Monday, September 3, 2007

Liquidized sea-life

Liquidized sea-life

South Africa protested the idea of "canned lions", but what about liquidized sea-life? In their report "Licensed to Kill", Linda and Paul Gunter describe how cooling systems used by the nuclear industry suck in more than a billion gallons of water each day. Turtles, seals, sea lions, fish and other sea creatures are sucked along with the water into a huge pipe, shuttled through a barnacle-lined tunnel that slices open the flesh and then while mammals suffocate, smaller fish are liquidised to form a sediment that is pumped back into the sea.

In South Africa, Eskom has identified potential sites to construct a 4000 MW nuclear reactor including Bantamsklif near Pearly Beach, Brazil near Kleinsee/Port Nolloth, Duynefontein near Koeberg, Schulpfontein near Hondeklipbaai/Kleinsee area and Thyspunt near Cape St Francis. Eskom CEO, Jacob Maroga, said nuclear plants had to be close to large quantities of water and at sea temperature.

Proponents of nuclear power in South Africa have argued that the "advantage" of a nuclear reactor like Koeberg is that it uses sea water to cool its condensers. If a nuclear station were located in Gauteng - it would use fresh water, probably from the Vaal River. A typical 1000 megawatt reactor sucks in more than a billion gallons of water a day. After going through the nuclear station, the heated water is pumped back into water supplies with a caustic chemical added to prevent scale-forming compounds. In this way, the nuclear reactor uses nearby water sources as a "heat sink".

In the United States, 59 reactors are situated near lakes, reservoirs, estuaries, oceans and rivers. Some reactors have underground tunnels or pipes from the shore to underwater structures anywhere from 1000 feet to 3 miles from the reactor itself.
Marine life is sucked in through the intake tunnel at speed and trapped against screens, racks, bars and barrier nets. Larger animals drown or suffocate. Smaller fish and other organisms are burnt before being discharged into the water. Others are liquidized by the reactor condenser system and pumped out as sediment. A high destruction rate overtakes recovery rates and so entire marine communities are destroyed

Instead of applying sanctions when a nuclear plant kills more than its "allowed quota" of an endangered species, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in the US has been acting on behalf of the reactor owner to get a larger quota. A reactor may be given a lethal "take" limit of ten sea turtles a year, but then not admit responsibility for further deaths.

In 2000, the Diablo Canyon reactor operators were found to have witheld information from environmental regulators for 20 years. In that time, damage to indigenous marine life was disastrous, nearly wiping out black and red abalone. But despite the evidence, the public utility argued that no action was necessary. State regulators instead accepted a cash pay off of about $4.5 million and allowed the reactor to continue.

Nuclear utilities have made promises they had no intention of keeping once they began operation. Units 2 and 3 at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Diego California were allowed to go online based on an agreement that they would compensate for environmental damage. When findings showed that San Onofre had caused damage, they instead campaigned to avoid obligations.

Four species of endangered and one threatened species of sea turtle in the US are harmed and killed by nuclear power stations. Loggerhead, green and Kemps ridley sea turtles are most common, but leatherback and hawksbill sea turtles are also taken. The Pacific leatherback is at most immediate risk of extinction.

Endangered manatees and American crocodiles have also been captured and killed at atomic reactors. A human diver who survived being sucked into a nuclear reactor tunnel at St Lucie in 1989 said the victim endures turbulence, darkness and severe tearing by large, sharp barnacles on the pipe's interior.

Various breeds of diving ducks have drowned at nuclear plants. At the Salem reactors in New Jersey, where the utility was supposed to restore the wetlands, herbicidal sprayings harmed the estuarine environment.

When reactor pipes are blocked, they are flushed out using chlorine or other biocides - which has serious consequences, since chlorines affect the ability of animals to reproduce. Sometimes, reactors are cleaned out with superheated water or sponge balls. This kills hundreds of fish and the sponge balls can be ingested by marine creatures.

Sea turtles have developed an unexplained viral disease called fibropapillomatosis (FP) in near epidemic proportions mostly near areas of heavy human use and in warmer, more contaminated near-shore waters. Dolphins in Florida's Indian River near the St Lucie nuclear reactors have developed skin lesions like papillomas.

But while larger sea creatures are easier to notice, the effect of destruction of small sea life will be most devastating and lasting. It is easy to look away from the "small, slimy and ugly" as Wilder, Tegner and Dayton wrote in their report on "Saving Marine Biodiversity", but these are what provide foods for larger creatures and enable a system to sustain itself.

Scientists such as James W. Kirchner and Anne Weil state that: "once ecosystems lose key species, they are not likely to recover their full function and biotic variety in less than about 10 million years".

The nuclear industry spent millions on advertising to portray itself as "environmentally friendly" and beneficial to wildlife. They claimed that: "sea creatures and nuclear plants get along well". When this advertising was challenged by various groups, the Federal Trade Commission agreed that these claims were unsubstantiated.

The nuclear industry is allowed to self-monitor and self-regulate to an unacceptable degree. Inconsistencies of reporting marine animal deaths at reactors, makes it very difficult for wildlife organizations to assess damage to species. The NRC is more of a "lapdog" than a "watchdog" and because of this, the marine environment has paid the price for electricity generated by nuclear reactors. Oceanic experts agree that the health of the world's oceans is in jeopardy, but instead of repairing damage, the nuclear industry takes issues to court, resulting in protracted and costly legal challenges.

Atomic reactors generate far less electricity than coal, natural gas and oil-fired stations, but they have a "disproportionate" impact on water resources. Nuclear reactors are thermally less efficient than fossil-fueled stations. For every watt of electricity generated by an atomic reactor, two watts of heat energy are rejected to the environment. This task of boiling water by splitting the atom has been compared to "using a chainsaw to cut butter" and "ringing a doorbell with a cannon ball". Reactors do not discharge heat through a chimney stack into the atmosphere - they discharge it directly into the water. In this way, the nuclear industry has made "clean air" claims, while ignoring marine damage, radioactive pollution and potential for catastrophic accident.

"Rather than wait for the environment to cry for help, the precautionary principle places the burden on fishermen, oil drillers, industry, farmers whose fields run to rivers or shores, and whomever else would exploit the sea, intentionally or not, to avoid harming this precious resource in the first place". (Wilder, Tegner and Dayton).

The threat from the routine operation of nuclear reactors to the environment is little known by the public and overlooked by regulators and policymakers. This means that depletion of resources by nuclear power harm, not only the creatures themselves, but the ability of humans to survive and prosper.

South Africans need to seriously consider the negative effects of the nuclear industry before it takes hold of their coastal waters, estuaries, rivers and lakes. Dwindling fish stocks around the world mean a disappearing food resource and a vanishing tourism and leisure industry. This is something South Africa cannot afford to lose.

"Licensed to Kill: how the nuclear power industry destroys marine wildlife and ocean habitat to save money," is
co-authored by Linda Gunter of the Safe Energy Communication Council (SECC), Paul Gunter of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), Scott Cullen, Standing for Truth about Radiaion (STAR) and Nancy Burton.

For further information, contact:
Safe Energy Communication Council:

Nuclear Information and Resource Service:

Standing for Truth About Radiation:

Humane Society of the United States:

No comments: