Say No to Nuclear Power

June 13, 2002

Karl Grossman


The alleged al-Qaeda plot to build and denotate a "dirty" bomb is a grim reminder of the widespread proliferation of nuclear materials.

Tens of thousands of pounds of "spent" nuclear are produced yearly at every atomic power plant -- fuel rods loaded with Cesium-137 and Strontium-90 and other lethal radioisotopes. Fifty or 100 pounds of this stuff is enough for a "dirty" bomb.

Atomic power plants, meanwhile, remain sitting ducks for terrorists -- their "containments," the government admits, unable to withstand a strike by a big airplane or heavy weapon. But the Bush administration wants to build dozens more.

How to deal with this threat?

Trying to put the atomic genie back in the bottle might sound like an impossible proposition, but the alternative is equally daunting: to survive the 21st Century with atomic materials becoming ever more available.

By "rebottling that [atomic] genie, we could all move to energy and foreign policies that our grandchildren can live with. No more important step could be taken," energy analyst Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute has said.

Parts of the planet have already been designated by treaty as "nuclear free zones." It is time for us to work for the entire world to be a nuclear free zone. Alice Slater, president of the Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE), says what we need now is a "Bronx Project" the polar opposite of the Manhattan Project which produced nuclear technology. It would be a crash program to bring on the widescale use of safe, clean energy technologies and "end to the horrendous experiment with atomic technology."

But the Bush administration is moving in the opposite direction.

Nuclear plants typically are fueled by 200,000 to 300,000 pounds of uranium. The fuel is not very radioactive in the initial stage -- but as the Uranium-235 (3 percent of the fuel) is fissioned, it quickly splits into lethal poisons like Cesium-137 and Strontium-90. Uranium-238 ( 97 percent of the fuel) transmutes into Plutonium-239 -- raw material for
atomic bombs. The administration would like to build 50 new nuclear plants to add to the 103 now operating in the United States.

"It's like reviving Frankenstein -- this is the sequel," says Robert Alvarez, executive director of the group Standing for Truth About Radiation.

The terrorist threat further underlines the lethal folly of relying on atomic power.

Harvey Wasserman, senior advisor to the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and Greenpeace U.S.A., notes that one of the jets, for instance, that flew into the World Trade Center passed over the Indian Point nuclear plant complex, 28 miles north of New York City. If Al-Qaeda had targeted the plant instead, the number of casualties would be somewhere around 3,000,000.

The U.S. government has not dealt -- and still does not deal -- realistically with this threat. In 1982, a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Board, while considering an operating license for the Shearon Harris nuclear power plant in North Carolina, dismissed the argument by a plant opponent named Wells Eddleman that the safety analysis for the plant was deficient because it didn't consider the "consequences of terrorists commandeering a very large airplane ... and diving it into the containment."

The NRC board declared: "Reactors could not be effectively protected against such attacks without turning them into virtually impregnable fortresses at much higher cost . The applicants are not required to design against such things as artillery bombardments, missiles with nuclear warheads, or kamikaze dives by large airplanes."

Nuclear plant owners are still not asked to protect against such attacks because it is impossible. The three- to four-foot concrete containment of nuclear plants simply cannot withstand such assaults.

But the Bush administration not only wants to build more nuclear plants, but also use Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a repository for nuclear waste. Trucks and trains carrying deadly nuclear material from around the nation to Nevada would be potential hijack targets.

The truth is we don't need atomic technology. Indeed, we now have fully-developed safe, clean, renewable energy technologies. Wind power, solar energy, hydrogen fuel technologies including fuel cells, and other renewable energy technologies are more than ready to use. Coupled with energy efficiency, they can be tapped and widely
utilized, and render atomic power completely unnecessary.

We need to stop sowing the seeds for terror and create instead a nuclear-free world where technology works in harmony with life rather than threaten it.

Karl Grossman is professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury and the author of "Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed To Know About Nuclear Power." He is also the writer and narrator of the TV documentary "The Push To Revive Nuclear Power."

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