Greenpeace Urges Shut Down Of U.S. Nukes

Michael Steinberg

A recent report by
Greenpeace, written in the aftermath of 9-11, asserted “the NRC’s regulation of
the nuclear industry is already a farce” and called for “the phase out of [U.S.]
nuclear reactors” to “avoid a tragedy.”

In its November
14 report the global environmental group named 14 nuclear power stations with 25
nukes as “the reactors that cause the greatest risk” and called for them to be
shut down first. Among them are the troubled Indian Point 2 plants just 24 miles
north of New York City. The report cited federal government statistics
indicating that a catastrophic accident at Indian Point could cause hundreds of
thousands of deaths and injuries as far as 50 miles from the plant, and result
in hundreds of billions of dollars in economic damages.

Similarly dire
statistics from that same government source for the nation’s other operating
nuclear power plants were included in the report.

There are 103
commercial nuclear reactors operating at 64 sites in 31 states across the

The Greenpeace
report (“Risky Business: The Probability and Consequences of a Nuclear
Accident”) stated, “As the events of September 11th tragically demonstrated, the
risk of a nuclear reactor meltdown must encompass not only the potential for an
accident but also the possibility of sabotage. The U.S. government has known
since at least the mid-1990s that terrorists were targeting nuclear power

To support this
assertion the report quoted the following from an October 24, 2001 Associated
Press story: “Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the 1993 World Trade
Center bombing, encouraged followers in 1994 to strike such a plant, officials
say. An FBI agent has testified in court that one of Yousef’s followers told him
in 1995 of plans to blow up a nuclear plant. And in 1999 the NRC acknowledged to
Congress that it had received a credible threat of a terrorist attack against a
nuclear power facility.”

In a September 21
press release, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission stated “the NRC did not
specifically contemplate attacks by aircraft such as Boeing 757s and 767s and
nuclear plants were not designed to withstand such crashes.”

A nuclear
meltdown could occur in a nuclear plant’s reactor or its spent fuel pool. The
pool stores irradiated fuel rods after they are commercially “spent” and become
high level nuclear waste. Green- peace quoted NRC documents and officials to
demonstrate that the containment structures of U.S. nuclear plants could fail
during a meltdown. A 1988 NRC document it cited stated, “All five major reactor
containment types were found to be subject to failure in such accidents, for
which they were not designed.”

The NRC has not
inspired confidence in assessing the probability of such a catastrophic
accident. The Greenpeace report pointed to one 1979 NRC document that claimed
the chances of a meltdown at a U.S. nuke were minuscule. Less than a month after
the document’s release, Three Mile Island 2 nuclear plant in Pennsylvania
suffered a partial meltdown. Not until after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in
1986 did NRC Commissioner James Asselstine admit to a Congressional committee “
… given the present level of safety being achieved by the operating nuclear
power plants in this country, we can expect to see a core meltdown accident
within the next 20 years.”

With five year’s
left to fulfill Asselstine’s prediction, we can only hope that this one too
proves untrue.

What is harder to
contest, given the Chernobyl aftermath, is Greenpeace’s assertion that “If a
meltdown were to occur in either the reactor or the spent fuel pool, the
accident could kill and injure tens of thousands of people, cost billions of
dollars in damages, and leave large regions uninhabitable.”

The report cited
an April 2000 Associated Press story that quoted these Ukrainian government
figures: 4,000 rescue workers died from radiation poisoning after the Chernobyl
disaster; another 70,000 people there have been disabled by radiation.
“Overall,” the AP story stated, “about 3.4 million of Ukraine’s 50 million
people, including 1.26 million children, are considered affected by Chernobyl,
and many may not show the affects for years.” According to Greenpeace, “the
Chernobyl accident contaminated approximately…12,400 square miles…and in
1990…the contaminated land was considered a total loss for at least two

of Meltdowns

The Greenpeace
report referred to early 1980′s NRC documents authored by the federal
government’s Sandia National Laboratory that calculated the consequences of
serious accidents (such as meltdowns) at U.S. nuclear plants, resulting in
releases of large quantities of radiation into the environment. The report
stated “This was not the first time the government had looked at the
consequences of a nuclear accident; however, it was the last …” The information
was never intended to be made public, and only came out through the insistence
of Massachusetts Congressman Edward Markey.

The Sandia
studies broke down the consequences of such an accident into four components.
“Peak early fatalities” result from radiation exposure over the first year after
the accident. “Peak early injuries” are, according to Greenpeace, “radiation
related injuries occurring within one year of the accident which require
hospitalization or other medical attention. Early injuries include conditions
such as sterility, thyroid nodules, vomiting and cataracts.”

“Peak cancer
deaths” are “predicted to occur over the lifetime of the population exposed to
the radioactive release.”

“Scaled costs,”
the report explained, “include estimates of lost wages, relocation expenses,
decontamination costs, lost property and the cost of interdiction for property
and farmland. ‘Scaled’ means that the costs have been adjusted for the size of
the reactor.”

The Sandia
studies calculated the peak early fatalities for Indian Point (IP) 2 and 3 as
46,000 and 50,000, respectively. Peak early injuries were figured at 141,000 for
unit 2 and 167,000 for unit 3. For peak cancer deaths the numbers were 13,000
for IP2 and 14,000 for IP3. The studies calculated scaled costs, in 1980
dollars, as $274 billion for unit 2 and $314 billion for unit 3.

Indian Point 1′s
reactor has been permanently shut down since 1974, after operating only 12
years. However, its spent fuel pool is still full of high level nuclear waste.
This situation exists at a number of other shut down nuclear power plants. Some
nuclear critics such as David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a
17-year veteran of the nuclear industry, think that a serious accident in a
spent fuel pool could release as much or more radiation into the environment as
a serious reactor accident.

New Orleans is 25
miles east, and downwind, of the Waterford 3 nuclear power plant. The Sandia
numbers for Waterford are 96,000 peak early fatalities, 279,000 peak early
injuries, 9,000 peak cancer deaths, and $131 billion in 1980 dollars in scaled

The Limerick 1
and 2 nuclear reactors are 21 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Their lethal
numbers, for each reactor, are 74,000 peak early fatalities, 610,000 peak early
injuries, and 34,000 peak cancer deaths. Scaled costs in 1980 dollars were put
at $213 billion for unit 1 and $197 billion for unit 2.

The news is just
as bad for the rest of Greenpeaces’s list of the most risky nukes. Catawba 1 and
2 are 20 miles east of Charlotte, NC. At that time of the early 1980′s Sandia
reports their numbers were, for each reactor, 42,000 peak early fatalities,
88,000 peak early injuries, and 5,800 peak cancer deaths. Scaled costs, again in
1980 dollars, were calculated at $101 billion for unit 1 and $93.7 billion for
unit 2. Charlotte’s population and economy have mushroomed since the early
1980s, meaning that all these numbers would likely be much higher if a
catastrophic nuclear accident happened there now.

A similarly sad
tale emerges from the statistics for the egregiously named Turkey Point evil
twin reactors, 25 miles upwind of Miami, and for other nukes in the Sandia

The Sandia
studies also calculated U.S. nukes’ peak fatality radii as well as peak injury
radii. For example, Dresden 2 and 3 in Illinois have a peak fatality radius of
15 miles. Their peak injury radius is 60 miles, and thus includes Chicago and
Gary, Indiana. The Millstone nukes in Connecticut have a peak fatality radius of
20 miles, and a peak injury radius of 65 miles. The latter area includes most of
the Nutmeg state, all of Rhode Island, eastern Long Island in New York, and
parts of western and southern Massachusetts.

Indian Point’s
50-mile peak injury radius includes NYC and Newark, as well as Stamford,
Bridgeport and Danbury, Connecticut.

We know from the
Chernobyl disaster, however, that radioactive plumes which escaped into the
environment there traveled thousands of miles, broke into separate plumes, and
blew in multiple directions with the shifting winds.

Other nuclear
plants, besides those already mentioned, on the Greepeace list of the nation’s
most risky nukes are: Surry 1 and 2 in Virginia; Salem 1 and 2 and Hope Creek 1
in New Jersey; Sus- quehanna 1 and 2 and Three Mile Island 1 in Pennsylvania;
Peach Bottom 2 and 3 in Maryland; and Sequoyah 1and 2 in Tennessee.

Security Threat

Jim Riccio, author
of the Greenpeace report, in a press release accompanying the publication of
Risky Business
, stated, “The United States cannot be on high alert and then
ignore the biggest threat sitting within its own borders…. The only way to
secure our nuclear plants from nuclear sabotage or an accident is to immediately
implement an emergency phase out plan for all reactors…. Nuclear plants now
constitute a national security threat and their continued operation is

The report also
asserted that the NRC “must not extend the licenses of nuclear reactors” and
should “rescind those licenses that have already been renewed.” It also said
“New construction of nuclear reactors in the United States must be prohibited.”

On November 30,
five Democratic senators and congress-persons (Senators Hillary Clinton, Joseph
Lieberman and Harry Reid, along with Nita Lowey and Edward Markey from the House
of Representatives) somewhat grudgingly introduced legislation to strengthen
security at U.S. commercial nuclear plants.

The legislation
called for permanent federal security officers at the plants, re-evaluating the
designs of nukes to bulk them up to withstand direct hits from contemporary
jumbo jets, stockpiling potassium iodide (which can prevent thyroid cancer) for
the public within 50 miles of nuclear plants, and giving the NRC power to
recommend to state governors the use of the National Guard and Coast Guard in
times of crisis.

While the
corporate media, the nuclear industry, and the NRC blithely ignored the
Greepeace report, those entities couldn’t just blow off the likes of Lieberman
and company. The latter two were quick to respond.

The nuclear
industry fired back first, on the same day the legislation was introduced. Joe
Colvin, top dog at the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s lobbying and
public relations organ, called the legislation “well intentioned but misguided.
The bill is a reflexive political response to a problem that does not exist.”

The NRC, which
critics call the nuclear industry’s lapdog rather than its watchdog, quickly
fell in line. A few days later, in a letter to Senator Reid, NRC Chief Richard
Meserve said, “The commission strongly opposes enactment of the legislation as
drafted.” In language nearly identical to Colvin’s, Meserve said that the
proposal to create a federal nuclear security force “addresses a nonexistent

As usual, both
sides missed the point. Or perhaps their obscuring the necessity to eliminate
nukes as the solution to the national security threat they pose is their common
point. In contrast, Green- peace looked to practical solutions that could
positively change our catastrophic nuclear reality.

The Greenpeace
report also pointed to a November 2000 study conducted for the U.S. Department
of Energy by five federal energy laboratories. This study, according to
Greenpeace, “found that renewable energy could supply at least 7.5% of the U.S.
electricity by 2010,…enough to allow for the phase out of the most dangerous
reactors in the U.S.,” such as Indian Point’s.

In addition, the
report stated, another recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found
that “renewable energy could supply 20% of U.S. electricity by 2020,” which
“coupled with an increase in energy efficiency…would produce enough
electricity to supplant every nuclear reactor currently operating in the United

Greenpeace said
it disclosed the information in the report because “the public deserves a frank
discussion of this most unforgiving technology…. Greenpeace hopes that by
providing this information to the public and the media we can accelerate the
phase out of nuclear reactors and avoid a tragedy.”

Michael Steinberg is the author of
Millstone and Me: Sex, Lies and
Radiation in Southeastern Connecticut