SD U-T 20011024 -- feigning concern for the health of San Diego's citizens

To: "Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune" <>, governor of California
From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <>
Subject: SD U-T 20011024 -- feigning concern for the health of San Diego's citizens
Cc: California Senators, "Bruce Lieberman" <>,

To: Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune
From: Russell Hoffman, concerned citizen
Date: October 24th, 2001
Re: Your editorial about San Onofre today, feigning concern for the health of San Diego's citizens

To The Editor:

It's really a shame to hear Ray Golden, communications manager for San Onofre Nuclear (Waste) Generating Station, on the one hand telling the T.V. audience today that San Onofre cannot blow up like a nuclear bomb (I think most people are well aware of that), and on the other hand, in your editorial today, you are pretending that you understand the problem and have put two and two together correctly (something Mr. Golden has never appeared to be capable of).

Mr. Golden never mentions (and nor do you, for that matter) that what San Onofre can do, that a nuclear bomb can only do about 1/5000th as much (because it has about that much less quantity of radioactive material within it) is spread radiation around our environment and make Southern California uninhabitable for perhaps half a million years (that is, through at least about 502,001 A.D..  All of recorded time spans less than 1% of that amount of time.).

People moved back, wisely or wrongly, to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  They are not going to be moving back to Chernobyl or 20 or 30 other towns, villages, and cities in the area any time soon.  And the size of the exclusion zone is growing.

"The nuclear disaster at Chernobyl has produced the biggest group of cancers ever from a single incident, according to UK and US scientists." -- BBC News, October 23rd, 2001 (URL given below).  And I believe it can be shown that even these scientists underestimate the actual effect for a variety of reasons.

Golden never, ever mentions cancer, leukemia, and birth defects -- the consequences of a serious radiological release.  Why isn't KI being distributed all across America?  Thyroid cancer is the main cancer being seen around Chernobyl, and KI helps prevent that but ONLY if taken IMMEDIATELY. But KI isn't distributed, because after all, we mustn't panic the poor bastards who live downwind.  Keep calm, America.  But we're all downwinders and we're not as dumb as all that.  Just misinformed.  Ray Golden says he believes the 170,000 people who live within a 10-mile radius of San Onofre could all be evacuated in about 8 hours.  That's too late.  So he should advocate distributing KI beforehand, but he doesn't.  Why not?  Mustn't panic the poor bastards.  Kill them, yes, give their children thyroid cancer, yes, but God Forbid we should panic them!

We would be much more calm if we had any reason to believe our government was regulating the nuclear industry properly.  If we had any reason to believe our military is ready today to take out a hijacked jet that leaves TJ or San Diego bound for points north, and a few minutes into the flight is commandeered at the last possible moment and pushed down forcibly into the plant -- you can't retake the plane for two reasons: 1) You won't have time and 2) the pilots can barrel-roll the plane (even a jumbo jet can do this) so that passengers will be glued to their seats at several g's, and variously thrown around like a cork in a bottle.  The airline pilots have testified that they could do this because they were often jet fighter pilots in our armed forces.  Well guess what?  The hijackers can do it, too.  From start to finish, a successful hijacking might take less than a minute.

There is no defence against that.  Right now, there isn't even any anti-aircraft batteries around the plant.  Many people are calling for that as a final safety measure.  Right now, CNN is reporting that an ordnance warehouse in Thailand has blown up, reportedly by accident, not a terrorist act.  Oops.  That's one of the problems with a military defense -- so-called "friendly fire".

Besides, "ack-ack" wouldn't necessarily solve the problem anyway, because if you blow up a plane that is basically falling on you, it's basically still going to fall on you.  The hijackers can make the final dive properly parabolic to help ensure this if the pesky passengers aren't revolting and in need of barrel-rolls to keep them distracted and away from the cockpit.  On the other hand, barrel-rolls are a good evasive tactic, and sloppy ones can actually be better evasive maneuvers than clean ones because they are less predictable.  The interesting effect of this is that being good at it doesn't necessarily help.  The hijackers on 9-11 proved they can put the pickle in the barrel with a pretty good consistency.  They knew how much training was enough.

Your editorial (shown below) figures planes can't make it through containment domes, which may or may not be true, but then you simply acknowledge that that may not matter because other parts of the plants are vulnerable outside the containment dome.  Well?  Put two and two together!

But you can't, can you, because you've long ago forgotten that these plants are vulnerable.  They were vulnerable before 9-11 and they are vulnerable today.  They are susceptible to earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, fires, floods, train wrecks, tractor-trailer accidents with, say, a cyanide leak -- I know, I know, you'll try to tell me the plant can survive a cyanide incident on the highway nearby because of positive pressure in the control room and gas masks for the operators, but that's the ideal, theoretical result.  Gas masks leak, for instance, and are often put on incorrectly.

Your editorial talks about plane crashes and recognizes that we've been lied to for years.  Well, it almost recognizes that.  It realizes things aren't quite as peachy-keen as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the nuclear industry had claimed prior to September 11th, 2001.

But you know what?  You didn't finish your homework assignment.  Tsunamis, for instance, can reach 200 feet easily, and have been known to reach 1800 feet.  These huge waves are caused by underwater earthquakes which move tons of rock in a sliding formation -- just like some of the earthquake zones off San Onofre can do!  Sure, San Onofre has a tsunami wall -- but it's only 35 feet tall!  Yet this is always projected to the public through the media as "tsunami-proof".  That's patently inaccurate.

Similarly, the plant is not "earthquake-proof".   Specifically, some local seismologists believe that a 7.6 earthquake is possible here, which would exceed San Onofre's "design basis" of 7.0.  And worse than that, there are many reasons to wonder if the plant really could survive the shaker they were designed for, decades ago when they were built.  Many buildings, built decades AFTER, were tested in real earthquakes and FAILED to survive their "design basis" earthquake.

Similarly, tornados are uncommon here, but they are not impossible and no reactor has ever actually been in a twister.  One touched down on the property of a reactor, but that's not the same thing and if you've ever examined the damage from a tornado, you'll be amazed at how untouched one block can be and how devastated the next one can be.  They can and do pick up tractor-trailer trucks, and they can drop them anywhere they want.  Can San Onofre survive a twister dropping a gasoline-truck on it?  Let's say only 1/3 full of gas -- about 3,000 gallons.  Have you ever asked the NRC about that one?

I have a feeling 9-11's effect on the nuclear industry is going to become like the before and after from Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.  Before, the industry used to tell the public that a meltdown was simply impossible because of all the safeguards.

Now they just tell us it's extremely unlikely.  Harrumph.

Your editorial doesn't have the good sense to demand the plants be shut down -- no.  Instead, it wants September 11th to be a watershed day where the nuclear industry does what, exactly?  Doubles the number of guards?  Goes from a rifle to a semi-automatic?  Builds huge earthen berms around everything?  Stops lying to the public?  What do you want San Onofre to do?

You don't know.  You don't care.  Let Ray Golden say whatever he wants, and study it some more.  You're just like Laura  Hunter and her Environmental Health Coalition, which wants the California Coastal Commission to study the plant again whenever they can get around to it, even though they (the CCC) said time and again that safety concerns simply aren't their bailiwick (they're wrong, it is, but EHC isn't fighting that battle).

Embrittlement.  What does anyone on the staff of the San Diego Union-Tribune, especially in the editorial boardroom, know about embrittlement?

Because terrorists are much more likely to succeed if the plants they attack are made of metals which have hardened over the years and cannot withstand excess stress because the metals are no longer the alloys they used to be, but have, over the years, formed local concentrations of various elements, for example circularly (in rings) around the 100+ nozzles that emit from the reactor vessel.  The older the reactor, the weaker the steel.

Know what I'm talking about?  Have you ever even once tried to explain this to your readers?  I'll be happy to explain it in much greater detail if you like, or find someone who can do so much better than I.

Please visit my web site:

Read yesterday's essays.  Read the day before's essays.  And the day before that.  Go back and see what you missed.

Because here's what you really missed in your little editorial, your Johnny-come-lately, gee-we-care-about-your-health little farce in the finest style of Nixon's speech-writers (coincidence?).  Here's the "putting two and two together" you and Ray Golden didn't do:

As you discuss (with fawning indignation in your editorial), the nation's nuclear security systems failed about half of the tests they were subjected to -- and these failures would have resulted in meltdowns and/or radioactive releases.  Real failures could come from destruction of backup pumps, control room equipment, blowing up the spent fuel pools (or dry casks, when they come to town in approximately 2005 or 2007), etc. etc. -- well, my question to you is, how come you're so worried about whether a jumbo jet can successfully penetrate a containment dome, when it might well be able to do everything these little bands of simulated terrorists could do without touching the containment dome -- despite your (and the NRC's) assertions?  And if one jet can't possibly do the job, how about two?  How about four?

The Concorde could be hijacked too, couldn't it?  Sure, why not?  What could it do smashing into the plant?  How would one learn to fly it, you ask?  Ever hear of Microsoft Flight Simulator?  And don't tell me it's not good enough.  Tell Bill Gates that, if you really believe it.

As soon as someone hijacks a jumbo jet and it turns out they never set foot in a real cockpit before, will you be calling for banning Flight Simulators (your flight sim. reviewer, Steve La Rue, and I will be very disappointed), or will you begin to realize that the problem is that the jet doesn't have to get through the containment dome.  Put two and two together, for goodness sakes!  What a plane would do to the outside is bad enough and could probably cause a meltdown.  And a plane can crash into San Onofre by accident.  No fancy pilotry.  Just a booboo that kills millions of people, sickens millions more, causes trillions of dollars in damage, puts the entire country into a depression because they realize all the other 100+ reactors are just as vulnerable, and costs Southern California our paradise if not our lives.

It cannot be denied any longer that this could happen.  Your editorial scoffs at the plant for running tests with teams of just three test-attackers but doesn't bother to follow the logic -- CLOSE THE PLANTS DOWN.  A shut reactor is much safer than an operating one.  Shut them down and disable them so that no matter how stupid a politician might be, they can't get them restarted.

What are you going to do now?  Tell the public the truth so that they'll demand the plant be shut down?  Tell them that there are clean energy alternatives that are much safer, cheaper, and don't rely on foreign oil?

Or are you going to just lie to them, telling them the NRC is almost doing its job and you're demanding the rest, when, in fact they aren't even close and you're demanding a trivial policy change when a sea change is in order.


Russell Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

P.S. #1:  What do you mean (below, start) by "way back in 1989"?  Were you being sarcastic?  BTW, other dates for that first test go back as far as 1974.  But anyway, the first hijacking of a jetliner was decades before that, and accidents should have been discussed as well, long before deciding to build these deadly behemoths.  But it's never too late to wise up.  Well, at least it isn't yet.  Maybe tomorrow it will be.

P.S. #2: Here is the URL for the BBC article cited above.  I believe it seriously understates the problem, but nevertheless it's quote was still a chilling warning, wasn't it?  Imagine if the truth were ever told!



Union-Tribune Editorial
Terror targets
Making nuclear plants safe from attack

October 24, 2001

Way back in 1989, federal authorities wondered whether the typical concrete and steel containment structure enclosing the typical nuclear reactor could withstand the impact of a bomb or a plane.

So, they flew a rocket-propelled F-4 fighter jet into a containment wall at 480 miles an hour. The jet disintegrated. The wall, located at Sandia National Labs in New Mexico, sustained only 2.4 inches of penetration.

This story ought to be a comfort to San Diegans concerned that terrorists might hijack a plane at Lindbergh Field or Tijuana International Airport and fly it into the San Onofre nuclear power plant.

San Onofre officials assure that the plant is so "overbuilt" it almost certainly could withstand a strike by large aircraft without releasing any radiation.

But, then, terrorists need not commandeer a Boeing 757 or 767 to carry out an attack. The terrorists need only steal their way past San Onofre's security and sabotage it from within.

Over the past decade, nearly half the nation's 103 nuclear power plants failed mock terror attacks conducted under a Nuclear Regulatory Commission program. What is particularly troublesome is that plant managers were informed six to 12 months in advance of the date of the test.

Yet, mock terrorists were able to reach targets inside many of the nuclear plants. They were able to simulate destruction of enough equipment to cause a meltdown, with a potentially devastating release of radiation. And it did not take an overly well-armed militia to sabotage the nuclear plants. The simulated attacks typically involved just three persons armed only with small weapons and with basic knowledge of how a plant works (provided by an inside source).

Which brings us back to San Onofre. Last fall mock attack teams staged four assaults on the plant, and three were repelled. During the final drill, the attackers were closing in on a target when the exercise was suddenly called off. It is far from certain that plant managers have taken the necessary steps to ensure that a real attack would be less successful.

When a nuclear plant in Taft, La., failed a mock attack in 1999, plant managers insisted the drill did not reflect the facility's preparedness. So another mock attack was conducted last year. And the plant failed again. Only after markedly upgrading its security -- fortifying the physical barrier, hiring more guards, improving counter-terrorist training -- did the plant finally repel a simulated assault.

San Onofre officials should respond to the current terrorist environment by upgrading the facility's security from top to bottom. After all, the next attack on the nuclear plant could be the real thing.

Copyright 2001 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.



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First posted October 24th, 2001.

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