Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan AFP/Go Takayama

Nuclear crisis a tangle of ominous, hopeful signs

Worries over Calif. nuclear plants after Japan Play Video AP  – Worries over Calif. nuclear plants after Japan
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This satellite photo taken Wednesday March 16, 2011 and provided by DigitalGlobe shows the damage after an earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima Dai AP – This satellite photo taken Wednesday March 16, 2011 and provided by DigitalGlobe shows the damage after …
FUKUSHIMA, Japan – Nuclear plant operators trying to avoid complete reactor meltdowns said Thursday that they were close to finishing a new power line that could end Japan's crisis, but several ominous signs have also emerged: a surge in radiation levels, unexplained white smoke and spent fuel rods that U.S. officials said might be on the verge of spewing more radioactive material.
As fear, confusion and unanswered questions swirled around the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex, and Japan suffered myriad other trials from last week's earthquake and tsunami believed to have killed more than 10,000, its emperor took the unprecedented step of directly addressing his country on camera, urging his people not to give up.
"It is important that each of us shares the difficult days that lie ahead," Akihito said Wednesday. "I pray that we will all take care of each other and overcome this tragedy."
The 77-year-old emperor expressed his own deep concern about the "unpredictable" nuclear crisis. "With the help of those involved I hope things will not get worse," he said.
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko said at a congressional hearing in Washington that all the water is gone from the spent fuel storage pond of Fukushima Dai-ichi's Unit 4 reactor, but Japanese officials denied it. Hajime Motojuku, a spokesman for plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., said the "condition is stable" at Unit 4.
Earlier, however, another utility spokesman said officials' greatest concerns were the spent fuel pools, which lack the protective shells that reactors have.
"We haven't been able to get any of the latest data at any spent fuel pools. We don't have the latest water levels, temperatures, none of the latest information for any of the four reactors," Masahisa Otsuki said.
If Jaczko is correct, it would mean there's nothing to stop the used fuel rods from getting hotter and ultimately melting down. The outer shells of the rods could also ignite with enough force to propel the radioactive fuel inside over a wide area.
"My understanding is there is no water in the spent fuel pool," Jaczko told reporters after the hearing. "I hope my information is wrong. It's a terrible tragedy for Japan."
He said the information was coming from NRC staff in Tokyo who are working with the utility in Japan. He said the staffers continue to believe the spent fuel pool is dry.
Other countries have complained that Japan has been too slow and vague in releasing details about its rapidly evolving crisis at complex of six reactors along Japan's northeastern coast, which was ravaged by Friday's magnitude-9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
The chief of the U.N. nuclear agency, Yukiya Amano, said he would go to Japan to assess what he called a "very serious" situation and urged Tokyo to provide better information to his organization.
Several countries have advised their citizens to consider leaving Tokyo and earthquake-affected areas. The White House recommended Wednesday that U.S. citizens stay 50 miles (80 kilometers) away from the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, not the 20-mile (32-kilometer) radius recommended by the Japanese government.
Japanese officials raised hopes of easing the crisis, saying early Thursday that they may be close to bringing power back to the plant and restoring the reactors' cooling systems. The earthquake and tsunami knocked out power and ruined backup generators.
The new power line would revive electric-powered pumps, allowing the company to control the rising temperatures and pressure that have led to at least partial meltdowns in three reactors. The company is also trying to repair its existing disabled power line.
Tokyo Electric Power spokesman Naoki Tsunoda said the new power line to the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant is almost finished and that officials plan to try it "as soon as possible," but he could not say exactly when.
Conditions at the plant appeared to worsen, meanwhile. A surge in radiation levels forced workers to retreat for hours Wednesday, costing them valuable time.
The radiation spike was believed to have come from Unit 3, but officials acknowledged they were far from sure what was going on there or at other troubled reactors, in part because high radiation levels made it difficult to get very close.
About 180 emergency workers have been working in shifts to manually pump seawater into the overheating reactors to cool them and stave off complete meltdowns. They were emerging as heroes as their sacrifices became clearer, and as they stepped into circumstances in which no radiation suit could completely protect them.
Japan's health ministry made what it described as an "unavoidable" change Wednesday, more than doubling the amount of radiation to which the workers can be legally exposed.
"I don't know any other way to say it, but this is like suicide fighters in a war," said Keiichi Nakagawa, associate professor of the Department of Radiology at the University of Tokyo Hospital.
Late Wednesday, government officials said they asked special police units to bring in water cannons — normally used to quell rioters — to spray water onto the spent fuel storage pool at Unit 4. The cannons are thought to be strong enough to allow emergency workers to remain a safe distance from the complex, said Minoru Ogoda of Japan's nuclear safety agency.
Tokyo Electric Power said it was also considering using military helicopters to douse the reactors with water, after giving up on such a plan because of high radiation levels in the atmosphere.
Units 1, 2 and 3 of Fukushima Dai-ichi have all been rocked by explosions, and officials have acknowledged that their cores have begun to melt down. Compounding the problems, a fire broke out Tuesday and Wednesday in the Unit 4 fuel storage pond, causing radioactivity to be released into the atmosphere. Temperatures also have been rising in Units 5 and 6.
White smoke was seen rising Wednesday above Unit 3, but officials could not ascertain the source. They said it could be spewing from the reactor's spent fuel pool or may have been from damage to the reactor's containment vessel, a protective shell of thick concrete.
The nuclear crisis has partly overshadowed the human tragedy caused by Friday's massive earthquake, one of the strongest recorded in history.
Millions of Japanese have been with little food and water in heavy snow and rain. In some towns, long lines of cars waited outside the few open gas stations, with others lined up at rice-vending machines.
More than 4,300 people are officially listed as dead, but officials believe the toll will climb to well over 10,000. Police say more than 452,000 people are staying in temporary shelters such as school gymnasiums.
The threat of nuclear disaster only added to Japanese misery and frustration.
"The anxiety and anger being felt by people in Fukushima have reached a boiling point," the governor of Fukushima prefecture, Yuhei Sato, fumed in an interview with NHK. He criticized preparations for an evacuation if conditions worsen, and said centers do not have enough hot meals and basic necessities.
In the city of Fukushima, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) inland from the nuclear complex, hundreds of harried government workers, police officers and others struggled to stay on top of the situation in a makeshift command center.
An entire floor of one of the prefecture's office buildings had been taken over by people tracking evacuations, power needs, death tolls and food supplies.
Elevated levels of radiation were detected well outside the 20-mile (30-kilometer) emergency area around the plants. In Ibaraki prefecture, just south of Fukushima, officials said radiation levels were about 300 times normal levels by late Wednesday morning. It would take three years of constant exposure to these higher levels to raise a person's risk of cancer.
A little radiation has also been detected in Tokyo, triggering panic buying of food and water.
Given the reported radiation levels, John Price, an Australian-based nuclear safety expert, said he saw few health risks for the general public so far. But he said he was surprised by how little information the Japanese were sharing.
"We don't know even the fundamentals of what's happening, what's wrong, what isn't working. We're all guessing," he said. "I would have thought they would put on a panel of experts every two hours."
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the government expects to ask the U.S. military for help, though he did not elaborate. He said the government is still considering whether to accept offers of help from other countries.
Associated Press writers Elaine Kurtenbach and Shino Yuasa in Tokyo, David Stringer in Ofunato and Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok contributed to this report.

BREAKING: Fourth Explosion at Japan Nuclear Power Plant!!! ...

Video about breaking news of a fourth nuclear reactor experiencing a fire and/or explosion. Radiation levels in Tokyo are 23 times higher than normal. Japan's Fukushima nuclear reactors are on the verge of full meltdowns that would be a global catastrophe.

Cuba and Nuclear Energy: The Juragua Nuclear Power Plant in Cienfuegos...

EFT Archive. (Alert Research Group)

I. Identification

1. The Issue

Over the last several decades the island nation of Cuba has been faced with an ongoing energy crisis. Depending heavily upon imported oil, the Cuban government has attempted to seek an alternative to oil through nuclear energy. In cooperation with the Soviet Union, Cuba embarked on a project to construct and operate a nuclear power plant in Cienfuegos, known as Juragua. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union halted construction atJJuragua. Recent bilateral cooperation between Cuba and Russia has re-ignited the possibility of Juragua's completion in the near future. This has drawn condemnation from the United States, which views a nuclear reactor in Cuba as a threat to its national security. The U.S. has cited numerous safety concerns associated with Juragua, believing in the event of an accident it would be exposed to radioactive fallout. This case study will examine the trade and environmental aspects of Cuba's attempts to establish a nuclear power plant.

Photo Courtesy of Natural Resources Defense Council

2. Description

In 1976 Cuba and the Soviet Union signed an agreement to construct two 440-megawatt nuclear power reactors in the south central province of Cienfuegos, near Juragua, about 180 miles south of Key West, Florida. Juragua's nuclear reactors are the newest model (known as the VVER-440 model) of Soviet design and are the first Soviet-designed reactors to be built in the Western Hemisphere in a tropical environment.
This arrangement was aimed at alleviating Cuba's dependency upon foreign oil while bolstering its electricity capacity. The importation of oil has drained Cuba of its sparse hard currency. At the same time the country's production of electricity has been fraught with difficulties. As of 1992 Cuban power plants have been working at only 47% of their capacity, leading to frequent blackouts. It is believed that this figure has fallen further due to the relative decline in the Cuban economy since 1990. Upon competition, the first reactor, Juragua #1, would generate approximately 15% of Cuba's energy demands.
Actual construction of the reactors began in 1983. The Soviet Union supplied a majority of the reactor parts, dispatched technicians to supervise construction, and trained Cuban engineers to operate the reactors. According to 1992 GAO report, Russia tentatively scheduled the first reactor to be operational in late 1995 to early 1996. This was due in part to the Cubans constructing the reactor lacking experience and with all critical work being performed by Russians or under their supervision.
However, the breakup of the Soviet Union disrupted construction at Juragua. The newly formed Russian Federation in conjunction with its transitioning into a market economy established new economic ties with Cuba. Current bilateral ties between Russia and Cuba, now, involve providing technical assistance to Cuba on a commercial basis. At the same time the loss of Soviet subsidies to Cuba after 1990 has sent the Cuban economy into decline. As a result, on September 5, 1992, Cuban President Fidel Castro announced a suspension of construction at Juragua due to Cuba's inability to meet the financial terms set by Russia to complete the reactors. A September 1992 GAO report estimated that civil construction on the first reactor ranged from 90 to 97% complete with only 37% of the reactor equipment installed. About 20 to 30% of the civil construction on the second reactor was completed with the status of the equipment unknown.
Cuban-Russian attempts to resume construction at Juragua took place in October 1995. A high-level Russian delegation with full backing of the government arrived in arrived in Havana to conclude an agreement to complete construction. To raise the estimated 800 million dollars necessary to complete the reactors, Russia and Cuba decided to form a syndicate with potential third parties. Companies in Britain, Brazil, Italy, Germany and Russia expressed interest in an economic association, but as of yet have not concluded an agreement that moves them to take Juragua further than the maintenance phase. Yet, Cuba was rewarded with a 50 million dollar loan from Russia for support work at Juragua.
Cuba now receives financial support for the Juragua plants from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA has provided nuclear technical assistance in atomic energy development and in the application of isotopes and radiation. The IAEA has provided from 1991 to 1996 about $680,000 to Cuba to develop the ability to conduct a safety assessment of Juragua reactors, and in preserving or "mothballing", the reactors while construction is suspended. According to a 1997 GAO report, IAEA appropriations to Cuba from 1961 to 1996 totaled 12 million dollars.
Recent events have led to the speculation of resumption of construction in the near future. Although Cuba announced in January 1997 an indefinite postponement in construction, an official from the Ministry of the Russian Federation told General Accounting Officials in February that Russia intends to resume construction of Juragua in 1998. This will be accomplished through an international consortium of countries including Russia.
Cuba's attempt to establish a nuclear power plant has been met with substantial opposition. Think tanks such as the Center for Security Policy (CSP) believe that the Juragua reactors must not be allowed to operate. In his 1995 testimony before Congress, Roger W. Robinson, Jr, member of CSP's board of advisors, indicated that the Juragua reactors are inundated with safety problems: structural defects in support structures in key reactor components, integral reactor systems, including the reactor vessels, steam generators and primary cooling pumps were exposed to highly corrosive tropical sea weather, and that as many as 15% of 5,000 approved welds in key reactor equipment were found to be defective. Robinson's testimony's indicated that Cuban intelligence knowingly destroyed evidence proving the extent of the reactor's flaws, making it impossible to take effective corrective action to repair the welds.
CSP's concerns over safety issues at Juragua have been echoed by academic scientists. A Cuban geophysicist defector observed that Cuba lacks the sophisticated and technological infrastructure needed to support a safe nuclear reactor program. Vladimir Cerverra, who led quality control at Juragua, stated 60% of the Soviet material shipped for the two reactors was defective. Dr. Manuel Cereijo stated that although the Juragua reactors are not similar to the Soviet Chernobyl model they are nonetheless dangerous. Four similar Juragua type reactors (VVER-440) in East Germany were immediately shut down by West Germany upon reunification. Similar plants in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria are currently under inspection, shut down or have received extensive modification.
The critics of Juragua's viability to operate properly point to the following concerns: deficiencies in construction, lack of safety and quality control during the installation process, the poor Russian design of the instrumentation and control systems, the poor training and experience level of the Cuban personnel who were trained on Soviet model 230 reactors which were different from Juragua. Historically, accidents at nuclear power plants (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl), were due in large part to human error. As a result, critics see the possibility of an accident occurring at Juragua as a strong possibility and the effects of which would be environmentally cataclysmic to the Caribbean, Latin America and the United States.
The construction of a nuclear power plant in Cuba has drawn staunch opposition from the United States. U.S. policy towards a Cuban nuclear power plant reflects the same attitudes of Juragua's critics, those of great concerns over possible safety problems. A 1992 GAO report addressing the current status of Juragua concluded that, if the reactors were completed, the possibility of an accident was likely. As a result, the U.S. adopted a policy that opposes the completion of both reactors, and discourages other countries from providing assistance except for safety purposes to Cuba's nuclear program.
U.S. policy to prevent the completion of Juragua has led to increased pressure on Cuba. The Helms-Burton Act of March 1996 unequivocally stated congressional opposition to Juragua. The first article of the law declared a nuclear reactor in Cuba to be "an act of aggression", establishing a provision that requires U.S. sanctions against any countries that attempt to assist Cuba in finishing the Juragua reactors. From 1981 to 1996 the U.S. withheld its proportional funding to the technical cooperation fund of the IAEA for Cuba. Although this restriction has been rescinded, between 1981 and 1995, Cuba was denied a total of 2 million dollars. At the same time the U.S. Energy Department has refused to include Cuba in its 180 million nuclear safety program established with Russia and former Soviet Bloc states in Eastern Europe, totaling 59 reactors. Currently, Congress introduced legislation to cutoff U.S. funding to the IAEA, 16 million dollars, unless the IAEA suppresses its funding of Juragua. Cuba was slated to receive 1.7 million dollars for the 1997-1990 period.

Photo Courtesy of Natural Resources Defense Council