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Thread: Japanese Nuclear Reactors in Peril, Radiation Surges after Earthquake, Tsunami

  1. #1
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    Japanese Nuclear Reactors in Peril, Radiation Surges after Earthquake, Tsunami

    This is one of the reasons i have always been leery of nuclear power. There are too many
    possibilities of natural as well as terrorist disasters to feel entirely comfortable with this form of energy in my opinion.

    Japanese nuclear reactors in peril, radiation surges after earthquake, tsunami.
    By Steven Mufson
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, March 11, 2011; 9:29 PM
    Japanese authorities declared a state of emergency Saturday for five nuclear reactors at two quake-stricken power plants as military and utility officials scrambled to tame rising pressure and radioactivity levels inside the units and stabilize the facilities used to cool the plants' hot reactor cores.

    Radiation surged to around 1,000 times the normal level in the control room of one reactor, Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said. Meanwhile, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Saturday that the temperatures at two other reactors at a different power station were rising and that it had lost control over pressure in the reactors.

    Though no significant release of radioactivity had taken place, the earthquake, which forced the automatic shutdown of 11 of the country's 55 nuclear power plants, is certain to rattle confidence in nuclear power in Japan, where people have long been sensitized to the dangers of radioactivity releases, and in the United States, where foes of nuclear power were already pointing to the Japan crisis as a warning sign.

    The closure of the plants, representing nearly 20 percent of the country's capacity, also deals an economic blow to Japan, which relies on nuclear power for one-third of its electricity generation.

    "It's a very serious situation for the reactors and might ultimately render those reactors unusable," said Howard Shaffer, a former Navy submarine engineer and a member of the public information committee of the American Nuclear Society.

    Japanese authorities initially evacuated about 3,000 residents living within a 1.9-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi plant on the east coast about 200 miles north of Tokyo and south of the heavily damaged town of Sendai. Later they widened that evacuation to a six-mile radius. People within a 16.2-mile radius were told to remain indoors, according to the Web site of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Incident and Emergency Centre.

    Tokyo Electric Power, which owns the Fukushima Daiichi complex, said later that it was also having trouble controlling three of the four reactors it owns at its nearby Fukushima Daina plant.

    NISA said no dangerous radioactivity had been released, but the government took the unusual step of evacuating nonetheless.

    The problems at the nuclear plants came in waves, starting with two of the six Daiichi units.

    The earthquake disrupted the electric power the reactors normally use to run their cooling facilities, which pump water into the reactor core to cool the spent fuel there. The reactors switched to backup diesel generators, but the tsunami then swept in and shut down the generators used for the No. 2 reactor at Fukushima Daiichi. The unit then tapped excess steam in the core to power a turbine and switched to battery power, which would last only a few hours.

    "There's a basic cooling system that requires power, which they don't have," said Glenn McCullough, former chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority, who was tracking the Japan situation.

    Utility and Japanese government officials raced to get another generator to the site to prevent a possible partial meltdown similar to what took place in 1979 at Three Mile Island. By Saturday morning they said they had succeeded. The utility said it had restored power from the grid, but the IAEA said power was restored from "mobile electricity supplies."

  2. #2
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    Meanwhile, Tokyo Electric said it had decided to vent slightly radioactive steam and gas to relieve pressure that had increased sharply in the containment building at unit No. 1. The company said on its Web site that the increase was "assumed to be due to leakage of reactor coolant." It remained unclear where the leak was. The company said it did not think there was leakage of reactor coolant in the containment vessel "at this moment."

    The purpose of a containment building, which surrounds the reactor core, is to contain unplanned releases of steam or gases from the core. If there is not enough water in the reactor core, water turns to steam and is released through special valves into the containment building, nuclear experts said. That could cause an increase in pressure inside the sealed containment building and ultimately force a release of gas and steam through filters meant to keep most, though not all, of the radiation inside the building.

    There were also reports of elevated radiation levels inside the control room of that reactor unit, which was built 40 years ago by General Electric.NISA said levels were 1,000 times the norm. The Associated Press later quoted an official from NISA as saying that a measurement of radiation levels outside the plant was eight times as high as normal. Even that level of radiation still posed little danger to residents, nuclear experts said. They also said the release of steam and gas from containment buildings posed little danger.

    The status of Tokyo Electric's Daina plants remained unclear. Earlier, they had been said to have completed automatic shutdowns. But Saturday, Tokyo Electric suggested that they were having problems similar to the ones at the other nuclear complex because of disruptions in the power supply needed to run cooling facilities.

    "The danger is the very thermally hot reactor cores at the plant must be continuously cooled for 24 to 48 hours," said Kevin Kamps, a specialist in nuclear waste at Beyond Nuclear, a group devoted to highlighting the perils of nuclear power. "Without any electricity, the pumps won't be able to pump water through the hot reactor cores to cool them."

    President Obama said at a news conference that he had told Energy Secretary Steven Chu to offer help to Japan.

    In a statement that confused nuclear experts, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday morning that U.S. Air Force planes in Japan had delivered "coolant" to a nuclear power plant affected by the quake. Nuclear reactors do not require special coolants, only large amounts of pumped water.

    "They have very high engineering standards, but one of their plants came under a lot of stress with the earthquake and didn't have enough coolant," she said, "and so Air Force planes were able to deliver that."

    An Air Force spokesman at the Pentagon, however, said he was unaware of any deliveries being made by Air Force planes related to the reactor issues.

    "To our knowledge, we have delivered nothing in support of the nuclear power plant," Lt. Col. John Haynes said. "Obviously, we stand by to assist with anything they might need." He said the Air Force had received no formal request for help.

    State Department officials later said Clinton misspoke.

    In addition to the efforts to get Tokyo Electric's nuclear reactors under control, Japan's NISA said Friday that a fire had broken out at the Onagawa nuclear power plant but was later extinguished. The three reactors at the Onagawa site remained closed.

    The key buildings in the Onagawa plant are about 15 meters above sea level, according to the Web site of Tohoku Electric Power, owner of the plant. The company said that was about twice the height of the previous highest tsunami.

    The IAEA said it is seeking details on Japan's nuclear power plants and research reactors, including information on off-site and on-site electrical power supplies, cooling systems and the condition of the reactor buildings. Nuclear fuel requires continued cooling even after a plant is shut down, the IAEA noted.

    "This is the most challenging seismic event on record, so it is a severe test," McCullough said. "Clearly the Japanese government is taking this very seriously."

  3. #3
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    Huge blast at Japan nuclear power plant

    By Richard Black
    Environment correspondent, BBC News

    The word "meltdown" goes to the heart of the big nuclear question - is nuclear power safe?

    The term is associated in the public mind with the two most notorious accidents in recent memory - Three Mile Island, in the US, in 1979, and Chernobyl, in Ukraine, seven years later.

    You can think of the core of a Boiling Water Reactor (BWR), such as the ones at Fukushima Daiichi, as a massive version of the electrical element you may have in your kettle.

    It sits there, immersed in water, getting very hot.

    The water cools it, and also carries the heat away - usually as steam - so it can be used to turn turbines and generate electricity.

    If the water stops flowing, there is a problem. The core overheats and more of the water turns to steam.

    The steam generates huge pressures inside the reactor vessel - a big, sealed container - and if the largely metal core gets too hot, it will just melt, with some components perhaps catching fire.

    In the worst-case scenario, the core melts through the bottom of the reactor vessel and falls onto the floor of the containment vessel - an outer sealed unit.

    This is designed to prevent the molten reactor from penetrating any further. Local damage in this case will be serious, but in principle there should be no leakage of radioactive material into the outside world.

    But the term "in principle" is the difficult one.

    Continue reading the main story

    Start Quote

    The job of keeping dangerous materials sealed in falls to the containment vessel inside.”

    Reactors are designed to have "multiply redundant" safety features: if one fails, another should contain the problem.

    However, the fact that this does not always work is shown at Fukushima Daiichi.

    The earthquake meant the three functioning reactors shut down. But it also removed the power that kept the vital water pumps running, sending cooling water around the hot core.


    Diesel generators were installed to provide power in such a situation. They did cut in - but then they cut out again an hour later, for reasons that have not yet been revealed.

    In this case, redundancy did not work. And the big fear within the anti-nuclear movement, as used in the film The China Syndrome, is that the multiple containment of a molten core might not work either, allowing highly radioactive and toxic metals to burrow into the ground, with serious and long-lasting environmental impacts - total meltdown.

    However, the counter-argument from nuclear proponents is that the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island did not cause any serious effects.

    Yes, the core melted, but the containment systems held.

    And at Chernobyl - a reactor design regarded in the West as inherently unsafe, and which would not have been sanctioned in any non-Soviet bloc nation - the environmental impacts occurred through explosive release of material into the air, not from a melting reactor core.

    To keep things in perspective, no nuclear accident has caused anything approaching the 1,000 fatalities stemming from Friday's earthquake and tsunami.

    'Subcritical' reactors
    Whether a partial meltdown is under way at Fukushima Daiichi is not yet clear.

    The most important factor is summed up in a bulletin from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) that owns the facility: "Control rods are fully inserted (reactor is in subcritical status)."


    A large explosion was seen at the plant with debris blow out from the building
    Control rods shut off the nuclear reaction. Heat continues to be produced at that stage through the decay of radioactive nuclei - but that process in turn will begin to tail off.

    Intriguingly, Ryohei Shiomi, an official at Japan's Nuclear Safety Commission, is widely quoted as having said a meltdown was possible and that officials were checking.

    Meanwhile, a visually dramatic explosion in one of the reactor buildings has at least severely damaged the external walls.

    In principle, this should not cause leakage of radioactive material because the building is just an outside shell; the job of keeping dangerous materials sealed in falls to the the metal containment vessel inside.

    Chief cabinet secretary Chief Yukio Edano confirmed this was the case, saying: "The concrete building collapsed. We found out that the reactor container inside didn't explode."

    He attributed the explosion to a build-up of hydrogen, related in turn to the cooling problem.

    Under pressure
    The only release of any radioactive material that we know about so far concerns venting of the containment vessel.

    When steam pressure builds up in the reactor vessel, it stops some of the emergency cooling systems working, and so some of the steam is released into the containment vessel.

    Continue reading the main story

    Start Quote

    The whole incident so far contains more questions than answers”

    Richard Black
    However, according to World Nuclear News, an industry newsletter, this caused pressure in the containment vessel to rise to twice the intended operating level, so the decision was taken to vent some of this into the atmosphere.

    In principle, this should contain only short-lived radioactive isotopes such as nitrogen-16 produced through the water's exposure to the core. Venting this would be likely to produce short-lived gamma-ray activity - which has, reportedly, been detected.

    One factor that has yet to be explained is the apparent detection of radioactive isotopes of caesium.

    This is produced during the nuclear reaction, and should be confined within the reactor core.

    If it has been detected outside the plant, that could imply that the core has begun to disintegrate.

    "If any of the fuel rods have been compromised, there would be evidence of a small amount of radioisotopes in the atmosphere [such as] radio-caesium and radio-iodine," says Paddy Regan, professor of nuclear physics at the UK's University of Surrey.

    "The amount that you measure would tell you to what degree the fuel rods have been compromised."

    It is an important question - but as yet, unanswered.

    Cover-ups and questions
    In fact, the whole incident so far contains more questions than answers.

    Parallels with Three Mile Island and Chernobyl suggest that while some answers will materialise soon, it may takes months, even years, for the full picture to emerge.

    How that happens depends in large part on the approach taken by Tepco and Japan's nuclear authorities.

    As with its counterparts in many other countries, Japan's nuclear industry has not exactly been renowned for openness and transparency.

    Tepco itself has been implicated in a series of cover-ups down the years.

    In 2002, the chairman and four other executives resigned, suspected of having falsified safety records at Tepco power stations.

    Further examples of falsification were identified in 2006 and 2007.

    In the longer term, Fukushima Daiichi raises several more very big questions, inside and outside Japan.

    Given that this is not the first time a Japanese nuclear station has been hit by earthquake damage, is it wise to build such stations along the east coast, given that such a seismically active zone lies just offshore?

    And given that Three Mile Island effectively shut down the construction of civilian nuclear reactors in the US for 30 years, what impact is Fukushima Daiichi likely to have in an era when many countries, not least the UK, are looking to re-enter the nuclear industry?
    Last edited by Havakasha; 03-12-2011 at 11:16 AM.

  4. #4
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    Nuclear Industry Braces for Increased Scrutiny
    By NORIMITSU ONISHI, HENRY FOUNTAIN and TOM ZELLER Jr.
    Published: March 12, 2011

    Officials in protective gear stood among people from the evacuation zone around the Daini nuclear plant in Koriyama, Japan, one of two damaged by the earthquake and tsunami.

    The explosion and radiation leaks at the earthquake-damaged nuclear plant will raise fresh questions about the ambitious plans to develop nuclear energy in Japan, despite the industry’s troubled history there and years of grass-roots objections from a people uniquely sensitive to the ravages of nuclear destruction.

    The damage to the plant, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, could also stir wider doubts in a world that, while long skeptical of nuclear energy’s safety, has increasingly accepted it as a source of clean energy in a time of mounting concerns about the environmental and public health tolls of fossil fuels.

    In France, for example, green parties and environmental groups have called for an end to the dependence on nuclear power. The failures of the 40-year-old Fukushima Daiichi plant’s cooling system apparently caused the explosion, which destroyed a structure surrounding the reactor. The reactor was unaffected, government officials and the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power, said. They described the resulting radiation leak as small and getting smaller. Foreign experts have agreed with that assessment so far, although Japanese plant operators, wary of the public reaction, have minimized past accidents.

    James M. Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the accident had unquestionably dealt a blow to the nuclear industry. While Japan may close the Fukushima Daiichi plant, one of its oldest, and point to the safety of its newer facilities, that might not satisfy concerns in Japan and elsewhere, he said. Decades ago, after the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island accidents, Mr. Acton said, the nuclear industry tried to argue that newer reactors incorporated much better safety features. “That made very little difference to the public,” he said.

    Benjamin Leyre, a utilities industry analyst with Exane BNP Paribas in Paris, said that politicians in Europe and elsewhere would almost certainly come under increased pressure to revisit safety measures at nuclear power plants — existing ones and those being planned — and that a pause in development could result.

    “What is likely to come will depend a lot on how transparent the regulators in Japan are,” Mr. Leyre said. “There will be a lot of focus on whether people feel confident that they know everything and that the truth is being put in front of them.”

    Nuclear advocates argued that the accident in Japan was singular in many ways and might have been mishandled, and that it was caused by a natural disaster on a scale never before experienced in Japan. They said that the excavation of fossil fuels has its own history of catastrophic accidents, including coal mine collapses and the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Critics of nuclear energy have long questioned the viability of nuclear power in earthquake-prone regions like Japan. Reactors have been designed with such concerns in mind, but preliminary assessments of the Fukushima Daiichi accident suggested that too little attention was paid to the threat of tsunami. It appeared that the reactors withstood the powerful earthquake, but the ocean waves damaged generators and backup systems, harming the ability to cool the reactors.

    A quick alternative source of water for cooling the destabilizing core should have been immediately available, said Nils J. Diaz, a nuclear engineer who led the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 2003 to 2006 and had visited the Daiichi plant.

    Mr. Diaz also suggested that the Japanese might have acted too slowly to prevent overheating, including procedures that might have required the venting of small amounts of steam and radiation, rather than risk a wholesale meltdown. Fear among Japanese regulators over public reaction to such small releases may have delayed plant operators from acting as quickly as they might have, he said — a problem arising in part from the country’s larger nuclear regulatory culture.

    “They would rather wait and do things in a perfect manner instead of doing it as good as it needs to be now,” Mr. Diaz said. “And this search for perfection has often led to people sometimes hiding things or waiting too long to do things.”

    With virtually no natural resources, Japan has considered nuclear power as an alternative to oil and other fossil fuels since the 1960s; looking into the future, Japan regards its expertise in nuclear power as a way to cut down on its emission of greenhouse gases and to capture energy-hungry markets in Asia.

    It was too early to tell whether Saturday’s accident would have any effect on a national policy that has made Japan one of the world’s top consumers of nuclear energy, with some 55 nuclear plants providing about 30 percent of its electricity needs, or whether it would fan public opposition sharpened by the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

    To make plants resistant to earthquakes, operators are required to build them on bedrock to minimize shaking and to raise anti-tsunami seawalls for plants along the coast. But the government gives power companies wide discretion in deciding whether a site is safe.

    In the case of Saturday’s blast, experts said that problem was avoidable.

    Mr. Diaz said that a comprehensive nuclear power plant safety program developed in the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks would have prevented a similar accident at any of the nation’s nuclear facilities.

    Over the years, Japanese plant operators, along with friendly government officials, have sometimes hidden episodes at plants from a public increasingly uneasy with nuclear power.

    In 2007, an earthquake in northwestern Japan caused a fire and minor radiation leaks at a plant in Kashiwazaki City. An ensuing investigation found that the plant’s operator, also Tokyo Electric, had unknowingly built the facility, the world’s largest nuclear plant, directly on top of an active seismic fault. Though a series of fires inside the plant after the earthquake deepened the public’s fear, the company, which said it upgraded the facility to withstand stronger tremors, was allowed to reopen it in 2009.

    Last year, another reactor with a troubled history was allowed to reopen, 14 years after a fire shut it down. The operator of the plant, the Monju Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor, located along the coast about 220 miles west of Tokyo, tried to cover up the extent of the fire by releasing altered video after the accident in 1995.

    Andrew C. Kadak, a consultant and former chief executive of the Yankee Atomic Electric Company, said Japanese and American cultures were different when it came to communicating nuclear issues to the public.

    “We have the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — everything is out in public view,” he said. “The Japanese system is a little different. They are not used to openness and transparency.”

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  6. #6
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    Tokyo electric to build us nuclear plants

    The no-BS info on Japan's disastrous nuclear operators.

    by Greg Palast
    New York - March 14, 2011

    I need to speak to you, not as a reporter, but in my former capacity as lead investigator in several government nuclear plant fraud and racketeering investigations.

    don't know the law in Japan, so I can't tell you if Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) can plead insanity to the homicides about to happen.

    But what will Obama plead? The Administration, just months ago, asked Congress to provide a $4 billion loan guarantee for two new nuclear reactors to be built and operated on the Gulf Coast of Texas by Tokyo Electric Power and local partners. As if the Gulf hasn't suffered enough.

    Here are the facts about Tokyo Electric and the industry you haven't heard on CNN:

    The failure of emergency systems at Japan's nuclear plants comes as no surprise to those of us who have worked in the field.

    Nuclear plants the world over must be certified for what is called "SQ" or "Seismic Qualification." That is, the owners swear that all components are designed for the maximum conceivable shaking event, be it from an earthquake or an exploding Christmas card from Al Qaeda.

    The most inexpensive way to meet your SQ is to lie. The industry does it all the time. The government team I worked with caught them once, in 1988, at the Shoreham plant in New York. Correcting the SQ problem at Shoreham would have cost a cool billion, so engineers were told to change the tests from 'failed' to 'passed.'

    The company that put in the false safety report? Stone & Webster, now the nuclear unit of Shaw Construction which will work with Tokyo Electric to build the Texas plant, Lord help us.

    There's more.

    Last night I heard CNN reporters repeat the official line that the tsunami disabled the pumps needed to cool the reactors, implying that water unexpectedly got into the diesel generators that run the pumps.

    These safety back-up systems are the 'EDGs' in nuke-speak: Emergency Diesel Generators. That they didn't work in an emergency is like a fire department telling us they couldn't save a building because "it was on fire."

    What dim bulbs designed this system? One of the reactors dancing with death at Fukushima Station 1 was built by Toshiba. Toshiba was also an architect of the emergency diesel system.

    Now be afraid. Obama's $4 billion bail-out-in-the-making is called the South Texas Project. It's been sold as a red-white-and-blue way to make power domestically with a reactor from Westinghouse, a great American brand. However, the reactor will be made substantially in Japan by the company that bought the US brand name, Westinghouse Toshiba.

    I once had a Toshiba computer. I only had to send it in once for warranty work. However, it's kind of hard to mail back a reactor with the warranty slip inside the box if the fuel rods are melted and sinking halfway to the earth's core.

    TEPCO and Toshiba don't know what my son learned in 8th grade science class: tsunamis follow Pacific Rim earthquakes. So these companies are real stupid, eh? Maybe. More likely is that the diesels and related systems wouldn't have worked on a fine, dry afternoon.

    Back in the day, when we checked the emergency back-up diesels in America, a mind-blowing number flunked. At the New York nuke, for example, the builders swore under oath that their three diesel engines were ready for an emergency. They'd been tested. The tests were faked, the diesels run for just a short time at low speed. When the diesels were put through a real test under emergency-like conditions, the crankshaft on the first one snapped in about an hour, then the second and third. We nicknamed the diesels, "Snap, Crackle and Pop."

    (Note: Moments after I wrote that sentence, word came that two of three diesels failed at the Tokai Station as well.)

    In the US, we supposedly fixed our diesels after much complaining by the industry. But in Japan, no one tells Tokyo Electric to do anything the Emperor of Electricity doesn't want to do.

    I get lots of confidential notes from nuclear industry insiders. One engineer, a big name in the field, is especially concerned that Obama waved the come-hither check to Toshiba and Tokyo Electric to lure them to America. The US has a long history of whistleblowers willing to put themselves on the line to save the public. In our racketeering case in New York, the government only found out about the seismic test fraud because two courageous engineers, Gordon Dick and John Daly, gave our team the documentary evidence.

    In Japan, it's simply not done. The culture does not allow the salary-men, who work all their their lives for one company, to drop the dime.

    Not that US law is a wondrous shield: both engineers in the New York case were fired and blacklisted by the industry. Nevertheless, the government (local, state, federal) brought civil racketeering charges against the builders. The jury didn't buy the corporation's excuses and, in the end, the plant was, thankfully, dismantled.

    Am I on some kind of xenophobic anti-Nippon crusade? No. In fact, I'm far more frightened by the American operators in the South Texas nuclear project, especially Shaw. Stone & Webster, now the Shaw nuclear division, was also the firm that conspired to fake the EDG tests in New York. (The company's other exploits have been exposed by their former consultant, John Perkins, in his book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.)
    If the planet wants to shiver, consider this: Toshiba and Shaw have recently signed a deal to become world-wide partners in the construction of nuclear stations.

    The other characters involved at the South Texas Plant that Obama is backing should also give you the willies. But as I'm in the middle of investigating the American partners, I'll save that for another day.

    So, if we turned to America's own nuclear contractors, would we be safe? Well, two of the melting Japanese reactors, including the one whose building blew sky high, were built by General Electric of the Good Old US of A.

    After Texas, you're next. The Obama Administration is planning a total of $56 billion in loans for nuclear reactors all over America.

    And now, the homicides:

    CNN is only interested in body counts, how many workers burnt by radiation, swept away or lost in the explosion. These plants are now releasing radioactive steam into the atmosphere. Be skeptical about the statements that the "levels are not dangerous." These are the same people who said these meltdowns could never happen. Over years, not days, there may be a thousand people, two thousand, ten thousand who will suffer from cancers induced by this radiation.

    In my New York investigation, I had the unhappy job of totaling up post-meltdown "morbidity" rates for the county government. It would be irresponsible for me to estimate the number of cancer deaths that will occur from these releases without further information; but it is just plain criminal for the Tokyo Electric shoguns to say that these releases are not dangerous. Indeed, the fact that residents near the Japanese nuclear plants were not issued iodine pills to keep at the ready shows TEPCO doesn't care who lives and who dies whether in Japan or the USA. The carcinogenic isotopes that are released at Fukushima are already floating to Seattle with effects we simply cannot measure.

    Heaven help us. Because Obama won't.

    ___________________________________________

    This guy tells it like it is. Read his stuff.

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