From K-HouseOn January 21, 2013 several large explosions in Iran were detected by both seismic and subsonic instrumentation around the world. As Iran denies the incident and ascribes it to “political fiction”, reports from sources inside the Iranian regime report that radiation is leaking from the site of the reported explosions. Iodine pills have been distributed to surrounding inhabitants and the first responders to the explosive incidents were reportedly taken to the hospital immediately after their leaving the area.
Of course, officially, Iran continues to claim there has been no incident and, consequently, no leakage. Since the Iranian nuclear program influences the geopolitical security of its surrounding neighbors, most prominently Israel, there has been much speculation as to how this facility was compromised. To date there is no evidence as to whether this was an accident or a politically preventative maneuver.
Contrary to common understanding, we live in a delicate environment. Much of our electric power is provided by dangerous materials. With its widespread use, only the dedication and determination of the nuclear community has made that usage safe. But let us not forget that seemingly small errors and accidents in faraway places can have long-term effects.
Recently in our history there have been “issues and incidences”. Let’s review them so we don’t forget them in this sound-bite driven world.
Twenty-seven years ago on April 26, 1986, reactor #4 at the Chernobyl nuclear facility in the Ukraine exploded, causing a radioactive graphite fire that contaminated the surrounding area and spread a cloud of radioactivity around the world. Thirty-one workers and firefighters were killed immediately. Because of faulty measurement equipment it was initially assumed the reactor had not lost containment. Most of the casualties were plant workers who stayed, most without radiation protection, to try to get water to the containment facility. They all died within three weeks since radiation levels were some 10,000 times higher than lethal levels.
Surrounding areas were also contaminated by the blasts and resulting fires, killing everything including the forests. More than a quarter of a million people were evacuated, never to return. Still, this site is the symbol of the dangerous nature of nuclear energy. It was categorized as a “level 7” (the highest) accident.
Today Chernobyl still radiates. In 2011 the Ukrainian Government was asking for a billion dollars in foreign aid with a plan to “seal” Chernobyl for 100 years. Today, still under construction, a 105-meter domed roof is being constructed. Later this year (maybe) this dome will be rolled into place and “seal in” this accident some quarter of a century later.
At a 2011 conference on the planned sealing, Viktor Yanukovych admitted “…such catastrophes are a challenge to all mankind” and that sealing Chernobyl could not be completed by one country alone. The U.S. donated $182 million to the cause.
On April 12 2011, the 40-year-old Fukushima nuclear facility became the victim of an overwhelming tsunami wave, as a result of an under-ocean earthquake. The tsunami damaged the coolant system. At first it was deemed not to be comparable to Chernobyl. Later, though, it was classified as a “level 7” also. Surrounding areas have been evacuated and, two years later, they are still trying to contain and prevent a more severe “meltdown” with accompanied radiation release in sea and air. Due to the currents of both, any leakage is on a “conveyor belt” to western North America (U.S. and Canada). The negative impact on the Pacific environment will take years to evaluate.
The Hanford Nuclear Reserve in the eastern Washington State area is the poster child for what humans can take from success to abject failure. This area has been home to plutonium production in the U.S. since the early years of the Cold War era. It is situated on 586 square miles, a size that the entire city of Los Angeles could comfortably fit within. It is hardly known and yet it is the single largest nuclear contaminated area in the country. After poor storage practices and methods, resulting in a constant leakage of materials into the surrounding environment for over 40 years, it finds itself in the news once more.
This leakage has not been without its far-reaching effects. In the early ’60s an irradiated whale was killed off the coast of Oregon. Apparently the leakage had worked its way into the Columbia River and out into the ocean. As well as being a vast resource of marine life, the Columbia also supplies much of the Pacific Northwest’s water for drinking and industry. As recent as a decade ago, a number of radioactive tumbleweeds were found downwind from the Hanford Reserve area.
In the last couple of weeks, new discoveries of leakage in six holding tanks containing plutonium sludge have become apparent. When this was first reported, only one storage tank was suspected. At that time it was estimated that some 300 gallons of radioactive sludge was leaking per year. With an upgrade in the number of tanks, it is still being assessed as to the possible quantities of contaminated materials this represents.
This represents only a few of the active areas of contamination. For a complete list of nuclear accidents by country go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_power_accidents_by_country
This is not meant to be an indictment on the use of nuclear energy. Still, with the issues it presents it is the cheapest and safest form of energy overall. That being said we must never lose our respect for its dangerous side. With the recent release in Iran it underscores the necessity to be ever vigilant to keep the genie in the containment vessel.
At the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, a Steady Drip of Toxic Trouble
- The Daily Beast
Chernobyl, Still Leaking, Forces Ukraine to Seek $1 Billion
Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster
Radiation leaking from Iran’s nuke plant