochbaum, nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, gives a story explaining how it came to be that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission stopped regulating the Nuclear Industry. On June 4, 1998 an ultimatum was presented to the NRC by Congress that the Senate threatened to cut the NRC's budget by 40 percent if they did not change their ways on enforcing the regulations.

The message was "either lose your job, or stop doing your job" and the NRC chose to do the latter.

Before this (before 1998) the NRC had a tough attitude of either nuclear plants operate by the rules, or they stop operating.

In the podcast this story was not only told by David Lochbaum, but was confirmed by Vermont Law School, Adjunct Professor Peter Bradford, a former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the NRC. He was on the NRC at the time and confirmed the change in regulatory attitude.

As a result we have a nuclear industry that has captured the agency which is supposed to be doing regulatory oversight over the industry. Captured as in, the NRC doesn't take a tough regulatory attitude, but a complacent attitude under which the industry does whatever it wants.

Part of the systemic dysfunction is the opacity of regulatory actions. Nobody is allowed to raise safety concerns about nuclear reactors. Safety concerns can only be raised by the NRC staff. States can only raise economic issues or other concerns not related to safety. Such as the leaking Tritium from the Vermont Yankee plant. The Vermont State Legislature voted unanimously to insist this plant be shut down, it's past its end of life date and it's the same design as the ones that blew up in Japan.

Long-time nuclear industry executive Arnie Gundersen on the flooding threat to the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Reactor in late June 2011. It has been surrounded by the flood-waters of the Missouri river. It may be an under-reported nuclear accident.

There was a fire at the reactor last week, and the FAA ordered no fly-overs. Apparently cooling to the heavily stocked spent fuel pool was unavailable for several hours.

Plant operators declared a Level Four alert, while denying there was any real problem. Photos of the Fort Calhoun reactor show the site entirely flooded by the Missouri River, although operators claim the actual reactor buildings are still protected by sand bags.

Record snow-fall in the Rocky Mountains has forced six dams upstream of Fort Calhoun to open their floodways. I believe two of those dams are just earthen dams, rather than concrete. Gundersen says if any of those dams give way, Fort Calhoun will turn into a major nuclear accident. That is how close it is.

The global warming deniers point at "record snowfall" and then exclaim that's proof that global warming is a hoax.

Instead what's happened is that lots of water has gone into the atmosphere due to global warming, and during the winter it creates huge snowfalls