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Weep for Japan today. Weep for us tomorrow.

How to Dwarf Fukushima

by RUSSELL D. HOFFMAN

If you don’t want Fukushima USA to happen, there’s only one choice:

Shut ‘em down!  Shut ‘em all down NOW!

But don’t for a minute think that Fukushima was as bad as it can get!

It was bad.  It was under-reported how bad it was — and is.

But Fukushima could have been worse — and still might be.  In fact, it still probably WILL get worse — when the corium (reactor cores, melted into blobs) start hitting the water table.

At that point, Fukushima will get worse.

But there are other ways things can be worse than Fukushima is already.

For example, the entire core of the reactor can be blown to vapor, hot particles, fuel fleas and bits of corium in an instant (it’s called a “core rubblization”).

This can happen to any nuclear reactor anywhere in the world.  Is it likely?  No.  Is it possible?  Yes.  Would it take an extraordinary sequence of events to happen?  Yes.

But so did Fukushima.

Calling for increased regulatory oversight in light of Fukushima, calling for increased safety, calling for increased “margins of error” — all these won’t do much more than loosen up the tight packing in the spent fuel pools — and increase the dry cask storage capacity from beyond intolerable to whatever comes after that.

They might add additional battery-backed up electronic monitors for the water levels and temperatures in the spent fuel pools (gee, you’d have thought they already did that, wouldn’t you?).

They might have to purchase a fire pumper truck to keep on hand at every reactor site — not to put out fires (though it can be used for that, too) but to pour water on the reactors or spent fuel pools if needed.

They might require eight full hours of battery backup power for each reactor, instead of just four.  They might require that radiation monitors be “hardened” to survive hydrogen explosions, and have battery backup in case of “Station Black Out” (SBO), a danger they practically never considered before Fukushima.

They might store an extra diesel generator on the West Coast somewhere, to be used by seven different reactors in case of emergency (I wonder how they decide who will get it if two places need it?)  Similarly, a few diesel generators will be “strategically located” to provide mutual backup for all the other 97 reactors around the country.

That’s all the “increased safety” calls will ever accomplish.  Little steps.  All good, but none decisive.  Fukushima, USA will still come if these are the kinds of steps America will be taking in light of Fukushima, Japan.

You can be sure that even with all these improvements, nuclear power will still not be able to get insurance.  The despicable Price-Anderson Act will not be rescinded.

To make things truly safer, we MUST shut the plants down.

And even that doesn’t guarantee safety.  Only moving the waste to an isolated location (which doesn’t exist) AND shutting the plants down gives us any sort of reasonable guarantee, but then you still need:  A safe way to store the waste (doesn’t exist), and a safe way to transport it there (also doesn’t exist).

The tragedy at Fukushima happened because the plants were operational and because fresh, hot fuel was in the spent fuel pools.

Not that dry casks can’t have problems just as fierce: In my opinion, a jetliner crashing into the line of dry casks here at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station a few miles from where I live, for example, could conceivably cause a criticality event which would dwarf Fukushima.  The casks can be rearranged to prevent that (it’s a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic) but there are still other dangers to dry casks which need to be addressed.

But at least the full spectrum of accidents possible with an operating reactor can’t happen if we shut the plants down.

A pro-nuker in a debate I watched recently hit the nail on the head about what the real problem is:  Once a nuke is built, it becomes a cash cow for the utility that operates it.

Once it’s built.  New nuclear power plants aren’t financially viable in America (without massive government subsidies), and new nuclear construction isn’t even allowed in California until the impossible happens — the nuclear waste problem is solved.  So instead, we have old nukes across the country, with hoped-for 40 year lives being extended to 60 years, and if they haven’t melted down by then, 80 years, then 100 and 1000.

Sooner or later, leaving these old deathtraps running is what will kill us by the hundreds of thousands, ruin our lifestyle, and poison our land, air, and water forever.

Shut-down isn’t a guarantee of eternal safety, but it’s a huge step in the right direction and stops us from increasing the size of the problem every day.

Across America the problem of “spent fuel” piling up with nowhere to put it increases by about 10 tons PER DAY.

It is impossible to make a totally safe nuke.  It is impossible to find a totally safe storage place for the waste.

That’s why the concept of “probabilistic risk assessment” is used to justify nuclear power.  But all such calculations are based on faulty assumptions and wishful thinking by those desiring to promote the industry — and being paid to do so.

The “passive” emergency cooling systems promised for the next generation of nuke plants MIGHT work… but they might not… especially if an airplane crashed into the facility.

It is impossible to make a totally safe nuke.

Even if the nuclear power plant operates perfectly for its entire life — which has never happened and never will — it creates an enormous hazardous waste pile which cannot be safely or economically contained.

Every nuclear power plant is capable of an accident which can dwarf what happened at Fukushima.  When that happens, it will be very difficult to analyze what went wrong!  They still haven’t figured out what happened at Fukushima almost seven months later, or what’s happening there at this moment.

Yet still, the pronukers insist that increased safety measures are all we need.  They point out weak spots in the Japanese latticework of regulations and claim that America’s system is better.  But in March of 2002 Davis-Besse nearly did what Fukushima did in March of 2011, without any act of mother nature except rust (and rust never sleeps), and there have been numerous close calls before and since — perhaps less dramatic than a football-sized hole in the reactor pressure vessel head, as happened at Davis-Besse, but no less dangerous.

Fukushima can — and will — happen in America.  And when it does, we will no longer be a first-world country.  We will be a pitiable, poverty-stricken, has-been nation of mutants, debtors, the diseased and the dying.

Just like Japan is now.  Oh, you don’t think so?  Look more closely — look past the official reports, past the main stream media, and read about the abortions, the suicides, the deformities that are showing up everywhere.

Weep for Japan today.  Weep for us tomorrow.

Russell D. Hoffman lives in Carlsbad, California. He is an educational software developer and bladder cancer survivor, as well as a collector of military and nuclear historical documents and books. He is the author and programmer of the award-winning Animated Periodic Table of the Elements. He can be reached at: rhoffman@animatedsoftware.com