by Keith Harmon Snow
June 20, 2011
A sociological and technological
discussion - in the wake of the out-of-control nuclear
in Japan - addressing the compromise of public health and security
created by the failure of the western corporate mass media
equitably report on, mildly investigate, or even moderately
the nuclear power industry.
19 June 2011
The following report was written after learning about the
pro-nuclear and corporate bias of the Society of Environmental
Journalists. It was originally published by VOICE NEWS, Winstead CT,
in 2001 and was originally titled "The Potential Repercussions of a
I have made a few minor changes, added
hyperlinks, and inserted a few comments in [brackets].
The report was originally sent to Noel Grove, then an SEJ official
and an editor in some capacity for the National Geographic, who I
was communicating with at the time (and hoping to land a story
assignment from). After perusing my article to some (unknown)
extent, Mr. Grove - who was somewhat hysterical about it - criticized this writing as hysterical, and the thesis as impossible,
and the writer as lacking all credibility.
However, the prophetic warnings advanced in this writing have now
come true, although the nuclear "accident" did not occur on North
American soil, but in Fukushima Japan - a surrogate client state of
the United States and its national security apparatus and weapons
complex - and a corporate ally in nuclear proliferation and global
It is now confirmed that there are three reactors at the Fukushima
complex that melted THROUGH their outer containment vessels, through
ALL the layers of so-called "defense-in-depth" and are continuing to
spew lethal nuclear poisons and further contaminate the land we live
on, the air we breathe, and the water that sustains all life on
We were always warned, and very worried, about reactor
melt-DOWN, this being the absolute worst-case scenario and something
that the nuclear industry and their purchased government agencies
assured us "could never happen" - always agreeing that these
meltdowns would be "catastrophic" if it did.
Reactor melt-THROUGHs are much more serious than reactor melt-downs.
At Fukushima, there is the equivalent of some twenty (20) reactor
cores exposed and radiating lethal nuclear poisons. The
mass media system continues to downplay, distort, dismiss or deflect
attention from the nuclear crises in Japan.
At Fukushima, and all over Japan - and with deadly nuclear poisons
spreading all over the world - it's much worse than you think.
The people of the United States, Canada, and the rest of the world
need to take action to stop the ongoing nuclear contamination and
possible nuclear catastrophes at operating reactors all over the
There is overwhelming evidence that a nuclear power catastrophe in
the United States is highly probable. It matters little if you are
"pro-" or "anti-" nuclear, as such constructs of your socialization
are irrelevant to current nuclear realities.
It is a tribute to our
nuclear engineers that a worst-case accident has to date been
avoided. The threat is real - it has always been real - but it has
Given the hostile economic climate of electric power deregulation
[1999-2001], I submit that a major and potentially unprecedented
nuclear disaster is a near certain event. This writing aims to
address media neglect in probing the nuclear industry and regulatory
agency assurances, standards, activities, safeguards, denials, etc.
How should journalists respond? There are a few important questions
from which one can formulate an answer.
How close am I to the nearest reactor? What level of emergency
preparedness and evaluation procedures is currently practiced there?
Such questions prompt concern. The repercussions of an "event" are
dependent on the form and magnitude of the "event," on the human
capacity to contain it, and on simple factors like weather.
Evacuation plans constitute formal, institutionalized admissions
that the threats are very real and demand attention.
What are the origins of my perceptions and beliefs about nuclear
power? Origins are rooted in sociological and psychological factors
pertinent to an individual's education, experience and identity.
related question is:
How do "market forces" manifest themselves in
the media's coverage of nuclear power?
Insight is gained by
recalling that from 1991 to 1993, the U.S. Department of Energy (D.O.E.),
prepared and arranged 104 press conferences
distributed 950 press releases
arranged 1,650 press interviews for D.O.E. officials
prepared and disseminated at least 307
editorials or letters to the editor [in
mainstream U.S. media]
Question: Is there precedence for institutionalized deception?
Answer: What is the nature of deception exercised by the tobacco
industry? Are such deceptions inherent to tobacco interests alone?
Such questions are valid and important. However, this writing
predominantly addresses the question: How can I - and how should I - evaluate and verify the integrity (safety) or compromise (threat)
inherent in nuclear power operations?
This brief writing introduces a few underlying impediments to
nuclear safety. Isolated analyses of these impediments might suggest
However, the historical technological realities
magnified over 20 plus years - coupled with industry and regulatory
carelessness and arrogance, and the economic pressures of
deregulation - virtually assure disaster.
As early as 1955, the nuclear industry was persistently seeing
major, catastrophic technical failures.
While noting the great
urgency to "capitalize on any technological lead the U.S. may have,"
Rear Admiral H.G. Rickover
in 1957 testified to the dearth of
"Despite every design and operation precaution taken by
us," he said, "we have experienced leaks in some of our steam
generators... we had to spend considerable time and money on a
brute-force approach, because there was no hope of obtaining an
understanding of the fundamentals involved in a reasonable length of
A 1957 Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) study,
WASH-740, created by
the Brookhaven National Laboratory [now a toxic and irradiated
SUPERFUND site], and titled Theoretical Possibilities and
Consequences of Major Accidents in Large Nuclear Power Plants
"the consequences of a very large reactor accident at a
hypothetically small nuclear plant near a large city" at 43,000
injuries, 3,400 deaths and seven billion dollars in 1957 losses.
And, because of this, the U.S. Congress passed the
Act indemnifying the industry from economic liability.
Price-Anderson Act was originally known as the 'Gore Bill', because
it was introduced by Senator Albert Gore Sr., and this, indeed, is
an inconvenient truth.]
The McKinney Commission (1957) argues
"the rush to construct nuclear power plants just for us to
look at, brag about and subsidize."
By 1963 there were three nuclear submarines in the water, with 22
more under construction.
By 1967, Congress authorized 107 nuclear
subs and eight nuclear surface ships, and 74 of these - including
41 Polaris nuclear missile launchers - were in operation. By 1972
there were 118 subs on order, with 95 subs and four ships in the water.
Yankee Atomic Energy Corporation (YAEC) pioneered the nuclear
power field with its Rowe (MA) reactor by 1960.
By 1963, four larger
nuclear plants were ordered, and in 1965 seven; in 1967, 20; in
1968, 14. When plants ordered in 1963 came on line in 1969, there
were 91 plants on order; and by 1972, there were 162. All of the 107
nuclear plants in operation in the U.S. today deploy technology of
this era. [There are 103 reactors operating in the U.S. at present.]
Former M.I.T. nuclear physicist and long-time industry consultant K.
Uno Ingard attributes the problems with nuclear power to its
"Engineers involved in designing these plants
[got] their experience mainly from marine [steam] power plants where
everything was relatively small," he confirmed [in a personal
"In essence, they merely scaled plants up from what they
Problems identified by Admiral Rickover remain unsolved or ignored.
One of these is steam-generator tube (SGT) cracking, an issue
critical to safe reactor operation. [SGT cracking is one of the
major issues that plague Westinghouse Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR)
designs.] Reports on SGT pipe cracking appeared as early as 1960. A
1979 Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) document details problems
with failing SGTs that plagued at least 33 U.S. reactors.
thirteen utilities sued Westinghouse and Combustion Engineering,
alleging SGT fraud. Suits are settled out-of-court, with documents
sealed against public scrutiny.
In 1995, over 500 cracked SGTs were discovered at Maine Yankee
[Nuclear Power Complex], prompting the NRC to issue a mild request
that reactors suffering SGT failures be inspected at the next
refueling outage. Most utilities balked, explaining away the problem
to complacent regulators.
Plants using the potentially flawed SGTs
were asked by the NRC,
"to tell us why they believe their plants are
safe to operate."
Both 1996 and 1997 saw the release of major NRC
reports on steam generator tube failures.
Technological innovation is not achieved by "brute-force" or "make
it work" engineering, but all evidence reveals that the pace of
nuclear development exceeded the human capacity for innovation.
Modeled after the reactors of Rickover's nuclear navy, driven by the
race to beat the Russians, to meet boom-or-bust sales worldwide, by
economic optimism but unverified science, and forced to compete with
an entrenched fossil fuel economy, nuclear power technology was
Yankee Atomic also pioneered a hasty and irresponsible reactor
"decommissioning" at the Rowe reactor. In 1995, in
Awareness Network vs. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the U.S. First
Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Yankee Atomic violated NRC
regulations and Federal Statutes.
[See also: keith harmon snow,
Nuclear Poisons: They continue to
accumulate: Too much, too fast, too hot to handle, insidious and
deadly, lasting forever, Valley Advocate, July 1995.]
CHAOS IN THE MAKING
Pervasive and systemic aging degradation - like metal fatigue,
structural embrittlement, corrosive water chemistry, and neutron
bombardment - has been institutionalized by NRC and industry
complacency and arrogance.
Aging mechanisms like cracked SGTs
degrade performance and compromise safety in unknown and
unpredictable ways. Decades-old problems defined as "generic safety
issues" (applicable to similar types or classes of reactors) were
officially designated unworthy of immediate action. Many "generic"
issues have never been resolved.
Compounding the original problems encountered - the incorrect and
incomplete or forgotten assumptions, the inevitable instabilities
and failures, the aging components and crumbling materials - have
been the uncountable modifications, repairs and part substitutions
which have caused significant and unpredictable deviations from the
operational parameters of the original design.
Parameters have been altered, designs modified, upgrades creatively
and casually implemented. Multiple modifications have spawned
multiple blueprints - often outdated, poorly modified, and
unavailable in an emergency (e.g. Three Mile Island).
been countless license modifications with their many justifications,
but only mock attention to detail and procedure.
due to some problem," says Paul Gunter of the Nuclear Information
Resource Services, "constitutes an erosion in the design margins of
In 1990, the U.S. GAO reported that,
"utilities operating at least 72
of the 113 domestic nuclear power plants have installed or are
suspected of having received nonconforming products."
software has proved inadequate, hardware has failed.
And too, there
are the thousands of valves, plugs, pumps, motors, relays, switches,
gauges, air ejectors, ducts, conduits, valve seals, grommets,
electrical cables, switchboards, alarms, diesel generators,
electrical buses, penetrations, inverters, resistors, turbines,
condensers, transformers, nozzles, fuses, nuts, bolts and welds
which have failed - fallen out, corroded, short-circuited, melted,
disintegrated, fractured or stuck - under various circumstances.
Modern chaos theory says that Safety Analysis Reports (SARs)
- submitted by industry and approved by
the NRC - do not anticipate
the consequences of all the severe reactor incident possibilities.
[Fukushima's earthquake. Tsunami one-two punch makes that clear.]
Such predictions are beyond the realm of human knowledge and human
capacity and human imagination. Initial conditions, specifications
and assumptions chosen or argued to insure safe operation no longer
apply. Engineers and scientists, for the most part, operate in their
own little areas of specialization.
Says James Gleick, author of
Chaos - Making a New Science, they are,
"biased by the customs of
their disciplines or by the accidental paths of their own
Human factors engineering introduces significant unpredictable risk.
By virtue of the hundreds of plant employees and shift changes
- with their unique personal concerns; their limitations of knowledge,
comprehension, memory and judgment; their emotional and
psychological realities; their disillusions, resentments,
animosities and distractions - the man-machine interface is a
fallible link in an already compromised chain.
VIRTUALLY ASSURED DESTRUCTION
Reactor operations are being "streamlined" at the expense of safety.
Reactors are run longer and harder, with fewer inspections, at
higher output power capacities. Given the greater propensity for
failures to occur on start-up and shut-down phases of operation - where transients, power surges and instabilities proliferate
- testing and safety analyses performed during refueling outages may
prove meaningless after the subsequent start-up.
Utilities are minimizing reactor outages and maximizing operations
at the expense of safety. Reliability and quality assurance testing
of back-up safety systems have been relaxed, postponed or eliminated
completely. Optimizing economic factors, Houston Light & Power (TX)
recently broke industry records for a refueling outage.
intensity of irradiation prohibits or restricts access and
in-service testing of systems and components. The concomitant shift
to on-line maintenance means that so-called "redundant" safety
systems - ever touted as the backbone of "defense-in-depth"
disabled during full-power reactor operations.
are dictating patchwork repairs in lieu of expensive parts
Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station: A
Second Lease on Half-Life? - Montague Reporter, December 2003.]
Corporate "downsizing" has displaced talented and qualified
employees. Others are suffocated by budget and schedule constraints,
driven by corporate imperatives divorced from the dynamic realities
of daily operations.
The profit principle translates directly to
control room operators increasingly inclined to risk reactor
deviation or operational uncertainty. Operators - too nervous in an
emergency to exercise a "controlled breach" of reactor containment
- may in the uncertainty of the moment allow the system to exceed
the thresholds of control.
[This is exactly what happened at
Fukushima: reactor operators and the
TEPCO management delayed triage
actions out of the fear of economic losses; once they did react - dumping saltwater on the molten reactor cores
- it was too little,
too much uncertainty, too late]
Employees legitimately concerned about safety, improper procedures
or the cutting of nuclear corners, are not free to speak without
fear of retaliation: The NRC has persistently betrayed
"whistleblower" security - and punished nuclear whistleblowers.
NATURE CANNOT BE FOOLED
Deregulation - coupled with the historical compromises of this
technology - is be the coup de grāce for nuclear power as manifested
in the U.S. today.
Utilities long shielded from normal "market
forces" by monumental public subsidies are now exposed to hostile
competition. While some utilities may appear to cling in desperation
to our entrenched but obsolete and unprofitable nuclear economy,
evidence also suggests that executives shielded by the
Price-Anderson Act consider themselves impervious to the
consequences of reactor failure.
It should also be acknowledged that radioactive remediation has
become a billion dollar industry unto itself.
Journalists [and the corporate propaganda system that pays them]
predominantly ignore such nuclear conundrums as safety,
unprofitability, waste accumulation, unlawful decommissioning,
routine radioactive releases, or the epidemics of disease clustered
around nuclear sites.
Those who are intimidated into ignorance and
self-censorship merely by the science of it all have left themselves
irresponsibly unprepared in proportion to the threat. Prudence would
seem to dictate that the SEJ sponsor a conference, to debate - at
the very least - the ideas of nuclear experts that have been
Nor is this so narrow an issue as it seems: The
potential for domestic instability due to nuclear emergency has
substantial foreign policy implications. [Not to mention the
economic and political ramifications leading us to complete societal
Journalists would do well to revisit a portentous analysis offered
by Nobel physicist Richard Feynman.
"It appears that there are
enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of failure
with a loss" of equipment or human life, he wrote.
from roughly one in 100 to one in 100,000. The higher figures come
from working engineers and the very low figures from management.
What are the causes and consequences of this lack of agreement? What
is the cause of management's fantastic faith in machinery?"
Commenting on technical problems ignored or tolerated, Feynman
"acceptance and success cannot be taken as evidence
of safety. Failures are not what the design expected. They are
warnings that something is wrong.
The equipment is not operating as
expected, and therefore there is a danger that it can operate with
even wider deviations in this unexpected and not thoroughly
understood way. The fact that this danger did not lead to a
catastrophe before is no guarantee that it will not the next time."
R.P. Reynman was not speaking about nuclear power, though he might
"The O-rings of the Solid Rocket Boosters were not
designed to erode," wrote Feynman, in "Personal Observations on
Reliability of the Shuttle," a brief but profound statement buried
in Appendix F of 'Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space
Shuttle Challenger Accident.'
"Erosion was a clue that something was
wrong," Feynman concluded, "not something from which safety can be
inferred... For a successful technology, reality must take
precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."
Disregarding structural constraints and systemic defects, GE has
pushed output power levels to five percent above the maximum
specification ratings of the original design.
As this previous writing is republished, the situation in Japan is
unprecedented, unappreciated, unmanageable and it remains
out-of-control: it is the worst industrial accident that humanity
has ever faced.
Fukushima nuclear apocalypse and the people
of Japan - and with lethal nuclear poisons spreading all over the
earth - the end is nowhere in sight.