Tuesday, April 26, 2011
How Many (More) Accidents?
Adm. Lewis L. Strauss has found himself in political turmoil more than once since he became chairman of the atomic energy commision, and he says that out of his troubles he has distilled enough experience to justify formulation of a new law of knowledge. "I hope it will be known as Strauss' law," he told a group recently. "It could be stated about like this: If anything bad can happen, it probably will."
- Chicago Daily Tribune - 12 Feb, 1955
When people talk about nuclear accidents, three generally leap to mind: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima. But there have actually been about 100 accidents of varying severity since we started using atoms for peace, with more than half of those since Chernobyl and several Level 3s or worse.
But nuke apologists try to focus very, very narrowly in the safety realm:
Apart from Chernobyl, no nuclear workers or members of the public have ever died as a result of exposure to radiation due to a commercial nuclear reactor incident.
It's kind of like saying other than Columbine, there haven't been any school massacres by kids named Harris and Klebold. It means we can ignore long-term effects from TMI and even Chernobyl. It means we can ignore the health impact of uranium mining. It means we can ignore the dangers of transporting and storing nuclear waste.
It also means we can ignore deaths directly caused by the operation of nuclear facilities in a variety of incidents. There was, for example, the SL-1 accident:
A United States Army experimental nuclear power reactor...underwent a steam explosion and meltdown on January 3, 1961, killing its three operators.
The 3 men did not, in fact, die from radiation exposure, but:
The bodies of all three were buried in lead-lined caskets sealed with concrete and placed in metal vaults with a concrete cover. Some highly radioactive body parts were buried in the Idaho desert as radioactive waste.
Radiation exposure limits prior to the accident were 100 röntgens to save a life and 25 to save valuable property. During the response to the accident, 22 people received doses of 3 to 27 Röntgens full-body exposure and three doses above 27 R. Removal of radioactive waste and disposal of the three bodies eventually exposed 790 people to harmful levels of radiation. In March 1962, the Atomic Energy Commission awarded certificates of heroism to 32 participants in the response.
But none of that counts because it wasn't a commercial reactor and the men didn't die from radiation, despite leaving behind intensely radioactive remains and the AEC giving out awards for heroism to rescue workers. Then there's the Tokaimura nuclear accident in 1999:
The criticality accident occurred in a uranium reprocessing facility...Dozens of emergency workers and nearby residents were hospitalized and hundreds of thousands of others were forced to remain indoors for 24 hours. At least 667 workers, emergency responders, and nearby residents were exposed to excess radiation as a result of the accident...The three operators' doses were far above permissible limits at 3,000, 10,000, and 17,000 mSv; the two receiving the higher doses later died. The most severely exposed worker had his body draped over the tank when it went critical. He suffered serious burns to most of his body, experienced severe damage to his internal organs, and had a near-zero white blood cell count.
But that wasn't at a reactor, so also doesn't count. Nor does this one at Mihama in 2004:
On 9 August 2004, an accident occurred in a building housing turbines for the Mihama 3 reactor. Hot water and steam leaking from a broken pipe killed four workers and resulted in seven others being injured. The accident had been called Japan's worst nuclear power accident before the crisis at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant.
Just another non-radioactive accident, so nothing to see here. Besides, those last two were in Japan, and the NRC is totally on top of the safety thing.
Vermont Yankee. The NRC ignored regulations requiring that all releases of radioactively contaminated air be via controlled and monitored pathways—regulations that had been grounds for shutting down a Baton Rouge plant two years previously.
Oh, well, I'm sure the owners of Vermont Yankee will spend their time and energy making sure everything is safe instead of, say...using the courts to attack the very community they pretend to serve.
There was a dream once of nuclear power generating electricity that was too cheap to meter. Are human lives and the environment also too cheap?
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Too cheap to meter is easy. Ask Tesla.
Posted by: Mike Goldman | Apr 26, 2011 2:40:00 AM
[insert Glam metal joke here]
Posted by: NTodd | Apr 26, 2011 7:00:31 AM