Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Video: California Public Utilities Commission harasses attorney Mike Aguirre

Last week (June 16th, 2014) I witnessed former San Diego city attorney Mike Aguirre being harassed by the California state police prior to his speaking before the California Public Utilities Commission about the San Onofre steam generator debacle. Fortunately I had my camera handy:

Here is a report about the incident by Charles Langley:

Looks like the sort of thing you would expect to see in a Banana Republic or a totalitarian state, but it happened right here in California ....

On June 17, 2014, Karen Miller, a bureaucrat with the California Public Utilities Commission's Public Advisor's Office, ordered armed highway patrol officers to seize documents from Attorney Mike Aguirre as he was preparing to make a presentation at a public hearing to speak out against the $3.3 Billion bailout of the failed nuclear generators at San Onofre. Two of the CPUC's Commissioners have endorsed the bailout which has been fraudulently portrayed as a refund.*

The officers had been ordered to search Mr. Aguirre's work papers, and were instructed to forbid Mr. Aguirre from recording a public meeting.

This unlawful harassment, search, and attempts to muzzle Mr. Aguirre under orders of a Public Utility Commission official were meant to intimidate or silence Mr. Aguirre and create a chilling effect on free speech at CPUC hearings by other members of the public.

"This is about the government trying to prevent citizens from exercising their First Amendment Rights," says Aguirre.

At this time, Mr. Aguirre  is one of the few articulate voices capable of explaining why what happened at San Onofre justifies a criminal investigation, and why the public will never see what the Commission and and its lap-dog consumer advocates are calling a "refund."

* There are no refunds. If approved the bailout will cost customers of San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison at least $500 per meter with some estimates ranging as high as $1,500 per meter. This is why many in the utility community want Mr. Aguirre to "just shut up." (see video, below)


Hopefully YouTube won't delete this video like they did one of my other videos -- if you haven't done so already, please sign my petition to get my 3/11/2012 SHUT SAN ONOFRE speech back up on You Tube! It was removed by YouTube on 2/25/2014.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

UPDATE June 26th, 2014:
The June 24, 2014 San Diego Reader has an article including clips from the Aguirre video, with more information:


Ace Hoffman
Author, The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry
Free download: acehoffman.org
Blog: acehoffman.blogspot.com
YouTube: youtube.com/user/AceHoffman
Carlsbad, CA
Email: ace [at] acehoffman.org


Sunday, June 15, 2014

A hare's breath from disaster: Who should pay for San Onofre's steam generator failure?

Southern California Edison (SCE) wants permission to collect an additional $3.3 billion from ratepayers -- hundreds of dollars each -- to cover costs and lost revenue from the San Onofre nuclear power plant, which will never operate again. The plant was shut down on January 31st, 2012 because of a "small" radioactive leak, and declared permanently inoperable by the owners on June 7th, 2013, just over a year ago.

Negligent engineering mistakes were made which gravely threatened the public. So why should the public have to pay for having had their lives, livelihoods, homes and families endangered? Additionally, a grotesque cover-up has been orchestrated to try to make sure the public doesn't figure out what really happened -- and how close we came to a nuclear catastrophe in southern California.

When a large power plant under oversight of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) stops functioning before the end of its licensed operating period, if the outage lasts more than nine months the CPUC has mandated that it shall conduct an investigation, known as an OII (Order Instituting Investigation). The OII for San Onofre was divided into three phases. The order of the three phases is very odd.

The first phase of the OII was completed in 2013. Its purpose was to get a general understanding of why the reactor was shut down and what the economic impacts are.

The second phase, which is currently nearly completed, is to determine who should pay. Recently it was announced that a deal had been made between some of the parties in the OII proceedings. The "deal" sticks ratepayers with $3.3 billion in additional charges.

The third phase of the OII was supposed to determine responsibility. Surely the third phase should have come before the second. But instead the CPUC announced that the third phase isn't necessary and won't happen, because of the agreement reached in phase two.

When the steam generator replacement project was first presented a decade ago, the CPUC and the public were told that it would save ratepayers over a billion dollars versus shutting the reactors down. Instead, southern California was nearly wiped off the map -- just like the areas around Fukushima and Chernobyl have been. We came "that close." A hare's breath from disaster.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) designed and fabricated the replacement steam generators. SCE approved the faulty designs. SCE also purposefully and successfully avoided public and federal regulators' scrutiny of the new designs by claiming they were "like-for-like" matches with the old designs, when in fact they were very different. A few weeks before the radioactive leak, SCE's and MHI's engineers had an article published in a technical journal where they bragged about their new steam generator's design, and even specifically about the regulatory hurdles they had squeezed past.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) states that SCE is responsible for the quality of the work of their subcontractors. But the NRC is responsible for the quality of the work of their licensees -- that's what they're there for. For that reason, San Onofre's failure can and should be blamed almost entirely on the NRC, even despite SCE's best efforts to hoodwink them. NRC should have seen through it. NRC "experts" had approved dozens of prior steam generator replacement projects, and the NRC had ample opportunity to know that this project needed proper oversight, both by them and by the public.

To give you some idea of how arcane the regulations are, a "like-for-like" change can -- and often does -- include TWO changes which the utility determines balance each other out. An increased risk to the public due to one of the changes is supposedly compensated for by a decreased risk to the public in the other change. So for example, if the utility changes the alloy used in a part to a "stronger" metal (as was claimed for this project), they can then use less (thinner) tubing (which they also did) and still say it was a "like-for-like" replacement. At San Onofre, there were more than a dozen such changes between the old and the new steam generators, with essentially no NRC oversight because of the claim that the replacement steam generators were, nevertheless, "like-for-like" replacements.

The CPUC also had the responsibility of determining if SCE's claims regarding the replacement steam generators were accurate. Besides the asserted financial savings, the CPUC could have -- and should have -- questioned the safety of the project, including what would be done with the additional radioactive spent fuel that would be generated if the plant was allowed to continue operating. Although the NRC claims to have sole authority over nuclear safety, the CPUC claims they are mandated to provide "safe energy" to the public, so they have every right -- and a responsibility -- to concern themselves with the dangers of nuclear power. They must stop abdicating that responsibility.

SCE has wasted a lot of money. When ratepayers first started to be informed of SCE's steam generator replacement project, many activists said that SCE should be required to shut the plant down instead. Tube wear in the old steam generators was causing leaks of radioactive primary coolant and forced outages. Tube wear was so constant that SCE made predictions as to the exact year and month that each of their two reactors would reach a critical amount of wear, where even the lap-dog federal oversight agency, the NRC, would require them to shut down.

That day was to come about eight years before their reactor licenses would run out. This worked out well for SCE politically, because they claimed to the CPUC that a new set of replacement steam generators would let them operate not only through the rest of the license period, but through another 20-year extension beyond that, and maybe even another. 60 years was mentioned as the "possible" life of the new steam generators.

Steam generators are the largest components in a nuclear reactor, representing approximately 50% of the primary coolant loop barrier, and second in weight only to the reactor pressure vessel. The whole replacement project was, in actuality, a sneaky way to get around a California law that prohibits NEW reactors until a permanent national repository for the spent fuel has been created, which hasn't happened. So instead the reactor companies (PG&E and SCE) would just keep rebuilding their reactors, part by part by part. (PG&E still does this at Diablo Canyon.)

SCE got approval for the steam generator replacement project. But instead of lasting 60 years, the replacement steam generators lasted 22 months in Unit 2, and only 11 months in Unit 3.

The possibility of steam generator vibration problems like those that actually occurred at San Onofre were first documented in the 1970s. Due diligence on the part of the design engineers working on the replacement steam generators should have uncovered the errors. If SCE had been required to release the details of the new designs prior to the project's approval, qualified outside engineers -- or anyone else -- would also have had a chance to uncover the problems.

Not that finding the problem during the design phase would have been easy. Steam generators are extremely complicated. The fault lay somewhere among terms like "recirculation ratio," "void fraction," "dry steam," "fluid elastic instability," "flow induced vibration," and "computer modeling," which can only do rough approximations of complex thermodynamics.

Each steam generator contains a bundle of nearly 10,000 finger-diameter tubes, each about 50 feet long and curved 180 degrees in the middle, like an upside-down U. Inside the tubes is fast-moving, hot (about 590 degrees Fahrenheit), high-pressure, highly-radioactive primary coolant from the reactor. Outside the tubes is water at a much lower pressure (about 1200 PSI less).

As the water rises around the tubes, a portion turns to steam. Any water that is left in the vapor is expelled using dryers and separators located above the tube bundle. That water is immediately recirculated back into the steam generator.

The "dry" steam goes up and out a large pipe to the turbine building, where it is used twice: Once to turn the high pressure portion of the turbine, and again to turn the low pressure portion of the turbine. Then the steam is turned back into liquid using a condenser and third coolant loop. Once condensed, the secondary loop water is fed back into the steam generators (two per reactor), where it combines with the water that was removed in the dryers and separators above the U-tubes.

If there is a leak of primary coolant into the secondary coolant loop, radioactive gases are released when the secondary coolant loop steam is condensed back into liquid. These gases were detected when the tube leaked at San Onofre on January 31, 2012, causing operators to shut down the reactor (after a few minutes of additional monitoring of water levels).

The leak occurred because an area near the top of the tube bundle (in the U-portion) got too dry (in other words, there was not enough water in the steam that was being generated). The tubes need to stay wet, which requires at least about 1% water in the steam. Water dampens vibration and aids in heat transfer from the hot primary coolant inside of the tubes to the secondary coolant loop outside the tubes. It's believed that a small portion of the tube bundle had only about 0.4% water in it (about 99.6% steam). The tubes in that area rattled and banged into each other until one of them leaked radioactive primary coolant.

It was very fortunate that ONLY one tube leaked. NRC regulations do not address the possibility of rupture of more than one tube. A multi-tube rupture becomes a serious problem if there is a Main Steam Line Break (MSLB) at the same time, and a valve failure prevents the reactor operators from isolating the affected steam generator. In that case, primary coolant flowing out the leaking tubes will go directly to the outside environment with no way to stop it. It would be as if the reactor had a hole in the reactor pressure vessel itself.

But even if an MSLB and an isolation valve failure occurs, if only one tube leaks, the reactor operators can (theoretically) continue to replenish the primary coolant while they insert the reactor's control rods, maintaining circulation long enough to cool the reactor sufficiently to avoid a meltdown.

At San Onofre, besides the tube that leaked, two additional tubes in Unit 3 had more than 99% wall thickness worn away when the first tube broke. The tube walls are only about as thick as a credit card, so having only 1% left is literally less than paper-thick protection. In fact, in subsequent pressure testing, 8 tubes leaked at or below design basis levels (which is about three times normal operating pressure, to account for surges, inaccurate measurements, and other anomalies). Normal operating pressure of the primary loop -- inside the tubes -- is about 2200 PSI. Normally the secondary coolant loop -- the outside of the tubes -- is at about 1000 PSI. But during a Main Steam Line Break, the outside the tubes would only be at atmospheric pressure. So in a "design basis accident" (which the utility is required to plan for, and which includes an MSLB with an isolation valve failure), the failure of multiple tubes would have put San Onofre outside their legal operating parameters. There would have been no training in what to do, no instructions to follow, no pages to turn to in the manuals, and no experts to call with prior experience or knowledge.

So we almost lost southern California. And we never needed to be put at this risk at all, because ten years ago, the decision to install these replacement steam generators could have included a public forum where numerous reasonable objections could have been made, which might have stopped the project entirely right then and there.

To everyone's benefit.

After all, SCE was only claiming that by spending the $670 million, which could have been spent on renewable resources instead, ratepayers were going to save a billion dollars over the next 20 years. They did not tell ratepayers that instead they might have to pay $3.3 billion, plus the $670 million, plus another billion dollars in other upgrades that would never have been done if the units were being retired as the first steam generators reached their life expectancy (such as a reactor pressure vessel head replacement). Some of the wasted money was for the year and a half that San Onofre's owners thought maybe they could restart Unit 2. SCE kept over a thousand extra employees on staff.

Nearly everyone understood by spring of 2012 that Unit 3, the Unit that leaked, would never reopen, and it was defueled as soon as practical. But Unit 2, some thought, had a possibility of restart, at reduced power, in some sort of "experimental" phase or test which was to last only 5 months. A normal operating cycle was 22 months, and cracks tend to propagate exponentially over time. The utility consistently denied it was an experiment, because experimenting with the lives of eight million people living within 50 miles of the reactor is not reasonable or legal. But that's what it would have been.

Nobody knew why the tube bundles in the steam generators in Unit 3 experienced the dry-out phenomenon and accompanying vibrations and tube-to-tube wear (the phenomenon is known as Fluid Elastic Instability (FEI)). But SCE was certain that despite other excessive wear from flow-induced vibration in the Unit 2 tube bundle, FEI had not occurred. So SCE wanted to restart Unit 2.

But the utility had already promised not to restart either reactor until the "root cause" of the problem in Unit 3 was discovered. The NRC had also promised to produce a "thorough" report (known as an Augmented Inspection Team (AIT) report).

This dollop of generosity to the safety of the public was not due to anything other than that the utility and the NRC had all been caught asleep at the switch: Unit 2, fortunately, was shut down for refueling when Unit 3 sprung a leak, but, despite spending $670 million dollars to replace the steam generators, the utility did not take the opportunity to look very closely at the wear and tear of the tubes in Unit 2 until after Unit 3 leaked. They didn't look, even though extensive tube wear in the original steam generators was what caused the replacement project in the first place, and these were supposedly "like-for-like" replacements!

After Unit 3 shut down, a closer inspection of its sister unit revealed extensive premature wear to the tubes in Unit 2's steam generators, but not of the type that caused Unit 3's tubes leak.

Despite numerous promises of an open process, the public has never been able to know precisely what caused Unit 3 to rattle as much as it did, or Unit 2 to rattle less, but still an unprecedented amount. Many documents have been released, but key values have been redacted. It is clear that everybody involved overlooked the possibility of a phenomenon known as "in-plane vibration." Additionally, SCE purposefully avoided regulatory and public scrutiny, and the regulators purposefully looked the other way. All that's missing is the names of the perpetrators of these crimes, and that seems to be fine with all the regulatory agencies.

California's regulatory agencies assumed on faith that the steam generators would work as designed because the NRC had approved them. Now that they didn't work, the CPUC doesn't want to bother assigning blame, and wants to let SCE bill the ratepayers for nearly 100% of the financial burden from the failure. The NRC doesn't want to accept ANY blame, simply claiming it reviewed the documents it was given by SCE appropriately. But the NRC could easily have detected that the new steam generators were substantially NOT "like-for-like" and asked for more information and a public hearing. Instead the NRC allowed SCE to avoid the lengthy "10 CFR 50.90" license review process (which would have included public hearings), in favor of a simpler "10 CFR 50.59" filing claiming the new steam generators were a "like-for-like" replacement for the old ones.

When the CPUC finally decided to do an OII -- not for safety reasons, but because the plant wasn't "used and useful" nine months after it was shut down -- they quietly hired "experts" to advise the CPUC judges assigned to the investigation about the details of how steam generators function within a nuclear reactor. These experts were paid out of SCE funds and had access to SCE documents and personnel -- providing SCE felt like giving them the documents and letting their employees talk to them! Room for bias? Plenty. This bias was probably why the president of the commission, Michael Peevey, had a bit of a meltdown of his own, yelling at an attorney representing ratepayers: "SHUT UP!" when asked about any "ex parte" communications he had had with the utility. "Lots" was the correct answer.

SCE doesn't want to admit that they demanded the impossible of MHI. They wanted improved performance from the new steam generators, even though they would be using a metal alloy with significantly lower heat transfer capabilities. At the same time they were claiming the new steam generator design was a "like-for-like" replacement for the old design. MHI thought they had figured out a workable design, but actually hadn't done their math calculations correctly. They had entered bad data into their programs, and gotten bad data back, and no one at SCE or MHI noticed. For example, the engineers thought the recirculation ratio of the water in the steam generators would be at least 4, meaning feedwater would enter the steam generator, rise up to the top, come out the "dryers and separators" above the tube bundle, then go around again, and again, an average of four times before exiting as "dry" steam. The actual recirculation ration turned out to be about three and a half.

So who's to blame?

According to the CPUC, the ratepayers are somehow at fault, and should pay another $3.3 billion on top of everything they've already paid for this terrible idea. According to the NRC, Southern California Edison is at fault, and not the NRC. According to SCE, MHI is at fault, and they're suing MHI for hundreds of millions of dollars, despite the fact that SCE dictated nearly every aspect of the steam generator's design requirements, and SCE's engineers approved all the plans. SCE sent engineers to Kobe, Japan, where the steam generators were being designed and fabricated. SCE specifically demanded that special attention be given to vibration problems, which had plagued the first set of steam generators. SCE also demanded to be able to review all engineering drawings at any time, and to handle all interactions with the NRC.

SCE engineers, and outside engineers contracted by SCE, all signed off on MHI's design. MHI's liability appears limited by their contract with SCE to the actual replacement cost of the steam generators: $130 million dollars. Transportation, disposal of the old steam generators (in a radioactive landfill), replacement energy costs, installation, and the cost of finding the "root cause" after the failure (or at least the half-hearted attempt that was made) were not included in MHI's liability.

The NRC was the most negligent of all. They could they have ensured that public hearings occurred prior to the project's start, so that citizens (and the NRC themselves) could have had access to the faulty design plans. The NRC could also -- right now -- demand that SCE produce the missing data that is vital to solving the puzzle of what actually went wrong.

NRC also, and most importantly, could have refused to give SCE permission to replace the steam generators at all until and unless a solution to the biggest problem with nuclear power was found -- the problem of what to do with the spent fuel that remains. The CPUC could have made the same demand. Activists tried to.

Right now nearly all of San Onofre's spent fuel still sits at San Onofre, vulnerable to tsunamis, earthquakes, terrorists, structural failure of the containment, and many other dangers. Right now, SCE plans to put the waste into dry casks as quickly as possible, then walk away, waiting until a national repository opens somewhere (in other words, until just after hell freezes over). One or two guards will be left to walk around the site a couple of times per shift. Their children's children's children's children -- I could go on -- will also be guarding the waste. The fuel could sit on the beach at San Onofre for hundreds of thousands of years.

San Onofre should have been shut down long ago -- it never should have opened. Now that it's closed, the ratepayers will have enough problems dealing with the spent fuel. They should not have to pay Edison for the negligent engineering that doomed their nuclear power plant.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

EXERCISE DURING CHEMOTHERAPY: Can it help prevent cancer reoccurrence?

Can EXERCISE DURING CHEMOTHERAPY help prevent cancer reoccurrence?

June 10th, 2014

If you are on chemotherapy for cancer, or know someone who is, you might want to discuss an idea I came up with during my wife's chemotherapy treatments. She recently became a breast cancer "survivor." I am not a doctor, but the doctors that have been taking care of her have been very enthusiastic about the idea of EXERCISE DURING CHEMO.

You're probably learning about EXERCISE DURING CHEMO for the first time here. As far as we know, I invented the idea.

In general terms chemotherapy works by killing ALL the fast-dividing cells in your body for a limited period of time during actual treatment sessions (which last several hours) and for a brief period of time after that while the drugs remain in the patient's system. Many chemo drugs are administered intravenously because they are so harsh. In fact, the drugs are so damaging at the point of injection, that doctors often recommend a "port" be implanted in the patient's shoulder, below the clavicle, so that specially trained nurses can just push a special needle into a special rubbery device just under the skin, which is left inside the patient for the entire 4 to 6 months of chemotherapy. The "port" has a thin little tube that runs just under the skin to the jugular vein, and is then threaded INTO the jugular to just about an inch above the heart itself. This allows the harsh chemotherapy chemicals to immediately mix with as much blood as possible as quickly as possible. Even so, they have to drip in the chemo "cocktail" (it's usually a mixture of two or three different drugs) very slowly, with lots of saline solution to water it down. If there is an allergic reaction to one of the chemo drugs, there are often others that can be prescribed instead.

Most breast cancers -- including my wife's -- are considered fast-dividing, fast-growing cancers. But where was the "cell factory" that generated the cancer that took hold in her breast, and apparently spread to her lymphatic system? The starter cell (or colony) could be anywhere in her body. Cancers often take hold in the breast because fatty tissue is easy for the dislodged cancer cells to cling to. Finding the "cell factory" is a hit-or-miss business in every sense of the term. Maybe the chemo drugs will kill all the fast-dividing cancer cells the first time through, but maybe they won't. Chemo treatments are often eight or more sessions; my wife's was only six sessions. Each treatment is supposed to knock the cancer back, killing any cancer cells or clusters that survived the previous go-round.

During the interim period, normal cells replace the killed normal cells, but cancer clusters tend not to recover as well. So after several treatments, often the cancer is completely gone.

One problem with chemotherapy is that the chemo drugs tend to kill ANY cells that are dividing at the time the drugs are administered and active in the body. Fortunately brain cells don't divide after childhood, but nearly everything else does -- but much more slowly than cancer cells tend to do. (For example, taste buds live about 10 days; while most muscle cells live several decades.) Some chemo drugs are not "cell-cycle specific," but they also need the drug to be "pumped" into every cancer cell in the body for them to be effective.

Chemotherapy is very rough on the body, and the intervals between sessions are to give the rest of the body a chance to recover. Then they knock you -- and hopefully the cancer -- back again.

By the end of chemotherapy my wife had lost all her hair. She needed two or three -- or more -- extra hours of sleep each night. She couldn't climb a flight of stairs without needing to stop and rest midway up the flight. Just a few months earlier she was mountainbiking up steep hills!

After the second treatment, one day I said to my wife, "why do you (and all the other chemo patients) just sit there while they're putting the drugs into you? It's not like you can't move around -- you can get up, go to the bathroom, walk around if you want. But isn't the idea to get the drugs EVERYWHERE in your body (and in her case, especially throughout that cancerous inoperable lymph node under her rib cage)? Shouldn't you be helping to get the blood flowing EVERYWHERE by getting your heart rate up, so it forces the blood (and the chemo drugs) into the tiniest crevices throughout your body? Don't just sit there! Exercise!"

Besides, I added, you're probably going to get more and more tired, and the more time you spend exercising, PERIOD -- the better. And also, if the idea is to mix the drug into the bloodstream as much as possible as quickly as possible, quadrupling the flow rate (which exercise can easily do) should help tremendously.

She immediately agreed with my idea. Before her next chemo treatment, we saw the doctor who specified the chemo cocktail and was watching my wife's "T-cells" and blood work to make sure she's not having an infection or other problem. We explained what we wanted to do. The doctor also liked the idea and offered to look through the medical literature to find out if anyone had previously researched the effects of EXERCISE DURING CHEMO. She later told us she was only able to find research indicating a benefit from generally getting exercise -- which my wife also did throughout the treatments -- but could find nothing about exercising during the actual chemo sessions themselves.

So before my wife's next chemo session, we bought a portable stair-stepping device, some stretchy things of various resistances, and some weights, and she started working out with them so she wouldn't tire out too fast during the chemo session (two or three hours of hard exercise is not easy for anyone, especially with equipment you're not used to!).

Adding exercise to all the other hassles of surviving cancer wasn't really all that hard for my wife, in the grand scheme of things. Not that life was easy -- and she's still recovering. I would attend the chemo sessions with her and act as a "spotter" so she wouldn't fall (her balance wasn't always what it should be; who knows why not). I would hold her hand as she did the stair-stepper and so forth.

We didn't want to disturb others, so we chose a quiet corner of the chemo room. We were plainly visible, but of the dozen or so patients who must have seen her during the four sessions when she was exercising, only a few even looked our way, and only one showed any interest. To anybody who asked, we explained what we were doing and why; we explained it to the various nurses as they set up the intravenous drips. One day a different oncologist, not my wife's doctor, walked in and saw her exercising, and simply said, "That is MARVELOUS!" We explained our reasoning and he also thought it made perfect sense.

If you know someone who is going through chemotherapy, or if you are going through it, perhaps they or you will feel too run down to work as hard as my wife did. She was able to exercise less and less each time, but always gave it her best effort. It may be very hard to do, but what if I'm right? What if hard exercise could save your life? Wouldn't it be worth it to try? She certainly didn't seem to suffer any ADDITIONAL ill-effects although admittedly, it would be very hard to tell. Certainly "additional studies need to be done." But if you are undergoing chemotherapy, even if it's your last treatment and you feel miserable and exhausted, please consider at least a little exercise during the chemo session itself. Get the heart pumping. It will do you good no matter what, and MAY make the chemo drugs more effective.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA


Comment from an ER doctor regarding the above blog: "Ace, exercise may be good, but have to make sure the chemo will not weaken the patient and make them syncopize or pass out...."  I pointed out that this suggestion should only be acted on with your doctor's approval!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A review of The Burden (a documentary movie about reducing military petroleum usage)

There aren't many movies about military logistics (actually, The Red Ball Express is the only one that comes to mind).

The Burden ( http://www.theburdenfilm.com/ ), a new short (~40 minute) documentary film by Roger Sorkin , shows just how difficult airdrops of oil to remote outposts can be. The soldiers had to protect the drop zone, gather the barrels, and destroy the parachutes (by burning them). Seeing the carnage the truck convoys had to go through was terrifying. How many experienced, battle-hardened soldiers are pulled off of actively searching for an enemy in order to guard convoys? How many convoys are guarded by inexperienced soldiers who don't know what to look for? And how many convoys are hit by IEDs and never make contact with the enemy? The answer to all three questions is, of course: Too many.

I was delighted to see that the film never once suggested that nuclear power was a viable alternative for the military -- in fact, it never mentioned nuclear power at all. I suppose it was a bit disingenuous not to talk about the burden nuclear power creates, considering that its use is a bigger environmental problem than the petroleum problem. But someone in the audience apparently thought, and others have suggested its use could be increased in order for the military to use less petroleum. Military nuclear propulsion systems are claimed to be useful because they replace oil, but that's very short-term thinking. During a special screening last night in San Diego, when prompted by the presenter in response to an audience question, the Captain James C. Goudreau, the Navy representative on the panel (which included Congressman Scott Peters (D-CA's 52nd district), Sorkin and several others) did talk about "Small Modular Reactors" but with minimal enthusiasm. SMRs actually have a host of unsolvable problems, such as metallurgy issues, security issues, design/safety issues and, of course, waste storage issues.

The Burden did show a nuclear submarine, and they showed a nuclear aircraft carrier being refueled (with jet fuel, I presume), but thankfully did NOT bother to suggest increasing the nuclear power options in order to try to reduce the petroleum problems. America tried that, and it has created, and is creating, an intractable environmental waste problem we will never adequately solve. A thousand or ten thousand years from now, society will still curse the nuclear age, probably along with the petroleum age. Both ages will have to end if society is to keep going.

It's great that the U.S. military is thinking about the cost of wasting energy on the battlefield, as well as the cost of protecting the petroleum supply lines. But when it comes to nuclear power, they should consider the security and environmental costs of guarding the nuclear waste for tens of thousands of years. Someone will walk off their guard duty, fall asleep, tell an enemy how to break through the system, or become a terrorist themselves during that time, or Mother Nature will overwhelm the flimsy containers (a few inches of steel and a few feet of concrete) they put the waste in.

The American military is the single largest environmentally destructive force in history. It wastes billions of gallons of oil every year. It's time to change that. It may seem strange to talk about an environmentally-friendly strike force, but The Burden makes it very clear -- for the petroleum issue -- that it benefits everyone, even the military itself, for our soldiers to clean up their operation. Hopefully citizens and the military are beginning to understand the same sorts of issues also burden our nuclear military.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad CA