Volume , Number 0
Europe in Ten Questions
Redistricting Returns With A Vengeance
Repairing the damage
Democracy and the War on â€¦
Jonathan lawson and susan Gleason
Unions Must Tap Young Workers
2001 In Music
The Fruits Of NAFTA
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
Journal of 15th Year
There are no articles.
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
Greenpeace Urges Shut Down Of U.S. Nukes
A recent report by Greenpeace, written in the aftermath of 9-11, asserted “the NRC's regulation of the nuclear industry is already a farce” and called for “the phase out of [U.S.] nuclear reactors” to “avoid a tragedy.”
In its November 14 report the global environmental group named 14 nuclear power stations with 25 nukes as “the reactors that cause the greatest risk” and called for them to be shut down first. Among them are the troubled Indian Point 2 plants just 24 miles north of New York City. The report cited federal government statistics indicating that a catastrophic accident at Indian Point could cause hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries as far as 50 miles from the plant, and result in hundreds of billions of dollars in economic damages.
Similarly dire statistics from that same government source for the nation's other operating nuclear power plants were included in the report.
There are 103 commercial nuclear reactors operating at 64 sites in 31 states across the nation.
The Greenpeace report (“Risky Business: The Probability and Consequences of a Nuclear Accident”) stated, “As the events of September 11th tragically demonstrated, the risk of a nuclear reactor meltdown must encompass not only the potential for an accident but also the possibility of sabotage. The U.S. government has known since at least the mid-1990s that terrorists were targeting nuclear power plants.”
To support this assertion the report quoted the following from an October 24, 2001 Associated Press story: “Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, encouraged followers in 1994 to strike such a plant, officials say. An FBI agent has testified in court that one of Yousef's followers told him in 1995 of plans to blow up a nuclear plant. And in 1999 the NRC acknowledged to Congress that it had received a credible threat of a terrorist attack against a nuclear power facility.”
In a September 21 press release, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission stated “the NRC did not specifically contemplate attacks by aircraft such as Boeing 757s and 767s and nuclear plants were not designed to withstand such crashes.”
A nuclear meltdown could occur in a nuclear plant's reactor or its spent fuel pool. The pool stores irradiated fuel rods after they are commercially “spent” and become high level nuclear waste. Green- peace quoted NRC documents and officials to demonstrate that the containment structures of U.S. nuclear plants could fail during a meltdown. A 1988 NRC document it cited stated, “All five major reactor containment types were found to be subject to failure in such accidents, for which they were not designed.”
The NRC has not inspired confidence in assessing the probability of such a catastrophic accident. The Greenpeace report pointed to one 1979 NRC document that claimed the chances of a meltdown at a U.S. nuke were minuscule. Less than a month after the document's release, Three Mile Island 2 nuclear plant in Pennsylvania suffered a partial meltdown. Not until after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 did NRC Commissioner James Asselstine admit to a Congressional committee “ ... given the present level of safety being achieved by the operating nuclear power plants in this country, we can expect to see a core meltdown accident within the next 20 years.”
With five year's left to fulfill Asselstine's prediction, we can only hope that this one too proves untrue.
What is harder to contest, given the Chernobyl aftermath, is Greenpeace's assertion that “If a meltdown were to occur in either the reactor or the spent fuel pool, the accident could kill and injure tens of thousands of people, cost billions of dollars in damages, and leave large regions uninhabitable.”
The report cited an April 2000 Associated Press story that quoted these Ukrainian government figures: 4,000 rescue workers died from radiation poisoning after the Chernobyl disaster; another 70,000 people there have been disabled by radiation. “Overall,” the AP story stated, “about 3.4 million of Ukraine's 50 million people, including 1.26 million children, are considered affected by Chernobyl, and many may not show the affects for years.” According to Greenpeace, “the Chernobyl accident contaminated approximately...12,400 square miles...and in 1990...the contaminated land was considered a total loss for at least two generations.”
Consequences of Meltdowns
The Greenpeace report referred to early 1980's NRC documents authored by the federal government's Sandia National Laboratory that calculated the consequences of serious accidents (such as meltdowns) at U.S. nuclear plants, resulting in releases of large quantities of radiation into the environment. The report stated “This was not the first time the government had looked at the consequences of a nuclear accident; however, it was the last …” The information was never intended to be made public, and only came out through the insistence of Massachusetts Congressman Edward Markey.
The Sandia studies broke down the consequences of such an accident into four components. “Peak early fatalities” result from radiation exposure over the first year after the accident. “Peak early injuries” are, according to Greenpeace, “radiation related injuries occurring within one year of the accident which require hospitalization or other medical attention. Early injuries include conditions such as sterility, thyroid nodules, vomiting and cataracts.”
“Peak cancer deaths” are “predicted to occur over the lifetime of the population exposed to the radioactive release.”
“Scaled costs,” the report explained, “include estimates of lost wages, relocation expenses, decontamination costs, lost property and the cost of interdiction for property and farmland. ‘Scaled' means that the costs have been adjusted for the size of the reactor.”
The Sandia studies calculated the peak early fatalities for Indian Point (IP) 2 and 3 as 46,000 and 50,000, respectively. Peak early injuries were figured at 141,000 for unit 2 and 167,000 for unit 3. For peak cancer deaths the numbers were 13,000 for IP2 and 14,000 for IP3. The studies calculated scaled costs, in 1980 dollars, as $274 billion for unit 2 and $314 billion for unit 3.
Indian Point 1's reactor has been permanently shut down since 1974, after operating only 12 years. However, its spent fuel pool is still full of high level nuclear waste. This situation exists at a number of other shut down nuclear power plants. Some nuclear critics such as David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a 17-year veteran of the nuclear industry, think that a serious accident in a spent fuel pool could release as much or more radiation into the environment as a serious reactor accident.
New Orleans is 25 miles east, and downwind, of the Waterford 3 nuclear power plant. The Sandia numbers for Waterford are 96,000 peak early fatalities, 279,000 peak early injuries, 9,000 peak cancer deaths, and $131 billion in 1980 dollars in scaled costs.
The Limerick 1 and 2 nuclear reactors are 21 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Their lethal numbers, for each reactor, are 74,000 peak early fatalities, 610,000 peak early injuries, and 34,000 peak cancer deaths. Scaled costs in 1980 dollars were put at $213 billion for unit 1 and $197 billion for unit 2.
The news is just as bad for the rest of Greenpeaces's list of the most risky nukes. Catawba 1 and 2 are 20 miles east of Charlotte, NC. At that time of the early 1980's Sandia reports their numbers were, for each reactor, 42,000 peak early fatalities, 88,000 peak early injuries, and 5,800 peak cancer deaths. Scaled costs, again in 1980 dollars, were calculated at $101 billion for unit 1 and $93.7 billion for unit 2. Charlotte's population and economy have mushroomed since the early 1980s, meaning that all these numbers would likely be much higher if a catastrophic nuclear accident happened there now.
A similarly sad tale emerges from the statistics for the egregiously named Turkey Point evil twin reactors, 25 miles upwind of Miami, and for other nukes in the Sandia studies.
The Sandia studies also calculated U.S. nukes' peak fatality radii as well as peak injury radii. For example, Dresden 2 and 3 in Illinois have a peak fatality radius of 15 miles. Their peak injury radius is 60 miles, and thus includes Chicago and Gary, Indiana. The Millstone nukes in Connecticut have a peak fatality radius of 20 miles, and a peak injury radius of 65 miles. The latter area includes most of the Nutmeg state, all of Rhode Island, eastern Long Island in New York, and parts of western and southern Massachusetts.
Indian Point's 50-mile peak injury radius includes NYC and Newark, as well as Stamford, Bridgeport and Danbury, Connecticut.
We know from the Chernobyl disaster, however, that radioactive plumes which escaped into the environment there traveled thousands of miles, broke into separate plumes, and blew in multiple directions with the shifting winds.
Other nuclear plants, besides those already mentioned, on the Greepeace list of the nation's most risky nukes are: Surry 1 and 2 in Virginia; Salem 1 and 2 and Hope Creek 1 in New Jersey; Sus- quehanna 1 and 2 and Three Mile Island 1 in Pennsylvania; Peach Bottom 2 and 3 in Maryland; and Sequoyah 1and 2 in Tennessee.
National Security Threat
Jim Riccio, author of the Greenpeace report, in a press release accompanying the publication of Risky Business, stated, “The United States cannot be on high alert and then ignore the biggest threat sitting within its own borders…. The only way to secure our nuclear plants from nuclear sabotage or an accident is to immediately implement an emergency phase out plan for all reactors.... Nuclear plants now constitute a national security threat and their continued operation is unacceptable.”
The report also asserted that the NRC “must not extend the licenses of nuclear reactors” and should “rescind those licenses that have already been renewed.” It also said “New construction of nuclear reactors in the United States must be prohibited.”
On November 30, five Democratic senators and congress-persons (Senators Hillary Clinton, Joseph Lieberman and Harry Reid, along with Nita Lowey and Edward Markey from the House of Representatives) somewhat grudgingly introduced legislation to strengthen security at U.S. commercial nuclear plants.
The legislation called for permanent federal security officers at the plants, re-evaluating the designs of nukes to bulk them up to withstand direct hits from contemporary jumbo jets, stockpiling potassium iodide (which can prevent thyroid cancer) for the public within 50 miles of nuclear plants, and giving the NRC power to recommend to state governors the use of the National Guard and Coast Guard in times of crisis.
While the corporate media, the nuclear industry, and the NRC blithely ignored the Greepeace report, those entities couldn't just blow off the likes of Lieberman and company. The latter two were quick to respond.
The nuclear industry fired back first, on the same day the legislation was introduced. Joe Colvin, top dog at the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's lobbying and public relations organ, called the legislation “well intentioned but misguided. The bill is a reflexive political response to a problem that does not exist.”
The NRC, which critics call the nuclear industry's lapdog rather than its watchdog, quickly fell in line. A few days later, in a letter to Senator Reid, NRC Chief Richard Meserve said, “The commission strongly opposes enactment of the legislation as drafted.” In language nearly identical to Colvin's, Meserve said that the proposal to create a federal nuclear security force “addresses a nonexistent problem.”
As usual, both sides missed the point. Or perhaps their obscuring the necessity to eliminate nukes as the solution to the national security threat they pose is their common point. In contrast, Green- peace looked to practical solutions that could positively change our catastrophic nuclear reality.
The Greenpeace report also pointed to a November 2000 study conducted for the U.S. Department of Energy by five federal energy laboratories. This study, according to Greenpeace, “found that renewable energy could supply at least 7.5% of the U.S. electricity by 2010,...enough to allow for the phase out of the most dangerous reactors in the U.S.,” such as Indian Point's.
In addition, the report stated, another recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that “renewable energy could supply 20% of U.S. electricity by 2020,” which “coupled with an increase in energy efficiency...would produce enough electricity to supplant every nuclear reactor currently operating in the United States.”
Greenpeace said it disclosed the information in the report because “the public deserves a frank discussion of this most unforgiving technology.... Greenpeace hopes that by providing this information to the public and the media we can accelerate the phase out of nuclear reactors and avoid a tragedy.” Z
Michael Steinberg is the author of Millstone and Me: Sex, Lies and Radiation in Southeastern Connecticut.