The risks of nuclear power I described in Part 1 are startling enough, but once you put them in context they become much scarier. That would not be so bad if we had a regulatory agency that was truly dedicated to the safety of our citizens or a government willing to take action even if it costs energy corporations a large chunk of their bottom lines.
We have approximately 70 nuclear power plants that are approaching their 40-year licensing limit. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the U.S. licensing agency, is in bed with the energy companies they are suppose to regulate and inspect. They have looked the other way, in order to insure profits while minimizing safety risks.
For 20 years, Dave Lochbaum, Director of Nuclear Safety Project, and other nuclear engineers have been pushing for design corrections to reduce a major risk at 31 nuclear plants. Lochbaum states, “The safety problem basically boils down – no pun intended – to the spent fuel pool being located inside the same building that houses ALL the emergency pumps for providing cooling and makeup water to the reactor core during an accident.” “There’s no emergency system to cool the spent fuel pool’s water under accident conditions and the cooling system for the building containing the spent fuel pool and ALL the emergency cooling pumps for the reactor core cannot remove the spent fuel’s heat.” In the case of the 23 Mark I reactors, like those at Fukushima, the spent fuel pools are suspended 100 feet above the containment floor!
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on April16th of last year, after visiting the Fukushima site:
“These buildings–still contain many spent fuel rods. While it will likely take a number of years to fully retrieve damaged fuel from the reactors themselves, retrieval of spent fuel stored in the existing on-site spent fuel pools to safer storage ….. should be a priority given the possibility of further earthquakes over the several decades of response activities now proposed by the plant owner – Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Loss of containment in any of these pools, especially the pool at Unit 4 which has the highest inventory of the hottest fuel, could result in an ever greater release of radiation than the initial accident” [my emphasis].
What has been done since this letter to Hillary Clinton? The head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was forced out of office for suggesting stronger safety regulations are needed before extending current nuclear plant licensing. Fukushima is in the same teetering state of collapse. If Unit 4 topples there are estimates that it will release 85 times the radiation of Chernobyl.
Recently, Russian scientists have compiled reports that indicate approximately one million people have died in the Northern Hemisphere, mostly of cancer, as a result of the Chernobyl disaster that occurred in Russia in 1986. Some currentestimates of the Fukushima disaster are that it is 7 times worse than Chernobyl, and that North America has and will receive the brunt of the fallout (this does not include the millions of gallons of radioactive water being dumped into the Pacific Ocean). That equates to 7 million people dead and 56 million disabled in the next 30-35 years! Many of the people affected will be in the U.S. and Canada. Fukushima is not a Japanese catastrophe it is an ongoing global catastrophe.
We have several plants that are an earthquake or a super storm away from a major accident. Some of them are closer to major centers of population than Fukushima, such as the 40-year-old Indian Point Reactor, just 25 miles outside of New York City, and the Oyster Creek Nuclear Facility, 60 miles east of Philadelphia; both underwent emergency shutdowns recently due to Hurricane Sandy. The San Onofre Plant sits crippled on an ocean cliff between San Diego and Los Angeles releasing radiation. Major failures of these plants would mean the contamination and evacuation of our largest economic and population centers.
Other nations like Germany and France have shutdown reactors and are considering decommissioning them. Why? Because they understand that the risks to life on the planet are too great, and the economic viability to safely build, maintain and operate these nuclear plants is not feasible.
Nuclear power is one of those ill-conceived missteps of our culture that “simply cannot go on much longer.” Nuclear power does not make sense economically or ecologically. Simply put, “It Aint Sustainable.”