This ran as “Remembering Fukushima” in the North Adams Transcript, “Fukushima worries hit close to home” in the Berkshire Eagle.
May 22, 2012
March 11 marked the one year anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. It wasn’t supposed to happen in Japan, one of the world’s leading economic powers and technical giants, but an earthquake and tsunami changed all that.
I spoke to Ana Wolf of Worthington when she was camped on the floor of a church basement. Wolf and a group of about 15-20 people were on “A Walk for a New Spring: Remembering Fukushima” sponsored by the New England Peace Pagoda. While at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts, they commemorated the one-year anniversary of Fukushima. The walk began at a Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire on March 2 and ended at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon, Vermont on Wednesday, putting 18 miles on their sneakers per day. Vermont Yankee is less than 70 miles from Pittsfield and less than 50 miles from North Adams.
Tired from a day that started at 6 a.m., Ana Wolf tells me that this is a critical time because all three nuclear plants are up for relicensing. Wednesday, the last day of the walk, was significant because the contract with Vermont Yankee and the state of Vermont was set to end.
Wolf has a fight on her hand. Nuclear fuel is attractive. When all goes well, there is neither air pollution nor water pollution. We are not dependent on foreign fuel. Nuclear energy’s contribution to global warming, air pollution and acid rain is virtually non-existent. According to the Vermont Yankee website, “Nuclear generated electricity avoids almost 650 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year in the U.S. This is nearly as much carbon dioxide as is released from all U.S. passenger cars.” And while there are spent fuel rods containing radioactive material, properly contained, they should not pose a problem if nothing happens. When nu clear power is good, it is very good.
Well, almost very good. Vermont Yankee is also dumping high volumes of hot water into the Connecticut River, causing thermal pollution and a fracas over licensing fees for the stuff, with environmentalists claiming shad and Atlantic salmon have been affected. One environmentalist asks, “Why aren’t the over 16,500 American shad that passed Turner’s Falls last year not even making it to the Vernon fish ladder?”
The spent radioactive fuel rods of Vermont Yankee will be around essentially forever. And nobody wants them. There is no federal depository set up for the spent fuel rods deep in a mountain with an impenetrable casket. Spent fuel rods keep pilling up at the plants themselves. Vermont Yankee was supposed to hold 600 spent fuel rods. It currently houses over four times that number.
Since spent fuel rod storage was meant to be temporary, many claim that the storage is insufficient. A significant amount of the radiation that was emitted at the Fukushima came from spent storage rods and not the active reactors themselves. Critics say that the United States has not learned from Fukushima. We have failed to minimize the threat posed by spent fuel rods with all the focus being on the active reactors.
When nuclear power goes bad, it can be a bad of apocalyptic portion. The first nuclear disaster I can remember was Three Mile Island disaster which happened March 28, 1979. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Russia resulted in a fire and an explosion that released massive amounts of radioactive material into the air causing widespread economic damage. While the U.N.-sponsored “Chernobyl forum” gave the number of 4,000 for cancer deaths attributable to the disaster, during the 25th anniversary last year, the Union of Concerned Scientist placed that number at approximately 25,000.
According to Wolf, Vermont Yankee is frighteningly similar to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in that both are boiling water reactors (where a nuclear reaction boils water that generates steam that propels a steam turbine that generates electricity). Also, both Fukushima and Vermont Yankee also use the “Mark 1” containment structure designed by General Electric. General Electric has press releases steadfastly defending the Mark 1 system, but the system failed in Fukushima.
According to New England Peace Pagoda, because of the Fukushima calamity, “more than 80,000 people have been forced to leave their homes with little hope of returning. In addition to the incalculable health costs, the decades-long process of clean-up and decontamination of almost 1,000 square miles of land may cost as much as $250 billion with limited prospects for success.” Fukushima is a frightening story considering there is a similar plant so close to the Berkshires.
Troubles are mounting. Failure is possible. In 2008, a cooling tower collapsed at Vermont Yankee. How safe is Vermont Yankee? We cannot count on Vermont Yankee for reliable information. In 2010, plant officials admitted that they had misled state officials by saying the plant did not have underground pipes that could carry tritium when they in fact did. Some of the misleading statements were made under oath.
Rinaldo Del Gallo III is a frequent Eagle contributor.
For more information, walkforanewspring. tumblr.com.