The New Nuclear Nightmare
by Michael I. Niman, Hightimes.com, ArtVoice, December 5th, 2001.
The Ghost of
Nuclear power plants house over a thousand times as much radiation as would be released during the explosion of an atomic bomb. And this release would be quick. Greenpeace nuclear consultant Dr. Helmut Hirsh estimates that such a collision would cause a meltdown in less than one hour. Unlike mechanical failure, which often unwinds over hours, allowing for efforts at regional evacuation, the quick meltdown brought on by a terrorist attack would result in far more fatalities. The general consensus among experts is that this scenario would result in at least 100,000 immediate deaths and possibly millions of subsequent cancer related deaths. The radioactive fallout would also render New York’s northern suburbs, and possibly, depending on weather conditions, the city itself, uninhabitable for decades. The economic fallout would have simultaneously destroyed the economies of every western nation. The ghostly image of an empty, dead, slowly decaying carcass of New York City, of a dark skyline, of traffic less bridges and highways, would forever stand as a monument to the triumph of terror.
History of Nuclear Sabotage
Late in 1998, rather than attend to this potentially
catastrophic problem, the NRC chose instead to secretly disband the OSRE
program, effectively eliminating the security exercises.
The cancellation of the OSRE program came on the heals of numerous
complaints by commercial nuclear plant operators who contended the NRC lacked
the legal authority to force them to participate in the exercises.
Critics saw the disbanding of the OSRE program as a case of shooting the
messenger. In the spring of 2000,
the White House ordered the program restored after whistle-blowers leaked news
of its cancellation to the press. Since
the reinstatement of OSRE testing, the failure rate of security teams at US
nuclear power plants has remained at a dismal 50%.
While large scale terrorist attacks against nuclear plants in the US have yet to occur, such attacks have already occurred in other countries. Forces took over an apartheid era nuclear plant near Cape Town, South Africa, causing extensive damage to the control room. Plants in Argentina and Spain have likewise suffered control room takeovers. A non-operational French plant was attacked by anti-tank missiles. Armed units have also launched attacks on reactors in Lithuania, Russia and South Korea.
The French government, in response to the new threat of
nuclear terrorism, has employed surface to air missiles at all of their nuclear
plants. The missiles however, only
protect the plants from one specific threat – airliners. Threats from truck
bombs, forced seizure of control rooms, insider sabotage and as yet unimagined
land based attacks are immune from such a missile defense system.
Furthermore, installing air defense batteries at the world’s 431
commercial nuclear reactors has the potential to cause new sorts of mayhem.
The gun batteries, operated by threat fatigued recruits on around the
clock alert, will eventually shoot down civilian airliners that for a number of
reasons ranging from instrument failure to pilot error, stray too close to any
one of these hundreds of hostile gun emplacements.
France is absolutely addicted to nuclear power, generating over 78% of its electricity with nuclear power. Their move to install gun batteries to defend those plants is a move born in utter desperation. France, a nation four-fifths the size of Texas, is now riddled with 58 active gun batteries pointing skyward, making for very perilous conditions for aviators while failing to adequately secure nuclear plants on the ground. The Czech Republic has followed France’s lead, installing air defense missiles at their plants as well.
Air defense systems, however, represent a desperate and
futile attempt at securing nuclear power plants from terrorism.
Put simply, they are the manifestation of what George Orwell, Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsford, and Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers all
refer to as “Oldthink.” Confronting
the threat of nuclear terrorism requires us to evolve beyond the traditional
knee-jerk military reactions. Matt
Bunn of Harvard University and George Bunn of Stanford University, speaking
recently to the Atomic Energy Safeguards Symposium in Vienna, argue that “a
world that includes highly capable terrorist organizations with global reach,
bent on causing mass destruction, is a world that is less favorable to
technologies that concentrate immense quantities of value and potential
vulnerability in one place – including nuclear energy.”
The Bunn brothers point out that the need and costs of the
quasi-militarization needed to try to protect nuclear plants must be factored in
when communities evaluate alternative energy options.
Shut Them Down
For a sane rational mind there is only one option in
confronting the threat of nuclear terrorism – shut all the damned plants down
immediately. The added threat of
terrorism is the final straw - coupled with all the existing dangers associated
with nuclear power, the technology’s obsolescence is clear.
Here in the US, nuclear power plants generate less than 20% of our
electric energy. Last year,
Californians, faced with skyrocketing electric costs showed the nation that they
could cut their electric usage by 10% through conservation.
Matching their effort would be a start as we struggle to immediately take
our most vulnerable nuclear plants off-line.
During World War II, Americans conserved everything from paper and
rubber, to oil, in an effort to support the war effort.
Taking George Bush at his word, that we are “at war,” cutting our
electric usage seems like a minimal sacrifice, especially since the motivation
is to save our own lives from catastrophe.
The long-term outlook is brighter. The US Department of Energy estimates that a 10-mile by
10-mile square of solar panels located in a place such as Nevada would generate
enough electricity to meet all current power needs of the US.
Other currently employable alternative technologies include wind power
and tidal power. Our dependence on nuclear power, like our dependence on dirty
burning oil and coal, is a political construct, not a scientifically mandated
reality. We need to abandon these
obsolete technologies and embark on a never before seen wartime capitol project
to build a new energy infrastructure from the ground up.
Future energy savings would pay for the project while the actual
construction effort would provide a true economic stimulus package, pulling the
economy out of recession while giving a boost to the ailing high tech sector.
Not only would it enable us to abandon nuclear energy once and for all,
but it would also cut our dependence on foreign oil and negate the argument to
drill in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge.
The Sacramento California Municipal Utility District has already led the
way, shutting down nuclear reactors and replacing them with fields of solar
collectors. Sanity mandates that we
as a nation follow this municipality’s example.
Of course, the sane approach to our energy, environmental and terrorism problems also means taking on the oil and nuclear power industries – industries that are intimately tied to both our national government and our media. At this point in history, however, our very survival mandates that we challenge the greed and corruption of our nation’s leading institutions. Let’s get sane.
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