Iran’s Earthquakes & Nuclear Safety Concerns

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citadel_after_quake_digitalglobe.jpg
(Satellite image after 2003 Bam, Iran earthquake; photo courtesy of Digital Globe)
Yesterday I mentioned that Freedom House and the Progressive Policy Institute had launched a new Iran Strategy Task Force to look at Iran’s human rights record and raise awareness and concerns about Iran’s conventional military capabilities. Task Force co-chair Josh Block mentioned that the group would purposely steer away from the “nuclear” questions regarding Iran.
Given what we have seen in Japan after a devastating earthquake and the triggered nuclear disaster, I wondered out loud whether or not there might be concerns building among Iran’s citizens about their country’s rapid embrace and deployment of a large nuclear energy program with potential nuclear warhead supporting capacity.
After all, Japan is one of the world’s leading nuclear technology leaders with highly sophisticated management systems. Iran is no where near Japan’s level of nuclear sophistication.
But Iran and Japan both have suffered from very large earthquakes.
Today, an exiled Iran religious scholar, Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari, expressed some of these exact concerns in a very interesting interview on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
I’d encourage the Iran Strategy Task Force to build into its considerations of human rights concerns the notion of broad public nuclear safety.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

23 comments on “Iran’s Earthquakes & Nuclear Safety Concerns

  1. Jean says:

    Meanwhile Japan is dumping 11,000 tons of radioactive water into the pacific ocean and you worry about Iran, LOL!!!!!! Wake up buddy.

    Reply

  2. S. Gedan says:

    Dimona (in Israel) is a massive disaster in the making. As if the Middle East needs more?

    Reply

  3. rc says:

    “Our spent rod pools are overflowing WAY above capacity, …” (POA, Mar 31 2011, 10:57PM)
    I thought they’d been spread over Iraq during the Gulf and Iraq wars as depleted uranium munitions.

    Reply

  4. DakotabornKansan says:

    @ POA
    What? No confidence in our government?
    The NRC dispels fears about earthquake damage at U.S. nuclear power plants.
    “We have a strong safety program in place [probably one similar to the deepwater oil drilling safety plan] to deal with seismic events that are likely to happen at any nuclear facility in this country,” Chairman Gregory Jaczko said at a news conference at the White House, adding that the agency “will continue to take new information and see if there are changes that we need to make with our program.”
    However, many Californians [including POA] have their doubts. Especially, since serious concerns about the 2008 discovery of a fault line half a mile from Diablo Canyon so far have not been addressed either by the NRC or PG&E. Tick tock, tick tock….
    Will they ever learn? Hell no! Plus, whatever they would need to do right probably doesn

    Reply

  5. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Se, Lizzie, heres the thing;
    Are Isreal’s nuclear whores more honest than ours are? We’ve seen how honest the murderous leaders of that racist little sandpit are, so I’d say some healthy pessimism is in order when discussing how safe they claim their reactors are, eh? What are they doing with their “spent” rods??? Burying them in B’iln??? Grinding them up and selling the product to Palestinians as baby food???
    The sluts in DC, in the industry, and in the agencies tasked to regulate and secure these facilities, reactors, and pools will tell you ANYTHING, no matter what the actual truth is.
    http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2011/04/01/1945711/unsafe-at-any-reactor.html#
    Unsafe at any reactor
    By ROBERT ALVAREZ – Los Angeles Times
    The nuclear crisis at the Daiichi complex in Fukushima, Japan, has turned a spotlight on the severe dangers involved in storing spent nuclear fuel in pools. But the danger is not new.
    In 2003, I co-wrote a report with a group of academics, nuclear industry executives, former government officials and other researchers warning that spent fuel pools at U.S. nuclear power plants were vulnerable. The drainage of a pool might cause a catastrophic radiation fire, we reported, which could render an area uninhabitable greater than that created by the Chernobyl accident (roughly half the size of New Jersey).
    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission hotly disputed our paper, which prompted Congress to ask the National Academy of Sciences to sort out the controversy. In 2004, the academy reported that U.S. pools were vulnerable to terrorist attacks and catastrophic fires.
    According to the academy: “It is not prudent to dismiss nuclear plants, including spent fuel storage facilities, as undesirable targets for terrorists. … Under some conditions, a terrorist attack that partially or completely drained a spent fuel pool could lead to a propagating zirconium cladding fire and release large quantities of radioactive materials to the environment.” The NRC responded with a failed attempt to block the academy’s report.
    As we’re seeing in Japan, it isn’t only terrorist attacks that can pose serious threats to spent fuel pools. These ponds were designed to be temporary, and to store only a small fraction of what they currently hold in the United States. But in the absence of a permanent storage site, nuclear plants here have to store increasing amounts of highly radioactive spent fuel at their facilities.
    For nearly 30 years, the NRC has made clear that the United States urgently needs to develop a permanent waste repository. But that has taken much longer than anyone envisioned, and it has meant that the nation’s 104 nuclear power plants are legally storing spent fuel in onsite cooling ponds much longer, and at higher densities (on average four times higher), than was originally intended. And now that the Obama administration has called off proposed plans to store nuclear waste at the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada, fuel is likely to remain at the plants where it was used for decades to come.
    This presents a serious threat. Our report found that, as in Japan, U.S. nuclear safety authorities don’t require reactor operators to have backup power supplies to circulate water in the pools and keep them cool if there is a loss of offsite power. Some reactor control rooms in the U.S. lack instrumentation to keep track of the water levels in pools. At one reactor several years ago, water levels dropped after operators failed to look into the pool area. Some reactors may not have necessary water restoration capabilities for pools.
    A variety of events could conceivably cause a loss of pool water, including leakage, evaporation, siphoning, pumping, aircraft impact, an earthquake, the accidental or deliberate drop of a fuel transport cask, reactor failure or an explosion inside or outside the pool building. Industry officials maintain that personnel would have sufficient time to provide an alternative cooling system before the spent fuel caught fire. But if the water level dropped to even a few feet above the spent fuel, the radiation doses in the pool building could be lethal.
    A 1997 report that Brookhaven National Laboratory did for the NRC found that a severe pool fire could render about 188 square miles uninhabitable, cause as many as 28,000 cancer fatalities and cost $59 billion in damage.
    In the wake of the unfolding nuclear crisis in Japan, we clearly need a new policy that takes into account the likelihood that spent fuel will remain in onsite storage for some time to come. In our 2003 study, we recommended that all U.S. spent fuel older than five years should be placed in dry, hardened storage containers, which would greatly reduce the fire risk if water were drained from reactor cooling ponds. Casks should be placed in either thick-walled structures or in earthen berms capable of withstanding plane and missile impacts. We estimated this could be accomplished with existing cask technology in 10 years at a cost of $3 billion to $7 billion.
    Moreover, future reactors should be designed so that temporary cooling ponds are encased in heavy concrete. Germany took such steps 25 years ago in response to the threats posed by accidental fighter jet crashes and terrorist attacks.
    Safely securing spent fuel should be a public safety priority of the highest degree in the United States. The cost of fixing America’s nuclear vulnerabilities may be high, but the price of doing too little is incalculable.
    ABOUT THE WRITER
    Robert Alvarez, an Institute for Policy Studies senior scholar, served as a senior policy adviser to the Energy Department’s secretary and deputy assistant secretary from 1993 to 1999. He wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.

    Reply

  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Se, Lizzie, heres the thing;
    Are Isreal’s nuclear whores more honest than ours are? We’ve seen how honest the murderous leaders of that racist little sandpit are, so I’d say some healthy pessimism is in order when discussing how safe they claim their reactors are, eh? What are they doing with their “spent” rods??? Burying them in B’iln??? Grinding them up and selling the product to Palestinians as baby food???
    The sluts in DC, in the industry, and in the agencies tasked to regulate and secure these facilities, reactors, and pools will tell you ANYTHING, no matter what the actual truth is.
    http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2011/04/01/1945711/unsafe-at-any-reactor.html#
    Unsafe at any reactor
    By ROBERT ALVAREZ – Los Angeles Times
    The nuclear crisis at the Daiichi complex in Fukushima, Japan, has turned a spotlight on the severe dangers involved in storing spent nuclear fuel in pools. But the danger is not new.
    In 2003, I co-wrote a report with a group of academics, nuclear industry executives, former government officials and other researchers warning that spent fuel pools at U.S. nuclear power plants were vulnerable. The drainage of a pool might cause a catastrophic radiation fire, we reported, which could render an area uninhabitable greater than that created by the Chernobyl accident (roughly half the size of New Jersey).
    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission hotly disputed our paper, which prompted Congress to ask the National Academy of Sciences to sort out the controversy. In 2004, the academy reported that U.S. pools were vulnerable to terrorist attacks and catastrophic fires.
    According to the academy: “It is not prudent to dismiss nuclear plants, including spent fuel storage facilities, as undesirable targets for terrorists. … Under some conditions, a terrorist attack that partially or completely drained a spent fuel pool could lead to a propagating zirconium cladding fire and release large quantities of radioactive materials to the environment.” The NRC responded with a failed attempt to block the academy’s report.
    As we’re seeing in Japan, it isn’t only terrorist attacks that can pose serious threats to spent fuel pools. These ponds were designed to be temporary, and to store only a small fraction of what they currently hold in the United States. But in the absence of a permanent storage site, nuclear plants here have to store increasing amounts of highly radioactive spent fuel at their facilities.
    For nearly 30 years, the NRC has made clear that the United States urgently needs to develop a permanent waste repository. But that has taken much longer than anyone envisioned, and it has meant that the nation’s 104 nuclear power plants are legally storing spent fuel in onsite cooling ponds much longer, and at higher densities (on average four times higher), than was originally intended. And now that the Obama administration has called off proposed plans to store nuclear waste at the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada, fuel is likely to remain at the plants where it was used for decades to come.
    This presents a serious threat. Our report found that, as in Japan, U.S. nuclear safety authorities don’t require reactor operators to have backup power supplies to circulate water in the pools and keep them cool if there is a loss of offsite power. Some reactor control rooms in the U.S. lack instrumentation to keep track of the water levels in pools. At one reactor several years ago, water levels dropped after operators failed to look into the pool area. Some reactors may not have necessary water restoration capabilities for pools.
    A variety of events could conceivably cause a loss of pool water, including leakage, evaporation, siphoning, pumping, aircraft impact, an earthquake, the accidental or deliberate drop of a fuel transport cask, reactor failure or an explosion inside or outside the pool building. Industry officials maintain that personnel would have sufficient time to provide an alternative cooling system before the spent fuel caught fire. But if the water level dropped to even a few feet above the spent fuel, the radiation doses in the pool building could be lethal.
    A 1997 report that Brookhaven National Laboratory did for the NRC found that a severe pool fire could render about 188 square miles uninhabitable, cause as many as 28,000 cancer fatalities and cost $59 billion in damage.
    In the wake of the unfolding nuclear crisis in Japan, we clearly need a new policy that takes into account the likelihood that spent fuel will remain in onsite storage for some time to come. In our 2003 study, we recommended that all U.S. spent fuel older than five years should be placed in dry, hardened storage containers, which would greatly reduce the fire risk if water were drained from reactor cooling ponds. Casks should be placed in either thick-walled structures or in earthen berms capable of withstanding plane and missile impacts. We estimated this could be accomplished with existing cask technology in 10 years at a cost of $3 billion to $7 billion.
    Moreover, future reactors should be designed so that temporary cooling ponds are encased in heavy concrete. Germany took such steps 25 years ago in response to the threats posed by accidental fighter jet crashes and terrorist attacks.
    Safely securing spent fuel should be a public safety priority of the highest degree in the United States. The cost of fixing America’s nuclear vulnerabilities may be high, but the price of doing too little is incalculable.
    ABOUT THE WRITER
    Robert Alvarez, an Institute for Policy Studies (http://www.ips-dc.org) senior scholar, served as a senior policy adviser to the Energy Department’s secretary and deputy assistant secretary from 1993 to 1999. He wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.
    More……
    http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2011/03/22/1929947/ap-impact-us-spent-fuel-storage.html#storylink=mirelated

    Reply

  7. lizzie says:

    what does the photo of Bam have to do with anything?
    It was a 2000 year old mud brick city not a modern
    structure. The location of Bushehr was chosen for
    the reactor under the Shah’s time and has not become
    more earthquake-bound since then.

    Reply

  8. Indoor Banana Tree says:

    Taking lessons from Japan, each and every nuke country must review its safety measures to prevent any Japan like nuke disaster.

    Reply

  9. Dan Kervick says:

    I am in no ecstasy over the Libyan intervention, POA. I didn’t even watch Obama’s speech – just as I don’t pay much attention to any of the other gibberish that comes out of Barack Obama and his dimwitted administration. I am not interested in any fancy new US “doctrines” about our responsibility to protect, or our responsibility to do anything else. And I’m especially not interested in any exceptionalist falderal about our oh-so-special mission in the world.
    I do think there is a revolutionary wave in the Middle East, and I want it to spread. Every time one of the world’s looting, psychopathic, predatory fat cats loses his golden goose, I rejoice. Most of the Libyans are now in the mood to throw one of the big crooks out, and good for them. Hopefully, this fed up, defenestrating spirit will spread to other places in the Middle East, and to Europe and the US as well. Or maybe God will just send one of his exciting natural disasters to Davos, Switzerland the next time the rulers of the predatory neoliberal financial order and their fawning servants in the political class are meeting there.
    My feeling is that Obama encouraged the Libyans to rise up, and followed it up with pompous ultimatums about how Qaddafi “must go”. Then he made himself look like a feckless boob for not following through when he had the best opening. I think they should have found a way to have Qaddafi killed back in late February, when the revolutionary uprising had all the momentum, when Qaddafi’s regime was back on its heels in the bunker and people were abandoning the regime rapidly. Knocking off Qaddafi back then probably would have brought the Libyan rebellion to a quick and successful conclusion, without the need for the expensive mobilization and Oval Office melodrama. It also would have spared us yet another airy Obama speech, and saved some Libyan lives too. Instead they allowed Qaddafi to take an eight-count, regain his balance, clear his head and start fighting back.
    I’ve already said too much on this Libyan business. For the most part I’m no longer much interested in sharing many of my opinions on the US foreign policy scene, because I don’t think anyone in Steve’s main readership – beltway Democrats, Beltway Republicans or commenters – will be very much interested in them or take kindly to them.
    It’s the end of the road anyway. Obama is just a timid and obsequious conformist who presiding over a general systemic collapse that he is either too dull-witted to see or too craven to arrest. Now that he’s made his big Libyan splash, he can can go back to carrying water and sucking the di**s of Jamie Dimon, Jeffrey Immelt and Pete Peterson, as he helps them drive the American middle class into penury, and throws more of the unemployed under the bus.

    Reply

  10. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Amazing.
    Not a frickin’ word about San Onofre and Diablo.
    Yeah, lets propagandize the danger of foreign nuclear plants while our own march inexorably towards disaster.
    The NRC tells us that the Fukushima reactors are “stabilized”, and the EPA, when faced with rising levels of Japanese radiation reaching the United States, and showing up in our food chain, simply raises the bar about what constitutes a “dangerous dosage” of radiation.
    Nothing to see here folks. Our spent rod pools are overflowing WAY above capacity, we have 23 online nuclear reactors that are carbon copies of the Fukushima reactors, and where the Fukushima battery backup systems were only good for eight hours, the majority of ours are only good for four hours.
    But we’re cool, eh? Everyone knows the San Andreas is just a wee little faultline, and after all, SOME of the EPA West Coast radiation monitors seem to be working. Kinda. Occassionally.
    Yep, lets make nuclear safety an Iranian issue.
    Foreign policy leverage. Effin’ brilliant, ain’t it?
    Meanwhile, here at home……tick tock, tick tock….
    “Well Steve, you can encourage the Iran Strategy Task Force to build into its considerations of human rights concerns the notion of broad public nuclear safety, but I doubt that these people give a flying **** about the welfare of the Iranian people any more than they care about Iraqis, Palestinians or any other Muslim people”
    Or, considering the frantic whoring that is being practiced currently, with the Nuclear Energy Industry as the John, they don’t give a flyin’ **** for OUR welfare or safety either.
    (Gads Don, its amazing seeing Kervick offer such a comment, considering his ecstacy over our Libyan adventure. If I had to classify his support for this latest con-job, I’d hafta call HIM a “neo-lib”, and a victim, (to use his own terminology), of “blissful naivete”.)

    Reply

  11. Don Bacon says:

    Well Steve, you can encourage the Iran Strategy Task Force to build into its considerations of human rights concerns the notion of broad public nuclear safety, but I doubt that these people give a flying **** about the welfare of the Iranian people any more than they care about Iraqis, Palestinians or any other Muslim people.
    They simply want to advance the American Empire, one way or the other. There is no difference between neolibs and neocons.
    Dan Kervick:
    “In my many discussions with neoliberal Dems over the past several months and years, perhaps the thing that frustrates me the most is the blissful naivete of many of these neoliberals. Frankly, it appears to me that they simply don’t understand the nature of the world and country they live in, and don’t understand the very unpleasant and aggressive forces that drive US engagement in the world – and the engagement of other countries as well. The underlying global commercial and financial rackets that propel the assassinations, coups, subversion, wars, extortion, torture, disinformation, exploitation and thievery that are the stock in trade of all of the worlds great powers – including the US – cannot penetrate their childlike faith in the exceptional wonderfulness of their country. They are always willing to accept that all manner of mistakes have been made, but they refuse to examine the violent, greedy and systematic ugliness beneath it all. Their “exceptionalist” self-image, and impossibly rosy and fanciful view of American history and motives, render them incapable of formulating a realistic critique of US society and foreign policy. And since they don’t understand the world, they cannot devise a compelling strategy for changing it.”

    Reply

  12. JohnH says:

    Doesn’t it just bring tears to your eyes to see the extent of the deep concern of folks at Freedom House and the Progressive Policy Institute for the poor freedom starved people of Iran?
    The problem for Iran is that if they want to have a reliable supply of nuclear power, then they damn well better not depend of the P5+1 for their fuel. These folks have shown their hand and have demonstrated their willingness to hold nuclear fuel hostage to their political agenda (eg. refusing to refuel TRR). In fact, ALL nations that want to have reliable nuclear power better tow the line of the P5+1 group or get their own enrichment capability.

    Reply

  13. Don Bacon says:

    Leon Hadar, 2006, quote):
    Will Marshall, president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute, ended up “out-neoconizing” Bush. . . .But at the same time as realists and conservatives in the Republican Party are hoping to challenge the dominance of the neoconservatives over their party’s foreign policy, many leading Democratic activists and liberal intellectuals seem to be calling on their party to embrace an even more “pure” or radical version of the neoconservative ideology. (end quote)
    The Progressive Policy Institute is a research and education institute that is a project of the Third Way Foundation Inc., a nonprofit corporation organized under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Will Marshall is still its president
    Marshall, who signed a PNAC letter urging the Iraq invasion, continues to inspire the neolibs on Libya.
    Progressive they ain’t.
    “This does not mean, however, that the United States and its coalition partners have to pretend to be neutral. On the contrary, there is nothing in the UN resolution that prohibits the coalition from arming and training the resistance so that it can defend itself without additional outside help. True, that could mean a prolonged civil conflict, and perhaps a military stalemate. But Gaddafi is the source of the problem, and the world should take him at his world when he declares he will either crush the rebels or die trying.”
    And now he’s working on Iran.
    Ben Smith, Politico, (quote):
    With democratic revolutions shaking the Middle East, a Democratic think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute, and the pro-democracy group Freedom House are launching a new task force aimed at shifting American policy on its central regional foe, Iran, toward a more aggressive focus on democracy.
    The new “Iran Strategy Task Force” is subtitled “Beyond Sanctions” and its members include former Holbrooke aide Ray Takeyh and Brookings’ Ken Pollack, people associated with the group said. It’s co-chaired by Freedom House’s Andrew Apostolou and PPI’s Josh Block.(end quote)
    Comment: Iran can take care of itself. How about a more aggressive focus on democracy in the U.S., rather than rule by King Barry The Decider and his “security committee?”

    Reply

  14. Don Bacon says:

    I understand that Iran’s Islamic Policy Institute has launched a new United States Strategy Task Force to look at U.S.’s human rights record and raise awareness and concerns about U.S.’s conventional military capabilities.
    Also, there are concerns building among American citizens, particularly in California, especially among some carpenters, that given the possibility of large earthquakes a concentrated study of nuclear plants, particularly those located on the coast, should be encouraged.

    Reply

  15. DakotabornKansan says:

    Hidden Agendas?
    The Iran Strategy Task Force members are:
    Andrew Apostolou, co-chair, Freedom House
    Joshua Block, co-chair, Progressive Policy Institute
    Jim Arkedis, Progressive Policy Institute
    Rafael Bardaj

    Reply

  16. hass says:

    Note further that the involvement of secretive organizations hiding their role behind the “Green Movement” of Iran, shifting US government funds through front organizations:
    The Democracy Council’s plans for Iran and the “Taash Network”
    http://tinyurl.com/6664dk5

    Reply

  17. Hass says:

    If nuclear safety is an issue, then the first thing to do would be to life the US sanctions that prevent Iran from acquiring the safest technology, just as if human rights were really a concern to these people then they should be campaiging to lift the ILLEGAL US sanctions that prevent Iran from acquiring spare parts for its civilian aircraft.
    But they’re not.
    Conclusion: they’re not really concerned about human rights in Iran and instead simply want to hypocritically manipulate the issue for their agendas.

    Reply

  18. David Billington says:

    Steve – I’m glad you raised this but I wonder if you would consider raising it in a different way.
    Iran really faces two questions. The first is whether to press ahead with civilian nuclear energy on
    its merits given the seismic risks. The second is whether to have a uranium enrichment program.
    Nuclear reactors are required only to produce plutonium bombs; uranium bombs can be made
    directly from enriched uranium. Iran does not therefore need reactors to have a nuclear weapons
    program. But its declared reason for having the capability to enrich uranium is to supply civilian
    reactors. This reason would be problematical if the country incurs much higher risks in building
    them.
    Instead of linking reactors to nuclear warheads and making reactors the issue, what we need to
    ask Iranians to debate is whether the risks of civilian nuclear energy should call into question
    having an enrichment capability.

    Reply

  19. JohnH says:

    Iran appears to be the problem that answers the prayers of every Washington agenda. Now it’s Iranian earthquakes and nuclear power!
    Hmmm–is something being overlooked here? What could that possibly be?
    “Israel

    Reply

  20. Paul Norheim says:

    Honestly Steve, isn’t this a bit like asking the Israeli Defense Forces to
    publicly raise concerns about the infrastructural deficits in Lebanon?

    Reply

  21. JohnH says:

    Oh well, I guess Iran will just have to consume more of its oil and gas, export less, and abandon nuclear power.
    Do you suppose that the will satisfy the foreign policy mob of neo-conmen and liberal interventionists?
    Don’t hold your breath…

    Reply

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