Nuclear and present danger

Harvey Wasserman
Cleveland Free Times
October 17, 2001

 Northern Ohio’s ticking time bombs

Two gigantic nuke bombs are ticking in northern Ohio, fully available to terrorists.

They are the Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear plants, which are essentially indefensible. And the debate over the vulnerability of such reactors has raged for more than three decades. Given what we now know, they should be shut down immediately.

The hijacked planes that wrought such tragic havoc on September 11 flew over or near more than a dozen reactors. Had one of the jets that crashed into the World Trade Center hit the reactors at Indian Point, 40 miles up the Hudson River, the devastation that would have resulted could only have been described as apocalyptic. As recently reported on 60 Minutes, the governors of New York and New Jersey have now stationed National Guardsmen at the reactors.

But it’s hard to imagine how Guardsmen could have protected the sites. Two operating reactors at Indian Point and their huge spent fuel pool all would have melted down, releasing a gigantic radioactive cloud dwarfing those unleashed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Small children in the immediate area would have died en masse. Pregnant women would have spontaneously aborted. Those babies that survived the pregnancies would have been born horribly deformed. Adults in all nearby towns would have begun dying immediately, with the death toll within the first few years stretching into the hundreds of thousands. As at Chernobyl, the cloud would have found its way into the jetstream and around the planet (all human beings today inhale radioactive particles from Chernobyl and Three Mile Island).

With the ensuing waves of cancers, leukemias and genetic malformations, millions more ultimately would have been afflicted by a terrorist nuke hit on September 11. All of New York City would have been turned into a radioactive wasteland. The World Trade Center would today be just as unusable and far more lethal had those jets hit Indian Point instead of the towers.

Similar horrors remain tragically possible at Perry and Davis-Besse. Though security has been somewhat beefed up since 9/11, the reactors are ultimately unguardable. No containment dome anywhere can withstand the kind of crashes delivered to the WTC and the Pentagon.

But even without hitting a dome, and even without using a jet, the ability of terrorists to take down nuclear reactors is all too doable. Cooling systems, backup power generators, communications networks and too much more are vulnerable. Both Perry and Davis-Besse have large pools onsite containing thousands of tons of extremely radioactive spent fuel rods. These rods are not covered by containment domes. They must constantly be cooled with complex systems, and any disaster involving the operating systems of the reactors would almost certainly be accompanied by a parallel disaster in the spent fuel repositories — and vice-versa — making the whole intertwined network hugely vulnerable.

In the face of such a catastrophe, all northern Ohioans would be sitting ducks. Evacuation is a complete impossibility. In the 1980s, a special commission appointed by then-Governor Richard Celeste made it abundantly clear that even with substantial warning, the millions living along the north coast would be unable to escape from a radioactive cloud caused by an accident at Perry or Davis-Besse. With a terrorist attack, even the few hours’ warning expected during an accidental meltdown would disappear.

Thus, as the nation is driven crazy by anthrax powder, the threat from reactor sabotage dwarfs anything the human race has ever faced. Nationwide, we get just 18 percent of our electricity from nukes, just 8 percent of our total energy. Nuclear power can be easily replaced by increased efficiency and the use of other sources. Both Perry and Davis-Besse have been offline for months at a time without noticeable impact on northern Ohio’s accessibility to electricity.

But an attack on either one of these plants could turn the entire Great Lakes region into a radioactive version of the World Trade Center. It’s time they were shut down.


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