Part 3 of this multi-article work looks at the dangers of nuclear power plants around the world.
Read “Part 1: What Happened?”.
Hanford, Washington, where plutonium production is the project, counts heat-energy, radiation, and radioactive isotopes as industrial wastes – and headaches. Each could be a by-product, or a main product in a differently designed plant to make safety absolute.
– “Atomic Power Plant”, Astounding Science Fiction, February, 1947, p. 104
Hanford was one of three atomic cities built at high speed as part of the Manhattan Project. Beginning in 1943, a remote site, contained within a bend of the Columbia River in the desolate south-east of Washington State, was transformed by 45,000 workers into a 570-sq mile nuclear city … Between 1944 and 1956, 530,000 curies of radioactive iodine poured from the plant, discharge levels that today would be considered a major nuclear accident. … By comparison, the accident at Three Mile Island in 1979 released 15-24 curies of radioactive iodine.
– The Greenpeace Book of the Nuclear Age, John May, 1989, pp. 81-82
The Idaho accident prompted the AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) to issue safety guidelines based on distance. Reactors were to be built only in sparsely populated areas far from cities. These 1961 guidelines stopped, for example, the Consolidated Edison Company’s plan to build a nuclear plant in the heart of New York City.
– Energy Politics, David Howard Davis, 1982, p. 218
A nuclear reactor [gives you]electricity for maybe 20 or 30 years if you’re lucky, then you have plutonium forever.
– Dr. Gordon Edwards
Nuclear power is a hell of a way to boil water.
– Karl Grossman, via his 1980 book Cover Up: What You are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power P. 155 (115)
When you’re around me, I’m radioactive
My blood is burning, radioactive
I’m turning radioactive
My blood is radioactive
My heart is nuclear
Love is all that I feel
Ready to be let down
Now I’m heading for a meltdown
– Marina and the Diamonds, “Radioactive”, Sept. 2011
Deception, Obfuscation and Denial
The nuclear power industry has been built on an edifice of lies from the very beginning.
According to media watchdog FAIR,
Ever since the start of nuclear technology, those behind it have made heavy use of deception, obfuscation and denial — with the complicity of most of the media. New York Times reporter William Laurence, working at the same time with the Manhattan Project, wrote a widely published press release covering up the first nuclear test in New Mexico in 1945, claiming it was nothing more than an ammunition dump explosion. The Times and Laurence went on to boost nuclear power for years to come (Beverly Deepe Keever, News Zero: The New York Times and The Bomb).” (116)
According to the Greenpeace Book of the Nuclear Age, “major nuclear reactor disasters” include
1) the Chalk River Reactor in Ontario, Canada on December 12, 1952,
2) the Windscale reactor fire in Sellafield, UK, on October 10, 1957,
3) the SL-1 reactor in Idaho Falls, Idaho on January 3, 1961,
4) the Nukey Poo reactor in Antarctica on October 7, 1962,
5) the Fermi reactor in Detroit, Michigan on October 5, 1966,
6) Windscale (again) continually leaking between 1973 and 1979,
7) the Browns Ferry reactor fire in Alabama on March 22, 1975,
8) the Beloyarsk reactor in the USSR on December 30-31, 1978,
9) the Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania on March 28, 1979,
10) the ongoing problems with the entire nuclear reactor program in India beginning in the 1980s,
11) the Ginna reactor leak in New York State on January 25, 1982,
12) Windscale (again) on November 14, 1983,
13) Chernobyl in the USSR on April 25-26, 1986, and finally
14) Biblis-A reactor in West Germany on December 16-17, 1987. (117)
This list doesn’t include accidents from 1990 onward or any of the nuclear weapons-related disasters, nuclear submarine disasters, “controlled releases” (exposing the public to radiation on purpose for various reasons) and the literally thousands of smaller nuclear power and nuclear weapon accidents that happen every year. (118)
These accidents happen so often that both the nuclear power industry and the military have adopted a whole new system of ratings and codenames to differentiate between the different types of them. (119)
How does the nuclear power industry address all of these problems? If they make it to the light of day at all – and most don’t – the many employees of this multi-billion dollar industry step into action. Shills get unfettered access to the mass media, where they attack critics, apply the lower dangers of external radiation poisoning to predictions about internal radiation risks, and cherry-pick studies that downplay the risks of nuclear power while ignoring the vast ocean of studies which point out the real dangers. (120)
Ignore the Whistleblowers
In Japan, two university researchers who released their 2012 studies raised the possibility that the Oi (Ooi) Nuclear power plant is vulnerable to earthquakes, as it too is by the ocean and sitting on top of an active fault-line, like Fukushima. (121)
Despite these warnings, it appears that some of the reactors at the Oi site have been restarted, and experts who warn about the potential for earthquake-related problems continue to be ignored. (122) Other Japanese reactors face similar risks. (123) Apparently, Japanese nuclear power corporations routinely lie about the risk of earthquakes in the permit applications. (124)
The reaction to the Fukushima disaster by the US nuclear power industry is similar to the reaction from the Japanese nuclear power industry. Immediately after the Chernobyl disaster, the US nuclear power establishment hired an army of spin-doctors and in-house scientists to downplay the health costs, and have done so again with Fukushima. (125)
Punish a Few Whistleblowers
Against this army of spin-doctors stands a handful of relatively powerless critics and whistleblowers. In 1974, Ramparts magazine reported on the nuclear power industry, stating that “AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) scientists critical of reactor safety are still being harassed and pressured out of their jobs. And censorship continues to function against findings considered unfavorable to reactor development programs.” (126)
It appears that very little has changed. Some whistleblowers worry about getting fired. (127) Others “worry for their safety”. (128) The most famous of these whistleblowers was Karen Silkwood. She died a mysterious death on November 13th, 1974, just as she was about to expose the shoddy practices of the largest holder of uranium reserves in the US at the time: Kerr-McGee. (129) Her experiences inspired the film Silkwood, which was nominated for 5 Oscars. This movie should be mandatory viewing for those who believe the nuclear industry should ever be given the benefit of the doubt.
Keep Ignoring the Whistleblowers
Whistleblowers are regularly ignored. Experts had repeatedly criticized the flawed design of the “Mark 1” reactors used at Fukushima. (130)
But it’s not just the “Mark 1” – used in 23 reactors at 16 locations in the United States – that has problems. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission “intentionally mischaracterized relevant and noteworthy safety information as sensitive, security information in an effort to conceal the information from the public” wrote Richard Perkins, an NRC reliability and risk engineer, who was the lead author on a July 2011 report that concluded that the many nuclear power plants located upstream from dams were at risk of meltdowns if any of those dams should fail, (131) not to mention all the nuclear plants that are vulnerable to floods resulting from the increasing number of hurricanes humanity is facing. (132)
The general consensus seems to be that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is a joke, with cover-ups routine, and concerns over earthquakes routinely dismissed. (133)
75% of U.S. Reactors Leak
According to one source, “75% of U.S. nuclear plants” are “leaking toxic tritium radiation” into the drinking water supply, and that “the cancer rate goes up in children the closer they live to nuclear power plants”. (134)
The situation was summed up thusly:
“… a report conducted by Union of Concerned Scientists said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ignores weaknesses in protection regulations. It allows 27 reactors to operate facing earthquakes larger than they are designed to withstand, 47 reactors violating fire protection regulations, including one Mark I plant.” (135)
Gregory Jaczko, former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has stated publicly that there is “tremendous pressure for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to issue these licenses”, that the nuclear power industry selects most of the regulators themselves, and that he is “not so convinced” that anti-terrorism measures the industry has set up are effective. (136) The nuclear power industry itself does not feel threatened by regulators. Corporations in the industry routinely ignore design flaws in order to save a few bucks on licensing and safety costs. (137)
Fukushima, American Style
A nuclear power plant in Virginia was hit by an earthquake on August 23, 2011, just over five months after the Fukushima disaster. (138) Regulators noted that “the plant may have exceeded the ground motion for which it was designed” while industry watch dogs noted that the earthquake “caused cracks in the Washington Monument some 90 miles away” and then asked “How can an uninspectable, inaccessible buried pipe have integrity?” They then recommended bottled water be distributed “to the town of Mineral and to the residents of Lake Anna […] Indefinitely.” (139)
Recently, a crane failed at the Arkansas Nuclear One plant, killing one worker, seriously injuring four others and disabled the cooling system of two spent-fuel pools. (140)
Yet another plant – the “Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant” is now over forty years old. Despite extreme public opposition, an expired license and a series of leaks, the state government has been unable to shut the plant down. (141)
A nuclear power plant in Michigan just began spilling dozens of gallons of water into Lake Michigan. It was later shut down – the 9th time since 2011. (142) In spite of this, the Canadian Government plans to build another reactor on the Great Lakes. (143) Just 75 miles south of Chicago, the LaSalle nuclear power plant got hit by lightning on April 17th, 2013. There was a leak of unfiltered radioactive water, but it was covered up by the corporate media. (144)
Dirty Power Downs
Yet another emergency looms for those living downwind of the Paducah plant in western Kentucky – which “cannot legally stay open, and it can’t safely be shut down”. According to expert Geoffrey Sea, a “dirty power down” is being forced so that the company could save a few bucks. He wrote “Could a dirty power-down at Paducah … result in “slow-cooker” critical mass formations inside the process equipment? No one really knows.” (145)
There is some good news too: San Onofre nuclear power plant is finally shutting down. (146) Still, emergency response professionals lament the lack of evacuation plans near nuclear reactors in the United States. (147) The EPA has now lowered many of its standards that were once designed to protect the public from nuclear-power related safety and pollution issues. (148)
Hey, It’s This or Coal
The corporate media is equally responsible for the ongoing lack of accountability or action within the nuclear power industry, often framing news stories so that the reader is led to believe that leaks are “safe for workers and the public”, (149) “tiny” and “rare”, (150) and that the choices people must make are limited to picking between nuclear power and fossil fuels. (151)
This “fossil fuel or nuclear power only” false dichotomy is also found in the nuclear physics research community. (152) The idea that the nuclear industry is a “greener choice” – or in possession of a “small carbon footprint” – is a myth. Even the standard superficial evaluations of various energy sources put most renewable energy sources ahead of nuclear power in terms of low CO2 emissions. (153)
Nuclear Power’s Hidden C02
As with most things, the devil is in the details. Standard models – especially the ones offered by pro-nuclear power advocates – often forget to factor-in the CO2 emissions from such things as decommissioning, waste-disposal and accident-cleanup into their equation. According to a recent report (2012) from industry analysts:
“Nuclear is being touted as an environmentally friendly, “clean” energy source for the extraction process. But in order to make that claim, one must overlook the substantial carbon emissions in the nuclear “fuel cycle,” from mining to ultimate disposal; the risks of weapons proliferation; the toxic radioactive footprint; and the legacy of highly radioactive waste left behind for many generations to come.” (154)
Other researchers point to the “peak-uranium” problem. Back in 2008 it was stated by energyscience.org that:
“CO2 Emissions from the nuclear fuel chain will increase substantially as the limited supplies of high-grade uranium ore are used up and as low-grade ore is mined and milled using fossil fuels.” (155)
This “peak high-grade uranium” problem was known about for over 20 years. In a meeting of Noble Prize-winners in December of 1989, it was announced that:
“The high concentration uranium ores mined at present are quite limited and the CO2 emissions from nuclear power rise considerably as lower concentration ore grades need to be used … A program of replacement of coal-fired power stations by nuclear power stations would use up the higher grade ores within 30 years or so, after which nuclear stations would emit CO2 at the same or greater rates than coal-fired stations.” (156)(157)(158)
The other myth – that the world has only fossil fuels and nuclear energy to choose from because renewable energies are in no position to take over from non-renewables – is a myth I deal with in more detail in part 5 of this article.
Since the Fukushima disaster, world public opinion on nuclear power has shifted. Now more than ever, a majority of humanity wants to phase out nuclear power (along with fossil fuels) and focus only on renewable energy.
“The Ipsos Mori poll found that nuclear had the lowest support of any established technology for generating electricity, with 38%. Coal was at 48% support while solar energy, wind power and hydro all found favour with more than 90% of those surveyed. There is little support across the world for building new nuclear reactors, a 2011 poll for the BBC indicates. The global research agency GlobeScan, commissioned by BBC News, polled 23,231 people in 23 countries from July to September 2011, several months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center poll, 44 percent of Americans favour and 49 percent oppose the promotion of increased use of nuclear power, while 69 percent favour increasing federal funding for research on wind power, solar power, and hydrogen energy technology.” (159)
There are many anti-nuclear power organizations out there; some have been active for years and others have come together more recently. (160)
Some countries, such as Germany, have decided to go “nuclear free” and have plans to shut down all of their reactors over the coming decade. According to Wikipedia,
“Austria was the first country to begin a phase-out (in 1978) and has been followed by Sweden (1980), Italy (1987), Belgium (1999), and Germany (2000). Austria and Spain have gone as far as to enact laws not to build new nuclear power stations. … Following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Germany has permanently shut down eight of its reactors and pledged to close the rest by 2022. The Italians have voted overwhelmingly to keep their country non-nuclear. Switzerland and Spain have banned the construction of new reactors.” (161)
The French prime minister has called for stronger international safety checks on nuclear energy in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. (162) And the Sierra Club has begun a campaign to require environmental assessments for radioactive waste shipments. Unbelievably, these are not yet required. (163)
Fuku-d In The Head
Despite a majority of the world favoring a phase-out of nuclear power, there still remains a surprisingly large number of those resistant to the idea. Most surprisingly, Japan has decided to turn its reactors back on. (164) In fact, TEPCO had plans to expand Fukushima to a total of 8 power plants. (165) The new Japanese government, elected at the end of 2012, has reversed the previous government’s decision to phase out nuclear power by 2040. (166)
This decision by the new government has spawned massive protests from the Japanese people. Recently, 60 thousand people in Tokyo marched against the plans to turn the nuclear reactors back on. Protesters gathered more than 8 million signatures against the move. (167)
Mind This Nuclear Waste For A Few Million Years Please
Uranium mining corporations now claim that the Fukushima disaster will make the nuclear power industry “safer and stronger” (168), even though past disasters have obviously failed to do so, and some experts argue it’s not even possible, given the rarely-contested fact that there’s nowhere “safe” to store the waste. (169) Japan still hasn’t found a place to put its nuclear waste – and it’s been looking since it started its nuclear power program about 60 years ago. (170)
Cleaning up the USA’s biggest nuclear mess – Hanford – is proving next to impossible, with 60 of the 177 underground tanks having leaked and no solution in sight. (171)
Are They Crazy, or Just Greedy?
According to a pro-nuclear power industry website, “over 45 countries are considering embarking upon nuclear power programs”. (172) This seems on the surface to be irrational, because at first glance, nuclear power appears to be both more hazardous and more expensive than alternatives such as solar and wind, even before factoring in health and environmental costs. (173)
When one identifies the major problem as that of “how best to keep the energy power and energy profits in the hands of the few” rather than “what is the safest, cheapest and most effective way to make sure everyone has access to energy”, the unwillingness to make the shift to renewable energy sources begins to make a lot more sense.
Disasters, Sabotage & Terrorism
For the sake of being comprehensive in the evaluation of 1) what happened and 2) why it might be a good idea to abandon nuclear power altogether, it’s important to mention possible alternative theories regarding the cause of the Fukushima disaster.
At least one researcher has argued that a combination of the presence of illegal weapons-grade nuclear materials Japan obtained from the U.S., combined with a computer-virus revenge plot created by Israelis against Japan (due to Japanese support for Palestinian rights), is to blame for the equipment failures and subsequent explosion – but I have yet to see this substantiated anywhere. (174)
Another researcher points to evidence published in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) publication Technology Review that indicates that the U.S. government’s High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) may have caused the quake that caused the tsunami. (175) Given my own research into longtime eugenics “depopulation” programs, the cancer treatment industry’s previous “make work programs”, and what those who wish to create the “New World Order” are capable of (176), I can’t immediately dismiss claims that, on the surface, appear “wild”.
What is clear is that a world full of nuclear power plants – unlike a world limited to wind, wave, sun, bio-fuel and geothermal power plants – is quite vulnerable to extreme weather, natural disasters, sabotage and terrorism.
(117) The Greenpeace Book of the Nuclear Age, John May, 1989
Extra!, Jan./Feb 1994, Vol. 7, No. 1, “A Nuclear Conflict of Interest? 20/20 Blurs the Lines”
(125) Extra! May 2011 The Unrenewed Debate Over Renewable Energy
?Little interest in safer, cleaner, even cheaper alternatives to nuclear power By Miranda Spencer
(126) Tom Zeman, “Nuclear Power: Lying Doesn’t Make It Safe”, Ramparts Magazine, August 1974, p. 52 http://www.unz.org/Pub/Ramparts-1974aug
(129) The Greenpeace Book of the Nuclear Age, John May, 1989, pp. 190-195, and No Nukes: everyone’s guide to nuclear power, by Anna Gyorgy and friends, Black Rose Books, 1979, p. 151
(130) The Nuclear Barons, Peter Pringle & James Spigelman, 1981, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, p. 360
Experts Had Long Criticized Potential Weakness in Design of Stricken Reactor
By TOM ZELLER Jr., March 15, 2011, New York Times
(156) “The Impact of Energy on Environment and Development”, Robert Hill, IV th Nobel Prizewinners Meeting, December 1989, p. 14 http://www.downtheyellowcakeroad.org/html/co2greenhousegases.html
(162) Call for tougher nuclear rules August 30, 2011
The Place You Must Always Remember to Forget – Nuclear Waste the film. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQ3dT7xcMgU