Monday, June 20, 2011

Nuclear Nightmare Approaching Fast

UPDATE 1: (see end of article)

A few facts: nuclear fission power presently provides approximately 20 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S., through 104 nuclear reactors that were designed in the 1960s and 1970s, and constructed primarily in those decades. The plants were designed for a 40 year life.

Nuclear proponents would have us believe that new nuclear power plants should be built in great numbers because, they say, that nuclear power is perfectly safe, reliable, and cheap. It also has no need for importing fuel from nations that would do us harm, plus we can keep American money at home in America. Furthermore, they say, the nuclear power plants produce zero pollution and no greenhouse gas, CO2.

I have written previously on several of these points, disputing each one.

This article has as its main theme the fact that nuclear power is dangerous, and grows more dangerous with each passing week and month. These plants are old, are beginning to show signs of wear and tear, and are dangerously close to creating a nuclear radiation release that will produce great harm. This is based on a just-released report from The Associated Press, found at this link.

A brief excerpt:
"Federal regulators have been working closely with the nuclear power industry to keep the nation's aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them, an investigation by The Associated Press has found.
Time after time, officials at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission have decided that original regulations were too strict, arguing that safety margins could be eased without peril, according to records and interviews.
The result? Rising fears that these accommodations by the NRC are significantly undermining safety - and inching the reactors closer to an accident that could harm the public and jeopardize the future of nuclear power in the United States."

The article goes on to list a number of areas where the nuclear power plants - rather, their owners - are allowed to continue operating without repairs. The standards are relaxed to meet the situation, rather than requiring the situation to be corrected to meet the standards.
Nuclear power plants are, in some ways, similar to other facilities that engineers design and construct. For example, oil refineries, chemical plants, steel mills, automobile assembly plants, shipyards, ports, even locomotives, ships, trucks, and cars are all designed and built by engineers and workmen. A nuclear power plant, for example, has vessels that are made of a type of steel, with a designated wall thickness to provide the desired strength. There is a safety factor applied to that wall thickness, just in case the steel is not quite as strong as is expected. Also, an additional thickness is added to the design, to account for corrosion. The usual procedure in refineries and chemical plants is to periodically inspect the vessel, measure the wall thickness, and decide whether the vessel can continue in operation until the next shut down period, or if it must be removed from service and replaced. Yet, in the nuclear industry, the AP investigation found that the allowable standards are reduced, rather than force the nuclear plant owner to replace the part.

This policy of changing the standards may, and I must stress, MAY, be appropriate where the initial design had a very large safety factor. However, from reading the AP's report, it appears that the deficiencies are far greater than what was expected.
It is time that the nuclear power industry in the US be held accountable. We can not afford a nuclear accident with the spewing of deadly radioactive material across hundreds of square miles and millions of people affected.

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.

UPDATE 1: (June 23, 2011) - AP reports also that more than three-quarters of all US nuclear plants have leaked tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, often into groundwater. The leaks are from corroded, buried piping. Tritium itself is fairly harmless, as its radiation cannot penetrate the human skin. However, if ingested via food, water, or breathing, it becomes far more toxic.
More troubling is the leakage of radioactive forms of Cesium and Strontium.
See this link. -- End update 1 -- RES

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