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Impacts Of Fukushima Crisis World-wide

  • March 16th, 2011
  • Posted by EUEditor

fukushima-greenpeace.jpgThe meltdown metaphor has taken hold: threats of nuclear meltdown at four stricken reactors in Japan, talk of financial meltdown, and political meltdown linked to it as well – first and foremost this week in Germany.

BATTLE AT THE REACTOR SITES

In Japan, engineers tending four distressed reactors at the Fukushima complex battled repeated outbreaks of fire and occasional surges of radiation levels – at times at levels harmful to health, in the vicinity of the plant – as they pumped water to dampen overheating.

The impacts of the earthquake last Friday, and the tsunami that hit the plant at its location on the coast, caused structural damage and cut the power supply.

With fractured roads and other infrastructure, the supply of electricity, petrol and food staggering, and thousands of people still missing in the debris left after the destruction of whole towns, Japan has begun to register immediate economic effects, reverberating around the globe.

MELTDOWN TALK ON MARKETS?

The state of affairs in the world’s third largest economy has triggered a severe risk-aversion response on stock markets, with fears “real economy” effects to follow.

Share prices fell 14% at one point in Japan, settling at around 10% late on Tuesday; Japanese stocks, and shares in companies linked to the nuclear industry fell on markets worldwide; and stock exchanges were seeing steep general falls – especially in Germany.

Talk that the Japanese government would off-load US government bonds to help meet costs of the disaster provoked commentary in America that new rises would then occur in the cost of borrowing money.

MELTING DOWN IN GERMANY?

merkel-bxl-council-dec-06.jpgThe German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has stepped back from a highly controversial program to delay the closing down of the country’s 17 nuclear power plants.

The nuclear-based electricity segment was due to shut-down by 2020, under a plan put in place by the former left-of-centre “Red-Green” coalition government, but that was extended last year by the conservative Chancellor, to 2032.

She has now announced that seven old stations, commissioned before 1980, will be withdrawn from the grid, at least until 15.6.11.

In the intervening time a new safety inventory will be conducted over the whole system, and options for a boost in the use of renewable energy – wind, solar — government moves will be stepped up.

“We will look at the infrastructure of that conversion, analyse it, and see where there are opportunities to accelerate it.

“We will also look again at how we can provide more support to renewable energy.”

german-protest-2011.jpgThe evident turn-around has infuriated critics of the Chancellor’s nuclear policy who have been mounting large street protests, and raising questions about why the nuclear safety measures did not happen before the 2032 rule was imposed.

Some opinion polls have shown 80% rejection of the nuclear option as it stands, and the Chancellor, not faring well in voter intention polls either, has been accused of political dodging – trying to shelve the nuclear issue until she gets through a set of difficult state elections.

Deutsche Welle radio set out the lines of argument in Germany this week, reporting on consultations involving the federal government and the premiers of the five states where nuclear power stations are located: Baden-Württemberg, Schleswig-Holstein, Hesse, Lower Saxony and Bavaria.

dw_logo1024.gif“The political opposition views Merkel’s moratorium as an election campaign maneuver.

“It means that no decision will be made on the future of nuclear power in Germany until after five crucial state elections: in Saxony-Anhalt, on 20.3.11, in Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse, all on 273.11, and in Bremen on 22.3.11.

“Sigmar Gabriel, head of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) was withering on Merkel’s new plan:

“‘She claimed then that all safety concerns in German nuclear power stations had been cleared up, and she claimed we needed nuclear power in Germany. Now we know that none of that was true.’”

SEARCH FOR EXPLANATIONS ON JAPAN

The nuclear accident in Japan that has set off has brought on much groping around for explanations.

The complexities of nuclear reactor operations, and nuclear safety procedures, are beyond the range of plain folks, who have to take an interest in it now.

Explanations of the accident from various scientists visiting mass media have counseled an objective calm over actual levels of radiation, it has not been seen as another Chernobyl; and these commentaries have indicated keen interest in whether the plants in question actually might have been re-commissioned, an option lost though, at great expense to industry, by the pumping of seawater in emergency, to cool them.

Plain folks have wanted none of that; could not care about the eventual writing-off of a nuclear power station; none panicking, but getting very alert – like those appearing in increasing numbers at the political meetings in Germany.

Very helpful explanations of the break-downs in Japan have been widely published, for instance in the online service of the London newspaper the Daily Mail.

daily-mail.gif   Michael Hanlon, in “So how alarmed should we be over Japan’s nuclear crisis?”, 14.3.11, begins defining “meltdown”: “An uncontained chain reaction in a reactor core, a blob of molten radioactive metal burning its way out of the containment chamber and a massive release of radioactive fission products such as iodine-131 and strontium-90 into the environment.”

His explanation says the Fukushima plant appeared to have been hit by a power cut, when its seismic detectors automatically shut it down, in response to the earthquake.

That stopped the heat-producing fission reaction and the reactor fuel could have cooled down without danger over some days .

It continues, in part:

“But then the tsunami swept through local power grids and back-up generators which provided the electricity for the reactor cooling pumps – possibly fracturing the water main into the plant as well.

“Like a car engine with a leaking radiator, the heat started to build up to dangerous levels. Nuclear power stations are essentially huge kettles. You have a power source – the nuclear reactor itself – which gets hot; several hundred degrees in a controlled fission reaction.

“The heat is produced by the fission – splitting – of atoms of radioactive materials, such as uranium.

“This produces not only heat but radiation, and also the creation of radioactive by-products which themselves emit heat as they undergo radioactive decay.

“This explains why, even if the primary nuclear reaction is stopped, heat will continue to be generated for days – enough to melt the reactor core if it is not cooled … “

Continuing, a nuclear reactor cannot be just turned off.

The rods are red hot and need days to cool down, provided enough coolant is applied.

The concern then sets in that if the fuel in the reactor is not covered by water it could start to melt – a large-scale meltdown being possible if all the fuel in a reactor is uncovered.

“Hopefully this will not happen, and thanks to both the design of the Japanese reactors and to the swift and organised response of the authorities, handing out iodine pills to prevent the ingestion of cancer-causing substances, there is little chance that Fukushima will enter the annals of notoriety alongside Chernobyl.”

See also in the Daily Mail:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1366007/Japan-earthquake-tsunami-So-alarmed-nuclear-crisis.html#ixzz1GhTg6umK

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1366007/Japan-earthquake-tsunami-So-alarmed-nuclear-crisis.html#ixzz1GhTVvSXb

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1366007/Japan-earthquake-tsunami-So-alarmed-nuclear-crisis.html#ixzz1GhU9X2I5

Reference

Michael Hanlon, “So how alarmed should we be over Japan’s nuclear crisis?”, Mail Online, London, 14.3.11. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1366007/Japan-earthquake-tsunami-So-alarmed-nuclear-crisis.html

Ben Knight, Michael Lawton, (Reuters, dpa), “Nuclear Power:Merkel shuts down seven nuclear reactors”, 15.3.11. http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14912184,00.html, (15.3.11).

Pictures  Greenpeace, DW, Daily Mail, info-wars.org

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