Backyard Nightmare

September 20, 2011

Either resigned to fate, or highly naive:

Rebecca Sparks, who works at the town’s Barber Shop, says she’s not nervous: “I believe they’d tell us if there was a problem.”

Ugly business, nuclear power.

Near the top of a long list of really dumb-ass things mankind has done over the ages, the splitting of the tiny atom is so beyond horror it’s near criminal.
As reported: What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.

Way, way-too-late to think about that shit, though.
The view from here ain’t pretty.
(Illustration found here).

In a feature at USAToday — from which came the beautician’s quotes above — was a revisit to Mineral, Virginia, a small town just 11 miles from the North Anna Nuclear Power Station, which was jolted beyond design plans by the 5.8 earthquake Aug. 23.
Twenty-five of the 115-ton steel casks storing highly radioactive used fuel rods shifted as much as 4½ inches out of position on their concrete storage pad.
Despite the plant’s operator, Richmond-based Dominion Resources, claiming the plant is safe, folks in Mineral are a bit nervous:

“A lot of people think they’ve hid stuff from us,” says (Shamara) Hunter, the bakery manager. “Even if they’re not good to go, they won’t tell us.”

At the Talk About Nails salon, customer Brenda Quarles says she knows a lot of people who’ve worked at the plant.
“One friend said they were a little shaken up there” after the quake, she says.
Quarles didn’t give it a second thought, saying, “There’s nothing we can do about it.”

Brenda’s correct — we be f*cked.

The quake was double what the plant was built to withstand, some 21 percent greater than plans allowed — although the facility was reportedly supposed to handle a 5.9- to 6.2-magnitude quake, the August shaker made operators shake their own heads: “We’re perplexed,” said Jim Norvelle, spokesman of Dominion.
That’s just great.

There are 104 nuclear power plants in the US — about 65,000 metric tons of spent uranium is currently being stored at those sites, which produce about 2,210 metric tons of new radioactive waste annually (source: here).
This spent fuel is the shits:

The rate of decay of a radioactive isotope is called its half-life, the time in which half the initial amount of atoms present takes to decay.
The half-life of Plutonium-239, one particularly lethal component of nuclear waste, is 24,000 years.
The hazardous life of a radioactive element (the length of time that must elapse before the material is considered safe) is at least 10 half-lives.
Therefore, Plutonium-239 will remain hazardous for at least 240,000 years.

That’s bat-shit crazy.

Of course, the meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station last March after a 9.1 earthquake and subsequent tsunami has caused a new look at nuclear power, but most likely won’t hinder those plants’ operation.
Only the Germans seem to have heard the noise.
From Bloomberg:

Siemens AG said it abandoned a planned return to the nuclear-power industry, following the German government in its retreat from atomic energy in the wake of the reactor catastrophe in Japan earlier this year.

“We’ve closed that chapter,” Loescher said, according to an interview with the German weekly.
Siemens is responding to the “clear position taken by society and politics in Germany” in regard to a retreat from nuclear power, he said.

In the US, nuclear is still nuclear.
After the Japanese disaster, which is still ready to turn even more ugly, President Obama keeps up the nuclear spirit: “As we get more information about Japan and what happened there, that can be incorporated. But right now, we remain committed to the clean energy standard and the other aspects of the President’s energy plan,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

Rolling Stone magazine posted a look at US nuclear plants last May — titled aptly, America’s Nuclear Nightmare — and it doesn’t feel or look good.
Some bits:

Perhaps Jaczko (Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) was simply trying to prevent a full-scale panic about the dangers of U.S. nuclear plants.
After all, there are now 104 reactors scattered across the country, generating 20 percent of America’s power.
All of them were designed in the 1960s and ’70s, and are nearing the end of their planned life expectancy. But there was one problem with Jaczko’s testimony, according to Dave Lochbaum, a senior adviser at the Union of Concerned Scientists:
Key elements of what the NRC chief told Congress were “a baldfaced lie.”
Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer, says that Jaczko knows full well that what the NRC calls “defense in depth” at U.S. reactors has been seriously compromised over the years.
In some places, highly radioactive spent fuel is stockpiled in what amounts to swimming pools located beside reactors.
In other places, changes in the cooling systems at reactors have made them more vulnerable to a core meltdown if something goes wrong.
A few weeks before Fukushima, Lochbaum authored a widely circulated report that underscored the NRC’s haphazard performance, describing 14 serious “near-miss” events at nuclear plants last year alone.
At the Indian Point reactor just north of New York City, federal inspectors discovered a water-containment system that had been leaking for 16 years.

In the years ahead, nuclear experts warn, the consequences of the agency’s inaction could be dire. “The NRC has consistently put industry profits above public safety,” says Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear executive turned whistle-blower. “Consequently, we have a dozen Fukushimas waiting to happen in America.”

According to a 2003 study, it would cost as much as $7 billion to move the spent fuel out of the pools and into more secure containers known as dry-cask storage.
So why hasn’t the NRC required such a precaution?
“Power companies don’t want to pay for it,” says Alvarez.
“They would rather let the public take the risk.”
Gilinsky offers another explanation.
“After insisting for years that spent fuel pools were not a problem,” he says, “the NRC doesn’t want to admit what everyone knows after Fukushima: They were wrong.”

And all of this could have been prevented nearly 60 years ago, and a road not taken.

As background: In 1951 President Truman created a blue ribbon commission to evaluate and propose a plan for the U.S. energy future.
The 1952 Paley Commission Report, named for the commission chair, proposed that the U.S. build the economy on solar energy sources.
The report also offered a strong negative assessment of nuclear energy and called for “aggressive research in the whole field of solar energy” as well as R&D on wind and biomass.
In 1953 the new President Eisenhower ignored the report recommendation and inaugurated “Atoms for Peace,” touting nuclear power as the world’s new energy miracle that would be “too cheap to meter,” according to Lew Strauss, Chair of Atomic Energy Commission.
Fundamentalist faith in nuclear energy abounded.

And now here we are with nightmares running all day long.

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