In December 2003, when I was working as a security analyst for a nuclear power watchdog group in North Carolina, I sent an overview analysis to Counterpunch entitled Bush, Security, Energy and Money.” The piece explained how nuclear power plants are prime targets for anyone wanting to attack infrastructure to create maximum damage; and it explained how the interlocking directorate of government and the business class conspires to underplay the dangers of nuclear power.
Today (March 11, 2011), we are seeing the reports of the Richter 8.9 quake that hit Japan, and as I write this there are concerns about Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which has been hit with the tsunami generated by the earthquake. The concern is that without an external power source, the cooling pools for the waste fuel will quit circulating, causing the spent fuel rods to spontaneously ignite, which would release Cesium-137 and other highly radioactive isotopes into the air. Cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years. Use your imagination or meteorological wind data to figure out what this could mean.
What we have already seen on a limited scale is another type of nuclear accident, a “core-melt.” This is when the cooling system fails in the nuclear reactor core, and the active fuel ignites. Partial core-melts are what happened in Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and the Fermi plant in Detroit. What Chernobyl taught us is that rupture of the core containment structure is a disaster that renders surrounding areas dangerously radioactive for many years - turning them into policed and administered exclusion zones.
The point is, and it’s a simple point, in addition to the danger of attack, nuclear plants are vulnerable to earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, even ice storms that massively disrupt external power sources.
The follow-on point is that each plant constitutes a custodial responsibility that is longer than the longest lifespan of any known civilization. We are intentionally creating facilities based on the highly doubtful assumption that the custodial societies will be stable and continuous longer than any in history.
We watched one Gulf Coast offshore oil rig out of 3,500 – 79 of them deep water rigs like the Deepwater Horizon – destroy a substantial section of the Gulf of Mexico.
In the United States there are 170 major chemical companies, with all their plants, with 1,700 foreign affiliates; and thousands more chemical fabrication facilities worldwide.
The hubris of this civilization is not only its assumption of stability, which we are seeing break down with war creeping into the midst of a nuclear standoff (in Pakistan-India), and instability in several places operating nuclear power plants, but the assumption that this non-existent stability will continue for thousands of years.
I’ll revisit something called the precautionary principle, then leave my point there.
The precautionary principle or precautionary approach states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.