Jet Crashes and Nuclear Reactors

by HARVEY WASSERMAN

The ever-vigilant Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued milestone regulations requiring the builders of new nuke reactors to explain how their plants might withstand the crash of large commercial jetliners.

But the NRC has exempted the reactors that matter most—the 104 licensed to operate RIGHT NOW. As you read this, jets hitting any of them could kill untold thousands of us and render entire regions of our nation permanently uninhabitable.

But requiring current reactor owners to do what’s now expected of future ones would apparently be an unsupportable burden.

All reactors would shut immediately without federal limits to their owners’ liability for the incalculable death and destruction that could come from a stricken nuke.

The first jet to crash into the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001 flew DIRECTLY over the one dead and two operating reactors at Indian Point, 45 miles up the Hudson, plus the three spent fuel pools there. Terrorists close to the attack—including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—have confirmed that reactors were originally targeted, but they changed their minds “for the moment.”

This is the NRC’s first significant public nod to ANY structural responsibility for such a catastrophe.

But the regulations say taxpayers must pay to prevent such attacks, not the industry. So far, not a single US reactor has any form of anti-aircraft protection, federal, state or otherwise, and many doubt they’d work anyway.

After 9/11 a bitter debate raged over the ability of American reactors to withstand jet crashes. Not one was required to do so, most importantly the fragile General Electric Mark I and Mark II designs installed at more than a third of US reactors. “We have not analyzed what would happen if a 767 crashed into a reactor,” according to the Commission’s Neil Sheehan. “Until we’ve done that, we can’t say with certainty that they could withstand it.”

NRC Chairman Dale Klein recently told CNBC a jet would “bounce off” a reactor containment dome. The industry uses a visually dramatic crash of an F-4 Phantom jet into a movable wall at the Sandia National Laboratory to “prove” its containments are “robust.” But the crash test “proves nothing, since the wall was not attached to the ground and was displaced nearly six feet,” says the Nuclear Control Institute’s Scientific Director Bernard Lyman. The Sandia test report says “the major portion of the impact energy went into movment of the target and not in producing structural damage.” The Phantom’s fuel tanks were filled with water, not jet fuel, and its total weight was about 5% of a 767. The wall was 12 feet thick, as opposed to 3.5 for a reactor containment dome.

Crash tremors at existing reactors could easily compromise cooling, electrical, safety, communication and other critical components without a containment breach. Human operators have not been realistically trained to run a control room after surviving—maybe—the impact’s shock waves.

As at Three Mile Island, radiation can—and does—escape en masse from stacks, outtake pipes and elsewhere around the reactor structure with no containment breach. Nobody knows what prolonged jet fuel fires would do to the already super-heated cores and cooling water.

Nearby pools and dry casks overbrimming with immensely radioactive used fuel rods are sitting ducks. Some are inside the containments. But most sit open to small-scale attack, let alone a jet crash.

The core radiation inside American commercial reactors can exceed by a thousand-fold what was released at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After a half-century of operation, eight years after 9/11, the official NRC admission that jets crashing into future reactors demand a structural response is long overdue. It confirms that every atomic power plant is a potential target for terror and error, a pre-deployed weapon of radioactive mass destruction.

“President Obama should replace the Bush-appointed Chairman of the NRC with an individual who will address the threat rather than lie about the vulnerability of nuclear reactors and their wastes to terrorist attack,” says Greenpeace’s Jim Riccio.

At very least the new administration should demand that the new regulations for proposed new reactors must now be applied to the ones actually operating.

If it can’t be done, the nuke power industry should tell us why.

HARVEY WASSERMAN, a co-founder of Musicians United for Safe Energy, is editing the nukefree.org web site. He is the author of SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth, A.D. 2030, is at www.solartopia.org. He can be reached at: Windhw@aol.com

 

 

Harvey Wasserman wrote SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth. His Green Power & Wellness Show is at www.prn.fm

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Geoffrey McDonald
Obama’s Overtime Tweak: What is the Fair Price of a Missed Life?
Brian Cloughley
Hypocrisy, Obama-Style
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
A Day of Tears: Report from the “sHell No!” Action in Portland
Tom Clifford
Guns of August: the Gulf War Revisited
Renee Lovelace
I Dream of Ghana
Colin Todhunter
GMOs: Where Does Science Begin and Lobbying End?
Ben Debney
Modern Newspeak Dictionary, pt. II
Christopher Brauchli
Guns Don’t Kill People, Immigrants Do and Other Congressional Words of Wisdom
S. Mubashir Noor
India’s UNSC Endgame
Ellen Taylor
The Voyage of the Golden Rule
Norman Ball
Ten Questions for Lee Drutman: Author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”
Franklin Lamb
Return to Ma’loula, Syria
Masturah Alatas
Six Critics in Search of an Author
Mark Hand
Cinéma Engagé: Filmmaker Chronicles Texas Fracking Wars
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Patrick Hiller
The Icebreaker and #ShellNo: How Activists Determine the Course
Charles Larson
Tango Bends Its Gender: Carolina De Robertis’s “The Gods of Tango”