Katie Burns' article in the NC Times Oct 7th, 2001 full of hokey and wishful thinking
To: "Editor, NC Times" <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
"Phil Diehl" <email@example.com>,
"Ron Raposa" <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <email@example.com>
Subject: Katie Burns' article in the NC Times today full of hokey and wishful thinking
North County Times
October 7th, 2001
To The Editor:
The article in the North County (San Diego, CA) Times, Sunday, October 7th, 2001, titled "The Meaning of a Meltdown: Opinions Vary on Fallout if Disaster Hits San Onofre" was full of meaningless abstractions and minimizations of the real seriousness of a "worst case scenario".
For example the article makes the wild claim that "if radiation escaped [because of a meltdown], heavy elements such as uranium and plutonium would fall to the ground near the plant, endangering [plant] personnel but not the public". Even if much of the radioactive pollution stayed at the site, it would spread over time, and be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to clean up. Mitigation could cost billions. Some areas could be rendered uninhabitable for many millennia. Also, the "aerosol" would be super-heated, and would rise high above the plant and be carried by the air for miles and miles, including the plutonium, the uranium, and everything else. Depending on wind conditions and the heat of the plume as it leaves the reactor, the plume might not spread very much for hundreds of miles, or it might swirl in great deadly swaths across the countryside.
No citizen would know what was actually happening because the radioactive elements are not detectable by human sense organs or any common household detection equipment. There are only a few Geiger counters in the area, and the winds might change direction in a heartbeat. People will (wisely) evacuate from a much greater area than the ten miles the Nuclear Regulatory Commission plans call for.
As for the evacuation plans themselves, the publicly available plans are not "8 feet long" as one person describes them in the article, nor are they a "five-foot thick stack of books" as implied by Ray Golden in a quoted statement. They are a few inches thick. The evacuation plans are old and outdated, and make ridiculous assumptions about how fast traffic will move, how many people per car, etc. etc..
Perhaps the biggest fallacy in the article is the repeated minimization of the potential effects of an accident at San Onofre. Tens of thousands of potential deaths are described as only thousands, and "a house can block out some of the radiation", and "in a worst-case scenario, people could die". Damn right they could -- by the millions. But that's a true "worst-case scenario". Not the averaged and minimized things the NRC and the nuclear industry apologists offer up as a "worst-case".
The last big lie of the article is by Breck Henderson of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who says that: "The kinds of problems that lead to meltdowns evolve more slowly. People have plenty of time to evacuate." While it's true that some meltdown scenarios happen comparatively slowly, others evolve rapidly, such as if a jumbo jet or two (or three or four) crashes into a nuke. Breck Henderson, like the whole nuclear industry, just sees what they want to see and ignores everything else.
Russell D. Hoffman
P.S. I found it interesting that the simplified drawing of a reactor was created by someone at the Orange County Register. It was grossly incomplete. Whole vital systems to the safety of the plant were missing. This gives an inappropriate impression of robustness.
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First posted October 7th, 2001.
Webwiz: Russell D. Hoffman