Subject: Turf Wars and Wise Guys
March 12th, 2004
To The Editor:
It is a sad state of affairs in America that the job of regulating our energy options has become a position where only doublespeak is permitted.
Mr. Stan Wise, president of the National Association of Regulatory Commissioners and a member of the Georgia Public Service Commission (and guest columnist in your paper on March 11th, 2004), is very accomplished at the art of misrepresentation. I guess that's why his fellow regulators consider him to be the king of the tribe.
It is far sadder to think that our 4th Estate has stooped so low as to permit itself (time and again these days) to be used to spread such ridiculous statements as Mr. Wise has made in your paper.
But saddest of all is that policies based on his seemingly-wise opinions (for he starts with a number of intricate numbers, to show he's supposedly done his homework) will become ecological disasters for future Georgians.
You are being duped by the best, I'll credit you with that. But you are being duped, and badly.
Or Stan Wise will outwit you!
Mr. Wise's plans are for a nuclear future for Georgia. After attacking local Georgian environmentalists for seeking accreditation from a national organization "based in California", he closes his ridiculous justification of a nuclear future by speaking out of the complete opposite side of his mouth, saying that "turf wars" are to be avoided because the issues of "fuel diversity and green power" are "too important".
Let's set the record straight. First of all, nuclear power has never been cheap -- it's been subsidized by the ratepayers and taxpayers for decades. Second, green power is obtainable, and cheaply, by all Americans. If we all invest in it together, it will provide both needed employment AND, after a few years, all the cheap energy America needs. But we do need a national commitment to clean, green energy.
Inexpensive, reliable energy is the key to solving hundreds of problems in society, from heating the homes of the poor to providing street lighting, to allowing you to leave three or four televisions on throughout the house, and at least as many computers, with four-drive RAID systems for reliability, and UPS backup systems, and chargers for your electric toothbrushes, and on and on and on. The price of electricity in America is way, way too high. And there's just not nearly enough electricity for everything, like -- what about a switch to electric cars? I see them almost every day these days -- in California. But electricity prices are "through the roof" here, partly because of those pesky out-of-state interests, like Enron (and there were many others during the phony "energy crisis" we had here a few years ago, when prices really shot up).
But the truth is, the citizens of California were ripped off by in-state energy interests as well, such as PG&E, which operates Diablo Canyon's two reactors, and Southern California Edison, which operates California's other two commercial reactors. (Like Georgia, California has four commercial reactors located at two facilities.)
Our future has been stolen from us, and for what? For unreliable power, that's what! San Onofre's two reactors, the reactors nearest to where I live, like all reactors, are prone to instantaneous power outages, which last anywhere from days to months. Concentrating all your power sources in so few places is an accident waiting to happen in ANY industry, but particularly so in the nuclear industry, where you have the twin problems of it being a known and obvious terrorist target, and being, at the same time, the most lethal concentration of undestroyable carcinogenic filth anywhere except, of course, at another nuclear facility. (Nuclear waste can be generated relatively easily, but not destroyed by any known force, be it thermal, chemical, nuclear, laser, pressure, or whatever. Sure, there ARE several processes which can be used to reduce the volume of the waste a little, and Sure, there ARE several processes which can transmute SOME of the waste into less dangerous waste (at great cost and risk), but overall, there is NO solution to the problem of nuclear waste.)
Yucca Mountain, being almost as far away from Georgia as Wise's dreaded San Francisco, is strongly opposed by the people and governing officials of Nevada. The people who oppose Yucca Mountain in Nevada generally oppose nuclear power, too, but it's not a big issue for them because the nearby Colorado River supplies billions of kilowatts of clean energy to the state. But the elected officials who represent them nationally are in a bit of a pickle, so what do THEY say? They say the waste can be properly stored ON SITE at each nuclear power plant.
It can, indeed, be stored on site. But not safely. Not properly.
(It should be noted that Yucca Mountain is a terrible idea, and it can only be said that it's probably a better idea than any on-site storage system currently envisioned by any "expert". Getting the waste to Yucca Mountain is a disaster waiting to happen. Yucca Mountain should not be allowed to open, and probably won't, despite any claims by the nuclear industry (or its supporters like Mr. Wise) to the contrary.)
At my local plant, just in the last few years, we've had fires, explosions, more explosions, more fires, and about 100 other serious problems. Every incident that does come to light usually shows up at least a dozen other problems with management, with operations, with equipment, with attitude, with training, and so on, but the regulators -- the people who elected Stan Wise president of themselves -- do nothing. They allow the facility to regulate itself, even to the extent of refusing to investigate if the spokespeople lie to the press or not. (I have a registered letter I received from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on March 30th, 2002, which states that "Statements made by the public affairs officer of a NRC licensee are not regulated activities. Therefore, the veracity of such statements will not be investigated by the NRC." That is a license to lie to the public, the press, and even to the regulators themselves.)
In addition, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has effectively kicked out all other regulatory agencies, which, in virtually all other industries, would normally provide some sort of overlap in the regulatory environment. For example, prior to the "crane drop incident" mentioned below, one cannot find a single record of any inspection of the facility by California's Crane inspection division of the state's OSHA. Yet they lift thousands of tons of the most dangerous stuff on earth there, and they've had a long history of dangerous close-calls.
That's what people like Stan Wise have given us.
One day, the spokesperson at the local nuke plant, on local television, declared that people opposed to nuclear power didn't understand the laws of physics. The exact same day, crane operators at the plant dropped an 80,000 lb crane about 80 feet, nearly killing at least one worker and scaring everyone else that was in the turbine room at the time. It was the same day they were bringing one of the reactors up to full power for the first time in about 6 months, because they had suffered an explosion and fire which bent the turbine and stopped the reactor. Most of the reasons they have had such problems are because, LIKE ALL NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS, they are actually short on operating revenue, and maintenance suffers as a result.
However, some of the accidents are clearly because the people working at nuclear plants are not properly trained and NOT PROPERLY REGULATED. Mr. Wise should take note of that.
I have several statements, sent to me by retired plant workers, that would chill you to the bone if you read them, about how lax the NRC is at San Onofre and other nuclear power plants. I have yet to see one Nuclear Regulatory Commission official make any attempt to actually answer serious technical questions I've asked.
Questions like, how do you plan to stop Al Queda? Here are 25 different scenarios terrorists might use to attack the plant. How do you respond? Mr. Wise simply chooses to attack the messenger, saying that those who have questioned nuclear power's safety after 9-11 are "injecting paranoia" into the debate. The hell we are, Mr. Wise! First of all, some of us have been saying for decades that just such a threat exists. There is documented proof the question had been asked by nuclear activists, but ignored by the government overseers prior to 9-11. Then suddenly they claim it was all a big surprise! And 911 days latter, on 3/11/04, Spain is hit by an attack so coordinated there should be little doubt that a nuclear facility could have been destroyed just as easily, but with a thousand times -- that is NOT an exaggeration, it might be even more -- the death toll.
Those of us who support a truly green energy solution are asking America to face reality -- BEFORE it's too late.
America SHOULD be very paranoid about what will happen when a terrorist crashes an airplane into a SPENT FUEL POOL or DRY STORAGE CASK, or uses one of the other dozens of tactics available to them to get through our defenses. They call these facilities "hardened" but anyone who knows a thing about terrorism knows that's ridiculous. When a small band of suicidal terrorists take over an operating nuclear reactor, the apologists for the nuclear industry will tell us they never imagined the attack could possibly have come the way it did. That's because the attackers have thousands of ways to attack, and we are not ready. As long as the plants are running, we CANNOT be ready. Spent fuel is the most hazardous stuff on earth, but it is the most hazardous when it is A) being created in the reactor, and then, B), fresh out of the reactor. It has to cool. The longer it cools, the more difficult a target it is from a terrorist point of view, PROVIDING it is stored safely, away from terrorists (not like Dry Cask Storage, which is an OPEN INVITATION to terrorism).
All nuclear reactors are always, while they operate, within milliseconds of meltdown. If the right combination of events occurs, a meltdown becomes inevitable.
No "green energy" can deliver that kind of terror, but nuclear energy does it every day, and one of these days, we'll lose one completely -- as the eve of the 25th anniversary of Three Mile Island approaches, we should not forget how lucky we all were that day -- it was NOTHING LIKE what could happen. Hundreds of thousands of dead, millions injured, is a possible result from one nuclear power accident.
All PWRs (Pressurized Water Reactors) should have been immediately shut down for inspection (or, preferably, forever), after Davis-Besse's Reactor Pressure Vessel was discovered to have nearly corroded through. Instead, regulators, lap-dogs of the industry, allowed industry to inspect their reactors during the next refueling, which only happens about once every year and a half!
But even that wasn't good enough. Just a couple of weeks ago, one of the San Onofre reactors (PWRs like Davis-Besse) went into emergency shut down because it developed a corrosion-type leak. The company is not being very open about what exactly happened, and would not supply pictures to the press during the shutdown, for instance (and still haven't, as far as I know). Such an accident, in a reactor that supposedly was thoroughly inspected when it was finally shut down after the Davis-Besse discovery, is a sure sign that the lessons of Davis-Besse have not been heeded by the nuclear industry. And don't think for a minute that an accident at San Onofre would be "too far away" to kill many, many Georgians! It depends on the weather. Often, the most damaging effects occurs wherever it rains downwind of the reactor, which could be thousands of miles away.
Your water already has tritium and other hazardous chemicals, some radioactive, because of "research" reactors, commercial reactors, and military reactors and weapons facilities. Cancer is a leading cause of death everywhere in the world but especially in America. These are NOT isolated events! They are directly and conclusively connected! One causes the other.
When it comes to power production, nobody in power is acting much like an American these days, unless being an American now means being short-sighted, selfish, and irrational. Mr Wise calls for there to be no "hidden agenda" but we are all still waiting for Vice-President Dick Cheney to reveal who helped produce his pro-nuclear, anti-environment (that means "anti-health", okay?) national energy policy.
There are plenty of systems which can provide green energy, and they are exactly what all of America needs to invest in. It is a lie to say we need nuclear power. Nuclear power is dangerous, dirty, unreliable, and inefficient. It is a terrorist's target. All of its waste is a terrorist's target. Mother Nature and Professor Murphy (of "Murphy's Law") can do even more damage than even a skilled terrorist can do.
No one talks about the dangers of asteroid impacts on nuclear facilities, but we should. It will happen. Originally, people like Dr. Edward Teller, who loved nukes, wanted them put underground. He felt that was the ONLY logical place to put them! But economics won out, probably because of the "need" for military plutonium and uranium, and the plants were placed above ground, and he and everyone got used to it.
A mixture of different types of green power is by far the most reliable form of power in the world. But if we listen to experts like Stan Wise, we'll just never learn. And doing so will be fatal.
Related web sites by this author:
Internet Glossary of Nuclear Terminology:
Internet Glossary of Nuclear Power Plants:
Shut San Onofre!:
By STAN WISE
In an attempt to shut down coal-fired power plants and make us feel bad about driving our SUVs, the environmental lobby would have us believe that smog and pollution are hitting record highs and shortening our lives.
Science tells us, however, that sulfur dioxide in metro Atlanta has decreased 75 percent since the 1970s, even though the population has more than doubled and the number of cars has quadrupled during this same period. Since 1990, Georgia Power Co. has decreased sulfur dioxide emissions by 42 percent and nitrogen oxide by 38 percent, while increasing power generation by 21 percent.
Although we have abundant coal resources and cleaner technologies available for its use in generating power, the environmental lobby has stymied attempts to expand and has all but eliminated any attempt to construct new, coal-fired electric generators. Nuclear power -- one of the cheapest, cleanest and safest ways to produce electricity and protect our environment -- has suffered the same fate. This industry was in the midst of a comeback until the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when environmentalists used the tragic events of that day to inject paranoia into the debate.
Unfortunately, the power industry now relies on one primary alternative -- natural gas. Almost every electric generating unit in this country that has gone on line in the past five years is fueled by natural gas. This overreliance on a single fuel source has caused prices for natural gas to fluctuate as much as 300 percent in recent years, leaving our more vulnerable residents at risk.
The latest energy source to be hijacked by the environmental lobby is green power, a term used to describe electricity produced by more environmentally friendly means such as solar, wind power, geothermal and biomass, and small hydroelectric sources.
This emerging source of energy provides the benefits of renewable resources, less air pollution, less fuel exploration and less dependence on foreign fuel. Energy derived from green sources is not specifically delivered to the customers who choose it, but to the power grid, which displaces power that would have otherwise been produced from traditional generating sources.
Only a few thousand customers have taken advantage of green power purchase plans offered by several electric membership cooperatives in our state. Georgia Power Co. has a plan before the Georgia Public Service Commission to initiate a similar program for its customers, but the environmental lobby is pushing its own agenda.
The current costs of producing green power are significantly greater than through traditional means. To encourage its use, some states subsidize these costs. The environmental lobby wants Georgia to follow this same misguided path.
Though I am committed to expanding the development and procurement of green energy, I will not ask ratepayers of Georgia to pay more so that a select few can feel good about what powers their light bulb. This fiscally conservative approach has served us well in Georgia, where we enjoy power rates far below the national average. Consumers who want to purchase green power do so at a premium so as not to put others at risk. Georgia Power is not permitted to make a profit on the program; excess earnings are used to expand the program or lower the cost.
Like the EMC providers, Georgia Power will use landfill gas to generate green energy. The environmental lobby is objecting to Georgia Power's plan because they do not consider it to be a "new source" and they are preoccupied with whether the program meets "Green-E" accreditation by the Center for Resource Solutions based in California.
The only criterion that was not met by this resource was the date the resource was developed. It didn't matter that the actual results of using the resource would accomplish every single environmental concern listed by the accreditation process; because it was not "new" it could not get accredited. There are many successful green energy programs across the country that are not accredited.
As an elected official, it is my duty to make decisions that are best for Georgia consumers. I applaud the efforts of the Green-E certification process and will vote to include certified contracts every time they make sense for Georgia.
However, I will not have the environmental lobby dictate that I must turn down an otherwise good program simply because a company in San Francisco has not recognized it. Efforts to develop new resources are admirable and worthwhile, but Georgia should not tie its hands to a single group's agenda. The issues of fuel diversity and green power are too important to be held hostage by turf wars and hidden agendas.
Stan Wise is a member of the Georgia Public Service Commission and president of the National Association of Regulatory Commissioners.
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