In the 1990s, I flew from California to Texas to attend a manufacturing convention. I didn't know anyone, but bought a ticket for the opening night's dinner anyway, and sat with eight or nine other attendees from around the world.
The trip out to Texas included a very curious detour. Having slept very poorly the day before traveling, I was sleeping on the plane. I woke up to see what looked for all the world (literally, for as far as the eye could see FROM AN AIRPLANE!) like humongous holes in the ground.
We were flying over the Nevada Test Site.
And I mean, not just a little. We went back and forth. We were in some kind of holding pattern over it. Strange, because it is, after all, closed air space. This was after I had written my essay with the late Pamela Blockey-O'Brien called -- like the U. S. government's book written several decades earlier -- The Effects of Nuclear Weapons.
Crater after crater of varying sizes, each perfectly round around the edges, bowl-shaped, and apparently empty. Some overlapped by various amounts.
The amount of time we spent over the craters can only be explained by doubling back or circling -- a straight line would have lasted maybe 30 minutes in a slow airplane, but this went on much longer than that.
I couldn't believe what I had seen. When I got home I started looking at aerial photographs of every geological formation I could find in the southwestern United States or northwestern Mexico. Of course, nothing looked like THAT! Finally, I saw some actual photos of the NTS, and then of course, it was conclusive. That's where we were. I still don't know why.
At the dinner, someone was telling a story about a foreign nuclear reactor he supplied parts to -- high-quality parts, but not the kind that could be sold for use in a nuclear reactor here in America, because they have to have a lot more paperwork here, to be sure the parts are properly inspected and so on. I read recently that the difference in cost can be $2000 for what is normally a $20 part -- not a trivial amount!
The "foreign" reactor was built by one of "America's" nuclear power manufacturing companies, which in turn is owned by a Japanese nuclear company.
The plant was financed with high-interest foreign "investment" capital. It was selected by local officials who were bribed with briefcases of cash. It was built to specifications no one understood, mostly written in a foreign language. Regulations were modeled loosely after our own Nuclear Regulatory Commission's rules, or even after rules defined by the NRC's predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).
Riots, terrorism, extreme poverty, overpopulation, military rule, and natural disasters marked the country's social system.
And now, as the speaker was telling the story, after several lucky decades of operation, the cash-stricken plant had hired the worst foreign workers that the money they still had could buy.
Many of those workers were from America.
The reactor was so poorly run, that the running joke at the plant was that if you left, it was better to put down on your resume that you were a child molester doing time in the state penitentiary, than that you had worked at that plant! It was the one thing that kept people working there -- having to admit that you worked there at all wouldn't help you get a job anywhere else in the industry.
Around that time, my local plant, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station ("SONGS"), with two operating reactors (one of which is being retrofitted with new steam generators (SGs) at this moment), was at the bottom of the list of "well run" plants in America.
We were, as always, assured things would get better, but instead, they had an explosion and fire in the turbine room which caused the turbine to lose lubricating oil and come to a screeching halt. The turbine shaft, almost as long as a football field and more than a foot in diameter, was bent, and had to be shipped to Japan for repairs that took many months.
Today, San Onofre is once again at the absolute bottom of the heap of "well-run" nuclear facilities. There are problems with worker honesty, integrity, and morale.
A few years ago, information started to come out about how bad things really are at SONGS: Faked fire inspections. Skipped / failed backup generator tests. Tritium leaks. Refusal to provide activists with factual and timely reports. Refusal to do new earthquake studies (even after the Northridge quake), refusal to do new tsunami studies (even after Banda Ache), refusal to do local community cancer cluster studies, worker cancer studies...
The operators of the plant also let the old Steam Generators crack and leak. They'd plug them up in one place, and they'd leak somewhere else. From about the third year of operation, the SGs have been leaking.
San Onofre is a pressurized water reactor (PWR). When the SGs leak, water and chemicals in the highly radioactive primary coolant loop spurt into the secondary coolant loop. When they have to shut down the reactor, such as to replace the fuel (about every eighteen months), they plug up any leaky SG tubes.
The diluted secondary coolant liquid is further diluted and dispersed into the environment. It's perfectly legal, because billions of gallons are run through the tertiary (third) loop each day, and dribbling out the crud can easily be accomplished at levels that remain below regulatory standards. If that weren't so, the regulators would have relaxed the standards even more!
There are thousands of tubes in each SG, and eventually, SONGS had to plug up so many that they decided that it was becoming uneconomical.
All they needed was a license to operate for another 20 years (for 60 years total) and then replacing the steam generators became economical from the utility's point of view.
The utility's point of view doesn't count the costs of cancers, or meltdowns, or large fuel leaks or fires, or terrorism, or war, or the unknown costs of used reactor core disposal.
Renewable energy is ready to provide all the electricity needed for society. We have barely tapped the energy provided each day by the sun, the moon, and the earth's own internal heat. All these and many more energy sources are cleaner than nuclear energy, and conservation alone can allow for EVERY nuclear power plant to be shut down, at no cost to society whatsoever. We don't need dirty energy. We don't need nuclear power.
At 08:39 AM 1/24/2011 -0800, Conrad Miller wrote:
Bon and company, send this to your friends and foes before the speech tomorrow night Jan 25. And givem a # for the White House which is: 202 -456 - 1111 phone and the fax is 202 - 456 - 2461
or you can go to this page linked in pink below and send an email via nirs (nuclear information and resource service) who work in Va. just outside of Washington DC. I have a composed email down below you can use or you can just use the one provided. Remember, Obama's State of the Union Speech is tomorrow Jan 25, so 'speak' up! Here's how Harvey Wasserman is thinking today about what Obama might say:
link for your email to Obama:
--- On Mon, 1/24/11, Harvey Wasserman
From: Harvey Wasserman
Subject: Fwd: Obama & Our Disney Nukes by Harvey Wasserman
Date: Monday, January 24, 2011, 2:50 AM
Obama & Our Disney Nukes by Harvey Wasserman
Obama & our Disney nukes
January 24, 2011
Barack Obama is about to address a nation whose greatest potential liability is its Disneyesque illusion of atomic power.
Despite the nation's huge debts and fears of foreign terror, America's 104 licensed reactors are the most dangerous threat to our future. After a half-century of operations, the industry still cannot get more than $11 billion in private insurance against possible accidents whose human and property damage could easily run from mere trillions to the simply incalculable.
In the face of terror or error, earthquake or tidal wave and more, every tick of the atomic clock marks a moment in which a single glitch at a single reactor could forever bankrupt the nation.
Escalating decay at clunkers like Vermont Yankee, New York's Indian Point and so many others define our worst untold crisis.
Yet Obama may ask Congress to bilk taxpayers to build still more.
In the 1950s a cartoon called "Our Friend the Atom" portrayed atomic energy as a "too cheap to meter" savior with no apparent problems. Our very houses would be built with uranium whose glow would provide heat and light on the spot. Atomic airplanes would soar through the sky. Hiroshima-sized "devices" would dig our canals and divert our rivers.
Radioactive waste, lethal emissions, ecological dysfunction, soaring costs, human error, the threat of terror---none had a role in the carefully sanitized Hollywood myth of nukespeak non-realities.
Today the fantasy has been deepened. Nuke waste is "stored energy." Three Mile Island was a "success story" where "nobody died." Chernobyl "killed 31 people." Reactors are an economic disaster because of "over-regulation."
No matter that all the above are cartoonish falsehoods. The industry's apparently endless cash still pays for such happy-faced illusions of a technology that has spawned some 450 potential Chernobyls worldwide. Hyped to the hilt, showcase projects in Finland, France and elsewhere are melting amidst interminable delays and astronomical cost overruns. Proposed new US reactors have doubled and tripled in projected price well before the first shovel is turned.
Meanwhile, an energy industry that has disputed climate science for decades now sells its atomic product as the "ultimate cure."
Its backers have demanded---and got---exemption from liability for the full destruction that could be done by future melt-downs or explosions.
And they now want untold billions in loan guarantees. Since 2007 a highly effective grassroots movement has kept the fund at $18.5 billion. With estimates for a single reactor now soaring to $10 billion and more, the industry demands $50 billion, $100 billion, whatever.
Rub the genie's bottle and you might get a firm number. Wish upon a star and you might hear what just one melt-down could actually cost.
In 2010 Obama granted the first $8.33 billion in loan guarantees for a two-reactor project in Georgia. Its price is already soaring. Electric rates there and in any other state that goes nuclear are destined for the twilight zone.
Obama needs to tell it straight---only a total commitment to renewables and efficiency will get this country back on track. The Disneyesque illusion of a "safe, clean, cheap" nuclear industry is a veritable herd of oxymorons.
A powerful, effective national grassroots movement has kept more billions from being dumped into this bottomless pit of bound-to-lose guarantees. We can write Obama asking him to keep the atomic error out of Tuesday's speech. But whatever Obama says, we must win again in 2011. Disneyesque illusions aside, atomic power is about to be transcended by green technologies that are cleaner, cheaper, safer and essential to our real survival.
Harvey Wasserman edits the www.nukefree.org website. Pete Seeger sings SONG FOR SOLARTOPIA at his www.solartopia.org.
Also here is a ready made email and a connection to it that you can send
Tell President Obama: Keep nukes out of the State of the Union!
January 20, 2011
We have learned that President Obama's State of the Union Address on Tuesday, January 25, may include a call for Congress to enact a "Clean Energy Standard" that would support new nuclear reactors and "clean" coal plants.
However, we're told a final decision has not been made by the White House and the issue is still the subject of debate within the Administration.
Your actions now can make a huge difference. Please send a message to President Obama below and tell him that we know nuclear power and coal will never be clean and have no place in a "Clean Energy Standard."
Then please ask your friends and colleagues to send in letters too. You can also easily share this page on Facebook, Twitter and other networking sites (just look for the logos on the upper right).
Every nuclear facility releases toxic radiation on a daily basis, creates lethal radioactive waste and presents constant threat of meltdown--how is that clean? And even if carbon from coal plants could be captured (which is by no means clear), coal still brings us poisonous mercury, toxic ash and mountain top removal.
The Obama Administration--and Congress--must understand that while carbon emissions must be slashed, replacing them with other pollutants is no answer. And, of course, if we're really serious about slashing carbon emissions, then we need to move more quickly to renewables anyway, which release two to six times less carbon per kilowatt of electricity than nuclear power.
To our international friends: Our President may listen to you as well, so we encourage you to send a letter too!
Note: You may edit the sample letter to reflect your own concerns and priorities if you'd like.
Letter email sent to Obama re his upcoming Jan 25 2011 State of the Union Address
Dear President Obama,
I have learned that you are considering endorsement of a "Clean Energy Standard"--that includes nuclear power and "clean" coal--in your State of the Union address next week.
This would be a terrible mistake.
There is nothing clean about nuclear power. Every nuclear facility releases toxic radiation into our air and water on a routine basis. Nuclear reactors generate very long-lived lethal radioactive waste that we still do not know how to store for the thousands of years necessary before the waste becomes less radioactive, besides each of our current 104 expensive unsafe reactors posing a threat to be the next Chernobyl - where not 31 but nearly a million people now have died premature deaths thanks to the steam explosion and 10 day graphite fire releasing radiation that was swept around the world by nature's winds.
"Clean" coal is an oxymoron. Even if its carbon could be captured, which is by no means clear, burning coal still releases mercury, generates toxic coal ash, and entails destructive mountain top removal.
Carbon is not the only pollutant we must be concerned about and low carbon does not signify "clean." And nuclear power is far less effective than renewable energy, energy efficiency and 21st century technologies like smart grids and distributed generation at reducing carbon emissions. Indeed, carbon emissions associated with the nuclear fuel chain are 2 to 6 times higher per kw of electricity produced than solar and wind power.
I understand you have not yet made a final decision on this critical issue. As a first step, please do not endorse a "Clean Energy Standard" that includes nuclear power and coal in your State of the Union Address. Then, please take the time to examine this issue more carefully. I am confident you will find that nuclear power and coal do not deserve the support of your Administration.
Conrad Miller M.D.
President Barack Obama