Category Archives: Nuclear

Damaged reactors at Fukushima plant could take 30 years to retire –

Japan: Damaged reactors at nuclear plant could take 30 years to retire –

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant Unit 1 reactor building is covered by a steel frame as a safety measure.
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant Unit 1 reactor building is covered by a steel frame as a safety measure.

  • Plant owner: A “cold shutdown” of damaged reactors could be completed by the end of the year
  • Government officials say the removal of nuclear fuel should begin by 2021
  • The panel predicts it will take more than 10 years to remove nuclear fuel
  • The damaged reactors might not be retired until at least 2041

Tokyo (CNN) — The decommissioning of four reactors at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant will likely take more than 30 years to complete, according to a report by Japanese officials.

The draft report, released by Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission of the Cabinet Office on Friday, said the removal of debris — or nuclear fuel — should begin by the end of 2021.

“We set a goal to start taking out the debris within a 10-year period, and it is estimated that it would take 30 years or more (after the cold shutdown) to finish decommissioning because the process at Fukushima would be complicated,” the report states.

Last month, the plant’s owner — Tokyo Electric Power Company — said engineers might be able to complete the cold shutdown of damaged reactors by the end of the year.

TEPCO compensation rules criticized

Japan’s new energy reality

Life after Japan’s nuclear crisis

Temperatures in the three reactors where meltdowns occurred in the wake of the historic March 11 earthquake and tsunami have already been brought down below 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit), but the company has to maintain those conditions for some time before declaring the reactors in cold shutdown, Tokyo Electric spokesman Yoshikazu Nagai said.

Experts have said it will take years — perhaps decades — to fully clean up the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Hydrogen explosions blew apart the No. 1 and No. 3 reactor housings, while another hydrogen blast is suspected to have damaged the No. 2 reactor. Fires believed caused by heat from the No. 4 spent fuel pool damaged that unit’s reactor building.

The atomic energy commission’s report noted it took 10 years to remove nuclear fuel after the 1979 Three Mile Island disaster in the United States. The commission predicted removing fuel at Fukushima would require more time because the situation is more severe.

Fallout forensics hike radiation toll

Fallout forensics hike radiation toll : Nature News.

The disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March released far more radiation than the Japanese government has claimed. So concludes a study1 that combines radioactivity data from across the globe to estimate the scale and fate of emissions from the shattered plant.

The study also suggests that, contrary to government claims, pools used to store spent nuclear fuel played a significant part in the release of the long-lived environmental contaminant caesium-137, which could have been prevented by prompt action. The analysis has been posted online for open peer review by the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

Andreas Stohl, an atmospheric scientist with the Norwegian Institute for Air Research in Kjeller, who led the research, believes that the analysis is the most comprehensive effort yet to understand how much radiation was released from Fukushima Daiichi. “It’s a very valuable contribution,” says Lars-Erik De Geer, an atmospheric modeller with the Swedish Defense Research Agency in Stockholm, who was not involved with the study.

The reconstruction relies on data from dozens of radiation monitoring stations in Japan and around the world. Many are part of a global network to watch for tests of nuclear weapons that is run by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization in Vienna. The scientists added data from independent stations in Canada, Japan and Europe, and then combined those with large European and American caches of global meteorological data.

Stohl cautions that the resulting model is far from perfect. Measurements were scarce in the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima accident, and some monitoring posts were too contaminated by radioactivity to provide reliable data. More importantly, exactly what happened inside the reactors — a crucial part of understanding what they emitted — remains a mystery that may never be solved. “If you look at the estimates for Chernobyl, you still have a large uncertainty 25 years later,” says Stohl.

Nevertheless, the study provides a sweeping view of the accident. “They really took a global view and used all the data available,” says De Geer.

Challenging numbers

Japanese investigators had already developed a detailed timeline of events following the 11 March earthquake that precipitated the disaster. Hours after the quake rocked the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, the tsunami arrived, knocking out crucial diesel back-up generators designed to cool the reactors in an emergency. Within days, the three reactors operating at the time of the accident overheated and released hydrogen gas, leading to massive explosions. Radioactive fuel recently removed from a fourth reactor was being held in a storage pool at the time of the quake, and on 14 March the pool overheated, possibly sparking fires in the building over the next few days.

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But accounting for the radiation that came from the plants has proved much harder than reconstructing this chain of events. The latest report from the Japanese government, published in June, says that the plant released 1.5?×?1016?bequerels of caesium-137, an isotope with a 30-year half-life that is responsible for most of the long-term contamination from the plant2. A far larger amount of xenon-133, 1.1?×?1019?Bq, was released, according to official government estimates.

The new study challenges those numbers. On the basis of its reconstructions, the team claims that the accident released around 1.7?×?1019?Bq of xenon-133, greater than the estimated total radioactive release of 1.4?×?1019? Bq from Chernobyl. The fact that three reactors exploded in the Fukushima accident accounts for the huge xenon tally, says De Geer.

Xenon-133 does not pose serious health risks because it is not absorbed by the body or the environment. Caesium-137 fallout, however, is a much greater concern because it will linger in the environment for decades. The new model shows that Fukushima released 3.5?×?1016? Bq caesium-137, roughly twice the official government figure, and half the release from Chernobyl. The higher number is obviously worrying, says De Geer, although ongoing ground surveys are the only way to truly establish the public-health risk.

Stohl believes that the discrepancy between the team’s results and those of the Japanese government can be partly explained by the larger data set used. Japanese estimates rely primarily on data from monitoring posts inside Japan3, which never recorded the large quantities of radioactivity that blew out over the Pacific Ocean, and eventually reached North America and Europe. “Taking account of the radiation that has drifted out to the Pacific is essential for getting a real picture of the size and character of the accident,” says Tomoya Yamauchi, a radiation physicist at Kobe University who has been measuring radioisotope contamination in soil around Fukushima.

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Stohl adds that he is sympathetic to the Japanese teams responsible for the official estimate. “They wanted to get something out quickly,” he says. The differences between the two studies may seem large, notes Yukio Hayakawa, a volcanologist at Gunma University who has also modelled the accident, but uncertainties in the models mean that the estimates are actually quite similar.

The new analysis also claims that the spent fuel being stored in the unit 4 pool emitted copious quantities of caesium-137. Japanese officials have maintained that virtually no radioactivity leaked from the pool. Yet Stohl’s model clearly shows that dousing the pool with water caused the plant’s caesium-137 emissions to drop markedly (see ‘Radiation crisis’). The finding implies that much of the fallout could have been prevented by flooding the pool earlier.

The Japanese authorities continue to maintain that the spent fuel was not a significant source of contamination, because the pool itself did not seem to suffer major damage. “I think the release from unit 4 is not important,” says Masamichi Chino, a scientist with the Japanese Atomic Energy Authority in Ibaraki, who helped to develop the Japanese official estimate. But De Geer says the new analysis implicating the fuel pool “looks convincing”.

The latest analysis also presents evidence that xenon-133 began to vent from Fukushima Daiichi immediately after the quake, and before the tsunami swamped the area. This implies that even without the devastating flood, the earthquake alone was sufficient to cause damage at the plant.



The Japanese government’s report has already acknowledged that the shaking at Fukushima Daiichi exceeded the plant’s design specifications. Anti-nuclear activists have long been concerned that the government has failed to adequately address geological hazards when licensing nuclear plants (see Nature 448, 392–393; 2007), and the whiff of xenon could prompt a major rethink of reactor safety assessments, says Yamauchi.

The model also shows that the accident could easily have had a much more devastating impact on the people of Tokyo. In the first days after the accident the wind was blowing out to sea, but on the afternoon of 14 March it turned back towards shore, bringing clouds of radioactive caesium-137 over a huge swathe of the country (see ‘Radioisotope reconstruction’). Where precipitation fell, along the country’s central mountain ranges and to the northwest of the plant, higher levels of radioactivity were later recorded in the soil; thankfully, the capital and other densely populated areas had dry weather. “There was a period when quite a high concentration went over Tokyo, but it didn’t rain,” says Stohl. “It could have been much worse.” 

Additional reporting by David Cyranoski and Rina Nozawa.

Marcoule, France nuclear site explosion kills one

BBC News – France nuclear: Marcoule site explosion kills one.

One person has been killed and four injured, one seriously, in a blast at the Marcoule nuclear site in France.

There was no risk of a radioactive leak after the blast, caused by a fire near a furnace in the Centraco radioactive waste storage site, said officials.

The owner of the southern French plant, national electricity provider EDF, said it had been “an industrial accident, not a nuclear accident”.

The cause of the blast was not yet known, said the company.

The explosion hit the area at 11:45 local time (09:45 GMT). A security cordon was set up as a precaution.

But interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet later said there had been no leak of radiation, neither inside nor outside the plant.

None of the injured workers was contaminated by radiation, said officials. The worker who died was killed by the blast and not by exposure to nuclear material.

The Centraco treatment centre belongs to a subsidiary of EDF. It produces MOX fuel, which recycles plutonium from nuclear weapons. There are no nuclear reactors on site.


The French nuclear programme does not have a stellar record of transparency. In environmental circles, particular opprobrium is reserved for officials who in 1986 claimed the Chernobyl accident would have no impact on France – a statement lampooned as indicating officials believed radioactive fallout observed national boundaries.

What this incident implies for the future of the French nuclear programme is not entirely clear. If it remains a relatively minor matter, it will probably be passed off as the type of thing that regrettably happens in all types of industrial facility.

However, Marcoule is on the list of candidate sites to host one of the European Pressurised Water Reactors (EPRs) that according to government policy are to provide the next generation of French citizens with nuclear electricity.

The EDF spokesman said blast happened in a furnace used to burn waste, including fuels, tools and clothing which had been used in nuclear energy production but had only very low levels of radiation.

“The fire caused by the explosion was under control,” he said. Another official later said the incident was over.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it was in touch with the French authorities to learn more about the nature of the explosion.

Speaking on the sidelines of a scheduled meeting of the IAEA’s board, Director General Yukiya Amano said the organisation’s incident centre had been “immediately activated”.

France’s Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciuscko-Morizet visited the site on Monday, to “help carry out a precise evaluation of the possible radiological impact of this accident”.

“For the time being, no exterior impact has been detected,” the AFP news agency quoted a ministry spokesman as saying.

“There are several detectors on the outside and none of them detected anything, the building is sound.”

Stress tests

Marcoule was opened in 1955 and is one of France’s oldest nuclear sites, though it has been extensively modernised.

It is located in the Gard department in Languedoc-Roussillon region, near France’s Mediterranean coast.

Macoule nuclear site, France (12 Sept 2011) Marcoule is one of France’s oldest nuclear facilities but has no reactors on site

All the country’s 58 nuclear reactors have been put through stress tests in recent months, following the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant which was hit by an earthquake and tsunami.

EDF’s share prices fell by more than 6% as news of the blast emerged.

France is the world’s most nuclear-dependent country, relying on nuclear power to meet 75% of its energy needs, so safety in the industry is a highly sensitive issue, says the BBC’s Christian Fraser in Paris.

In June, France announced it was investing 1bn euros (£860m) in nuclear power, including a significant boost for safety research.

French nuclear giant Areva is developing the next generation of nuclear reactors and has been involved in a huge publicity campaign since the Fukushima disaster to reassure the public of the safety of nuclear energy.

Other countries in Europe, including Germany, Italy and Switzerland, have said they will reduce or phase out their use of nuclear power over the next few years.


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Explosion in French nuclear plant kills 1

Explosion in French nuclear plant kills 1, report says | The Digital Home – CNET News.

The Marcoule nuclear plant in southern France suffered an explosion earlier today, reports claim.

According to the BBC, the explosion at the plant was caused by a fire in a storage space for radioactive waste. The explosion reportedly killed one person. There are conflicting reports on the number of people injured, ranging from three to four, at this point.

The Marcoule plant is a major site for nuclear activities. According to the BBC, it doesn’t have any reactors, but does produce mixed oxide fuel (MOX) by recycling the plutonium found in nuclear weaponry. The plant also is used to create tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, the CBC says.

There is some fear that a radioactive leak could occur at the Marcoule site. According to the BBC, which spoke with the France atomic energy commission, no leak has occurred yet, but a “security perimeter” has been established in the event a leak does occur.

The Marcoule explosion is the latest nuclear crisis to impact the globe. Earlier this year, following a magnitude-9.0 earthquake, Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant became the focus of the global debate over the viability of nuclear power. Following the earthquake and tsunami, the reactors started to overheat, and workers, exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, worked tirelessly to prevent an outright catastrophe.

In April, the crisis at Fukushima hit a near-record level, when the severity of the disaster was pushed from a 5 to 7, the highest rating on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES). The 1986 Chernobyl disaster was also a 7 on the INES.

Following the Fukushima crisis, several countries around the world started analyzing their preparedness for a similar problem with their own nuclear plants. France was one of those countries. Over the last several months, France has engaged in testing of its plants to determine if they are safe from potential disasters.

However, exactly how the Marcoule explosion will affect France’s attitudes towards nuclear plants remains to be seen. According to information from the World Nuclear Association, an organization representing people who work in the nuclear profession, 75 percent of France’s electricity is powered by nuclear energy. The country is also the “world’s largest net exporter of electricity,” thanks to its affinity for nuclear energy.

The International Atomic Energy Agency did not immediately respond to CNET’s request for comment on the matter.

East Coast Quake Rattled Nuclear Plants' Waste Casks

East Coast Quake Rattled Nuclear Plant’s Waste Casks: Scientific American.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The earthquake that shook the East Coast last week rattled casks holding radioactive nuclear waste at a Virginia plant, moving them as much as 4.5 inches from their original position, the plant’s operator said.

The 5.8-magnitude quake shifted 25 casks, each 16 feet tall and weighing 115 tons, on a concrete pad at Dominion Resources Inc?‘s North Anna nuclear plant.

“There was no damage to the casks and no damage to the fuel,” Dominion spokesman Rick Zuercher said.

“They were designed to withstand earthquakes.”

The movement of the casks will be part of a special review under way by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission?, an NRC spokesman said.

The plant, located about 10 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter near Mineral, Virginia, has been shut down since the August 23 quake as inspectors check for damage.

The NRC is conducting a special review because of preliminary data showing that shaking from the quake exceeded the plant’s design rating.

The regulator already was scrutinizing how well the U.S. fleet of 104 reactors could withstand earthquakes, floods and other disasters after a quake and tsunami wrecked Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant in March, the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.

The United States, which has the world’s largest nuclear power industry, has deliberated for decades over how to store waste permanently, and the U.S. government is considering a proposal for a network of centralized “dry cask” storage sites where plants could take their used fuel.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Paul Simao and Dale Hudson)

2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident – encyclopedia article about 2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident.

2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident – encyclopedia article about 2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident..

2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident

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2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident

2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident
Minot B52 800p 070904.jpg
A B-52H bomber departs Minot Air Force Base
Date August 29–30, 2007
Location Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota and Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana
Result Six nuclear warheads mishandled and unaccounted for or improperly secured for approximately 36 hours

The 2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident occurred at Minot Air Force Base and Barksdale Air Force Base on August 29–30, 2007. Six AGM-129 ACM cruise missiles, each loaded with a W80-1 variable yield nuclear warhead, were reportedly mistakenly loaded on a United States Air Force (USAF) B-52H heavy bomber at Minot and transported to Barksdale. The nuclear warheads in the missiles were supposed to have been removed before taking the missiles from their storage bunker. The missiles with the nuclear warheads were not reported missing and remained mounted to the aircraft at both Minot and Barksdale for a period of 36 hours. During this period, the warheads were not protected by the various mandatory security precautions required for nuclear weapons.

The incident was reported to the top levels of the United States (U.S.) military and referred to by observers as a Bent Spear incident, which indicates a nuclear weapon incident that is of significant concern, but does not involve the immediate threat of nuclear war. The USAF, however, has yet to officially classify the incident.

In response to the incident, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and USAF conducted an investigation, the results of which were released on October 19, 2007. The investigation concluded that nuclear weapons handling standards and procedures had not been followed by numerous USAF personnel involved in the incident. As a result, four USAF commanders were relieved of their commands, numerous other USAF personnel were disciplined and/or decertified to perform certain types of sensitive duties, and further cruise missile transport missions from and nuclear weapons operations at Minot Air Force Base were suspended. In addition, the USAF issued new nuclear weapons handling instructions and procedures.

Separate investigations by the U.S. Defense Science Board and a USAF “Blue Ribbon” panel reported that concerns existed on the procedures and processes for handling nuclear weapons within the U.S. DoD but did not find any failures with the security of U.S. nuclear weapons. Based on this and other incidents, on June 5, 2008, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne and Chief of Staff of the Air Force General T. Michael Moseley, were fired. In response to recommendations by a review committee, in October 2008 the USAF announced the creation of Air Force Global Strike Command to control all USAF nuclear bombers, missiles, and personnel.


As of August 2007, Minot Air Force Base was the home of the 5th Bomb Wing and Barksdale Air Force Base the home of 2nd Bomb Wing, both of which fell under the 8th Air Force, also based at Barksdale. The 8th was part of Air Combat Command (ACC) in the USAF. In August 2007 the 5th Bomb Wing was commanded by Colonel Bruce Emig, the 2nd Bomb Wing by Colonel Robert Wheeler, the 8th Air Force by Lieutenant General Robert Elder Jr., and ACC by General Ronald Keys.[1] The 5th Bomb Wing, according to the USAF’s statement on the wing’s mission, served with its B-52 bombers as part of the USAF’s conventional and strategic combat force.[2] The “strategic” portion of the 5th’s mission included the ability to deliver nuclear weapons against potential targets worldwide. Thus, Minot Air Force Base stored and maintained a ready arsenal of nuclear bombs, nuclear warheads, and associated delivery systems, including, as of August 2007, the AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missile.[3]

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An AGM-129 cruise missile in flight

The AGM-129 was fielded in 1987 as a stealthy cruise missile platform to deliver the W80-1 variable yield nuclear warhead. Although originally designed to equip the B-1 bomber, it was later decided that the AGM-129 would only be carried by the B-52, mounted on external pylons on the wings, or internally in the bomb bay.[4]

In March 2007, the USAF decided to retire its AGM-129 complement in order to help comply with international arms-control treaties and to replace them with AGM-86 missiles.[5] In order to do so, the USAF began to transport its AGM-129s stored at Minot by B-52s to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana for ultimate disposal. By August 29, 2007 according to the Washington Post, more than 200 AGM-129s had been shipped from Minot to Barksdale in this manner.[6]


Between 08:00 and 09:00 (local time) on August 29, 2007, a group of USAF airmen, called the breakout crew, entered one of the weapons storage bunkers at Minot to prepare AGM-129 missiles for transport to Barksdale. That day’s missile transport, the sixth of 12 scheduled ferry missions, was to have consisted of 12 AGM-129s, installed with training warheads, with six missiles per pylon and one pylon mounted under each wing of a Barksdale-assigned, 2nd Bomb Wing B-52 aircraft. When the airmen entered the bunker, six actual warheads were still installed on their missiles, as opposed to having been replaced with the dummy training warheads. A later investigation found that the reason for the error was that the formal electronic scheduling system for tracking the missiles “had been subverted in favor of an informal process that did not identify this pylon as prepared for the flight.”[7] The airmen assigned to handle the missiles used an outdated paper schedule that contained incorrect information on the status of the missiles. The missiles originally scheduled for movement had been replaced by missiles closer to expiration dates for limited life components. The change in missiles had been reflected on the movement plan but not in the documents used for internal work coordination processes in the bunker.[8]

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An AGM-129 pylon is loaded onto the wing of a B-52 at Minot

Although the breakout crew in the weapons storage began to inspect the missiles, an early-arriving transport crew hooked-up the pylons and towed them away without inspecting or ensuring that the missiles had been inspected or cleared for removal. The munitions control center failed to verify that the pylon had received proper clearance and inspection and approved the pylon for loading on the B-52 aircraft at 09:25. After taking eight hours to attach the pylons to the aircraft, the aircraft with the missiles loaded then remained parked overnight at Minot for 15 hours without special guard as required for nuclear weapons.[9]

On the morning of August 30, one of the transport aircraft’s flight officers, a Barksdale-assigned B-52 instructor radar navigator (name unknown), closely inspected the six missiles on the right wing only, which were all properly uploaded with training warheads, before signing the manifest listing the cargo as a dozen unarmed AGM-129 missiles. The B-52 command pilot did not do a final verification check before preparing to depart Minot.[10]

The B-52 departed Minot at 08:40 and landed at Barksdale at 11:23 (local times) on August 30. The aircraft remained parked and without special guard until 20:30, when a munitions team arrived to remove the missiles. After a member of the munitions crew noticed something unusual about some of the missiles, at 22:00 a “skeptical” supervisor determined that nuclear warheads were present and ordered them secured and the incident reported, 36 hours after the missiles were removed from the bunker at Minot.[11]

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General T. Michael Moseley, USAF chief of staff at the time of the incident

The incident was reported to the National Military Command Center as a Bent Spear incident, which indicates a nuclear weapon incident that is of significant concern, but does not involve the immediate threat of nuclear war (Pinnacle – Nucflash) or the accidental detonation of or severe damage to a nuclear weapon (Pinnacle – Broken Arrow). Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, General T. Michael Moseley quickly called the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, on August 31 to inform him about the incident. Gates requested daily updates regarding the investigation and informed President Bush about the incident. The USAF has yet to officially designate what type of incident actually occurred, Bent Spear or otherwise.[12] The incident was the first of its kind in 40 years in the United States and was later described by the media as “one of the worst breaches in U.S. nuclear weapons security in decades”.[13]

Response by the U.S. government

The USAF and DoD at first decided to conceal the incident, in part because of the USAF policy not to comment on the storage or movement of nuclear weapons and an apparent belief that the incident would not generate much public concern. In fact, the DoD incident report contained the statement, “No press interest anticipated.” Details of the incident, however, were leaked by unknown DoD officials to the Military Times newspaper, which published a small article about the incident on September 5, 2007.[14]

In response, in a September 5 news briefing in the Pentagon by Press Secretary Geoff Morrell, it was stated that at no time was the public in any danger and that military personnel had custody of the weapons at all times. The USAF announced that within days of the incident, the USAF relieved the Minot munitions squadron commander and eventually disciplined 25 airmen. USAF Major General Doug Raaberg was assigned by General Keys to lead an investigation into the incident. The USAF inventory of nuclear warheads was checked to ensure that all warheads were accounted for. In addition, the DoD announced that a Pentagon-appointed scientific advisory panel, called the Defense Science Board, would study the mishap as part of a larger review of procedures for handling nuclear weapons. On September 28, the USAF announced that General Keys was retiring and would be replaced as ACC commander by General John Corley, effective October 2.[15]

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USAF Secretary Michael Wynne and Major General Richard Newton brief the results of the USAF investigation into the incident at the Pentagon on October 19, 2007

On October 19, 2007, U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne and USAF Major General Richard Newton, deputy chief of staff for operations, plans, and requirements, announced the investigation report findings, stating that, “there has been an erosion of adherence to weapons-handling standards at Minot Air Force Base and at Barksdale Air Force Base” and that “… a limited number of airmen at both locations failed to follow procedures.”[16] Colonel Emig, the commander of the 5th Bomb Wing, Colonel Cynthia Lundell, the commander of the 5th Maintenance Group at Minot, and Colonel Todd Westhauser, the commander of Barksdale’s 2nd Operations Group, and four senior non-commissioned officers from the 5th Munitions Squadron “received administrative action” and were relieved of their commands or positions and reassigned. All of the 5th Bomb Wing personnel were stripped of their certifications to handle nuclear and other sensitive weaponry and to conduct “specific missions”. Sixty-five airmen of varying ranks lost their personnel reliability program certifications.[17] Tactical ferry operations were suspended. The inspector general offices of all USAF major commands that handle nuclear weapons were directed to conduct immediate “Limited Nuclear Surety Inspections (LNSIs) at every nuclear-capable unit” with oversight provided by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.[18]

The new ACC commander, General Corley, referred the matter to USAF Lieutenant General Norman Seip, commander of the 12th Air Force, as a court-martial convening authority to determine if additional charges or actions would be taken against any of the personnel involved in the incident. Seip later closed the investigation without recommending criminal charges against anyone involved.[19]

Retired USAF General Larry Welch was asked by Gates, who had reportedly raised concerns with USAF officials that the original investigation may have unfairly limited blame to midlevel officers, to lead the Defense Science Board advisory panel that would study the mishap as part of a larger review of procedures and policies for handling nuclear weapons. In addition, the USAF chartered a “Blue Ribbon Review” chaired by USAF Major General Polly Peyer and consisting of 30 members to “make recommendations as to how we can improve the Air Force’s capability to safely and securely perform our nuclear weapons responsibility”.[20] Furthermore, the U.S. Congress requested that the DoD and U.S. Department of Energy conduct a bottom-up review of nuclear procedures.[21]


USAF actions

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Colonel Joel Westa became the new commander of the 5th Bomb Wing in the wake of the incident

On October 24, 2007, Secretary of the Air Force Wynne told the House Armed Services Committee that he believed that the 5th Bomb Wing could be recertified and could resume ferrying the AGM-129 cruise missiles to Barksdale for retirement. He did not provide a timeline for that recertification process. On November 1, 2007 Colonel Joel Westa took command of the 5th Bomb Wing.[22] That same day, General Keys retired from the Air Force.[23]

Personnel from Barksdale’s 2nd Bomb Wing temporarily took over maintenance duties of Minot’s nuclear stockpile until the 5th Bomb Wing could be recertified. A nuclear surety inspection (NSI), required for recertification, originally scheduled for the 5th Bomb Wing for January 23, 2008 was postponed after the wing failed an initial NSI that took place on December 16, 2007.[24] Another initial NSI was completed on March 29 and Corley recertified the wing on March 31, 2008. A full NSI was scheduled for May 2008. The wing needed to regain its certification in order to hold the full NSI, said Major Elizabeth Ortiz, a Minot spokeswoman. Units handling nuclear weapons must pass NSIs every 18 months in order to retain their certifications.[25]

The USAF issued a new policy directive regarding the handling of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, which prohibits the storing of nuclear armed and nonnuclear armed weapons in the same storage facility. The directive further instructs that all nonnuclear munitions and missiles must be labeled with placards clearly stating that they are not armed with nuclear warheads. Wing commanders are now charged with approving any movement of nuclear weapons from weapons storage areas and must appoint a single individual as a munitions accountability system officer and weapons custodian. All units that handle nuclear weapons must develop a coordinated visual inspection checklist. The policy further directs that airmen charged with handling or maintaining nuclear weapons cannot be on duty for longer than 12 hours, unless during an emergency, when their duty period can be extended to a maximum of 16 hours.[26] The USAF has since instituted a program of surprise inspections at nuclear-armed bases.[27]

Review reports

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Larry Welch (in 1984)

Welch and Peyer briefed the results of their reviews before the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services on February 12, 2008. In addition to Welch and Peyer, Lieutenant General Daniel Darnell, USAF deputy chief of staff for air, space and information operations and Major General Raaberg testified and answered questions from the senate committee’s members. During the hearing, Welch stated that, “The military units responsible for handling the bombs are not properly inspected and, as a result, may not be ready to perform their missions.” He added, “If you look at all the areas and all the ways that we have to store and handle these weapons in order to perform the mission, it just requires, we believe, more resources and more attention than they’re getting.”[28] Welch’s report concluded that the combining of DoD nuclear forces with nonnuclear organizations has led to “markedly reduced levels of leadership whose daily focus is the nuclear enterprise and a general devaluation of the nuclear mission and those who perform the mission.” Nevertheless, neither Welch’s nor Peyer’s reports found any failures with the security of U.S. nuclear weapons.[29]

Responding to Welch’s and Peyer’s reports, USAF officials stated that they were already implementing many of the recommendations contained in the reports but added that existing regulations governing nuclear procedures were satisfactory. During his testimony before the senate committee, Darnell stated, “The Air Force portion of the nuclear deterrent is sound, and we will take every measure necessary to provide safe, secure, reliable nuclear surety to the American public.”[30]

Inspections, resignations, and further discipline

Minot’s full NSI took place beginning on May 17, 2008, and was conducted by inspectors from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and the AF’s Air Combat Command (ACC). On May 25, the DTRA issued the 5th Bomb Wing an “unsatisfactory” rating, the lowest rating possible, from the inspection. The 5th passed the inspection in nine of ten areas, but failed in the area of nuclear security. Following the inspection, Westa stated, “Overall their assessment painted a picture of some things we need to work on in the areas of training and discipline”.[31] The 5th Bomb Wing Security Forces Squadron Commander, Lieutenant Colonel John Worley, was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Weaver on June 16, 2008.[32] In spite of failing the NSI, the wing kept its nuclear certification. Said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists about the 5th’s failure in the inspection, “It makes you wonder what’s going on elsewhere, like the nuclear weapons stationed at bases overseas, and at Barksdale Air Force Base and Whiteman Air Force Base.”[33] Minot passed the follow-up inspection on August 15, 2008.[32]

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Robert Gates

On June 5, 2008, Robert Gates announced the results of an investigation into the misshipment of four MK-12 forward-section reentry vehicle assemblies to Taiwan. The investigation, conducted by Admiral Kirkland H. Donald, director of US Naval Propulsion, found that the Taiwan missile incident was, in Gates’ words, “A degradation of the authority, standards of excellence and technical competence within the nation’s ICBM force. Similar to the bomber-specific August 2007 Minot-Barksdale nuclear weapons transfer incident, this incident took place within the larger environment of declining Air Force nuclear mission focus and performance” and that “the investigation identified commonalities between the August 2007 Minot incident and this [the Taiwan] event.” In his investigation report, Donald stated that the issues identified by his investigation were, “Indicative of an overall decline in Air Force nuclear weapons stewardship, a problem that has been identified but not effectively addressed for over a decade. Both the Minot-Barksdale nuclear weapons transfer incident and the Taiwan misshipment, while different in specifics, have a common origin: the gradual erosion of nuclear standards and a lack of effective oversight by Air Force leadership”[34]

As a result of the investigation, Gates announced that, “A substantial number of Air Force general officers and colonels have been identified as potentially subject to disciplinary measures, ranging from removal from command to letters of reprimand,” and that he had accepted the resignations of USAF Secretary Michael Wynne and USAF Chief of Staff Michael Moseley. Gates added that he had asked James R. Schlesinger to lead a senior-level task force to recommend improvements in the stewardship and operation of nuclear weapons, delivery vehicles and sensitive components by the US DoD. Members of the task force came from the Defense Policy Board and the Defense Science Board.[35]

On September 13, 2008, Gates announced Schlesinger’s task force’s recommendations by calling on the USAF to place all nuclear weapons under a single command. The task force suggested that the new command be called Air Force Strategic Command, which would replace the current Air Force Space Command, and make it accountable for the nuclear mission. It also called for all USAF bombers to be placed under a single command. The task force also recommended that the USAF move an additional 1,500 to 2,000 airmen into nuclear-related jobs. Gates announced that acting Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley and Chief of Staff General Norton A. Schwartz were “reviewing the recommendations” for disciplinary action against USAF officers previously involved in the nuclear mission.[36] The task force found an, “an unambiguous, dramatic and unacceptable decline in the Air Force’s commitment to perform the nuclear mission and, until very recently, little has been done to reverse it.”[37]

On September 25, 2008, the United States Department of Defense announced that six Air Force and two Army generals and nine colonels had received letters of reprimand, admonishment, or concern. Two Air Force major generals were asked to stay in their current position; the others either retired, planned to retire, or were removed from their position. Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz met with each officer personally before issuing the letters. He noted they committed no offense under the UCMJ, but “did not do enough to carry out their leadership responsibilities for nuclear oversight. “For that they must be held accountable.” The Air Force stated that the discipline was in response to the mistaken shipment of nuclear fuzes to Taiwan, not for the Minot nuclear weapons incident.[38]

In November 2008, the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base failed its nuclear surety inspection. The 90th Missile Wing at F. E. Warren Air Force Base, failed its nuclear surety inspection one month later.[39] In November 2009 at Kirtland Air Force Base the 377th Air Base Wing, commanded by Colonel Michael S. Duvall, and 498th Nuclear Systems Wing, commanded by Colonel Richard M. Stuckey, failed their nuclear surety inspections.[40]

On October 30, 2009 Westa was relieved as commander of the 5th Bomb Wing by Major General Floyd L. Carpenter, commander of 8th Air Force. Carpenter stated that Westa was relived due to his “inability to foster a culture of excellence, a lack of focus on the strategic mission … and substandard performance during several nuclear surety inspections, including the newly activated 69th Bomb Squadron.”[41]

On January 8, 2009 Schlesinger’s task force released its report regarding the overall DoD’s management of the country’s nuclear weapons mission. The report criticized the DoD for a lack of focus and oversight on its nuclear weapons programs and recommended that the DoD create a new assistant secretary position to oversee its nuclear management. The task force found that within the DoD only the United States Navy was effectively managing its nuclear arsenal.[42] The panel stated that it found, “a distressing degree of inattention to the role of nuclear weapons in deterrence among many senior DoD military and civilian leaders.”[43]

New command

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USAF Secretary Michael Donley discusses the creation of the Global Strike Command with media representatives at the Pentagon on October 24, 2008.

On October 24, 2008 new USAF Secretary Michael Donley announced the creation of Air Force Global Strike Command. The new command became operational on August 7, 2009. The USAF’s intercontinental nuclear missile force was moved from Air Force Space Command to the new command. Barksdale was selected as the location of the new command’s headquarters.[44][45] The new major command is led by a three-star general and controls all USAF nuclear-capable bombers, missiles and personnel.[46]

See also


  1. ^ Ricks, “Tough Punishment Expected for Warhead Errors”, Baker, “Air Force Relieves Commanders Involved in Nuclear Weapons Incident,” Air Force Link, “General Ronald E. Keys”.
  2. ^ USAF, Minot Air Force Base 5th Bomb Wing Mission
  3. ^ Warrick, Missteps in the Bunker.
  4. ^ Parsch, Andreas, AGM-129
  5. ^ , Pincus, “4 Colonels Lose Their Air Force Commands,” USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”
  6. ^ Parsch, Andreas, AGM-129, Warrick, Missteps in the Bunker.
  7. ^ USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”, Hoffman
  8. ^ Warrick, “Missteps in the Bunker”, USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”, Hoffman, “Wing decertified, COs sacked for nuke mistake”, Pincus, “4 Colonels Lose Their Air Force Commands”, Defense Science Board, “Report on Unauthorized Movement of Nuclear Weapons”.
  9. ^ Pincus, “4 Colonels Lose Their Air Force Commands”, Hoffman, “Wing decertified, COs sacked for nuke mistake”, Warrick, “Missteps in the Bunker”, USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”, Defense Science Board, “Report on Unauthorized Movement of Nuclear Weapons”.
  10. ^ Warrick, “Missteps in the Bunker”, Hoffman, “Wing decertified, COs sacked for nuke mistake”, USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”, Pincus, “4 Colonels Lose Their Air Force Commands”.
  11. ^ Warrick, “Missteps in the Bunker”, USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”, Hoffman, “Wing decertified, COs sacked for nuke mistake”.
  12. ^ Gilmore, ” Air Force Investigates Alleged Nuke Transfer, Pentagon Spokesman Says”.
  13. ^ Ricks, “Tough Punishment Expected for Warhead Errors”, Warrick, “Missteps in the Bunker”
  14. ^ Warrick, “Missteps in the Bunker”
  15. ^ Dorfner, “After four decades, General Keys calls it a career”, Gilmore, “Air Force Investigates Alleged Nuke Transfer, Pentagon Spokesman Says,” Randolph, “Air Force releases B-52 munitions transfer investigation results”, Warrick, “Missteps in the Bunker”, USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”, USAF, “General Corley takes command of ACC”, Hoffman, “Generals grilled on Minot nuclear mishap”.
  16. ^ USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”.
  17. ^ Holmes, “Minot bomb wing gets new commander Thursday”, Hoffman, Michael, “Minot Nuke Handlers Still Not Ready For Inspection”, Military Times, January 14, 2008.
  18. ^ Randolph, “Air Force releases B-52 munitions transfer investigation results”, Hoffman, “Wing decertified, COs sacked for nuke mistake”, “Baker, “Air Force Relieves Commanders Involved in Nuclear Weapons Incident,” USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”, Pincus, “4 Colonels Lose Their Air Force Commands”, Randolph, “Air Force releases B-52 munitions transfer investigation results”.
  19. ^ Starr, “Air Force officers relieved of duty over loose nukes”, USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton, Hoffman, Michael, “Minot Nuke Handlers Still Not Ready For Inspection”, Military Times, January 14, 2008.
  20. ^ USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”, Hoffman, “237 nuke handling deficiencies cited since 2001”.
  21. ^ Pincus, “4 Colonels Lose Their Air Force Commands”, USDoD, “DoD Press Briefing with Maj. Gen. Newton”, Baker, “Air Force Relieves Commanders Involved in Nuclear Weapons Incident”, Hoffman, “Wing decertified, COs sacked for nuke mistake”, Hoffman, “Generals grilled on Minot nuclear mishap”, Spiegel, “U.S. Nuclear Focus Has Dimmed, Studies Find”.
  22. ^ Holmes, “Minot bomb wing gets new commander Thursday”
  23. ^ Air Force Link, “General Ronald E. Keys”.
  24. ^ Hoffman, Michael, “Minot Nuke Handlers Still Not Ready For Inspection”, Military Times, January 14, 2008, MacPherson, “Minot chief sets bar high after nuke gaffe”.
  25. ^ Hoffman, Michael, “Minot bomb wing recertified for nukes”, Military Times, April 4, 2008; Los Angeles Times, “Bomb Wing Recertified”, April 4, 2008.
  26. ^ Pincus, “Air Force Alters Rules for Handling of Nuclear Arms”, Hoffman, “New nuke-handling procedures issued”.
  27. ^ Barnes, Julian E., “Better Oversight Of Nuclear Arms Urged”, Los Angeles Times, November 26, 2008, p. 8.
  28. ^ Spiegel, “U.S. Nuclear Focus Has Dimmed, Studies Find”.
  29. ^ Spiegel, “U.S. Nuclear Focus Has Dimmed, Studies Find”, Hoffman, “Generals grilled on Minot nuclear mishap”, Defense Science Board, “Report on Unauthorized Movement of Nuclear Weapons”.
  30. ^ Spiegel, “U.S. Nuclear Focus Has Dimmed, Studies Find”, Defense Science Board, “Report on Unauthorized Movement of Nuclear Weapons”.
  31. ^ Hoffman, “Minot’s 5th Bomb Wing flunks nuclear inspection”
  32. ^ a b Hoffman, “Minot nuke handlers pass re-inspection”
  33. ^ Associated Press, “Air Force wing in nuclear goof has more trouble”, Hoffman, “Minot’s 5th Bomb Wing flunks nuclear inspection”
  34. ^ US DoD, “DoD News Briefing with Secretary Gates from the Pentagon”, Military Times, “Moseley and Wynne forced out”, Shanker, “2 Leaders Ousted From Air Force in Atomic Errors”.
  35. ^ US DoD, “DoD News Briefing with Secretary Gates from the Pentagon”, June 5, 2008, Military Times, “Moseley and Wynne forced out”, Shanker, “2 Leaders Ousted From Air Force in Atomic Errors”.
  36. ^ “Unified Nuclear Command Urged”. The Washington Post. September 13, 2008.
  37. ^ “Panel Urges Air Force to Unify Nuclear Command”. The New York Times. September 13, 2008.
  38. ^ The Associated Press. “Military cites poor oversight in mistaken shipment of warheads to Taiwan”. MSNBC, Thurs., Sept. 25, 2008,; accessed 2008-09-26.
  39. ^ Shane, Leo III, “Report: Wyo. Unit Fails Nuke Security Inspection”, Stars and Stripes, December 17, 2008; Gertz, Bill, “Air Force Fails New Nuclear Reviews”, Washington Times, February 4, 2009.
  40. ^ Hoffman, Michael, “Two wings get F on nuclear inspection“, Air Force Times November 27, 2009.
  41. ^ Rolfsen, Bruce, “5th Bomb Wing CO relieved of command“, Military Times, November 1, 2009.
  42. ^ Baldor, Lolita C., (Associated Press) “Report Slams Pentagon Nuke Oversight”, Washington Post, January 7, 2009.
  43. ^ AFP-JiJi, “Faith in U.S. nuclear deterrent shaken”, Japan Times, January 10, 2009.
  44. ^ Wall Street Journal, “US Air Force To Reorganize Nuclear Commands After Incidents”, October 24, 2008.
  45. ^ Garamone, Jim, “Global Strike Command Will Stress Nuclear Mission“, DefenseLink, August 7, 2009.
  46. ^ Associated Press, “New Unit To Manage AF Nuclear Arsenal”, reported in Arizona Daily Star, October 25, 2008.


Further reading

Coordinates: 48°25?05?N 101°20?43?W / 48.41814°N -101.34533°E

Fukushima Reactor Damage Detected in California Winds

Fukushima Reactor Damage Picked Up in California Winds – ScienceNOW.

on 15 August 2011, 4:23 PM | 2 Comments

Dousing Fukushima’s reactors. Air laden with radioactive material that was formed after emergency teams soaked cores at an imperiled nuclear power plant in Japan (shown) blew into San Diego, California, about 2 weeks later.
Credit: Self Defence Force Nuclear Biological Chemical Weapon Defense Unit/Reuters TV

On 28 March, scientists got a whiff of something strange in the air off a pier in San Diego, California. The atmosphere had suddenly become flush with radioactive sulfur atoms. That sulfur, it turns out, had traveled across the Pacific from a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, that was shaken by the 11 March earthquake and the tsunami and aftershocks that followed. Now the same team has studied those radioactive winds to come up with the first estimate of damage to the plant’s cores at the height of the disaster.

To cool fuel rods and spent fuel while stanching a total meltdown, responders pumped several hundred tons of seawater into three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. The white-hot rods fizzled off steam, which had to go somewhere. So workers vented it into the air.

Meanwhile, across the Pacific, atmospheric scientist Antra Priyadarshi of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), remembered a study she had read a while back: Following underwater nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s and ’60s, physicists noticed that a heavy form of sulfur—sulfur-35—had mushroomed. Nuclear reactions spit out lots of fast and therefore “hot” particles called neutrons, which can then bang into abundant chloride ions in saltwater, converting them to sulfur-35. Priyadarshi and her colleagues were already tracking tiny traces of radioactive sulfur to study how layers of air mix in the atmosphere, so all they had to do was wait.

They didn’t have to wait long. The sulfur was already swirling over Fukushima, where it had combined with oxygen to form sulfur dioxide gases and fine particles of sulfates called aerosols. Soon, strong winds pushed them east. Sulfur-35 does occur naturally—cosmic rays zap argon atoms in the upper atmosphere, or stratosphere, to make radioactive sulfur. But little of it makes its way down to the lowest slice of atmosphere, called the marine boundary layer. On a normal day, Priyadarshi sees between 180 and 475 sulfur-35 atoms as sulfates per cubic meter of air, but on the 28th, her team recorded about 1500. “No one has ever seen such a high percentage of the stratospheric air coming into the marine-bound layer,” she says.

The UCSD team ran a computer simulation to trace the path of the gases and aerosols from Fukushima to the West Coast. Most sulfur-35 atoms likely dispersed or rained down into the sea before hitting San Diego, but Priyadarshi estimates that about 0.7% completed the trip, too few to become harmful. Based on the simulation, about 365 times the normal levels of radioactive sulfates had gathered over Fukushima during the disaster, Priyadarshi and colleagues report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

And because the researchers knew how many neutrons it would take to make that much sulfur, they could estimate how many were expelled during the disaster: For each square meter of reactor space doused by saltwater, the nuclear material ejected 400 billion neutrons before 20 March. And that, in turn, may give scientists a good look at the damage done to the cores during the disaster, says study co-author Mark Thiemens, an atmospheric scientist who is also at UCSD. If unchecked, these particles can heat up fuel rods and stores of spent fuel to the point of causing disastrous meltdowns like the one that rocked Chernobyl in 1986.

But Andreas Stohl, a scientist at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research in Kjeller, isn’t convinced. Trying to figure out what happened to Fukushima’s sulfur-35 as it was buffeted by haphazard winds on its nearly 10,000 kilometer journey to San Diego requires a lot of guesswork, he says: “The uncertainties must be huge.”

Karl Turekian, an atmospheric geochemist at Yale University who edited Priyadarshi’s paper for PNAS, agrees. But he adds the San Diego researchers did their best to account for that atmospheric chaos. And scientists haven’t yet come up with any other way to estimate neutron “leaks” from nuclear fuel. “Somebody didn’t have a neutron thermometer in Fukushima,” he says.

Now that Fukushima’s reactors have cooled back down, the biggest challenge facing scientists will be to contain radioactive elements that escaped during the disaster. Thiemens will be working with Japanese researchers to follow sulfur-35’s path through soil and streams near Fukushima to find where even more harmful elements may have hidden.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that winds pushed sulfur over Fukushima west. It has been corrected to say east.

Japan struggles to rebuild

Insight: Japan struggles to rebuild, leaving lives in limbo | Reuters.

Severe storms hit the Midwest on Saturday and are expected later in the Northeast, where flash flooding killed at least four people in Pittsburgh on Friday.

Heavy rains submerged cars in flood water that was nine feet deep in places in Pittsburgh, authorities said.

A mother and her two daughters died when water engulfed their vehicle in a low-lying section of the city’s Washington Boulevard near the Allegheny River.

Kimberly Griffith, 45, and her daughters Brenna, 12, and Mikaela, 8, were pronounced dead at the scene, a spokeswoman for the Allegheny County medical examiner’s office said.

The water pinned their vehicle to a tree and they were unable to escape, authorities said.

Also recovered after the flood was the body of Mary Saflin, 72, who had been reported missing earlier, according to the Allegheny County medical examiner’s office.

The Philadelphia area was also soaked by heavy thunder showers Friday, bringing a record rainfall of 12.95 inches for August, close to the record for any month, according to NWS meteorologist Lee Robertson.

The previous record is from September 1999, set when a hurricane pushed rainfall to 13.07 inches.

As more storms were forecast for the region Sunday, the NWS warned in a flood advisory that nearly half of all flood fatalities are vehicle-related.

“As little as six inches of water will cause you to lose control of your vehicle,” the NWS stated.


The Weather Channel forecast more storms from the Great Lakes to the Central Plains into Saturday night.

One man died as storms and a tornado roared across northern Wisconsin Friday night, cutting an 8-mile-wide swath 65 miles north of Green Bay and taking out power to around 2,000 homes, officials said.

Douglas Brem, 43, was staying in a rented trailer at a recycling center in the path of the storm, which caused extensive damage to homes, Marinette County Coroner George Smith said.

A fierce thunderstorm in the Chicago area Saturday suspended the Chicago Air & Water Show until about 2 p.m., leaving time for a condensed show. The two-day free annual event was expected to attract around 2 million spectators.

Saturday’s thunderstorm threat will shift to the Northeast Sunday.

The Southeastern Virginia Hampton Roads region was spared from severe storm activity, but smoke from a 6,000-acre fire in the Great Dismal Swamp continues to plague the region down into North Carolina.

Virginia’s Environmental Quality Department downgraded Friday’s air quality red alert in some areas to orange, advising of possible health problems for sensitive individuals.

(Additional reporting by John Rondy in Milwaukee, Cynthia Johnston in Las Vegas, Matthew A. Ward in Chesapeake, Va., David Warner in Philadelphia; Writing by Molly O’Toole and Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Jerry Norton)



<span class="articleLocation”>More than five months after a massive magnitude 9.0 earthquake and a deadly tsunami ravaged Japan’s northeast coast, the nation has yet to come up with a detailed action plan and the money needed to rebuild the devastated areas.

The following is a summary of where Japan’s rebuilding efforts stand.


— About 15,690 were killed, 4,740 are missing, and 5,710 were injured.

— Many of about 5.6 million residents of the three prefectures worst hit by the March disaster have lost their homes and the number of evacuees peaked at more than 475,000 on March 14.

— Some 9,900 still live in evacuation shelters while 34,100 are staying in hotels or with relatives or friends and about 40,000 live in temporary housing.

— Japan’s northeast is aging faster than other area of a country whose population is already graying at a rapid pace. By 2030, 31.6 percent of the population is expected to be above 65 in Tohoku, whereas the country-wide estimate is 29.6 percent.

According to BNP Paribas estimates the region’s working population shrunk 8.4 percent over the past 15 years and is expected to decline by further 12.6 percent over the next decade.


— The quake and tsunami left an estimated 22.6 million tonnes of rubble in the coastal towns. Out of that, nearly half has been moved to temporary storage destinations.

— By end-August, the government aims to remove debris from areas where people live and work and this goal is likely to be met. But removal of all rubble and dismantling of damaged buildings will take months, if not years, and the government aims to dispose the stored rubble by end of March, 2014.


— The quake and tsunami destroyed supply chains given that the northeast is home to many manufacturers. Japan’s gross domestic product fell 0.9 percent in the first quarter, tipping the economy into its second recession in three years. But in the second quarter, the economy shrank much less than foreseen as companies made strides in restoring output and is expected to bounce by 1.2 percent this quarter — probably the best performance among major industrialized nations.

— The government initially estimated the material damage from the March 11 disaster at 16-25 trillion yen ($190-$300 billion) but later lowered it to 16.9 trillion yen ($210 billion). The estimated damage is roughly double that from the 1995 Kobe earthquake.


— The government enacted its first extra budget of 4 trillion ($50 billion) in May, and its second emergency budget of 2 trillion ($25 billion) in July.

— The government hopes to pass the third extra budget by the end of September under a new prime minister, though whether this can materialize so quickly is unclear.


— Northeast Japan is known for fishing and farming. Damages in the fishing industry are estimated at 1.23 trillion yen. About 320 fishing ports, or 11 percent of all fishing ports in Japan, have been closed due to the March disaster and it would take at least another decade for full operations to resume at these ports.

— About 2.6 percent of the total farm area in Japan, or 23,600 Ha, has been washed away or submerged due to the disaster.


— The Japanese Red Cross Society has so far collected 259 billion yen in relief money. Out of this, about 48 percent has been distributed to disaster victims, while the remaining amount is stuck at overburdened local governments.

(Sources: The Cabinet Office’s Reconstruction Headquarters in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake, Environment Ministry, Fukushima Prefecture, Miyagi Prefecture, Statistics Bureau, Fisheries Agency, Farm Ministry, Japanese Red Cross Society, Cabinet Office, National Police Agency, Tohoku Trade department)

(Reporting by Yuko Takeo; Additional reporting by Yoko Kubota)


Zone Near Fukushima Daiichi May Be Off Limits for Decades

Zone Near Fukushima Daiichi May Be Off Limits for Decades –


TOKYO — Broad areas around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant could soon be declared uninhabitable, perhaps for decades, after a government survey found radioactive contamination that far exceeded safe levels, several major media outlets said Monday.

The formal announcement, expected from the government in coming days, would be the first official recognition that the March accident could force the long-term depopulation of communities near the plant, an eventuality that scientists and some officials have been warning about for months. Lawmakers said over the weekend — and major newspapers reported Monday — that Prime Minister Naoto Kan was planning to visit Fukushima Prefecture, where the plant is, as early as Saturday to break the news directly to residents. The affected communities are all within 12 miles of the plant, an area that was evacuated immediately after the accident.

The government is expected to tell many of these residents that they will not be permitted to return to their homes for an indefinite period. It will also begin drawing up plans for compensating them by, among other things, renting their now uninhabitable land. While it is unclear if the government would specify how long these living restrictions would remain in place, news reports indicated it could be decades. That has been the case for areas around the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine after its 1986 accident.

Since the Fukushima accident, evacuations have been a sensitive topic for the government, which has been criticized for being slow to admit the extent of the disaster and trying to limit the size of the areas affected, despite possible risks to public health. Until now, Tokyo had been saying it would lift the current evacuation orders for most areas around the plant early next year, when workers are expected to stabilize Fukushima Daiichi’s damaged nuclear reactors.

The government was apparently forced to alter its plans after the survey by the Ministry of Science and Education, released over the weekend, which showed even higher than expected radiation levels within the 12-mile evacuation zone around the plant. The most heavily contaminated spot was in the town of Okuma about two miles southwest of the plant, where someone living for a year would be exposed to 508.1 millisieverts of radiation — far above the level of 20 millesieverts per year that the government considers safe.

The survey found radiation above the safe level at three dozen spots up to 12 miles from the plant. That has called into question how many residents will actually be able to return to their homes even after the plant is stabilized.

Some 80,000 people were evacuated from communities around the plant, which was crippled by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and towering tsunami on March 11. Many of those residents now live in temporary housing or makeshift refugee shelters, and are allowed back to their homes only for brief, tightly supervised visits in which they must wear protective clothing.

Nuclear worries for Japan as quake rocks south coast

Short Sharp Science: Nuclear worries for Japan as quake rocks south coast.

Wendy Zukerman, Asia-Pacific reporter

An earthquake shook Japan’s south coast on Monday, close to Hamaoka, which has the dubious status of hosting the nation’s most perilous nuclear plant.

No damage was reported – the plant had been shut down while a tsunami-proof seawall was built – but Japan is by no means free of nuclear worries. In Fukushima, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) reported that radiation exceeding 10 sieverts (10,000 millisieverts) per hour was found at the bottom of a ventilation stack standing between two reactors.


The Japan Meteorological Agency recorded that a 6.1 magnitude earthquake jolted Shizuoka Prefecture and the surrounding areas. Hamaoka is 40 kilometres from the quake’s epicentre and is considered one of the world’s most dangerous because it straddles two major geological faults.

Shingo Tsumura, an engineer at Chubu Electric Power Company (CEPC), which runs Hamaoka, told New Scientist that it is unlikely that yesterday’s 6.1 magnitude quake would have caused any damage to the nuclear plant, had it been switched on.

According to Tsumura, the ground at the power plant accelerated only 40 to 50 Gal (centimetres per second). “It is very small,” he says. “The plant will automatically shut down at 120 Gal.”

Tests last month reported that the plant could withstand ground motion of 300 Gal, with a “low possibility of collapse or damage that would cause functional failure.”

But Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan has said there is a high chance of a magnitude-8 quake in the region within 30 years – and in any case less powerful quakes have been known to affect the Hamoaka plant.

In August 2009, a magnitude-6.4 earthquake automatically shut down reactors 4 and 5 at the Hamaoka. According to the World Nuclear Association, of which CEPC is a member, some equipment was also damaged.

At Fukushima, a Tepco spokesman said that the potentially lethal doses of radiation were detected in areas that would not hamper recovery efforts. Tepco regulations state that workers at Fukushima not be exposed to more than 250 millisieverts of radiation a year.

Tepco said that the spots of high radiation could stem from debris left behind by emergency venting conducted after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Meanwhile Iwate Prefecture became the third to ban the shipment of beef cattle following the detection in cows of caesium above safety limits.

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