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Originally published April 12 2015

Global nuclear industry experiencing a "renaissance" as radioactive waste fills the Pacific Ocean

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Even as radioactive waste from the Fukushima nuclear disaster continues to pour into the Pacific Ocean, the world's nuclear industry is undergoing a different kind of explosion.

"Right now, the nuclear renaissance is happening, and it's happening in East Asia," said Geoffrey Rothwell, an economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Despite the Fukushima disaster, many countries are building newer, more massive nuclear reactors. According to the International Energy Agency, there are already 400 gigawatts of nuclear energy being generated worldwide, with plans underway to generate 72 gigawatts more. China alone wants to generate 58 gigawatts of nuclear energy within the next 10 years.

Fukushima still poisoning Pacific

The supposed benefits of nuclear power include greater reliability than wind or solar power, without the carbon emissions of fossil fuels. Such narratives overlook the massive destruction caused by uranium mining and the enormous amount of carbon dioxide emitted not just during mining but also processing fuel stock, building and decommissioning plants, and storing nuclear waste.

But of course the true elephant in the room for nuclear power is the issue of safety. In fact, it is concerns over safety that have hobbled the industry in many countries.

In 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered multiple meltdowns at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. A massive radioactive cloud exploded from the plant, and 100,000 people had to be evacuated. This disaster caused not only Japan but also Germany to begin reducing their reliance on nuclear power.

The first explosions from the Fukushima plant sent a flood of radioactive material into the atmosphere and the nearby Pacific Ocean, creating a radioactive plume that is still expanding eastward. According to scientific modeling systems used by the European Union, this plume has remained largely intact, and it has already been detected off the west coast of North America.

But the poisoning of the Pacific didn't stop there. According to plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which has routinely censored and downplayed the issue of radioactive waste, at least 2 trillion becquerels of radioactive material entered the Pacific from the plant between August 2013 and May 2014, at a rate 10 times higher than TEPCO would have allowed pre-meltdown. Meanwhile, radioactive water continues to accumulate at the site, as rainwater leaks into the melted-down reactors. Some of this water drains to the Pacific naturally; some is ejected deliberately into the ocean by TEPCO to keep it from accumulating too rapidly at the plant.

In USA, nuclear waste piling up

In the United States, the Fukushima disaster has had only a minimal impact on discussions about a nuclear renaissance. Instead, the major hurdle faced by the industry is the disposal of nuclear waste.

A decades-old federal law requires the government to develop a long-term strategy for storing nuclear waste generated by both energy generation and weapons programs. But due to political wrangling, nearly all spent uranium fuel remains stored onsite at the reactors where it was used.

For 30 years, the government has talked of creating a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Locals have opposed the project from the beginning, objecting that nuclear waste is being forced on them. More recently, opposition from President Obama has stalled the plan. All of this is despite the fact that billions of dollars from taxpayers and electricity customers have already gone to Nevada in exchange for allowing the project to commence.

An underground facility in Carlsbad, New Mexico, was suggested as a possible alternative, and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) was born, designed to permanently store materials contaminated with radiation from nuclear weapons production.

Then in February 2014, 22 WIPP workers were exposed to radiation when a storage barrel caught fire and burst, spreading radioactive material out of the mine and onto the surface. The explosion was later blamed on staff failing to follow proper procedures, and the incident raised questions about the government's ability to safely store nuclear waste.


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