A previous Gadfly blog post addressed the matter of nuclear weapons and the carelessness of mankind in losing not just a few of the Doomsday Bombs. It also told of the depravity of governments in using the possession of the Bomb for political purposes. Part II now looks at the same ubiquity of human error re: civilian nuclear power plants.
Pennsylvania has a special place in the annals of “Atoms for Peace.” The very first commercial nuclear power plant in the US was brought on-line in 1957 at Shippenport on the shores of Lake Erie [as if Lake Erie were not polluted enough already]. Another nuclear power plant was built in 1974 on Three Mile Island in the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg. A PA poet told the story:
When he said,
“This is how
the sun works,
these are the rules that stars
but asked, “What
use to us unless we
the beads to
dance and leap,
to play the First Fury?”
Too soon afterward, 1979 to be exact, Reactor Two of the TMI plant began to melt down, releasing significant radioactive emissions. “Significant” translates to a real increase in cancers over the following years in people downwind of radioactive emissions. Another first for PA.
Then in 1986, to assuage any jealousy of the US being first, the Russian nuclear power plant at Chernobyl (Reactor #4) suffered two explosions, followed by fires and a complete meltdown. Radioactivity spread wildly — not just 50 million curies, as reported by the IAEA, but 10 billion curies of radioactivity that spread around the entire Northern Hemisphere. In Ukraine, Belarus, and eastern Russia, the proportion of healthy births before 1986 was 80%. After the disaster, they fell to 20%!
A book published in 2010, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, reviewed over 5,000 scientific papers, most written in Slavic languages and never before translated into English. The authors report increased pathology of every organ system of many people in eastern and western Europe and Scandinavia. In the US and Canada, fallout reached us nine days later. The Mesopotamian gods: Enlil, the god of wind, and Adad, the god of storms, don’t stop at man-made boundary walls. In the US, four years later, 25% of all imported food was found to be contaminated.
We made it out of the 20th century without another major meltdown. But in 2011, Mother Nature showed us who’s in charge with an earthquake and a tsunami to add to human ill-judgement and arrogance. The result was the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.
In the US, there are some 100 nuclear power plants — all aging. President Obama wanted more, and so did James Hansen, the environmental scientist. But, Wall Street, the Big Banks, and the Insurance Industry are all more guided by the bottom line than by politics. They all thought that renewables were less risky, faster, and cheaper. Pennsylvania has finally shown some good sense — the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant will be closed for good in 2019. Maine, however, beat us to the draw. The nuclear plant at the picturesque town of Wiscasset was closed in 1992.
The Gadfly Revelry & Research Team, not renowned for advocating the joys of Capitalism, used the logic of fun and common sense. They wrote: “You want to split the atom to make the heat to boil water for steam to drive turbines to make electricity?? Why not use technology that employs sun and wind and tides — all of which are cheaper, and require far less time to build? Maybe Nature is telling us something.”
The original 100+ nuclear power plants in the US were commissioned for 40 years. Most all of them were or are in the process of renewing their license to operate, despite their aging. Some are in the midst of a second renewal. The NRC, acting more like an agent for the nuclear industry than a regulatory agency that protects the public from radioactive disasters, both large and small, renews the licenses routinely. They were not even ashamed that they renewed licenses for three plants that later closed. Meanwhile, the radioactive “spent” fuel rods have to be stored on site, both at the plants that still operate and those that have been closed. Yes, Wiscasset still has radioactive waste stored in casks at the closed site.
When will they/we ever learn?