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Zainab Calcuttawala

Zainab Calcuttawala

Zainab Calcuttawala is an American journalist based in Morocco. She completed her undergraduate coursework at the University of Texas at Austin (Hook’em) and reports on…

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Are Nuclear Industry Lobbyists Putting The Public At Risk?


A new article in Science magazine suggests that the nuclear industry’s lobbying activities in Washington have resulted in the disapproval of a measure that would have protected Americans’ from the harmful effects of a nuclear-waste fire at reactor sites across the nation.

Princeton University researchers say in the article that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s inaction regarding spent-nuclear-fuel cooling pools near reactors leaves the public at high risk. The pools in question contain radioactive fuel rods and are densely packed with harmful nuclear waste. If set aflame, the radiation from its contents could affect an area two times the size of New Jersey.

A large earthquake or a terrorist attack using the pools could cost $2 trillion in damages and force eight million people to relocate.

"The NRC has been pressured by the nuclear industry, directly and through Congress, to low-ball the potential consequences of a fire because of concerns that increased costs could result in shutting down more nuclear power plants," said Princeton research physicist Frank von Hippel, who co-wrote the paper. "Unfortunately, if there is no public outcry about this dangerous situation, the NRC will continue to bend to the industry's wishes."

The end result of the Fukushima incident, in which a 9.0 magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that disabled cooling systems necessary to maintain reactor cores, would have been much worse if the pools had been damaged, the researcher said, pushing Congress to pass a regulation on the matter since the NRC had declined to do so.

"In far too many instances, the NRC has used flawed analysis to justify inaction, leaving millions of Americans at risk of a radiological release that could contaminate their homes and destroy their livelihoods," said Edwin Lyman at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "It is time for the NRC to employ sound science and common-sense policy judgments in its decision-making process."

By Zainab Calcuttawala for Oilprice.com

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  • Ken Bockman on June 03 2017 said:
    Pilot UFO: The site at your link includes a chart from NOAA which represented wave height from the 3/11/11 tsunami. However the .ru site identifies it as a map of radioactive contamination, as did any number of anti-nuclear websites. (See Snopes.com)
  • G.R.L. Cowan on May 29 2017 said:
    The paper is paywalled, and I'm not about to pay for it.

    Surely, though, this — "the nuclear industry’s lobbying activities in Washington" — is a phrase the likes of which would ensure a paper would not pass peer review.

    There's lobbying and then there's *lobbying*. When the US government forces a land-based electricity supply reactor offline for a week, natural gas suppliers pay it about two million dollars. If, and only if, the outage extends to later weeks, the suppliers pay the same again, every week. The companies are allowed to pass the cost on to electricity customers without showing it on the bills.

    Because these same suppliers of "natural", i.e. extracted from under the ground, gases also pipe them directly into people's houses, and radon is one of them, Fukushima-exceeding collective public radiation doses are just part of their trade.

    Unlike those real person-sieverts, the ones that could arise from spent nuclear fuel pools are fantasy. For a truthful gas lobbyist there are two difficulties. I guess the lesser is that there is a lot less radioactivity in a spent fuel pool than in a running, or recently shut down, reactor. Absent cooling, the water is heated by the rays (https://what-if.xkcd.com/29/ ) and initially the temperature rise rate is up to 1 Celsius degree per hour. As it warms, evaporation takes up an increasing fraction of the thermal power and the rate of warming diminishes, so that a final temperature of, if I recall, 80°C is reached after about a week.

    At this time evaporation is lowering the water level by 1.5 cm per hour. The minimum time before the water above the rods would cease to be an effective shield is therefore about 20 days. So if the high-up cement injector that was repurposed as a water injector at Fukushima Dai-ichi Unit 4 pool had been delayed a few days, the pool would still have been fine.

    The second difficulty is that if no water resupply help — not even a bucket brigade — ever comes, and the fuel ends up sitting dry at the bottom of an empty pool, it's soon going to be sitting in dry air. And in this circumstance, according to "Predictions of Spent Fuel Pool Heatup After a Complete Loss of Spent Fuel Pool Coolant", the stuff reaches an equilibrium air-cooled temperature that, while high, is not hot enough for it to catch fire.

    Do von Hippel et al. cite *that* paper? Or do they merely, like the economist stranded with canned food but no can opener, merely say something like, "Were ignition to occur ..."?
  • TimS on May 26 2017 said:
    The link between earthquakes/tsunami and nuclear fatalities is unfair, no one has been killed by radiation exposure at Fukushima, the thousands of deaths were caused by the tsunami and subsequently induced(suicides, abortions, heart-attacks) by fearmongers and sensationalist mass media to favor the fossil fuel industry.
  • Pilot UFO on May 26 2017 said:
    Fukushima - the method of Streltsov's of dismantling of emergency reactors:

  • Steve on May 26 2017 said:
    You failed to mention why those spent rods are still being stored onsite. Because the environmentalists, the same ones who hand-wring about global warming, protested and pitched a hissy fit when the NRC tried to solve the problem by building Yucca Mountain.

    They were successful in shutting down yet another attempt to safely dispose of this material. And since they will do anything to cause grief, they will do the same to the next attempt at disposal.

    Now they complain that the spent material is being stored on site. Heads they win, tails the taxpayer loses.

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