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All Nuclear Power Plants Must Be Shut Down Now
By Jonathan Campbell
The attack on the WTC and Pentagon on September 11 revealed to us that what nuclear critics have been saying all along was true. For as long as nuclear power has been in existence, opponents of this technology (myself included) have been saying that nuclear power generating stations were easy targets for terrorism. We asserted, nervously, that the only way to make nuclear plants safe from terrorist attack was to live in a police state and to make each plant an armed garrison.
The need for constant cooling of the reactor core, and the complexity of the plumbing system needed to feed the core with water (or inert gas, in gas-cooled reactors), were difficult and error-prone enough in peacetime. A minor slip-up in maintenance procedures, a broken valve, a diesel generator that wont start, any of these minor problems could easily escalate to a catastrophic reactor core failure.
Without adequate cooling, the uranium fuel heats to the point of melting through its containment to the groundwater below, causing a massive steam explosion, spreading hundreds of tons of the most toxic substances known into the air and water for miles around. Cesium-137, Strontium-90, Plutonium-239, Iodine-131: exquisitely deadly, with half-lives ranging from a few days to thousands of years. The result: permanent land contamination and excruciatingly painful deaths for thousands or millions of people. The grist for novels and a popular movie The China Syndrome.
Our 103 nuclear power stations have suddenly become the most vulnerable targets in the country. The designs of these reactors are all public record, available in numerous libraries all over the country. A suicide mission of a single-engine plane could disrupt the cooling system, as could a single terrorist disguised as a nuclear plant worker.
Researcher Harvey Wasserman recently pointed out that either or both of the planes that hit the World Trade Center could have easily been flown into the Indian Point reactors just north of New York City, obliterating the reactor core cooling system. I will quote Bill Moyers on the issue, since his words are so powerful and eloquent. This was part of a speech he gave at the Environmental Grantmakers Association convention on October 13, 2001.
Right now, many or all of these 103 reactors have added National Guard units or army personnel to reduce the possibility of terrorist attack. Our nervous assertion about needing an armed garrison (with the addition of an anti-aircraft gun emplacement) and a corresponding police state in the rest of the country to guarantee their safety is now hard, cold reality. And not even these measures would really ensure security. A commandeered executive jet plane, a bomb thrust by a simple catapult, a single nuclear plant worker with a nervous breakdown any of these could be the beginning of a reactor core meltdown.
The nuclear industry PR motto of "cheap, safe nuclear power" something that anti-nuclear activists used to laugh about has become a cruel joke. The current situation is economically ludicrous we are paying millions of dollars a day just to guard the plants that provide about 10% of our electrical power. That 10% could easily be saved by common sense energy conservation.
Continuing to operate these plants is primarily a grave risk to life. It is time that we shut these wasteful, polluting, technological nightmares before one or more of them becomes a terrorist target.
November 6, 2001
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