Thursday, March 17, 2011

A factual alternative to the media panic about the Japanese nuclear problems

Radiation released is no danger to public health. The fact that CNN, FoxNews and other TV broadcasters continue to promote fear is simply a drive for ratings, and should be ignored.

By Zbigniew Jaworowski, M.D., Ph.D., D. Sc. (He has been a member of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR)since 1973, and served as its chairman from 1980-1982.

Japan, perched on the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire," is one of the most seismically unstable countries. In the 20th Century, about 158,280 persons died there in nine major earthquakes, with Richter magnitude 6 and above. The Japanese had that in mind when building 55 nuclear reactors for 17 nuclear power plants, which supply the country with 34.5% of its electricity. They made them sturdy enough not to release any dangerous radioactivity outside the plant limits, even due to the worst earthquakes. The quake of March 11 2011, of magnitude 9.0, the greatest in the Japan history, proved that the plants operated almost as expected. No dangerous radioactivity was reported to escape from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plants into the environment outside the plants' limits, and nobody was seriously harmed by radiation among the public.

However, even though the power plants evidently withstood the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, they appeared to be sensitive to the enormous tsunami, with the waves up to 7 meters high, which flooded their emergency diesel power generators, intended to provide back-up power for the pumps that cooled the reactor core. This was evidently an effect of the poor original design of the 40-year-old power plant, as the generators were located just behind a sea wall on low-lying coastal ground. The tsunami overwhelmed the 6-meter high barrier. The result was an overheating of the cores of the reactors. Like Chernobyl 25 years ago, Fukushima now brings important lessons for the only 56-years-old nuclear power.

In the heavily affected prefectures of Miyagi, Fukushima, and Ibaraki, there are 11 nuclear power reactors. Those which operated during the earthquake were automatically shut down when tremors started, and the crews started standard procedures of cooling the "residual heat," i.e., pumping the water to the pressure vessels of the reactors. However, after an hour, the emergency power generators at Fukushima Daiichi plant were destroyed by the tsunami; the high pressure emergency cooling was lost, and before the mobile generators were supplied, the temperature of the core in the Unit 1 reactor increased to a level where the zirconium cladding of the fuel rods reacted with water, producing hydrogen gas. When the gas was released from the pressure vessel on 12 March, outside the primary containment, a hydrogen explosion occurred in the reactor building, outside the primary containment vessel, which remained intact. This technically aggravated situation injured several persons, but did not cause a large release of radioactivity to the environment. Cesium-137 and iodine-131 levels increased initially after the explosion, but these levels have been observed to lessen a few hours later.

On 14 March, this was repeated with an explosion at the Unit 3 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The reactor building was destroyed, but again, the primary containment vessel remained intact and kept inside the radioactivity released from reactor fuel. And on 15th March at 6 a.m. local time, a third hydrogen explosion occurred inside the plant's Unit 2 reactor. Pressure readings indicated that the reactor's containment vessel may have been damaged.

In addition to these three hydrogen explosions in four days, radiation has also spread into the atmosphere from the spent fuel pond at the Unit 4 reactor at this plant. A dose of up to 400 mSv per hour has been reported from a single location between reactor 3 and 4; later this dropped to 11.9 mSv per hour, and after six hours, to 0.6 mSv. The fire was probably caused by a hydrogen explosion. As a precaution, the workers have been evacuated from the vicinity of this reactor. The fire was extinguished early on 15th March, and according to a spokesman for the Prime Minister, the fuel in the pond did not cause the fire.

All four reactors in the Fukushima Daini nuclear plant have now achieved cold shutdown, where coolant water is at less than 100oC, with full operation of the cooling system. Water levels are now stable in all four reactors and offsite power is available. According to Metropolitan Government's Office in Charge of Health and Safety the radiation readings in Tokyo were by 11 a.m. on 15 March 0.147 microSv, i.e. at natural level. This was in agreement with the data reported by American 7th Fleet operating in the Tokyo area showing very low levels of airborne radiation.

Precautionary Measures

Several precautionary measures were taken by the authorities. More important among them were evacuation of about 200,000 residents of ten towns near the affected nuclear plants, and distribution of 230,000 units of stable iodine to evacuation centers from the area around the Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Daini nuclear power plants. The iodine has not been yet administered to residents, as this measure is not necessary.

The situation at the Fukushima nuclear plants is still unpredictable. However, one may imagine what would happen in the (rather improbable) case of a total reactor meltdown of all Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Daini power plants. We know what happened after a partial reactor meltdown in 1979 Three Mile Island event and a full meltdown in the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe. In Japan, the result would be probably similar as in the Three Mile Island power plant accident, where the reactor was protected by a thick concrete containment which efficiently retained fission products: There was almost no emission of radionuclides into the atmosphere, except innocuous radioactive noble gases, and practically zero radiation exposure of population.

There is a zero possibility of repeating in Japan the scenario from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The Chernobyl plant, an engineering pathology - a hybrid of a military plutonium factory and a power station, was not fitted with a containment vessel, and for ten days the radioactivity was freely escaping from the melted reactor, roasting in the burning graphite used for its construction. But even if by a magic miracle the containments of the Japanese plants perished completely in the quake or tsunami, the residents around them would not be harmed by radiation.

This is what we learned from the Chernobyl disaster, in which not a single person died among the affected populations of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, as according to a recent report of United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, a body most authoritative in radiation matters (UNSCEAR 2011), the radiation doses from Chernobyl fallout (of about 1 mSv per year) were below the natural radiation, too small to produce any effect. Even after ten times higher doses, the result would be the same.

See: UNSCEAR. 2011. Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation. Vol. II. Annex D. "Health effects due to radiation from the Chernobyl accident", pp. 1-173. United Nations.

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How Japan's tsunami threatens the global warming movement

The nuclear emergency is Japan will be a disaster for global warming activists. For a start, Japan's own emissions will most likely rise in the medium term, now that so many nuclear plants - one of the most greenhouse-friendly power sources - have been knocked out:

Analysts think Japan will compensate for the shutdown of its 10 nuclear reactors by relying more heavily on traditional fossil fuels.

It can choose from a variety of sources. The majority of Japan's energy is produced by power plants fired by coal, most of it from Australia. It burned 37,500 tons of coal in 2009. Japan also consumed 3.3 trillion cubic feet of liquefied natural gas that year, imported mainly from Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia.

Japan also operates natural gas-burning generators and a number of aging, oil-fired plants that can be cranked up when demand for energy peaks.

Second, while in the short term emissions growth will be dampened by emergency power cuts, the destruction of whole sea-side towns and a possible economic slump, the reconstruction is going to demand huge increases in the production of emissions-intensive steel, concrete and aluminium.

Third, the fear-mongering about nuclear will almost certainly slow the renewed push to build many more nuclear power stations around the world:

Germany today announced the temporary closure of its two oldest nuclear power stations and suspended plans to extend the life of all of the country's remaining plants as jitters over nuclear power spread across the world.

Switzerland also put on hold plans to build and replace nuclear plants and Austria's environment minister called for atomic stress tests to make sure Europe's nuclear facilities are "earthquake-proof". On Tuesday there will be an emergency meeting of European Union nuclear safety authorities and operators to assess Europe's preparedness in case of an emergency.

This will mean more countries will be forced to use fossil fuels rather than nuclear, the only relatively cheap source of greenhouse friendly base-load power other than hydroelectricity, also opposed by most greens. Few will dare now to commit to huge cuts in emissions, and especially not in this shaky economic environment, made more turbulent by Japan's disaster. Few will be willing to trust to the green alternatives - all expensive, under-developed or unreliable.

Meanwhile, Japan is living the green dream with nuclear power taken off line and Earth Hours every day:

Tohoku Electric Power Co. said Tuesday that it would implement electricity rationing from Wednesday to deal with power shortages in the wake of Friday's powerful earthquake, a day after Tokyo Electric Power Co. took the unprecedented measure in areas near the capital.

With the rationing set to continue through the end of April in eastern Japan, and longer in northeastern Japan, concerns are growing over its impact on the Japanese economy and people's everyday lives through the suspension of factory operations and reduced train services....

The planned power outages through April are expected to affect many of the 45 million people in TEPCO's service area covering Tokyo, Chiba, Gunma, Ibaraki, Kanagawa, Saitama, Tochigi, Yamanashi and part of Shizuoka prefectures. The area has been divided into five groups, each of which could experience electricity outages for 3 to 6 hours a day on a rotating basis.

I don't think Earth Hour will have the same resonance again in Japan.

The conclusion: Japan will have to learn from this disaster how to make its nuclear power stations even more invulnerable. And global warming activists - or those who don't dream of mud hits - should pray they succeed.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

Risk-Free Energy: Surely, You Must Be Joking

It was only a matter of time before environmentalists would point toward Japan, say, "We told you so," and then declare a moral victory for anti-nuclear activism. Merely for the sake of argument, let's pretend they are right.

Eliminating nuclear power might be a nice experiment. But there is one big problem: Environmentalists are trying to eliminate all the other alternatives, as well.

They oppose oil because drilling poses a risk to the environment. That is primarily why the United States is not tapping its own natural resources, such as in ANWR. Also, the U.S. has to rely on foreign powers-- often dictators-- to satisfy our "oil addiction." This threatens our national security and is ethically questionable. So, scratch oil off the list.

Coal is no good, either. The reason is because it is environmentally hazardous to extract, in addition to being dangerous to miners. Besides, burning it produces too much carbon dioxide and contributes to global warming. "Clean coal" is a fiction, according to environmentalists, so it is not worth researching.

Natural gas? Nope. Although it is much cleaner than coal, it is not carbon neutral. Thus, natural gas should be avoided, too.

Hydroelectric power used to enjoy broad support, but that appears to no longer be the case. Some now express concern because the process of constructing the plant itself (such as creating a reservoir) releases greenhouse gases. Environmentalists in Ohio blocked the construction of a hydroelectric plant because it would endanger plants and inconvenience fish.

It is fashionable today to support wind energy, unless you live near Nantucket Sound, where it is socially acceptable to oppose the Cape Wind project on aesthetic grounds. Others oppose wind turbines because they occasionally kill a few birds.

Ideally, the world would run entirely on solar power. It is both clean and safe, and the sun provides the planet with enough energy in a single hour to power the world for an entire year. And the best thing is it's completely renewable. (Well, that is, until the sun burns out.)

This is as close to a magical solution as is currently possible. However, solar cell efficiency (converting sunlight to electricity) remains an enormous technological obstacle. Currently, solar power only provides about 1% of our national energy, and it is unlikely to greatly increase anytime soon. But even if we could increase the efficiency of solar power, evidence indicates that environmentalists would oppose that, too. In California, the construction of a solar power plant has been held up due to concerns raised over the welfare of a lizard.

By now, the following fact should be quite obvious: All sources of energy pose some sort of risk or cost. Risk-free, cost-free energy is a complete myth and simply does not, and will not, exist.

Groups that never propose realistic solutions are simply not worth taking seriously. Unfortunately, this characterizes the arguments put forth by some environmentalists. They should not be given a seat at the adults' table until they demonstrate an ability to propose a serious solution to the most serious of problems.


There's 21 Born Every Minute

What kind of person actually believes that they control the climate? Even if they believed the climate models, they should know that nothing they propose would make a rat's ass worth of difference anyway. It is all feel good nothingness.

We read:
Thirty-one Republicans on the House Energy And Commerce Committee - the entire Republican contingent on the panel - declined on Tuesday to vote in support of the very idea that climate change exists.

Democrats on the panel had suggested three amendments that said climate change is a real thing, is caused by humans and has potentially dire consequences for the future. The amendments came on a Republican bill to block the EPA from offering regulations to mitigate the results of global climate shifts. The global scientific community is in near unanimous agreement that climate change is real, and that humans contribute to it.

None of the 31 Republicans on the committee would vote yes on any of the amendments (Rep. Marsha Blackburn [R-TN] declined to vote on one.) The committee's 21 Democrats voted yes on all three.

Though the result may seem shocking to supporters of climate legislation, activists say this is pretty much what they expect from the GOP these days. There was a time when members of the mainstream GOP were ready to offer their own solutions to climate change. But in the tea party age, those Republicans are few and far between at best, observers say.


The EPA is Fueling Nonsense

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is suffering policy schizophrenia. On the one hand, it has ordered automakers to increase fuel efficiency to save the planet from global warming. On the other hand, it is setting higher quotas of ethanol in gasoline, which will decrease fuel efficiency and increase emissions of the greenhouse gases that the EPA claims cause global warming.

Both actions will cost consumers and the economy a bundle.

The stricter fuel-efficiency standards require automakers to attain a fleet-wide average fuel economy level of 34.1 mpg by model year 2016 for passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles. The rules-running some 300 pages-dictate fuel efficiency standards by model type, weighted by sales volume. The re-engineering required for compliance will add $1,000 or more to the sticker price of passenger cars.

Meanwhile, the agency is expanding the allowable proportion of ethanol in gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent. Because ethanol contains less energy per gallon than gasoline, the higher quota will reduce fuel efficiency by an estimated 5 percent to 30 percent per gallon, depending upon the vehicle model. It will also increase the billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to producers of the fuel and dramatically hike demand for corn, which will raise the prices of corn sweeteners, starches, syrup, oil, and livestock feed. The resulting spike in food prices will increase government spending on food stamps and child nutrition programs-by $1 billion a year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

There are significant environmental costs as well, according to some researchers. For example, two studies published in 2008 by the journal Science reported that the cultivation of corn for ethanol and other biofuel feedstocks substantially increases emissions of the greenhouse gases that are supposedly causing climate change. One of the studies calculated that corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20-percent reduction, nearly doubles greenhouse gas emissions over 30 years. The excess emissions result from land conversions that are driven by demand for corn and other crops used to produce "renewable" fuels. According to the researchers, soil and plants together store 2.7 times more carbon than is present in the atmosphere. Thus, burning and plowing grasslands, rain forest, savannas and peat land for crop cultivation releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Moreover, the loss of plants and soil reduces the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that otherwise would occur.

Lower fuel efficiency, higher food prices, more corporate welfare and environmental degradation-your EPA at work.


Let There Be Light

During a Senate hearing last week, Rand Paul complained about the federal energy standards that will force conventional incandescent light bulbs off the market during the next few years. "I can't buy the old light bulbs," the Tennessee Republican said. "That restricts my choice."

The response from an Energy Department official nicely illustrated the paternalistic, know-it-all attitude Paul was criticizing. "I'm pro-choice on bulbs," insisted Kathleen Hogan, the deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency. "My view is, what you want is lighting." And the government, in its infinite wisdom, will tell you what kind of lighting is best for you.

By this logic, the government could ban cars without meaningfully restricting consumer choice, because what you want is transportation, and you can always ride a bike or take a bus. The fact that you have implicitly rejected the tradeoffs entailed by those other options does not matter.

And so it is with light bulbs. The energy efficiency standards that have doomed the most popular varieties, set forth in a law signed by President George W. Bush in 2007, will begin to take effect in January, making conventional 100-watt bulbs illegal. By 2014, all traditional bulbs (except for a few specialized uses) will be abolished, to be replaced by more efficient alternatives, mainly compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).

Kathleen Hogan is right: What I want is lighting, and CFLs are not very good at providing it. Unlike incandescent bulbs, CFLs do not go on when you flip a switch -- they think about going on and then, after mulling the idea for a few minutes, achieve their maximum brightness when you are done with whatever you were planning to do, which is especially annoying in the bathroom.

CFLs do not work well with dimmers, which we have throughout our house, and sometimes they emit an unbearable whine. And did I mention that they cost up to six times as much as their incandescent competitors?

CFLs "cost more than traditional incandescent bulbs," USA Today concedes, "but they last longer." Not in our house, the one we lived in before this one, or the one before that.

One reason our CFLs don't last as long as advertised may be that we turn them on and off. According to a 2009 report in The Telegraph, "The lifespan of energy-saving light bulbs can be reduced by up to 85 percent if they are switched off and on too often."

If you try to avoid this problem by leaving the lights on, you undermine the main selling point of CFLs, which is that they save electricity by producing more light for the same amount of energy. "A household that upgrades 15 inefficient incandescent light bulbs," Hogan enthuses, "could save about $50 per year."

That calculation takes into account the higher price of CFLs, but I suspect it assumes they last longer than they really do. In any event, I would gladly pay 14 cents a day for the luxury of lights that go on when I turn them on. But the government won't let me.

I am not a fuddy-duddy clinging to "the incandescent light bulb that has its origins in Thomas Alva Edison's laboratory" -- as Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, put it when he introduced a bill to repeal the bulb ban -- simply because it's familiar. I will be happy to use CFLs if and when their manufacturers get the kinks out, or LED bulbs when they become affordable. But I am not the only one who thinks we're not there yet, judging from the Energy Department's estimate that more than 80 percent of residential lights sockets were still occupied by incandescent bulbs last year.

By forcing this transition, the government is ignoring the preferences that most Americans have clearly expressed in the marketplace. Which explains why I cheered when I heard Paul declare: "You busybodies always want to do something to tell us how to live our lives better. Keep it to yourselves."



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here


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