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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Nuclear Terrorism – A Self-imposed Legacy - by Judi Friedman

We live in a nuclear age. With that comes nuclear terror – an odious legacy of the Cold War. Nuclear powers (including the United States) continue to maintain nuclear weapons on “hair-trigger alert” ready to destroy other nations in minutes. The U.S. still possesses 8,000 active nuclear warheads. Two thousand of them are ready to be launched with only a fifteen minute warning period.

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Now we have traded the Cold War for nuclear terrorism. According to the 9/11 Commission, the Al Qaeda plans for that fateful day included hijacked aircraft attacks on two U.S. nuclear power plants. This time we were spared such a catastrophe. But day to day while atomic reactors keep running, we live with the reality of what such attacks could do.

We are surrounded by sitting-duck nuclear targets – more than 100 of them, mostly east of the Mississippi in high-density population areas. Reactors and their fuel pools and waste casks remain inadequately protected. These atomic sites have no protection plan for attacks from the air. A 9/11-style attack on the Millstone plant in Connecticut could render the state a sacrifice zone, uninhabitable for millennia. With the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident fast approaching, the image of that nuclear wasteland should serve as a ghostly warning.

Yet, thirty-six existing nuclear power plants have been approved for 20-year license extensions while the public was repeatedly denied requests for hearings on the security vulnerabilities. Thirty-two reactors house their waste fuel pools on the top story of the reactor building, outside containment and protected only by sheet metal.

Aging and increasingly decrepit plants operating longer than they were designed to run will likely fail. Old machines and parts break down. A reactor breakdown could cause a meltdown. In 2002 the severely corroded Davis-Besse nuclear reactor , just 20 miles southeast of Toledo, OH, came within a small fraction of an inch of steel from causing a tragic nuclear accident. License extension applications for 14 nuclear plants are currently under review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. We are allowing ourselves to be the unwitting victims of our own nuclear terror.

Instead of ending the nuclear age, the Bush administration plans to expand it. Early site permits for new reactors are being processed in Mississippi, Virginia and Illinois (Chicago is ringed by eleven reactors already). And with the prospect of huge taxpayer subsidies footing colossal construction costs, utilities are jockeying into the starting gate for the biggest cash grab in industry history.

Furthermore, we are yet to solve the problem of high-level waste produced by reactors with no safe storage solution on-site or elsewhere. So far, the states of Nevada and Utah have been singled out for a political mugging. A “permanent” geological burial site is slated for Yucca Mountain, NV, while a penniless Indian Tribe – the Goshute band in Utah – has been singled out to take “temporary” custody of the waste while the Yucca Mountain quagmire persists. Nuclear waste cask transportation to these sites could set up rolling terrorist targets criss-crossing the country through major population centers for decades.

To add to the insult, there is an even more insidious threat from nuclear power, one that stays with us every day that reactors continue to operate and beyond. The nuclear fuel chain, from the mining, milling and enrichment of uranium through fuel fabrication and operation in nuclear reactors, despite industry propaganda, is not “emissions-free.” Every uranium mine, mill tailing pile, operating reactor and nuclear waste dump “emits” harmful radiation long after the last watt of electricity is generated.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has established that there is no safe dose of radiation. There is no longer doubt about the damage that can result from a single radiation track through a cell. The findings of adverse reactions from low-dose impacts of radiation in cellular, molecular and DNA levels have been researched by radiation microbiologists in Great Britain, Canada, Japan and the United States.

Not only do reactors emit, they also leak radiation. Three reactor sites in Illinois have been leaking large quantities of tritium and other isotopes into ground water. The Indian Point nuclear plant, 35 miles from midtown Manhattan, has allowed tritium and strontium-90 to seep into the Hudson River. We already know that contaminated groundwater at Connecticut Yankee has been discovered, and strontium-90 has been found in goat milk five miles from the Connecticut Millstone plant. Strontium-90 is linked to bone cancer, cancer of the soft tissue and cancer of the blood. Tritium causes cancers and can damage DNA. We must demand to know what is in the water around every nuclear plant. To do nothing is to perpetuate this terror.

We terrorize ourselves and our unborn by tolerating nuclear plants in our midst.

The United States even terrorizes the heavens. In January 2006 NASA launched twenty-five pounds of highly-toxic plutonium from Florida on a New Horizons space probe to the planet Pluto. It uses plutonium-238, the most toxic element ever created. An accident – such as the one the Challenger underwent – could have left central Florida a nuclear wasteland.

The United States is in a “War against Terrorism.” If that is really true, then our most important step is to end the self-imposed nuclear terror at home.

Judi Friedman directs PACE – People’s Action for Clean Energy, a Connecticut-based volunteer organization working for energy efficiency, conservation and benign renewable energy. She is a Core Group member of Nuclear Information and Resource Service.
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SOURCE:
Nuclear Terrorism – A Self-imposed Legacy

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