OUR ENERGY LANDSCAPE:

 

The Major Problems with:

NUCLEAR POWER

 

keith harmon snow

 

 

June, 2002

 

 

 

Nuclear power is an “inappropriate” technology that has mushroomed over the past half century without regard for what it is creating. It has expanded without regard for the thousands of tons of radioactive poison it is producing, without admitting that there is no safe place to put that poison, without adequate respect for the dangers inherent in the splitting of atoms.

 

“Today's reactor industry is a runaway train, flying down a steep incline with no brakes, setting speed records along the way, but headed for a predictable end.” [1] Nuclear power is dirty, expensive, and unreliable. Indeed, radiation is invisible, it is lethal and it continues to accumulate in our air, soil and water. Radiation is also biocumulative – it collects in the tissues and cells of all life.

 

The citizen’s of Massachusetts are surrounded by eight dangerously unsafe nuclear reactors and the on-site spent nuclear fuel (SNF) stored in dangerously over-packed SNF pools at each site. There are Connecticut Yankee; Vermont Yankee; Boston’s Pilgrim: Maine Yankee; Seabrook; and Connecticut’s Millstones I, II and III.[2] Reactor aging, insufficient oversight, and the market and managerial pressures of profits compound the threat of large-scale nuclear incidents. Epidemics of disease accompany these reactor operations, and these epidemics remain underreported, understudied, unknown and misunderstood. Indeed, in many cases the health effects of incidental or sustained exposure to radiation do not appear for decades.  

 

While the public is forever deluged with industry assurances of health and safety, the industry documents and medical record reveal quite the opposite. And while we are forever massaged with industry assurances of doom, should nuclear power be reduced or eliminated, it is clear that nuclear power – as with other inappropriate and polluting technologies – can be eliminated and replaced with truly “green” alternatives. This without the imminent catastrophe (of energy shortfalls) advertised and trumpeted by powerful corporate interests.

 

The true catastrophe of nuclear power lives on in the continued acceptance of nuclear industry operations, decommissioning practices, waste accumulation and dumping, and – in its newly packaged but respectively lethal form -- with the next-generation nuclear power currently being promoted.

 

The potential for a monumental nuclear “incident” is very real, so real in fact that the U.S. Congress in 1990 created a special commission – the Presidential Commission on Catastrophic Nuclear Accidents – to “conduct a comprehensive study of the appropriate means of fully compensating victims of a catastrophic nuclear accident…” Instead of focusing on safety and health through prevention, the massive two volume report concludes: “The Commission believes its system would promptly, fairly and equitably compensate those injured by a major nuclear accident.”[3] Indeed, such calculated “it’s-O.K.-if-it-happens” rationale precludes the euphemistic terminology “accident.”  

 

In its “atoms for peace” propaganda front for the nuclear weapons complex, it is an industry of secrecy, deception, classified documents, and studious denial.[4] Indeed, the U.S. Department of Energy in 1995 published voluminous reports and papers, recently declassified, on both secret and consensual (but ill-informed) use of human subjects in radiation experiments, some studies into the 1980’s, with follow-ups at least into the 1990’s. Experimentation included, for example, studying the irradiation of testicles of state prisoners in Oregon and Washington.[5]

 

Public Health and Sickness

 

A curie of radiation is a large measure of poison. Fifteen curies were released at Three Mile Island (and people nearby continue to suffer severe health problems with little public acknowledgement). Fifty years of nuclear power operations have dumped millions and millions of curies into our air, water and soils. Fifty years of daily reactor power operations have also brought epidemics of disease to communities both adjacent and distant from New England’s ten reactors.[6]

 

The routine, daily operations of nuclear power plants rely on airborne and waterborne releases of lethal radioactive and non-radioactive isotopes into air, soil and water. These are not the countless leaks, accidents and spills, where millions of curies of radiation have been flushed into rivers and oceans, and buried in soil. These are standard, routine operations and they are, again, releasing lethal radioactivity into the environment daily.

 

Radioactive byproducts defined as “safe” or “low-level” by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are nothing of the kind: often the designation is meant to enable wastes to be shipped to “low-level” waste dumps for economic benefits (read: for the corporation, not for the citizenry). Thus we have wastes meeting the “high-level” criteria that are as quickly buried in low-level dumps, flushed into the river or released through airborne “stack” emissions. Such NRC designations and terms serve only to secure the financial and operational deceptions of the industry, in its expedience to generate profits.     

 

Tritium, formerly believed to be relatively benign, is a by-product of nuclear power that may be reconstituting in aquatic and terrestrial food chains.[7] Cesium 137 concentrates in animal tissues and fish: ingested by humans it irradiates muscle cells and nearby organs. Iodine 131 migrates in blood to the thyroid gland: it may cause cancer 12 to 20 years later. Strontium 90 affects bone tissues, causing leukemia and certain malignant bone tumors. (A “chunk” of strontium 90 was discovered in the Connecticut River, just downstream from the Vermont Yankee nuclear facility.) Xenon and krypton are dismissed as noble gasses – and vented through the stacks – yet xenon 133 decays to cesium 137 with a half-life of 3 million years; little is known about krypton.[8]

 

While workers in the industry suffer some of the highest rates of disease, they often suffer in silence, as labor standards and legal protections do not exist. Over 110 cases of serious worker contamination occurred at the Yankee Atomic Electric Company in Rowe (MA) reactor during decommissioning in April and May of 1994. Workers were experimentally dismantling reactor innards estimated at 1,000,000 curies. This 1,000,000 curie component was rapidly, and illegally (absent a Federally mandated decommissioning plan) shipped out and buried in Barnwell , S.C.  

 

Beyond the cancers, leukemias, genetic and birth defects, and immunodeficiencies suffered by workers during sustained exposure, are the gross “whistleblower” retaliations by the industry against anyone who publicly voices concerns about health, safety or labor.[9]

 

The U.S. agency tasked with insuring public health and safety, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has served to shield corporations from liability, and to institutionalize the health threats of radiation. The NRC is unacceptably compromised by the revolving doors between academia (M.I.T.), corporations and government agencies that provide the career track “talent” for the nuclear industry and its spin-offs. These people and their organizations serve the profit principle; health, safety and public welfare are flagrantly subordinated to the bottom line.

 

Financial Boondoggle

 

Annual U.S. government subsidies – that’s taxpayer’s hard earned money – to the nuclear power industry exceed 7 billion dollars.[10] Some organizations and individuals believe that public tax subsidies to the nuclear industry may be on the order of 25 billion dollars annually. These numbers exclude subsidies for any kind of waste remediation and decommissioning, and decommissioning is proving to be one of the most expensive stages of the nuclear experiment.

 

Nuclear waste “clean-up” is an expensive misnomer: radiation and nuclear waste is never “cleaned-up.” Unprepared for the high costs of nuclear waste “disposal,” the public utilities and nuclear corporations have perpetrated massive fraud and deception on the public, and the commons. Radioactive wastes are shuffled around, sifted here and there, diluted in water and air, redistributed on transportation routes, and then dumped in holes that can‘t, won’t and don’t contain them. Finally, the industry pulls a few numbers out of its rabbit hat, and the term “background” radiation is used to suggest that the landscape was always this hot to begin with. It was not. “Background” radiation assessments have been perpetually revised upwards in the vicinity of nuclear power plants.

 

Reactor’s unsafe to begin with have proliferated in the interests of maximizing corporate profits. Burgeoning costs associated with this archaic technology are helping to insure that basic energy needs are out of reach for more and more citizens. Maintenance and operating costs, and the financial boondoggle of accumulating radioactive waste – too much, too fast, too hot to handle, insidious and deadly, lasting forever – have proven unprofitable, over and over.

 

The nuclear power industry has only managed to survive due to [1] the massive, permanent, but hidden public (taxpayer) subsidies funneled through the government and [2] the public relations deception whereby the civilian “peaceful” reactor programs have served to veil the associated, massive, military-industrial and government investment in nuclear weapons research and production.

 

Billions of dollars have gone into nuclear propaganda. In the wake of the California deregulation scandals, the energy utilities spent over $40 million to defeat a 1998 statewide green-sponsored referendum that would have repealed deregulation laws that led to the collapse. The power companies, with complete media support, continued to blame the public and the environmental movement for the mess.[11]

 

One of the most blatant nuclear propaganda platforms in the recent past was the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS) pro-nuclear television special “Nuclear Reactions,” a one-hour Frontline sales pitch for the nuclear industry on April 22, 1997. The New York Times praised the PBS clip, demanding that critics “make their case with scientific evidence,” instead of “the toxic imagery that has contaminated trhe debate.” The Frontline special was a recycled version of a prominent pro-nuclear NBC broadcast of 1987, which appeared soon after NBC was bought by nuclear giant General Electric.[12]

 

The secretive Washington D.C. firms Hill & Knowlton and Burson Marstellar both commandeered millions of dollars to greenwash the nuclear power industry during the Three Mile Island disaster.[13] (One of the Directors of Burson Marstellar, Edward N. Neys, is a close business partner of the George Bush families.[14] Burson Marstellar, in the business of “perception management,” also brought us the Rio Earth Summit and the Exxon Valdez oil spill.) In the classic right wing fashion, industry experts will attribute the media, radically skewed toward public relations and propaganda, not in the interests of public health and safety, as a major impediment to “proper” understanding of the “benefits” of nuclear power. [15]

 

Nuclear industry experts exhibit technological arrogance in the extreme.[16] They ever state that the public is incapable of understanding the science, that nuclear power is safe, clean and economic. Indeed, radiation is a fact of life: “the fear of radiation produces the most irrational response in people who otherwise are calm and intelligent.”[17]   

 

Nuclear Wastes

 

It is my position that the production of nuclear waste should be immediately stopped. Nuclear power reactors should cease operations immediately, their licenses revoked by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

 

All medical practices and research should be reviewed and ranked according to human medical need, and the inappropriate and unnecessary activities halted. (For those nuclear advocates inclined to argue that “low-level” nuclear wastes are an unfortunate consequence of life-saving medical research, testing and care, we need only note that less than 2% of all so-called “low-level” nuclear wastes come from research and medical practices.)

 

Like the cancer establishment itself, nuclear research at institutions like M.I.T. and the University of Massachusetts has typically served to shroud the important and conclusive evidence in layers of inconclusive science. Meanwhile, industry funding continues to support this research, and the production of nuclear wastes proceeds unabated. Indeed, it continues to rise.

 

Note that between 1990 and 1992, some 22 new nuclear power reactors came on line globally. There are over 410 plants worldwide and more than 105 in the United States.   

   

Nuclear wastes – reactors, components, spent fuels, sludge -- are contaminated with radioisotopes like nickel 59, niobium 94 and iodine 129, with half-lives of 750,000, 20,300 and 15,700,000 years.

 

Recall that the half-life is the period of time in which ½ of the volume of the substance decays. The radiation, however, bounces around, being perpetually reflected and absorbed. Half-life is a convenient measurement: people tend to forget that the other half remains.

 

The “high-level” wastes in the reactor spent nuclear fuel (SNF) pools constitute veritable nuclear bombs – and this without considering the threat of domestic nuclear terrorism should access to these pits be gained. The SNF at Yankee Atomic measures some 127 tons of highly radioactive materials that will remain hot and lethal for millions of years. The 533 SNF rods sit 37 feet down in a spent fuel pool cooled and vented to the Deerfield River.

 

Yankee Atomic dumps responsibility for half a decade of SNF on the U.S. government under the Radioactive Waste Policy Act of 1980. Their position: “get it out of here, take it away, we don’t care where,” because that is what the Us Government promised under the 1980 Act. Indeed, the Federal push to dump nuclear waste in the Yucca Mountain Spent Nuclear Fuel facility, under construction paid by billions of taxpayer’s dollars, will literally inject this waste and its voluminous radioactivity into the ground. More than 1.7 billion dollars has been spent to study the problem at Yucca Mountain.

 

However, the solution for the SNF pools problem can be rationally tackled on a case-by-case, site-by-site basis. The experience exists, and it resides in public citizen groups monitoring and challenging deceitful nuclear industry practices based, once again, solely on corporate profitability and the omnipotent threat of economic hardship, corporate bankruptcy, or lost jobs.    

 

Decommissioning

 

Energy “too cheap to meter” has turned out to be too expensive to operate or dismantle. Like the huge investment and experimental operations costs, these end-life costs are being transferred onto ratepayers. Decommissioning occurs as older or damaged plants are taken out of standard operation. This process offers yet another example of the prohibitive cost of nuclear energy. Although decommissioning funds were designated for reactors decades ago, to ensure the availability of funds for decommissioning when the time came, these funds have proven insufficient in the big business of radioactive remediation. (It is not clear, in some cases, whether these funds may have been misappropriated.) Often the same company is hired to “clean-up” a mess that made it.[18]

 

Nuclear companies like Yankee Atomic Electric Company (YAEC) of Rowe, MA, have adequate funds for local and statewide public relations newspaper campaigns arguing their self-serving positions, and their directors receive salaries n the millions of dollars annually, yet YAEC still receives massive public subsidies to “rescue” them from the huge costs of decommissioning.

 

Deregulation in Massachusetts constituted a nuclear bailout. It was illegal, and it was secretive. The Conservation Law Foundation, working behind closed doors, was one of the few parties to help orchestrate the deregulation agreements with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. Indeed, to call it the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities is a misnomer, as it revolves around the interests of multinational corporations. Some of the major corporations involved in the powerful utility lobby also provide substantial funding to the Conservation Law Foundation. 

 

The accounting practices of nuclear corporations and their subsidiaries are structured, and approved, to inequitably – and unnecessarily -- sap the public and reward elite directors. The ruse of corporate accounting and banking was recently exposed through the “collapse” of Enron Corporation and the malfeasant accounting of their auditors, the Arthur Andersen Company. The Enron scandal is not the exception to the rule. It is the norm.  

 

Numerous studies – many from the industry itself -- have shown that decommissioning costs, and workers’ health and public safety risks are significantly reduced by putting the retired or closed reactor in a holding state for 20 to 50 years.[19] However, to optimize corporate profits and further private careers only the most expensive and dangerous decommissioning plans have been pursued, and they have been instituted immediately, with little or no oversight, with no public say in the matter, and with dangerous and experimental methods.

 

Yankee Atomic Electric Company (YAEC) and Portland General Electric (PGE) have led the rush into experimental decommissioning, and both have proceeded, with complete NRC sanction, in the absence of a formal decommissioning plan that would insure public and worker health and safety.

 

When reactor hardware irradiated by decades of nuclear power operations is “decommissioned” it is merely dismantled, by any means necessary, and shipped on interstate byways, leaving trails of radiation. The residual wastes are flushed into the adjacent river or ocean or lake. The equipment used in the process is flushed with water and the radiation – as in routine, daily operations – is diluted and dumped in the aquatic system. The reactor hardware is stripped and shipped and dumped in radioactive waste dumps – euphemisms for impoverished communities with little or no say in the process. Barnwell, S.C., is a perfect example. The industry push to divide and exploit the Mescalero Apache people in New Mexico (buying off individuals claiming to speak for the tribe) through their Mescalero Fuel Storage Initiative, offers yet another example.

 

In the past, public officials at the highest level of state government have supported the corporate rush to dismantle and dispose of the Yankee Atomic nuclear plant in Rowe, MA.[20] Decommissioning at Yankee Rowe proceeded illegally, without a formally constituted decommissioning plan, as mandated by the Federal government, with both Yankee Atomic Electric Company and the NRC in violation.

 

In Citizen’s Awareness Network v. United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Judge Michael Ponser at the Springfield (MA) Federal District Court, who was unable to hear the case on a technicality, opined:

 

“The Court makes this decision with a heavy heart.  … This course of [NRC] conduct suggests a concerted bureaucratic effort to thwart efforts of local citizens to be heard about an event that vitally affects them and their children. It calls to mind the activities of Charles Dickens’ fiction Office of Circumlocution in Bleak House. The prospect that this tactic may be used nationally as more nuclear power plants shut down, and more local citizen’s groups express concern about the impact of the process on their lives, is, to put it mildly, disconcerting.”

 

In July 1995, the U.S. First Circuit Court in Boston, answerable only to the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled that the NRC had colluded with Yankee Atomic in denying requisite public hearings and allowing Yankee to proceed with removal of major reactors and subsystems without a decommissioning plan. Three justices opined:

 

“We agreed with the petitioners [Citizen’s Awareness Network] that the NRC’s new policy appears utterly irrational on its face… An agency cannot skirt NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] or other statutory commands by exempting a licensee from compulsory compliance, and then simply labeling its decision ‘mere oversight] rather than a major federal action. To do so is manifestly arbitrary and capricious…”   

 

Decommissioning options recommended by the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), with agreement from over 72 industry experts and numerous consulting firms, have been ignored.[21] It is my position that the options of the OTA decommissioning study (there has only been one decommissioning study of significance) be evaluated. These recommendations revolve around economic, social and health benefits.[22] It is important to work to immediately convene and empower a citizen’s advisory and oversight committee to help formulate appropriate policy and implementation.

 

By future standards, the standards of small-scale next-generation nuclear reactors coming soon to a community near you, the Yankee Atomic Power Plant sported a monstrous reactor at 167 megawatts. By current standards however, the standards of the nuclear power boom of the 1970’s, Yankee’s 167-megawatt (MWe) reactor was tiny. Still, Yankee Atomic Electric Company’s decommissioning costs in 1994 were assessed at some $368 million, and they may in the end easily exceed $500 million.[23]

 

How many billions of dollars have Massachusetts’ ratepayers paid for the construction, maintenance and operation of the big reactors in New England? What decommissioning costs have we already paid? What additional decommissioning costs will Massachusetts’ ratepayers be charged when these big reactors go offline?

 

If the electric power industry has its way, we will pay billions of additional dollars under the illegal and dangerous corporate rush to dismantle and bail out New England’s big reactors. There is Connecticut Yankee (590 MWe), Vermont Yankee (496 MWe), Boston’s Pilgrim (665 MWe), Maine Yankee (860 MWe), Seabrook (1150 MWe), Connecticut’s Haddam Neck (590 Mwe) and Millstones I, II and III (660, 875 and 1149 MWe).

 

What further environmental and health costs must we pay for this ongoing corporate fraud and ecological hostility? Yankee Atomic, again, was only a 167 megawatt reactor. The illegal activities of YAEC and PGE in their ongoing decommissioning experiments have paved the ground for the high economic, social and ecological costs of decommissioning the large New England reactors.

 

Next Generation Nuclear

 

On May 18, 2001, the White House reported that the number of reactors at already existing nuclear sites should be doubled. The special cabinet-level task force recommended that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission speed the approval process for licensing new nuclear reactors that use advance technologies. The report also said the agency should facilitate the industry's efforts to expand power generation by “uprating” existing nuclear plants safely -- a process that “uses new technologies and methods to increase the level that a plant could operate without decreasing safety.” [24]

Next-generation nuclear reactors have been under development for years, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies for research and development.[25] The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Program for Advanced Power Studies), Battelle Institute, the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (INEL), the Department of Energy (DOE) and the federally subsidized Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) are a few of the secretive institutions leading the charge into next generation nuclear.

 

From health, safety and waste perspectives, these reactors may offer “benefits” over their predecessors, in absolute terms, but that is nothing to be pleased about, because they do not in any way solve the problems of accumulating radioactive waste, daily and significant radioactive releases due to routine operations, and threats to public health and safety. They are not safe or economic, in any sense of the words, as the nuclear industry would have us believe. Indeed, said one U.S. nuclear power industry professional: “They are not perfectly safe; none of them are. All nuclear technologies produce some kind of waste.”[26] 

 

Much of the nuclear hype has been on a new technology called "Pebble Bed Reactors." The rhetoric is familiar: inherently safe, too cheap to meter, no environmental impact. But no such operating reactors exist today. There was one pebble bed prototype in Germany. It's now shut. Another may be built in South Africa, but that will take five years.[27]

 

Just one of the many psychotically hopeful designs is the Westinghouse Corporation AP600 nuclear power facility developed as part of the cooperative EPRI and U.S. DOE Advanced Light Water Reactor Program. Westinghouse, one of the prime movers behind the gutting of solar research, has developed the AP600 as “a simplified, safe and economic 600-megawatt plant to usher in a new generation of nuclear power generation.” The AP600 uses “an elegant combination of innovative safety systems that rely on dependable natural forces.” [28]

 

It should not unnoticed that these sophisticated new designs were far more complicated and challenging to realize, from a research and design standpoint, than most simple passive solar systems, which, no accident, these corporations have yet to produce. (Thus is it intended that we do not have assembly line production of solar systems, for low-cost, affordable, efficient and reliable home energy production.)

 

Testifying to the depth of support such projects secure throughout our society (thus forcing society to buy into the nuclear experiment at all levels) are the many industry and academic partners in the AP600 project alone. (This is how industry co-opts its way into popular support for socially repugnant projects.) Bechtel Corporation is one of the most secretive corporations in the world,[29] and they are but one of the eight principal U.S.-based subcontractors. University participants include Oregon State, Pennsylvania State, University of Tennessee, University of Western Ontario and University of Wisconsin.[30]   

 

“The AP600 was selected by the Advanced Reactor Corporation, representing 16 utilities, as the lead passive plant design in the revival of U.S. nuclear plant construction.” [31] The AP600 was scheduled for licensing before 1996.

 

In the mid-1990’s, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission instituted a rulemaking which proscribed the process under which the public can intervene or interfere with future nuclear reactor siting actions. It is believed by some nuclear watch experts that some sites for reactors have already been chosen.

 

The nuclear industry produces studies showing that problem “emissions of greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals to the atmosphere as a result of energy production” can be displaced by nuclear power: In 1992, for example, nuclear power “displaced” some 500 million tons of CO2.[32] There is the double standard. Nuclear power is not “clean,” and these are the same corporations that fund research that sets out to scientifically “prove” that global climate mayhem is not a problem. 

 

The Clinton-Gore Administration showed complete continuity in the technological and environmental hostility of their forbears, whether Republican or Democrat administrations. During the Clinton reign, federal legislation was passed to streamline the siting of new reactors, predominantly, but not exclusively, at existing nuclear reactor sites. The streamlining made it possible, for example, for Entergy, Exelon and Dominion¾the next-generation nuclear vanguard¾to apply for Early Siting Approvals. This will be addressed in a future report on next-generation nuclear power.

 

Uranium Mining

 

Uranium mining continues to devastate communities, indigenous peoples and landscapes in the North America as around the world.

 

The case of Niger offers a representative example of the ecological and social devastation that are the byproducts of nuclear fuel development through uranium mining.

 

The economic and political repercussions of uranium mining in the heart of the Sahara desert have been devastating to the “stateless” entity we have come to know (some of us) as Niger. Uranium displaced the agricultural sector in Niger by the 1970’s and today the mining operations of multinational corporations serve to further destabilize the country and the region.

 

While some proportion of uranium supplies in Niger have come to the United States via Esso and then Exxon, the entire energy and international (nuclear) security policy of France revolves around uranium from Niger. Additionally, over 40% of Japan’s huge uranium needs are supplied by Niger.[33]

 

Americans perceive a downturn in nuclear power development and siting activity, but the global market is expanding. Uranium operations in Niger, again, merely one example, but vast operations by all measures to begin with, have consequently increased substantially over the past four years. Meanwhile human rights violations, like torture, massacres and rape, have persisted with complete international sanction.

 

Further detrimental effects of uranium mining include the toxic environmental affects of radon dust proliferating on sandstorms; human health costs to poor, desperate and economically disenfranchised laborers employed in mines; and the chemical contamination due to mining byproducts like sulfuric acid and cyanide. Only the most cosmetic concerns for the environment exist in Niger, where corporations realize benefits of dictatorship like relaxed or non-existent tax regimes or environmental controls. War and famine in Niger, similarly, are directly related to the rise and protection of the uranium sector.

 

Reactor Safety: An Unmitigated Threat

 

Studies warning of imminent nuclear catastrophe are too numerous to document herein.[34] Given the limited public awareness of nuclear “events” – like Three Mile Island – there is a tendency to underestimate the extent of the threats to public health and safety. However, the warnings which began to accumulate as soon as operations began were neither premature nor alarmist, and the absence of any greater major catastrophic nuclear incident is not evidence of safety, and it does not provide reason for complacency or assurance. Indeed, it is a tribute to our nuclear engineers and technicians that a more geographically and environmentally devastating radioactive explosion or release has not to date occurred in the US.

 

Many analyses have been provided by former industry officials or employees whose direct experience opened their eyes to the inevitable disasters. The President’s Commission of Inquiry Into the Accident at Three Mile Island was a report whitewashed by industry executives and M.I.T. nuclear scientists. The true scale of the TMI disaster has been hidden from the public awareness.

 

Reactor “scrams” and significant reactor “events,” documented in the industry’s own records, offer evidence of the frequent and unpredictable state of nuclear operations.[35] The existence of nuclear reactor evacuation plans and evacuation routes are formal admissions of the dangers to the Massachusetts citizenry.    

 

 The very real and poignant incident at the Davis-Besse reactor discovered March 11, 2002, offers a convenient and timely example of the state of nuclear power reactor safety. 

 

In early March, 2002, it was accidentally discovered during a scheduled reactor refueling outage that the containment head on the reactor pressure vessel at the Davis-Besse nuclear power reactor in Ohio was severely corroded. Technical evidence reveals that the barrier separating the extremely lethal (radioactive, high temperature and pressure) environment inside the reactor pressure vessel from the external natural environment had corroded some 6” through carbon steel to leave a thin liner of protection measuring about 1/8 of an inch thick.

 

For at least a week the information that the Davis-Besse reactor had been operating in a critically dangerous state, without any knowledge of the problem, was withheld from the public. It was eventually reported, with the typical minimum attention, by certain news media. There was, naturally, never any risk to the public. (Such are the standard platitudes about nuclear poison.) 

 

See the report in the Toledo Blade newspaper at:

http://www.toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/artikkel?SearchID=73093173884234&Avis=TO&Dato=20020312&Kategori=NEWS17&Lopenr=103120042&Ref=AR

 

Informed of the new problem, the U.S. agency tasked with federal nuclear oversight and protection and safety of the public, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, issued a standard procedural notice asking that operators of the nation’s nuclear power reactors (there are over 100 reactors in the U.S.) inspect the relevant systems of comparable plant designs for similar problems “at the earliest possible opportunity.”

 

The action by the NRC follows fifty years of dismissal of serious technical problems duly sidelined by the NRC. While the NRC has consistently been criticized for inadequate and inappropriate oversight, little has changed.[36] NRC “safety” actions have often been defined as “Generic Safety” issues – a designation and a course that allows the industry to continue to operate and technologically adapt, by any means necessary, and no matter the ecological hostility, to maintain reactor schedules.

 

A breach of containment at the Davis-Besse under the operating parameters of a vessel head explosion might have led to a very serious nuclear incident. Such first level breaches of containment are common, and the radioactivity is subsequently flushed into the aquatic cooling system. The Davis-Besse incident illustrates the compromised state of aging reactor technology. The NRC and the nuclear industry have institutionalized pervasive and systemic aging degradation – like metal fatigue, structural steels embrittlement, corrosive water chemistry, neutron bombardment.[37]

 

Confining our safety discussion herein to but a single reactor safety issue, albeit a major ongoing problem, the degradation, cracking and rupture of steam-generator tubes (SGTs) provides a significant example of the imminent threat to public health and safety: systemic aging mechanisms like steam-generator tube (SGT) cracking degrade performance and compromise safety in unknown and unpredictable ways.

 

Beyond the compromised safety exhibited by numerous other components and systems, the SGT case doubles as an example where major unplanned radioactive contamination of external systems, workers, and the environment (in contradistinction to daily operations releases). Note that SGT degradation is an institutionalized problem: constant leaking in the primary coolant loop leads to constant contamination of secondary coolant, external systems, and terrestrial (soils, plants) and aquatic (river, ocean, fish) systems.    

 

Reports on SGT cracking appeared as early as 1960. A 1979 NRC document details problems with failing SGTs that plagued at least 33 U.S. reactors.[38] At least 13 utilities have sued Westinghouse Electric and Combustion Engineering, alleging SGT fraud. Suits are settled out of court, with documents sealed against public scrutiny.[39] In 1990 over 500 cracked SGTs were discovered at Maine Yankee, prompting the NRC to issue a mild request that reactors suffering SGT failures be inspected at the next refueling outages. Most utilities balked, explaining away the problem to complacent regulators.

 

Operators of plants where the flawed SGTs were used were asked by the NRC “to tell us why they believe their plants are safe to operate.” Both 1996 and 1997 saw the release of major NRC reports on steam generator tube cracking and failures. Like most “generic safety issues,” the SGT problem was never solved.[40] 

 

There are countless other critical technological, design, aging, operations and management problems.[41] The US General Accounting Office documented at length the problems of counterfeit and substandard parts used widely within the nuclear industry in some of the most sensitive – hence dangerous and unpredictable -- areas, and in many unknown and unidentified places.[42] 

 

Reactor operations have been streamlined at the expense of safety. Reactors are run longer and harder, with fewer inspections, at beyond-design-rating output powers. Reliability and quality assurance testing of back-up safety systems have been relaxed, postponed or eliminated completely. (These are the mainstays of the “defense in depth” security arguments ever touted by industry and NRC.) The intensity of irradiation prohibits or severely restricts access and in-service testing of systems and components. Economic imperatives are dictating patchwork repairs in lieu of expensive parts replacements.

 

Further compromising the public health, safety and security of North Americans are the industry and utility thrusts to operate reactors beyond the design lifetime of the plant, and to gain NRC approval for license renewal. These thrusts are solely based on economics (and this is admitted by industry itself).[43] Plans by industry call for re-licensing and license extensions to run reactors years, usually decades, beyond their expected design lifetime. This is already happening.

 

These aging, decrepit, poorly designed reactors are being further driven into the ground under the hostile economic climate of energy deregulation. Corporations are released from financial and legal indemnity by the repeated U.S. congressional reauthorization of the Price Andersen Act, which makes the Federal government liable for reactor operations and/or radiation releases and/or “accidents.” The corporations have nothing but the bottom line to worry about. That bottom line, again, means that public subsidies accrue to these corporations and their elite directors at all stages of the nuclear fuel cycle.

 

The same companies stand to gain significant financial benefit from operations as from nuclear remediation – in the event of catastrophe – and that conflict of interest is never discussed or addressed in the public realm. The spectre of fly-by-night “energy” companies -- like Entergy Corporation -- buying up dilapidated nuclear power plants across the United States is alarming. It is not beyond the realm of possibility to expect that such corporations intend to seek public bailouts, by allowing or facilitating radioactive “accidents,” for example,” to enable directors to defraud both the public and the company shareholders. 

 

The nuclear power industry has never been safe. It is, today, teetering on the brink of national disaster. This should be a national security issue. The consequences of a large nuclear explosion or radiation release in the United States might very well lead to significant and unprecedented national insecurity, civil strife, and human suffering. This is greatly underestimated. The Chernobyl meltdown in the Ukraine in 1986 accelerated the demise and disintegration of the former Soviet Union. 

 

It is my position that operating licenses for U.S. nuclear power plants should be revoked. All nuclear power reactors in the United States should be powered down immediately. Determination should be made on a case-by-case basis, through a consortium of citizen, government and industry experts, as to the proper direction to take for decommissioning and spent fuel pool remediation.

 

Assessments must be made as to when and how decommissioning will proceed, which reactor sites can be safely entombed and safely guarded, and which sites must be relocated to mitigate the environmental threats they face (like flash flooding of river sites or sea level rising above ocean sites). This process must not rely on corporate expedience, but on public health and safety, economic welfare, and regional and local security.

 

Last, the transportation of nuclear poison by any means should be halted until such time as a regional nuclear waste plan is delineated. All potential shipments should then be reviewed and classified on a case-by-case basis according to the imperatives of public and environmental health and safety.

 

With the government and its corporations failing to take responsibility to ensure public health and safety, and the media covering this up, we the public are left dealing with poisons lethal for tens, hundreds, thousands and sometimes millions of years to come. In making the changes that we need to have made, yesterday may not be soon enough. ~

 



[1] Harvey Wasserman, “A Return to Nuclear Madness: The Psychotic Attempt to Bring Back Atomic Energy,” Columbus Alive, 2001.

[2] Maine Yankee and one of the Millstone reactors may be permanently shut down. Concerned citizens in 1991 closed the Yankee Atomic Electric Company reactor in Rowe (MA); SNF and other radioactive risks remain.

[3] Report to the Congress from the Presidential Commission on Catastrophic Nuclear Accidents, PB92-134733, US Department of Commerce, August 1990.

[4] On outright industry lying, confirmed by an energy industry researcher, see Proceedings of the Second MIT International Conference on the Next Generation of Nuclear Power Technology, MIT-ANP-CP-002, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1993: page 4-45 and 4-46. See lengthy treatises in: Daniel Ford, Cult of The Atom: The Secret Papers of the Atomic Energy Commission, Simon and Schuster, 1982.

[5] Human Radiation Experiments: The Department of Energy Roadmap to the Story and the Records, DOE/EH-0445, U.S. Department of Energy, February 1995; Human Radiation Experiments Associated with the U.S. Department of Energy and Its Predecessors, DOE/EH-0491, U.S. Department of Energy, July 1995.

[6] See, e.g.: Morris and Knorr, “The Southeastern Massachusetts Health Study, 1978-1986,” Report of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, October 1990; Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Cancer Incidence and Down’s Syndrome Prevalence in the Deerfield River Valley, Massachusetts, February 1997; Nuclear Power, Human Health and the Environment: The Breast Cancer Warning in the Great Lakes Basin, Greenpeace, 1995; “Radiation Pioneer Sees Risk in Even Small Doses,” New York Times, B-14, December 8, 1992; MacIntosh, Lung, Tsai, Spengler, A Preliminary Assessment of Potential Human Health Exposures to Routine Tritium Emissions from the Yankee Atomic Electric Company Nuclear Power Facility Located Near Rowe, MA, Harvard University School of Public Health, June 10, 1993. See also: Annotated Bibliography of Low-Level Radiation Studies and Tritium Research, Citizen’s Awareness Network, circa 1995.

[7] The Carcinogenic, Mutagenic, Teratogenic and Transmutational Effects of Tritium, Citizens Awareness Network, April 1994. 

[8] Documentation of the lethal health effects of radioactivity from nuclear power operations is plentiful. See, for example, the books by Dr. Helen Caldicott.

[9] See Whistleblower Issues in the Nuclear Industry, Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Regulation (S. Hrg. 103-521), U.S. Government Printing Office, 1994.

[10] Mark Zepezauer & Arthur Naiman, Take The Rich Off Welfare, pg. 85.

[11] Harvey Wasserman, “A Return to Nuclear Madness: The Psychotic Attempt to Bring Back Atomic Energy,” Columbus Alive, 2001.

[12] On the Frontline special “Nuclear Reactions,” see: Greg Mitchell, “PBS falls For Hoax,” War & Peace Digest, Vol. 5, No. 3, July/August 1997; also see John Carmody, Washington Post, April 21, 1997.

[13] Sharon Beder, Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism, Green Books Ltd., 1997.

[14] Edward N. Neys and George Bush Sr. serve as directors or advisers for Barrick Gold Corporation. See: Annual Report, 1997, Barrick Gold Corporation. For a partial assessment of clandestine Barrick operations see also: Madsen, Genocide and Covert Operations in Africa, 1993-1999, Mellen Books, 1999.

[15] See: Roger Kasperson, Can Nuclear Power Gain Public Acceptance,” Proceedings of the Second MIT International Conference on the Next Generation of Nuclear Power Technology, MIT-ANP-CP-002, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1993: page 3-5.

[16] See David Ehrenfeld, The Arrogance of Humanism, Oxford University Press, 1978.

[17] See Eric Hall, Radiation and Life, Pergamon Press, 1975.

[18] General Electric and Westinghouse are two of the key corporate players involved in nuclear remediation: Often they are hired and paid millions to clean up their own messes, under Superfund and other remediation programs. 

[19] Aging Nuclear Power Plants: Managing Plant Life and Decommissioning, U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, 1993.

[20] Jane Swift and Shaun Kelly, 1996.

[21] Office of Technology Assessment, Aging Nuclear Power Plants: Managing Plant Life and Decommissioning, 1993.

[22] Op cit.

[23] See: Annual Report, 1994, Yankee Atomic Electric Company.

[24] Tom Doggett, “White House says nuclear reactors in US could double,” Reuters News Service, May 18, 2001.

[25] See Proceedings of the Second MIT International Conference on the Next Generation of Nuclear Power Technology, MIT-ANP-CP-002, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1993. 

[26] Proceedings of the Second MIT International Conference on the Next Generation of Nuclear Power Technology, MIT-ANP-CP-002, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1993: page 4-40.

[27] Harvey Wasserman, “A Return to Nuclear Madness: The Psychotic Attempt to Bring Back Atomic Energy,” Columbus Alive, 2001.

[28] Westinghouse AP600 Executive Summary, Westinghouse Electric Corporation, (circa 1997, but undated).

[29] See Laton McCartney, Friends in High Places: The Most Secret Corporation and How It Engineered the World, Simon and Schuster 1988.

[30] Op cit.

[31] Op cit.

[32] Proceedings of the Second MIT International Conference on the Next Generation of Nuclear Power Technology, MIT-ANP-CP-002, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1993.

[33] Mining Journal, London, Vol. 321 No. 8234, July 1993; Africa Confidential, Vol. 19, No. 3, February 3, 1978; Klass et al, International Minerals, Cartels and Embargoes, Charles River Associates, Praeger, 1980.

[34] See e.g., Safety Second: The NRC and America’s Nuclear Power Plants, Union of Concerned Scientists, 1987; Richard Webb, The Accident Hazards of Nuclear Power Plants, University of Massachusetts Press, 1976.

[35] See, e.g.: Riccio and Brooks, Nuclear Lemons: An Assessment of America’s Worst Commercial Nuclear Power Plants, Fifth Edition, Public Citizen, 1996; Safety Second, Uniopn of Concerned Scientists, 1987; Robert Pollard, US Nuclear Plants Showing Their Age (report), Union of Concerned Scientists, 1995.

[36] See: Nuclear Regulation: Preventing Problem Plants Requires More Effective NRC Action, GAO/RCED-97-145, Report to Congressional Requesters, US General Accounting Office, May 1997.

[37] See: Shah et al, Assessment of Pressurized Water reactor Primary System Leaks, NUREG/CR-6582, Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, 1997; Robert Pollard, US Nuclear Plants Showing Their Age, Union of Concerned Scientists, 1995;

[38] Eisenhut et al, Summary of Operating Experience with Recirculating Steam Generators, NUREG-0523, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 1979.

[39] Jim Riccio, Westinghouse: Leaks and Lawsuits, Public Citizen, June 1994.

[40] Status Report: Intergranular Stress Corrosion Cracking of BWR Core Shrouds and Other Internal Components, NUREG-1544, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 1996; Steam Generator Tube Failures, NUREG/CR-6365, Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, April 1996; Circumferential Cracking of Steam Generator Tubes, NUREG-1604, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, April, 1997.

[41] See, e.g., The Effects of Age on Nuclear Power Plant Containment Cooling Systems, NUREG/CR-5939, Brookhaven National Laboratory, April 1994; Reactor Pressure Vessel Status Report, NUREG-1511, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, September 1994; Aging Assessment of Westinghouse PWR and General Electric BWR Containment Isolation Functions, NUREG/CR-6339, Brookhaven National Laboratory, March 1996; The Effects of Aging on BWR Core Shroud Isolation Cooling Systems, NUREG/CR-6087, Brookhaven National Laboratory, October 1994.

[42] Nuclear Safety and Health: Counterfeit and Substandard Products Are a Governmentwide Concern, Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Committee on energy and Commerce, House of Representatives, US General Accounting Office, October 1990.

[43] See: J.P. Higgins (GE Nuclear Energy), “New Directions in Nuclear Power Plant life Extension,” Power Generation technology, 1995, The International Review of Primary Power Production, page 111.