Monday, February 22, 2010

If you think nuclear power is safe and clean (like the President does), think again (like the President should)!

Date: February 22nd, 2010

Subject: If you think nuclear power is safe and clean (like the President does), think again (like the President should)!

(Note: This is a correction to yesterday's newsletter, which incorrectly referred to Finland's new reactor as an AP-1000. It is an AREVA EPR, and its construction is, indeed, wracked with scandal, cost over-runs, fraud, lies, and propaganda. The author regrets the error and has deleted the paragraph referring to the Finnish reactor from this version.)

Dear Readers,

President Obama thinks he can jumpstart a new generation of safe and clean nuclear power plants.

Nuclear power is neither safe nor clean, nor cheap, nor useful, nor vital, nor good for America. And no "new" nuclear power plant design will make nuclear power any of these things.

There are "safe, clean" ways to obtain electrical energy for everybody. Obama paid them lip service in his State of the Union speech last month. But he is actually giving billions of dollars to nuclear power -- a gift from each of us, whether we like it or not. Many of us don't like it, and the rest of us might want to understand why not.

Obama's nuclear funding bill is being presented as a jobs program, but since nuclear-related construction jobs average higher salaries than many other jobs (including photovoltaic or wind turbine installation jobs -- which still pay pretty well), you get fewer jobs created for every dollar invested.

And more of the money goes out of the country, too. Many major parts of any new reactor, including many of the largest steel forged pieces and a lot of the electronic control hardware, will be made overseas, in dozens of different countries. Nuclear power plants are NOT "Made In America."

Once the plants are running the jobs are worse than ever: Every employee at a nuclear power plant is under stress not to be the cause of some trillion-dollar, million-death accident. And not to get themselves too irradiated to be allowed to work at the plant anymore.

This stress actually causes them to lie about their mistakes. Everyone is in "cover-up mode." Employees hide things from their managers for fear of retaliation, and everyone hides things from the federal inspectors. Since on average there is about one inspector on site for every 500 employees, they miss nearly everything that actually happens... When the inspectors do see problems, they help hide everything from the media and the public.

It's a dangerous cycle of lies and cover-ups and it happens at EVERY nuclear power plant.

To make matters worse, the official policy is that the nuclear industry is largely a "self-regulated" industry. The nuclear industry does not get inspected by the normal government agencies such as OSHA -- the Nuclear Regulatory Commission handles everything, due to special laws just for nuclear power plants which keep the other federal agencies out. State agencies have little or no jurisdiction, either.

The courts have abdicated responsibility, too. They say that the Federal regulators can make the decisions -- that nuclear power is too complicated for the courts to understand, so anything the NRC and/or the Department of Energy (DOE) says about nuclear power is considered to be the truth. There's no arguing in court with an NRC or DOE ruling! More scientifically accurate information will not be considered, and experts (even if you could afford them) cannot appear before the court to support your case.

Nuclear power plants all over the country -- at least 27 of our 104 operating reactors -- are leaking tritium into our water, soil, and air. Tritium is "a marker for other radionuclides" and a very hazardous radionuclide itself.

It's worse overseas, of course. Here, bribes like those my former Congressman (Randall "Duke" Cunningham) accepted will (or at least might) land you in jail, as it did Cunningham. In China, where more nuclear power plants are being built than everywhere else on earth combined, such bribes are a routine part of the process and no large project moves forward without them. But the punishment -- if the Chinese government decides you should be punished -- is likely to be death.

Here in the United States, to move a bad project forward, you have to dupe the public, using persuasive advertising and anti-environmentalist propaganda by people such as Patrick Moore, whose brief stint at Greenpeace has forever branded him -- to some people -- as a "good guy" who speaks for the environment. In fact, Moore has been well paid to speak for earth-plundering corporations for decades, culminating in years of financial support directly from the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the lobbying, advertising, and media outreach arm of the nuclear industry. Each year, Moore is quoted in hundreds of articles, endorsing nuclear power. And virtually every time, his decades-old Greenpeace connection is mentioned (and usually inflated), but his current NEI connection is not.

How did America get to the point where it would even consider building a new generation of nuclear power plants? In China you can blame all kinds of things, including a lack of any semblance of democracy. But in America, blame a lack of education first. Go out on the street and randomly ask people to describe what "tritium" is. Will one in one hundred even be able to say: "It's a radioactive isotope of hydrogen"? Not a chance! Maybe not even one in one thousand. This lack of basic knowledge among the voters makes it very easy to dupe the public. One of the most abused principles of government in America is that the voting public should be properly informed about the issues. But, even the president is not properly educated about nuclear issues and won't let those with the proper knowledge have access to him. The nuclear corporation CEOs, of course, can walk right in.

And the waste -- let's not forget about the waste issues. The Yucca Mountain scientific team was told they could study AND SUGGEST TO CONGRESS any alternative if it was technologically better. The only thing they were forbidden from spending time and money considering was doing the same sort of underground, monitored storage in a different location -- Kansas, for instance, or Alaska.

The Yucca Mountain team looked at all the things that Obama's new committee is going to look at. Rocketing the waste to the sun, putting it in underwater subduction zones, vitrification, on-site storage -- everything.

As to reprocessing, that's just a lousy -- and expensive -- idea. The most lethal part of the waste is NOT the uranium or even the plutonium. It's the radioactive isotopes of elements which mimic biologically-useful isotopes of those same or similar elements. These are mostly beta emitters with relatively short half-lives -- the newly-radioactive results of the nuclear reaction. Radioactive isotopes of things like strontium (which the body treats like calcium), iodine, and hydrogen. When you reprocess the waste, you don't eliminate these things, you just separate the uranium and plutonium (for bombs, if you want bombs) from them. So reprocessing, even if you can reuse some of the uranium, doesn't solve the waste problem. Additionally, reprocessing is chemically very polluting as well as invariably creating a new and very expensive clean-up nightmare.

The slightly new reactor design that Obama wants the taxpayer to fund -- the "AP-1000" -- which the nuclear industry chooses to call Gen III, practically guarantees cost over-runs. For example, they designed a less expensive containment dome, but the new design is untested and might not work (it's been described as "metal plates between layers of concrete" instead of a mesh of rebar embedded in the concrete). It's cheaper to build now, but will it last 60 years or 80 years, and THEN work when it's needed?

The containment dome is not the only acknowledged uncertainty in the new design: Technicians are also worried that the safety systems are not separated properly from the normal operating systems, and therefore a fire could destroy both. (Something similar happened at Browns Ferry in the mid 1970s.)

Where will the money come from, that these loan guarantees guarantee? From the Feds -- that is, from the taxpayer! The funds will be distributed through banks, so they can make a profit on the transaction. Without government guarantees and government money to invest, those banks would not put one red cent into nuclear power.

Many of the cost overruns will probably be paid by the ratepayers. And we'll all pay for accidents out of our own pockets and with our health. Liability for catastrophic nuclear accidents is practically zilch, thanks to the Price-Anderson Act, an archaic law allowing government to evade responsibility for its crimes. All countries operating nuclear power plants have some form of the Price-Anderson Act -- it's especially useful for evading responsibility for damage to neighboring countries.

In Obama's new nuke bill, a few million dollars has even been set aside to fight activist lawsuits. They feel a drop in the bucket is all it will take to fight the truth, probably because they know how many things are already stacked against us: The courts, the federal agencies, the corporations, the money.

But one thing Obama has clearly already miscalculated is how many people think this is a bad idea. Around the country, environmental groups which have been relatively quiet on the subject of nuclear power are decrying Obama's nuclear madness. And even the economic watchdogs are speaking out loud and clear: This is no jobs program! This doesn't solve our energy problem! It doesn't solve our balance of trade problem!

It certainly doesn't solve our nuclear waste problem (it makes it worse), and it doesn't solve anything else. The way to solve the over-use of fossil fuels is with renewable energy, not nuclear power.


Ace Hoffman Carlsbad, CA

The author has been investigating nuclear power for more than 30 years. He has been searching for a reason to like it for that entire time so that he, too, could make a fortune from NEI (and their predecessors), but has come up empty-handed. His 2008 book on nuclear technology and its problems is available as a free download from his web site:


Ace Hoffman
Author, The Code Killers: An Expose
Carlsbad, CA

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Yankee terrorists...

February 14th, 2010

Dear Readers,

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant is leaking copious quantities of tritium, a relatively rare (in nature) and extremely hazardous radioactive isotope of hydrogen. Tritium can be absorbed through the skin, as well as ingested or inhaled.

Water from test wells around the Vermont Yankee reactor has over 2 million picoCuries of tritium per liter -- more than 100 times the legal limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for tritium in drinking water, which is 20,000 picoCuries of tritium per liter (20,000 picoCuries equals about 740 radioactive decays per second (740 Becquerel ("Bq")).

Two million picoCuries per liter is nearly as poisonous as the 2.7 million picoCuries per liter that occurs in the chemical brew of a nuclear reactor's primary coolant loop.

Nuclear reactor operators are allowed to release a small fraction of a teaspoon of tritium offsite per year. But even that tiny amount must be diluted in billions of gallons of water to meet the legal standards for drinking water. If the water in your body was polluted with tritium at the legal limit, it would contain about 400 times the average concentration of tritium in the human body.

Tritium has a half-life of about 12.3 years, meaning half of any given quantity of tritium will decay in that time and in the next 12.3 years, half of what is left will spontaneously decay, and so on. It takes about 20 half-lifes (about 250 years) for any spilled tritium to be eliminated from the environment.

By definition all hydrogen has one proton, but the tritium isotope also has two neutrons in its core and is unstable -- radioactive. The most common isotope of hydrogen is stable and has no neutrons. Hydrogen with one neutron in its core, called deuterium, is also stable.

The body cannot detect the difference between radioactive tritium and stable isotopes of hydrogen (nor can it distinguish radioactive isotopes of any other elements from stable isotopes of the same (or chemically similar) elements).

When a tritium atom decays, it releases a beta particle. Beta particles are normal electrons, except they are traveling at very high speed (within a few percent of the speed of light). The beta particle immediately starts to slow down as it passes things with electrical charges -- other negatively-charged electrons and positively-charged protons.

Beta particles only exist for a fraction of a second. Tritium's beta particle typically travels less than a millimeter through human tissue before it is slowed to normal electron speeds and is captured by something needing an extra electron.

The nuclear industry likes to point out that tritium's beta decay particle is a "low energy beta particle." That's true, as beta particles go. But here's what the nuclear industry doesn't like to tell you about "low energy beta particles": They are essentially just as dangerous as high-energy beta particles because nearly all the damage from a beta particle comes at the end of its travel, when it's slowed down so much that it stays near the last few thousand atoms it passes long enough to have a significant effect on each of them in turn as it passes.

Since radiation damage is often measured in total energy dumped into a given quantity of tissue, by that measure, low-energy beta particles are actually proportionately MORE damaging! Just the opposite of what the industry claims!

When the beta particle is released, one of the neutrons in the core of the tritium atom converts to a proton. With two protons and one neutron in the nucleus of the atom, the element is now a stable isotope of helium, not hydrogen. Chemically, helium won't combine with much of anything. Certainly not with a molecule comprising one hydrogen and one oxygen atom, which is what's left of the water molecule the tritium atom probably was originally a part of. The remaining "OH" molecule is a potent "free radical" which can damage your body until it is absorbed by something: Vitamin C or some other anti-oxidant, for instance.

Tritium is called an "activation product." Vermont Yankee is not only leaking tritium: Within the millions of gallons of chemically-treated and highly irradiated primary coolant loop water that has been spewing out of Vermont Yankee -- probably for years, maybe even for decades -- are undoubtedly a whole rainbow of radioactive elements, including long-lived isotopes of elements such as iodine and technetium and many others.

Fuel assemblies in nuclear reactors commonly fail by cracking slightly. The zirconium shielding deteriorates and the radioactive uranium gets out, and so does anything else inside. What's inside, besides the unfissioned uranium, are "fission products." Fission is what they are trying to do inside the reactor, enough to boil water but not enough to melt down the reactor. For every uranium atom that is fissioned, there are usually two fission products that result, each of which is radioactive and each of which weighs, on average, about half as much as the original uranium atom. All fission products are radioactive because they invariably have too many neutrons to be stable.

When setting standards, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) generally does not aggregate radioactive components in your drinking water. Just because you have one contaminant in your water doesn't mean you don't have many others there as well. In the case of Vermont Yankee, the pollutants presumably include strontium, cesium, and many other radioactive elements. But as long as each one has been diluted to Below Regulatory Concern (BRC), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) doesn't care, and EPA doesn't care, and the nuclear industry certainly doesn't care. Just dilute it, and, as far as they're concerned, it disappears. Such thinking is self-serving, insulting, dangerous, and archaic. It flies in the face of the standard, accepted scientific theory that radiation damage follows an "LNT" ("Linear, No Threshold") pattern. (In fact, some experts believe low levels of radiation cause proportionately more damage. And admittedly, there will probably always be a few "experts" (usually well-paid by the nuclear industry) who "honestly" believe that low doses of radiation are actually beneficial, regardless of how randomly those doses are administered.)

The only way to clean up the radiation at Vermont Yankee is to close the plant, build a big pit somewhere where it doesn't rain much, line it with a lining that will last practically forever (good luck finding these things) and move all of the waste (including the dirt and concrete) there. But instead, right now, Vermont Yankee's tritium, strontium, iodine, technetium, and everything else WILL get into the drinking water in Vermont and into the Connecticut River. It WILL kill children and other living things in the communities downwind and downstream of the reactor, which potentially includes anywhere on Earth. Radiation from Vermont Yankee has undoubtedly been killing people for years, and it will continue to kill for many years to come even if the reactor is shut down permanently, as it should be.

Vermont Yankee is one of the oldest reactors in America. So what's happening there -- namely, it is falling apart and it's owners don't want to spend any more than they have to to keep it going -- is a precursor of what's to come at other reactors. The owner (Entergy, which is trying to sell it) claimed in sworn testimony to the people and elected officials of Vermont that Vermont Yankee was NOT leaking tritium, but they knew it was. Then they said it wasn't leaking MUCH tritium, but they knew it was. Now they say the tritium is harmless, but any sane person knows that's a lie, too.

In addition to the leaks, Vermont Yankee also is piling up enormous quantities of used reactor cores at the site. One third of the reactor core assemblies are removed every eighteen months to two years. These irradiated "hot" fuel assemblies are extremely hazardous -- ten million times more hazardous than when they were placed inside the reactor (approximately).

By now there is about a thousand tons of "spent fuel" (what an innocuous-sounding name!) located at Vermont Yankee. A fraction of a milligram is a lethal dose, if inhaled or ingested. You could not stand near the fuel for 2 seconds if it were unshielded. If it catches fire, the local fire department will not be able to extinguish the flames, and cancer clusters will appear later, as much as 500 miles (or more) downwind. A single gram of "spent fuel" would have a significant impact on Vermont and its neighboring states, were it to be released by accident or by terrorism or acts of God.

Vermont Yankee is a relatively small reactor, about half the size of more modern reactors in terms of electrical output, and it could easily be replaced by renewable options. Nuclear reactors are terrible "baseline" power sources anyway, since they are prone to sudden and prolonged shutdowns. They create, and then leak, horrifically dangerous poisons which deform our babies, give our children cancer, and can cause heart attacks, dementia, and a thousand other illnesses -- and they make other illnesses worse. Their owners lie and obfuscate, and their nuclear waste is a growing nightmare.

It's time to shut Vermont Yankee down -- and the rest of our reactors, too.


Ace Hoffman Carlsbad, CA

The author, born and raised in Connecticut (now living in California), is a computer programmer. He has interviewed hundreds of nuclear experts, and has based this article on the information gleaned from his research. Any errors are his own. For more information on tritium, please see:

The Code Killers (book) / free download (2008):

It's All About the DNA (2007):

Tritium Explained (why "Low Level Radiation" can be disproportionately harmful) (2006):

Tritium -- A response to a San Onofre employee's comments (also included) published in the North County Times (2004)


Ace Hoffman
Author, The Code Killers: An Expose
Carlsbad, CA

Thursday, February 4, 2010

We should not put our money into Obama's misguided nuclear dementia.

February 4th, 2010

Dear Readers,

There is no such thing as safe, clean nuclear power, and there never will be. There is no such thing as safe containment of nuclear waste, and there never will be. Therefore, we should not put our money into President Obama's misguided nuclear dementia.

Did we learn nothing from 9-11? Did we learn nothing from the tsunami in Banda-Ache? Did we learn nothing from the earthquake in Japan that nearly initiated "Genpatsu-Shinsai"? Did we learn nothing from Davis-Besse's near-meltdown in 2002? Did we learn nothing from Chernobyl?

So far we have been lucky: Lucky the terrorists only flew directly over, instead of into, the Indian Point Nuclear Power Facility. Lucky the nearest nuclear power facility to the 2004 tsunami was thousands of miles away and the waves only did "minor" damage. Lucky none of the seven nuclear power plants at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Facility melted down when a "beyond design basis" earthquake occurred in 2007. Three years later, only two of those plants have come back online. Lucky a worker at Davis-Besse inadvertently leaned against a control rod housing during maintenance, and it gave way, alerting them to the severe corrosion in the reactor pressure vessel head below them. Lucky Chernobyl happened there, not here.

Steven Chu and the entire DOE (Department of Energy) couldn't stop 9-11 style terrorists no matter how much money Obama gives them to "solve" the nuclear waste problem with so-called "temporary" onsite storage. In fact, DOE won't even try -- they say the TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) handles that. Since no planes will ever be hijacked again, they don't have to protect against airplane strikes structurally. No airplane will fall uncontrollably out of the sky onto a nuclear power plant, either -- even though numerous commercial flight paths overfly nuclear power plants around the country. The containment domes are touted as being airplane-proof but they aren't. And even if they were, MOST of the nuclear poisons at each reactor site are stored OUTSIDE the containment domes, in the spent fuel pools and dry casks. The control rooms are also outside the domes, and without the control rooms, the plants would surely melt down, releasing billions of Curies of deadly radiation.

Only geologic storage combined with constant monitoring has any hope of protecting nuclear waste from a 9-11 type of attack, and even then, rogue employees can sabotage any physical fortress.

Geologic storage also may not be able to protect the radioactive waste from earthquakes or other hazards. For the past 20 years Yucca Mountain was the presumed future national repository for nuclear waste, but it has technical flaws as well as political hurdles. Any repository will have such problems. Over time, water, rodents and insects will always move the waste out of the repository. Finding a community that accepts nuclear waste means finding a community that is desperately poor, poorly educated, and has corrupt leaders. The Yucca Mountain team was allowed to suggest anything different if they could -- just not the same thing in a different place.

Obama is correct that Yucca Mountain is a flawed solution for the waste problem, but so is Obama's current plan for spent fuel -- known as "on-site storage" -- which means dozens of different things at dozens of different reactor sites, each with a scandal behind it.

Reprocessing is intensely polluting and expensive, and doesn't eliminate the deadly fission products. And worst of all, reprocessing enables the nuclear weapons industry.

Rocketing spent nuclear reactor cores to the sun costs too much and would fail too often, because humans fail, and so do their materials. Materials ARE failing at all our old nuclear power plants, and so are the humans. Fraud, cover-ups, circular arguments, intimidation of activists, and lies are the stock-in-trade of the nuclear industry.

Radiation, heat, pressure, and vibration are all very damaging, even to so-called super-alloys. New steam generators start to fail almost as soon as they are installed, but the industry accepts this, and makes wild claims about the great research and new materials that will be used to replace the old stuff. And then they deliver the same old leaky parts made of the same old leaky materials, and that's why there is tritium (and other radioactive substances) in the groundwater under so many reactors.

Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen, the most common element in our bodies and in the universe. Hydrogen is used in our bones, brains, heart, blood... everywhere. The legal limit for reactors to release each year is about one thirtieth of a teaspoon of tritium, and they have to dilute even that much in billions of gallons of water before they can legally release it. Neither the Nuclear Regulatory Commission nor the nuclear reactor operators care about tritium leaks as long as the deadly pollutant is diluted to legally-dispersible (but still hazardous) quantities.

The nuclear industry assumes that a little radiation, of any type, absorbed by any part of the body, is good for you. Therefore, they believe that every release is harmless as long as it's sufficiently diluted. In reality there is no safe dose of radiation. Benefits from using radiation in medicine come at a price in cancers for some percentage of the patients later, and even in cancers for the medical personnel.

The nuclear industry and its supporters insist that renewables won't work. But wind power ALONE could supply all of America's energy needs -- with a properly-designed power grid. We need a better grid anyway, to avoid colossal blackouts like we had in the Northeast in 2003, impacting approximately 50 million people and causing emergency shut downs at dozens of nuclear power plants, when their offsite emergency backup power supplies failed. Even Obama favors investing in a better, more robust power grid.

The nuclear industry claims nuclear power can be a cure for global warming. It can't be. There are the uranium mining companies with their enormous earth-moving equipment, the construction process, the storage of the waste for millennia afterwards, the operational costs in fossil fuels for the thousands of employees at the plants, the superfund cleanup sites the nuclear fuel cycle has already created, and the hospitalizations resulting from accidental (and intentional) releases of radiation. These are all "carbon intensive" activities.

President Obama wants to invest $54 billion dollars (of taxpayer's money) in a "new" generation of nuclear power plants which will be marginally more efficient -- if that -- and marginally safer -- if that -- and dozens of times more expensive than previous generations of nuclear power plants. And they'll generate thousands of tons of new nuclear waste each year, just like the currently-operating, "old" generations of nuclear power plants do.

Instead of finally ending the senseless production of more nuclear waste, Obama has set up a new committee to "study" the waste problem for two more years. In two years, these people will throw up their arms, like everyone else before them, and declare, as quietly as possible, that they couldn't solve the problem either. But creating the committee gives the 104 currently-operating nuclear power plants a green light to keep making more waste. Over the next two years, thousands of TONS of NEW nuclear waste will be created, any milligram of which can kill, and kill, and kill, and will destroy any container you put it in.

All just for electricity (or so they say). Electricity which is easily obtained through other methods that are truly safe, clean, and green.


Ace Hoffman Carlsbad, CA

The author has written thousands of essays about nuclear power but only one book, THE CODE KILLERS, which is available as a free download from his web site: . The author is also a computer programmer; his educational software programs are used by students and teachers at over 1000 universities around the world: .


Ace Hoffman
Author, The Code Killers: An Expose
Carlsbad, CA