To: "Editor, Denver Post" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <email@example.com>
Subject: Commentary on Denver Post's editorial on Yucca Mountain
Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org, governor of California, California Senators
To: Editor, Denver Post
From: Russell D. Hoffman, Concerned Citizen
Date: January 23rd, 2002
Re: Your editorial on Yucca Mountain
To The Editor:
Your editorial on Yucca Mountain (shown below) would have made a lot of sense if only it hadn't included the following statement:
Nuclear utilities, meanwhile, are doing a good job of safely storing spent fuel rods near their reactors.
To think so is a dangerous fantasy. Spent nuclear fuel is not safely stored now. Furthermore, it never could be safely stored at the reactor sites, because they are in the middle of populated areas where the fuel is vulnerable to unstoppable acts of God or man -- terrorism, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, floods, fires, etc..
At Indian Point, 65+ years worth of reactor fuel from three reactors (one permanently closed, two that should be) are packed into what was supposed to be temporary storage. An accident could cost trillions of dollars and millions of lives. Surely you've heard that the path of one of the hijacked planes on 9-11 went right over Indian Point. The NRC still hasn't "got it", but about a dozen counties around the plant have called for closing Indian Point.
Your "safe" storage also includes two complete spent fuel assemblies which are now MISSING from a Connecticut reactor. It seems that the NRC is GUESSING that the missing fuel assembles were dumped into a low-level radioactive waste landfill somewhere, perhaps Barnwell. Now that the NRC thinks they might have solved the mystery of what happened to the spent fuel, they are deciding whether or not to go look for it!
That's thousands of pounds of extremely dangerous waste which no one in their right mind could possibly say with any certainty is "safely stored" -- and the chances are extremely good that it isn't safe, and the only good news is, at least it's not in terrorists' hands -- yet -- they think.
Or, how about the time a seal ruptured in a fuel transfer canal? If fuel had been in the canal at the time, the consequences would have been disastrous -- this was in the 1980's (also in CT) but nothing's changed. The industry is more of a mess now than ever, more ingrown, with less outside oversight. And the plants themselves are old and severely embrittled.
On the same day last year that my local nuke here in Southern California restarted one of their reactors after a fire and explosion in an old circuit breaker had led to a four-month outage costing $100,000,000.00 (including lost income), they just happened to drop an 80,000 lb crane about 40 feet, because a Kevlar strap broke. (Luckily no one was hurt, but the place has frequently violated "yellow tape" rules, according to an on-site source.) The irony of this coincidence, of restarting after all those months and nearly having to shut down all over again (depending on what the dropped crane landed on) would have seemed inescapable, and one might have thought that local news reports of the restarting would have mentioned the destruction of such "capital equipment", especially since the media were at the plant that day for the reopening of the reactor. But no. In fact, I do believe it would have gone completely unreported, except this writer successfully exposed it and subsequent newspaper reports confirmed it. The irony of the events was increased substantially because the spokesperson for San Onofre, a lying scoundrel if ever there was one, had actually said, on television the day the accident occurred, that people who want the plant closed "don't understand the laws of physics".
I think the plant operators were having a lot more trouble with the laws of physics that day than anyone else, don't you? Especially if you learned why the strap broke -- it was because they didn't use an I-beam to spread the load properly. They gave refresher classes to literally hundreds of people after that incident, but the public is seldom told about these things.
That was hardly their first lifting accident, though -- or their last. There was the time in 1997 when an inattentive NRC-licensed crane operator banged a fuel assembly into the top of the reactor vessel. And even after they dropped the crane (June 1st, 2001), when you'd think they'd be more careful, the forks on their biggest forklift suddenly dropped about 12 feet in a fraction of a second (basically as dead weight). There was nothing on them at the time and fortunately no one was under them. But forklift tines aren't "yellow-taped" at all, and people walk under them at job sites with alarming regularity -- even at places inspected by OSHA (which is any large civilian factory in America except nuclear power plants, where OSHA does not have jurisdiction).
Almost without exception, you'll find that only poorly made new forklifts (which this wasn't) or forklifts with extremely poor maintenance ever drop their forks like that.
Also last summer, an explosion of a transformer in the San Onofre switchyard sent glass shards onto a nearby state road, a railroad, and several lanes of an interstate highway. (These sorts of explosions were described to me as being "like a tornado in a razor blade factory" by an ex-employee of the plant.)
They spilled 20 gallons of carcinogenic hydrazine on June 6th, 2001. Ho Hum. Don't worry, they mopped it up.
Christmas day of 2001, a rented Cessna 172 crashed (and two of three people on board died) 1/2 mile (variously reported as 3 miles) from the plant. It was blamed on a faulty fuel system. Fortunately, San Onofre's spent fuel is probably safe from such a small plane, but whether the plant could withstand such an attack, PLUS a coordinated ground attack or hang-glider assault at the same time is another question entirely. So is whether the facility can withstand an earthquake anywhere near the "design basis" (7.0), after all these years, as the plants become more and more embrittled. So is whether a 35-foot tsunami wall can stop a large tsunami. Tsunamis are often 200 feet tall or more, and have been known to reach 1500 (fifteen hundred) feet. And guess what kind of undersea ridges lie off of San Onofre? The kind that can create those huge tsunamis when they slip!
But in one sense, we're lucky here with San Onofre's two PWRs (Pressurized Water Reactors). At least we don't have an old GE Mark 1 Boiling Water Reactor, which have their spent fuel stored dangerously above the reactor itself -- five stories up! It must have seemed like a great idea at the time, but a Cessna 172 could crash through their sheet-metal walls and really do some damage.
And yet you call this safe?
If I haven't scared you yet, check your pulse. But it gets worse. Just a few weeks ago, a man who was fired from San Onofre in December, 2001, was caught with 300 illegal assault weapons, an anti-tank rocket launcher, 4 grenades, tear gas canisters, 5000 rounds of ammunition, and various other accoutrements of an "Army of One". He had threatened to shoot up the plant and the workers at the plant, although you had to listen to the first reports to hear he had threatened the plant. That was changed almost immediately to reports of him only threatening the workers, like he was going to go house-to-house-to-house or something. Who knows? Maybe he was, but what are the odds? One of those grenades in the Spent Fuel Pool could result in millions of deaths and trillions of dollars in damage. The worker had 17 years of knowledge about San Onofre including having been licensed to work in the containment dome for a while.
Most of the incidents I've listed here for my local plant were completely ignored by the NRC. The rest were deemed insufficient to cause even so much as a a slap on the wrist, let alone a fine, shutdown, firings, and jail time, which would all have been more appropriate. Instead, I witnessed the operators be congratulated for their performance by four NRC officials at a public review this summer, attended by all of three interested activists -- including my wife and myself.
With this sort of oversight, they can get away with murder. And they do. And they will.
While you and I both agree that Yucca Mountain hasn't been proven to be a safe and proper solution, I think you should reconsider your remarks that spent fuel is being safely stored on site at the nuclear power plants. That's wrong, and it's wrong to the tune of another 10,000 lbs of new high-level radioactive waste each day, which is what our 100+ reactors are producing, approximately. That means we are creating, on average, enough waste for one new dry cask roughly every week, across America. Right now if all the fuel which is no longer in reactors were in dry cask storage, it would require more than 1,500 casks. That's a lot of "targets" for terrorists, and many more are on the way. The spent fuel pools are just starting to get filled to capacity now. (Actually, they were full a long time ago, but "reracking" the fuel into tighter and tighter arrangements has increased the "yield" -- and also increases the consequences if something goes wrong, and also increases the risk that something -- anything -- will go wrong.)
Wind power energy solutions would produce cheaper electricity and would not be creating this awful, dangerous, vulnerable waste. And that's not a guess, that's an indisputable economic reality.
There is only one solution: Shut the plants down NOW and stop making more waste.
I beg that you will reconsider your comments.
Stick to science
Yucca Mountain is a volcanic ridge in southwestern Nevada, about 90 miles north of Las Vegas. At one time, it was seen as one of several potential nuclear repositories in the country, but years ago Congress declared that only Yucca Mountain would be studied.
Originally, Yucca Mountain was supposed to be geologic repository, with the surrounding rocks and deep burial expected to be enough to protect human health and the environment. But after studies showed that geology alone wouldn't do the job, DOE revamped its plan to include putting the wastes in metal containers.
Now DOE and U.S. Geological Survey scientists are trying to determine whether heat from wastes stored in the containers could turn nearby groundwater into steam, which might then condense in the surrounding rock. The key question is whether seepage from that condensation could corrode the containers and let radioactive particles escape into the groundwater. If so, people or livestock in the area might be at risk in a few decades - a surprisingly short time frame, given that some wastes will remain hazardous for many centuries.
It's because this study hasn't been finished that Secretary Abraham's cheerful assessment seems so incredible.
Nuclear utilities, meanwhile, are doing a good job of safely storing spent fuel rods near their reactors. Still, having paid many millions of dollars into a federal fund to build a permanent waste site, they are anxious to rid themselves of the storage expense. Utilities also fear that as long as they have the wastes near their reactors, they're at risk of terrorism.
The final decision on whether to store nuclear wastes in southern Nevada is some way off, as President Bush, Congress and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission all must still give their OK. But Secretary Abraham would improve his credibility if he admitted that crucial safety information is still being collected and that his recent recommendation that Bush approve Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste dump was based largely on political, not scientific, reality.
Editorials alone express The Denver Post's opinion.
The members of The Post editorial board are William Dean Singleton, chairman and publisher; Glenn Guzzo, editor; Sue O'Brien, editorial page editor; Bob Ewegen, deputy editorial page editor; Peter G. Chronis, Angela Cortez, Al Knight, Penelope Purdy and Billie Stanton, editorial writers; Mike Keefe, cartoonist; and Barbara Ellis and Peggy McKay, news editors