Probably all of us spent some time today remembering and reflecting
on what happened a decade ago, now simply called "nine-eleven" and
Most people on this newsletter subscription list probably remember
where they were when they heard the news. In so many ways, nothing
has been the same since that day. The costly wars. The pervasive
lies. The demoralizing Patriot Act. Enhanced interrogation
techniques. Wikileaks. Well, okay, it's not all bad!
Our nation's greatest vulnerabilities are surprisingly similar to
what they were back then.
Below are my original comments from the day of the 9-11 attacks, with
the original Subject given above. I'm sorry to say I stand by them today.
September 11th, 2001
If I had told you, yesterday, that today two commercial airplanes,
loaded with passengers and fueled for cross-country flights, would
crash into New York City's World Trade Center, one into each of the
twin tower buildings, and that shortly thereafter both towers would
come crashing to the ground, and also told you that the Pentagon
would be hit at about the same time, and another plane would be
brought down too, you would have called me "Chicken Little".
America's nuclear power plants are vulnerable. And don't call me
A structural engineer who appeared on CNN today said that the World
Trade Center towers were designed to withstand a 707 crashing into
them. 757s and 767s are somewhat bigger than a 707 (but with two
less engines). However, the airplanes probably aren't directly
responsible for bringing down the towers. The real culprit was most
likely the fires they started.
My understanding is that the design criteria for the containment
domes of America's nuclear power plants was that they should be able
to withstand the impact of a 727, which is even smaller than a 707.
I don't know if the design criteria included that the plane would be
full of fuel as these planes obviously were. Whatever the design
criteria was, it was never actually tested. (Note that in a
conversation by phone with me in June 2001, Charles Marschall, from
the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Region IV office in Texas, claimed
that a nuclear power plant's containment dome could withstand an
impact from a 747. He refused to put his claim in writing. But
regardless, would any of us believe it today?)
It should be obvious now that we have no reason to think the nuclear
containment domes are safe from planes. But in any event, many of
the systems vital to keeping a nuclear power plant from melting down
are located OUTSIDE the containment dome, including the control room,
the primary coolant pumps, and other systems. There are numerous
holes in the containment dome for pipes, wire, personnel, and
equipment to go through. Accidents outside a containment dome can
affect systems inside the containment dome, and a subsequent meltdown
inside the containment dome WILL release radioactivity to the environment.
A meltdown at a nuclear power plant would be 1000 times worse than
everything we saw today.
There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that a meltdown would have
occurred if one of the hijacked airplanes had been flown into a
nuclear power plant. We can be thankful the hijackers passed over
The spent fuel pools are outside the containment dome, providing an
even easier target than the containment dome. And, spent fuel
storage casks located near some reactors can also be potential
targets, and thus add significantly to the danger at those facilities.
In short, America's nuclear power plants are extremely
vulnerable. And don't call me Chicken Little.
Our nation's firemen and other emergency personnel are NOT adequately
trained or equipped for handling a severe nuclear radiation
emergency, and the evacuation plans for nuclear power plants are
Everyone recognizes what an incredible job the firefighters, police,
and other emergency personnel must be doing, but their task today
pales when compared to what emergency personnel would face if a nuke
plant was attacked.
All nuclear reactors need to be shut down immediately and
permanently, and their waste needs to be stored
underground. (However, I am not advocating Yucca Mountain as a solution.)
Clean, renewable energy solutions do exist, and they are far less
vulnerable to terrorism and other calamities than our nuclear power
plants, and provide cheaper energy as well. Perhaps quickly
switching to safe renewable energy solutions would cause some
temporary hardship, but nothing is impossible for our great nation,
if we recognize our vulnerabilities and seek to eliminate them as
quickly as possible.
I for one, want to know who masterminded this wicked act of
ignorance. But even more, I want to know why we left ourselves so
vulnerable in the first place, and why we continue to leave ourselves
vulnerable to additional natural and man-made misfortunes? Today it
was an act of man. Tomorrow it could be an act of
Providence. Perhaps an asteroid smashing into a nuclear power
plant. Perhaps an Earthquake. Perhaps a Tsunami along Southern
California's coast. But whatever it is, we should no longer be able
to say it came as a complete surprise. Very little should surprise us now.
Note: Last week (Wednesday, September 5th, 2001) I attended a
hearing in Nevada on Yucca Mountain. At that hearing I stated that
nuclear power plants are potential targets of terrorists....