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Nuclear Time-Bombs

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June 26, 2003

Nuclear Time-Bombs

By Harry Braun

While the national news media has been consumed with Iraq, the Bush administration has been systematically undoing the environmental regulations that protect our air and water as well as the Redwoods and remaining ecosystems in the oceans and wilderness areas. But perhaps the most serious threat to the American people is the fact that the Bush administration has quietly re-licensed old nuclear plants in the U.S. that would have otherwise been decommissioned. There are important reasons to decommission nuclear plants as soon as possible, because the longer a nuclear plant operates, the more radioactive it becomes. The problem is then compounded by the fact that the internal components of nuclear reactors are subject to inevitable cracks and leaks that are caused by rust and corrosion, a predictable event caused by metals being exposed to high temperatures, pressures and corrosive agents (such as boric acid) that can result in the worse-case accident in a nuclear power plant: a meltdown.

According to a confidential report that was leaked to The New York Times (November 20, 2002), the highly secretive nuclear industry's internal oversight group has warned utilities that a focus on production over safety had endangered a number of nuclear installations, including the Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Toledo, Ohio. A series of additional articles by Matthew Wald that were published in The New York Times (Jan. 4, 2003, May 1, 2003 and June 6, 2003), further detailed that the corrosion at the Ohio reactor was only discovered after investigators from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) ordered the plant closed for inspection-in spite of the objections of the plant owners (First Energy Nuclear Operating Company) -- who argued the inspection was unnecessary. As it turned out, if the plant owners had not been forced to have the inspection, Toledo and the surrounding communities may have become a permanent radioactive deathcamp. The NRC inspectors found the plant was indeed a ticking time bomb because rust and corrosion had eaten away 70 pounds of steel that was 6 inches thick in the reactor cover. Only a quarter of an inch of steel was left to keep the reactor vessel from failing, thereby causing a meltdown that would be an unprecedented catastrophe for the U.S. If a nuclear reactor fails, radioactive isotopes would be distributed up to 10,000 meters over the continental U.S., and they would contaminate virtually all of the freshwater sources.

Similar corrosion problems have also caused a reactor 90 miles southwest of Houston, Texas, to be shut down. In the case of the Texas reactor, which is only 15 years old, the leaks are at the bottom of the rector vessel, which makes them much more difficult - if not impossible - to repair because of the significant radiation hazards. The leaks were found to be in 2 of the 58 nozzles that are on the underside of the reactor, but the problem is that the nozzles cannot be replaced because they are welded from inside the reactor vessel. The stopgap plan is to cut and replace the parts of the tubes that extend from the outside of the reactor, but that will leave a critical gap between the old and new tubes, which will allow the highly corrosive boron cooling water to get access to areas that could result in a failure of the cooling system, which would potentially make Dallas the first nuclear deathcamp in the U.S.

It is clear that this fundamental corrosion problem is occurring in all of the reactors that are now operating, making all of them ticking time bombs. Even the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has raised the issue that deregulation has effectively allowed owners of nuclear power plants to keep reactors operating when they should have been shut down for maintenance and inspections. Given this trend, it is only a question of time before a catastrophe occurs. For information on how to avoid such nuclear accidents, refer to the website.

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