Tag Archives: Dr. Helen Caldicott

Critics: Sandy Showed Nuclear Plants’ Vulnerability to Weather, Sabotage

Frequent storms, wilder weather extremes- nuclear facilities face dangers they are not prepared for. They put all of us at risk by their very nature. This is only compounded by regulatory laxness. It’s time to regulate the regulators, and long past time to start shutting down the reactors. We have energy alternatives that are safer and better. We must put our attention to developing and using them. We can’t wait until the nuclear industry is satisfied that they have gotten the last possible cent they can squeeze out of the public and government coffers. — Dr. Helen Caldicott

Oldest nuclear power plants in usa Nine Mile Point Unit 1
Constellation Energy’s Nine Mile Point Unit 1, on the southeastern shore of Lake Ontario near Oswego, New York, is the second-longest-operating nuclear station in the United States; it opened in 1969, the same year as Oyster Creek, and shares the same design. (Photograph courtesy Constellation Energy via PRNewsFoto)

This article was originally published in Global Security Newswire, produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group working to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

By Douglas P. Guarino, Global Security Newswire

The danger Hurricane Sandy posed to nuclear power plants along the East Coast highlights some of the same vulnerabilities that terrorists looking to release harmful radiation into the environment could exploit, watchdog groups said this week.

The unprecedented storm posed two main challenges to atomic energy facilities: rising water levels and interruptions to the electricity grid. Both have the potential to disrupt crucial cooling systems at the plants, and particularly those for pools used to cool spent reactor fuel. If spent fuel rods overheat and are exposed to air, they can cause fires and dangerous radiation releases.

In Lacey Township, N.J., the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant faced both of these challenges. High water levels threatened to submerge a water pump motor used to cool water in the plant’s spent fuel pool, Reuters reportedThe situation, caused by a combination of rising tide, wind direction, and storm surge affecting the Atlantic Ocean and adjoining estuaries, prompted the facility to declare an emergency “alert,” according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In addition, the Oyster Creek plant at one point experienced a power disruption that necessitated the use of two backup diesel generators, according to Reuters.

While such auxiliary power can usually keep cooling systems for a nuclear reactor itself operating, activists warn that NRC regulations do not require that such resources also be connected to the mechanisms that cool spent fuel pools.

“As soon as the electric grid goes down, water circulation pumps stop operating,” Kevin Kamps, a radioactive-waste specialist with the group Beyond Nuclear said in a statement released during the storm.

Pool water can begin to boil within “several hours” of loss of cooling, he noted, and could leave fuel rods exposed within “several to many days.”

Kamps told Global Security Newswire that the same problems could be caused by an intentional attack.

“While high winds can knock out the electric grid, so too can sabotage or terrorism,” Kamps said. He added that “normal cooling-water flow pathways and mechanisms,” threatened by high water during the storm at Oyster Creek and other nuclear plants, “could also be disrupted intentionally.”

In the event of a disruption to the usual spent fuel pool cooling system, power-plant operators could use fire fighting equipment in an attempt to replenish water lost through evaporation. Japanese authorities tried similar tactics during the Fukushima Daiichi disaster last year. Watchdog groups argue that relying on this is insufficient, however.

Steam generated by a boiling spent-fuel pool “could short-circuit critical safety systems throughout the nuclear plant,” Kamps said.

Robert Alvarez, who served as a senior adviser to the Energy secretary during the Clinton administration, noted that spent fuel pools were originally designed for temporary storage lasting no longer than five years. He cited a 2006 study by the National Academy of Sciences that said pools at nearly all of the more than 100 reactors in the United States now contain high-density spent-fuel racks that allow about five times more waste to be stored in the pool than was originally intended.

“The Oyster Creek spent-fuel pool is currently holding about 3,000 irradiated assemblies (including a recently discharged full core) containing about 94 million curies of cesium 137—more than three times more released from all atmospheric nuclear weapons tests,” Alvarez, now a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, said by e-mail. “Whether or not mega-storm Sandy portends what’s in store for the near future, it’s still too risky to use high-density spent-fuel pools as de facto indefinite storage for some of the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet.”

Watchdog groups have long advocated for an NRC rule that would require used fuel rods to be removed from pools and placed in hardened, dry casks as quickly as possible. Alvarez said dry casks at the Fukushima Daiichi site were “unscathed” by the earthquake and tsunami that threatened the plant’s spent fuel-storage pools last and caused meltdowns in three reactors.

Even in a worst-case scenario, the “consequences of a breach in a dry cask in terms of radioactive releases is about 2,500 times less than a spent-fuel pool fire,” Alvarez said. “Whereas a spent-fuel pool fire could create life-threatening contamination of hundreds of square miles.”

Following the Fukushima disaster, watchdog groups petitioned NRC to immediately require a number of upgrades at U.S. atomic energy plants. Among the activists’ demands were that the commission requires dedicated backup power systems for spent-fuel pools and that fuel rods be removed from the pools after five years.

NRC officials rejected the demands that they act immediately on these items, but agreed to consider them in their long-term review of lessons to be learned from Fukushima. Kamps said the threats posed by this week’s storm underscored the urgency of requiring such upgrades.

For now, the commission “is focused on the current situation with the plants,” according to NRC spokesman David McIntyre, who emphasized that “all of them are safe and have performed according to design and their license conditions.

“If there are lessons to be learned from Sandy, we will look at them, but we do not have the luxury that [the watchdog groups] have of being able to jump to conclusions before a situation even plays out,” McIntyre added.

In total, the Hurricane Sandy impacted at least a half-dozen nuclear plants, Reuters reported. Other affected sites include Unit 1 of the Salem, N.J., plant – which was shut down due to high water and debris – and Indian Point 3 in New York, which went offline due to fluctuations in the power grid caused by the storm.

John Keeley, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents the nuclear-power industry, noted that the majority of nuclear plants “in the path of the storm continued to produce electricity” and that the “ones that did shut down did so safely and securely.”

This article was originally published in Global Security Newswire, produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group working to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.


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The Nuclear Sacrifice of Our Children by Dr. Helen Caldicott




By Helen Caldicott


When I visited Cuba in 1979, I was struck by the number of roadside billboards that declared ”Our children are our national treasure.”

This resonated with me as a pediatrician, and of course it is true. But as Akio Matsumura said in his article, our children are presently being sacrificed for the political and nuclear agenda of the United Nations, for the political survival of politicians who are mostly male, and for “national security.”

The problem with the world today is that scientists have left the average person way behind in their level of understanding of science, and specifically how the misapplication of science, in particular nuclear science, has and will destroy much of the ecosphere and also human health.

The truth is that most politicians, businessmen, engineers and nuclear physicists have no innate understanding of radiobiology and the way radiation induces cancer, congenital malformations and genetic diseases which are passed generation to generation.  Nor do they recognize that children are 20 times more radiosensitive than adults, girls twice as vulnerable as little boys and fetuses much more so.

Hence the response of Japanese politicians to the Fukushima disaster has been ludicrously irresponsible, not just because of their fundamental ignorance but because of their political ties with TEPCO and the nuclear industry which tends to orchestrate a large part of the Japanese political agenda.

Because the Fukushima accident released 2.5 to 3 times more radiation than Chernobyl and because Japan is far more densely populated than the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, and because one million people have died within 25 years as a result of Chernobyl, we expect to see more than one million Japanese casualties over the next 25 years.  But the incubation time for cancer after radiation exposure varies from 2 to 90 years in this generation.  These facts also apply to all future generations in Japan that will be exposed to a radioactive environment and radioactive food.

It seems that the people in charge in Japan are busily ignoring or covering up these ghastly medical predictions and deciding in their ignorance that people can return to live highly contaminated areas or else remain living there.  Even areas of Tokyo are recording dangerous radioactive isotopes that originated in Fukushima in house-dust, in plants, and in street soil.

Thyroid cancers related to Chernobyl started appearing only three to four years post-accident (over 92,000 have now been diagnosed).  Yet only 12 months post-accident in the Fukushima Prefecture, 36% of 38,000 children under 18 have been diagnosed by ultrasound with thyroid cysts or nodules (most of these lesions should be biopsied to exclude malignancy). This short incubation time would indicate that these children almost certainly received a very high dose of thyroid radiation from inhaled and ingested radioactive iodine.

These results bode ill for the development of other cancers because hundreds of other radioactive elements escaped which are now concentrating in food, fish and human bodies and inhaled into the lungs.  Some elements are radioactive for minutes but many remain radioactive for hundreds to thousands of years meaning much of the Japanese food will remain radioactive for generations to come.  Nuclear accidents therefore never end.  40% of the European landmass is still radioactive and will remain so for millennia.

So what should happen in Japan? These are my recommendations.

  1. All areas of Japan should be tested to assess how radioactive the soil and water are because the winds can blow the radioactive pollution hundreds of miles from the point source at Fukushima.
  2.  Under no circumstances should radioactive rubbish and debris be incinerated as this simply spreads the isotopes far and wide to re-concentrate in food and fish.
  3. All batches of food must be adequately tested for specific radioactive elements using spectrometers.
  4. No radioactive food must be sold or consumed, nor must radioactive food be diluted for sale with non-radioactive food as radioactive elements re-concentrate in various bodily organs.
  5.  All water used for human consumption should be tested weekly.
  6.  All fish caught off the east coast must be tested for years to come.
  7.  All people, particularly children, pregnant women and women of childbearing age still living in high radiation zones should be immediately evacuated to non-radioactive areas of Japan.
  8. All people who have been exposed to radiation from Fukushima  – particularly babies, children, immunosuppressed, old people and others — must be medically thoroughly and routinely examined for malignancy, bone marrow suppression, diabetes, thyroid abnormalities, heart disease, premature aging, and cataracts for the rest of their lives and appropriate treatment instituted. Leukemia will start to manifest within the next couple of years, peak at five years and solid cancers will start appearing 10 to 15 years post-accident and will continue to increase in frequency in this generation over the next 70 to 90 years.
  9. All physicians and medical care providers in Japan must read and examine Chernobyl–Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment by the New York Academy of Sciences to understand the true medical gravity of the situation they face.
  10.  I also suggest with humility that doctors in particular but also politicians and the general public refer to my web page, nuclearfreeplanet.org for more information, that they listen to the interviews related to Fukushima and Chernobyl on my radio program at ifyoulovethisplanet.org and they read my book NUCLEAR POWER IS NOT THE ANSWER.
  11. The international medical community and in particular the WHO must be mobilized immediately to assist the Japanese medical profession and politicians to implement this massive task outlined above.
  12. The Japanese government must be willing to accept international advice and help.
  13. As a matter of extreme urgency Japan must request and receive international advice and help from the IAEA and the NRC in the U.S., and nuclear specialists from Canada, Europe, etc., to prevent the collapse of Fukushima Dai-ichi Unit 4 and the spent fuel pool if there was an earthquake greater than 7 on the Richter scale.As the fuel pool crashed to earth it would heat and burn causing a massive radioactive release 10 times larger than the release from Chernobyl. There is no time to spare and at the moment the world community sits passively by waiting for catastrophe to happen.
  14. The international and Japanese media must immediately start reporting the facts from Japan as outlined above. Not to do so is courting global disaster.


Re-posted from Reader Supported NewsAugust 28, 2012


Dr. Helen Caldicott is a pediatrician specializing in cystic fibrosis and the founding president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, which as part of a larger group that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. Please visit her website.



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