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.