In the 1990s, I flew from California to Texas to attend a manufacturing convention. I didn't know anyone, but bought a ticket for the opening night's dinner anyway, and sat with eight or nine other attendees from around the world.
The trip out to Texas included a very curious detour. Having slept very poorly the day before traveling, I was sleeping on the plane. I woke up to see what looked for all the world (literally, for as far as the eye could see FROM AN AIRPLANE!) like humongous holes in the ground.
We were flying over the Nevada Test Site.
And I mean, not just a little. We went back and forth. We were in some kind of holding pattern over it. Strange, because it is, after all, closed air space. This was after I had written my essay with the late Pamela Blockey-O'Brien called -- like the U. S. government's book written several decades earlier -- The Effects of Nuclear Weapons.
Crater after crater of varying sizes, each perfectly round around the edges, bowl-shaped, and apparently empty. Some overlapped by various amounts.
The amount of time we spent over the craters can only be explained by doubling back or circling -- a straight line would have lasted maybe 30 minutes in a slow airplane, but this went on much longer than that.
I couldn't believe what I had seen. When I got home I started looking at aerial photographs of every geological formation I could find in the southwestern United States or northwestern Mexico. Of course, nothing looked like THAT! Finally, I saw some actual photos of the NTS, and then of course, it was conclusive. That's where we were. I still don't know why.
At the dinner, someone was telling a story about a foreign nuclear reactor he supplied parts to -- high-quality parts, but not the kind that could be sold for use in a nuclear reactor here in America, because they have to have a lot more paperwork here, to be sure the parts are properly inspected and so on. I read recently that the difference in cost can be $2000 for what is normally a $20 part -- not a trivial amount!
The "foreign" reactor was built by one of "America's" nuclear power manufacturing companies, which in turn is owned by a Japanese nuclear company.
The plant was financed with high-interest foreign "investment" capital. It was selected by local officials who were bribed with briefcases of cash. It was built to specifications no one understood, mostly written in a foreign language. Regulations were modeled loosely after our own Nuclear Regulatory Commission's rules, or even after rules defined by the NRC's predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).
Riots, terrorism, extreme poverty, overpopulation, military rule, and natural disasters marked the country's social system.
And now, as the speaker was telling the story, after several lucky decades of operation, the cash-stricken plant had hired the worst foreign workers that the money they still had could buy.
Many of those workers were from America.
The reactor was so poorly run, that the running joke at the plant was that if you left, it was better to put down on your resume that you were a child molester doing time in the state penitentiary, than that you had worked at that plant! It was the one thing that kept people working there -- having to admit that you worked there at all wouldn't help you get a job anywhere else in the industry.
Around that time, my local plant, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station ("SONGS"), with two operating reactors (one of which is being retrofitted with new steam generators (SGs) at this moment), was at the bottom of the list of "well run" plants in America.
We were, as always, assured things would get better, but instead, they had an explosion and fire in the turbine room which caused the turbine to lose lubricating oil and come to a screeching halt. The turbine shaft, almost as long as a football field and more than a foot in diameter, was bent, and had to be shipped to Japan for repairs that took many months.
Today, San Onofre is once again at the absolute bottom of the heap of "well-run" nuclear facilities. There are problems with worker honesty, integrity, and morale.
A few years ago, information started to come out about how bad things really are at SONGS: Faked fire inspections. Skipped / failed backup generator tests. Tritium leaks. Refusal to provide activists with factual and timely reports. Refusal to do new earthquake studies (even after the Northridge quake), refusal to do new tsunami studies (even after Banda Ache), refusal to do local community cancer cluster studies, worker cancer studies...
The operators of the plant also let the old Steam Generators crack and leak. They'd plug them up in one place, and they'd leak somewhere else. From about the third year of operation, the SGs have been leaking.
San Onofre is a pressurized water reactor (PWR). When the SGs leak, water and chemicals in the highly radioactive primary coolant loop spurt into the secondary coolant loop. When they have to shut down the reactor, such as to replace the fuel (about every eighteen months), they plug up any leaky SG tubes.
The diluted secondary coolant liquid is further diluted and dispersed into the environment. It's perfectly legal, because billions of gallons are run through the tertiary (third) loop each day, and dribbling out the crud can easily be accomplished at levels that remain below regulatory standards. If that weren't so, the regulators would have relaxed the standards even more!
There are thousands of tubes in each SG, and eventually, SONGS had to plug up so many that they decided that it was becoming uneconomical.
All they needed was a license to operate for another 20 years (for 60 years total) and then replacing the steam generators became economical from the utility's point of view.
The utility's point of view doesn't count the costs of cancers, or meltdowns, or large fuel leaks or fires, or terrorism, or war, or the unknown costs of used reactor core disposal.
Renewable energy is ready to provide all the electricity needed for society. We have barely tapped the energy provided each day by the sun, the moon, and the earth's own internal heat. All these and many more energy sources are cleaner than nuclear energy, and conservation alone can allow for EVERY nuclear power plant to be shut down, at no cost to society whatsoever. We don't need dirty energy. We don't need nuclear power.
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|Allen L. Jasson|