The disaster in Japan has rekindled the anti-nuke constituency with a vengeance. The predictable assurances are now being dished out – “safe, secure, vital,” “maximum redundancies,” “earthquakes the size of Japan’s just don’t happen here.”
Such was the tenor of a recent meeting of the Environment and Energy Committee of the Westchester County Board of Legislators. John McCann was the reassuring voice from Entergy, owner of the Indian Point reactors. The presence of multiple media outlets suggested it was not a run-of-the-mill committee meeting.
To be sure there will be no tsunami to worry about at Indian Point, the plants being located on the Hudson River. Earthquakes are another matter.
The builders of the Indian Point reactors 40 years ago apparently thought the Ramapo fault (a second fault intersecting the first has now been discovered) and near New York City was the perfect place for a reactor to be constructed. Entergy is now getting the Indian Point reactors relicensed.
The ‘blue pools’
Now comes the cataclysmic events in Japan, where nuclear reactors, some of similar design as Indian Point’s, went out of control after being hit by a tsunami. As far as we know the earthquake did not do the damage but the overwhelming physical force of the tsunami did. The reactors are still not completely under control but it is clear by now that the real problem in Japan was the spent fuel pools.
Now there is a subject that has not gotten nearly the attention it deserves with regard to the spent fuel pools in our own backyard. Nearly 20 years ago I went on a personal tour of Indian Point III, then owned by the New York Power Authority. The high point of this tour was the so-called “blue pools.” Yes, there is a distinctly blue glow in the bottom of the pool in which is stored the fuel rods that have finished their job producing electricity.
To my eye the pool at that time seemed not to have room for any more fuel rods. Only a far right corner of the pool appeared to have any space at all. It was then explained to me that the rods would be re-racked in order to provide more space, putting them closer together and therefore becoming more hazardous. We can safely assume this has been done at Indian Point.
The spent fuel rods are being enclosed in dry casks and though there is some mitigation to the hazard there is more to the story. The rods have to remain in the pools for some period of time for them to cool down before being encased. The reader may have forgotten that these rods are not safe to handle for upwards of 10,000 years. If that is the case one wonders if the rods will outlast the human species.
The life of aging reactors
A lot more can be stated about the disposition of the spent fuel rods but more should be stated about the building in which the pool is located. It is basically an unprotected building, in no way built to withstand any untoward event. As we learned from the event in Japan these pools appear to be the Achilles’ heel of nuclear power.
During the committee meeting Legislator Peter Harckham from Somers shared his personal experience of having to evacuate from the area around Three Mile Island during the meltdown. In a sparsely developed region around the reactor the evacuation ran into trouble nearly immediately. Only 2 miles down the road there was total gridlock. In Japan it was suggested that a 50-mile zone be evacuated.
In spite all that’s been stated these plants are not shutting down any time soon, but the facts must be addressed. Even though many parts have been replaced as needed, they are still old plants and there is no data at this time as to how long nuclear plants can safely keep on running. The Japanese reactors were also old.
What Westchester needs to initiate at the earliest opportunity is a major campaign to encourage, if not, demand, that we get real about efficiency and conservation. And we need to do it now.
We do not know when those plants will simply stop running. This is not a fear tactic but a realistic look at what the future life of these aging reactors is likely to be.
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Submited at Friday, April 1st, 2011 at 3:00 pm on Uncategorized by jessica
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