Nuclear Waste is the Achille's Heel...

Nuclear Waste is the Achille's Heel...

You need to know this. As the death toll soars from last Friday’s 9.0 earthquake and tsunami – 50 Japanese nuclear plant workers are putting their lives on the line to prevent another catastrophe in Japan – nuclear meltdown. All 6 GE Mark I reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant are dangerously close to melting down – but that’s not even the worst of it. Sitting on top of each reactors are pools of nuclear waste that contain larger amounts of harmful radiation than the reactors themselves.

And there are reports that those pools of waste are overheating – catching fire – and spewing that highly toxic radioactive waste into the atmosphere. It’s like a massive dirty bomb being constantly detonated over the plant. Late last night – the remaining workers at the plant were evacuated due to extreme levels of radiation detected when pressure was relieved from one of the reactors. Those workers returned shorty after the radiation subsided.

While their heroics should be recognized – it’s starting to look like they’re playing a losing game of whack-a-mole. As they desperately try to cool one reactor with seawater – the other reactors start to overheat – and so on. We should be taking note here in the United States. We have 104 operational nuclear power plants dotting the country – and many of them use the very same Mark 1 reactor design that is now under criticism in Japan.

A reactor that was designed by General Electric - that prompted 3 GE workers to resign 35 years ago in protest because they argued the design was flawed and the reactor would be unable to contain nuclear material should a cooling system malfunction occur. And it turns out today - these guys were right. Japan is not some third world nation – their power grid is just as advanced as ours – if not more so – so to believe that what’s happening there couldn’t happen here is naïve.

But...wait! There's more....

While the rest of the world reconsiders nuclear power – Americans could get screwed by elected representatives who are snugly in the pocket of the nuclear energy lobby. Switzerland, Germany, and even Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela have all put a hold on nuclear power pending a full review. But in America – where money and politics are fused together – it’s unlikely the same sort of precautions will be taken here.

Politico notes that last year – the nuclear power lobby spent tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions and lobbying efforts to ensure a future spot in America’s energy portfolio. And like the big oil lobby – these guys don’t even blink at the future risks posed by their industry.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take a catastrophe like what’s happening in Japan – to happen here – before our elected representatives wake up to the dangers of nuclear power.


mathboy's picture
mathboy 4 years 15 weeks ago

That's "Achilles' heel".

timtrott 4 years 15 weeks ago

We already have the answers, but we're having too much fun scaring everybody with doomsday headlines to look at the REAL answers and solutions that are right in front of us: : Thorium is the most energy-dense substance on Earth, and enough exists to power civilization for millennia.

The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor

The modern concept of the Liquid-Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) uses uranium and thorium dissolved in fluoride salts of lithium and beryllium. These salts are chemically stable, impervious to radiation damage, and non-corrosive to the vessels that contain them. Because of their ability to tolerate heavy radiation, excellent temperature properties, minimal fuel loading requirements (i.e., easy of continual refueling) and other inherent factors, LFTR cores can be made much smaller than a typical light water reactor (LWR). In fact, liquid salt reactors, and LFTRs specifically, are listed as an unfunded part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Generation-4 Nuclear Solution Plan.

Thorium is a superior nuclear fuel and has several important advantages over uranium:

Thorium powered nuclear reactors are more efficient and produce less than 1% of the waste of today's uranium nuclear reactors.

Thorium reactors are safer, less expensive, smaller and can be configured to eliminate the possibility of melt downs or accidents.

Thorium does not produce plutonium and thus, could effectively eliminate further weapons production in volatile regions and reduce proliferation on a global scale, thus ending stalemate arguments over dubious nuclear programs such as exist in Iran and North Korea.

Proprietary thorium technology, capable of safely and efficiently dismantling nuclear stockpiles and eliminating spent uranium, now exists.

Senator's Orin Hatch and Harry Reid - To amend the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 in order to provide for thorium fuel cycle nuclear power development as a prelude to electrical generation.

Congressman Joe Sestak - To direct the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to carry out a study on the use of thorium - liquid fueled nuclear reactors for naval power needs, and other purposes.

rnturn's picture
rnturn 4 years 15 weeks ago

Even if all the world's nuclear power plants were to be turned off and the decommissioning process started tomorrow, the human race will be dealing with the consequences of our having used nuclear power until, probably, the end of the human race's existence on this planet.

And it's not just the old fuel rods that form the waste. The reactor vessles and the structures that house the reactors themselves are radioactive and will need to be disposed of somehow. It's not like you can just implode those sites and scoop up the debris in a front loader and haul it away to the landfill. Even ignoring the waste fule rods there's enough contaminated material for each reactor site to be declared a Superfund site.

eajayman's picture
eajayman 4 years 15 weeks ago


Lindawyeth 4 years 15 weeks ago

Thanks for posting this information. I look forward to getting more educated about the subject. Really. I am not being sarcastic.

stonesphear's picture
stonesphear 4 years 15 weeks ago

One disaster to the next. Nuclear plants are targets.

They are targets for terrorists , earth quakes and solar flares alike. Mankind can survive without nukes, it remains questionable as to whether we can survive with them. Fish in the Pacific agree that the less the better and the sooner the better.

delster's picture
delster 4 years 15 weeks ago

I think wisdom is wasted on the foolish. Too many Americans are concerned they may not be able to micro wave pop corn or turn on there flat screen. Modern people are tragedy based learners. They

are motivated by disaster rather than motivated by precaution. I am not advocating backward thinking by any means. I embrace technology when balanced with smart planning for the future. That future

consists of reasonable consumption and impact on environment but my own actions indicate I don't practice what I preach. Part of that is circumstance and part of it is my own decision in my consumption of resources. I can cut back and do in some cases. The problem is until we as citizens American and of the planet start to seriously consider and demand reform in the way we consume and live our lives directed toward comfort we will always be hypocrites.

Corporations in the nuclear industry will always justify their worth as a result of demand for their service.

Elizabeth Barger's picture
Elizabeth Barger 4 years 15 weeks ago

Nuclear power is dirty from beginning to end. The mining of uranium kills people. The fracking for uranium kills people and pollutes the ancient aqifers that furnish all water for the desert. The refining of uranium takes more electricity than it produces, and the waste lasts forever. While Thorium may be more abundant than uranium and easier to handle [not producing plutonium is a good thing] the toxicity of its extraction and the process of making it boil water looks dicey to me. I haven't investigated it so, if you have the specs, that would be nice.] Most of the new alternative power sources depend on rare earths and much energy to refine. The corn ethanol scam is a blind alley that we should get out of asap. But the new nukes that are proposed right now are still the same old same old and badly designed and put together by the same cheap designers and manufacturers. It is my opinion that we haven't had more grand disasters only because we are lucky, and because the constant minor disasters are only fleetingly covered, if at all. The other thing about nuclear disasters, as I have seen noted, is that a nuclear disaster lasts forever. The thousands of acres of desecrated once rich farmland in the Ukraine that are forever too radioactive to use, is one of the legacies of Chernobyl. Japan has precious few acres to spare to eternal poison of radioactivity that is spewing out from at least 3 meltdowns and maybe more. It doesn't take too many disasters the likes of which we have already had, to kill the world.

dem5393's picture
dem5393 4 years 15 weeks ago

How many $ are spent subsidizing Nuclear power! How much of the dept. of energy budget is spent to to make nuclear power seem affordable when it is not. If you hired people to make solar hot water heaters and wind powered generators and gave them to utilities for free it would be cheaper than nuclear power.

Palindromedary 4 years 15 weeks ago

Curious about current radiation levels in the US?

This web site has been in operation for a while now...well before the Japan tragedy. They show a map of the US with locations that show the current radiation levels, as monitored by volunteers who have Geiger Counters connected to their computers and constantly update...usually every minute the screen is refreshed. Normal radiation background levels fluxuate anywhere from 5 to 60 CPM and the radiation alert is set at 130 CPM. Right now, at 1345 hours PST, the radiation level in the SF Bay area is at 16 CPM and the highest is near Denver at about 56 CPM. And these numbers, like I said, fluxuate minute by minute that reflects the constant fluxuation levels of background radiation. If these numbers start to shift higher and go over 130 then we should probably worry a bit. Stay indoors with windows and doors closed for a few days (or weeks?).

They have maps of Japan,Alaska and Hawaii but no data points because, although they do have volunteers in some of those areas...they are not responding to requests for input. In Japan, the monitoring site is just north of Tokyo.

The web site is:

diff's picture
diff 4 years 15 weeks ago

I'm sooo tired of corporate American influencing government! We get what we allow.

dnarnadem 4 years 15 weeks ago

Again I will ask - how many Americans have died from direct exposure to Radiation coming from Nuclear reactors in America in the last year - last 10 years - last 20 years? Anybody?

Here is a rough count of those who died from Guns or Highway deaths: 1 year Gun deaths 10,000! 1 Year Vehicle deaths - 40,000! These are approximate numbers and may be more. So one year 50,000 deaths - 5 years 250,000 - 10 years 500,000 - 20 years 1,000,000 deaths! Where are the numbers for nuclear deaths here in America?

I don't want to downplay this. But it appears that this looks like the fear factor is based on the scale of the problem: we can scare the bejesus out of people by stating that nuclear energy will kill them horribly, yet when we mention that 40,000 people actually died on our highways last year, these very same people shrug their shoulders, get in their car or truck, and head on down the highway with nary a thought to the consequences!

In the case of guns the fear engendered causes the very same people to make a run on their local gun shops to buy more guns thus increasing their own chances, or loved one, of dying from one!

People, we need to get a grip on the problem here: guns and vehicles kill more people, at an even greater rate than any nuclear accident we or anyone will ever experience! Yet we ignore the real Killers and demonize what is infinitesimally smaller based on a scale than the real killer – guns and automobiles!

If we are going to give this much vehement discussion and denunciation on what is many orders of magnitude SMALLER in the potential of killing people, than we should be giving that MUCH MORE discussion and vehement denunciation to what ACTUALLY does KILL a lot of people – guns and automobiles!

Death is death – does not matter how it occurred. What does matter is what are WE, as a people, going to do to decrease that number. We certainly are not going to solve it by ignoring the problem. As to nuclear energy - we must face the challenge and try to fix the problem, not run away from it in fear. One good way would be to create a cleaner technology that would ultimately make nuclear energy so expensive that we would never have to use it again. That is only one of maybe thousands more!

reasonjr's picture
reasonjr 4 years 15 weeks ago

Do I think America will move away from nuclear power now?

Not as long as there is a dollar to be made by the Washington crooks and their cronies. Greed has no feelings or empathy. It really doesn't matter much at this point because in all honesty, I don't think they plan to build any here in the first place, it's all just a big distraction to give the people something else to argue about while they sell off the rest of America and turn out the lights. Why would we even need any more nuclear plants to run things here? Soon, America won't be manufacturing bubble gum here. Oh yeah, my bad, I forgot about all of the Wal-Mart stores, I suppose we could use a couple of nuclear power plants to run those. . . or how in the world are we going to sell all of the crap made in China?

renee in dc 4 years 15 weeks ago

the US govt. seemingly has a nuclear policy of turning a blind-eye disaster-wise while branding nuclear the "green" investment of choice instead of seeing the costly *accident-in-waiting* it is.

Berry's picture
Berry 4 years 15 weeks ago

My understand about thorium is that one ounce of thorium is as bad as one ounce of Uranium and its rubbish. Both will hurt you! Pehaps more study is needed to be done on free hydrogen from the atmosphere. Science today just may have some answers to be true to nature but its the money thing, and "God forbid if we had free and clean energy and energy that works with nature not against it.

1776's picture
1776 4 years 15 weeks ago

Nuclear Energy will not go away. The Obama Administration wants it, they, unlike what they did with the Oil Spill declared a moratorium on drilling, are not even calling for a moratorium on building more plants and shutting down the ones that are noted as the most dangerous like the one here in New York, Indian Point rated as #1 in danger.

stonesphear's picture
stonesphear 4 years 15 weeks ago

The Gulf Oil Spill in Japan is like running around on your farm spraying DDT when the wind is blowing away from your house.

John Defalque's picture
John Defalque 4 years 15 weeks ago

Until the recent nuclear catastrophe in Japan I thought my only exposure to radioactive waste was from blast tests before the comprehensive test ban treaty in 1997.This Japan trajedy has made me paranoid so I have done some research and found out that no-there's more-I swam in the Ottawa River many a time and the Chalk River reactor has been leaking into it on many occasions.Maybe my tadpoles don't swim upstream anymore.

ronsonntag's picture
ronsonntag 4 years 15 weeks ago

Please excuse me for not taking the time to research thorium mining, but, how much is there? What environmental damage will thorium mining cause? Maybe a thorium reactor is safer, but, how much less expensive would it be to build? Right now, current nuclear plants put the cost per kilowatt-hour as being the most expensive form of energy production we have (count in build, operate, disposal, AND insurance costs).

Next question: Given the billions that any nuclear plant WILL cost, why not pour those billions into renewable energy research AND production tooling? Isn't the pay-off FAR greater? I mean, you build nuke plants and you have left-over decomissioned dirty nuke plants for 100's of thousands of years. You build renewable energy sources and you get...hey...renewable energy sources for 100's of thousands of years!

Next question: Fusion. Nuclear fission is at least two orders of magnitude more inefficient than nuclear fusion. That is a factor of 100. On top of that, a deuterium / tritium fusion yields electrons! You can capture those without any neutron bombardment of the container vessel, hence, no transmutation and no nuclear waste. Yes, this is an IDEAL scenario, BUT, think about putting your BILLIONS into dirty (no matter what fission method you use) nuclear plants into FINALLY figuring out the way to fusion and you have literally unlimited fuel (sea water).

dnarnadem 4 years 15 weeks ago

Well I asked! And it appears NO ONE can come up with any NUMBER as to how many people have DIRCTLY died from a Nuclear accident or Nuclear exposure since The first one was built here in the United States 60+ Years ago!

And yet - from all the posts here it appears we are nearing Armeggeddon!

Folks, you are in more danger of getting cancer from radiation every time you take an X-Ray! You want to eliminate those?

This is Fear displacement - ignor the real stuff that can kill you quickly, while worrying yourself to death about what may be millions, if not of billions, of time less then what will!

Elioflight's picture
Elioflight 4 years 15 weeks ago

Where are the voices for wind and solar? How clean and safe they are. I live near a proposed wind farm, and solar is propsed elsewhere in the state unless our rethuglican govenor puts the kabash on it--like anything else progressive. Ignorant residents are bitching about how the turbines will spoil the landscape (no more than the stobe-light cell towers on nearly every horizon) and the noise. Really, they are upset because they won't be paid to have one on their property. There will be 6 or 8 within site of my house. I won't mind it a bit. I've seen them in Europe. I welcome the prospect of clean energy and a better future for my children and grandchildren.

Robert Orr Jr's picture
Robert Orr Jr 4 years 14 weeks ago

Hello, Everything you say is absolutely true.and there is a lot more besides. Thorium can be, and should be, the future of energy the entire world desperately needs and deserves. The subject is somewhat complex but I will try to summarize the numerous ways that LFTR is manifestly superior to any and all other sources of electric power today and, very likely, for the foreseeable future: (1)Thorium is a slightly radioactive natural element in the earth, No. 90 on your high school periodic table. It is three to four times more abundant than uranium, No. 92. It is available virtually everywhere on earth so monopoly is not possible. Thorium is ready to use practically right out of the ground. In stark contrast, only 7/10ths of one percent of natural uranium is U235, the isotope that is fissile. The enrichment process, what the Iranians are doing today, is complex and very expensive. (2) Current nuclear plants are incredibly inefficient. The reason is that the fuel is solid, fashioned into fuel rods. The nuclear reaction produces poisons that contaminate the solid fuel in the rods after only about 10% has been consumed. The 90% that is left as "spent nuclear fuel" is highly dangerous and will be for tens of thousands of years or more. That is the storage/disposal problem (some say a 68,000 ton problem) that is so vexatious and evidently informs Thom Hartmann's position on the future of nuclear power. Again, in stark contrast, LFTR consumes on the order of 99% of its fuel so that its waste is measured in pounds, not thousands of tons. Moreover, around 83% of that minuscule waste is stable, that is, non-radioactive, in only ten years and the rest in about three hundred years. That is a nuclear waste problem that is manageable. (3)LFTR is not picky about its fuel. Once started with U235, it transposes the abundant and cheap Thorium 90 into U233, which is fissile. But it also can consume the spent fuel from solid fuel reactors, which is, after all, only 10% burned, leaving the rest to be consumed in the LFTR generating electricity.The same is true of the truly dangerous plutonium that is presently being harvested as nuclear missiles are being decommissioned pursuant to disarmament treaties. In fact, that is really the only safe way to get rid of plutonium. (4)The LFTR is inherently safe. What is happening in Japan right now would not....could not... happen with the LFTR. As pointed out by tintrott, rather than being solid, the fuel of the LFTR is dissolved in a mixture of fluoride salts that are heated to something on the order of 800 degrees Celsius. (Recall that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius.) But there is no water anywhere near the molten fuel salt so there is no risk of a steam explosion, or hydrogen production, two causes of the explosions in Japan. The whole process works at basically atmospheric pressure so there is no need for the huge, and hugely expensive, reinforced concrete containment buildings that solid fuel reactors require. (By the way, Chernobyl had no such containment vessel.) And, rather than cooling by water, the LFTR can be cooled by air. If something does go wrong, the molten fuel salt will expand, slowing the reaction. If electricity is lost, the fail-safe in Japan that failed, electric fans used to keep freeze plugs in the drain lines under the reactor vessel frozen, will stop working. The result is that the plugs will melt and let the molten fuel salt drain by gravity into large storage tanks under ground, No pumps needed. The molten fuel salt will freeze solid and stay right there. Think of candle wax cooling and solidifying. When the time comes, it is a simple matter to heat the fuel salt in the storage tanks back into a molten liquid and pump it back into the reactor vessel, where the reaction will start itself again. (5)The capital costs of LFTR are lower than current solid fuel plants and are competitive with coal fired plants of similar outputs. With modular manufacture, one LFTR a day could be produced on an assembly line, like the Boeing 747 and at about the same price. They could be loaded onto flatbed trucks and carried anywhere the trucks can go. They could even be taken to existing coal-fired plants and plumbed into existing turbine generators, thus utilizing existing infrastructure. Imagine what the military and Red Cross could do with such a source electricity. In five or ten years, we could literally be at the end of the fossil fuel electricity era, and all its mining deaths and terrible pollution. (6)There is nothing about the LFTR that would interest a terrorist. No waste, little as there is, can be converted to weapons.The small amount of U233 associated with the process is all but useless as a weapon and it is so radioactive that it would be fatal to a terrorist in a short time. Plus it cannot be hidden and can be readily detected if it ever were stolen. I would add another couple of websites to those above: Go there and sign up for the Third Annual Thorium Energy Conference to be held in Washington on May 12. You can sign up at the website. It's only $125. Also visit and International Thorium Energy Organization, My email address is Thanks. Robert Orr Jr Franklin TN

An Appeal from Thom Hartmann

Dear Friend,

I’m writing you today because the network on which my show airs, Free Speech TV, is only a few days away from the end of its fiscal year.

From The Thom Hartmann Reader:
"Right through the worst of the Bush years and into the present, Thom Hartmann has been one of the very few voices constantly willing to tell the truth. Rank him up there with Jon Stewart, Bill Moyers, and Paul Krugman for having the sheer persistent courage of his convictions."
Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth
From The Thom Hartmann Reader:
"Thom is a national treasure. Read him, embrace him, learn from him, and follow him as we all work for social change."
Robert Greenwald, political activist and founder and president of Brave New Films
From Screwed:
"I think many of us recognize that for all but the wealthiest, life in America is getting increasingly hard. Screwed explores why, showing how this is no accidental process, but rather the product of conscious political choices, choices we can change with enough courage and commitment. Like all of Thom’s great work, it helps show us the way forward."
Paul Loeb, author of Soul of a Citizen and The Impossible Will Take a Little While