Uranium Meltdown in Japan
Mining company shares topple
As this story is being written, reports from Japan suggest that a full meltdown of the nuclear cores in two reactors at the country's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station may not be averted.
Japanese officials have already acknowledged a "partial" melting of the two cores.
Today (14 March 2011) an explosion shattered the roof of the second reactor - doubtless contributing further radiation to that already leaked, which already stands at twice the level considered safe within the country.
While much more detail is required - which may or may not emerge over the coming days - speculation that there will be a "Tchernobyl-type" catastrophe is fast growing.
As a scientific advisor to our colleague organisation, mines, minerals and People (mmP), points out: the Fukushima Daiichi plant is similar in design and operation to that which literally blew its top in the Ukraine in 1986.
Hundreds of thousands of people are still suffering from those impacts; hundreds of thousands more have already died.
A palpable truth
We can only hope, and some of us pray, that such a dire scenario is not now unfolding in Japan.
But, whatever the final outcome, there is one palpable truth behind such disasters which is commonly ignored and often conveniently discounted.
So-called civil "nuclear" disasters don't stem only from a failure, or mis-use, of the technology used to generate electricity.
In fact, the damages already start with the dangerous mining and processing of uranium as the prime nuclear fuel (see article below).
And it's a core failure - of our own making - to trust that this industry will ever become safe and secure.
[Comment from Nostromo Research 14 March 2011].
* Latest Update: The share price of a number of uranium producers fell sharply on Monday as the markets were quick to reflect possible impacts of the Fukushima crisis on supplies of the nuclear mineral (see below).
According to Japanese official figures, Canada accounts for 26 percent of the country's uranium imports, followed by Australia (22%) and Kazakhstan ( 21 %).
Nuclear Meltdown in Japan
By Stephen Lendman
13 March 2011
For years, Helen Caldicott warned it's coming. In her 1978 book, "Nuclear Madness," she said:
"As a physician, I contend that nuclear technology threatens life on our planet with extinction. If present trends continue, the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink will soon be contaminated with enough radioactive pollutants to pose a potential health hazard far greater than any plague humanity has ever experienced."
On March 11, New York Times writer Martin Fackler headlined, "Powerful Quake and Tsunami Devastate Northern Japan," saying:
"The 8.9-magnitude earthquake (Japan's strongest ever) set off a devastating tsunami that sent walls of water (six meters high) washing over coastal cities in the north." According to Japan's Meteorological Survey, it was 9.0.
The Sendai port city and other areas experienced heavy damage. "Thousands of homes were destroyed, many roads were impassable, trains and buses (stopped) running, and power and cellphones remained down. On Saturday morning, the JR rail company" reported three trains missing. Many passengers are unaccounted for.
Striking at 2:46PM Tokyo time, it caused vast destruction, shook city skyscrapers, buckled highways, ignited fires, terrified millions, annihilated areas near Sendai, possibly killed thousands, and caused a nuclear meltdown, its potential catastrophic effects far exceeding quake and tsunami devastation, almost minor by comparison under a worst case scenario.
On March 12, Times writer Matthew Wald headlined, "Explosion Seen at Damaged Japan Nuclear Plant," saying:
"Japanese officials (ordered evacuations) for people living near two nuclear power plants whose cooling systems broke down," releasing radioactive material, perhaps in far greater amounts than reported.
NHK television and Jiji said the 40-year old Fukushima plant's outer structure housing the reactor "appeared to have blown off, which could suggest the containment building had already been breached." Japan's nuclear regulating agency said radioactive levels inside were 1,000 times above normal.
Reuters said the 1995 Kobe quake caused $100 billion in damage, up to then the most costly ever natural disaster. This time, from quake and tsunami damage alone, that figure will be dwarfed. Moreover, under a worst case core meltdown, all bets are off as the entire region and beyond will be threatened with permanent contamination, making the most affected areas unsafe to live in.
On March 12, Stratfor Global Intelligence issued a "Red Alert: Nuclear Meltdown at Quake-Damaged Japanese Plant," saying:
Fukushima Daiichi "nuclear power plant in Okuma, Japan, appears to have caused a reactor meltdown." Stratfor downplayed its seriousness, adding that such an event "does not necessarily mean a nuclear disaster," that already may have happened - the ultimate nightmare short of nuclear winter.
According to Stratfor, "(A)s long as the reactor core, which is specifically designed to contain high levels of heat, pressure and radiation, remains intact, the melted fuel can be dealt with. If the (core's) breached but the containment facility built around (it) remains intact, the melted fuel can be....entombed within specialized concrete" as at Chernobyl in 1986.
In fact, that disaster killed nearly one million people worldwide from nuclear radiation exposure. In their book titled, "Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment," Alexey Yablokov, Vassily Nesterenko and Alexey Nesterenko said:
"For the past 23 years, it has been clear that there is a danger greater than nuclear weapons concealed within nuclear power. Emissions from this one reactor exceeded a hundred-fold the radioactive contamination of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
"No citizen of any country can be assured that he or she can be protected from radioactive contamination. One nuclear reactor can pollute half the globe. Chernobyl fallout covers the entire Northern Hemisphere."
Stratfor explained that if Fukushima's floor cracked, "it is highly likely that the melting fuel will burn through (its) containment system and enter the ground. This has never happened before," at least not reported. If now occurring, "containment goes from being merely dangerous, time consuming and expensive to nearly impossible," making the quake, aftershocks, and tsunamis seem mild by comparison. Potentially, millions of lives will be jeopardized.
Japanese officials said Fukushima's reactor container wasn't breached. Stratfor and others said it was, making the potential calamity far worse than reported. Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said the explosion at Fukushima's Saiichi No. 1 facility could only have been caused by a core meltdown. In fact, 3 or more reactors are affected or at risk. Events are fluid and developing, but remain very serious. The possibility of an extreme catastrophe can't be discounted.
Moreover, independent nuclear safety analyst John Large told Al Jazeera that by venting radioactive steam from the inner reactor to the outer dome, a reaction may have occurred, causing the explosion.
"When I look at the size of the explosion," he said, "it is my opinion that there could be a very large leak (because) fuel continues to generate heat."
Already, Fukushima way exceeds Three Mile Island that experienced a partial core meltdown in Unit 2. Finally it was brought under control, but coverup and denial concealed full details until much later.
According to anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman, Japan's quake fallout may cause nuclear disaster, saying:
"This is a very serious situation. If the cooling system fails (apparently it has at two or more plants), the super-heated radioactive fuel rods will melt, and (if so) you could conceivably have an explosion," that, in fact, occurred.
As a result, massive radiation releases may follow, impacting the entire region. "It could be, literally, an apocalyptic event. The reactor could blow." If so, Russia, China, Korea and most parts of Western Asia will be affected. Many thousands will die, potentially millions under a worse case scenario, including far outside East Asia.
Moreover, at least five reactors are at risk. Already, a 20-mile wide radius was evacuated. What happened in Japan can occur anywhere. Yet Obama's proposed budget includes $36 billion for new reactors, a shocking disregard for global safety.
Calling Fukushima an "apocalyptic event," Wasserman said "(t)hese nuclear plants have to be shut," let alone budget billions for new ones. It's unthinkable, he said. If a similar disaster struck California, nuclear fallout would affect all America, Canada, Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America.
Nuclear Power: A Technology from Hell
Nuclear expert Helen Caldicott agrees, telling this writer by phone that a potential regional catastrophe is unfolding. Over 30 years ago, she warned of its inevitability. Her 2006 book titled, "Nuclear Power is Not the Answer" explained that contrary to government and industry propaganda, even during normal operations, nuclear power generation causes significant discharges of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as hundreds of thousands of curies of deadly radioactive gases and other radioactive elements into the environment every year.
Moreover, nuclear plants are atom bomb factories. A 1000 megawatt reactor produces 500 pounds of plutonium annually. Only 10 are needed for a bomb able to devastate a large city, besides causing permanent radiation contamination.
Nuclear Power not Cleaner and Greener
Just the opposite, in fact. Although a nuclear power plant releases no carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary greenhouse gas, a vast infrastructure is required. Called the nuclear fuel cycle, it uses large amounts of fossil fuels.
Each cycle stage exacerbates the problem, starting with the enormous cost of mining and milling uranium, needing fossil fuel to do it. How then to dispose of mill tailings, produced in the extraction process. It requires great amounts of greenhouse emitting fuels to remediate.
Moreover, other nuclear cycle steps also use fossil fuels, including converting uranium to hexafluoride gas prior to enrichment, the enrichment process itself, and conversion of enriched uranium hexafluoride gas to fuel pellets. In addition, nuclear power plant construction, dismantling and cleanup at the end of their useful life require large amounts of energy.
There's more, including contaminated cooling water, nuclear waste, its handling, transportation and disposal/storage, problems so far unresolved. Moreover, nuclear power costs and risks are so enormous that the industry couldn't exist without billions of government subsidized funding annually.
The Unaddressed Human Toll from Normal Operations
Affected are uranium miners, industry workers, and potentially everyone living close to nuclear reactors that routinely emit harmful radioactive releases daily, harming human health over time, causing illness and early death.
The link between radiation exposure and disease is irrefutable, depending only on the amount of cumulative exposure over time, Caldicott saying:
"If a regulatory gene is biochemically altered by radiation exposure, the cell will begin to incubate cancer, during a 'latent period of carcinogenesis,' lasting from two to sixty years."
In fact, a single gene mutation can prove fatal. No amount of radiation exposure is safe. Moreover, when combined with about 80,000 commonly used toxic chemicals and contaminated GMO foods and ingredients, it causes 80% of known cancers, putting everyone at risk everywhere.
Further, the combined effects of allowable radiation exposure, uranium mining, milling operations, enrichment, and fuel fabrication can be devastating to those exposed. Besides the insoluble waste storage/disposal problem, nuclear accidents happen and catastrophic ones are inevitable.
Caldicott and other experts agree they're certain in one or more of the hundreds of reactors operating globally, many years after their scheduled shutdown dates unsafely. Combined with human error, imprudently minimizing operating costs, internal sabotage, or the effects of a high-magnitude quake and/or tsunami, an eventual catastrophe is certain.
Aging plants alone, like Japan's Fukushima facility, pose unacceptable risks based on their record of near-misses and meltdowns, resulting from human error, old equipment, shoddy maintenance, and poor regulatory oversight. However, under optimum operating conditions, all nuclear plants are unsafe. Like any machine or facility, they're vulnerable to breakdowns, that if serious enough can cause enormous, possibly catastrophic, harm.
Add nuclear war to the mix, also potentially inevitable according to some experts, by accident or intent, including Steven Starr saying:
"Only a single failure of nuclear deterrence is required to start a nuclear war," the consequences of which "would be profound, potentially killing "tens of millions of people, and caus(ing) long-term, catastrophic disruptions of the global climate and massive destruction of Earth's protective ozone layer. The result would be a global nuclear famine that could kill up to one billion people."
Worse still is nuclear winter, the ultimate nightmare, able to end all life if it happens. It's nuclear proliferation's unacceptable risk, a clear and present danger as long as nuclear weapons and commercial dependency exist.
In 1946, Einstein knew it, saying:
"Our world faces a crisis as yet unperceived by those possessing the power to make great decisions for good and evil. The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe."
He envisioned two choices - abolish all forms of nuclear power or face extinction. No one listened. The Doomsday Clock keeps ticking.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.
Nuclear renaissance could fizzle after Japan Quake
14 March 2011
Japan's battle to avert a full-scale meltdown could damage the global nuclear energy industry, derailing plans to build dozens of new power plants and forestalling any surge in demand for uranium to fuel them.
The worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl explosion could trigger a sharp drop in shares of nuclear plant builders such as General Electric, its Japanese partner Hitachi and France's Areva as investors reconsider the possibility of a renaissance for the industry.
Likewise, Canada's Cameco, Uranium One and other uranium producers could tumble when stock markets open on Monday (see story below).
Fresh interest in nuclear power as an alternative to expensive fossil fuels has boosted spot uranium prices by more than 50 percent since July and sent uranium equities soaring. Investors are likely to reverse some of those gains as a result of the unfolding crisis in Japan, analysts said.
"If there is a nuclear accident," said Salman Partners senior mining analyst Raymond Goldie, "it would certainly provoke a global sentiment against nuclear power, and that would certainly affect the long-term demand for uranium."
Shares of Australia's top uranium miners -- some of the world's biggest -- fell sharply when trade opened in Sydney on Monday. Energy Resources of Australia, a unit of Rio Tinto, fell 9.5 percent in early trade while shares of Paladin dropped 11 percent.
Meanwhile, engineers in Japan were pumping seawater into damaged nuclear reactors to prevent a catastrophic full-scale meltdown, but major damage probably has already occurred and the plants won't operate again, experts said.
While Japanese authorities appear to have prevented a worst-case scenario from unfolding, the political impact of the crisis was already hitting home in the United States.
Senator Joe Lieberman, who chairs the U.S. Senate's homeland security panel, said on Sunday the United States should "put the brakes on" new nuclear power plants until the impact of the incident in Japan became clear.
The United States currently has 104 nuclear reactors operating, and analysts expect four to eight new reactors to be built. In 2008, there were more than 30 reactors in the planning stage -- most of which fell prey to the economic downturn.
"The nuclear renaissance was on the rocks in any case," said Peter Bradford, a former commissioner on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He served on the commission in 1979 during the Three Mile Island accident in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania.
Bradford said a video of the explosion that destroyed a structure at the reactor at Japan's Fukushima complex would have a deep impact on the world's perception of nuclear power
"It's going to be difficult to erase that from people's mental image of nuclear power for a long time," he said.
But industry advocates were quick to call for calm.
"It's probably a little premature to draw conclusions from what's going on in Japan," said Mitch Singer, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Energy Institute. "Even the most seriously damaged of the ... reactors has not yet released radiation at a level that is dangerous to the public.
RECONSIDERING A RENAISSANCE
Even so, the perception of the industry is likely to suffer a severe setback, analysts said.
In 2007, GE combined its nuclear ventures with Hitachi on expectations of a nuclear renaissance in the coming years. The prevailing view was that concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and rising oil prices would push the world to look more favorably on nuclear power generation.
While the nuclear business is still just a small piece of GE's massive portfolio, investors could knock down its share price. The conglomerate built the Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 reactor, where there was an explosion and radiation leak after Friday's quake and tsunami.
The backlash could also send shares of Cameco and Uranium One down sharply, after the uranium producers rose 55 and 100 percent, respectively, over the past eight months as investors bet on growing global demand for nuclear fuel.
The shutdown of 11 of the 54 operating reactors in Japan will likely depress the short-term market for uranium, with the country deferring deliveries and leaving producers with a surplus. The situation will only worsen as investor confidence sours on the overall future of the industry, pushing spot prices further down.
CHINESE PLANS MAY NOT CHANGE
While the incident could hurt nuclear roll-out in the United States and Japan, China and India are expected to push forward with plans to increase their nuclear footprint as they look to expand power sources to fuel rapid urbanization.
China plans to boost its nuclear generation from about 11 gigawatts a year to at least 80 gigawatts by 2020. The Asian nation has 50 reactors in the planning stage.
Current global demand for uranium is 180 million pounds a year, of which 140 million pounds comes from mine production. The rest is filled by stockpiles and downgraded weapons-grade uranium, according to Cameco.
China alone will need up to 60 million additional pounds a year if it is successful in its roll-out.
While analysts don't expect China to back down due to the situation in Japan, the Asian nation will face increased pressure to make sure its new reactors meet the highest safety standards.
"I would hope that since China is in an earthquake zone as well, that these events provoke the Chinese to install more safety precautions," said Salman Partner's Goldie.
The situation is less clear in India, which has plans to double its nuclear output over the next 10 to 15 years, but already faces massive bureaucratic delays in developing atomic power.
The Japanese quake could also slow Brazil's plans for new nuclear power generation to help meet growing demand -- and prevent a repeat of recent blackouts.
"Nuclear power has gained traction in Brazil because it has less climate impact than fossil fuel generation, but this accident in Japan could renew environmental opposition to nuclear," said Adriano Pires, an energy expert at the Brazilian Center for Infrastructure.
While the full impact of Japan's nuclear accidents remain to be seen, opponents say that the risk has been made clear enough to force most governments to reconsider plans to build out nuclear capacity.
"This is what you would call a show-stopping event," said Robert Alvarez of the Institute for Policy Studies, who is an opponent of nuclear power development globally.
"At a minimum, I think there's going to be some reappraisal about the degree to which countries want to pursue a nuclear future."
(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston, Bernie Woodall in Detroit, Matt Daily in New York, Nicola Groom in California and the Brazil bureau; Editing by Frank McGurty)
Cameco Shares tumble on Japanese nuclear crisis
* Cameco down 15.6 pct at $30.60 on TSX
* Uranium One down 25.3 percent at C$4.45
14 March 2011
TORONTO- Shares in Cameco Inc, the world's second largest uranium miner, fell sharply on Monday, amid fears of a huge hit to sales and profits if Japan curbs nuclear use in response to Friday's devastating earthquake.
Cameco shares were down as much as 22.6 percent at C$28.09 as Japan battled to prevent a nuclear catastrophe after the massive earthquake damaged nuclear generators.
By mid-morning, shares were down 15.8 percent at C$30.60.
Shares in Uranium One, Canada's second largest producer, were also sharply lower although an official said he did not expect much of a long-term impact.
TD analyst Greg Barnes said Cameco sells 10 to 15 percent of its uranium to Japan. If, in what he described as a worst case scenario, Cameco lost 10 percent of sales, it would translate to a 21 percent drop in earnings per share.
He slashed his price target on shares of Cameco to C$42 from C$51, still way above current levels.
The damage to reactors at Japanese nuclear power plants has raised concerns about future of the industry in Japan, where nuclear power accounted for about a third of energy generation before the quake, the strongest ever to hit Japan.
Cameco expects to produce 21.9 million pounds of uranium in 2011, around 16 percent of global mine production of the metal used to make fuel for nuclear reactors. It plans to sell up to 33 million pounds.
Japan has closed 11 of its 54 reactors since the earthquake. Dahlman Rose analyst Anthony Young said in a note to clients that the affected reactors consume about 340,000 pounds of uranium a month.
Uranium One, Canada's second largest uranium producer, were down 25.34 percent at C$4.45 mid-morning on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
A company executive said there could be a short-term impact if the Japanese reactors stay offline, due to a surplus of about 3 million pounds of uranium on the spot market. Uranium One is highly exposed to the spot price.
"Longer term, I don't think this will have much of an impact," said Uranium One Vice President of Strategic Affairs Fletcher Newton.
Earlier Monday, shares of Energy Resources of Australia, a unit of global miner Rio Tinto, fell 12.3 percent, while Paladin's shares fell 16.5 percent in Sydney.