Lies, Damn Lies, and Safe Nuclear Power – by Stephen Lendman
In any form, nuclear power is inherently unsafe. For decades, nuclear expert Helen Caldicott warned it must be abandoned, saying:
“As a physician, I contend that nuclear technology threatens life on our planet with extinction. If present trends continue, the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink will soon be contaminated with enough radioactive pollutants to pose a potential health hazard far greater than any plague humanity has ever experienced.”
Anti-nuclear activist/expert Professor Karl Grossman agrees, calling “Atomic Energy: Unsafe in the Real World” in his June 29 article, saying:
“Nuclear power requires perfection and no acts of God” to avoid accidents that may become catastrophes. Humans and technology aren’t perfect. Natural and other type disasters happen. “(W)e can’t eliminate them. But we can – and must eliminate atomic energy” or it will eliminate us.
On March 18, Bloomberg said Japan’s Fukushima disaster “follows decades of falsified safety reports, fatal accidents and underestimated earthquake risks in Japan’s atomic power industry.”
The same is true in America and elsewhere – governments, regulators, and power companies suppressing vital truths, instead of shutting down inherently unsafe plants, making all of them ticking bombs.
Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island exploded. Others as bad or worse are assured, irradiating vast parts of the earth disastrously. On June 22, kinetictruth.com headlined, “US heading toward nuclear disaster,” saying:
“After a yearlong investigation, AP concluded that many of the nation’s facilities are still (operating) because the safety standards that they are held to have been repeatedly weakened as regulations (for the world’s most hazardous industry became) more and more lax.”
After reviewing tens of thousands of government and industry studies and documents since the 1970s, it concluded that the industry-run Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) falsified arguments, saying “safety margins could be eased without peril.” As a result, not only are Americans endangered, so is one-fifth of the nation’s electricity supply.
Many problems AP found could trigger a nuclear disaster, including broken seals and nozzles, rusted pipes, aging facilities past their useful life, and numerous examples of shoddy maintenance and management laxity. Nonetheless, NRC officials rubber stamp license extensions, including 66 facilities over 25 years old re-licensed for another two decades, instead of responsibly shutting them down.
Vermont Yankee is perhaps the most notorious. Licensed to begin operating in 1972, Vermont’s Senate voted 26 – 4 against re-licensing in February 2010, citing radioactive tritium leaks, falsified management statements, a 2007 cooling tower collapse, among other problems, proving the facility is a disaster waiting to happen.
Nonetheless, on March 21, 2011, the NRC extended its life for another 20 years until 2032. Moreover, Entergy, Vermont Yankee’s owner and America’s second largest nuclear generator after Exelon, sued to revoke a state law, giving it legislative authority to suspend operations when its current license expires next March.
The plant, in fact, has the same GE Mark 1 Boiling Water Reactor design as Fukushima’s Units 1 and 2. According to Citizens’s Action Network’s Bob Stannard:
“It’s unimaginable to think that the NRC would declare this plant safe when (it) houses 640 tons of spent fuel in an unprotected fuel pool with no containment vessel. In Japan, the plant that’s in the worst shape has only 80 tons.”
If Vermont Yankee blows, perhaps all Vermont and New England go with it, and given its deplorable state, it may if it’s 20 year extension isn’t stopped.
In Missouri, record floods threaten two nuclear plants – the Cooper Nuclear Station and Fort Calhoun Station, yet little about either is reported, especially on television where most people get news. In early June moreover, the FAA issued an indefinite “no-fly hazards” restriction over the facilities to conceal the worst of what’s happening.
Both plants issued low level “unusual event” alerts that may rise to catastrophic ones. On June 30, the Omaha World-Herald reported that both plants store spent fuel rods in open casks. As a result, if Missouri River flood levels rise enough, they’ll “overflow them and carry contaminated water downstream.”
Both plants “use outdoor, above-ground entombment (called dry cask storage) for its oldest fuel,” kept in welded shut steel canisters placed “inside concrete bunkers that rely on outside air flowing” to dissipate residual heat. Allegedly, bunkers and canisters can withstand flooding. They may soon get a chance to prove it.
On June 15, Rense.com contributor Tom Burnett headlined, “Ft. Calhoun Spent Fuel In Ground Pools, Flooded Already?” saying:
“Ft. Calhoun is the designated spent fuel storage facility for the entire state of Nebraska….and maybe for more than one state.” It’s stored in ground-level pools underwater but open on top. “When the Missouri River pours in there, it’s going to make Fukushima look like an x-ray. But that’s not all. There are a LOT of nuclear plants on both the Missouri and Mississippi and they can all go to hell fast” if flood waters or other natural disasters threaten them.
Ft. Calhoun’s spent and recently removed fuel are stored “OUTSIDE the reactor waiting to wash away or explode – which will destroy about 15,000 square miles of what used to be the corn belt,” besides the potential human toll.
In fact, “Calhoun may already be spewing radiation into the flooding Missouri.” However, an information blackout keeps the public uninformed, including about an NRC report effectively saying it’s unprepared “to protect the intake structure and auxiliary building against external flooding.”
Nonetheless, Omaha Public Power District CEO Gary Gates told AP:
“There is no possibility of a meltdown. The floodwaters are outside of Ft. Calhoun, not inside,” AP adding:
“Fort Calhoun is the subject of more public concern because the floodwaters have surrounded that plant and forced workers to use raised catwalks to access the facility.” Cooper Nuclear Station “is more elevated, so the floodwaters aren’t as close to the facility.” But the facility is by no means out of danger.
NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko also claims flooding endangers neither plant, words he may later eat if levels keep rising. In fact, Public Citizen’s Tyson Slocum believes conditions are dangerous, saying:
“We’re inches away from (Calhoun) nuclear plant being flooded. It’s already an island. And we still have a very real possibility of flood levels rising….There’s always the possibility of the situation escalating, especially when we don’t control all the variables. That’s what happened in Japan.”
“There’s no question that there’s significant concern about the threat that rising flood waters pose to flooding certain operations of the plant that could disable certain critical safety features, including cooling systems.”
Cooper may also be endangered, he added, saying:
“We wouldn’t be having this conversation if this were a wind farm or if this were a solar power installation. Nuclear power inherently poses enormous risks to our communities. We really have to start questioning whether (it) should be a viable part of our 21st century energy mix.”
Any sane person would call that a no-brainer.
In addition, conditions appear worse, not better, after a protective Calhoun facility water-filled berm collapsed on June 26 after being struck by some heavy equipment. As a result, “(m)ore than 2 feet (60 cm) of water rushed in around containment buildings and electrical transformers,” according to Reuters.
Most disturbing is that very likely the worst of what’s happening is suppressed. Moreover, it’s standard practice for all major industries to protect their bottom line priorities, aided by complicit regulators, government officials, and media bosses, dismissive of public safety concerns.
As a result, the official IAEA Chernobyl death count was 4,000 when, in fact, a New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) study concluded numbers approaching one million and counting. Moreover, little information explained how BP destroyed America’s Gulf and gravely harmed the health and livelihoods of millions of area residents.
In early June, the Nuclear Energy Institute, a US industry lobbying group, claimed:
“No health effects are expected among the Japanese people as a result of the events at Fukushima.” In fact, weeks after the March 11 disaster, two distinguished nuclear experts, Christopher Busby and Marion Fulk, publicly said northern Japan (one-third of the country) is uninhabitable and should be evacuated. By now perhaps most or all Japan is affected, as well as many other parts of the world, including American air, water, soil and food contaminated by hazardous radiation levels.
America’s Southwest On the Edge
In late June, the Las Conchas fire began in New Mexico’s Sante Fe National Forest, 12 miles southwest of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). It’s America’s largest nuclear weapons research center, storing huge amounts of nuclear waste, including a reported 30,000 55-gallon drums of plutonium, the most toxic substance known.
According to the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG), a LANL site called “Area G” houses a nuclear dump, 19 miles from Sante Fe Plaza. “It’s Growing. And It’s Ours Forever:”
— larger than the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, NM;
— permanent waste is kept “in shallow unlined pits and shafts covered with dirt;”
— enough’s there to “fill 1.4 million 55 gallon drums – plus (another 60,000 drums) of temporarily-stored waste;”
— weapons testing and production adds another 54,000 drums annually;
— “two other mesas (will also be used) for dump sites;”
— regulatory oversight is entirely absent; and
— most waste “is entirely unnecessary.”
In fact, weapons development, testing and production way exceeds Cold War levels, even after America’s 2010 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia. It was an agreement more in name than substance, given Washington’s determination to pursue nuclear superiority by replacing old weapons with new, improved, more destructive ones.
As a result, LASG said LANL weapons design and testing continue. “Production of plutonium bomb cores has begun. A second plutonium plant is planned. Many more tons of plutonium are needed for the bomb factories. Huge new facilities for weapons testing and or novel kinds of nuclear processing – which will produce even more waste – are planned.”
Everything is dangerous and secret. LASG worries most about:
— increasing US Southwest drought, creating conditions for raging fires; and
— natural or engineered “unexpected events,” causing “unthinkable” nuclear catastrophes, including one affecting LANL, surrounding areas, and potentially much of America’s Southwest because bad enough nuclear accidents are unforgiving.
Whether current Los Alamos fires qualify isn’t known. On June 28, AP said midday flames were “as close as 50 feet from the grounds.” LANL safety assurances aren’t reliable, nor is information about potential widespread contamination if containment doesn’t work.
In Los Alamos, Senator Tom Udall (D. NM) said, “We are throwing absolutely everything at this that we’ve got.” As a precautionary measure, the city’s entire 11,000 population was evacuated.
According to Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety executive director Joni Arends:
“The concern is that (drums of plutonium) will get so hot that they’ll burst. That would put this toxic material into the plume. It’s a concern for everybody.”
She also worries that fire may affect LANL nuclear-contaminated soil. With a staff of about 15,000, the facility is huge, including 2,000 buildings, covering over 36 square miles on nearly four dozen sites.
It’s been around since WW II as part of the Manhattan Project. Thereafter, it evolved into a major scientific and nuclear research facility, developing, testing and producing state-of-the art weapons, as well as multidisciplinary work in various fields, including national security, space, renewable energy, medicine, nanotechnology, and supercomputing.
About one-third of its technical staff are physicists, one-fourth engineers, one-sixth chemists and materials scientists, and the others involved in mathematics, computational science, biology, geoscience, and other disciplines. Along with Alameda County, CA’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, it’s one of two Department of Energy facilities designing nuclear weapons and related activities.
Because of fire, lab facilities were shut for days. Moreover, 30 or more of its structures were destroyed, yet LANL claims its buildings were constructed to meet strict nuclear safety standards. In Japan, Tokyo Electric (TEPCO), regulators and government officials gave similar nuclear safety assurances, even after disaster struck, and still suppress vital information millions of Japanese citizens need to know. America’s NRC does it notoriously.
Why expect LANL to operate otherwise, especially given its sensitive work and large amounts of stored nuclear waste, including plutonium, perhaps vulnerable to ignite and spread over a wide area disastrously, despite officials calling the exposure risk small. Maybe they’re right, maybe not but won’t say. On June 30, Los Alamos County Fire Chief Douglas Tucker said the fire could double or triple in size before it’s checked, adding:
“We have fire all around the lab. It’s a road away.”
On June 29, the Sante Fe Reporter said nearly 93,000 acres were consumed. Its feature story headlined, “Flash Point: The West is burning. Is global ‘weirding’ to blame? saying:
Another 60,748 acres are ablaze, threatening LANL. It’s not one big fire. Since last July, nearly 1,000 ignited around the state, most in the past few months because of tinderbox dry conditions. They’re also across the West from Texas to California, as well as north to Colorado and Utah. In nearly a year, over 711,000 New Mexico aces were lost.
In a separate report, writer Chip Ward said Arizona and Texas are burning besides New Mexico and other states. However, residents close to Los Alamos live in fear, worried that smoke plumes might contain deadly radiation, especially plutonium if it ignites. Unless prevented, “the West is ours to lose,” and perhaps a whole lot more.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.