Dienstag, 12. November 2013

Mayak – A Chernobyl before Chernobyl

In 1957, a nuclear accident in the Soviet military complex of Mayak, left 23.000 square kilometers of the Russian mountain slopes in the Ural contaminated. I organized with a conference about the so called “Kychtym-Disaster” and invited the Russian human rights lawyer, Nadezhda Kutepova, the only lawyer that seeks justice for the victims of this immense nuclear accident. Brave Nadya does not stop in Russia, and fights for her clients rights, even in front of the Human Rights court in Strasbourg. This is her story:

Picture: Nadezhda Kutepova & me during the conference

The Quest for the Soviet Bomb
To tell a story one must normally know the ending. Truth, is in this case the ending is far from being written. After the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many countries began investigating the possibility of the “bomb”. The Soviet regime, at the height of their political power was aware that they had a few year gap in developing their nuclear capacities. It was then that the order came to build a top secret plutonium enrichment facility and several reactors at a disclosed location. This location is Mayak, the birth place of the Soviet bomb. In the peaceful region of the South Urals, that had known little activities before, accept for Lavrenty Beria's gulags of course. In a hurry, Stalin dispatched many of his top scientists to Mayak to build the site, among them, Soviet engineering and physicist Igor Kurchatov. Supervision of the project was in the hands of Stalin's closest ally, and notorious secret-police chief Beria.

First accidents and spills
In these pioneering days of nuclear exploitation, environmental standards where never a priority. The reactors and enrichment facility as well as the centrifuges were built at an enormous pace, leaving little time and place to look for a proper way to store low level and medium level radioactive waste (LLW, MLW). Most of the waste in the 1940s and up to 1952 was dumped into the nearby river and complex ecosystem of the “Techa” . It's only a few years ago that “RosAtom”, the state owned exploitation conglomerate of nuclear energy in Russia acknowledged, that this way of disposing of radioactive waste, was a common practice up until 2005. The Federal Russian Prosecutor's Office later found out, that in 2004 alone, 60'000m3 were released into the Techa river. By today, most of the Techa must be regarded as LLW to MLW, although the river is still the water reserve of many cities and villages in the Ural.

1957 “Kychtym” Accident and the most polluted and dangerous spot on earth “Lake Karachay”

The site of Mayak didn't proof well for supplying cooling water. The river Techa was too shallow and the next big cooling lake Kyzyltash became rapidly so contaminated as it was an open(!) cooling system. The short term solution was to dig nuclear containment vessels into the ground.
After numerous accidents, the most crucial one, happened on September 29 September 1957. An underground tank filled with medium to high level nuclear waste exploded. The explosion, visible for many kilometers left inhabitants scared. 23.000 square kilometers had been permanently contaminated. The fallout region is up to this date known as the “East Ural Radioactive trace”. As a consequence 34 villages and towns were evacuated, 20.000 people displaced and evacuated. The leftover radioactive waste from the accident (20 million cu) was dumped into Lake Karachay, up until today known as the most polluted place on the planet. The Lake was covered with concrete blocks to prevent sediment changes, as a huge dust storm left 400.000 people contaminated in 1967. With a concentration of 12-times the radioactive isotopes that were liberated in the Chernobyl accidents, a stay of 4-5 minutes would result in a deadly dose followed by acute radiation sickness and death by organ failure.

Ongoing Accidents and 3rd Generation Nuclear Victims:

The contaminated region around the southern Ural city of Chelyabinsk has a unique feature: Here some people suffer from the consequences of radiation in the 3rd generation. The workers that build the plant, liquidators from the 1957 and 1967 nuclear events, inhabitants of the south Ural. It goes that far that entire families have three generations of people dying of the consequences of the Mayak accidents. The errors and faulty plants existence and records were only published as a consequence of the Glasnost and Perestroika movements in the Soviet Union in 1990.
Since it is hard to pinpoint the responsible of these acts, the victims are left alone and face difficult conditions such as poor access to public health care.

Nadezhda Kutepova fights for the rights of these people. As a Russian human rights lawyer, she is representing her clients, victims from the contaminated region of the South Ural radioactive trace region in front of different courts in Russia and in front of the Human Rights court in Strasbourg.
Nadezhda, who lost both her parents and grandmother to “Mayak”. Her grandmother was one of the nuclear engineers assisting Kurchatov in building the Soviet bomb, her father was a liquidator of 1957 and her mother a physician in the emergency services of the site. The cases that Nadezhda takes on, are eerie examples of how Nuclear energy and weapon production is a threat to human life. On one hand, she has cases of victims from the early years of exploitation of Mayak: liquidators from 1957, children and pregnant women that were forcefully enlisted to destroy crops and fields that were heavily contaminated, 2nd and 3rd generation victims that suffer from genetic diseases, leukemia, cancer or other radiation-related diseases. Many of these liquidators and clean up experts where detailed to Chernobyl in 1986 to help with the unprecedented clean up task and building of the sarcophagus. Still today, there are cases or birth defects where Nadezhda fights for justice, with many cases won in front of regional and the Human rights court in Strasbourg. Her work has earned her a Nuclear Free Future Award in the Category “Resistance”.

By Nadezhda Kutepova & Philippe Schockweiler
November, 2013

Further Information:
ARTE Report on Nadezhda's work:

Donnerstag, 22. August 2013

Mainstreaming Fukushima - The Truth is out there

“This time no one dropped a bomb on us … We set the stage, we committed the crime with our own hands, we are destroying our own lands, and we are destroying our own lives.” 
                                                                     Haruki Murakami, Japanese best-selling author and philosopher

Crippled reactor 4 - via Kyodo
The past  two weeks were a breakthrough for the awareness of the situation in Fukushima...internationally. Whereas International media are quite accurately depicting the worsening situation in Fukushima and quite correctly pointing out the high chance of an international decade long catastrophe, the Japanese Media are still in a total blackout. This ignorance peaked yesterday in the reopening of the beaches in Fukushima City when international experts warn of a possible thousand year long contamination of the food chain and life in the Pacific ocean.

What is leaking in the moment & What you need to know

Leak Problem 1: Storage Tanks for radioactive waters
2-3 tanks for storing used highly-radioactive waste water from exploitation and processing are currently leaking and having been classed by the operation firm (Tepco) as an INES-3 "serious accident"

"The leak, which has not been plugged, is so contaminated that a person standing 50 cm away would, within an hour, receive a radiation dose five times the average annual global limit for nuclear workers. After 10 hours, a worker in that proximity to the leak would develop radiation sickness with symptoms including nausea and a drop in white blood cells" (via Japan Today via Reuters)

Leak Problem 2: Underground Water & Quench/Cleaning Water leak
Water from clean up processes but also tsunami water continues to sink into the ground, thus poisoning the groundwater but also escaping in large amounts into the Pacific. This process cannot be stopped. We fail the technology to stop such processes. 
"Frankly, I don’t believe so. I think we will continue to release radioactive material into the ocean for 20 or 30 years at least. They have to pump the water out of the areas surrounding the nuclear reactor. But frankly, this water is the most radioactive water I’ve ever experienced. I work directly over a nuclear reactor cores during refueling outages. And the water directly over a nuclear reactor core when the plant is operating is a thousand times less radioactive than this water. (Arie Gundersen via GlobalResearch.org)"

Leak Problem 3: Ridiculous amount of Radiation released: 

The Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety(Japan) said the amount of the isotope that flowed into the ocean from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant between March 21 and mid-July reached an estimated 27.1 quadrillion becquerels(Caesium-137). A quadrillion is equivalent to 1,000 trillion. [...]The report also said the Pacific was polluted at an exceptional speed because the plant stands in a coastal area with strong currents (Tepco via Kyodo-Agency via)

July, 2013: It is believed that more than 5,000 tons of radioactive water still remain in the pit ... and trenches after flowing from the No. 2 reactor building to the turbine building and, then, into the pit.
(Asahi-Media via enenews)
July 28 : A cable trench running under the turbine building of the No. 2 reactor [...] contained 2.35 billion becquerels [per liter] of cesium and 750 million becquerels of other, unnamed radioactive substances, including strontium, that emit beta rays. (Japan Today)
N.B the norm is 150bq !

Leak Problem 4: Fueltanks in miserable shape:
Like I have reported here previously, the leaks in the fuel tanks are still the biggest problem. Yesterday during recuperation of used fuel rods in the cooling fuel tanks a major reaction appeared as workers tried to pull out the radioactive rods. The momentary situation was very well resumed in yesterday's RT-Online article by Christopher Busby, European Committee on Radiation Risks, University of Ulster:

This showed that there would be some 200,000 extra cancers in roughly 10 million population in the 200km radius of the site in the next 10 years, and 400,000 over 50 years. (in 2011)
... Probably because it is now clear that the saturation of the ground from all the pumping water for cooling the several reactors and spent fuel pools has destabilized the foundations of the buildings, TEPCO is bringing forward its operation to try and deal with what is perhaps the most dangerous of the four sites, the spent fuel pond of Reactor 4. For this pond contains a truly enormous amount of radioactive material: 1,331 spent fuel grids amounting to 228.3 tons of Uranium and Plutonium buried inside a swimming pool which has already dried out once and exploded. That explosion blasted a significant, but unknown, quantity of lethally radioactive bits and pieces of fuel element around the site (where I heard they were bulldozed into the ground - who knows?), but it also blew the top off the building, covered the fuel elements under the water with rubble and pieces of crane machinery, and no doubt twisted and melted a large proportion of the remaining spent fuel. Then what happens? Not quite Armageddon, but as far as Japan is concerned, almost. I bet they have contingency plans to evacuate the northern island to Korea, China, anywhere. A lot of this radiation will end up in the USA, a long way downwind, admittedly, but then there is an awful lot of radioactivity involved. 

Leak Problem 5: It's illegal but the last option:

The mass dumping of highly radioactive water (measured at 7.5 million times the normal allowed levels) into the Pacific Ocean is not just an environmental disaster; it’s also a violation of international law. The Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, passed in 1972, forbids nations and companies from dumping toxic wastes into the ocean. (See Maritime Convention on Prevention of Pollution by waste and toxic matter dumping also named London Convention or L72)

In a nutshell:
The Fukushima power plant is leaking unstoppably for the next decades from many ends, with the highest amount of radioactivity ever measured. The sheer amount and speed in which it is dispersed into the Pacific ocean and starts pollution the environment and food chain (P.S: Bluefin tuna in Californian Waters are already spiking high amounts of radioactive isotopes) is leading towards the biggest man-made environmental disaster which could lead to millions of casulties.

What needs to be done:
- Harm Reduction
- Try to stop leaks where possible (Groundwater leaks virtually impossible to stop)
- Dispatch Military forces to help with the cleanup, JDF & International Troops
- Start an immediate international fund for relief 
- Declare the North, Central and South-Eastern Pacific a fishing-free zone, monitor closely the situation
- Stop eating fishing and shellfish products from the pacific ocean

Further Reading and Sources:














Sonntag, 21. Juli 2013

E.U subventions for Nuclear Industry

My Interview on the proposed EU subventions on Nuclear Energy by the EU Commission's Competitiveness Office, to subsidize Nuclear power the same way as sustainable and Green energy sources caused an uproar in Brussels and the anti-nuke community. (Pic: RTL.LU)
Interview in Luxembourgian: To be seen here:

Samstag, 8. Juni 2013

Cattenom or how I learned to live with the one of the most defectuous Nuclear Plants in the Western Hemisphere and stopped worrying?

Transformer Explosion Cattenom Unit1 7th June 2013

Yes, you can say that my focus has always been towards Chernobyl, Mayak and to Fukushima, I researched there, attended seminars, held trainings, blew whistles... But all theses disasters made me blind to see the one just outside my window. As for several years now, I traveled to different hot spots, helped different anti-nuclear movements across Europe, but really failing sometimes to take  a glance outside my bedroom window, from where I can always see the cooling clouds of Cattenom,  Luxembourg's capital city is just 25km outside this mega nuclear power plant.

Cattenom is the 8th biggest Nuclear power plant in the world, one of the biggest in Europe. The flagship of the French nuclear parc. Also it has another very scary record. It is the commercial plant with the most known incidents in the last year. In 2012, 47 incidents were reported to the French Government Atomic Security Agency (ASN). In February 2013, 2 workers died in a horrific work accident while renovating the ceiling of the containment. The sheer number of incidents made the ASN perform a new survey and special visit to Cattenom from June 4th to June 6th to review the plant. Next to lack of basic radio-protective material such as A-suits and that defects are fixed or identified too late out of economic reasons, the ASN report concludes: "An in-depth analysis shows that major incidents - even if they are not relevant for the functioning of the system - go back to an insufficient accuracy in the preparation or an inadequate coordination. Such inaccuracies, some with technical incidents that were not predictable in 2012 have led to the regular examinations had to be extended considerably. " The 2006 founded "independent" state body ASN is not known for uttering such clear messages and in the case of Cattenom it seems that they were very preoccupied about the general situation.

Only published days later but on June 5, traces of boron were found in the cooling system of the reactor which left engineers baffled as they are still trying to figure out where these traces come from. Normally boron is not used during the reaction but is mostly used to break up a dangerous chain reaction. Are the exploiting EDF (Electricitiy of France) again covering up something?

One day (!) after their special survey on 7th of June, around 13:30, the transformer of unit 1 caught fire and exploded quickly after that. The shock wave and bang was heard in a radius of approximately 15km. Scared local residents called the emergency services as black smoke came pouring out unit 1. It is believed that 50 vehicles and a 100 firefighters rushed to the scene, to deal with the dangerous and difficult task to extinct a transformer-fire. Shortly after the moment of the explosion, Unit-1 went into automatic shut down. As far as I was told from the State radio-protection, emergency-power units did not have to be started as the reactor was still being alimented by another transformer. Nevertheless this shows that one of the main lifelines, the main transformer and generator were comprehended. Generally it is the failure of several of those systems or circumstances that lead to a disaster as f.i. construction design, human error in Chernobyl or poor use, human error and multiple electric failure in Fukushima. The fire was thought to be extinct by 16:30. Unit 1 will be down until further notice, the reactor is in shut down and is being cooled at the moment. 

On June 11th, the Cattenom power station simply uttered a small press release to the National Homefront and Radioprotection to announce that yet another auxiliary transformer, the emergency generator of Unit 3 was broken and not operational until further notice. Experts could not yet determine the source of the failure.

This incident from friday has revealed once more, that even after extensive stress test, national safety reviews, and numerous warning, and whistle blowers, a power plant can grow out of control within a very short time. Cattenom, which was built as the most modern, safest and powerful of all French plants, is the best example of it. And to tell you the truth, you kind of expect it to happen. The safety record is Cattenom is so so poor that you just wait for the worst. A higher dose of tritium in the cooling river, soil contamination, technical failures, you are used to hear only those kind of news from Cattenom. And at one point you live with it. Still you protest, you work against it, but somewhat also accept the faith that there is a high chance that things will go very wrong at a moment. Nevertheless, when I saw the black smoke, at the time of Friday's explosion I was about 12clicks outside of Cattenom, I got scared, and suddenly all the people you ever talked to in the exclusion zone, all the moved people from contaminated areas, everything comes together and makes sense, and as sometimes rather reluctant and sane person you start to accept and live with it.

Sign a petition against Cattenom on Avaaz:

Further Reading: (Selection of Press Releases from the Station, press articles, etc):

Video of the fire:

Montag, 18. März 2013

Fukushima Anniversary - ongoing catastrophe for 2 years

The ecological disaster of Fukushima is far from being over. Two years after the unprecedented nuclear accident in Japan the woldwide impact of this catastrophe is being felt in the greater Pacific region:
"...a new study from Daniel J. Madigan of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station suggests that even waters in the East Pacific aren’t safe from the radiation. Bluefin off the coast of Japan are still showing signs of contamination almost two years after the incident, and migration patterns suggest that fish floundering near the other side of the ocean will continue to show evidence of radiation. And because relatively young Bluefin may have spent the majority of their lives in radioactive ocean waters near Japan, even infant fish are testing positive for radiation all this time later..." (1)

More and more fish off the coast as far as from Alaska to California, especially tuna show high radiation poisoning. The radiation typically settles in their muscular tissue, so the parts which are being processed for human consumption. But also in Japan, where several months ago, a greenling fish was caught with 5100 times the normal radiation rate, a bottom-dwelling fish was caught just in front of the Dai'ichi Nuclear power point which measured a record 740,000 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium in it's body. That's roughly 7400 times the normal level of radiation. (2) Many experts have argued that this is a proof that still a lot of radioactive material is leaking into the Pacific ocean. The decrepit state of the melt-down reactors which cannot be reached by the scientists and liquidators are probably the source of it. Senior Japanese Diplomat (3) Akio Matusmura believes that the meltdown in Unit 1,2,3 are an uncontrollable and real threat to Japan and the world. Another criticality event could lead to a huge explosion and catastrophic event of truly epic proportions. In addition the poor state of the cooling pools especially in unit 4 are also a source of a potential new catastrophe in Fukushima.

It is indeed a tragic situation in Japan. The newly elected PM Shinzo Abe, has promised to relaunch Nuclear energy in Japan. For many Westerners this seems absolutely unsound and hard to follow. However, the greatest energy consumption in Japan is in Tokyo and Yokohama Bay, far away from the contaminated regions of Fukushima. The debate in the capital and metropole is concerned only about their energy supply. Nothing more. Because the energy generated in Fukushima, was never for the people in the region, it was to satisfy the needs of Tokyo Bay making it grotesque that those affected by the disaster did not even get their energy from the Fukushima Dai'ichi Powerplant.




Dienstag, 8. Januar 2013

Fukushima's Crooked Cleanup

Fukushima Cleanup Workers dumping radioactive Waste into River
ASAHI SHIMBUN (c) 2012-2013 

Japanese ASAHI Reporters have observed incognito over a week the work of Fukushima clean up squadrons and workers. They have observed highly questionable and ludicrous methods of radioactive waste dumping into the wild and into rivers as well as shoddy clean up techniques that now have led to a government investigation:

Government investigates illegal dumping of high level nuclear waste
The government will investigate decontamination work around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant following reports that potentially radioactive debris has been dumped into the environment, even during the preparatory stage of the program.
“It is extremely regrettable,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on Jan. 7. [...] Some cleanup crews said they were told to dump potentially radioactive debris into rivers even during preparations to establish bases for full-scale decontamination efforts around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. [...]
Some of them said they dumped branches, leaves and water after cleaning local government offices and other places that would serve as bases for the full-scale decontamination [...] 1

Not a single case - but over months the same technique:
[...] on Dec. 17, a worker in Naraha was observed using a pressurized sprayer to clean the veranda of a private home. Because no protective sheet was installed, water splashed the walls of neighboring structures.In some cases, radiation levels at homes have even increased after decontamination, leading some workers to suspect that radioactive materials were blown into the area by wind. [...] 2
Subcontractor's dump illegally nuclear waste into rivers:
[...] Kajima Corp. was part of the joint venture that won the contract to decontaminate forests in Tamura. On Nov. 16 and 17, four workers for a tertiary subcontractor in their 40s and 50s were instructed to gather fallen leaves and stems along a slope by a river–and to dump it into the water. The 3 cubic meters turned the river brown.
A 43-year-old man who was part of that group took an Asahi Shimbun reporter to the site. A pile of leaves was found at the bottom of the slope by the river. The man came from Toyama Prefecture and ended the work on Dec. 26.
“Even though I was following an order, I am sorry for polluting the river,” the man said. 3

1 http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201301070080
2 http://enenews.com/fukushima-workers-radiation-levels-rise-after-decontamination-told-only-clean-areas-around-radioactivity-measurement-sites
3 http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201301040073
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