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When news like Fukushima hits, people start thinking of nuclear radiation leaks. Then, mistakenly, they imagine that risk from radiation is a very rare thing. While accidents on such a scale are rare, radiation leaks in themselves are not. For one, every running nuclear plant is already venting "acceptable amounts" of radiation into the environment on a daily basis.

Now, there are doctors who swear that there is no way to determine an amount which has no health risks. However, this post is about actual leaks, not releases. News from the last one year from my bookmarks and a few simple searches. Some of the news may be developments on long term contamination on radiation leaks, others may be new radiation leaks.

No particular reason for this beyond some reactions to the leak at RAPS a few days ago, that seemed to see this as a rare and acceptable thing.

  1. Fukushima, of course continues to leak radiation into the environment. The description of this is beyond an entry in a list.
  2. Chernobyl too continues to leak radiation through its crumbling sarcophagus, though on a lesser scale than Fukushima.
  3. Kansas State University - 29th June 2011: Radiation leaked at 149 times the Derived Air Concentration (DAC) limit for Iodine during a trial run of its reactor. Though four different systems caught the excessive radiation levels, operators reported their belief that this was due to the proximity of a radioactive sample near the monitors.  They did not disclose what kind of sample nor why it was near four different monitors, if that’s even possible. Plus, the sample they discuss showed Cesium, not Iodine.
  4. North Carolina State University - 7th July 2011: Officials said Thursday that there is a low-level water leak in the liner that surrounds the campus nuclear reactor, but that it poses no danger to the public.
  5. Submarine, off northeast China - 29th July 2011:  A rumor began spreading on the Chinese Internet sites that there was a radiation leak on a submarine stationed near Dalian in northeast China. As the story went, the accident occurred while technicians were installing new electronic gear on a Type 94 SSBN ( nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine). Not verified, but detailed. China denies, but no one believes denial.
  6. Kakrapar Atomic Power Station, Gujarat - 1st August 2011:  An incident from 30th May 2011 came to light where four temporary workers were exposed to 90mSv from spent fuel due to operator error. Health concerns were dismissed citing absence of immediate symptoms of radiation poisoning (usually with fatal doses). As per AERB, the dose limit for workers at a nuclear plant is 20mSv, which was deliberately ignored by station director P K Dutta when he made the following quote "A radiation of 90 mSv does not cause any harm. If we get our whole body CT scanned, we would be exposed to a nuclear radiation of 60 mSv,'' who also mentioned contract workers demanding regularization because of this incident as "taking advantage of it". Temporary workers being exposed to radiation and abandoned without adequate health support or information is an ongoing problem with nuclear plants.
  7. Dounreay Nuclear Plant, Scotland21st September 2011, Guardian: Scottish nuclear fuel leak 'will never be completely cleaned up' - Tens of thousands of radioactive fuel fragments escaped from the Dounreay plant between 1963 and 1984, polluting local beaches, the coastline and the seabed. Fishing has been banned within a two-kilometre radius of the plant since 1997. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has decided to give up on its aim of returning the seabed near the plant to a "pristine condition". Staff from here has been consulting at Fukushima to share experience.
  8. San Onofre Nuclear plant, California had trouble with premature wear in the cooling tubes leading to leaks of water and gas last summer. First one, then both reactors were shut down for investigation earlier, but this seems to now be a permanent shutdown currently. The exact amount of leakage is unknown, but officials say that it shouldn't be harmful. Only harmful enough to shut down a nuclear plant, I suppose, not health.
  9. Dounreay Nuclear Plant, Scotland - 8th October 2011: Radioactive liquid effluent is understood to have leaked inside a treatment facility. It did not exit the building. Dounreay was constructed in the 1950s as an experimental nuclear power complex, but has not generated electricity since 1994 and is currently being decommissioned by Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL) who got a top safety award for their work in May 2011.
  10. Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP), Pakistan - 30th October 2011: heavy water leaked from a feeder pipe to the reactor leading to a seven hour emergency till it was contained. The plant was already shut down for maintenance.
  11. Point Lepreau, Canada - second half of November 2011: 23 barrels of water laced with the toxic chemical hydrazine was released into the Bay of Fundy.
  12. Point Lepreau, Canada - December 13th 2011: Almost 6 litres of heavy water splashed to the floor, requiring an immediate evacuation of the building. Point Lepreau had been shutdown for refurbishment since 2008, and the leaks happened during the preparations to restart it. Currently, it is stopped till further investigation.
  13. Orchid Island, Taiwan - 30th December 2011: Tao Aborigines from Orchid Island protested on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei, saying radioactive material was leaking from a nuclear waste dump on the island. They demanded that the storage facility be removed. Although residents of Orchid Island have long suspected that a radioactive leak has occurred, it was first officially confirmed when Academia Sinica research fellow Huh Chih-an detected radioactivity on the island after being commissioned by Taipower in November.
  14. Prarie Island Nuclear Power Plant - 5th January 2012: Leak found. Alert declared.
  15. Exelon Byron Nuclear Generating Station, Ogle County, about 100 miles west of Chicago, near Rockford - 30th January 2012: The supply of power from off-site (needed to maintain backup for safety systems) went down, forcing Exelon to take Unit No. 2 offline. Steam containing tritium had to be vented from the reactor triggering panic.
  16. North Anna, Virginia, US - 17th February 2012: water taken from an on-site groundwater sampling point contained an unusually high level of tritium — more than twice the EPA's standard for drinking water.
  17. Bruce power, Lake Huron, 240km northwest of Toronto, Canada - 17th March 2012: Leaks were discovered as the reactors were being powered up after an earlier shutdown.
  18. EDF Nuclear Power Plant at Penly, Normandy, France - 5th April 2012:  A faulty joint on a pump leaked lubricant from the pump used to cool the reactor, which caused two small fires and a low level leak inside the reactor building.
  19. Point Lepreau, Canada - 21st May 2012: A third leak. 300 litres of tritiated heavy water spilled on May 21 when a valve opened too soon during pressure testing at the plant. Poor training has been cited as one of the causes for the accident.
  20. Rawatbhata Atomic Power Plant (RAPP), Rajasthan, India - some time near 25th May 2012 - 38 workers working on heavy water and tritium supply channels were exposed to tritium leaks (unspecified quantity), 3 of them in doses exceeding allowed dose.
  21. Davis-Besse nuclear station in Ohio - 6th June 2012: Small amount of radioactive water sprayed through a minor leak and no radiation escaped the plant.
  22. Dounreay, Scotland - 7th June2012: A steady decline in urine levels for uranium and plutonium has been reported for workers here.
  23. Prarie Islands Spent Nuclear Fuel pools - 8th June 2012: A U.S. Appeals Court ruled that the NRC violated a federal act by neglecting to run in-depth studies on how storing radioactive waste at nuclear power plants impacts health and the environment. Read document. 1,500 tons of high-level irradiated waste is stored in heavy steel and concrete casks on a tarmac a few hundred feet from the Hudson River. The Westchester-based plant produces about 30 tons of radioactive waste every 18 months, which is then crammed into two overcrowded, 40-foot deep spent fuel pools. Each pool holds about 1,000 tons of radioactive waste and has been leaking into the ground and river for years.
  24. Pallisades Nuclear Plant, Michigan, US  - 12th June 2012: The plant was shut down and a Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigation has been started over a year long leak of approximately 31.8 gallons of borated water per day (not heavily radioactive - used to stop fission) from a cooling tank into the reactor's control room. The operator believes there may be several leaks involved, but the leaks have not been found yet, so repairs are pending. Pallisades had five unplanned shutdowns in 2011. NRC has downgraded the safety rating for the plant.
  25. Susquehanna Nuclear Plant - 20th june 2012: PPL Corp. shut down the Unit 1 reactor at its Susquehanna nuclear power plant near Berwick on Tuesday to investigate what it called a minor water leak inside the container structure surrounding the reactor. Unit 1 had been online only 11 days since a 69-day shutdown starting March 31, during which the company repaired cracks in Unit 1 turbine blades.

And there are more. I have gone through about half the tabs I opened. Bored now. This list is nowhere near comprehensive. An astonishing 75% of all US nuclear reactors were found to be leaking tritium last year.

The simple point I am trying to make is that claims of safety by the pro-nuclear lobby are highly exaggerated.


After getting the nth explanation of how I was scaremongering and that Fukushima was well under control and there was no reason to worry and the people will soon be returning to the exclusion zone, I don’t know whether to weep with pity for the ignorance our government and media have reduced people to, or be angry for ignoring obvious facts.

Choosing to do neither. Look at the information below. Decide what you like. It isn’t like Japan will listen to you and direct actions… or me.

The levels of radioactivity at reactors 2 and 3 have gone too high to allow workers to work there, and future work will have to be carried out by robots. This is not a mindless attention seeker like me talking. This is TEPCO’s statement to the press on camera.

To the uninitiated, you have to understand that this is an ongoing leak of radiation that has suddenly *spiked*. In other words, “contained” isn’t even a distant relative yet. In still more words, for the radioactivity to decrease, it has to stop being released first.

Or how about this? This is perfectly excellent milk being discarded? Try radioactive milk. You don’t want to have your beauty bath in this. And if you do…? Fukushima has tons of supply going waste. You seriously think farmers throw away all their milk because of scare mongering?

Radioactive milk being discarded at Iigate

On the other hand, instead of me being a scare mongerer, you may want to consider that you’re blindly swallowing propaganda pills that “make it all go away”. Very fuzzy pink of you. If this was unintentional, here is the antidote.

Most of the time, the government lacks the resources to monitor radiation in all the foodstuff, and people are eating a lot of contaminated food slipping through the cracks. This includes school children.

While you are at it, look carefully at time 1:42. While this lawyer is describing a concerning situation with forcing children to drink contaminated milk, and children who refuse being treated like traitors, Osamu Fujimura (Chief Cabinet Secretary) on the left, and Yukio Edano (Economy, Trade and Industry Minister) are laughing. What was it you were saying? That the responsible actions of the Japanese Government successfully prevented disaster?

Here’s a look at the scene with tested food stuff. Remember, this is outside the exclusion zone you are eager to send people back to. PBS is making some excellent documentaries these days.

A radiation fallout forecast also shows minor quantities coming our way.

This is what is happening in Fukushima

Though of course, this is not a problem, since we don’t measure, so if there is no data, then there is no contamination, right? That is how our minds work.

So, I leave you with this thought for people who should have been protected by international regulation from a nuclear plant in their armpit. More than one million people live within 30km of Koodankulam. This is not a location Atomic Energy Regulatory Board approves of. There should be less people, or the plant should be elsewhere. But that doesn’t matter to out government, long given to self-delusion. They see no reason why they can’t simply misinform people and get results they want. But many people know why.

PS: When someone can send you nice videos to watch at the drop of a hat – new ones each time, at least I am not ignorant, no?

There are a lot of fantasies fed to us in the name of nuclear power. How we need it, how it is the only real option for the power we so desperately need, how it isn't all that dangerous and so on. There is no space for an alternative view. The government is clear on what it wants to do, and promotes all opposition to nuclear projects as against the interests of the country. The media carefully walks the same path.

There are three key components to the nuclear power halo, and there will be three posts here looking at these claims. Clean, Safe and Cheap.

This, the first is about the Clean.

Before we get into any worst case scenarios, let us see the normal operations of a nuclear plant. Even a brand new plant vents radioactive gasses, and cycles contaminated water from the reactor to be decontaminated and reused or released into the environment. They have "allowed" levels, since these activities are part of the normal functioning of the plant. Monitoring for radioactive contamination is not possible (or methods available) for the entire known range of contamination that can happen. It is unclear what kind of monitoring is actually carried out in India. This data is not publicly made available at the very least, though it is of significance to the public at large.

As nuclear plants age, the chances of leaks rise significantly. These may be in the form of gasses, or pipes and valves that wear out. In theory, the high risk environment means that monitoring for wear and replacement is high priority. In practice, almost every plant in the world has had leaks - great or small. Many argue that it is a matter of working efficiently. However, that is debatable, considering that a factor like piping alone involves hundreds of kilometers of pipe in a single reactor. The risk of lapse will always be there.

Then you have the actual incidents of contamination. These may be security breaches or equipment or facility failures. Depending on the kind of contamination and the half-lives of the materials released, the severity can be as minor as the radioactivity dying out in a week or so to the area becoming permanently radioactive.

And you have the severe accidents a la Chernobyl or Fukushima, where the reactors are destroyed, massive radiation releases happen, vast areas become permanently out of bounds for humans and incalculable destruction of life, health, property loss, economic loss and loss of resources like food and water happens. It is entirely debatable if such loss can ever be considered a worthy risk no matter how much electricity and profit a reactor makes.

Today, most Indians barely hear anything at all about Fukushima, but almost a year from the incident, the crisis is still unfolding. Contamination is still being called in from new areas. The initial optimism of reclaiming contaminated lands (upto 100mSv within a decade and 200mSv in two decades) has been replaced with a resigned acceptance that areas measuring more than 50mSv will be permanently out of bounds for humans. The losses in livestock, farming produce, fishing, property and health are still unfolding a year from the crisis. It is still not possible to conclude about how much loss has happened.

And it is a long way from over. An entire Spent Fuel Pool (SFP) is on a rickety structure that is one good earthquake away from catastrophic collapse. And any of the reactors or SFPs going critical or even developing a massive leak (very possible) will require evacuations that will set off more. A year from the crisis, we still have no clue where the fuel from the reactors actually is.

The live cameras still show suspicious steam and flashes at the nuclear plant routinely and people working at the plant have died of heart attacks regularly. For that matter, people working on the decontamination outside the evacuation zone have also dropped dead after handling the radioactive sludge and other waste. The last known incident was yesterday, and we'll be lucky to go a week without hearing another.

Indian media has put the trauma of Fukushima firmly behind them and are currently busy describing how anti-nuclear NGOs have suspicious funding. However, while we haven't got a Fukushima or Chernobyl yet, we have had our own history of nuclear accidents that should raise the hair of anyone not obsessed with dismissing them.

Here's the list in Wikipedia, though details of these and more will soon be a section on this site. The summary of "clean" in India. The summary of such "clean" in the world is beyond the scope of this article.

Nuclear power accidents in India

(in millions

2006 US$)

4 May 1987Kalpakkam, IndiaFast Breeder Test Reactor at Kalpakkam refuelling accident that ruptures the reactor core, resulting in a two-year shutdown0300
10 Sep 1989Tarapur, Maharashtra, IndiaOperators at the Tarapur Atomic Power Station find that the reactor had been leaking radioactive iodine at more than 700 times normal levels. Repairs to the reactor take more than a year078

The on line hours of unit 1&2 in 1990 were 7772 and 7827 hrs (source IAEA PRIS. Repairs lasting more than one year from 10 Sep 1989 can not yield such on line hours.surely something is wrong.

13 May 1992Tarapur, Maharashtra, IndiaA malfunctioning tube causes the Tarapur Atomic Power Station to release 12 curies of radioactivity02
31 Mar 1993Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh, IndiaThe Narora Atomic Power Station suffers a fire at two of its steam turbine blades, damaging the heavy water reactor and almost leading to a meltdown0220 The cost data is not on comparable basis. 2400 or so US 2006 dollars for TMI and 220 for NAPS unit 1 is wrong.
2 Feb 1995Kota, Rajasthan, IndiaThe Rajasthan Atomic Power Station leaks radioactive helium and heavy water into the Rana Pratap Sagar River, necessitating a two-year shutdown for repairs280
22 Oct 2002Kalpakkam, IndiaAlmost 100 kg radioactive sodium at a fast breeder reactor leaks into a purification cabin, ruining a number of valves and operating systems030

Contrasting bits of news coming in from Fukushima Daichi in Japan. And I think, as a country with a raging debate about nuclear power, we need to pay more attention to it. We need to evaluate for ourselves the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power and see how we can achieve safe nuclear energy or it doesn't make sense to pursue nuclear power.

The government has invited IAEA to review our nuclear facilities. As a responsible method for assessing safety, it makes sense. But if you see the political scenario, it is very closely linked with our reactor  at Kudankulam and other regions, where anti-nuclear protests threaten the very existence of the nuclear plants. It comes among other initiatives like catchy radio jingles to persuade people to support nuclear power. As always, the feeling is that we have missed the mark completely.

In all seriousness, IAEA shouldn't be invited to have an opinion unless it is established how that opinion matters. What information are we looking for and if we are looking with a view to prove safety, do we see ourselves accepting if it is deemed unsafe? As we see in Japan, when things go to hell in a handbasket, the first thing to suffer is transparency.

As a result, few have an idea of what is really happening.

Consider these facts:

  • TEPCO has released a simulation that shows that the core may have eaten into the concrete, but the primary containment is intact. Now compare this with what we know. If the primary containment were intact, the radiation would be contained and we wouldn't be discussing this at all.
  • The same day as TEPCO released the information about the core eroding the concrete, it spoke about achieving cold shutdown by 16th December based on the information that the temperature of the reactor had dropped to acceptable levels. If you are following news, you can't but help wonder what the reactor temperature being under control means at all, if the core isn't in the reactor anymore.

On the other hand, citizens are stepping up to help clean up the residential areas and make them safer. There is a lot of anger against the government when people should be coming together to maximize resources. There is low trust. This low trust is well earned.

To anyone following the Fukushima nuclear accident, one thing is clear. There is a polarization in the response to the accident.

People all over the world who are interested in preserving nuclear power as a source of energy tend to look at the "bright side" of things. As though there is any bright side to a catastrophe. Those are the ones who will keep talking about how safe nuclear power is, when we have lost one vast area in the Chernobyl disaster and another is in the way with the Fukushima disaster. That is within a realtively short span of time. Many people who aren't too old have lived through both stories. And it will be a long time before they start being habitable. Not in your lifetime or mine. Middle aged people, not like having been alive at the time of the World wars. It is no small deal. At this rate, we won't have enough place on earth to escape radiation in a few generations. There simply aren't enough sweet words to make this sound good. And we aren't even talking about contamination in the world, on the sea floors, where it can't be fixed, cancers, loss of property, money, lives uprooted.

There are other people who look at the worst side of the disaster. They are the ones talking about China Syndrome and hydrothermal explosions and massive nuclear wasteland and so on. There is no specific explanation as to why a core being flooded with water - no matter where it sinks, water sinks too - will be superheated and cause an explosion on contact with underground water. Maybe it can happen, but in any nuclear accident, it hasn't happened so far. There is no explanation for why a molten core will not naturally disperse when it mixes with soil, burns its way through, gets debris mixed in, etc and will remain exactly as pure a ball of burning nuclear material all through to China. That all cooling efforts will comprehensively fail. Sure, nuclear energy is a lot of energy, but if things were that bad, we'd have discovered it right along with the discovery of uranium and experimenting with it. No?

More than who is right and who is wrong, this debate seems to be a metaphorical stand over nuclear energy. Those who dislike it notice the worst side, those who like it see its best. And they refuse to meet about obvious things, because metaphors are not to be debated, they are expressions of stands not directly stated.

This is unhelpful, and it is a lesson for every country in the world to look at the conversations around nuclear power. If people living near a nuclear power plant don't feel heard when they voice concerns, if their concerns are dismissed, they are going to raise their voice and keep raising it - this is about survival for them, not an intellectual debate over safety systems. The more very real bad things happening are ignored, the more opposition for nuclear power will become visible. Similarly, the more extreme the forecasts of doom get, the more they will be dismissed. There needs to be a middle way and the roots will be in transparency.

Honesty is much needed here. It is lack of information, more than anything else that leads to superstition. An example of this lies in the comments of a blog that found the live feed from the nuclear plant showing a fire. Two days since, there is still no explanation. Some smaller update type articles said that hydrogen was being burned without referring to the fire. Now that doesn't explain anything either. There is nitrogen being mixed so that the hydrogen doesn't ignite, so it doesn't make sense that the venting caused it to burn, and if it didn't burn on its own, there is absolutely no reason to do anything further with it once it is out of the reactor. People are concerned. There are numerous theories ranging from some kinds of lights mounted on vehicles in foggy air to nuclear fission chain reaction. But no one has bothered to explain. Not the governement, not TEPCO. Why wouldn't these anxious people never want nuclear power near their homes?

India has a similar mindset. Things simply don't get noticed till there is a scam breaking news. Misinformation, disinformation and refusals to accommodate concerns are routine. This doesn't help build a convincing case for nuclear power. We need knowledge to arrive at informed decisions anywhere in the world, and we are not exempt.

There is a list of recommendations on how we should approach nuclear power in an earlier article about nuclear power in India. Do read, do comment.