Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
It has always seemed to me that the use of nuclear energy is a bad idea given the current technology. My opinion is perhaps formed because I was in school during the 1950’s and due to the “Cold War” and the bomb tests, there developed in most of us, a deep fear of nuclear annihilation. I can remember watching in fascinated fear, in 1952, as they exploded a Hydrogen Bomb at Eniwetok, one of the Marshall Islands. The blast was covered on TV as I guess a reassurance to the American People of the power and might of our government and to give us a feeling of safety from those “Commies” in the USSR. Being eight years old at the time this demonstration of US power was not comforting in the slightest. We had “duck and cover” exercises in Elementary School, where we would go under our desks and cover our eyes in case of a nuclear attack. Given the actual nuclear explosions I had witnessed on TV, the idea that “duck and cover” would save me cast a skeptical suspicion in my eight year old mind.
As I grew I learned that beyond the immediate effect of a nuclear blast, the subsequent radiation was even more dangerous. Radiation poisoning could maim you and it could kill you in a slow, lingering death. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings did more than just kill many people. Beyond the maiming of the immediate victims who survived, we learned about the rates of cancer which were off the charts, especially in the infants of pregnant women. As the threat of nuclear destruction faded, the idea of radiation poisoning was nevertheless present as the United States began using nuclear power and a large industry sprang up around it. The industry was fostered by the then named Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), which was soon in thrall of the industry it was supposed to regulate. As with cigarette smoking the stories of rising cancer rates were downplayed by the AEC and the “nuclear industry. The AEC has now become the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) because the AEC had developed the reputation as an industry shill, rather than regulator. This is hardly a surprise because it seems that all government regulation today is in the hands of industry lobbyists and an exchange program where the regulators find jobs with the industry they regulate. The “revolving door”.This Wiki article on nuclear power is rather even handed in its approach, but will supply you with all the background you might need on nuclear power plants: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_plant One item from it sets up my thoughts for today:
“In many countries, plants are often located on the coast, in order to provide a ready source of cooling water for the essential service water system. As a consequence the design needs to take the risk of flooding and tsunamis into account. The World Energy Council (WEC) argues disaster risks are changing and increasing the likelihood of disasters such as earthquakes, cyclones, hurricanes, typhoons, ﬂooding. High temperatures, low precipitation levels and severe droughts may lead to fresh water shortages. Seawater is corrosive and so nuclear energy supply is likely to be negatively affected by the fresh water shortage. This generic problem may become increasingly significant over time. Failure to calculate the risk of flooding correctly lead to a Level 2 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale during the 1999 Blayais Nuclear Power Plant flood, while flooding caused by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami lead to the Fukushima I nuclear accidents.
The design of plants located in seismically active zones also requires the risk of earthquakes and tsunamis to be taken into account. Japan, India, China and the USA are among the countries to have plants in earthquake-prone regions. Damage caused to Japan’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant during the 2007 Chūetsu offshore earthquake underlined concerns expressed by experts in Japan prior to the Fukushima accidents, who have warned of a genpatsu-shinsai (domino-effect nuclear power plant earthquake disaster).”
In this time of global warning worries, with the distinct signs of a rising sea level, nevertheless the economics are such that the optimal way to build nuclear plants is by large bodies of water, preferably the ocean. Which brings me to the disaster at the Fukishima Nuclear Plant in Japan:
“The Fukushima nuclear disaster illustrated the dangers of building multiple nuclear reactor units close to one another. This proximity triggered the parallel, chain-reaction accidents that led to hydrogen explosions damaging reactor buildings and water draining from open-air spent fuel pools — a situation that was potentially more dangerous than the loss of reactor cooling itself. Because of the closeness of the reactors, Plant Director Masao Yoshida “was put in the position of trying to cope simultaneously with core meltdowns at three reactors and exposed fuel pools at three units”.
Some more about Fukushima:
“The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster Fukushima Dai-ichi was an energy accident at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, initiated primarily by the tsunami of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011. The damage caused by the tsunami produced equipment failures, and without this equipment a Loss of Coolant Accident followed with nuclear meltdowns and releases of radioactive materials beginning on March 12. It is the largest nuclear disaster” since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 and the second disaster (along with Chernobyl) to measure Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, releasing an estimated 10 to 30% of the radiation of the Chernobyl accident.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_nuclear_disaster
A September 1, 2013 story from the BBC related that the radiation levels around the Fukushima Nuclear Plant are now 18 times higher than was initially thought. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-23918882
“The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) had originally said the radiation emitted by the leaking water was around 100 millisieverts an hour. However, the company said the equipment used to make that recording could only read measurements of up to 100 millisieverts. The new recording, using a more sensitive device, showed a level of 1,800 millisieverts an hour.The new reading will have direct implications for radiation doses received by workers who spent several days trying to stop the leak last week, the BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes reports from Tokyo.
In addition, Tepco says it has discovered a leak on another pipe emitting radiation levels of 230 millisieverts an hour. The plant has seen a series of water leaks and power failures. The 2011 tsunami knocked out cooling systems to the reactors, three of which melted down. The damage from the tsunami has necessitated the constant pumping of water to cool the reactors. This is believed to be the fourth major leak from storage tanks at Fukushima since 2011 and the worst so far in terms of volume.”
It doesn’t surprise me that these new revelations have come out re-estimating the radiation levels at Fukishima. I am in the camp one could describe as skeptical and/or hostile to the nuclear industry. However, I’ve supplied enough information in the various links above and below for people to come to a different conclusion. Indeed, I realize that nuclear power has many beneficial pluses to it use. My specific worries can be classified as its danger to the surrounding community, the long lasting after effects of nuclear radiation and the fact that industry invariably co-opts its regulators. When these factors are put together with the business imperative, which must always be to continually raise profitability, I worry.
“Nuclear power plants are some of the most sophisticated and complex energy systems ever designed. Any complex system, no matter how well it is designed and engineered, cannot be deemed failure-proof. Veteran anti-nuclear activist and author Stephanie Cooke has argued:
The reactors themselves were enormously complex machines with an incalculable number of things that could go wrong. When that happened at Three Mile Island in 1979, another fault line in the nuclear world was exposed. One malfunction led to another, and then to a series of others, until the core of the reactor itself began to melt, and even the world’s most highly trained nuclear engineers did not know how to respond. The accident revealed serious deficiencies in a system that was meant to protect public health and safety.
The 1979 Three Mile Island accident inspired Perrow’s book Normal Accidents, where a nuclear accident occurs, resulting from an unanticipated interaction of multiple failures in a complex system. TMI was an example of a normal accident because it was “unexpected, incomprehensible, uncontrollable and unavoidable”.
Perrow concluded that the failure at Three Mile Island was a consequence of the system’s immense complexity. Such modern high-risk systems, he realized, were prone to failures however well they were managed. It was inevitable that they would eventually suffer what he termed a ‘normal accident’. Therefore, he suggested, we might do better to contemplate a radical redesign, or if that was not possible, to abandon such technology entirely. .
A fundamental issue contributing to a nuclear power system’s complexity is its extremely long lifetime. The timeframe from the start of construction of a commercial nuclear power station through the safe disposal of its last radioactive waste, may be 100 to 150 years.”
We live in an age where the “Captains of Industry” believe that efficient management is one that lays off workers, cuts wages and looks to cost savings of all kinds in order to increase profitability. Why would we expect that the nuclear industry is immune to the management fashion of the day? These plants are admittedly among the most complex power delivering entities on the planet. There have been innumerable accidents, with disastrous consequences, that have occurred through the years some of which are referenced in the links I’ve supplied. My position is that I could be open to the idea of using nuclear energy for power, providing that I could be certain that safeguards exist. I don’t believe they currently do exist, despite reassurances from the industry and the NRC. Currently, my two children, my grandchildren and my beloved mother-in-law live in close proximity to a nuclear power plant, Indian Point, in New York. A little history of this plant impacts my concerns for their safety:
“According to the New York Times, the Indian Point plant “has encountered a string of accidents and mishaps since its beginnings, and has appeared on the federal list of the nation’s worst nuclear power plants”. A 2003 report commissioned by then Governor George Pataki concluded that the “current radiological response system and capabilities are not adequate to…protect the people from an unacceptable dose of radiation in the event of a release from Indian Point”. On March 10, 2009 the Indian Point Power Plant was awarded the fifth consecutive top safety rating for annual operations by the Federal regulators. According to the Hudson Valley Journal News, the plant had shown substantial improvement in its “safety culture” in the previous two years.”
This is a history of the nuclear incidents at Indian Point, on the important Hudson River, thus far:
- In 1973, five months after Indian Point 2 opened, the plant was shut down when engineers discovered buckling in the steel liner of the concrete dome in which the nuclear reactor is housed.
- On October 17, 1980, 100,000 gallons of Hudson River water leaked into the Indian Point 2 containment building from the fan cooling unit, undetected by a safety device designed to detect hot water. The flooding, covering the first 9 feet of the reactor vessel, was discovered when technicians entered the building. Two pumps which should have removed the water were found to be inoperative. NRC proposed a $2,100,000 fine for the incident.
- There was intense scrutiny of the Indian Point plant between 1993 and 1997, when it was on the Federal list of the nation’s worst nuclear power plants.
- In February 2000, the most serious incident at the plant occurred, when a small radioactive leak from a steam generator tube forced the plant to close for 11 months.
- In 2001, a series of leaks sprung up in non-nuclear parts of the plant.
- In 2005, Entergy workers while digging discovered a small leak in a spent fuel pool. Water containing tritium and strontium-90 was leaking through a crack in the pool building “and then finding its way into the nearby Hudson River.” Workers were able to keep the fuel rods “safely covered” despite the leak. On March 22, 2006 The New York Times also reported finding radioactive nickel-63 and strontium in groundwater on site.
- In 2007 a transformer at Unit 3 caught fire, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission raised its level of inspections, because the plant had experienced many unplanned shutdowns. According to The New York Times, Indian Point “has a history of transformer problems”.
- On April 23, 2007, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission fined the owner of the Indian Point nuclear plant $130,000 for failing to meet a deadline for a new emergency siren plan. The 150 sirens at the plant are meant to alert residents within 10 miles to a plant emergency. Since 2008, a Rockland County based private company has taken over responsibility for the infrastructure used to trigger and maintain the ATI siren system. The sirens, once plagued with failures, have functioned nearly flawlessly ever since.
- On January 7, 2010, NRC inspectors reported that an estimated 600,000 gallons of mildly radioactive steam was intentionally vented to the atmosphere after an automatic shutdown of Unit 2. After the vent, one of the vent valves unintentionally remained slightly open for two days. The levels of tritium in the steam were within the allowable safety limits defined in NRC standards.
- On November 7, 2010, an explosion occurred in the main transformer for Indian Point 2, spilling oil into the Hudson River. The owner of the Indian Point nuclear plant later agreed to pay a $1.2 million penalty for the transformer explosion.
- In the middle of February , employee error caused an accidental shutdown of Reactor Two. This incident released no radiation.
Now these incidents have occurred at a nuclear plant that has a “relatively safe” history, but from my perspective it remains a potential threat to those I love. There are also some who say that nuclear plants contaminate the surrounding area and raise cancer risks. This has devolved in a “he said, she said” argument between environmentalists and the industry, with the NRC siding with industry. There is another Indian Point safety issue to be mulled:
“Indian Point stores used fuel rods in two spent fuel pools at the facility. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Indian Point spent fuel pools, which contain more nuclear material than the reactors, “have no containment structure”. While the spent fuel pools at Indian Point are not stored under a containment dome like the reactor, they are contained within a 40-foot-deep pool and submerged under 27 feet of water. The spent fuel pools at Indian Point are made of concrete walls that are four to six feet wide with a half-inch thick stainless steel inner liner. According to Jonathan Alter, the pools are located in bedrock, not above-ground as at many other plants including the Japanese ones.”
“In 2008 researchers from Columbia University‘s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have located a previously unknown active seismic zone running from Stamford, Connecticut, to the Hudson Valley town of Peekskill, New York – the intersection of the Stamford-Peekskill line with the well known Ramapo Fault – which passes less than a mile north of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. The Ramapo Fault is the longest fault in the Northeast, but scientists dispute how active this roughly 200 million-year-old fault really is. Many earthquakes in the state’s surprisingly varied seismic history are believed to have occurred on or near it. Visible at ground level, the fault line likely extends as deep as nine miles below the surface.
Indian Point was built to withstand an earthquake of 6.1 on the Richter scale, according to a company spokesman. Entergy executives have also noted “that Indian Point had been designed to withstand an earthquake much stronger than any on record in the region, though not one as powerful as the quake that rocked Japan”.”
So in the end “you pays your money and you takes your choice”, as the old canard goes. My choice is that nuclear power comes at too great a potential cost to be relied on as the power source of the future, given current technology. There are semi valid arguments that it doesn’t pollute the atmosphere and that it helps keep energy costs down. The fact is, that all things considered, these plants are quite costly to build and maintain. The plants are expected to last 100 to 150 years because of both initial cost and the need to clean up the nuclear waste produced. The question also comes about as to the cost both financial an physical of the disposal of nuclear waste. I concede that neither do I have a scientific bent, nor am I an expert. I further concede that there are points to be made that favor nuclear energy used as a power source. Nevertheless, in my opinion the downside exceeds the benefits. Where do you stand?
Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger