What a bunch of hooey, IMHO
1. To begin with, the World Health Org has blamed fewer than 50 deaths on Chornobyl. You won't find me apologizing for Chornobyl - it was a stupid and completely avoidable accident with devastating results and big time contamination problems. If the Ukrainian government REALLY believes that 125 000 have died then: a) they believe unsupportable numbers and b) they are committing an unconscionable decision to proceed with additional nuclear power plants. If Chornobyl was really so bad as to have killed 125 000 and made 3.5 million sick to date, then how could the gov't possibly build more reactors (even if they are of a much superior design)?
2. STAR is a stridently anti-nuclear organization solely working against nuclear (i.e. it is NOT an environmental group). They are out to stop all nuclear sci & tech. If one doesn't believe reports and statements from the nuclear industry because they would be "self-serving and biased" then the exact same argument applies to STAR, Lochbaum, etc.
3. Why would an air crash into a reactor or spent fuel bay cause an accident that would cause Chornobyl-like releases? In Chornobyl, the huge graphite core burned for days - the chemical fuel was mixed right in with the nuclear fuel. Chornobyl was as bad as it can get - it was optimum for the release of radionuclides: a) the power surged (100x full power, I believe) right before being "opened up" to the environment, blowing out any steam or water that oculd have kept things cooler b) It had been operating at high power until a few hours before the experiment, thus having a high inventory of short-lived radionuclides (including iodine 131, of course), c) There was no containment to limit releases (even a cracked containment will limit releases, but Chornobyl's reactor was wide-open to the environment)
4. The employees of anti-nuclear organizations are now targetting spent fuel pools in preference to the hardened reactors. While the pools (and cannisters) have a large inventory of radionuclides, the I-131 and other short-lived ones are essentially gone. The heavy radionuclides don't go anywhere far, even propelled by hot gases. And why would a spent fuelpool catch on fire any way? The jet fuel would burn away and upwards (i.e. not trapped by a building - the WTC murders were largely due to the fire and heat being contained within the building above it. The spent fuel in a pool does not have high heat generation - the large mass of water is there more for shielding - there is an enormous quantity of water for cooling the fuel. A Cessna or even Lear jet may be able to damage the building, but it's not going to do anything to the fuel.
5. Even if a large jet struck a fuel pool or cannisters (even tougher), the releases would be quite low. Yes, it would be a serious thing, but using the Chornobyl slogans smacks more of anti-nuclear advertizing campaigns than reality.
I could go on ad nauseum but, as Andrew English said, "Enough"!!
From: Adam McLean[SMTP:email@example.com]
Sent: Friday, December 14, 2001 10:58 AM
To: Canadian Nuclear Discussion List
Subject: [cdn-nucl-l] Terrorism hysteria
Posted in USA Today on December 14, 2001 and at:
Is it really the Ukraine ministry of health saying that 125,000 people have
died from Chernobyl (when the UN says it's <100)?!!
Could nuclear plants be terrorists' next target?
By Gary Stoller, USA TODAY
By Jeff Guenther, AP
Residents of the Hunter Trace subdivision in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., live in the
view of the Sequoyah nuclear plant.
An airplane crashes into Connecticut's Millstone Nuclear Power Station, 127
miles from New York. It ignites a fire that releases large amounts of
radioactive particles into the atmosphere over one of the nation's most
populous regions. An area the size of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New
Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont is uninhabitable for at least 30 years, and
some areas remain contaminated for 300 years. Children begin dying from
leukemia 5 years after the accident, and tens of thousands of people
eventually die of cancer.
Such a horrific scenario was once considered too unlikely to worry much
about, but Sept. 11's events altered that perception. The threat of a plane
dive-bombing into one of the nation's 103 operating nuclear plants or 16
decommissioned plants that store spent fuel cannot be dismissed, say nuclear
engineers and scientists. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is now studying
how to prevent such an attack.
Most nuclear power plants are designed to withstand earthquakes and natural
disasters. At a few plants near airports, the buildings containing the
nuclear reactors are designed to withstand a small plane crash. But none was
built to survive hits by larger planes or jets like those terrorists
hijacked on Sept. 11. The NRC is aware of that and expects to complete a
thorough review of security policies this month, it says.
Nuclear plants' reactors are not the only worry. They're typically housed in
steel-lined reinforced concrete shells that are at least 18 inches thick at
the top and 6 feet thick at the base. Of greater concern are the less
protected "spent-fuel pools," where used rods of nuclear fuel that once
powered the reactors are cooled and stored for years in pools of water.
Some industry watchdogs say even small planes, such as corporate jets, could
penetrate the buildings that house many of these pools. Disturbing the water
in the pool could cause the fuel rods to get too hot, starting a fire and
causing a massive radiation leak.
The amount of radioactive material discharged by an accident in the pool of
Millstone Unit 3, for instance, would be five times greater than the world's
worst nuclear accident to date - at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the
Ukraine in 1986 - says Gordon Thompson, executive director of the Institute
for Resource and Security Studies.
Ukraine's Health Ministry says 125,000 people have died and 3.5 million
people have become ill because of the accident. "A pool fire at Millstone
Unit 3 would be a regional and national disaster of historic proportions,"
says Thompson, a mechanical engineer who has consulted for the Department of
Thompson was hired by the STAR Foundation, a Long Island environmental
group, to calculate the effects of a pool fire at Unit 3. The group opposes
the plant's application to more than double the pool's spent-fuel capacity.
In response to the September attacks, the organization last month sued the
NRC, demanding that the agency take action to prevent a "catastrophic
spent-fuel pool fire" at Millstone. The NRC has no comment.
Pete Hyde, a spokesman for the plant's operator, Dominion Nuclear
Connecticut, says security procedures are being reviewed, and the utility
supports restrictions on the airspace within a 5-mile radius of all nuclear
power plants. The NRC says the pools' security at all nuclear power plants
is being studied as part of "a top-to-bottom review" begun after Sept. 11.
"There is a threat, and the agency is looking at it," says spokeswoman
That doesn't satisfy some members of Congress:
The NRC "is still operating in a pre-Sept. 11 world," says Rep. Edward
Markey, D-Mass. "While the NRC and the nuclear power industry has been
saying nothing short of 'It can't happen here,' we know all too well that
the terrorists of al-Qaeda (suspected of executing the Sept. 11 hijackings)
have contemplated and would carry out an attack on a nuclear facility."
Rep. George Gekas, R-Pa., says the government should begin stockpiling
supplies of potassium iodide for communities near nuclear facilities.
Potassium iodide can prevent the onset of thyroid cancer that could result
from radiation poisoning.
A bill introduced in the Senate in late November would create a federal
security force for nuclear plants and would require them to establish a plan
to defend against air attacks. Presently, plant operators hire private
security companies. Since Sept. 11, state and local police and, in some
states, the National Guard have been present.
"An air attack on a nuclear power plant could result in one of the greatest
environmental disasters to ever affect civilization," says Nathan Naylor, a
spokesman for Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., a co-sponsor of the bill.
The NRC says it has not learned of a specific "credible threat" against a
nuclear power plant since Sept. 11. On Oct. 30, however, the Federal
Aviation Administration banned small planes from flying over most plants
"for national security considerations." Those restrictions were lifted Nov.
On Oct. 17, airports in Harrisburg and Lancaster, Pa., were closed
temporarily after the NRC said it received information about a threat
against the Three Mile Island nuclear plant outside Harrisburg. The NRC
subsequently said the threat was a false alarm.
Too remote a threat?
Nuclear safety watchdogs say that for many years they have pointed out the
dangers of spent-fuel pools, but that the NRC told them the terrorism threat
was too remote to make it a major concern.
At about one-third of the power plants, the reactor is in one building, and
the spent-fuel pool is housed in a second building with only corrugated
metal walls and a roof, says David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer of
the Union of Concerned Scientists and a former power plant consultant. At
the rest of the plants, a spent-fuel pool sits in a concrete building that's
farther from, but attached to, the reactor building.
The corrugated metal structures could be penetrated by a small plane, such
as a Cessna, Lochbaum says. The concrete structures, which are at least 6
inches thick, could be penetrated by a larger plane or a jet, Lochbaum and
other engineers say.
A severe pool fire could render about 188 square miles uninhabitable and
cause as many as 28,800 cancer fatalities and $59 billion in damage,
Brookhaven National Laboratory said in a 1997 report for the NRC. NRC
spokesman Victor Dricks says he can't comment on the study.
Storage of spent fuel has been a controversy for decades. A 1982 law
mandated that the Department of Energy be responsible for accepting nuclear
plants' waste, but no storage site exists.
Steve Kerekes, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, which
represents 35 major power companies, says spent-fuel pools are
well-protected, and it would be "extremely difficult for a plane to strike
directly without major portions of the plane being shredded on the way in."
The pools and the reactor buildings have redundant safety systems to protect
against loss of coolant, Kerekes says. But he doesn't know what would
happen, he says, if a large jet struck either the containment building or
the fuel pools. "We've said since Sept. 11 that we can't guarantee we're
impervious to every scenario one might envision," Kerekes says.
Lochbaum says that many spent-fuel pools are in the open, and if a plane
made a direct hit, the back-up cooling system could fail. Spent-fuel pools
hold five to 10 times more "long-lived radioactivity" than a radioactive
core inside the reactor of an operating plant, says STAR Foundation
executive director Robert Alvarez, a former Department of Energy adviser.
At some nuclear plants, some of the spent fuel has been removed from the
pool and stored in lead-lined concrete casks. These casks, says Lochbaum,
could be split open in a crash but are probably less vulnerable than the
spent fuel in the pools.
The amount of spent fuel stored at nuclear plants is growing, making
accidents even more dangerous in the future. Under typical weather
conditions, about 46,598 square miles of land would be rendered
uninhabitable for at least 30 years - and some for hundreds of years - if
all radioactive material were discharged from the current inventory of fuel
assemblies in Millstone Unit 3's spent-fuel pool, Thompson says. A similar
accident in late 2004 would render about 55,923 square miles - more than the
size of New York state - uninhabitable, he says.
"I don't think anyone can accurately predict what would happen," says Hyde,
the Millstone spokesman.
He says the spent-fuel pools, composed of "industrial steel frames with
concrete around them," are designed to withstand an earthquake but not the
impact of a large jet. If such an accident occurred at the Harris Nuclear
Plant near Raleigh, N.C., there would also be great devastation, says
Thompson. If all fuel in two of the plant's fuel pools ignited, enough
radioactive material would be released to contaminate for at least 30 years
93,000 square miles of land - 8,700 more than the entire state.
Keith Poston, a spokesman for Progress Energy, the parent company of the
plant's operator, Carolina Power and Light, calls Thompson "a full-time
anti-nuclear activist" and says he won't comment on Thompson's calculations.
"We're confident our facilities are safe, and they've been deemed to be safe
by the federal government," the spokesman says.
Poston says, however, that both the spent-fuel pools and the operating
nuclear reactor's containment building were "not designed to withstand a
direct hit from a Boeing 747."
Decommissioned power plants, nuclear-safety watchdogs say, may be even more
of a danger, because they may be housing more spent fuel and have fewer
security personnel than operating reactors.
The NRC's Dricks says the agency, by law, has "always considered the
possibility of terrorist threats against our nuclear plants."
On Sept. 12 an NRC document filed in a licensing proceeding said that
"terrorist acts" do not "fall within the realm of reasonably foreseeable
events." Dricks says the filing was prepared before Sept. 11.
Presently, says NRC spokeswoman Virgilio, the NRC communicates with other
government agencies for intelligence information and "reviews threat
information" with the new Office of Homeland Security.
Airport security a 'prime focus'
Lochbaum, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, says beefing up airport
security should be "the prime focus." Since Sept. 11, the federal government
has taken steps to improve security at major airports, but experts say there
are still holes. At small airports, which accommodate private planes and
corporate jets, there is very little security, experts say.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, which has former NRC commissioner Peter
Bradford on its board, says NRC security tests prior to 1998 revealed
"significant weaknesses" at 27 of 57 operating nuclear power plants.
The NRC's Dricks says all weaknesses found have been corrected.
"It doesn't necessarily follow," he says, "that because significant
weaknesses are identified, power plants wouldn't be able to defend
themselves against (an) attack."
Kerekes, the spokesman for the group representing 35 nuclear power
companies, says nuclear power plants are well-protected. But, "like any
other commercial enterprise, we have to look to the federal government to
protect us in acts of war like those that occurred on Sept. 11."
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