Secret memo reveals how vulnerable nuclear subs are to Fukushima-style meltdown

April 21, 2011 

With the world watching the Japanese nuclear catastrophe spiral out of control, the UK Ministry of Defense (MOD) inadvertently released secret information about the vulnerabilities of British and US nuclear submarines according to news reports.  The Daily Star reports:

A classified government report into the subs’ ­vulnerabilities has been published online with key parts blacked out to prevent ­sensitive material getting into the wrong hands.

But a massive blunder has meant anyone with basic computer knowledge could reverse the censorship – and read every word of the ­previously “restricted” report.

It reveals how easy it would be to cause a Fukushima-style reactor meltdown in a sub and details the ­capabilities of US vessels.

The report was published on Parliament’s website after a Freedom Of Information request by anti-nuclear ­campaigners.

The MOD document states:

Loss of (reactor) Coolant Accident (LOCA). All pressurised water reactors are potentially vulnerable to a structural failure in the primary circuit, causing a rapid depressurisation and boiling off of most of the cooling water. This results in failure of the fuel cladding, and a release of highly radioactive fission products outside the reactor core. While the further containment provided by the submarine’s pressure hull may contain the majority of this material inside the submarine, some leakage is likely to occur and in any event the radioactive “shine” from the submarine poses a significant risk to life to those in close proximity, and a public safety hazard out to 1.5km from the submarine. Current designs of UK and global civil power plants have systems for safety injection of coolant into the reactor pressure vessel head and passive core cooling systems. US nuclear submarines have similar systems suitably engineered for the submarine environment. UK submarines compare poorly with these benchmarks, with the ability to tolerate only a structural failure equivalent to a 15mm diameter hole, and an assessed higher likelihood of this occurring due to the materials used, the complexity of systems and the number of welds. It is assessed that in the current UK PWR2 plant the initiating structural failure causing a LOCA is twice as likely to occur as in equivalent civil and submarine reactor good practice.


Although the memo rates US subs as safer than UK subs, the possibility of a Fukushima-style meltdown could still contaminate a wide area.  In 1960, Hawai’i had a close call with a nuclear submarine accident when an explosion and fire rocked the USS Sargo while in port:

USS SARGO suffers an explosion and fire in her aft end while docked at Pearl Harbor. The fire starts from a leak in a high-pressure line that was pumping oxygen aboard. The explosion occurs a few moments later. When dock units and boats are unable to bring the fire under control quickly, officers take the SARGO a short distance from the dock and submerge it with the stern hatch open to put out the blaze. The Navy says the ship’s nuclear reactors were sealed off. and there was “absolutely no danger of an explosion from the reactor compartment.” The submarine is extensively damaged and is drydocked taking three months to repair. The SARGO is the first nuclear ship in the Pacific Fleet and was scheduled to take the visiting King and Queen of Thailand on a cruise the next day.

Hawai’i is the homeport for most of the submarines in the Pacific Fleet:

Commander, Submarine Squadron 1 (COMSUBRON One)
USS Bremerton (SSN 698)
USS La Jolla (SSN 701)
USS Charlotte (SSN 766)
USS Greeneville (SSN 772)
USS Texas (SSN 775)
USS Hawaii (SSN 776)

Commander, Submarine Squadron 3 (COMSUBRON Three)
USS Jacksonville (SSN 699)
USS Olympia (SSN 717)
USS Chicago (SSN 721)
USS Key West (SSN 722)
USS Louisville (SSN 724)
USS North Carolina (SSN 777)

Commander, Submarine Squadron 7 (COMSUBRON Seven)

USS Pasadena (SSN 752)
USS Columbus (SSN 762)
USS Santa Fe (SSN 763)
USS Tucson (SSN 770)
USS Columbia (SSN 771)
USS Cheyenne (SSN 773)

“When nuclear reactors blow, the first thing that melts down is the truth”; What They’re Covering Up at Fukushima

March 24, 2011 

Yesterday the EPA reported its first detection in Hawai’i of radiation from the Japanese nuclear meltdown: “The isotope was “far below any level of concern for human health,” the EPA said.”

As the New York Times reported that Japanese authorities have issued a warning not to drink tap water in Tokyo due to contamination by radioactive Iodine 131, Chip Ward reminds  us in “How the “Peaceful Atom” Became a Serial Killer”, “When nuclear reactors blow, the first thing that melts down is the truth. ”

Doug Lummi published in Counterpunch this partial translation of a Japanese news media interview with Hirose Takashi, a well known Japanese nuclear expert.  The picture he paints of the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima is much worse than the media has reported.  Similar to the arguments made by anti-DU activists in Hawai’i, reports that radiation detections being at “safe levels” are terribly misleading:

They compare it to a CT scan, which is over in an instant; that has nothing to do with it.  The reason radioactivity can be measured is that radioactive material is escaping.  What is dangerous is when that material enters your body and irradiates it from inside.  These industry-mouthpiece scholars come on TV and what to they say?  They say as you move away the radiation is reduced in inverse ratio to the square of the distance.  I want to say the reverse.  Internal irradiation happens when radioactive material is ingested into the body.  What happens?  Say there is a nuclear particle one meter away from you. You breathe it in, it sticks inside your body; the distance between you and it is now at the micron level. One meter is 1000 millimeters, one micron is one thousandth of a millimeter.  That’s a thousand times a thousand: a thousand squared.  That’s the real meaning of “inverse ratio of the square of the distance.”  Radiation exposure is increased by a factor of a trillion.  Inhaling even the tiniest particle, that’s the danger.

According to Mr. Takashi, the only solution is to bury the damaged nuclear plants in a solid block of cement.  But the only thing Japanese authorities seem intent on burying is the truth.



March 22, 2011

“You Get 3,500,000 the Normal Dose. You Call That Safe? And What Media Have Reported This? None!”

What They’re Covering Up at Fukushima


Introduced by Douglas Lummis


Hirose Takashi has written a whole shelf full of books, mostly on the nuclear power industry and the military-industrial complex.  Probably his best known book is  Nuclear Power Plants for Tokyo in which he took the logic of the nuke promoters to its logical conclusion: if you are so sure that they’re safe, why not build them in the center of the city, instead of hundreds of miles away where you lose half the electricity in the wires?

He did the TV interview that is partly translated below somewhat against his present impulses.  I talked to him on the telephone today (March 22 , 2011) and he told me that while it made sense to oppose nuclear power back then, now that the disaster has begun he would just as soon remain silent, but the lies they are telling on the radio and TV are so gross that he cannot remain silent.

I have translated only about the first third of the interview (you can see the whole thing in Japanese on you-tube), the part that pertains particularly to what is happening at the Fukushima plants.  In the latter part he talked about how dangerous radiation is in general, and also about the continuing danger of earthquakes.

After reading his account, you will wonder, why do they keep on sprinkling water on the reactors, rather than accept the sarcophagus solution  [ie., entombing the reactors in concrete. Editors.] I think there are a couple of answers.  One, those reactors were expensive, and they just can’t bear the idea of that huge a financial loss.  But more importantly, accepting the sarcophagus solution means admitting that they were wrong, and that they couldn’t fix the things.  On the one hand that’s too much guilt for a human being to bear.  On the other, it means the defeat of the nuclear energy idea, an idea they hold to with almost religious devotion.  And it means not just the loss of those six (or ten) reactors, it means shutting down all the others as well, a financial catastrophe.  If they can only get them cooled down and running again they can say, See, nuclear power isn’t so dangerous after all.  Fukushima is a drama with the whole world watching, that can end in the defeat or (in their frail, I think groundless, hope) victory for the nuclear industry.  Hirose’s account can help us to understand what the drama is about. Douglas Lummis

Hirose Takashi:  The Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Accident and the State of the Media

Broadcast by Asahi NewStar, 17 March, 20:00

Interviewers: Yoh Sen’ei and Maeda Mari

Yoh: Today many people saw water being sprayed on the reactors from the air and from the ground, but is this effective?

Hirose:  . . . If you want to cool a reactor down with water, you have to circulate the water inside and carry the heat away, otherwise it has no meaning. So the only solution is to reconnect the electricity.  Otherwise it’s like pouring water on lava.

Yoh: Reconnect the electricity – that’s to restart the cooling system?

Hirose:  Yes.  The accident was caused by the fact that the tsunami flooded the emergency generators and carried away their fuel tanks.  If that isn’t fixed, there’s no way to recover from this accident.


As Japan’s nuclear crisis goes critical, we are all downwind

March 13, 2011 

In the wake of the terrible earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan, a new threat rises from the rubble with the partial meltdowns of radioactive cores in two nuclear reactors that were damaged by the earthquake and tsunami.

News reports paint a picture of a crisis rapidly spinning out of control.  The New York Times reported:

Japanese officials struggled on Sunday to contain a widening nuclear crisis in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake and tsunami, saying they presumed that partial meltdowns had occurred at two crippled reactors and that they were facing serious cooling problems at three more.

The emergency appeared to be the worst involving a nuclear plant since the Chernobyl disaster 25 years ago. The developments at two separate nuclear plants prompted the evacuation of more than 200,000 people. Japanese officials said they had also ordered up the largest mobilization of their Self-Defense Forces since World War II to assist in the relief effort.

On Saturday, Japanese officials took the extraordinary step of flooding the crippled No. 1 reactor at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 170 miles north of Tokyo, with seawater in a last-ditch effort to avoid a nuclear meltdown.

Then on Sunday, cooling failed at a second reactor — No. 3 — and core melting was presumed at both, said the top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano. Cooling had failed at three reactors at a nuclear complex nearby, Fukushima Daini, although he said conditions there were considered less dire for now.

The article went on:

The Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said that as many as 160 people may have been exposed to radiation around the plant, and Japanese news media said that three workers at the facility were suffering from full-on radiation sickness.

Even before the explosion on Saturday, officials said they had detected radioactive cesium, which is created when uranium fuel is split, an indication that some of the nuclear fuel in the reactor was already damaged.

How much damage the fuel suffered remained uncertain, though safety officials insisted repeatedly through the day that radiation leaks outside the plant remained small and did not pose a major health risk.

However, they also told the International Atomic Energy Agency that they were making preparations to distribute iodine, which helps protect the thyroid gland from radiation exposure, to people living near Daiichi and Daini.

Assurances by Japanese officials that the reactor container has not been breached are being questioned.  Statfor reports that:

Reports of iodine and cesium outside of the plant indicate that the reactor’s containment structure has been breached.

Iodine is in the fuel pins and cesium is a particulate, meaning there are heavy particles in the air, which are basically radioactive dust. Cesium 137, which Yomiuri Shimbun reports has been discovered in the surrounding area, is probably a product of the nuclear fission process and a strong demonstration of severe damage to the nuclear reactor’s core. The fact that the government has prepared a series of iodine treatments for locals in the vicinity of the nuclear plants suggests it is anticipating the need to prevent iodine exposure.

Meanwhile 90 people were reported as possibly exposed to radiation, including 30 refugees from the area and 60 people on staff at Futaba hospital. Sources suspect that Japan has already undergone “clad failure” (when zirconium in the rods reacts with water) leading to a violent exothermic reaction. This produces large quantities of hydrogen. The March 12 blast was probably caused by a combined steam and hydrogen explosion. The explosion may have destroyed the containment structure in the reactor vessel. This raises the distinct possibility that the core will gain heat to the point that it will melt through the reactor at the bottom of the reactor vessel. While there remain too many uncertainties to make reliable forecasts, the disaster has clearly escalated to a high level. Critical questions will be whether the radiation count rises above 1000 millirems per hour and whether winds should change direction to blow radiation from the north into Tokyo.

Another New York Times article reported:

Japan’s nuclear crisis begins to come to light, experts in Japan and the United States say the country is now facing a cascade of accumulating problems that suggest that radioactive releases of steam from the crippled plants could go on for weeks or even months.

The emergency flooding of two stricken reactors with seawater and the resulting steam releases are a desperate step intended to avoid a much bigger problem: a full meltdown of the nuclear cores in two reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. On Monday, an explosion blew the roof off the second reactor, not damaging the core, officials said, but presumably leaking more radiation.

U.S. military personnel aboard ships assisting in the earth quake and tsunami rescue and recovery effort have been exposed to the radioactive cloud:

On Sunday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it expected no “harmful levels of radioactivity” to move on the winds to Hawaii, Alaska or the West Coast from the reactors in Japan, “given the thousands of miles between the two countries.”

“No harmful levels of radioactivity”?  Not very reassuring given that the jetstream blows eastward over the northern Pacific ocean.

As the devastating tsunami plowed across the Pacific, damage outside of Japan appears to have been minimal.  Hawai’i experienced powerful surges in certain locations. Homes were ripped off foundations, boats and docks were trashed and businesses flooded. But Hawai’i had no tsunami related deaths or injuries.

Guam was also minimally affected. However the Navy reported that two nuclear powered submarines came loose in the surge:

The Navy reported that at around 8 p.m., the mooring lines for the submarines the USS Houston and the USS City of Corpus Christi broke free from the pier at Alpha wharf at Naval Base Guam due to a tsunami wave.

Officials say tug boats from Naval Base Guam responded quickly to the situation and safely moored both submarines. The submarine tender USS Frank Cable and the submarine the USS Oklahoma City remained safely moored throughout the tsunami event.

Thankfully, there were no major mishaps related to this incident.  However, it reminds  us of the danger posed by nuclear powered and armed naval vessels in our islands.

Hawai’i has no nuclear power plants.  Early planners had the wisdom to go nuclear free. Some counties like Hawai’i island have declared themselves nuclear free zones.  But U.S. military ignores these nuclear prohibitions.  Nuclear weapons have long been stored in Hawai’i. Back in the 1980s, activists exposed the presence of nuclear weapons in Waikele gulch only hundreds of yards from the heavily populated Waipahu neighborhood.  After having their cover blown, military officials moved the nukes to West Loch.  Global Security lists 50 W-80-0 nuclear warheads (150-kiloton yield each) for Tomahawk Sea-Launched Cruise Missles and 40 B-61 nuclear aerial gravity bombs (170-kiloton yield) stored at Naval Magazine Pearl Harbor West Loch.  A dense concentration of O’ahu’s population lives within a ten mile radius of this site.

We have also  had close encounters with nuclear accidents. According to the June 14, 1960:

USS SARGO suffers an explosion and fire in her aft end while docked at Pearl Harbor. The fire starts from a leak in a high-pressure line that was pumping oxygen aboard. The explosion occurs a few moments later. When dock units and boats are unable to bring the fire under control quickly, officers take the SARGO a short distance from the dock and submerge it with the stern hatch open to put out the blaze. The Navy says the ship’s nuclear reactors were sealed off. and there was “absolutely no danger of an explosion from the reactor compartment.” The submarine is extensively damaged and is drydocked taking three months to repair. The SARGO is the first nuclear ship in the Pacific Fleet and was scheduled to take the visiting King and Queen of Thailand on a cruise the next day.

Assurances of “absolutely no danger” are not convincing, especially when shipyard workers tell their stories of how close we were to a “China Syndrome”.  The USS Sargo had other accidents including a collision with an ice keel during Ice Exercise ’60 damaging her bow, and in 1963, collision with another nuclear powered sub, the USS Barb.

There have been a number of smaller accidents involving the release of radioactive contamination into Pearl Harbor.  The sediment near the shipyard is contaminated with radioactive Cobalt 60.

Depleted uranium has also been released in Lihu’e (Schofield) and Pohakuloa.

Anyone know good recipes for potassium iodide cocktails?