Today, there are driver-less cars. Tomorrow, perhaps, we can literally be asleep at the wheel. When it comes to the dangers of nuclear waste and aging nuclear power plants, many are already asleep at the wheel. However, that is definitely not due to advancements in technology.
In March 2012, one year since the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, a Gallup Poll discerned that the American majority still favor nuclear power and consider it safe. Yet, 100 aging nuclear facilities in the United States are still operational, well past their projected life expectancy. Millions of tons of nuclear waste have accumulated, still awaiting a final, long term storage solution.
Sign in 230 square mile Fukushima Exclusion Zone says: “Nuclear energy is the energy of a bright future.” Photo by Arkadiusz Podniesinski
Scientific experts warn of serious nuclear plant vulnerabilities to natural and man-made disasters that endanger heavily populated regions throughout America. Indian Point Nuclear Facility, for instance, sits only 25 miles north of New York City. 20 Million people live within 50 miles of the aging 3 unit nuclear power plant station. Built in 1974, it is storing five times the amount of radioactive waste it was originally designed to hold. Not to mention, the technology is over 40 years old.
The Center for Science and Democracy wrote in 2013: "Back in 1976, when Reactor Unit 3 at Indian Point was first licensed, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) authorized its cooling pool to hold a maximum of 264 spent fuel assemblies. Now, however, 1,218 assemblies are packed into the pool like giant radioactive sardines in a large underwater tin."
The Center for Science and Democracy stated: "Sadly, the situation at Indian Point is the norm in the United States rather than the exception. More than 50,000 tons of spent fuel now sit in cooling pools that were never intended for long-term storage."
Bags of Radioactive Soil Pile up near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. Photo by Arkadiusz Podniesinski
Recently, a conference in NYC, "When Nuclear Plants Close - Challenges for U.S. Reactor Decommissioning", was an eye opener for this writer regarding this issue. The event, co-hosted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, and the New York Society for Ethical Culture, provided the opportunity for experts to illuminate the clear and present danger lurking in our very backyards.
Riverkeeper, founded in 1970, is a member-supported organization devoted to the protection of clean water. Paul Gallay, President and current Hudson Riverkeeper, is charged with protecting the Hudson River and the drinking water supply for nine million New Yorkers. In a passionate address at the conference, he warned: "The storage of nuclear waste on site is the responsibility of the NRC, but the NRC is not doing anything, saying it is safe."
Gallay reported that thirteen pools storing spent fuel rods in the U.S.A have pool leakage, including Indian Point. There is radiological discharge into water and sediment contamination.
John Sipos, a New York Assistant Attorney General, added that the ground beneath Indian Point's Units 1 and 2 alone contained 1.5 million cubic feet of contaminated soil.
Yet, none of this is front page news. Why were major newspapers and media outlets absent at the New York City conference? And, why aren't the U.S. Presidential candidates making this serious national issue part of the discussion?
Abandoned Supermarket in Fukushima Exclusion Zone. Photo by Arkadiusz Podniesinski
Admittedly, there has been some mainstream news coverage about Indian Point. In 2009 The Daily News published a shocking article about radioactive leaks and extensive radioactive contamination at Indian Point. The New York Times has reported on fires, explosions, and leaking pipes. Reuters has detailed numerous safety violations. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's Division of Environmental Permits has stated: “We are aware of previous and ongoing leaks from spent fuel pools and other systems, structures and components at the Indian Point.” The Associated Press has many reports communicating the dangers of aging nuclear plants, including Indian Point.
After the 1982 Three Mile Island meltdown, a million activists gathered in protest. This historical march is still the largest American environmental rally to this day and was part of a powerful movement that virtually shut down the building of new nuclear plants for decades. Why are the millions of citizens living in and around Indian Point and other reactors storing nuclear waste not speaking out today, much less marching to show concern?
President Carter's Limo Leaving Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant in 1979. Photo via Wall Street Journal
Three decades later, wide-spread anti-nuclear sentiment has waned. The conditions seem welcoming for nuclear industry to build more plants. Fortunately, the surge in cheaper, cleaner sources of energy has altered the economics of nuclear. It no longer works financially. Hugely expensive, unprofitable nuclear power plants around the world are closing. Over two dozen plants in America have been shuttered. An additional dozen or so are at risk of closing due to economic reasons. The cost of nuclear energy is rising as the cost of electricity from clean energy is going down.
That's the good news.
The not so good news is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the government agency responsible for regulating the industry and providing for permanent disposal of spent fuel, has no clear cut plan.
WE NEED TO WAKE THE FUKUSHIMA UP!!!
A review by The Union of Concerned Scientists of the revealing book "Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster" affirmed the seriousness of the threat faced: "A Fukushima-type nuclear disaster could happen in the U.S. Fukushima wasn’t a “Japanese” nuclear accident—it was an accident that happened to occur in Japan. Japanese and U.S. regulators share a mindset that severe, supposedly “low-probability”, accidents are unlikely and not worth the cost and time to protect against. Fukushima showed that unlikely events do occur."
Abandoned Cars in Fukushima Exclusion Zone. Photo by Arkadiusz Podniesinski
The decommissioning conference in NYC made clear that we can not wait for the NRC or the industry that created the waste to formulate a plan. Peter Bradford, former Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner, was quoted by POLITICO New York, one of the only media at the event. Bradford asserted: "States should be acting now to make sure the proper safeguards are in place when nuclear plants retire.....states should be gaining clarity about decommissioning law and regulation before plants retire rather than after.....I'm perplexed that many states are so deferential to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission."
Luckily, activists like Deb Katz, Executive Director of Citizens Awareness Network (CAN), are not so deferential to the NRC or the industry. Katz attended the conference in New York. She leads a regional group with over 4,000 members that was instrumental in the closure of 4 New England based reactors. They have won lawsuits against the NRC and nuclear corporations concerning decommissioning, public participation and high-level waste storage.
Hopefully, more engaged citizens will be inspired to become involved and act to pressure the industry, regulators and elected officials to act responsibly.
Anti-Nuke Rally, June 1982, NYC. Photo via New York Native
Despite enormous hurdles, there is still hope. Dr Helen Caldicott, legendary anti-nuclear activist and one of the organizers of the 1982 rally in NYC, says in “Crisis Without End: The Medical and Ecological Consequences of the Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe": "America has become as wealthy as it is not only because of natural resources but because of the ingenuity of its people...America can easily show Earth what an energy-responsible nation can do, and it could take pride in its achievements. But, for that, there needs to be a revolution, and that revolution has to come from you."
Paul Gallay echoed the sentiment in NYC at the decommissioning conference: "We need to raise our sabres. Sabre Rallying, the squeaky wheel gets the grease."
Let's rattle the sabres! Let's rattle them loud and grease the wheel!!
We are winning the battle for clean energy. We have not won the war, but it's going to happen.
"What we need is a New Green Deal, and nuclear power has no place in that vision," says Manna Jo Greene, Ulster County Legislator and Environmental Action Director, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. "Nuclear power is just too dangerous and there's no safe way of disposing of the spent, but still highly radioactive, nuclear waste. It is most urgent to unburden dangerously overcrowded fuel pools by requiring that the older fuel rods be immediately moved to hardened dry-cask storage, before a spontaneous fuel pool fire occurs -- and to phase out nuclear power altogether so we stop creating more and more waste."
We can not create a green, sustainable future without insisting that the government and the corporations that have made billions from nuclear power clean up the radioactive mess left on the door step of America.
Greene went on to say, "It is also important to hold all nuclear power plants responsible for developing clear decommissioning plans that protect public health and safety now and into the future and to require that they set aside adequate funds to ensure implementation, without further burdening the ratepayers. This is an issue that all our elected officials should be aware of and actively addressing."
What we need is an X Prize Foundation-like effort to generate ideas and enthusiasm, to come up with real and practical solutions on what to do with the tons of radioactive waste stored around the country.
Peter Diamandis and all you good, amazing folks at the X Prize Foundation, are you listening? You are doing amazing things. You have created Grand Challenges to find ways to clean up oil spills, to jump start a new era in lunar exploration. This is one concerned citizen who would love to see an X Prize challenge to clean up the nuclear garbage stored unsafely around the United States and the world.
Please click on the link below to the X Prize Foundation web site. Scroll Down to "What's Your Future X Prize Idea?"