CALLING ALL COUNTERPUNCHERS! CounterPunch’s website is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. We are supported almost entirely by the subscribers to the print edition of our magazine and by one-out-of-every-1000 readers of the site. We aren’t on the receiving end of six-figure grants from big foundations. George Soros doesn’t have us on retainer. We don’t sell tickets on cruise liners to the “new” Cuba. We don’t clog our site with deceptive corporate ads or click bait. Unlike many other indy media sites, we don’t shake you down for money every month … or even every quarter. We ask only once a year. But when we ask, we mean it. So over the next few weeks we are requesting your financial support. Keep CounterPunch free, fierce and independent by donating today by credit card through our secure online server, via PayPal or by calling 1(800) 840-3683. Note: This annoying box will disappear once we reach our fund drive goal. Thank you for your support!
The most amazing pump in the universe — the most amazing machine in the universe — is the main pump inside your chest, the human heart.
When your main pump fails, you’re in BIG trouble — unless it’s recognized in time, of course. Then you stand a chance. In 1967 Dr. Christiaan Bernard performed the first human heart transplant, in South Africa. (Dr. Bernard and his team had performed heart transplant operations dozens of times on animals prior to that.) In the 45 years since then, tens of thousands of heart and heart/lung transplants have been performed on people all around the world.
Last week former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was the recipient of a “new” heart.
Long live the automobile industry, where most of the “organ donors” in America come from!
Ugh, what’s wrong with THAT sentence? I mean besides the obvious: That someone more deserving than Dick Cheney might have deserved that heart? If you can figure it out, perhaps you can understand what’s wrong with nuclear power. Yes, it’s really that simple! Nuclear power kills. There might be some benefits, but along the way, it kills. There are vastly safer ways to either conserve or generate electricity without increasing global warming. We don’t need nukes. Would it be argued that we need car accidents just to be sure we have organ donors?
Vice President Cheney’s old heart was no good (what a surprise!): He had quadruple bypass surgery 24 years ago, then two angioplasties, and a heart monitoring device put in (later removed). There wasn’t much left to do but replace the thing! He reportedly was on the “waiting list” for a suitable donor organ for the past 20 months.
San Onofre Nuclear (Waste) Generating Station in Southern California is falling apart, and so they keep putting new parts in. Last time, it was new turbine blades (for “greater efficiency” they said) and a new reactor pressure vessel head (because the old one was rotting, decaying, corroding, embrittling, rusting — you get the idea).
The time before that, a little over a year ago, it was four new steam generators, two per reactor. The time before that it was something else, and something else the time before that. Billions of dollars worth of parts — but billions more dollars worth of parts are NOT being replaced UNLESS they fail! And the new parts aren’t working, anyway.
The ratepayers are paying for everything, of course. It’s always the ratepayer who pays, so the utility’s investors can make money. The California Public Utilities Commission ensures that electricity rates will be sufficient so that the utility will make money. How much? Enough to keep the utility happy.
But Southern California Edison is not so happy right now, because their #1 cash cow isn’t giving any milk. SanO has been completely shut down for nearly two months and isn’t likely to reopen any time soon. So the utility is losing about a million dollars a day per reactor. They could get most of the money some other way, because people NEED electricity and they can supply it, or at least help us exchange it with each other. But nuclear reactors, once operating, are relatively cheap to maintain — as long as the ratepayer covers most extra costs. And as long as someone (John Q. Public) takes the waste away eventually, or at least promises to (the federal government promised to, but hasn’t done so). And as long as nothing goes wrong. Then they can be very, very expensive, as they learned in Japan and the Ukraine, and as we hope NOT to learn firsthand here.
Your main pump — your heart — can fail in many ways. The muscle of the pump can fail to get the proper bioelectrical signal that tells it to beat. If this potential problem is noticed in time, a pacemaker can be implanted so that an artificially-produced electrical signal can be applied to the heart.
At the Brown’s Ferry reactor in Tennessee in 1975, a careless worker using candles to test for air leaks in an operating reactor started a fire that nearly caused a meltdown. The electrical signals to the pumps (and everything else) were lost. The practice of using candles to check for leaks in operating reactors has since been banned (gee… one would have thought…) but additional fire codes, created after the incident, have not been implemented at many reactors around the country — including San Onofre!
Dick Cheney lied about the agenda and the participants of his secret his pro-nuclear energy policy (and many other things). Likewise, San Onofre’s owner/operators lie about just about everything, too. Today (March 27th, 2012) a new report indicates that Southern California Edison misled the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — and everyone else — about the new steam generators. SCE said they were designed as exact replacements for the old steam generators. But it appears that in reality, their fluid flows were redesigned to increase output! But apparently instead, the new design increased their own wear and tear!
Your heart beats about once per second for your entire life — more if you’re stressed or exercising. First it contracts the upper two chambers, called the left and right atria. Then while they’re still contracted, the lower two chambers, called the ventricles, contract. Then it rests for a while, and refills will blood.
In your heart, there are two valves between the atria and the ventricles, and two more at the egresses from the ventricles. These four valves do a nearly perfect job of preventing backflow. In a sense the heart is two pumps. one side pumps blood to your lungs, the other side pumps blood that comes back from the lungs to everywhere else. The two side pump in unison. The pressurized flow of blood puts a strain on the valves, the heart, and the blood vessels of the system. As they get old older, the blood vessels tend to harden and weaken, and their inner diameters get smaller due to build-up of “plaque” over time, which causes the heart to have to pump harder to get enough blood to wherever it’s needed (stomach when you’re digesting, brain when you’re thinking, muscles when you’re exercising, etc.). Higher blood pressure is a strong indicator of an upcoming heart attack, and does extra damage to the blood vessels. You want to keep your pipes pliable! Keep your cholesterol low, because it is a good indicator of how quickly plaque is building up in your system.
The new steam generators at San Onofre are — like the rest of the plant — falling apart. They are the direct cause of the reactors being completely shut down for the longest period in the plant’s history, with no end in sight.
Steam generators transfer the heat of the nuclear reactor from the primary coolant loop to the secondary loop. The secondary loop turns to steam, but the primary loop is kept under enormous pressure so that it does NOT turn to steam — 2200 PSI (atmospheric pressure is under about 15 PSI).
San Onofre’s steam generator tubes have become prematurely weakened and have started to fail. One tube ruptured during operation, causing that reactor to shutdown, and seven more tubes failed during subsequent pressure testing. Premature wear was found on hundreds of additional tubes in the other reactor.
If only one tube ruptures, as happened last January, it can send fragments of metal through the system, which could block valves or fluid flow around the reactor core, causing a cascade of further problems. One rupture could even cause neighboring tubes to rupture in a cascade of tube failures. This could lead to a catastrophic meltdown of the reactor!
If any of the four valves in your heart starts to fail, they can usually be replaced with “mechanical” heart valves (usually ball valves) or “biological” (tri-flapper valves) almost exactly like the originals, taken from pig hearts. In any case, they are known as “artificial” heart valves.
Artificial heart valves sometimes fail due to a phenomena known as “cavitation” (see below). The valve that takes the most flow and the highest pressure — the mitral valve (between the left atrium and the left ventricle) — is also the one that is most prone to failure due to cavitation problems.
Cavitation problems could certainly be the cause of San Onofre’s problems right now — or it could be “plaque” (scale) buildup on the steam generator tube’s walls. Perhaps the problems were caused by radiation from the “scale” buildup or from other radioactive materials in the primary coolant loop. Or it could be manufacturing defects, or even damage during shipping which was overlooked during inspection when the steam generators arrived at the plant (we were told they were thoroughly inspected). Perhaps they were damaged during installation, or any number of other things. Bad filtration of the primary or secondary coolant could leave all sorts of crud swirling around in the system that shouldn’t be there. Perhaps SCE was trying to increase the operating pressure and/or temperature, so they could spin the turbine faster and make more money? That’s what some people are suggesting, but since the investigation is closed to the public, we can only guess.
The utility is already “warning” us that summer blackouts are possible a few months from now. But instead of doing something realistic about it, they want us pay for them to replace the steam generators AGAIN (and thousands of other worn-out parts) with any replacements they can find — even if they work at a reduced capacity — and then replace them AGAIN after they’ve redesigned them and — this time — gotten the proper federal approvals — perhaps by simply going back to the original design (if they can find the blueprints)!
Hey, fellow ratepayers: Got deep pockets? We’re going to need them! All this work will almost surely be done entirely at the ratepayer’s expense. And Southern California Edison will say they need to do it in order to keep our lights on. But it’s really to make money for themselves at the risk of Fukushima USA here.
The fact is, Southern California Edison has plenty of time to get ready for summer’s increased energy load, AND for no longer having San Onofre ever again.
One small thing they should do immediately is begin an emergency program to install hundreds of thousands of devices to prevent people from using washing machines, dish washers, dryers and air conditioners during a power shortage. SCE has already installed thousands of these devices over the years, but they could redouble or triple that effort. It would make a significant difference during peak demand periods!
Another thing SCE could do is get the extra transmission lines installed that they claim they’ll need. But hey! That sounds fishy because there’s supposed to be more than enough power lines coming IN to Southern California so that San Onofre won’t melt down from an extended “station blackout” even during peak summer energy use periods! (It was a prolonged station blackout that made the meltdowns in Fukushima inevitable.)
Southern California Edison could be building offshore wind turbines instead of hiring more gasbags to tell the public that we need San Onofre. We don’t! Nuclear power is an utterly failed technology. It was originally pushed on an unsuspecting public which was told that the “fission products” from splitting the atom could and would be properly contained forever — a pipe dream at the time it was claimed, which has been proven utterly false.
It was pushed on an unsuspecting public with claims that nuclear power would be “Too Cheap To Meter,” and that these were “Atoms for Peace.” And we were told about a theory called “Hormesis” — the idea (still believed by those in the nuclear industry but denied throughout the rest of the scientific community) that a little bit more radiation, randomly administered any old way, is good for you, no matter how old you are, no matter how much radiation you’ve already absorbed in your life, and no matter how much you will absorb in the future.
In reality there is no safe dose, as admitted by numerous government agencies! And yet the nuclear “health physics professionals” and everyone else in the nuclear industry will STILL tell you a little radiation is GOOD for you, so why worry about a big accident as long as it’s diluted??? It’s poppycock.
Thanks to Fukushima and Chernobyl, and so many times before, dust storms of plutonium, uranium, and other dangerous radioactive elements have been scattered by the winds, the sea, and the blowing dust, to people all around the globe (people who never benefited from ANY reactor’s electricity). In a closed system like earth, people everywhere will inevitably suffer and die for generations to come.
We don’t want SanO to be the cause of another nuclear tragedy, and we don’t need it to happen: Keep San Onofre shut down. Don’t restart it. Don’t restart ANY reactor — shut them ALL down!
Fukushima was a wake-up call to those living within 50 miles — or a thousand miles — of any of the ~450 operating nuclear power plants around the world. The nuclear industry wants to keep making money, to keep going as if Fukushima never happened. Their apologists, the health physicists, continue to insist that indeed, nothing DID happen in Fukushima — or Chernobyl, for that matter. Thousands have already died from Chernobyl, and thousands will die from Fukushima, but their deaths are scattered in time and all over the planet, and so the “health physicists” ignore those deaths, denying any connection to any nuclear accident. But realistic data by highly qualified scientists, in study after study, points to an enormous problem: Nuclear power kills. SanO is shut. Let’s keep it that way.
But unfortunately, San Onofre’s operators, Southern California Edison, would LOVE to get a completely new reactor instead! And our governor might even help them do it!
Completely new reactors are forbidden by state law here in California until there is a solution to the problem of nuclear waste (which probably means never). Governor Jerry Brown, once on the protest lines against Diablo Canyon, now is so scared of global warming (and so beholden to the energy companies who financially supported his re-election) that he says he would LIKE to see new nukes in California — as long as someone else will pay for them, of course. Meanwhile, the ones we have are (naturally…) falling apart.
Billions of dollars have been wasted trying to keep them running against all rhyme or reason. Now the ratepayers are being asked to spend billions more. No way!
Nukes? No thanks!
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: firstname.lastname@example.org