Just Say No To "Nukeler"

President Bush may not know how to say nuclear, but he likes the way it sounds. He sees it as a plentiful source of alternative energy. You know, like wind and solar. In typical Bush fashion, he told us so in a recent sound bite on TV.

Bush expressed shock and awe over the fact that we haven't "built any new nukeler energy plants in more'n a decade"! He opined we needed to make up for lost time. After all, nuclear energy is clean, affordable and safe! Yes! We need more nuclear power generating plants!

In his usual superficial, glib fashion, Mr. Bush stated nonsense as fact.

Why? Because it's what he does. It is the secret of his success. Years ago, when he was still the governor of the Lone Star Republic of Texas, Bush told his staffers, "You can fool some of the people all of the time. Those are the ones we need to concentrate on."

Bush got one thing right. There has been a moratorium on building new sources of nuclear energy. Up till now the nation kind of thought it was a good idea, based on the facts and all. However, the current administration has a way of manufacturing facts and figures on demand to create whatever illusion they wish, much like a magician pulls stuff out of a hat.

For example, the Bush money machine wanted to go to war against a petty dictator to stir up a little oil exploitation. After all, nothing is sweeter than war when it comes to windfall profiteering. Make money blowing stuff up and make more money rebuilding it. All that's needed is custom crafted facts presented over and over and over until the gullible believe. And the innocent die. And we all pay the bill.

So what if the few who can't be fooled "all of the time" try to disprove the phony evidence. Before they can even begin, the war will be in the history books being read by a public that has been duped yet again.

Those who are not so easily misled understand the facts and remember them.

When it comes to "nukeler" energy we should all remember what happened 26 years ago. And what has been happening ever since. In case you may have forgotten, please allow me to refresh your memory. And by all means, pass it on!

On March 28, 1979 we suffered the worst nuclear power plant accident in US history. Approximately 144,000 people living within 15 miles of the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear plant were evacuated during the meltdown crisis. Lethal levels of radiation prevented workers from entering the actual reactor containment building for nearly a year! The facility never resumed operation and cost several hundred million dollars to clean up.

Since that tragic incident, ongoing protest activities carried out by concerned citizens and environmental groups throughout the world have tried to keep the memory alive. However, for a variety of reasons, there has been very little else in the mainstream news regarding nuclear power. Consequently, the public has been lulled into a sense of false security, apparently believing we've learned from our past mistakes and things are OK now!

Thus the time is ripe for a new push toward "nukeler power" expansion. Especially since the fountains of black gold are running out of crude oil.

What are the facts? Has the seeming lack of another incident like the disaster experienced at TMI been the result of a more mature, better equipped industry? Or is something else at work here? And if so, what?

The TMI accident was precipitated by workers who were making routine adjustments to the water purification system when they accidentally stopped the cooling flow to the reactor core. The back-up system, designed for just such an occurrence failed! The comedy of errors continued when emergency pumps, installed to protect the reactor core when all else fails, started automatically and were immediately shut down by operators who mistakenly relied on broken instruments. Back-up gauges clearly indicated that the pumps were in fact needed but no one bothered to check them!

The reactor core ultimately released more than 10 million curies of radioactivity into the atmosphere. Was this just an isolated incident? Other disaster would have certainly be heavily reported. So perhaps nuclear energy is safe.

Since we are gambling with our future here, shouldn't we take a look at the odds before deciding if nuclear power plants really are a safe? As it happens, David Lochbaum, an engineer at the nuclear power safety office of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) actually has compared nuke power plants to slot machines. The three wheels on the Nuclear Power Slot Machine represent a precipitating even, an equipment failure and a worker performance error.

Sometimes the wheel stops on an precipitating event, like a broken water pipe or a fire. Sometimes it stops on an equipment failure and other times on worker errors. All it takes to win another Chernobyl jackpot is for all three wheels to hit at once!

Just what are the odds of this happening?

James Asselstine, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), predicted "about a 50-50 chance of another severe accident" happening within 20 years of the TMI disaster. Based on the available data, the NRC gave Congress the following outlook:

    The most complete and recent probabilistic risk assessments suggest core melt frequencies in the range of one in one thousand per reactor year to one in ten thousand per reactor year. A typical value is three in ten thousand. Were this the industry average, in a population of 199 reactors operating over a period of 20 years, the crude cumulative probability of a severe reactor accident would be 45 percent.

This prediction was made 20 years ago. So how have the numbers played out?

Well, according to the NRC in the past ten years alone there have been 200 events very much like the one that set off the meltdown at TMI! Each of these involved unexpected loss of cooling water. There have also been many other close calls involving fires, pipe breaks and other failures.

The only difference between these events and TMI was that the back-ups functioned and there was minimal employee error. The back-up systems saved the day, turning a potential repeat of TMI into a near miss! In other words, we lucked out! But how many more pulls on the handle of the Nuclear Power Slot Machine will it take before we find ourselves in the middle of a nuclear nightmare?

You might wonder why I say we were lucky to avoid another disaster. After all, we designed backup systems to cut in when something fails or workers err! They did what they were supposed to do, right?

Well that's the good news. The bad news is that in the past few years there have also been several hundred instances where backup equipment was found to be faulty. It's getting harder and harder to get details of these failures, but I can give several instances that are troublesome.

For example, it was found that the Haddam Neck Nuclear Plant at Haddam, CT, operated for its entire 28-year lifetime with piping that was too small to allow the necessary flow of water to the reactor core! Our luck was good! And we won't need to be lucky there anymore because they shut the facility down!

Another successful throw of the dice was played out at the Big Rock Point nuclear plant in Charlevoix, MI. This plant operated for thirteen years without any possibility of water being supplied to the reactor core in the case of an emergency. The pipes had been completely severed!

Over at the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant near Chattanooga, TN, they found that 27 of the 48 doors leading from the Unit 2 reactor containment building into its ice condenser would not freely open. The ice condenser is a large vault containing over 2 million pounds of ice used to absorb the energy released inside the reactor containment building when a pipe breaks. The report regarding this incident pointed out that with so many doors disabled, the containment building could easily have been over pressurized and failed in the event of an accident. Unit 2 at the same facility was found to have 11 of its 48 doors also jammed!

Clogged screens would have prevented the emergency pumps from supplying necessary cooling water to the reactor cores at both the Perry Nuclear Power Plant near Cleveland in 1993 and the Limerick plant outside Philadelphia in 1995.

These are just a few examples of equipment failures that could have led to another TMI incident had not luck been with us!

The third wheel on the David Lochbaum's Nuclear Power Slot Machine is human error. Let's see how we're doing in this vital area.

The NRC reported 728 nuclear plant problems caused by worker mistakes in a recent two-year period alone. The UCS monitored safe performance at 10 nuclear power plants during 1997 and found 35 percent of the safety problems reported were caused by worker errors. The River Bend nuclear plant near Baton Rough, LA, led the list with nearly 68% of its safety problems involving worker mistakes!

There are currently 103 reactors operating in the United States. When we look at the odds offered by the above statistics, the question becomes not one of if there will be a repeat of TMI, but when!

Should such a disaster happen, how bad might it be? To find out a study was prepared in 1982 by the Sandia National Laboratory based on hard data gathered from the Three Mile Island disaster.

It was concluded that an similar accident at the Limerick nuclear plant near Philadelphia could kill 74,000 people within the first year and cause 34,000 subsequent cancer deaths. Another 610,000 people could experience radiation-related injuries such as cataracts, temporary sterility and thyroid nodules. The same study estimated such an accident would cost $200 billion in lost wages, relocation expenses and decontamination costs.

With 103 current reactors, our national is already engaged in a game of Nuclear Roulette. The stakes are about as high as they come. Many of us have been asking why for decades. Why not put our money into solar energy, wind energy and/or hydrogen fusion? If the immense investment of time, financial resources and raw materials we have channeled into nuclear power generation had been directed toward clean, abundant alternative sources, we could be totally energy independent today. Instead we must rely on a disappearing reserve of fossil fuel while holding together a gaggle of old nuclear power plants in a state of progressive decline.

Where is the sanity in toying with a force of such limitless power and the resultant toxic waste? Trying to tame a phenomena with such destructive potential is madness and folly! We are gambling with the lives and the future health of our people and our environment! A poor gamble it is when the main component standing between us and disaster thus far has been little more the blind luck!

Like the song says, "you got to know when to fold'em, know when to hold'em, know when to walk away and know when to run!" There are endless sources of clean energy all around us! Isn't it past time to cut our losses and walk away from nuclear energy completely?

An ad in the New York Times paid for by the Nuclear Energy Institute once stated:

    "Thanks to clean nuclear energy, the air we breath is cleaner. America's nuclear power plants don't burn anything to generate electricity, so they don't pollute the air. We can count on nuclear energy to provide the electricity we need and to keep our environment clean."

This is just what Mr. Bush and his hooligan masters wish all of us to believe. They see the source of their power and their fortunes dwindle with each barrel of oil removed from the finite reserves held deep within the bowels of the Earth.

Suffering from blind addiction to unbridled greed, what other trough may these godless gluttons feed from, if not "nukeler". Wind, solar or fusion energy just seem too cheap, too clean; too good for the likes of them. If they could control the air we breath, I fear they would; and foul it like everything else they touch in their sad, insane quest even greater wealth and power. Such is the insatiable insanity of their kind.

Please don't let Mr. Bush fool you again. Pass it on. There were no weapons of mass destruction, Iraq did not have ties to those who destroyed the World Trade Center and it's all about oil, stupid.

And please, just say no to "nukeler" energy.

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