Talking to the folks from San Onofre; Meltdown in One Hour If; Wind Turbine technology (November 4th, 2001)

Subject: Talking to the folks from San Onofre; Meltdown in One Hour If; Wind Turbine technology

Date: November 4th, 2001

By Russell Hoffman, Concerned Citizen

I was speaking to someone from San Onofre today, at a public faire where they had a booth promoting their nuclear energy "solution".  They had a cut-away mock-up of a fuel assembly (but only about 3 feet tall instead of about 14 feet tall).  The representative (his sewed-in title was "ambassador") told me the two backup generators for each of the two reactor units at the site are separated by a single firewall.

I asked, "So one small plane could take them both out?"

He replied, "Yes."

He then added that the two generators for the other reactor could also be used to supply power to the plant in an emergency.  True enough, but let's see.  So one more plane would do the trick and knock out all the backup power systems!  Also, the first plane might destroy the cabling for the connection, as well as the two generators.  These things are more fragile than I thought!

These sorts of terrorist acts were NOT the sorts of problems reactors were designed for.  The proof of that is that the reactor's generators are separated by a single concrete firewall.  No one would design it that way today -- one backup generator would be on one side of the reactor, and the other would be on the opposite side.

What else wasn't designed safely enough, now that we understand the threat better?

I pointed out to some other visitors at the booth that a high-powered rifle or a grenade could put a pretty good hole in the fuel assembly, while it's in the spent fuel pool where it's relatively easy to get at.  Another visitor wondered what that thing was -- I explained that a real fuel assembly like the mock-up shown contained enough poison to wipe out all of Southern California.  Then I pointed to one rod in the fuel assembly and said that one rod alone could surely wipe out Carlsbad (the city (my city)) where the faire was held).  (The "ambassador" was distracted with other visitors at the time.)

We played this little game for about 15 minutes.  Ray Golden, their usual spokesperson, wasn't there at the time.  I found the employee I spoke to, to be quite forthright.  I asked him if it was true that the rigging accident in June cost the plant about $5 million dollars in new straps, hooks, training, etc.  He couldn't confirm it.  He then explained to another guest that I was talking about when a crane was dropped from a gantry because a strap broke.  I then added that my understanding was that if they had used an I-beam to separate the cables and spread out the load properly, the accident should never have happened even if one strap broke.  The guy next to me immediately gave the rigger's technical term for that bar, and laughed.

The "ambassador" said that he trained people in the nuclear area and wasn't involved in the turbine area where the load was dropped.  He said he had heard that it took about 10 to 15 minutes for the gantry operator to calm down enough to come down from the gantry, which had bounced wildly when the load (about 50,000 pounds) fell.

I then asked him about circular cracks around the nozzles, specifically, were they looking for them while the unit was shut down recently?  (One of the units is currently shut down for non-routine maintenance.  The two reactors were expected to be inspected for these dangerous cracks in 2002 and 2003.)  He could not confirm that the inspections were being done, but said something to the effect that he hoped so and thought it certainly made sense to do so.

I was actually quite impressed with the spokesperson.  San Onofre should dump Ray Golden, and let their technically-savvy "ambassador" handle the difficult job of going from energy supplier and nuclear waste dump, to simply being a nuclear waste dump.  A dangerous, fragile, vulnerable waste dump in need of hundreds of millions of dollars of new security equipment and personnel, which will cost billions and billions to "decommission" (which means, to take all the nuclear waste that's there and put it some place else).

One last conversation with the spokesperson is of interest.  I mentioned that wind power companies are right now building wind turbines that supply about 3 megawatts of power.  This actually caused a pause in the conversation, until I corrected myself and said, no, I meant 3 kilowatts.  That the biggest windmills were now delivering about 3 kilowatts.  The "ambassador" found this much more reasonable.  The guy next to me said he needs about 300 kilowatts just for his own home, so those obviously wouldn't be much good.

But then I asked him how many watts one of his plants delivers: "1,000 megawatts, right?"  "Right," he said.  "Then the correct figure for wind turbines these days is in the 3 megawatt range," I said.  "I was right the first time."

I find it interesting that the "ambassador" did not know, within four orders of magnitude, what wind turbines can deliver these days.  So he did not know if it would take about 350 of them to replace one of his nukes, or 350,000 of them (the correct figure is the former, smaller one).

"I understand they have high maintenance problems" the "ambassador" said, or maybe one of the other visitors said it.  (I'm not sure the visitors were entirely unbiased witnesses to all this.)

"Compared to what, Chernobyl?  I thought, but let the conversation end instead.

Some of our local politicians are calling for San Onofre to put on a major educational push in the schools around Southern California.  They want San Onofre to produce a 15-minute video to explain the safety of the plant.

I think it would make a lot more sense if we taught the folks at San Onofre about all the problems their plant is creating.  I asked the "ambassador" what they were going to do with the waste -- "And don't say 'send it to Yucca Mountain' because that isn't going to happen!" I added.

He had nothing to say.


Russell Hoffman
Concerned Citizen
Carlsbad, CA

Below are two items and a URL for an article about Yucca Mountain:

1) An article about a Greenpeace report on nuclear power plant vulnerabilities

2) Information on wind power from a California Public Television show called California's Gold, including contact information for Enron Wind in Tehachapi,  California, whose representatives talked on the show about the existence of 3 megabyte wind turbine technology.

3) If you think Yucca Mountain is going to save the nuclear industry, please read my essay written September 6th, 2001 and available at this URL:


NOVEMBER 2, 2001
1:53 PM
    CONTACT:  Greenpeace
Shaun Burnie +31 629 0011 33 (London). Franko Petri +43 676 514 7246
(Vienna) Dr Helmut Hirsch +49 5116063028

Meltdown in One Hour If Commercial Passenger Aircraft Hits Nuclear Power

VIENNA - November 2 - A reactor meltdown could occur within one hour if a
commercial passenger jet hits a nuclear power plant, according to a new
Greenpeace report which examines the vulnerability of nuclear power plants
to plane crashes in Germany.

Nuclear expert, Dr Helmut Hirsch, says in the report that in a worse case
scenario of a commercial passenger jet hitting a nuclear plant, the
reactor's containment would be breached, the cooling systems would fail, and
within a very short period of time less than one hour - the reactor core
would begin to meltdown. A catastrophic release of radioactivity on the
scale of Chernobyl would follow. DR Hirsch's report was released as
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General, DR Mohamed El
Baradei, acknowledged that the world's nuclear reactors and other facilities
are vulnerable to a September 11th type attack. An IAEA conference in Vienna
today will discuss the threat of nuclear terrorism.

The GP report also states that, even if the reactor building remains largely
intact, there is a high probability that as a result of the damage caused by
the aircraft, a core meltdown could still occur. Such an event would be less
catastrophic in the short term due to the containment structure, however,
this would eventually fail - either through explosions caused by the
meltdown (within ten hours) or within a matter of days due to excessive
internal pressure. DR Hirsch states that in the oldest German nuclear plants
the reactor buildings had walls 60 cm (two feet) thick which could withstand
a sports plane, weighing 10 tons and flying slowly (300 kmph) while others
were designed to withstand a crash by a Starfighter warplane and the newest
to withstand a crash by a Phantom fighter jet.

However the report points that the mass of commercial passenger jets and the
amount of fuel they carry far exceed those of jet fighters. The F4E Phantom
II jet has a take off weight of 26,309 kg with maximum estimated fuel
reserves of 6,000 liters while a Boeing 747-400 has a take-off weight of
396,890 kg and maximum fuel reserve of 216,840 liters"In general it can,
given the current state of knowledge, be assumed that even in an accidental
crash by a big passenger plane the reactor building will probably be broken
into - if a 'direct hit' occurs - even if the facility involved is protected
against the impact of a Phantom jet fighter.

This possibility cannot be ruled out even with a medium sized passenger
plane (eg Airbus A-320). The probability is greater still in the case of a
deliberately aimed crash at higher speeds," the report states.

DR Hirsch questioned the safety of deploying air defense systems at nuclear
sites saying the most effective safety measure would be to close down the
nuclear plants as soon as possible. "Stationing military units at nuclear
power plants for the purpose of air defense, a measure already implemented
in France and the Czech republic, must be regarded as extremely
problematic," the report said. "Apart from the obvious danger of shooting
down aircraft which have no interest in the plants - planes whose radio and
navigation systems have failed, for example - new risks are created as a

While the IAEA Director General stated that reactors were vulnerable to
aircraft attack, he downplayed the threat posed by fissile materials - the
ingredients needed for nuclear weapons - being used by terrorists to make
weapons. However Greenpeace International spokesperson Shaun Burnie said
nuclear weapons experts have stated the contrary, that the design and
manufacture of a nuclear weapon is relatively straightforward once fissile
materials, such as plutonium, have been obtained. During the last ten years
global stocks of plutonium in commercial nuclear programs have grown to over
200,000kg. As little as 5kg of this plutonium would be sufficient for a
nuclear weapon.

"The IAEA has two functions: to promote nuclear technology and to safeguard
nuclear material. The two are in direct contradiction. Proliferation of
nuclear power, the job of the IAEA, increases the threats of nuclear weapons
proliferation and nuclear terrorism," Burnie said. "Instead of seeking to
reassure the world that it can be protected from nuclear terrorism it would
be more effective for the IAEA to admit that the risk is so high that
reactors have to be shut down and that the trade in plutonium should be
halted," Burnie said. "Future energy requirements must come from energy
efficiency measures and renewable energy ."


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The first stop on our adventure is the Dutch Windmill in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, which was built in 1902, at a cost of $16,000. It is 75 feet high, and 33 feet in diameter at the base, is sails have a span of 102 feet and it was capable of pumping 30,000 gallons of fresh water per hour from underground to a reservoir on Strawberry Hill. Despite being a great success for a few years (so much so that a second windmill was built), by 1913 electric pumps were introduced, so the windmills began to become obsolete. In August 1976 volunteers from the US Navy Reserve started work on restoring the Dutch Mill. Work continued through to completion in 1981. The second windmill, which is lose by, is patiently waiting its turn to be brought back to its original glory.

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First posted November 4th, 2001.

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