FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Tsunamis and Nuclear Power Plants

by RUSSELL D. HOFFMAN

More than 80,000 people are dead. Bodies wash ashore in a dozen countries. A train, loaded with a thousand passengers and their luggage, is swept away, engine, tracks, and all. Cars, trucks, buses, and boats are pushed more than a mile inland by the rushing water. Some of the waves were reported to be 40 feet high.

The ocean in San Diego, 1/2 a world away, rose 10 inches. It IS a small world, after all.

The “sea wall” at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (“SONGS”) in Southern California is 35 feet tall, and about 35 years old. It could not have withstood Sunday’s worst.

San Onofre’s twin reactors were theoretically designed to withstand an earthquake up to 7.0, which is 100 times smaller than a 9.0 earthquake. Although a 9.0 earthquake is considered “unlikely” near San Onofre, it is hardly impossible. In addition, the size of the earthquake doesn’t necessarily relate to the size of the ensuing tsunami. Landslides triggered by earthquakes, asteroid impacts, and volcanic eruptions can generate waves hundreds of feet tall.

Why did we build nuclear power plants near the ocean, anyway, where they are susceptible to underwater and surface attacks by terrorists and other belligerents? Because nuclear power plants need enormous quantities of water for their cooling systems, and water — especially in the western United States — is usually difficult to find except along the shoreline. The outflow from a nuclear power plant is always slightly contaminated with radioactive particles, and sometimes severely so; people don’t want to drink that. So they put the plants near the oceans whenever possible.

Don’t worry about tsunamis, they said — we’ve built you this puny little wall. Don’t worry about asteroid impacts — they hardly ever happen. Don’t worry about tornados or hurricanes. Don’t worry about human error. So, society agreed to these poisonous cauldrons of bubbling radioactivity — these behemoths of death-rays ready to burst — these sitting ducks on our shorelines.

Don’t worry, we were told, because the chances are very low. It’s always about “chance” to the nuclear promoters, and never about “worst case scenarios.” We’re all playing the odds. Why? Clean energy, which has zero catastrophic risk, abounds — we just need to harness it.

These tsunami waves would have had little or no effect on floating off-shore ocean wind energy farms (unless they were particularly close to shore), nor would they effect OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion) power plants, or any other deep-sea energy solutions, because the tsunami waves are harmless in deep water.

Even a 7.2 or a 7.3 earthquake — perfectly reasonable to expect in the area around San Onofre, and possible anywhere — would be more powerful than San Onofre is officially designed to withstand. Experience from the Northridge quake (17 January 1994) and others shows that structures sometimes fail to withstand earthquakes of magnitudes far less than their designed tolerances. The domes at San Onofre might not be able to withstand an earthquake or tsunami (or even a large jet crashing into them). The spent fuel pools, control room, emergency diesel generators, and dry storage casks are all outside the domes.

Sitting ducks indeed.

Maybe “unlikely” is good enough for some locations, who will bury their thousands of dead and rebuild after a natural disaster, but where nukes are located, “unlikely” is not good enough. Whatever damage a tsunami might cause to renewable energy systems would be minor — even if it wiped them out and they had to be rebuilt completely — compared to the devastation that would result from breaching the reactor vessel, emptying the spent fuel pool (or throwing heavy debris into it), or crushing the dry casks.

Why are we risking such deadly disasters, when renewable energy is available for the taking?

It’s time to make the switch to renewable energy solutions. It’s time to close San Onofre Nuclear WASTE Generating Station, Diablo Canyon, and all the other nuclear power plants.

Ronald D. Hoffman, a computer programmer in Carlsbad, California, has written extensively about nuclear power. His essays have been translated into several different languages and published in more than a dozen countries. He can be reached at: rhoffman@animatedsoftware.com

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

April 24, 2017
Mike Whitney
Is Mad Dog Planning to Invade East Syria?    
John Steppling
Puritan Jackals
Robert Hunziker
America’s Tale of Two Cities, Redux
David Jaffe
The Republican Party and the ‘Lunatic Right’
John Davis
No Tomorrow or Fashion-Forward
Patrick Cockburn
Treating Mental Health Patients as Criminals
Jack Dresser
An Accelerating Palestine Rights Movement Faces Uncertain Direction
George Wuerthner
Diet for a Warming Planet
Lawrence Wittner
Why Is There So Little Popular Protest Against Today’s Threats of Nuclear War?
Colin Todhunter
From Earth Day to the Monsanto Tribunal, Capitalism on Trial
Paul Bentley
Teacher’s Out in Front
Franklin Lamb
A Post-Christian Middle East With or Without ISIS?
Kevin Martin
We Just Paid our Taxes — are They Making the U.S. and the World Safer?
Erik Mears
Education Reformers Lowered Teachers’ Salaries, While Promising to Raise Them
Binoy Kampmark
Fleeing the Ratpac: James Packer, Gambling and Hollywood
Weekend Edition
April 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Diana Johnstone
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty
Paul Street
Donald Trump: Ruling Class President
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Dude, Where’s My War?
Andrew Levine
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
Paul Atwood
Why Does North Korea Want Nukes?
Robert Hunziker
Trump and Global Warming Destroy Rivers
Vijay Prashad
Turkey, After the Referendum
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, the DOJ and Julian Assange
CJ Hopkins
The President Formerly Known as Hitler
Steve Reyna
Replacing Lady Liberty: Trump and the American Way
Lucy Steigerwald
Stop Suggesting Mandatory National Service as a Fix for America’s Problems
Robert Fisk
It is Not Just Assad Who is “Responsible” for the Rise of ISIS
John Laforge
“Strike Two” Against Canadian Radioactive Waste Dumpsite Proposal
Norman Solomon
The Democratic Party’s Anti-Bernie Elites Have a Huge Stake in Blaming Russia
Andrew Stewart
Can We Finally Get Over Bernie Sanders?
Susan Babbitt
Don’t Raise Liberalism From the Dead (If It is Dead, Which It’s Not)
Uri Avnery
Palestine’s Nelson Mandela
Fred Nagel
It’s “Deep State” Time Again
John Feffer
The Hunger President
Stephen Cooper
Nothing is Fair About Alabama’s “Fair Justice Act”
Jack Swallow
Why Science Should Be Political
Chuck Collins
Congrats, Graduates! Here’s Your Diploma and Debt
Aidan O'Brien
While God Blesses America, Prometheus Protects Syria, Russia and North Korea 
Patrick Hiller
Get Real About Preventing War
David Rosen
Fiction, Fake News and Trump’s Sexual Politics
Evan Jones
Macron of France: Chauncey Gardiner for President!
David Macaray
Adventures in Labor Contract Language
Ron Jacobs
The Music Never Stopped
Kim Scipes
Black Subjugation in America
Sean Stinson
MOAB: More Obama and Bush
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail