Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
People's Global Action
Nuclear Nightmare Goes Critical
The Schools We Want
E. Wayne Ross
Signs of a Police State â€¦
Movement Building Is the Only â€¦
In Memory Of Bhopal
An interview with Tahmeena Faryal â€¦
The Threat Of Global State â€¦
Colombia is the third largest â€¦
Airline Layoffs, Worker Concessions
Extending U.S. Dominance
Urgent Patient Tasks
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.
Nuclear Nightmare Goes Critical
NRC shuts down web site, but not nukes
On October 11, 2001, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission put the following message on their website: “Our site is not in operation at this time. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has taken the action to shut down its web site. In support of our mission to protect public health and safety, we are performing a review of all material on our site. We appreciate you patience and understanding during these difficult times.”
That's all the information you could get from the NRC's web site exactly one month after the attacks of September 11. On that same day the FBI warned of more attacks, and the agency reported that it had requested that supervisors of potential targets, including nuclear power plants, heighten security.
Also on October 11, however, you could visit the web site of the Nuclear Energy Institute and click on “plants near you” by state or country, and go to an interactive map indicating U.S. states with nuclear power plants. Then by clicking on any of these states on the map you could see the nukes' names and the towns where they are located. Such as “Millstone, Waterford, Connecticut”
There you could also learn that “Used fuel at the shutdown Haddam Neck plant and Millstone is being temporarily stored in water-filled vaults.” In these cases temporarily means from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, respectively.
At this same location you could also click on a link to the “NRC's Plant Information Books, where you can find statistics, diagrams and other plant-specific data.” This link did not work.
The NEI site also informed the public that NRC “regulations require nuclear plants to take adequate measures to protect the public from the possibility of exposure to radioactive releases caused by acts of sabotage.” And that nuke containment buildings are “designed to withstand the impact of … airborne objects up to a certain force.
The NEI is the nuclear industry's primary promotional and lobbying organization. There are no statements on its web site addressing the impact of the 9-11 attacks on nuclear plant security.
The nuclear industry's second honeymoon is over. Only months ago its top executives were meeting with highest level Bush administration officials, who soon thereafter parroted the industry's call for the construction of new nukes across the US.
Today, were citizens fully informed of the risks nukes currently posed to their health and safety, they would likely raise a hue and cry that would bring about a permanent divorce from the nation's ill conceived and catastrophically dangerous nuclear power plants.
Nuclear plant owners want to keep operating them to make money. Terrorists want to attack them to bring about more mass murder, as one '93 bomber of the World Trade Center testified. The conflict therein makes the simple statement “No Nukes!” more powerful than ever.
At the Millstone Nuclear Power Station its new owner,Virginia-based Dominion Resources, echoes NRC pronouncements that there have been no “credible threats” to nukes.
But the idyllic pseudo-reality of the Millstone site has already been totally obliterated. There are more, many more, security personnel, armed with bigger and more deadly weapons. Jersey barriers abound. Coast Guard cutters with anti-aircraft capabilities hover in Long Island Sound just off Millstone Point.
Airspace above the plant is closed, though just how closed is in question. On October 2 the Boston Globe reported that an unidentified plant buzzed the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant at 10:30 p.m. on September 13. The newspaper said that the feds scrambled attack aircraft after the plane “but fighter jets sent to intercept the aircraft never found it.
Following the FBI October warning, the Connecticut Coalition Against Millstone (CCAg) removed an aerial photo of Millstone from its web site at the urging of Dominion. The utility said the NRC had requested nuke utilities to disappear such images from their web sites.
Before September 11 you could walk, bike or drive in the main road leading to the Millstone plants and proceed on it past them without anyone doing anything to stop you,. You could hike around its adjacent nature trails and gaze at the wildlife and containment buildings.
You could proceed on the road past the plants to a parking lot near the ocean where no one ever checked you. On the way is a guard shack that was almost always empty. On the rare occasions when someone was on duty there, the presence of a fishing rod in your vehicle was all you needed to be waved on.
Off to one side of the parking lot is a sandy cove, a perfect landing spot. At the sea side of the lot is a chain link fence with a sign posted on it telling you not to proceed further. But you could easily step around it and join all the others fishing beyond, off the rocks around where Millstone liquid radioactive discharges surge into the Sound.
The warm water from the plants attracts marine line. One day a few years back when I visited the spot with a friend, he asked a fisherman if the tuna were still running there. “Nah,” the old salt complained, “they left after the plant had to shut down.
Millstone annual radioactive environmental reports routinely report finding “in the area of the discharge” radioactive manganese, zinc and silver in oysters; “cobalt-60 in clams;” and “manganese-54 in scallops.”
There are hundreds of Millstone radioactive discharges into Long Island Sound each year. They tend to average an hour each, lasting up to 15 hours according to plant reports.
There are no new security restrictions on such releases. But the fishing off the rocks, the boating off the Point, the biking and hiking near the reactor buildings are all history.
CCAG, as well as Connecticut state senator Melodie Peters and state representative Andrea Stillman, have called on Governor John Rowland to deploy the National Guard to Millstone to boost security. The governors of New York and New Jersey sent national guard units to nuclear plants in those states after the FBI October warning. But Rowland refused to follow suit, even after a threat to the Three Mile Island nukes on October 17.
Apocalypse Now, Radioactive
No one wants to talk about the dangers of a 9-11 type attack on a nuclear plant these days. But it doesn't take an Einstein to figure what a direct hit by a jumbo jet might do. If a lot or all the radiation got out Connecticut could become a permanent wasteland with many more victims than on September 11. As could downwind areas.
In the summer prevailing winds are from the southeast, towards Providence and Boston. During the winter Nor'easters could take the deadly escaped gases and particles towards Long Island and New Haven and NYC and beyond. In reality, as in the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters, the winds could change direction a number of times, exposing people thousands of miles a way to the toxic releases.
None of these scenarios are anything anyone really wants to contemplate. But, especially now, no one can deny their possibility.
Nevertheless, the NRC continues perpetuating the fiction that there can be any true nuclear security. On 9-11 the agency recommended “purely as a precaution,” that “all nuclear power plants, non-power reactors, nuclear fuel facilities and gaseous diffusion plants go to the highest level of security. Details of the heightened security are classified.”
Not until 9-21 did the NRC issue a press release, “NRC Reacts To Terrorist Attacks.” In the release the agency admitted that “the NRC did not specifically contemplate attacks by aircraft such as Boeing 757s and 767s and nuclear power plants were not designed to withstand such crashes. Detailed engineering analyses of a large airliner crash have not yet been performed.”
In this release the NRC conducts a not very reassuring Q&A session. Some samples:
Q: Is an attack using an airplane part of the NRC's design basis threat?
A: No. The NRC has been in close and continuing contact with law enforcement and the military regarding this threat.
Q: What exactly is the so-called design basis threat?
A: The details of the design basis threat are classified, but it includes the characteristics of a possible sabotage attempt that NRC licensees are required to protect against.
Billions and Billions of Curies
Nukes' dangerous radiation is both in the reactors and their so-called spent fuel pools. Utilities put the “spent” fuel rods in the pools after they are not longer commercially viable in reactor operations. But they then become high level—and highly lethal—nuclear waste.
In 1992 Dr. Michio Kaku, professor of nuclear physics at the City University of New York, used Northeast Utilities data to calculate that Millstone 2's spent fuel pool held one billion curies of radiation. For our purposes curies measure quantities of radiation. New Haven's Mary Ellen Marucci, who was working with Kaku then in the Concerned Citizens Monitoring Network, figured that Unit 2 contained another billion curies when it was operating.
When a reactor is shut down to replace some of its nuclear fuel, typically all of its fuel rods are temporarily placed with the spent fuel in its pool.
“That's two times what's in the reactor when it's operating,” Marucci told me in 1995. “There's untold years of plutonium and other radioactive ash known to be toxic to all know life in that pool.
Each of the three Millstone nukes, including permanently shut down Unit 1, has its own pool crammed with two to three times as many fuel rods as it was originally designed to hold. Together the three pools contain tens of thousands of pounds of plutonium and other highly radioactive chemicals. Dominion has applied to the NRC to put even more rods in Millstone 3's pool.
Adding to concerns are unaccounted fuel rods from Millstone 1's spent fuel pool. During an inventory there last year, Northeast Untilities could not account for 2 fuel rods put in the pool in 1972 and last known to be there in 1980. In October of this year, after a 10 month, $9 million investigation, NU still could not say where they were.
This despite NRC regulations requiring utilities to account for all spent fuel rods every six months. And other regulations mandating the NRC to take its own such audit every two years. The containment structures around the pools are much weaker than those around the reactors. Such a containment could be breached “by a Cessna”, according to former nuclear industry engineer David Lochbaum, now with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
And while the reactors are below ground level, the pools are above ground. Both the reactors and the pools require water-cooling safety systems. These systems are electrically powered. The Associated Press reported on 9-17 that “If a nuclear power plant were hit by an airliner, the reactor would not explode, but such a strike could destroy the plant's cooling systems. That could cause the nuclear fuel rods to overheat and produce a steam explosion that could release lethal radioactivity into the atmosphere.
The AP story also stated that “a direct hit at high speed by a modern jumbo jet ‘could create a Chernobyl situation,' said a U.S. official who declined to be identified.”
No Way Out
Unfortunately there are other ways to attack a nuclear power plant. The NRC has conducted a program of mock terrorist intrusions into nukes. David Orrick, a former Navy SEAL, until recently headed up that program. Orrick organized small teams of mock terrorists to attack nukes. In 1999 he testified to the NRC that the attacks were successful half the time, despite six months advance warning to the targeted nuclear plants. Nevertheless, the NRC recently has been considering ending this program, and substituting one carried out by the nuclear operators themselves.
Some years ago a former Millstone employee told me about an Orrick team targeting one of the nukes there. “They got into the control room—undetected all the way—in a matter of minutes,” he said. Once inside a control room attackers could bring about a meltdown in a variety of ways.
There is also the possibility of internal sabotage by disgruntled, mentally disturbed or criminally inclined employees. On August 19,1997, Carl Drega killed four people in New Hampshire before dying in a shootout with police. Drega had worked at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, as well as Pilgrim in Massachusetts and Indian Point in New York.
There are documented cases of nuclear utilities hiring people with felony convictions, due to lax security investigations. In other cases workers have entered sensitive areas of nukes without authorization or proper ID.
After September 11 U.S. Second Congressional District Representative Rob Simmons of Connecticut expressed concern about the vulnerability of Millsotone's spent fuel pools, as well as the one in the shutdown Connecticut Yankee plant. Simmons and others have pointed to that vulnerability as a compelling reason to move all the hot stuff out of the pools ASAP and transport them to a proposed federal repository deep in the ground at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
But the Department of Energy has yet to approve the site, and even if it does, it likely won't be operational for another decade. Critics say the site isn't suitable because it is in an earthquake zone, has a history of volcanic activity, and studies indicate that water has already leaked into test caverns where the vast amounts of high level radioactive waste are supposed to be kept safe and dry for thousands of years. Dry so that the radwaste won't migrate into ground water.
Pro-nuclear representatives in Congress have introduced a bill to create a “temporary” above ground site storage site at Yucca Mountain a number of times in recent years. Several times it passed in both houses, but President Clinton vetoed it.
Opponents Call it Mobile Chernobyl
The Washington DC-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service, using DOE information, has figured that “even with daily shipments, the program would last at least 30 years … Each large train cask carries the long lived radiological equivalent of 200 Hiroshima bombs.”
Northeast anti-nuke group Citizens Awareness Network has estimated that there would be about 1300 such shipments of spent fuel rods by truck, and 325 by rail, passing through Connecticut.
The 325 rail shipments would all come from Millstone. They'd travel west through my hometown of Niantic,including favorite summer spot Rocky Neck State Park, then across the Connecticut River and along the shoreline, and over the Quinnipiac River into New Haven. There they'd turn north and roll through Meriden and Hartford towards Springfield, MA, before turning west. So this proposed solution would result in thousands of moving targets on the nation's highways and railways for decades.
There are 103 operating nuclear plants in the US. And more that are shut down, but still have pools full of deadly fuel rods, as in the cases of the Connecticut and Maine Yankee plants. Before 9-11, the NRC had allowed such shutdown plants to greatly relax security at such sites.
Does any sane person without a financial or political interest in nuclear power doubt that a real solution, one that can lead to genuine protection of our health and safety, can only begin when the public applies enough pressure to bring about the same action that the NRC has taken with its web site?
Coalition Against Millstone spoke for many of us when it stated recently: “In
recognition of the dangers to the country and as a matter of national security,
we now call on Dominion to close the Millstone Nuclear Power Station and do all
that is necessary to eliminate it as a potential terrorist target.”
Michael Steinberg is the author of Millstone and Me: Sex, Lies and Radiation in Southeastern Connecticut.