Representative Darrell Issa should be recalled; Beedle should be asked to name names
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, "Barbara Boxer, Senator (CA, D)" <email@example.com>, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Rep. Issa should be recalled; Beedle should be asked to name names
Re: Representative Darrell Issa should be recalled; Beedle should be asked to name names
October 4th, 2001
To The Editor:
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, should be recalled, if not arrested outright, for his irresponsible statements about the safety of San Onofre. That old rat-hole should never have been opened, and the thousands and thousands of tons of radioactive waste which are stored at San Onofre are a terrorist's dream -- not to mention the numerous other chemicals kept at the plant! Rep. Issa's claim that FAA pilot advisories are sufficient to protect us is absurd. The Twin Towers were officially off-limits too.
But as irresponsible as Representative Issa's comments are, the letter to the editor by Ralph Beedle, chief nuclear officer, Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) , Washington D.C., which also appeared in today's paper is at least as bad.
Mr. Beedle didn't bother to indicate to your readers that the NEI is nothing more than the mouthpiece of the nuclear industry, funded entirely by that industry! And you didn't see fit to mention it either.
Is that unimportant?
No, it's not unimportant, and nor are the misstatements throughout Beedle's letter, claiming, for example, that America's nuclear power plants are "robust", when we know such claims were wildly exaggerated before -- and just after -- September 11th. His claim that nuclear power plant security systems are good enough flies the face of what we've seen the terrorists throw at us.
There are many, many more threats to San Onofre than just the airplanes which neither Representative Issa nor Ralph Beedle are worried about. There are threats from the plants' own operators' failures and foibles. There are threats from earthquakes and tsunamis. Sure, the plants were originally designed to be safe from small earthquakes and tsunamis, but we've learned that earthquakes and tsunamis larger than those the plants were designed for, are possible here. And yet the NRC does nothing.
And we've ALSO learned -- in the Northridge quake, for instance -- that some buildings did not hold up to real-life earthquakes nearly as well as expected. Such failures were evident in buildings which were designed as much as a decade after San Onofre's newest units came on line, so perhaps two decades AFTER San Onofre was designed.
Since the NRC refuses to take another look, only time will tell. But we do know that if the plant was designed for X, it probably is only good enough for half that by now, because parts start to rust, welds start to crack, and the overall safety factor is reduced as time goes by. Also, there is a lot more radioactive inventory at the plant now, because nearly all the spent fuel ever produced still sits at the plant, in the Spent Fuel Pools outside the containment domes.
This year alone San Onofre has had two large explosions of aged electrical equipment, each followed by a fire. They dropped an 80,000 pound load when an old strap broke. The forks on their second-largest forklift (an old unit) suddenly fell unexpectedly, and they spilled 20 gallons of hydrazine, to name only some of their problems. This is a place which is running past its prime. It's dangerous, without any help from natural disasters or terrorists.
So when Mr. Beedle tells us that the plants have "redundant safety and plant shutdown systems" remember that these systems are all located in close proximity to each other. One crop-duster airplane could dispense gasoline droplets by simply flying around and around the plant in the still morning air, until the whole cloud ignites, or the pilot tosses out a lighted match. Poof! Millions doomed.
Heck, a balloonist could drift over the plant and simply drop a couple of 50-pound Depleted Uranium spears ("flechettes"). (Small non-uranium flechettes were first used by French pilots during World War One on German masses of infantry. Barely the size and weight of three-penny nails, they were tossed out of the plane by the bucket-full and could go through a man's helmet, and then through the man from his head to the bottom of his boots.) From 5,000 feet up, with a GPS to help you position yourself, these modern D.U. spears could be coming in at over 300 miles an hour. I defy Mr. Beedle to calculate the effect of a few of those landing on the control room or the main feeder pumps, even without ANY explosive or incendiary!
The point is, it's just ridiculous to presume that these plants are safe from terrorists. THEY ARE NOT and they never will be.
Mr. Beedle claims that all the nuclear plants' anti-terrorism forces are well-trained, well-armed, and large enough to get the job done. But the reality is very different. The fact is, these forces consistently FAILED tests, and in some cases penetration was possible all the way into the control room. So not only can these plants be fairly easily attacked and destroyed, they can ALSO be taken over and then destroyed later, at the will of the terrorists if we don't meet their demands! Our resolve not to negotiate with terrorists will be seriously tested if that ever happens, and meanwhile there will be panic in the streets, from Tijuana to Los Angeles, and East well past Las Vegas.
That's almost a worst-case scenario, but there's an even worse scenario we are facing, thanks to the decision to build these crazy plants. The actual worst-case was described years ago by Jonathan Schell -- a nuke bomb blowing up a nuke plant.
But until people actually start dying in the streets, most people will continue to have no idea how serious the consequences really would be. Beedle minimizes them when he brazenly announces that other energy sources across the country are also vulnerable. That's true, but the consequences of a "worst case scenario" are many orders of magnitude less than from our nuclear power plants. Beedle ignores this, but it's the most important fact!
Representative Issa's hollow assurances do not protect us from all the threats, let alone the "been there, done that" terrorist "trick" of hijacking airliners. And even with Camp Pendleton nearby, they will be very hard-pressed to fire on a civilian plane flying near San Onofre, especially after what happened over the Black Sea today, where a Russian plane (with mostly Israeli passengers) was shot down by a missile -- they are currently saying it was accidental, "friendly fire".
A closed nuke is vastly safer than an operational nuke. A nuke which has been closed for years is vastly safer than one which as only been closed for a few days or weeks or months. One which has been closed for hundreds of years is still very dangerous, but far, far safer than San Onofre is right now.
We are sitting on a bomb. 1000 bombs, maybe more. The radiological burden to society of a meltdown at San Onofre could be 1000 times worse than Hiroshima's or Nagasaki's terrible radiological burden (which killed tens of thousands of people after the initial deaths), because there is so much more radiation at San Onofre than in Fat Man or Little Boy. So if a terrorist succeeds in getting San Onofre to melt down, you've got a terrible mess which will render Southern California uninhabitable for many millennia, and cause millions of cancers among those who survive the initial mass destruction.
Thanks, Southern California Edison. Thanks, Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Thanks, San Onofre.
There are many, many other points in Mr. Beedle's letter which are outrageous and untrue. It should also be noted that it was a form letter which appeared in numerous other papers around the country. It was not specific to San Onofre.
Lastly, Mr. Beedle has a duty to name the "irresponsible groups" he says have been questioning the safety of his nukes. I have only been able to find responsible groups which are doing so.
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First posted October 4th, 2001.
Webwiz: Russell D. Hoffman