An open letter to Sam Blakeslee
March 24, 2011
Dear Senator Blakeslee:
I have some thoughts for you, as you go after Diablo’s recertification.
Let me tell you what it is like to fly from Singapore to Hong Kong to SF and back to SB in one day. Because of catastrophic radiation threats from ‘the safest nuclear reactors in the world’ in Japan.
Our daughter Stephanie, her husband and 22-month old evacuated from Tokyo last Tuesday to Singapore via Osaka and Shanghai. They’ve lived in Tokyo for two years, and the baby (Avery Orrin, a girl) was born there.
I flew to Singapore for a week to help them. These are thoughts now, about California, coming back home.
Flying back over the green hills of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties from San Francisco, you think “We don’t even have 160 miles between us and Diablo.” That is the distance between Tokyo and Fukushima’s Daiichi nuclear plant that now has four reactors in partial meltdown and thousands of spent fuel rods in empty cooling ponds seeping and belching radiation directly into the air and the seawater. The government acknowledges this will likely continue for weeks and months to come. And, the threat of full meltdown of one, or more, of these four reactors and/or the cooling ponds for spent fuel is not ruled out yet.
Tokyo has thirty million people in one city alone that cannot be moved, or properly informed because they will panic and bring further chaos to an overloaded government.
One hundred and sixty miles away is less than one day’s airflow up the San Luis Obispo and Santa Ynez valleys to major population areas.
Remember the Santa Barbara fires? Burning upslope and inland by day, and back downslope at night, carrying fire, smoke and ash in an endless zig-zag pattern? Remember only the rain could really stop the fires? In Tokyo, the rain will bring down the radioactivity.
During the Gap fire, we sat at Playa Azul at an outdoor table, and the ash fall was so thick it coated the food and floated black in the margaritas. We had to leave the food on the table and go because we couldn’t breathe and couldn’t eat it. For a week, people in Tokyo prayed that 160 miles was far enough away. Heck, its the distance from Bakersfield to Los Angeles, right? I heard that from smart, educated Americans, waiting it out.
But events have to unfold, and the chaos involved and unnecessary anguish are heartbreaking for the families. The slow leakage of information that prevents stampeding and improves the government’s ability to control events also sacrifices many in the process.
“Our expectations had a scientific basis, but conditions were exceeded.” said vice president of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCP), March 23rd, CNN interview.
Based on the now-demonstrated failure of at least four of Japan’s nuclear reactors to withstand ‘design’ events that were calculated on the basis of only one catastrophic failure at a time, we know this kind of thinking is outdated and monumentally risky for California as well. Japan planned for earthquakes, but not multiple, cascading events that ran out of control, prevented planned emergency responses, and caused them to throw away the rule-book in favor of ‘”Hail Mary” passes like flooding with seawater, one helicopter squirt at a time. Japan’s TEPCO didn’t even realize for a week that they had cooling ponds running dry that held thousands of leaking radioactive spent fuel rods.
Because they couldn’t even get into or close to their own plants to survey the damage. Not until the effort was militarized, and people could be ordered to go into the hot zone did we begin to see the damage, and understand the colossal breaches of containment and destroyed plants and cooling equipment. That is not in the rule-book. They had no response.
Now, Daiichi’s reactor 3 is in chronic, uncontrollable release-mode, and it contains plutonium as well as radioactive cesium and iodine. The other three reactors are in partial meltdown, and even government press releases say they cannot rule out complete meltdowns as yet.
Japan continues to deal with the aftermath – major aftershocks, continuing loss of power, loss of back-up power, loss of triple-backup power, fires, radioactive meltdown and seepage, intentional steam releases of radioactive materials directly into the air to prevent catastrophic hydrogen buildup, inadvertent radiation releases from explosions that happen on a regular basis anyway, the spreading plume, the hopeful weather patterns carrying the radiation ‘somewhere else’, the inevitable recirculation of radiation back over
Tokyo and central Japan’s lack of equipment to properly test air, water, food and the people evacuating the hot zones. What pieces of information are reliable? What is the subtext of unfolding US Embassy and State Dept and military advisories? What “indicators” do you hold out as the trigger for “what to do next”?
Do you wait until the U.S. government moves the USS George Washington aircraft carrier out of Yokohama as happened Monday, because it is south of Tokyo? Is that a bad sign? Do you wait for the U.S. State Department to issue potassium iodide pills to all employees and their dependents as happened Monday? Or, the radiation is twice the infant limit in Tokyo groundwater as happened Tuesday? If you wait, will the trains and planes be full, and ticket prices quadruple normal fares – effectively prohibiting travel for families with kids?
What can you believe? What is hype or spin? What does it mean when the evacuation zones seem to be based more on what the government can handle sheltering people, rather than what the radiation levels should be dictating? You can’t effectively evacuate 30 million people all at once, even if the exposures are extreme and otherwise dictate that it should be done immediately.
Getting, judging, and reacting to incomplete, conflicting and incomprehensible information is an impossible task for people in a crisis, who are also dealing with emergency flights, emergency housing, trains that don’t run, sick babies, traveling spouses, planes that are full, empty store shelves, bank accounts that cannot be accessed due to power outages, overloaded telecom systems that don’t work, aftershocks, grief, fear, passports that can’t be located, cell phones that are canceled or don’t work in other countries, missed connections in foreign airports where there are no diapers, no food, no sleep, no United States, German, French, Spanish and other international corporations were formally advised by their employers it would be prudent to evacuate Tokyo. But, there was no health threat. Who said so?
Ticket prices skyrocketed in Asian countries. Booking evacuation flights and trains became very difficult to impossible. Families split up. Serviced hotel and apartment units in Hong Kong, Singapore and other flee-zones were snapped up by corporations for evacuated ex-pat families…. the one we stayed in went to 97 percent occupancy in a week.
These families are now trying to figure out if/when they can return. Hour by hour, day by day, parsing the messages in the media coverage. I did this yesterday. And, all last week. I’m still doing it this morning, by skype. Only uncertainty is certain. Lessons learned?
What I can tell you is that I think Diablo should be shut down now. Period. Taken off-line. The Hosgri fault, and perhaps other unrecognized faults, and the likelihood (not just the remote potential) for major earthquakes, tsunami, loss of cooling systems, and proximity to major population zones are clear indicators now that this plant should be mothballed.
The clear underestimation of design earthquake in the original Diablo design, and the failure to anticipate and provide credible protection against predictable, multiple, cascading natural disasters is basis enough not to recertify, and to take it off-line now. Germany is taking some of its older reactors off-line. Why not California?
We don’t get 30 percent of our power from nuclear in California. We have other options. Japan does not, so they have to accept rolling blackouts for the foreseeable future. They have to accept the long-term consequences including loss of transportation and public services infrastructure, food and water shortages due to radiation contamination, loss of industrial output, loss of communications, banking, and other vital services, contamination of beef and dairy herds and row crops, and embargoes and bans by other countries on the import of leafy green vegetables and dairy products from Japan.
Try that on central coast farmers, ranchers, viticulturists and other growers in the agricultural industry. Talk to Bakersfield, Fresno and the central valley growers, too, because they’ll be in the hot zone as well. Japan doesn’t even have enough meters to measure the safety of food and water. Most people shop everyday for foodstuffs and walk to get there. They have to go outside to live. To re-supply their tiny refrigerators. When summer comes, can you imagine being inside with your kids, unable to turn on the air conditioning or get fresh air because of radiation contamination?
Imagine this in 86 degree weather with 90 percent humidity? That is best case, and assumes there is enough power for any air conditioning at all. PG&E has a similar history of malfeasance and misleading regulators and the public as des TEPCO. The parallels are clear – both utilities have demonstrated failures in maintaining critical infrastructure, conducting required safety tests, and providing honest and timely information to regulators and the public about risks to health and safety.
The time for wishful thinking is over.
Sam, you have no idea how comforting it is to know you’ve got the scientific and geotechnical background and the political position to make this issue a front-burner.
Cindy Sage is an environmental consultant and founder of Sage Associates, based in Santa Barbara.