On the Shortcomings in US Nuclear Emergency Plans

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I normally leave the nuke/Fukushima aftermath beat to George Washington, but furzy mouse sent me a link to this very straightforward and well done video by Arnie Gunderson of Fairewinds.

This evokes weird parallels to what we learned in the wake of Hurricane Katrina: it was obvious more needed to be done to protect public safety, but no one was willing to do it. And in visit to New Orleans over the Christmas holidays, I learned the levees have not been made higher as the Army Corps of Engineers recommended. All that happened was the breaks in the levees were patched.

Gunderson gives a straightforward account of theory v. probable practice in a nuclear accident:

White House & NRC Recommend 50 Mile Fukushima Evacuation, Yet Insist US Safe With Only 10 from Fairewinds Associates on Vimeo.

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  1. Ellen Anderson

    Boston is well within the 50 mile circle around Seabrook and Pilgrim. Its public water supply is less than 30 miles from Vermont Yankee. Why aren’t people upset? Most people I talk to have absolutely no idea that a power outage would threaten a melt down of the spent fuel rods. Or, if they do they say “Oh well, ‘they’ will bring in diesel generators.”

    Now is the time to organize to do something – before we run completely out of resources – or is it already too late?

    1. Valissa

      The Clamshell Alliance http://clamshellalliance.org/

      We call on Clam activists to meet at the World Fellowship in Conway, NH, July 23, to plan and strategize and organize.

      at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clamshell_Alliance

      The Clamshell Alliance is an anti-nuclear organization co-founded by Paul Gunter, Howie Hawkins, Harvey Wasserman, Guy Chichester and other activists in 1976. The alliance’s coalescence began in 1975 as New England activists and organizations began to respond to U.S. President Richard Nixon’s “Project Independence” which sought to build 1000 nuclear power plants by 2000.

      The group conducted non-violent demonstrations against nuclear power in New England in the late 1970s and 1980s. In May, 1977 over 2,000 Clamshell protesters occupied the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant construction site. 1,414 of these activists were arrested and held in jails and National Guard armories for up to two weeks after refusing bail.

  2. Lyle

    Let me add a bit. It turns out the reason they could not plug the diesels in in Japan was that the electrical panels were in the basement and under salt water, not that they had the wrong plug. Now in 2001 in Houston hospitals learned a lesson that you don’t put critical electrical equipment below the level of the ground, a number of hospitals and medical research institutes lost power and a lot of research was destroyed. It seems that a simple fix would have been to had at least one pump that could be powered with connections at least 10 feet above the ground.

  3. bmeisen

    High-speed rail in CA is hung high because voters don’t want to pay for the commutes of a few rich organic IT types who would like to do their bouncing between HOllywood and Silicon valley on a train. In the meantime the authorities have been subsidizing for decades nuclear plants that are built on active fault lines. Crazy!!!

    I have the impression that for many advocates nuclear power represents the ultimate gear, a gadjet that has an integrated slide rule and penlite.

  4. Rayw

    Thank heavens for the Gundersens – they are doing a fantastic job at educating me…us?

    1. ScottB

      I appreciate your response about the messenger. What about the message? With which, if any, of his criticisms do you take issue?

  5. Unsympathetic

    1) Research on reactors that burn up the spent fuel from these types of reactors was ended in the US.. i think in 1980 (Clinch River breeder)and 1994 (Fast Integrated Reactor in Idaho).

    2) I don’t believe for one second Arnie’s “sources” linking elements found on the NE coast to Fukushima. His baseline is zero, which I will never buy. Lots of low-level things just happen in nature; I want to see the long-run control chart before I will accept that any measurement has a single cause. For example, Americium in rural New England might as easily be from a neighbor burning an old smoke detector in his trashpile. Or from a municipal incinerator burning lots of them – yes, they do that.

    3) This is the key:


    Several questions about Arnie’s past have come out:

    1. Arnie is a bit disingenous at calling himself ‘chief engineer’ – he’s the only engineer at Fairwind Associates.
    2. His work designing radiation shielding was a summer internship while an undergrad.
    3. The only reactor he’s operated was a 100 Watt research reactor.
    4. He’s currently a school teacher. He worked in the industry as an engineer for ~20 years but he hasn’t been onsite since 1990.

    All of the comments to the link above are worth reading.

    NRC is not a credible organization either, unfortunately.

    1. ScottB

      I appreciate your response about the messenger. What about the message? With which, if any, of his criticisms do you take issue?

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      This is pure ad hominem. The objections he raises are obvious and do not rely on expert judgment.

      In addition, your issues about his background are nitpicking. Since the last reactor built in the US was River Bend in Louisana, where construction began in 1977, someone who was in the industry as of 1990 would have knowledge that was still current as far at plant design and risk issues were concerned.

      1. ScottB

        Agreed, I just wondered if he had anything of substance to say once he had gotten that off his chest.

  6. local

    “And in visit to New Orleans over the Christmas holidays, I learned the levees have not been made higher as the Army Corps of Engineers recommended. All that happened was the breaks in the levees were patched.”

    FWIW, the levees which were raised rather than merely patched are in the far eastern sections of Orleans parish and in the parishes to the east and south east where the levees were practically wiped out. The new floodwall being built near the Michoud assembly facility should protect the _city_ from a similar reoccurrence, but only because the first levee failures at the floodwall will divert the incoming water away from the wall and into New Orleans East (where the tourists don’t go) and St. Bernard Parish (which should reflood the 9th ward as well due to the geography). Ain’t progress grand :-)

  7. michael

    The mention New Orleans levees is actually an interesting point. Shouldn’t NO have been abandoned after Katrina and -optionally- a new city built somewhere on higher ground?
    I know if I had owned a house there and somehow survived, I would not have rebuilt it…

    1. ambrit

      Dear michael;
      As someone who has lived in and around, and married someone from, the “Crescent City” I have to point out the sheer inertia built into any population relocation. New Orleans, after all, was sited and started as part of a fraudulent speculation bubble foisted upon the French and other European capitalists by a Scots economist. (Who had to leave town fast when it all went South.) That inauspicious beginning has set the tone of our fair cities history ever since.
      Add to this that New Orleans is still the closest thing to an Old World European city America has, and you can begin to guess the opposition such a diaspora would engender.

  8. Hugh

    Shortcomings in US nuclear emergency plans? I thought “Bend over and kiss your ass good-bye” was about as realistic and clear cut a plan as you could get.

  9. Elliot

    You’ll note that the people who are so desperate to discredit Gunderson never give facts to dispute what he says, they just say derogatory things about him. I hang out on a nuclear physics forum, and a lot of industry engineers are not fond of his style or anti-nuclear position, but as this mess has rolled on, many of them note that he is not wrong on the substance.

    And as time rolls on, TEPCO and the Japanese government admit, piecemeal, things that confirm what he has said since the beginning. Remember when people said the earthquake didn’t damage the plants? Now admitted untrue. And when people said there was/could be no meltdown? TEPCO have admitted there have been three.

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