Commentary by Russell D. Hoffman
Tuesday, September 11, 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 Chicken Little.
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 these targets.
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 absolute garbage.
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 a surprise. Very little should surprise us now.
Attachment: 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. I have attached an additional commentary about that hearing, which was written as an Op-Ed commentary for the North County Times (San Diego, CA). As far as I know the NC Times did not publish this item, but America MUST start to face these issues:
To: Editor, North County Times
September 6th, 2001
To The Editor:
The Department of Energy's Yucca Mountain Project (YMP) for permanently storing High Level Radioactive Waste (HLRW) is unlikely to ever open. So, every nuclear power plant needs to get realistic about nuclear waste. The nuclear reactors themselves are dangerous, the spent fuel pools are dangerous, and we have no place to safely put the waste.
Nuclear materials cannot simply be taken out of the ground, used, and then placed back in the ground. It's not that easy. Before nuclear fuel is used it's mostly uranium. Approximately every 18 months, a third of the fuel in a reactor is removed as "spent" fuel. Spent fuel contains hundreds of newly-created radioactive daughter products, including various isotopes of plutonium, strontium, cesium, iodine, and many other elements. These new elements will continue to be created, and will themselves decay into other substances, for thousands of years.
Each day in America, another 10 to 12 tons of HLRW is created (mostly spent fuel), which must be stored away from humans and other living things for hundreds of thousands of years. Spent fuel is susceptible to sabotage, earthquakes, tornados, tsunamis, bad welds, cracked fuel cladding, coolant leakage, train wrecks, and 1000 other dangers.
Most of the plans for YMP are just that -- plans. There have been very few experiments done with real nuclear waste. Nearly everything is still on the drawing board. And the YMP team have computer-drawn some very beautiful full-color renditions of things they think will work. But they haven't tested very much of it. And they keep rewriting the standards. America's nuclear waste storage system was originally supposed to rely on natural barriers. That was a design goal (or just another nuclear industry lie). When that wasn't possible, more and more man-made systems were added.
I've looked at the YMP information that has been made available to the public, and there is so little real science there, that I find it incomprehensible that anyone without a financial bias would support YMP. YMP is the last hope of a dying industry, which has lied to the American public for half a century. We haven't built a new nuclear power plant in America in two decades because nuclear power isn't really financially viable. Without YMP to take the waste, the nuclear industry should rightfully go bankrupt. It was their last ditch effort, literally.
I was in North Las Vegas, Nevada, last Wednesday, September 5th, 2001, to attend the first of three scheduled public hearings on YMP (all in Nevada, although nuclear waste is a national problem). I have been to scores of public hearings, but I've never seen anything like this one!
Nevada's Governor, Kenny Guinn, spoke first. He opposes YMP, as do 80% of Nevada's citizens. Governor Guinn left to a standing ovation. Then Nevada's four Congresspersons (two Republicans and two Democrats) each spoke via live video feed from Washington. They also oppose YMP. Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) often points out that the transportation issues have not been solved, and pointed again to the recent Baltimore train tunnel fire as a warning to the nation. YMP is supposed to take in 77,000 tons of HLRW. The shipments (50,000 to 100,000 are planned) will travel through at least 40 states, passing within 20 miles of about 70% of the population.
It's ridiculous. A million things could go wrong and the mathematical projections are highly suspect. The success of YMP depends on luck to an extent no reasonable human should allow!
And Nevadans, who make a living understanding the odds better than most Americans, aren't being fooled by the DOE.
To comprehend the vehemence that will have to be overcome for YMP to proceed, let me describe how the mayor of Las Vegas closed his speech. Mayor Oscar B. Goodman began to pull something out of his pocket, and as he did so he shouted (this is from memory here, but I'm sure it's close): "They tell me I can't arrest someone who drives a truck full of high-level radioactive waste through my town. The DOE says I don't have the authority. They say I can't put that guy in jail. Well, just watch me. That guy is going to jail, and he's not getting out of MY jail. One thing you should never do: Never give a former prosecuting attorney one of these."
He then flipped out his badge, and walked away to a wildly cheering crowd. These guys are ready for a fight with the DOE, and God Bless Them. We should all be so brave.
YMP is a terrible solution to an intractable problem, and the DOE will stretch out this process as long as possible. During that time, many tons of new HLRW will be produced. Someone will be stuck with protecting humanity from that waste. It will cost a fortune, and worse -- it may not work. Even if the DOE permits YMP to be built and become operational, they can't legislate away accidents or write a document that prevents a natural disaster.
It's time for every American to stop believing the lies that have supported the nuclear industry thus far. Yucca Mountain is only the latest lie (the first was: "it will be too cheap to meter"). There are clean energy alternatives available. Wind, wave, tide, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass, and many others. We have to change to these energy sources NOW, before another day goes by, and another 10 to 12 tons of HLRW is created.
** Russell D. Hoffman, Owner and Chief Programmer
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