Senators Chris Dodd and Bob Bennett
Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem
SD-B40 U.S. Senate
Washington DC 20510
Mr. John Koskinen
Chair, President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion
Room 216, OEOB, White House
Washington DC 20502
Senator Gordon Smith
Y2K Senate Committee
359 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510
cc: President Bill Clinton,
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton,
other elected officials, media,
Y2K worldwide discussion group (firstname.lastname@example.org),
STOP CASSINI newsletter subscribers, family, friends, etc.
The Internet home of this document is:
Russell D. Hoffman (email@example.com) P. O. Box 1936
Carlsbad CA 92018-1936
Date: July 24th, 1999
Re: Potential threats to the United States and what we should do about them (Phase 1)
I believe that the combination "Y2K-and-Nukes" issue is practically the only thing your various committees should be concerned about. When that problem has been solved, we can consider the rest. Otherwise, you will be missing a sense of scale. You will be looking at a living, snarling dinosaur and calling it a harmless gnat.
The potential size of a disaster from Y2K problems at nuclear power plants is on par with significant asteroid impacts, nuclear war and other genocidal events. There are NO guarantees that ANY nuclear power plant in the country is safe from Y2K-related failures and even if they were ALL somehow PROVEN to be free from Y2K bugs, they are still vulnerable to an EMP attack, terrorism, nuclear war (accidental or on purpose) and 1000 other dangers.
IT IS TIME FOR AMERICA TO GET REALISTIC!
I've worked in computer software for nearly 20 years; and I think it is reasonable to say I am known worldwide for my animated educational software. Marquis' Who's Who has listed me several times, in "Media and Communications for 1998/1999" for instance.
I'm not a nuclear physicist, but that's not what turns theory into operation, operation into accidents, and accidents in deaths. I know what nuclear power plants are made of -- the hardware, the software, the electronics, the pumps -- these are the things Y2K worries are made of, not billing mistakes, nor the underlying fundamental principals of radioactive decay. Rather, they are made of interconnected systems.
My Internet Glossary of Pumps, a static example of my animated cd-rom ALL ABOUT PUMPS, is used by thousands of people all over the world. I researched the pump material, wrote about it and drew the pictures and animations. I have been inside of nearly every type of pump installation in the world including nuclear power plants.
I programmed not just the animated pump tutorial itself, but the underlying 100,000 line Assembler-language software program which displays the animations smoothly and efficiently. The software is also capable of finely timed control of numerous Input devices such as digitizing pads, joysticks and computer mice, and Output devices such as oscilloscopes, lasers and plotters.
I must have a solid understanding of hardware AND software to accomplish the extremely delicately-timed hardware control which my software has always been capable of.
Briefly, that covers my understanding about what makes nukes tick. However, in addition, I have had in-depth discussions with numerous scientists, including the late Dr. Karl Z. Morgan, who was known as "The Father of Health Physics". I've also had extensive discussions with Dr. John W. Gofman who, at Robert Oppenhiemer's request, isolated the plutonium for the nuclear weapons which ended World War Two. I also have interviewed Dr. Ernest Sternglass and Dr. Jay Gould on their statistical findings about radiation dangers. Recently, I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing John P. Shannon, who designed the D2G Nuclear Reactor, the most widely used reactor in the Naval Fleet, currently used on all High Speed Nuclear Attack Submarines and on all Nuclear Cruisers. (Shannon was fired from Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (KAPL) after 30 years of loyal service for doing the honorable thing: reporting deplorable and blatant safety problems at the Kesselring Site Operations, a subsidiary site of KAPL.)
These are but a few of the many experts I have talked to. Along the way, I have invited any qualified expert to explain to me the opposing views. A few have indeed tried to answer some of the questions I have posed, or the philosophy behind them (Dr. Louis Friedman, for instance), but their arguments don't look at the BIG picture -- the sustainability of their policy for a millennium or more, a thousand launches, 1000 reactors, 1000 nuclear explosions. For a strong America, their policies hold no water.
I personally DO NOT BELIEVE for a moment that there are any significant facts which are "classified" and therefore beyond my ability to know at this time, which would alter my view. As the saying goes, it's hard to argue with physics. Or the laws of chance and probability. Navy stainless steel isn't going to be THAT much better than anyone else's. Navy reactor designs aren't going to be that much better either -- if at all. And Navy personnel have proven themselves fallible time and again. Nothing surprising there, they're human after all.
So far over 600 men have been lost on board Navy nuclear submarines which have gone down with all hands and all reactors. What are those sunken reactors doing to the plankton who feed near them? What are they doing to the whales which feed on the plankton? What are they doing to the fish that swim near them? And what is all that doing to the those who eat the fish? How many Curies are floating around the oceans taking random lives, because of a "Cold War" that supposedly ended over 10 years ago? If it's over, it's time for the truth to come out on all these things.
If even ONE nuclear meltdown occurs, it will be a tragedy which will be worse, in the long, long, long run, than any war Americans have ever fought (and possibly in the short run, too). Once a meltdown occurs, you can't "clean it up" no matter how much money you throw at it. And money doesn't grow on trees, anyway. Least of all, radioactive ones. It's time to face the reality of the rad waste situation.
I'm certainly not saying any particular piece of equipment anywhere will fail on Y2K or any other day. I'm saying it might.
There is of course a medical side to all this. Why worry if a nuclear power plant melts down? Would it be worse than, say, the Union Carbide chemical disaster in Bhopal, India in 1984? Yes, yes, a hundred times worse. Maybe a hundred THOUSAND times worse. There is no comparison on Earth that can be made to a nuclear plant meltdown. As just one tiny example, recent reports show that the rates of some types of cancer in children around Chernobyl are ten times the pre-meltdown rates. THIS is what happens EVERYWHERE when there is a meltdown, although it is only measurable when the effect is extreme, not when it is insidious. And don't let it be forgotten that bad as it was -- and is -- "Chernobyl" was a mild case of a meltdown, as meltdowns go.
The problem will be seepage, leakage, venting, dripping, spewing, drifting, draining, and generally diluting to the environment, the wasted, melted nuke.
That will go on for eons.
Nuclear power plants the world over are dangerous to the surrounding areas. If anything goes seriously wrong (and it has happened in Russia, and nearly happened numerous times here), then the surrounding community is devastated. The effluent from a meltdown would pollute everything downstream. If it spills directly into the ocean the local beaches will be devastated and the so-called "background radiation level" will go up a little, and more people will die of cancer, leukemia, and suffer birth defects, all over the world. Radioactive particles released into the environment are pure evil -- and unreleased particles aren't much better. There is NO WAY to handle them without risking a release. There is not even any way to OWN them without risking a terrorist operation against them! And releases have happened many times, and they happen continuously, and the effects are cumulative upon the Earth.
In most places, the sun still puts out the majority of what is called "background radiation", though its contribution is a smaller and smaller percentage of the total, as manmade pollution continues to climb. But the sun's radiation is almost harmless, being stopped mostly by our own outer layers of dead skin cells, by our hair and also by our clothes (for other animals, by their fur) and by the ozone layer (or what's left of it). Skin cancer rates prove that when I say "almost harmless" I must be talking relatively, because it is anything but harmless for the many thousands who die each year from melanoma and other skin cancers. But compared to a particle of radioactive material which has been ingested or inhaled into the body, "external radiation" is relatively safe.
A particle of plutonium, for instance, if deposited in the lung, will irradiate the nearby cells with 10s of thousands of REM of exposure. The nearest cells will certainly die, but further-away ones may only be damaged. This was explained to me by Dr. Karl Z. Morgan.
A damaged cell can mutate into a cancer, leukemia, or birth defect. There is no cure which is not horrendous, expensive, and often utterly ineffective. (Witness: My own older brother, now dead from complications following leukemia and chemotherapy.)
We can't ship the waste out to space! To get there we would have to run a gauntlet known as orbital debris. I've studied the debris issue, and listened to experts, and read about it, and seen what the numbers really are, and what have I learned?
We can't expect to rocket radioactive waste off the planet. There are too many risks, it is too expensive, and the potential results of accidents are too catastrophic.
So it WILL remain here! And once a nuclear power plant has melted down (or even if it just gets shut down normally) there's nothing left but a huge pile of the most poisonous and dangerous stuff to handle that there is! The Great Pyramids of Egypt are not big enough in aggregate to hold all the waste safely. No hole in the ground is deep enough to ensure it won't leak to a nearby water table, no desert is dry enough. Didn't Las Vegas just get flooded? How well did the Beatty, Nevada nuclear waste site hold up? It's not very far from Las Vegas, built on just a slight rise . How well will it hold up for 10,000 or 100,000 years?
And don't think, Sirs, that there is any great difference between "low level nuclear waste" and "high level nuclear waste". One is already somewhat diluted, that's all. The other will be, if we are not careful.
Don't let ANYONE fool you, please: This nation does not want and cannot afford even ONE nuclear meltdown. Not one, ever. And Y2K is the highest risk moment the world will have ever seen for an accidental meltdown or two. Or more.
There is an answer. We CAN close these things down. There is no reason we MUST have the relatively small amounts of electricity they provide us, which can quickly be replaced or saved through diligence. People will tell you it would be a calamity to shut them down TODAY, but it's a myth. America can survive on 15% to 20% less energy. That is not so much to ask of the American people, as long as they believe it's for a good cause. And with a proper education into the dangers, they would most certainly believe it.
No, No, Sirs, we don't want any meltdowns, or any nuclear weapons to be launched by ANYONE, for ANY REASON, including perhaps, because some dumb computer signalled "end of world -- fire all missiles" with a 99999. (This is known as "high values" in the computer industry, and there is even a "reserved word" for high values in the COBOL programming language.) So isn't it humanly possible that in addition to "Y2K" worries, even sooner, on September 9th, 1999, some computer somewhere might misread another computer's date code and indicate to the operator that we are under attack because one computer believed they were sending the current date ("9/9/99") and another thought "high values" wasn't a valid date at all -- it meant "it's a real war"?
Have we tried to remove "the human element" for safety, and instead built something worse? Do we want to wait around and find out the hard way?
I agree this EXACT scenario isn't very likely (I doubt launch sequences are coded in COBOL, to begin with). But do I want to bet the farm on it? My neighbor's farm, all the farms in the country? No way! For 15% of our electricity, easily replaceable by clean and renewable resources? No way!
Nothing can possibly go wrong, you say? Oh come now, we've come close before. I invite you to ask for a CIA report on all the times we've come close because of a misread test sequence, a misunderstood command, or even a missile fired by someone (North Korea, for instance) as a "research experiment" which has a trajectory that at first looks like an attack on America or on an ally. Test missiles generally come from land, but real missiles will probably come from the sea, from who-knows-who.
Oh, and then there's the recent (February, 1999) third stage American spent rocket motor that blew up unexpectedly, evidently because it got hit by a piece of space debris in a supposedly most-unlikely-of-accidents -- one piece of space debris on a half-hour flight being obliterated by another from who knows where? The space debris that apparently hit the rocket had not been seen by our illustrious tracking facility in Colorado, although it showed up on radar just before impact.
Improbable, but it happened. The sinking of the Titanic was pretty improbable too.
We are mere mortals, and we are all fallible. Our machines are fallible. Our plans can go awry. Let us enter the new millennium admitting that simple, self-evident fact. We must balance all risks, and to do so, we need an ACCURATE measurement of the consequences should the unexpected occur.
If a nuclear weapon is exploded high above the United States, virtually everything we have built with computers in the last 20 years will be instantly destroyed. Government hearings last year and this, have made it clear that hospital equipment, industrial plants, cars, trucks, ambulances, traffic control systems, air traffic control (and airplanes) -- in short, everything -- will be "shorted out" as if struck by lightening. That would undoubtedly include all the newest pumps, switches, gauges, sensors, controllers, relays, thermisters, sequencers and everything else that's been computerized in the last 20 years or so at the nuclear power plants.
America doesn't want this anymore. It is time for our politicians to work for the common good of the people on these sorts of environmental issues. Thus, I urge you to become concerned. I beg of you to listen. I plead with you to WAKE UP!
Many in America HAVE awakened, and they are tired of the lie that nuclear power is safe, efficient, clean, and vital to our standard of living. Nuclear power is in fact, dangerous, dirty and inefficient and nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons make America vulnerable.
We haven't got any time to spare to begin to build a better United States, one which is again dedicated to the goal of eternal life for the land and its descendants -- our descendants -- who (we hope) will live on the land forever. We want an America which will last forever, and to do that it needs to be able to survive ALL attacks by those who would destroy us. Even if our vulnerability is caused by our own stupidity.
ANYTHING can happen that we LET happen, but NOTHING can happen that we work to prevent!
That is why I am joining with so many others, calling for a shut-down to the nuclear power plants, and a destruction of the nuclear weapons which are little more than useless genocidal torture equipment from a bygone era anyway. As a way to deliver a measured response to aggression against us, they are like a wrecking ball directed towards a flea circus.
I state all this in the name of peace for all humanity, and compassion for all living things here on this Earth, now and in the future. I am willing to debate these issues in public or in private, before just your committee and your experts, or before the whole world, so that you can see who has unassailable facts and considerations, and who does not. (I humbly request, of course, that I might be allowed to have contact during any such debate with the many experts who have helped shape my opinion.)
It's time for the politicians of America to lead us out of our nuclear nightmare. In America the truth can and must be told.
Russell David Hoffman
(formerly of Connecticut)
Be prepared for Y2K: A basic survival guide for everyone.
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