Saturday, January 26, 2008

We are all just hostages on a hostile planet...

January 26th, 2008

Dear Readers,

There are currently over 400 operating nuclear power reactors around the globe, employing approximately one million people, and holding all seven billion people on the planet hostage.

Nuclear power is a very expensive way to provide electrons in wires. There are constant dangers from proliferation, terrorism, waste mismanagement, and accidents. There are NUMEROUS clean alternative energy solutions, but the cost of conversion is considered too high because we give nuclear power a free ride on most of its costs to society. Unfair competition is not capitalism, and nuclear power could never have started, let alone continued, under equitable economic conditions. It is the most subsidized industry in history. Also the most secretive, the most poorly regulated (it's mostly self-regulated, which is to say, utterly UNregulated), the dirtiest (even compared to coal), and the most environmentally invasive, too -- it's radioactive byproducts get into EVERYTHING.

Nuke power plants are vulnerable to human error, and catastrophic natural events such as earthquakes, tornados, or even meteors from space. Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? Absolutely not. Statistical calculations of the probability of a catastrophic accident at a nuclear power plant caused by it being hit by a meteor are complex and unreliable. No matter what number someone comes up with, a group of bright scientists will undoubtedly be able to argue that the estimate is off by several orders of magnitude one way or the other!

But NO MISTAKES are ever made when calculating the chance of a catastrophic accident caused by a meteor knocking over a bunch of windmills. The chance is zero. Such an accident would be tragic for those under the meteor's fireball, but it would not effect one millionth as many people as if a meteor hit a nuclear power plant, or if the power plant's radiation was released for any other reason. Since there are safe alternatives which are cheaper and more reliable, I believe that even the small (some might call it "remote") chance of a meteor strike on a nuclear power facility or its waste is enough reason to reject nuclear power for humanity. Look at the moon. Those craters you see are meteor strikes. Our planet's dirt and wind and rain covers the evidence of these strikes, but the Earth is regularly hit by meteors, too.

And there are at least 1000 other reasons to reject nuclear power, all of them at least as good as the argument that meteors can and DO strike earth with some regularity, and no containment dome can seriously be thought to protect the power plant from such strikes (noting that the domes are not very thick on the top, anyway -- only the BASE of the walls is 8 feet to 12 feet thick, and also noting that most of the radioactive waste is stored outside the containment domes).

Assuming you've managed to operate your reactor successfully for 20 to 60 years (a big if), then there is STILL the problem of what to do with the radioactive waste. You have to keep it away from humans for about 20 times the half-lives of the elements. Before settling on Yucca Mountain, a government-appointed scientific team looked at, and then eliminated, every other possible solution, including deep-sea burial, sending the waste into outer space, and even just grinding it up and releasing the fission products into the environment (like what they do in France and England). After rejecting every other possible solution ANYONE could come up with, they were forced to ASSUME that Yucca Mountain was going to be the actual solution, even if it wasn't a very good one, which it isn't for many reasons, including the following:

* Yucca Mountain is located in an earthquake-prone area. It's one thing to risk your own life by living in an earthquake region, or a tornado region, or a tsunami region, but to risk the health and safety of the whole planet by storing all your waste in such a place is another matter entirely.

* Water runs through the Yucca Mountain site more quickly and in greater volume than originally expected. Water degrades the metals, or can cause a steam explosion -- releasing a planet-killing quantity of radioactive waste into the atmosphere, perhaps thousands of years from now, perhaps sooner, and perhaps not at all (if we're lucky; but do we want an energy plan which REQUIRES us to be lucky?).

* The metals that were expected to be used to hold the waste have been corroding and degrading much more rapidly than anticipated -- this happens over and over in the nuclear industry, probably in part because the industry refuses to properly account for the destructive effects of the radiation itself! Sound's silly, but historically, they keep not realizing the extent to which radiation accelerates embrittlement. (Google "Davis Besse 2002" for a nearly-catastrophic example of the industry ignoring the warning signs of severe corrosion problems, also known as "Wigner's disease," "rust," and many other terms.)

* Transporting the nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain is not easy, safe, or cheap, but keeping the waste at nearly 40 separate sites around the country is ALSO extremely hazardous -- AND violates the promise made to the public when the plants were opened, which was that no waste older than about five years (the minimum amount of time needed for the waste to cool enough to be moved) would be kept on-site at the nuclear power plants. Instead, more than half a century into the nuclear age, the used reactor cores all remain onsite and very, very vulnerable.

* Perhaps the biggest problem for nuclear waste management is that the scientific community is becoming more and more aware of the extreme dangers of radioactive particles inside the human body. Permitted exposures continue to drop, and this author believes they will drop much, much more as the public realizes how bad a little polonium-210, or plutonium-239, or whatever, really is for you (especially for children). The EPA ruled that the Yucca Mountain team's plan to create a massive radioactive blob, which, in 10,000 years (if not sooner), would begin escaping the mountain and contaminating the groundwater in Nevada for the next million years or so, was not adequate. EPA told the scientists and engineers that they have to extend the predictions out to at least a million years, which is just that much more impossible to do considering that the average nuclear engineer cannot accurately predict corrosion even a few MONTHS in advance (see "Davis Besse 2002" again, or consider the many problems with steam generator corrosion throughout the nuclear industry).

Most of this year's Presidential candidates proclaim their opposition to "Yucca Mountain" but it's just a political football they are tossing around to each other, and have been for about 20 years. Yucca Mountain is a scientific boondoggle for the reasons given above and many, many others. But the presidential candidates talk about it as if we could just abandon Yucca Mountain and come up with something better. Yucca Mountain ALREADY is a "last resort," so if you oppose Yucca Mountain, you really should oppose nuclear power too, since there is no other solution to the waste problem on the horizon. And even if Yucca Mountain is built and filled, the following day each nuclear power plant would have a dangerous amount of waste on hand which would need to be guarded, protected, etc. for millions of years. So being FOR Yucca Mountain doesn't mean you've actually solved anything!

But tell that to six Republican senators who recently introduced legislation to relax the safety requirements for Yucca Mountain. The bill would eliminate ALL safety requirements for the facility after 300 years -- in order to take advantage of (imagined) future technological breakthroughs! In announcing the proposed legislation, Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) made the specious claim that opposition to Yucca Mountain was based on "politics, not sound science."

It is not "sound science" to base the nation's energy policy on completely uninvented future technological breakthroughs -- especially ones that we've already been looking for intensely for more than 60 years, and have already put tens of billions of dollars into trying to find.

The only real politics involved in nuclear power is the combined politics of greed and ignorance. Congressional and White House promoters of nuclear power have NEVER studied the facts -- they've always let nuclear industry insiders tell them the "facts."

Shutting all the nuclear power plants down now would save lives, money, and global storage space. There is no time to wait -- every day, another 50 tons of spent reactor cores becomes waste -- deadly, solidified poisonous gas.

There is no time to debate, and nothing left TO debate -- the facts are clear, including the fact that radiation is as much as 100 to 1000 times MORE dangerous (especially to fetuses and infants) than the current standards admit to -- standards specifically designed to ALLOW THE NUCLEAR INDUSTRY TO OPERATE, NOT TO PROTECT YOUR LIFE!

There is no place to hide, the world is finite and crowded.

Nuclear power plant executives quiver at only one thing: The truth getting out to the public.


Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

The author, an award-winning educational software developer and programmer, has interviewed hundreds of nuclear physicists and other scientists on nuke-related topics. He has a personal collection of several hundred books, videos, and government reports on nuclear issues, dating to the mid-1940s.
Quotes collected by Ace Hoffman:

"Nuclear war must be the most carefully avoided topic of general significance in the contemporary world. People are not curious about the details." -- Paul Brians (author; quote is from: Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction)
"When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." -- Sinclair Lewis (first American Nobel Prize winner in Literature, 2.7.1885 - 1.10.1951)
"There is no such thing as a pro-nuclear environmentalist." -- Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa, 1992)
"Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories." -- Sun Tzu (Chinese general b.500 BC)
"The most intolerable reactor of all may be one which comes successfully to the end of its planned life having produced mountains of radioactive waste for which there is no disposal safe from earthquake damage or sabotage." -- A. Stanley Thompson (a pioneer nuclear physicist who later realized the whole situation)

"Any dose is an overdose." -- Dr. John W. Gofman (another pioneer nuclear physicist who saw the light (9.21.1918 - 8.15.2007))
"Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be lied to. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery." -- Octavia Butler (science fiction writer, 7.22.1947 - 2.24.2006)
"If you want real welfare reform, you focus on a good education, good health care, and a good job.

If you want to reduce poverty, you focus on a good education, good healthcare, and a good job.

If you want a stable middle class, you focus on a good education, good health care, and a good job.

If you want to have citizens who can participate in democracy, you focus on a good education, good health care, and a good job.

And if you want to end the violence, you could build a million new prisons and you could fill them up, but you never end this cycle of violence unless you invest in the health and the skill and the intellect and the character of our children. you focus on a good education, good health care and a good job.

And other than that, I don't feel strongly about anything."

-- Paul Wellstone (US Senator, D-Minnesota, 7.21.1944 - 10.25.2002)
"There are no warlike peoples - just warlike leaders." -- Ralph Bunche (8.7.1903 - 12.9.1971)
"Please send this to everyone you know!" -- Ace Hoffman (original collector of the above quotes, January, 2008)

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Ace Hoffman
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Carlsbad, CA 92018