-by Harvey Wasserman
The nuclear power insanity is nowhere more dangerous that at California’s ancient, aging, embrittled Diablo Canyon reactors. But news from France indicates serious parallel problems there.
French has been all in on new nukes. Unlike Germany, which is shutting all its reactors, France has been promising to start a major reactor building program. But this week the French nuclear safety agency announced it would shut at least two big reactors due to the discovery of cracked pipes. Because the French industry is built around two standardized designs, the shut-downs could lead to far more closures, with huge impacts on the French energy supply. Experts so far say the shortfalls in winter electricity supply may not be serious, but they do not rule out a major problem. Stock prices for Electricite de France, the government-based owner of the country’s reactors, have dropped by more than 10%. In the US, we’re now threatened by 93 big commercial reactors. Except for one, they are all more than 30 years old. Many are more than 40.
Worldwide there are more than 400.
There is no reliable regulation. The French safety revelations are a rarity, indicating a very serious problem. After more than 60 years of uneven operation, the US nuke industry still can’t get private insurance. Any American reactor could be blowing up as you read this, taking down your health, your family, your home.
Since there’s no private insurer (your homeowner’s policy explicitly excludes liability from any reactor disaster) you’ll have no recourse beyond a very limited federal taxpayer fund…if that.
Over the decades the industry has touted one “Nuclear Renaissance” after another. Each time, with a few pliant “environmentalists” in tow, they declare atomic energy’s time has really really come.
At least such two such “green advocates” have turned out to be big-time climate deniers.
But never mind.
Atomic reactors burn at 571 degrees Fahrenheit. They trash every ecosphere they encounter. Billions of marine creatures die daily from their heat, chemical and radioactive emissions. Thousands of birds crash into their cooling towers. Countless humans die from the radiation they constantly pour into our air and water.
When reactors open, the nearby downwind human infant death rates rise. When they close, those rates drop.
The human death toll at Three Mile Island was significant (I went there in 1980 and interviewed stricken families; it was the worst week of my life). The death toll from Chernobyl exceeds a million. Fukushima emitted more than 100x the radioactive cesium than did the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
All of them racked up gargantuan economic and opportunity costs that can never be repaid.
With no solution to the nuclear waste problem, Fukushima is poised to dump millions of gallons of heavily irradiated liquids into the Pacific Ocean. At Pilgrim, south of Boston, the industry wants to dump huge quantities of radioactive water from the long-shut Pilgrim reactor into Cape Cod Bay.
In South Carolina, two reactors at V.C. Summer shut without opening, wasting $10 billion that could have solarized much of the state. At Vogtle, Georgia, a twin reactor project has just crossed the $30 billion mark, and can’t open at least until 2022-- if ever.
Endless happy talk about small reactors, thorium reactors, fusion reactors, breeder reactors and whatever else Bill Gates perpetrates studiously ignore the fact that even their most wide-eyed projections show they can’t compete now with renewables, and never will.
Solar, wind, battery and efficiency technologies have so far outstripped initial projections in terms of cost, safety and availability that no nuclear technology--on line now or at some point in the mythological future-- can ever hope to compete.
But somehow the mandates of the “free market” disappear as corporate cash buys the gerrymandered legislatures needed to scam public money to keep these dinosaurs alive.
And that’s where the real danger comes in. Future reactors are wasteful but perfectly harmless as long as they’re not built.
It’s the ones now terminally hot that hang like over our heads like swords on strings.
The 93 operating US nukes are falling apart. They’re allegedly kept safe by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But anyone familiar with the industry knows the NRC really stands for Nobody Really Cares. Some of its staff is competent and caring. But the five Commissioners are historically corrupt, Soviet-style puppets who mostly take their marching orders straight from the industry they’re supposed to regulate.
That means our aging nukes-- every one of them without private accident insurance-- are each incredibly dangerous.
It’s one thing to debate the broad issue of nuke power-- the waste, the surety of more melt-downs, the emissions, the costs, the health disasters.
But it’s quite another to realistically deal with each of these reactors on a case-by-case basis. In fact, every US nuke is its own terrifying likely-to-blow reality. Take Ohio’s Davis-Besse, near Toledo. Its astonishing history of neglect, decay, near-misses and on-going corruption boggle the mind. To gorge on a proposed billion-dollar public bailout, its owners slipped a $61 million bribe to Larry Householder, then the Speaker of the Ohio House.
Householder is gone, but the slipshod, corner-cutting Chernobyl-style non-maintenance at Davis-Besse goes on.
Alabama’s Browns Ferry was set on fire with a candle. Arizona’s Palo Verde daily turns millions of gallons of precious water into steam. Nebraska’s Fort Calhoun and Cooper have both been flooded. Sea- and lake-side reactors will soon be under water. Many could be swamped by dam breaks.
The code red list goes on. But none exceed Diablo Canyon, near San Luis Obispo. And it’s the two reactors there that the Biden Administration now insanely wants to save.
More Americans have been arrested at Diablo than at any other nuke. Badly built just 45 miles from the San Andreas fault, and just 180 miles from Los Angeles, the seaside reactors could easily lose their cooling systems to a Fukushima-style quake/tsunami.
More than 30 years old, their radioactive clouds would reach the ten million people in LA County within five hours. Evacuation is inconceivable, the death toll unfathomable.
Most critically, Diablo’s ancient Unit One is severely embrittled. As a nuke’s interior metals are subjected over the decades to intense heat, pressure and radiation, their resilience disappears. As they become brittle they grow vulnerable to the kind of intense shock that could come when emergency cooling water is poured into a melting reactor.
Should that happen in the middle of a melt-down, the nuke’s interior metals would shatter. The resulting steam explosion would blow the structure apart, throwing apocalyptic clouds of radioactive gases, metals and structural concrete into the sea and atmosphere.
Yet Diablo is operated by Pacific Gas… Electric, which has been twice convicted of criminal manslaughter (involving up to a hundred human deaths) and which has burned down much of northern California. To say PG…E has zero credibility as a reactor operator is to vastly understate the case.
A series of intense negotiations has led to a plan to shut Diablo Unit One in 2024, followed by Unit Two in 2025. A broad coalition of communities, unions, environmental, regulatory, citizens and other groups deemed that California would emerge safer, more prosperous and more ecologically sound once those reactors were shut.
But now Team Biden wants to trash all that. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and the usual industry stooges are attacking the shut-down deal and fighting to keep Diablo open.
A petition calling for an independent Diablo embrittlement inspection has been signed by more than two thousand Californians, including Hollywood A-Listers Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, Eric Roberts, Jodi Evans, Mimi Kennedy, Graham Nash and many more. Governor Gavin Newsom has ignored the request, as has Biden’s Department of Energy.
The idea that Diablo’s operations could be prolonged without an independent investigation is beyond insane. The one thing the site has to offer of long-term value is its transmission switching station, which could easily handle major megawatts of juice coming in from the offshore wind turbines that should be built to power California’s future.
The idea that Diablo’s operations could be prolonged without an independent investigation is beyond insane. The allegedly “green” administration is pushing the envelope on the incredibly dangerous, wasteful, uninsured and ecologically catastrophic engine of mass death.
Can we stop them before Diablo or some other errant nuke blows up and terminally irradiates millions of innocent downwinders along with our planetary eco-systems?
The answer must come VERY soon.