SPIEGEL INVESTIGATES NUCLEAR WASTE EXPORT
The radiation warning sign was so small that few passers-by took note in the commuter rail station in Kapitolovo, Russia. Fifty-six steel canisters were sitting there on a summer day three years ago. Just a stone's throw away, people were waiting for trains to take them to downtown St. Petersburg.
One passenger was Dmitri Artamonov, the head of the Greenpeace chapter in St. Petersburg. A short time later, he returned to the train station with radiation detection equipment. At the time, he recalls, the radioactivity levels were already above the level that would have triggered an evacuation in Russia. "Besides, the train was unguarded," he says, "a gift for terrorists."
The freight, uranium hexafluoride, originated in Germany and was being transported on to the Siberian nuclear city Novouralsk. The incident underscores a practice that raises few objections by either German or Russian authorities -- even today.
Since the mid-1990s, the firm Urenco Germany, located in the city of Gronau in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, has shipped 27,300 tons of low-level radioactive, but still highly toxic residual material from uranium enrichment processes, to Russia. The company confirmed the shipments last week, following Westernabout the transport of the radioactive material to Siberia. Even greater quantities were transported from France to Russia.
In legal terms, uranium hexafluoride isn't considered nuclear waste in Germany. It is used in the uranium enrichment process. When uranium 235 for use in nuclear power stations is concentrated in it, so-called depleted uranium is left over. Urenco decided it was not economical to enrich the fissile material that was left in the uranium hexafluoride. But the Russian state-owned firm offered to store any material left over cheaply at its enrichment facilities.
Urenco speaks of "recycling," but the company has since admitted that, under the terms of its contract, 85 percent of the material that originated in Germany will remain in Russia, where it is stored in the open air.
Environmentalists have complained of "rusty containers," but Burkhard Kleibömer, the head of the company's "monitoring" division, said: "Our containers are sealed." The head of the Russian state nuclear company, Rosatom, Sergei Kiriyenko, tried to play down possible risks. "Such containers are being stored out in the open from America to France," his spokesman said.
Nevertheless, as far back as 2004, Russian nuclear regulatory authority Gosatomnadsor issued a disquieting ruling about the four storage facilities in Siberia. "The storage of the containers does not meet modern safety requirements," the agency states.
Rosatom chief Kiriyenko his since moved to pull out of the company's contracts with Western firms, and, in August, Urenco sent its final shipment to Russia.
In future, the uranium hexafluoride will be stored on company property in Gronau, Germany. A security measure will also be implemented that was lacking in Russia. The uranium hexafluoride will be converted into uranium oxide, which is considerably more stable. The current view is that the material, in this form, is suitable for final storage. Precautions are also being taken in case the German government at some point in the future redefines depleted uranium as nuclear waste.
The world's worst radiation hotspot
At the start of the Cold War, Stalin chose one of the furthest outposts of his empire to test the Soviet Union's first nuclear bombs. Sixty years on, their cancerous legacy is still being felt. Jerome Taylor reports from Kurchatov
Thursday, 10 September 2009
Walking through the flat and endless Kazakh steppe, Nemytov Oleg suddenly stops, fumbles in his desert camouflage trousers and pulls out a Geiger counter. The device bleeps into life. He peers pensively at the reading. When we got out of the car it read 3. Now, within a couple of hundred yards, it has jumped to 10. He unwraps breathing masks and two pairs of disposable shoe coverings. "If we want to go any further we will have to wear these," he says.
Further along the dusty road he checks his device once more. "You see, the meter is now reading 21," he says. "If we were in a city far away from here it would read about 0.1. The radiation increases very quickly."
The reason Mr Oleg is keeping such a close eye on background radiation is because we are standing on the very spot where, 60 years ago, the Soviet Union launched the Cold War, with the detonation of its first nuclear bomb. Watched from a lead-lined bunker by Stalin's feared secret police chief Lavrenti Beria, First Lightning exploded at exactly 7am on 29 August 1949, throwing up an enormous mushroom cloud which billowed over the steppe and, unbeknownst to people nearby, dumping huge quantities of radioactive material on them, their houses and their fields.
It is the names of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Chernobyl that stand for the horrors of the new technology. The name of Semipalatinsk has no such resonance, and is all but forgotten. Yet nowhere else in the world was there such a large concentration of nuclear explosions in one place over such a long period. When Beria earmarked this far eastern corner of Kazakhstan to be the Soviet Union's top secret nuclear test facility, he described the place as "uninhabited" conveniently forgetting the 700,000 people who lived in the surrounding villages, towns and cities. Overnight the region was deleted from the map and for the next 40 years Soviet scientists detonated 615 nuclear devices at their secret Semipalatinsk Polygon.
For the first 13 years, tests inside the 80,000 square kilometre Polygon site were conducted above ground, throwing huge amounts of nuclear waste into the atmosphere. The underground tests that followed polluted vast tracts of land with a toxic combination of radioactive chemicals which will continue to contaminate the soil for thousands of years. Kazakhstan shut down the test site almost as soon as the Central Asian republic gained its independence in 1991 (and also became the first country in the world to voluntarily give up nuclear weapons). But the deadly legacy of those tests lives on.
In a new hospital on the outskirts of Semei the new Kazakh name for the otherwise unremarkable provincial capital which lies 150km east of the Polygon Galina Bityukova, aged 54 and painfully thin, is midway through a second course of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. "Sometimes I feel that my cancer is linked to the nuclear tests, you can't help but think so," she says. "It could just be cancer like anyone else gets but when you remember what happened here and how many people have cancer it makes you wonder."
On the bed opposite Svetlana, a woman in her late fifties who is recovering from a mastectomy, firmly agrees. "In my mind I know the nuclear tests had something to do with me getting ill," she says, flashing a strained smile which reveals a full set of gold teeth. Dr Baipeisov Muhametkalievich is the head of oncology at Semei's cancer ward, which treats up to 40,000 people every year. "It's difficult to know whether their cancer comes from the testing or not," he says. "But you only have to look at the data to know that this area of Kazakhstan has the highest rates of cancer of anywhere in the country." It is roughly one-third higher than the national average, he says, a clear indication that the Polygon continues to make people sick.
When Kazakhstan gained its independence following the Soviet Union's collapse, the country was left bankrupt and the damage caused by the nuclear tests was just one of the problems that Moscow consigned to the new government, dominated by the local Communist chief Nursultan Nazerbayev who is still Kazakhstan's President. As the Russian military convoys rolled back over the border they not only took away all the scientific data regarding the Polygon, but also most of the modern medical equipment from Semei's hospital.
For many years the victims of Semipalatinsk, unlike those of Chernobyl, were left to fend for themselves. But flush with new revenue from its enormous gas fields and mineral deposits, money is finally heading their way. The oncology department in Semei has just received state-of-the-art equipment from Japanese doctors in Nagasaki while a £40m radiology department is under construction. "When I first got here I was absolutely astonished at the level of poverty and neglect among the victims of nuclear testing," says Fiona Corcoran, an Irish charity worker who had seen the effects of nuclear fallout in Chernobyl and who now runs two orphanages in Semei. "Children with horrendous birth defects were just left to rot in institutions. But recently there have been some major improvements."
Ms Corcoran's charity, the Greater Chernobyl Cause, was one of many working in Chernobyl but when she arrived in Kazakhstan a decade ago outside aid was almost non-existent. "The Kazakhs would always say to me, 'People come here, they go and they forget'. There was none of the same sense of urgency that there was with Chernobyl. But what happened at Chernobyl was a single tragic accident. What happened here was the systematic and deliberate exposure of thousands of people to nuclear material."
Most of those who worked on the test site have long since died, but the radiation levels continue to poison new generations of Kazakhs. In an anonymous-looking block of Soviet- era flats is Semei's only facility for disabled children. According to the centre's director Tylysova Toleakarovna, of the 346 children they regularly treat, 45 have illnesses which result directly from radiological contamination. Baurzhanaly Kuanysh is one of them. Now 16 years old, he was born in Abay district, one of the areas closest to the Polygon. He suffers from microcephaly, a common illness among radiation victims where the victim's head is abnormally small. "We can provide for some of the victims who live near the city but we need to get out to the villages," explains Mrs Toleakarovna. "That is my dream."
Some 160km west of Semei lies Kurchatov, a meticulously planned settlement that was once the most secretive town in the Soviet Union. Here scientists work to map and contain the nuclear contamination inside the Polygon.
What is already clear is that the three sites where the explosions were regularly conducted will be uninhabitable for thousands of years, and a river that flows through the site into the Irtysh is contaminated. Yet that has not deterred new arrivals: government and private investors are keen to open up some areas of the test site because it is littered with deposits of coal, copper and silver. There are already 400 miners digging for coal close to where some of the later and most powerful tests were carried out in the 1960s and 1970s.
But the rush to extract minerals from this poisoned land has set alarm bells ringing among medical experts. Boris Gallich, a specialist in the effects of radiation, said: "My biggest fear is that these people could become contaminated and pass it on to their children and families. That may be a matter of indifference for the company directors, but not for the people on the ground."
29 August 1949: The birth of the Cold War
* The Soviet Union's first successful test of a 22-kiloton nuclear weapon called First Lightning on 29 August 1949 was, in effect, the day that began the Cold War.
* Ever since the USA dropped two atom bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Stalin was desperate to obtain the same technology.
* Stalin placed Lavrenti Beria, the feared head of his NKVD secret police, in charge of the project and gave the country's top atomic scientist, Igor Kurchatov, virtually unlimited funds.
*The successful first detonation led to a massive nuclear arms race as the two foes frantically built up their arsenals, a contest which only ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
ACE HOFFMAN ONE OF THE BEST INFORMED MEN IN USA ON NUCLEAR DEVELOPMENT
1st of Three Letters he forwards to The Handstand
September 18th, 2009
Southern California Edison (SCE), the owner of San Onofre Nuclear Waste Generating Station, is in a heap of trouble. With your help, it might shut them down forever.
First of all, they're actually having trouble with the federal regulators. Imagine that! Even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is demanding better quality control from these "closet criminals" who try to hide every mistake they make. The NRC even demanded an extra public meeting after six months instead of the normal one year. That occurs on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009 -- not that the public is REALLY welcome, but technically, they're invited as long as they don't try to hand out literature inside the room. This practice was banned entirely effective immediately, as a response to a complaint filed by this author and his spouse earlier this year about Victor Dricks, the local public relations henchman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the San Onofre district. He tried to get my table banned at the last hearing, and has successfully done so this time. It is a clear attempt by the NRC to intimidate not only THIS activist, but all activists who seek to inform the public about nuclear power.
And the funny thing is, SCE had packed that same hearing with employees, who showed up with their badges and pro-nuclear attitudes. But unfortunately for SCE, I was expecting a lot of activists to show up, but only a handful actually did. Nearly half of the SCE employees took a copy of my book, The Code Killers. Because of the large SCE attendance, I was able to hand out about 80 copies -- every one I had brought.
Doing so resulted in two SCE whistleblowers contacting me. One told me that the book is banned on site at the plant -- but that the management actually use it themselves because it is, after all, accurate! I was told that a post-it with my URL ( www.acehoffman.org ) is attached to one of the monitors in the instructors' area, and they are told NOT TO USE information from my web site in their courses. I have this from a very reliable plant veteran who has worked there for more than 25 years and works there still.
Even besides any effect my book might be having on the enthusiasm of plant employees to work in the nuclear field, SCE was and is having plenty of trouble with the work force anyway. They fired the majority of them as a group last month -- fired the main subcontractor after 40 years of running the plant (Bechtel), and every sub-subcontractor that Bechtel had hired. SCE had to bring in and train, new operators and other staff. SCE employees themselves were not released -- about 800 people, or about a third of the total work force. So most of those books I handed out actually went to people who were released from the plant a few months later, as a group. Bechtel no longer operates ANY nuclear power plants. (There is still a division of Bechtel with a contract on site -- they are installing the new Steam Generators (SGs). It's a different corporate division. They hope to get the second reactor's SG replacement contract, but it's not very likely.)
San Onofre's numerous safety violations had so riled up the regulators that management peppered its own ranks with high-level people from other nuclear power plants around the country, after a bunch of their top people quit before being fired in disgrace. I mean, they were decimated. This is the SCE people, not Bechtel. And the "good" ones that were kept weren't so good, either -- the plant STILL has an attitude of "cover it up, don't let the regulators see it, or we'll all be in even bigger trouble." The SCE employee who ASSURED ME THAT IS STILL THE ATTITUDE THERE has over 25 years at the plant, and counting.
So while the NRC thinks they are tightening the screws and making SCE run the plant correctly, all they are REALLY doing is making them try to hide the truth from the regulators! Good job, NRC. NOT. This is the federal agency the California environmental agencies rely on without question to protect your safety. It isn't being done.
Some of these new top people at SCE came from the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio, which nearly melted down in 2002, AND hid numerous crimes from the federal regulators, and from the Monticello plant in Minnesota, which would have melted down if it ever needed its Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS) to save it in the first 30 years of operation, because the shipping bolts had been left on and it wasn't actually available! These are where the replacement guys for the bad guys within SCE came from. Do you feel safer?
The Bechtel employees were replaced with The Shaw Group employees, who build and operate nuclear power plants all over the world, making billions off of corrupt plant corporations that are too dumb to operate the plants themselves -- like SCE. The Shaw Group is heavily involved in projects with other corrupt nuclear corporations such as AREVA, EdF, Rosatom, etc.. Now we have these corporate parasites bringing in foreign workers from wherever in the world they want, many of whom don't even speak English yet they operate our nuclear power plants and know our secrets about how to melt them down and how they spill radiation into our environment. And they're making high fives or even six figures while they do it! If they were to come to a public hearing they wouldn't understand a word of it. Of course, they wouldn't actually see democracy in action there anyway, but that's a separate issue (see above again).
SCE is also having trouble with their parts suppliers. What do you expect when Mitsubishi, a highly corrupt parts supplier to nuclear power plants, can't get the welding for the new steam generators right? That is, they can't even get them up to Japanese standards! THAT is to say, Japanese bribery-induced permissiveness standards. Forget the standards you might expect American parts suppliers to be expected to meet. And if you want to trust so-called American nuclear parts suppliers like "Westinghouse" and "General Electric" just remember to call them "Toshiba-Westinghouse" and "Hitachi-GE" if you want to get their names right. These are American companies in name only, if that. And the quality of their work reflects that, as do their business practices. Most of their new reactor activity is in China and other countries where bribery is easy to get away with. This is no coincidence, although dead Chinese officials who might have been caught and executed tell no tales.
The way it works with steam generators is this: THEY ALL LEAK. They'll always leak. Some amount of primary coolant, which is filled with radioactive particles activated by the reaction in the core, as well as debris that falls off the fuel, will be spritzed into the secondary coolant via these leaks, as what can amount to thousands of gallons of water goes from the highest-pressure system to the second-highest-pressure system. That's the way all commercial Pressurized Water Reactors in the U.S. operate (about 2/3rd of all U.S. reactors are PWRs. The rest are Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs), which have their own problems). From just a few years after the first ones were installed, they realized that the SGs would leak. And profits wouldn't be ask good as they thought, but they'd still make money.
So what they do is, they go in during the outages and plug up the leaky tubes. There are about 14,000 tubes in each SG (it varies, depending on the design) so plugging up even a thousand of them -- not unusual over the life of the SG -- doesn't mean you can't use them. It just means the EFFICIENCY is lowered and you'll make less money from your reactor. And your secondary coolant loop will be more contaminated (and it leaks into the tertiary coolant loop, by the way, too, at various points in the cycle).
Babies -- and fetuses, and children, and adults -- die when these highly radioactive particles get out into the environment. The industry says it just becomes indistinguishable from "background" radiation but first of all, what they call "background" includes ALL previous accidents, and second of all, each ADDITIONAL spill poisons somebody -- everybody. And third of all, many of the man-made radioactive poisons are far more hazardous per Curie (a unit of measure for radiation) than the "natural" radioactive elements. And fourth of all, not only are they more hazardous, but they are where they can do more harm -- in the air, in the soil, in the water, rather than in the ground. One of the most hazardous man-made radioactive pollutants, tritium, leaks out of everything and gets into everything. It crosses the placenta and gets in your baby's DNA. And the nuclear industry thinks this is good for baby! No, it's not. It's an evil thing to do to someone, to screw up their DNA. It causes deformities, cancer, leukemia (cancer of the blood) and a thousand -- yes, a thousand, or more -- other ailments. If nothing ELSE it ages you prematurely.
No one at SCE believes they are actually killing babies. They just all accept that "well, maybe a little bit IS good for you!" and stop worrying, or they say, "yeah, but coal kills, too" which is true, but irrelevant.
Since you can't possibly bring your baby's lifeless body to them and say with certainty, "YOU DID THIS!" they feel safe from the wrath of their victims. Most of their victims are many miles away, scattered all over the world. Your baby's cancer might have been caused by Chernobyl, or weapons testing, or your own smoking, if you smoke. You'll never know. Lucky for SCE. Not lucky for their victims.
SCE is also having trouble with the state regulators. First of all, about two years ago state senator Christine Kehoe held SWORN TESTIMONY -- a true rarity these days in public hearings -- during which the ECONOMIC FAILURE of nuclear power was clearly proven in indisputable, irrefutable terminology, with all the appropriate statistics and analysis. Second of all, the California Energy Commission (CEC) is supposedly doing its own study, and that's expected out soon and is expected to again show the rotten economics of nuclear power, again, though, even without proper accounting for the cancers in infants far away (or nearby) which are a routine and direct result of nuclear power plant operations.
SCE wants to get its new steam generators stuffed in and operating before THAT report comes out, since it could remind the public (it probably won't, but it could) that every day, about a thousand new pounds of incredibly deadly, incredibly expensive, so-called "High Level Radioactive Waste" (HLRW) is created in California by its four operating commercial nuclear reactors, and we can't afford to manage THAT waste, let alone all the "quap" that's been created already -- about 10 million pounds of HLRW in California from just the four operating reactors (plus military, research, closed reactors, and other waste) that must be stored safely for thousands of times longer than California has existed as a state -- or than the U.S. has existed as a country -- or than civilization has existed, period.
That report COULD be devastating, but it probably won't be since the CEC has never shown much guts for the truth. But even if it isn't devastating, SCE probably won't like it because no matter how you try to ignore the true costs of dead children, of suffering, of pain by saying "Hormesis" (the bogus theory that a little ionizing radiation is good for you) or whatever excuse you give, there are still the economic realities that these plants are expensive to build, operate, and dismantle, even without an accident that could cost trillions and happen any day. And they are prone to long and unexpected shutdowns even though the nuclear industry likes to call them "baseline power" because they are so hard to shut off and the NRC wants them to do that as few times as possible in a year, and keeps careful track of the total number of times any one plant has been shut down, especially suddenly.
SCE is of course also having trouble with the public. They can't handle the truth being so available to everyone -- it scares them. They fear the Internet. They fear the NRC hearings. They even fear the media. They fired their long-time public relations spokesliar after he claimed he "truly believed they'll find a cure for cancer" on tape. (Several activists think this statement was the reason, not just this activist. The "real" reason was, of course, never revealed. He was president of the local corporate luncheon group at the time, and suddenly... gone! The new spokesliar didn't even attend the last two public hearings or kept a very low profile if she did.)
SCE is also having trouble with terrorists. All the plants are. They have no way to screen employees properly to be sure they are not terrorists. And plant employees everywhere are almost routinely walking onto the job site with guns and other illegal items -- so much so that the NRC is holding a special hearing about the generic issue. One problem is that if they crack down too hard, they'll loose a lot of "good" employees, and the industry can ill afford to have people walk away from it once they've accepted the basic premise that "radiation isn't that dangerous for ME -- I'll be one of the lucky ones." (When they do get brain cancer or something, they'll say, "they never told us" but the plant will insist they were warned of all possible risks and are owed nothing, since who knows where this particular cancer came from.)
One of the whistleblowers I spoke to last month told me that inside the plant, ALARA does NOT stand for "As Low As Reasonably Achievable" (which is an industry term for "leak like a sieve, no one will stop you) it stands for "Always Let Another Run Ahead." In other words, smart nuke workers let dumber ones do the dirty work, so THEIR badges will show the higher accumulated dose, and THEY'LL have to go to a less well-paying job, not you. And THEY'LL get cancer from it, not you. ALARA.
SCE is also having trouble with the laws of physics. The laws of physics demand that parts will embrittle, earthquakes will then rattle those parts, and the whole thing will come tumbling down some day. Try as they might -- and they are doing this 24 hours a day -- they can't make new pipes and fittings fast enough to replace the old ones that are failing, and that they feel might fail in the NEXT 20 years. They are spending tens of millions of dollars on maintenance, but only to keep an old jalopy running, that would cost tens of BILLIONS to replace properly with a new one. In other words, a drop in the bucket on maintenance compared to the cost of a full, new, "working" reactor.
Not that this author wants to see NEW reactors at San Onofre (or anywhere), but we should not kid ourselves that all that money they are spending on band-aids for the old ones really buys us any protection against meltdowns. Not at all.
And SCE is having trouble with their remaining employees. Else why would I have heard from TWO who were NOT on the Bechtel short end of the stick?
And they're bound to have trouble with their new employees, since The Shaw Group is untrained in how to run these old reactors and the crew that knew how to do it was unceremoniously fired. (Newspapers knew about the switch weeks, if not months ahead of time, but wouldn't report on it until the day it happened, so that if the suggestion were to be made that such a switch is dangerous, it would be too late to stop it.)
Trouble, trouble, trouble? Not enough to make SCE afraid that we'll shut 'em down. Not nearly. For that to happen, activists will have to be much more forceful about their demands. Shut 'em down today, to prevent a meltdown tomorrow. An activist who cannot bring themselves to support immediate shutdown of their local reactor is, at best, confused. In the case of San Onofre, they're downright crazy. These reactors are dangerous, and there's no better time than right now to say: "Forget it! IT WAS NEVER A GOOD IDEA ANYWAY."
The public has been duped by the Nuclear Mafia for far too long, but in the case of SCE, it's becoming hard to hide all the problems.
September 24th, 2009 (resend with corrected Chernobyl release value of 10 billion Curies)
When I first read Thomas Friedman's most recent use of denigrating terminology ("wimps") to describe those who disagreed with him, I thought he was just a bit emotional.
Then I went back through the record, and this Pulitzer-Prize winning New York Times author actually is rather habitual about it. Those who opposed his gas tax idea in 2006 were also "wimps," and in 2008 they had no "guts." Now, any environmentalist who opposes nuclear power has earned the moniker.
Friedman hasn't changed.
And nor has the New York Times. They are the classic newspaper of America, they provide the indelible historic record, and even in this electronic era, they still hold sway over public opinion, political discourse, and thus, over public policy, as only a few other media outlets can even aspire to, let alone, come close to.
And so they are the perfect place for a nincompoop to poop nincomshit. Hence, Friedman has found a home.
Friedman is playing dirty, rotten pool with the facts, but how could such shoddy material slip past the editors at the New York Times? Not by accident. Unflagging support for government policies on nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and for various wars, despots, agendas and so forth, have been a part of The New York Times' editorial process for decades.
The government loves a public that is asleep about the dangers of nukes. Friedman wants to help with that. Romancing France's nuclear policies is especially useful right now for the pro-nuclear agenda, because the two large French nuclear "corporations" (arms of the government, really, especially in the case of AREVA) are both buying American nuclear power companies, enrichment companies, mining companies, etc.. Once invested, they will use local employees to sway public policy based on French government interests, not those of the majority of Americans, who want to preserve our land and protect our children's DNA. Radiation destroys our DNA, and the way the French handle their nuclear problems is to lie about them, to sink protestor's boats (and even kill protesters), and to bribe foreign workers. Yet Friedman calls us "wimps" for not embracing their murderous nuclear habit. The French also smoke a lot more cigarettes than, say, Californians. Just thought I'd mention it.
Friedman would love to whip the public into a fierce frenzy. He uses the word "wimps" to describe those who oppose his point of view. Wimps are made to be broken, of course. By bigger wimps.
The opposite of building more nukes isn't just "not building more nukes." It's also shutting down the ones that are currently operating. But that view never makes it into the venerable (by some vestige of their former reputation) New York Times. Only "build a lot more nukes" versus "build a few more nukes" or maybe, once in a while, "don't build any more right now." But NEVER will the New York Times give space to "shut 'em all down immediately" which is, actually, the scientifically, economically, and medically sound thing to do. Thus, the patriotic thing to do. Not doing so allows about 10 tons of hazardous high-level radioactive waste to be produced each day in America, for which no valid (safe, economical) solution exists because plain old physics gets in the way. Friedman calls Yucca Mountain "totally safe." He's totally wrong. And getting the waste to Yucca Mountain isn't safe, either. And leaving it where it is? That's the worst choice of all. Ten tons worse every day in America, and about 50 tons worse around the world.
Global warming? Radiation is "hotter than hell." Each radioactive burst is a little fire, its "heat" stirs and shakes up everything around it: It spins molecules around, making poisonous mirrors of themselves. It destroys DNA. It breaks large signal proteins. It puts holes in cell walls. It creates thousands of "free radicals" at once.
And there are so many radioactive atoms released in a nuclear accident! It is so great a number, that nobody expresses radiation in raw numbers. It is often filtered down into Curies, for instance. A Curie is 37 billion atomic disintegrations per second.
Chernobyl released about 10 billion Curies of radiation, in mixed isotopes. Chernobyl has probably killed 300,000 people, yet pro-nukers claim it only killed 60 or 100 or some other unrealistic number, because they swear that a little radiation is good for you, because, they say, it stimulates the immune system. This flawed and simplistic hypothesis is known as "Hormesis." Randomly poisoning our children with excess radiation should not be allowed at all, but it is.
Your immune system will be plenty stimulated throughout your life. This is an unnecessary and unwarranted additional burden.
Being allowed to release what lax regulators call "small" amounts of radiation into the environment is a fundamental principle of business -- of economic survival -- for virtually ALL commercial nuclear facilities. They MUST leak or they will, themselves, become overwhelmed with radiation.
Supposedly "only" 15 million Curies of radiation were released at Three Mile Island, although the exact amount is unknown and it could be ten times that, or worse. Yet Friedman naively believes that there were "no deaths or injuries" from TMI. Not one? It doesn't even fit the official government description of Linear, No Threshold (LNT) effects from radiation, which is the theory that radiation effects occur at any dose, and in a ratio according to dose size.
The LNT theory, widely accepted in the scientific community, and in direct contradiction to Hormesis, does NOT mean that a low dose only causes a mild illness. Instead, it suggests that the rate of cancers will be approximately proportional to dose. But cancer's no fun, even if only a few people get it. I've had it. More than a few people are getting it. And radiation is a primary cause of cancer, leukemia, heart disease, and a thousand other ailments.
Friedman calls those who do not endorse the random killing of humans and other living things "wimps." What are we to do when the New York Times allows him to do this, and lets him call anyone who opposes his views "wimps" year after year? Challenge him to a duel? How uncivilized! Ask them to print our responses? How hopeless!
Scorn them on the Internet? Sure, it's a start.
3rd Letter from Ace Hoffman
Date: September 29th, 2009
To: "Ian Talley, Dow Jones Newswires" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In your recent article (shown below) on the future nuclear power in America, you said that $18.5 billion would be enough federal loan guarantee money for "4-5 [nuclear power] plants." Later in the article you claimed that a new nuclear power plant is estimated to cost $5 to $8 billion.
Those are artificially-low estimates. Even just sticking purely to the cost of financing new construction, securing land and licenses, etc., a new nuke plant is liable to cost upwards of triple your low estimate and double your high one if started today. And none of these new plants would have spades in the ground today or next week, or even probably next year. (Thank goodness.)
Have you read what the new PM of Japan wants to do to the U.S.? Basically it's this: Cut us off. Stop loaning us money (stop letting us use them as a military base, stop doing what we ask, etc. etc..). There goes a few trillion in "economic recovery" over the next few years right there!
But perhaps more importantly from your perspective at the moment: Where do you think most of the parts for a new nuclear plant are going to be built? That's right: Japan! So expect to pay double, and then double that again, in the next few years. So $15 - $16 billion is probably low, too. And calling nuclear power a "domestic industry" is a shell game.
(The idea is that we'll just piece the plants together after they get delivered here in large sections. The industry wants the new plants to be modular. Most of the final assembly work will probably be done with foreign workers here on visas! And don't forget all the Reactor Pressure Vessels that have been installed backwards over the years, and all the other construction problems that have delayed deployment, reduced safety, and increased costs -- even with so-called high-quality American labor.)
To claim that $18.5 billion in loan guarantees is enough for 4-5 plants is misleading at best, and, at worst, shows bias in favor of starting new nuclear power plant construction even if we have to lie about what the total costs will be.
Even at $15-$16 billion, or $20 billion for that matter, it's still a lie about the costs. Because nowhere in the "cost" of construction of a new nuclear power plant are the true costs to society: Not just the cancers, leukemias, heart diseases, birth defects, and other ailments that will occur to workers at the plants and/or their families, the communities around the plants, and even to people in Timbuktu, but also costs like: New enrichment plants, new uranium mines, new transport systems, and new "dry storage casks" for the spent fuel if we don't build new reprocessing plants. And if we do, the reprocessing plants will need waste storage facilities and permits to pollute the planet with radioactive carcinogens. Reprocessing wouldn't help at all.
As to a permanent repository: It's proven impossible to find one that can be guaranteed to be safe, economical, or wanted, anywhere. A 20-year-old government panel -- really just a revolving door of nuclear researchers whose entire careers were probably financed by government nuke-related grants -- recently simply gave up. Instead, the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board decided to "refocus" their efforts on reprocessing and temporary on-site storage. That's called abdication of responsibility, or more simply: Criminal negligence.
Of course, I've just touched on the problems. I haven't mentioned proliferation, or terrorism dangers, or clean alternatives, or about a thousand other issues. Instead, I'll ask you (and your editors) to please read my book The Code Killers, available for free download at my web site:
I'll be happy to send you (and your editors) a bound, printed (and autographed) free copy upon request. I've distributed over a thousand bound copies, mostly to activists. Several hundred have gone to political figures, and several dozen have also been sent to members of the press. Additionally, hundreds more people have viewed the book online. Here's the comment of one Health Physicist at San Onofre, who recently BOUGHT a copy of the book, having seen a copy in the HP instructors' area of the plant: "You obviously know your stuff." He also said plant management specifically forbids HP instructors from using the book in their employee training classes. Big surprise there, but you needn't be as biased as Southern California Edison's management. In fact, you needn't be biased at all.
I suggest you especially look at: "Steps in the Nuclear Process" (page 12), "What's Worse than a Meltdown" (page 15), "What Else Can (and does) Go Wrong?" (page 16), "How Far Does Radiation Spread?" (page 17), "Nuclear Waste: Your Gift to Tomorrow (page 18), "At Least I'm Insured, Right? (wrong! page 19) and the three pages on the health effects of radiation (pages 20-22). And see Stanley Thompson's comment on page 13, which will never be refuted.
Upon consideration of all these problems, even $20 billion -- a figure I pulled from thin air a few minutes ago, but without a pro-nuclear bias -- would be an artificially-low-balled estimate of the true cost of a new nuclear power plant.
After all, on accident WILL cost over a trillion dollars and probably shut the industry down -- the whole industry -- at least for a while. Or at least it will shut down all the remaining PWRs if it's a PWR that blows its top (such as Davis-Besse's nearly did in 2002) or the BWRs if it's a BWR that melts down for some reason -- perhaps because its overcrowded Spent Fuel Pool catches fire and falls on the reactor and its vital accessories, such as cooling pipes and control pathways.
This is not impossible, just beyond the NRC's Design Basis for what can go wrong. But if a 747 pancakes down onto the SPF of a typical BWR, what do YOU think is going to happen? And if you think that would not constitute an eminent catastrophe, where in the world are you going to find an UNBIASED engineer who will agree with you? What the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says is that 747s can't crash into NPPs via terrorist acts because the TSA and the Pentagon are charged with preventing such a thing, and it is assumed (by the NRC) that they'll do their job. And the NRC also assumes that sane pilots wouldn't do a thing like that.
Of course they wouldn't! Not on purpose, that is. But engines fall off. Control surfaces have separated in midair. Both bird strikes and hail have caused broken windshields and loss of power. Control hydraulics and electronics have all failed, as well as the logic boards and software programs of the modern computers.
Plunging, uncontrolled dives can result from loss of control of an aircraft. A separation of laminates caused American Airlines Flight 587 to dive into the Bronx shortly after takeoff from JFK on November 12, 2001. Pilot error was blamed due to excessive pedal input after encountering wake turbulence, which stressed the rudder beyond its "design limit." But had the laminate not separated, the excessive attempt to keep the passengers comfortable rather than let the plane be tossed around a little wouldn't have cracked the rudder, rendering it useless and dooming the plane.
There was some speculation that luckier pilots might still have been able to bring the craft home using the remaining controls, such as using left/right engine thrust to replicate rudder movement. We can't all be lucky, but we can assume one isn't given control of an Airbus A300-600 without having proven some talent for handling an aircraft.
And everyone who steps into an airplane knows that it's better to be lucky with a bad pilot at the controls than unlucky with a good one.
We can't rely on luck when millions of lives are at stake, even if we need to rely on a bit of it to get a few hundred of us from hither to yon in a tin can at 37,000 feet and 600 miles per hour these days (since far eco-friendlier and safer terrestrial vacuum-tube transport systems haven't been implemented yet, although they were invented and tested long, long ago). To get us to accept nuclear power, we were all promised that talent, skill, a safety-conscious work environment, backup systems, and constant vigilance would remove "luck" from the equation. But any student of the nuclear industry knows that in the end, it's been dumb luck that's protected us. And dumb luck always runs out eventually.
An Airbus A300-600 has a maximum take-off weight of over 375,000 lbs, and a maximum fuel capacity of 18,000 gallons. Even if you subtract the weight of one engine, that's going to make a huge mess if it crashes uncontrollably into a nuclear power plant. And if you want to believe there will be no significant damage, you'll want to also assume the engine itself also plunged uncontrollably but safely somewhere, though in reality, the turbine shafts are the most dangerous part of the aircraft for those under it when it falls out of the sky.
A four-engined Boeing 747-8 weighs about 975,000 pounds, holding more than three times the fuel of the Airbus twin-engined jet. There's lots of things flying around up there that can hurt us.
I hope that next time you write about Secretary of Energy Steven "I love nuclear power" Chu's attempts to use his position and power to help refinance and thus restart the failing and fraudulent pro-nuclear "renaissance" and keep that murderous business firmly entrenched on its pathway to hell, you will consider the alternative viewpoints, and the many scientists and common citizens who hold them.
Ace Hoffman, Carlsbad, CA
** Ace Hoffman, Owner & Chief Programmer, The Animated Software Co.
** POB 1936, Carlsbad CA 92018
** U.S. & Canada (800) 551-2726; elsewhere: (760) 720-7261
** home page: www.animatedsoftware.com