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Russian Sea Monsters: Rudderless Reactors on the High Seas

Photograph Source MrT HK | CC BY 2.0

Did you hear the one about the Exxon Valdez, Fuku-Chernobyl, Gulf Oil Titanic?  Yeah: Russia floated two nuclear reactors on a barge to power oil rigs in the Arctic Ocean and nothing went wrong!

Unsatisfied with trouncing Japan at the Winter Olympics, 14 gold medals to four, Moscow wants to topple Tokyo as Oceanic Polluter No. 1. As it stands, Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi triple reactor catastrophe which began March 11, 2011 “has caused by far the largest discharge of radioactivity into the ocean ever seen,” as the journal Nature reported Nov. 14, 2012.

To top this, the geniuses in Russia plan to drag a teetering ocean barge, carrying two nuclear reactors full of hot, fissioning not-yet-melted fuel, around the Arctic Ocean looking for icebergs, shoals or oil tankers to crash into. What better way to smoke Japan’s inglorious world record? And, instead of going to all the trouble of pouring cooling water over three smoldering melted reactor cores and watching the contamination run to sea for seven years (and counting) as in Fukushima, Russia’s sea monster can go down in a whole gale like the Edmund Fitzgerald, putting all the cesium, plutonium, strontium and the rest directly into the Arctic without all the fuss.

The April 28 launch of the barge Akademik Lomonosov presents such an outrageous risk to sea life and seacoasts that even Newsweek said of it on April 30th,“Russia’s ‘Nuclear Titanic’ Raising Fears of ‘Chernobyl On Ice.’” Having hoisted this petard from St. Petersburg April 28 en route to Murmansk, the plan is to have real eco-terrorists there load the two reactors with uranium fuel and set it to test at fissioning. Then the 12-story building is to be towed so far east — 3,000 miles to Pevek — that Sarah Palin might be able to see it.

No wonder the biggest insurance companies on Earth refuse to sell accident coverage to reactor operators. Lovers of nuclear power hate this social problem like the plague since it gives their science a bad name and makes their “clean and safe” sales pitch look like snake oil. The same pro-nuclear “small government” and “free market” enthusiasts pretend it isn’t big corporate welfare for the federal Price-Anderson Act to cover reactor disaster claims above $12.6 billion with tax-payer-funded liability insurance. (Utilities would never “risk the farm” by running their reactors without the handout; they’d sooner shut them all down. Owners and stock holders rest easy saying, “The tax-paying rubes have us covered — and they don’t even know it.”)

It will cost Japan over $300 billion in compensation to evacuees and the injured of Fukushima, and a couple of hundred billion more to sweep the cesium, plutonium, strontium, tritium and the rest under a rug, into the Pacific Ocean — or to build roads with it. Our very own General Electric Corp. brought those good Fuku’ reactors to life and it’s managed to avoid liability (by getting Congress to put the taxpayers on the hook for accidents), even after the Great East Japan Earthquake rattled then blew apart three large reactors in the worst radiation disaster in history. (We’ve got 23 identical models in the US.) The 1986 Chernobyl reactor disaster will have cost the world $9 trillion by 2015, according to Natalia Mironova, a thermodynamic engineer in Russia.

Undersea earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricane winds and rogue waves are natural disasters known to be both extremely dangerous and inevitable. Daring to place hot bobbing vulnerable nuclear reactors directly into a public commons like the Arctic Ocean in the face of such enormous risks is not just tempting fate. It is saying, We don’t care about permanent atomic violence if it happens to plants, animals and the seafood web — even if we need the food and the water.

It’s another atomic industry embarrassment that only nuclear power reactors — alone among all the dangerous, large-scale industrial enterprises on Earth — are legally required to have evacuation plans approved before going online. But how to evacuate the sea?

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John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

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