While the world’s attention has been on other meltdowns, such as the debt ceiling kabuki in Washington or the Greek flu hitting Italy, the real meltdowns at Fukushima have fallen off the front pages. This gives the mistaken impression all is well on the east coast of Japan. It is not.
Just this week we learned of two very high radiation readings at Reactor One (h/t Gregg Levine at Fire Dog Lake). The first was a reading, on August 1st, of 10 sieverts per hour that maxed out the Geiger counter and the second, on August 2, was a reading of 5 sieverts per hour. Just to be completely clear on this, a half hour exposure to the first reading is considered fatal. And nobody–and I mean nobody–knows what this means. Has this reading just been missed for 140 days (which is likely, since the ventilation tower was used in the first days to desperately vent core gases) or does it bode some fresh hell in terms of the compromised core. Again, to emphasize this point, these levels of radiation are fatal and the last time such an exposure occurred (the JCO nuclear accident of 1999 near Tokyo), two workers died. It certainly means that Fukushima is still spewing out atmospheric contamination and TEPCo, which promised a report on this by, oh, August 1st, still isn’t revealing how much total radiation was vented from the stricken plant. Indeed, to some people (people who have been right all along), like Arnie Gunderson, are quite suspicious that this might indicate continued venting of radioactive gases.
Another curious revelation was the firing of three nuclear officials by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, including the head of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which is a move arguably long overdue. Tellingly, the official explanation, that the regulators were too cozy with the industry, seems to obscure a deeper reason for the highly unusual sacking of high bureaucrats in Japan–that they sent agents into town halls to praise the government’s and TEPCo’s handling of the crisis and “maintain calm.” Lies, damn lies and TEPCo.
While Japan is taking steps to deal with its energy infrastructure, Germany promises to decommission its nuclear plants, Italian voters refuse to let new nukes in the front door and even the UK has decided not to risk taking out Greater Dublin by closing the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria designed to produce MOX, Washington fiddles while Fukushima burns. Put simply, the NRC Staff has produced a very modest and obviously politically engineered report that calls for the minimal possible regulations to insure that American nukes have, you know, working fire fighting equipment, emergency power back up and vents that don’t explode like Fukushima’s did. Predictably, Democrats in the Senate were all in favor of these proposals–some like Barbara Boxer pushing for more aggressive measures such as dry-casking spent fuel, but Senate Republicans acted as the absolute paid shills for the corrupt nuclear industry by decry “red tape.” Yeah, “red tape.” ‘Cuz it’s much more desirable to be exposed to 10 sieverts an hour than deal with “gubmint regulators.” So, they want to “study” the recommendations of the “study.” In other words, “pretend and extend” applied to nuclear energy. Pretty much every thing folks like Jeff Sessions said in this Committee hearing–nuclear energy is safe, cheap and environmentally sound–is not simply false but a clear lie. But they are going to slow-walk this until the 2012 elections when they know they’ll have the House, the Senate, the Presidency and the Supreme Court and they can abolish the NRC, like they’d like to abolish the Department of Energy and the EPA. I’m sure when a flood or tornado takes out one of our nuclear reactors, we’ll simply pretend nothing happened. Or blame it on the regulators.
So the plan, by a Democratic administration, is rather to license and financially guarantee more nuclear plants (such as at Vogle in Georgia), open more of the Gulf Coast and potentially other areas to oil drilling and to build a oil pipeline from Alberta to ship oil refined from tar sands to the south–pretty much insuring the strip mining of the northeastern quadrant of that province. Hey, what could go wrong?
Here’s something to consider with the recent downgrade of America’s credit rating, other civilized nations are beginning to notice the US ain’t one of them. As Jakob Augstein in der Spiegel has noted, America looks more and more like a Banana Republic and can not develop a working political system or one that tempers the increasing anarch0-capitalism of its elites. By GINI coefficient and social mobility measures, the US is already a Third-World country and has become a punchline for Vladimir Putin, who as one of major creditors is able to refer to America as a “parasite on the global economy.” The day after S&P downgraded America’s credit worthiness and the United States reflexive military adventurism led to the slaughter of 31 of its own troops, it is hard to argue with Putin and Augstein. When the Senate and NRC can’t even agree in the wake of a massive nuclear accident to upgrade nuclear safety, isn’t imperial decline palpable?