United States Nuclear Regulations Are “Gold Standard” or Just Gold Plated Fakery?

It appears virtually no American politician has lost any faith whatsoever in nuclear power. It also appears from numerous pro-nuclear power commentators that none of Japan’s problems could happen here (although their plants are based on U.S. designs and we have 54 virtually identical ones).

Please read the first “happy, happy, U.S. Number 1″ story and then compare it with story number 2 and 3.

It gives an excellent picture of our American beltway political fantasy versus unpalatable facts.

James Pilant

Graham: U.S. nuclear regulations are ‘gold standard’ (via McClatchy)

Sen. Lindsey Graham said Thursday that the Japanese crisis hasn’t shaken his confidence in nuclear power and praised President Barack Obama for moving ahead with federal loan guarantees to build new plants.

Graham said four new reactors planned for South Carolina and Georgia — two in each state — have different designs than the Fukishima Daiichi plant facing possible core meltdowns at as many as six reactors.

“These new designs are completely different than the Japanese reactors built in 1971,” Graham said. “The new designs do not depend on electrical pumps or mechanical systems to cool the reactors. The water going into the cooling system is gravity fed, so it’s not reliant on electricity to cool the reactor.”

House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn said the Japanese catastrophe will deliver “important lessons,” but he also pushed back against calls from some lawmakers to freeze all permitting of new nuclear plants in the United States.

“I have absolute confidence in the rigorous inspection and licensing regime in place at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” Clyburn, of Columbia, said. “I remain convinced that a clean energy future will not be possible without an investment in a diverse set of energy sources, including a renewed commitment to nuclear energy.”

U.S. nuclear plants store more spent fuel than Japan’s (via McClatchy)

U.S. nuclear plants use the same sort of pools to cool spent nuclear-fuel rods as the ones now in danger of spewing radiation at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, only the U.S. pools hold much more nuclear material. That’s raising the question of whether more spent fuel should be taken out of the pools at U.S. power plants to reduce risks. Workers in Japan have been struggling for days to get water into the spent-fuel pools at the plant, so that the fuel rods won’t be exposed to the air, burst into flames and set off a large radiological release.

Experts are debating whether America’s spent fuel pools would fare as badly or worse in an accident, and whether they could be made safer.

Nuclear safety: Five recent ‘near miss’ incidents at US nuclear power plants (via The Christian Science Monitor)

Fourteen safety-related events at nuclear power plants required follow-up inspections from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the NRC reported in 2010. These “near-miss” events “raised the risk of damage to the reactor core – and thus to the safety of workers and the public,” concluded a new report, “The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety in 2010,” by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Iodine-131 and Cesium-137

I found this on the web and added Wikipedia’s description of the dangers.

James Pilant

From Popular Mechanics

Courtesy Bethesda Games

The biggest radioactive risk right now comes from the byproducts of fission. Tokyo Electric Power Company, which runs the reactors, has reported releases of both iodine-131 and cesium-137, the two primary radionuclides that nuclear fission creates. According to Hutchinson, strontium-90 has also been detected, and the presence of cesium and strontium indicates fuel melting.

Iodine-131 moves through the atmosphere more easily than cesium-137, but it has a half-life of only eight days, according to Classic. That means it would be all but gone within weeks. Cesium-137, on the other hand, attaches itself to particles or debris. That means that eventually cesium-137 will fall out of the air onto the ground, and there it will stay until it decays. The isotope’s half-life is about 30 years, so it would be a long time before an area it traveled to would be free from radiation. Depending on the level of radiation, the area would have to be sectioned off or the material dealt with by a hazardous waste disposal team. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to radiation from cesium-137 near a nuclear accident site could significantly increase the risk of cancer. Trace amounts of cesium-137 are already in the environment worldwide, mostly because of nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and ’60s, but most of that has decayed.

The effects of exposure to Iodine-131 from Wikipedia

Iodine in food is absorbed by the body and preferentially concentrated in the thyroid where it is needed for the functioning of that gland. When 131I is present in high levels in the environment from radioactive fallout, it can be absorbed through contaminated food, and will also accumulate in the thyroid. As it decays, it may cause damage to the thyroid. The primary risk from exposure to high levels of 131I is the chance occurrence of radiogenic thyroid cancer in later life. Other risks include the possibility of non-cancerous growths and thyroiditis.

The risk of thyroid cancer in later life appears to diminish with increasing age at time of exposure. Most risk estimates are based on studies in which radiation exposures occurred in children or teenagers. When adults are exposed, it has been difficult for epidemiologists to detect a statistically significant difference in the rates of thyroid disease above that of a similar but otherwise unexposed group.

The risk can be mitigated by taking iodine supplements, raising the total amount of iodine in the body and therefore reducing uptake and retention in tissues and lowering the relative proportion of radioactive iodine. Unfortunately, such supplements were not distributed to the population living nearest to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after the disaster,[6] though they were widely distributed to children in Poland.

The effects of exposure to Cesium-137 : from Wikipedia

Caesium-137 is water-soluble and chemically toxic in small amounts. The biological behavior of caesium-137 is similar to that of potassium and rubidium. After entering the body, caesium gets more or less uniformly distributed through the body, with higher concentration in muscle tissues and lower in bones. The biological half-life of caesium is rather short at about 70 days.[4] Experiments with dogs showed that a single dose of 3800 μCi/kg (approx. 44 μg/kg of caesium-137) is lethal within three weeks.[5]

Accidental ingestion of caesium-137 can be treated with the chemical Prussian blue, which binds to it chemically and then speeds its expulsion from the body.[6]