Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How does Fukushima differ from Chernobyl?

Japan has raised the severity level of its nuclear crisis to put it on par with the 1986 Chernobyl accident, the world's worst nuclear power disaster. But for all their criticism of how Tokyo Electric Power and Japan's government are handling the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, experts agree with them on one point: Fukushima is not another Chernobyl.

"Fukushima has its own unique risks, but comparing it to Chernobyl is going too far. Fukushima is unlikely to have the kind of impact on the health of people in neighboring countries, the way Chernobyl did," said nuclear specialist Kenji Sumita at Osaka University.

Here are the main points of how the two accidents differ.

Unit 4 at Chernobyl was a water-cooled and graphite-moderated reactor, a combination that can and did yield a runaway chain reaction. A series of gross errors and misjudgment by operators resulted in an explosion and fire that catapulted radioactivity into the upper atmosphere.

The resulting release of radiation has been compared to 10 times that released by the 1945 US nuclear bomb attack on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The boiling water reactors at Fukushima do not have a combustible graphite core. The nuclear fuel in reactors No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 was allowed to melt at least partially, but operators have since succeeded in cooling both the reactors and the spent fuel pools and no chain reaction is happening now.

As long as cooling operations continue and Japan can prepare tanks fast enough to store the contamination overflow, Japan can still hope to buy time to figure out how to bring the reactors to a cold shutdown.

Chernobyl had no containment structure and nothing stopped the trajectory of radioactive materials into the air. Fukushima's reactors are built on granite foundations and are surrounded by steel and concrete structures. The reactor vessels and containment structures, as well as some of the pipes leading from the reactors, are likely to have been damaged by the March 11 tsunami and recurring earthquakes. But with radiation levels now down to a sliver of what they were at the peak, experts say that the structures are still holding. Chernobyl contaminated an area as far as 300 miles from the plant, and an area spanning 18 miles around the plant is still an exclusion zone and uninhabited.

At Fukushima, there have been no deaths so far due to radiation. Eight people have been injured. More deadly have been the 9.0 magnitude quake that hit on March 11 and the aftershocks that have rocked the site while workers tried to bring the plant under control. Two have died and three have been critically injured.

At Chernobyl, the initial explosion resulted in the death of two workers. Twenty-eight of the firemen and emergency clean-up workers died in the first three months after the explosion from acute radiation sickness and one died of cardiac arrest.

Bungling, yes. Disorganized, incoherent and sometimes contradictory, yes. But it is difficult to accuse Japanese officials or TEPCO of intentionally covering up information, with round-the-clock updates and a steady stream of data.

Chernobyl was initially covered up by the secretive Soviet state, which remained silent for two days. But authorities, obliged by huge radiation releases throughout Europe, gradually disclosed details of the accident, showing unprecedented Soviet-era openness.

It's not over yet. One month since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, workers still have to inject water into the reactors, creating more contaminated water that is hampering the restoration of power to pumps to cool the reactors and bring them to a cold shutdown.

The situation led a frustrated and demoralized TEPCO spokesman to say that the total fallout could exceed that of Chernobyl. Fukushima involves loss of control at four reactors and potentially more radioactive material, that could continue to seep, leak or burst into the environment. Officials have said that if power cannot be restored to the cooling pumps, there are other measures, such as air cooling, and that in a worst-case scenario, they could try water entombment in the reactors whose containment structures are sound.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Obama flip-flops on raising debt limit

Talk about sounding hyporitical. Here is a speach by Obama from the Senate floor in 2006:
"The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. ... Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that 'the buck stops here.' Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem."

Now the same man is asking Congress top raise the debt ceiling. The country will reach its debt limit of $14.3 trillion by May 16. Instead of actually trying to do something to bring the debt down Obama is asking Congress to just raise the limit. Basically, just allowing the government to spend more mony that we don't have. Eventually the ridiculous debt is going to have to be dealt with.

"The president has asked us to increase the debt limit, in other words to increase the limit on the credit card, without doing anything about the source of the problem. And we've got to deal with the source of the problem," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Monday on Fox News Channel.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

France struggling to lead UN in Libya

France responded to rising criticism Wednesday from eastern Libyan rebels stating that NATO is not doing enough to protect them from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s forces, as the air campaign nears the three-week mark. The rebels posit that NATO is overly concerned with avoiding civilian casualties, and as a result, it is allowing the Libyan army to regain territory lost during its low point last week.

Indeed, the army’s most recent counteroffensive has taken it back through Brega, with Ajdabiya now within its sights once again, while the rebel enclave of Misrata in western Libya continues to get bombarded by loyalist forces on a daily basis. France, which was the biggest proponent of involvement in Libya from the start, would very much like to step up the intensity of the campaign against Gadhafi, but is handicapped by the rules of engagement that NATO is operating under and the inherent limitations of airpower.

Thus, French officials took time Wednesday to explain why it is not Paris’fault that NATO jets are not pursuing the enemy more aggressively and how France was trying to adjust the way the military operation is being conducted.

French Foreign Minister Alan Juppe and French Chief of Defense Staff Adm. Edouard Guillaud both said Wednesday that NATO’s aversion to killing civilians is the main problem facing the operation. While Juppe was slightly less direct in his criticism of NATO, Paris clearly sees the current situation as unlikely to lead to any real success on the battlefield. More than two weeks of daily airstrikes have taken out almost all of the easy targets, and Gadhafi has shifted his tactics to avoid drawing enemy fire, meaning that a stalemate is fast approaching.

Indeed, Juppe expressed fears that at the current pace, NATO forces risk getting “bogged down” in a situation that has the ability to linger on for months without producing a clear-cut winner.

NATO officials tried to defend its record in response to the rebel criticism and the French complaints, with one spokesman saying Wednesday that its planes have flown more than 1,000 sorties — with at least 400 of them strike sorties — in the last six days, and on April 5 alone it flew 155 sorties, with almost 200 planned for Wednesday. This is unlikely to mollify concerns from those who want more intense action, however, about the potential for the Libyan intervention to accomplish nothing but create an uneasy, de facto partition. As no one, not even Paris, wants to put boots on the ground, though, the best solution Jupee could proffer was to broach the topic of NATO’s timid approach with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in a Wednesday meeting. There, he was expected to push the suggestion for NATO to create a safe sea lane connecting Misrata to Benghazi, so that supplies could be shipped in by unknown naval forces.