La Purezza dell’Aria

March 25, 2011

The motto of Chiaramonte Gulfi, a charming hilltop village in Southeast Sicily, is this:

La purezza dell’aria non è un lusso, pure air is not a luxury.

Sign in Chiaramonte Gulfi, SIcily, Copyright Jann Huizenga

Breathing air free from toxins is not a luxury, it’s a human right: we need to guard it vigilantly.

There are greedy corporations who care much more about company profits than clean air.

My Parisian friend, Jean-Pierre Chellet, explains below why we need to be especially concerned about MOX, the unusually toxic plutonium-rich soup seeping from Reactor 3 at Fukushima, and he poses questions that need to be answered by the nuclear powers-that-be. (And please note: while MOX is still illegal for use in nuclear reactors in the US, there is a push to legalize it.)

The Fukushima reactors are old General Electric MARK1 engines designed and made with a technology that is now over 40 years old. Reactor 3, currently out of control, was recently (in late 2010) reloaded with MOX—a fuel using plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons that is sold and distributed by the French nuclear conglomerate, AREVA. Because of MOX’s toxicity, it is currently prohibited in the USA.

Many questions can be raised about TEPCO’s operations in Japan: Who guaranties, regulates, and certifies the use of MOX? Who insures that MOX is compatible with GE’s aging MARK1 reactors? Who publishes and implements the new safety regulations that need to be in place due to MOX’s toxicity?

Is GE in charge of certifying and approving this process? Given that General Electric and AREVA are competitors, this question is crucial. Has AREVA insured that MOX is fully compatible with GE’s old reactors? Are there new technical studies and safety regulations about MOX that have been released and published either by Japan’s nuclear authorities or by IAEA (the International Atomic Energy Agency)?

These are urgent questions since as recently as March 16, 2011 André-Claude Lacoste (the President of the National Safety Authority in France) declared on TV to a French Government Fukushima enquiry committee that he had no knowledge about either the infrastructure of the Fukushima reactors, nor about the MARK1 reactor designs! He added that Japan was currently providing documentation for a better understanding and follow-up of the Fukushima situation. Lacoste’s statements were especially astounding given that he was sitting right next to Anne Lauvergeon, the President of AREVA, whose company provided MOX for Japan’s reactors.

Obviously, the French Safety Authority and the French company AREVA doesn’t feel responsible for its MOX shipments to TEPCO in Japan; they seem to have no idea how—or whether—MOX fits Reactor 3 at Fukushima. A melting or an exploding Reactor 3 would generate the planet’s first large plutonium disaster.

Just imagine what sort of politico-commercial imbroglio is behind all these practices. These different international “partners” are all, of course, competing for the highest profits!


For more about the laxness of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, click to this New York Times article. If the oversight of the nuclear industry is anything like the so-called oversight of Wall Street, God help us….


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8 comments to La Purezza dell’Aria

  • cemal

    We’re gonna have two nuclear power reactorsbuilt in Turkey in the upcoming months although we are aware of what happened to Japan.One is by the Blacksea , the other by the Mediterranean . During the protests of the young people in Sinop, on the Blacksea, three young men were drown in the sea last year…! Whatever you do, what makes the world go round is the greedy money.Thank you for the article Jann…!

  • Sam

    As your French friend indicates, this problem is not likely to be swept under the rug and forgotten. Pandora’s box has been opened.

  • It’s like sweeping dirt under a rug rather than cleaning it up…only there is an abyss below the rug rather than a floor, and it seems almost inevitable that the human race is about to fall into it. But yes, please let’s not give up hope, and pray that this will be a wake-up call (how many does it take until we can never wake up again from this potential nightmare?!) about the preservation of what really matters on this planet.

  • I greatly appreciate you including this enormous question/issue that the international media has typically dropped from front-page news to bring us yet more diversions from the crisis of our times, like another war and Elizabeth Taylor’s death. I am astonished at the lack of concern for the effects of nuclear radiation, and the choice to focus on Japan’s economics. Screw economics! They’re just made up games. We have one air and one water on this little blue planet. I suspect the prospect of meltdown is just too much for most people to consider that life, as we’ve known it, may not continue is the cushy way we’ve come to expect. I continue to hope that this crisis in Japan will be a wake-up call for all people to demand we put our brains and hearts into “alternative” energies and get busy cleaning up the environmental messes we’ve made in our world. We indeed “live in interesting times.”

    • Jann

      Yes, Aysha–it’s going to take a whole lot of little people to stand up and demand alternative energy & accountability. The sudden activism in the stagnant Middle East, the rapid fall of dictators, etc gives me some hope that people somewhere are “awake,” and that little people’s voices can make a difference.

  • Jann, this is a great awareness creating post! It’s sad that it’s not until a tragedy like the one of Japan’s magnitude takes place before our eyes are opened to possible dangers. Dangers posed to the environment and which could’ve been avoided in the first place. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jann

      We always think we can outwit Nature–magical thinking. The Fukushima plant was built to withstand up to an 8.5 earthquake, so Nature gave us a 9.0.

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