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Toward the end of a lengthy interview in a remote mountain cabin in western North Carolina during the first week of March, 2011, the interviewer tossed a final question to the couple her crew had journeyed all the way from Philadelphia to get on film. A piece for the documentary archives about the modern "Nuclear Renaissance" being pushed so hard by an industry now slated to enjoy tens of billions of dollars' worth of new subsidies in the current year's budget. Despite an economic depression approaching the level of the 1930s, despite rampant joblessness, despite massive failure of the real estate market and resulting homelessness, despite rapidly increasing hunger and lack of access to basic health care, despite ever dwindling income amidst ever rising prices for necessities, the nuclear power industry will be enjoying billions of dollars that will not be going toward providing relief to the suffering people of the United States.

"The accident at TMI didn't stop the nuclear industry in its tracks," said the young interviewer from behind the camera. "Now they are back in force, and want to build a thousand new plants between now and 2050. The government is lining up to help them do so, even though Wall Street has turned its back. What would it take," she asked, "to stop this 'renaissance' from happening?"

The answer in March of 2011 is the same as it's always been. "A catastrophe. And it will have to be much worse than either TMI or Chernobyl."

Thirty-two years ago today the shiny new pressurized water reactor on an island in the Susquehanna River in south central Pennsylvania suffered a loss of coolant accident that led to a partial meltdown of the reactor core and released radioactive isotopes to blanket the peaceful countryside. It began at 4 a.m., about the time when dairy farmers were waking up and donning their boots and jackets to make their way through the early spring fog toward barns to milk the cows. There was a strange metallic taste in the air, some reported later. Over the following days people who lived in the rural area reported pets who developed cataracts and died for no apparent reason. Farm animal carcasses began piling up even as local officials were advising not to pasture - keep them in the barn and don't let them eat the grass. Soon reports of miscarriages among the cattle, goats and pigs began circulating, and even tales of two-headed calves and other such anomalies. People got sick, before they even knew there had been an accident at the local nuke. Within days and weeks their hair started falling out.


A stillborn double headed calf, was stuffed and mounted at the recommendation of the veterinarian. This calf was born a few years after the accident at TMI, on a farm in rural New Cumberland, about 4 ½ to 5 miles northwest of TMI.. Many problems occurred on that farm as well as others in the area. In the spring of 1979, the sheep could not dilate to deliver their lambs. The vet had to perform one or two C-sections a day; prior to the accident he had only one or two a year. The farmer died of thyroid cancer.

No Danger To The General Public.

The standard line. Doesn't matter if it's a minor iodine release from an unexpected scram or a major disaster with 3 melting reactors and 4 melting fuel pools. There is ALWAYS no danger to the general public.

A miscarriage rate that spiked over 280% in nine months. Babies born with genetic issues. Induced immune deficiencies by the dozens. Leukemias, thyroid conditions, thyroid cancers, liver and kidney cancers, lung and bone cancers, stomach cancers… the effects kept right on coming as time went by. First they said it was "stress" because they couldn't keep their little accident secret. Then it was coal dust left over from the 50s. Then it was fallout from atmospheric bomb testing. Anything, everything - so long as nobody could blame it on TMI.

The utility said it only released 15 curies of iodine, total. Anyone who wished to bring a suit from then on had to 'prove' that figure was wrong. All subsequent studies of health effects were restricted to that self-reported release figure, were not allowed to find anything beyond the 'official' extrapolations. Which were that no one could have gotten cancer. To pull that off they drew a circle with a 50-mile radius around TMI so they could divvy that 15 curies up equally amongst an extra few million people who weren't anywhere near the plume. Voila! Nobody got enough of a dose to measure. That the 15 curies figure came directly from dropping factors of ten from the technical assessments never bothered anybody. What's 150,000 curies here and there?

The worst part was that they got away with it. Then along comes Fukushima. All of a sudden we get treated to the semi-amazing and ironically humorous insistence that despite 3 melting reactors and 4 melting fuel pools dumping iodine, cesium and God only knows what else all over the landscape so that iodine levels in TOKYO tap water exceeded limits for infants, it definitely wasn't as bad as TMI. For 8 days that was the mantra. Not as bad as TMI, even though three containment buildings had blown sky high most spectacularly, they were busy dumping seawater from helicopters and fire hoses just to aim some water in the general direction of melting fuel, and the volunteers started dying.

Then we got a week's worth of "okay, maybe it's as bad as TMI, but it's not as bad as Chernobyl!" Imagine where we'll be in another week!

The weekend that not one but two containments blew up from hydrogen, the pro-nukes were still swearing it's impossible for hydrogen to be released from any imaginable nuclear situation. By that Monday, "everybody knows" TMI suffered major hydrogen explosions and this happens when nukes melt down. Then they were swearing that radioactive contamination doesn't move in plumes. Can't happen unless it's a graphite reactor and the graphite burns so contamination can get into the atmosphere as thick black smoke. Right now the nuclear dreamers are still swearing contamination from Fukushima can't move in plumes (presumably because it's not thick and black), even as Fukushima's plume was measured in California last week, followed all across the country, to show up in Boston's water supply before heading out toward Europe. No doubt by tomorrow "everybody knows" radiation from nasty fission product isotopes is good for us. Cue Ann Coulter…

It is now perfectly clear that no catastrophe, no matter how dire, no matter how many people it kills, will ever be enough to turn these people away from their nuclear god. Like fundamentalists in any other religion, no factual information will ever dent their armor. And just like fanatics in other religions determined to force "every knee to bend," they intend to nuke us all whether we like it or not. And they've bought a lot of powerful friends in high places who aren't afraid enough of evil socialism to shy away from socializing nukes - and forcing them down our throats anyway. Just like the bad ol' USSR.

Nukes have to be socialized - meaning we get to pay for all the costs, but get none of the profit - because the supposedly free market laughs at the folly. Wall Street isn't investing in nukes. It's throwing its billions into natural gas and renewables. And let's face it - Wall Street is a euphemism for the true Masters of Fate in this world, not those pitiful worshippers of the Golden Radioactive Slag Heap. They have an 'austerity' plan for human civilization, and nukes don't get to play. No matter how many citizens must die of lack of food, shelter, medical care. No matter how many people must be made to suffer so that Obama and the gang can gift nukes with more billions of tax dollars in return for millions in campaign donations, there will never be another nuke built in this (or most other) countries. It's a sick joke, we still get to pay for the tickets to this comedy club, even though we can't afford to actually attend. And don't think the jokes are funny.

Believe me, the adults in my household know some nuclear jokes. And no, we don't think they're funny at all. My heart is breaking for the people of Japan, even more so because I know this catastrophe will not dent the push for a 'nuclear renaissance' from the industry's True Believers, no matter how bad it gets. Given the sheer volume of cash flow through this dead-end industry in a time of imposed austerity, it's going to take the people standing up en masse to demand that it stop. I haven't a whole lot of hope that will ever happen either, so perhaps in the end, it will be the true Masters of the Universe on Wall Street who will finally hammer the final nail in nuclear power's coffin. Just like they're happily hammering nails into our coffins on a daily basis right now. They have a plan for the future. Nuclear power doesn't get to play a role in that future, any more than we useless old Baby Boomers trying to collect on our Social Security and Medicare do. There was never a good reason for that kind of choice. We could have done without the nukes all along.

Happy anniversary, TMI. I look forward to the day when both your units finally get buried in concrete and left forever as a monument to human foolishness.

Originally posted to Joieau on Mon Mar 28, 2011 at 11:35 AM PDT.

Also republished by Nuclear Free DK and Team DFH.

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Comment Preferences

  •  So if this is true: (3+ / 0-)
    It is now perfectly clear that no catastrophe, no matter how dire, no matter how many people it kills, will ever be enough to turn these people away from their nuclear god.

    Shouldn't we be pushing for stronger regulation as well as rehabbing (or replacing) the old reactors for the newer 4g tech that is available today? I have another question hopefully someone in this diary may be able to answer: How many nuclear energy production deaths are there per year? I haven't been able to find a number anywhere.

    •  I should note that I am one of (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Regina in a Sears Kit House

      "these people" that thinks nuclear energy production can be handled correctly although I do not believe it has been so far.

      •  It can never be (13+ / 0-)

        "handled correctly" because there is no one to handle it correctly. Not utilities, not their bought and paid for cheerleaders... er, regulators. Nobody. And since there is no responsibility anywhere for handling it 'correctly', such a pipe dream is worse than unicorns.

        Can't be done. Won't be done no matter what the cheerleaders tell you. Just look at Fukushima, happening in a place where responsibility is part of the cultural milieu so deeply embedded it hasn't been too long since responsible parties routinely offed themselves from guilt. They're busy riding multiple meltdowns like bucking broncos as long as they possibly can - to their own deaths if need be - and still they're lying about impacts to the general public.

        This disaster wasn't even their fault, if you forget the fact that some idiot GE siting engineer let them put it right on the ocean where the subduction plate was bound to go at some point. It wasn't human error, it wasn't bad operating procedure. It was a 9.0 earthquake and a monster tsunami. But today's anniversary should remind us that you don't need such dire natural disasters in order to melt a nuke. Wait a month and we can celebrate the 'other' reminder - Chernobyl.

        Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

        by Joieau on Mon Mar 28, 2011 at 12:39:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yeah, but fukushima didn't (0+ / 0-)

          happen because of any man made problems. 9.0 earthquakes can mess up even the best laid plans.

          •  Lots of man-made (7+ / 0-)

            problems. Lousy design, shoddy engineering, lies and coverups galore on reporting and follow-ups, a crooked corporate culture that cut corners every step of the way, a seriously compromised reactor vessel (#4), falsified inspection reports, release figures, etc., etc., etc. The Japanese run their nukes just like everybody else does. This is what comes of it, inevitably.

            So God threw some shit at this one and that makes it okay? Not to me. I'd be suspecting strongly that maybe He's trying to tell us something before we f*ck it up even more...

            Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

            by Joieau on Mon Mar 28, 2011 at 01:17:46 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  "God threw some shit at..." (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Recall, Ray Radlein

              Okay, I think you're maybe oversimplifying an extremely complex chain of events, but that's fine, Belittling the affect of a tsunami and a 9.0 earthquake and claiming what happened was because of man made mistakes is just wrong. I will agree with you on the poor reactor design that should have been upgraded 20 years ago, although some very smart people have sung the praises of the construction of the Dai Ichi plant.

              This is the timeline of events at Dai Ichi:

              • On March 11, 2011, the facility was rocked by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake just before 3 p.m. local time.

              • At the time, three of the reactors were operating. Reactors 4, 5, and 6 had been shut down ahead of time, for planned maintenance.

              • The quake tripped the facility's scram system, which automatically shut off reactors 1, 2 and 3.

              • The reactors had been installed with neutron-absorbing boron control rods between fuel rods to halt the usual nuclear activity inside the reactor. The control rods did exactly as they were designed to do, absorbing enough neutrons to stop the nuclear chain reaction within a matter of seconds.

              • However, even once the chain reaction stopped, radioactive materials in the reactor core continue to produce heat, called decay heat. That heat falls to a quarter of its original level in the first hour after a shutdown, and then disappears more slowly. But that's only if the core is kept cool after the shutdown.

              • Once a nuclear reactor is shut down, the fuel needs to be kept cool or it will begin to overheat. In fact, even once nuclear fuel is used up, the fuel rods need to be kept cool for a number of years until the natural decay processes fizzle out.

              • Normally, heat inside a reactor is removed by water that circulates around the core. That water is circulated with electric pumps.

              • When the quake hit Japan, it knocked out power to the Fukushima area. The facility had 13 diesel-powered generators on site that were intended to kick in if the plant ever lost power. But the generators were housed in secure, underground rooms right on the water's edge. The quake's resulting 7-metre tsunami flooded the generator building, knocking all but one of the generators out of commission.

              • There were batteries on site designed to act as backups to the generators. But the power within them was consumed within a few hours.

              • The lack of electricity caused the cooling system to shut down, allowing the reactors to begin to overheat. Once the fuel inside reaches roughly 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,200 Celsius), the uranium fuel pellets start to melt – something that Japanese authorities conceded did happen at all three reactors, at least partially.

              • Workers were forced to manually pump in seawater into the thick steel container called the reactor vessel. Since salt water is highly corrosive, the move likely permanently destroyed the reactors. But they had trouble maintaining enough water in the reactor vessels and water levels soon began to drop.

              • By 7 p.m. local time on Friday, March 11, the crisis inside the facility was becoming clear, prompting Prime Minister Naoto Kan to declare a nuclear emergency, prompting the first evacuations.

              • By Saturday, March 12, the pumped-in seawater had caused a buildup of hydrogen in the reactor vessels. Engineers were forced to vent the hydrogen into the atmosphere, which released gas containing small amounts of radioactive particles. The venting is what set off two explosions at the facility.

              •  The God reference was (5+ / 0-)

                specific to the 9.0 earthquake and the resulting tsunami. That the plants couldn't handle it just highlights the HUMAN stupidity of siting them there in the first place.

                I realize that when this reservation was sited there were probably zero "brilliant nuclear scientists" who were even aware of plate tectonic theory, much less believed in it. But it's not like Japan is immune from earthquakes and tsunamis. Hell, they gave us the word "tsunami"!

                The rest of the man-made mess is just comeuppance at this point. Too bad the people of northern Japan - who never had anything to say about any of it - are the ones who will suffer most.

                Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

                by Joieau on Mon Mar 28, 2011 at 02:03:31 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  But that doesn't mean... (6+ / 0-)

            ... that you make that mega-quake worse than it would be already by garnishing it with a nuclear disaster, requiring long-term desettlement of an area, and the difficulties that go with displaced refugee populations.  Oh yeah, and the abandonment of significant swaths farmland.

            That doesn't happen often, sure.  Maybe once or twice a generation.  But then the areas have to be cordoned off for many generations (or at least should be) and will be for at least a few decades when people start to forget a little.  It may not matter much if you live elsewhere, but it's a heckuva sacrifice to ask of the Russian Roulette populations that have the bad luck to hit a bullet in the chamber.

            exmearden: Grab every minute of joy you can. 8/30/09

            by Land of Enchantment on Mon Mar 28, 2011 at 02:11:43 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  You should re-evaluate your position. IMHO (6+ / 0-)

        Man will never be able to make safe nuclear energy.

        Hope has a hole in it when Republicans come, bringing shackles and sorrow; branding their greed on the backs of the poor. - W. A. Connors

        by Wendys Wink on Mon Mar 28, 2011 at 01:09:38 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  This is a hard one to answer. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Joieau, psilocynic, RiaD, mrkvica

      Here is an anecdote.  In the later years of the Ma Bell/AT&T regulated utility, which guaranteed 7% returns, I worked with a senior Bell engineer.

      His dad had been a Bell Labs Systems engineer at Hanford during the development of atomic energy and weapons.

      His dad died in his late 50's of thyroid cancer and he maintained that he was exposed numerous times during his work.

      Exposures interact with humans and nature in differing ways. Each individual assimilates toxins and sequesters them in different ways. Each individual will be dis-eased in differing ways and at differing rates depending on lifetime exposures to many things, general health and what system isn't quite up to snuff.

      Long term responses to exposure are not necessarily well tracked or recorded.  Teasing out the specific and direct effects in complex systems is nearly impossible.

      Maybe what we should be doing is assuming we should take precautions based on protecting people and the environment from more than background levels until we know what we have got.

    •  Well, since no one in this (9+ / 0-)

      country is keeping any databases of health effects for nuclear workers (not even those who worked recovery at TMI) or people living within the dump zone of reactors, the nukes can glibly point to the fact that there is no such data, so nobody has ever been harmed. Nifty how that works, isn't it?

      Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

      by Joieau on Mon Mar 28, 2011 at 12:31:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Joieau, well written essay. (7+ / 0-)

    I remember when Trojan was first built along the Columbia River, I used to hold my breath as we drove by on our way to Seattle.

    I added a few tags to your list.

    Who was being interviewed in the opening scenario?

    Thank you for this important view.

  •  Joieau, I have been thinking about all this and (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joieau, RiaD, mrkvica

    have some fairly disconnected thoughts to record if I may.

    No matter that I dislike nuclear power as an energy source, I have heard the escalating costs of building and maintaining the Diablo Canyon npp, and wonder at the current billions what the true cost of developing a KW of electricity from that plant really is.

    I can't help but see and hear the parallels with the Gulf Oil Spill, I have almost a mental check list of the apparent similarities. It is so similar it is scary.

    I have an inherent problem with centralized power generation.  I know that desert solar power generation is resulting in these large scale energy factories, but I remain concerned at the concentration of ownership and cost.  What if we did as much as we could to decentralize our power generation and improve efficiency?  Our little house wouldn't need much if we could capitalize some retrofitting.

    When I visited Japan and worked at Yokaichi/Osaka what I saw was a people who literally adore the US and our way of doing things. It strikes me that they bought into the corporate ownership and are paying for doing it our way. That they have so little of their own resources makes it very hard to maintain the population they have on their land mass.

    •  Yes, decentralization (5+ / 0-)

      of primary distributed supply is how we must go. Homesteads like mine can be energy self-sufficient with little investment (but more than I've got) and even feed in to the grid - we can site solar, wind and hydro here all at the same time. Villages, small towns, suburban communities can all enjoy on-site power generation as a collective, supplemented individually if families want to, and their excess fed into the grid. Factories, metal megachurches, warehouses, even skyscrapers can all have on-site power generation with solar. We just need to divert the (now $36 billion 'extra' for just the coming year in Obama's crazy budget) wasted billions in direct subsidies that now go to nukes, oil and coal. Put that money where it will do the most good, and that's not the pockets of Big Energy or their investors. Heck, we need to tax windfall profits from these folks big time. Put THAT money into alternatives!

      Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

      by Joieau on Mon Mar 28, 2011 at 02:21:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  When will they ever lear? (5+ / 0-)

    Not in my life time I'm afraid.
    There is nothing safe about nuclear energy! NOTHING!

    We don't know how to handle it! We don't know how to dispose of it! One 'little disaster' and it's over!

    We all would be a hell of a lot safer if we would've put our money into renewable energy. It's still possible if we push hard, but not if those fossils in DC still pushing nuclear shit.

    The only way nuclear energy will stop is if we blow up this planet and I think that might be a good thing We humans are a disaster for this planet and every life form on it!

    Muslims, Christians we're all Egyptians.

    by mint julep on Mon Mar 28, 2011 at 01:47:06 PM PDT

  •  Nice piece joieau (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    miriam, Joieau

    when you write something from the heart you sure cover every beat.

    Thanks for writing this excellent esaay on nuclear power

  •  Thank you, joieau (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Not only for this diary, but for the information you've given all of us through your earlier diary and your comments during this catastrophe.

    Too many of us humans have become so intimidated by "experts" in the scientific fields that we're afraid to be called ignorant peasants who are guided by that "highly unreliable" commodity that used to be known as common sense or educated guesses---that is, deductions based on what we can see and hear and smell.  Today anything concluded outside of a laboratory is derided as unscientific and therefore backwards--and nowhere do the insults fly faster than when dealing with the elitist experts who keep telling us what is good for us.  Combine that with the folks who are making money on what the experts tell us and we have the ingredients of our worst nightmares.

    The other insult is that we are fearful.  As if fear was a dirty word  never to be used in polite company--or any other kind of company.  Never mind that fear can be a highly useful emotion for homo sapiens in a dangerous environment of infuriated mother mammoths or hungry sharks or mustachioed meglomaniacal dictators or nuclear power plants.  There are some things we puny humans should just stay away from until we've evolved a whole lot more physical and moral and intellectual muscle.

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