Nuclear Safety. . . What, Me Worry?

by Russell Lowes, May 21, 2008

    It is difficult to expound on the potential for terrorism at our nation’s 104 commercial reactors, without sounding ridiculous – that is, without sounding like you’re making stuff up. That’s because the bloopers that occur are beyond the pale. Sometimes the bloopers are specific actions. Of even more concern, sometimes the bloopers are the very policies set in place. Ponder these real-life, yet hard-to-believe, citations on the safety and security of nuclear energy.

    Florida Power & Light is facing $208,000 in federal fines because firing pins were removed from the weapons of Wackenhut [rent-a-cop] guards at its Turkey Point nuclear power plant. The NRC said it was prohibiting two former Wackenhut employees, Jon Brumer and Oscar Aguilar, from working in NRC-regulated facilities for five years because both deliberately violated federal policies by removing the firing pins.

                            –John Dorschner, Miami Herald, 1/23/08

    NRC officials said the fine was being proposed because a 2006 investigation found that security officers employed by Wackenhut Nuclear Services were willfully inattentive to duty (sleeping) from 2004 through 2006.

                            –Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) News Release, 4/9/08

    Two Indian Point nuclear power plant security guards have been suspended for coming to work with cocaine in their systems, a spokesman for the plants' owner said. One guard was tested for drugs after leaving her post unexpectedly and failing to respond when commanders radioed her . . . she was found sick in a bathroom.

                            –Newsday, “2 Indian Point guards test positive for cocaine, are suspended,” 3/22/08


                            –Title of NRC News Release, 4/8/08

    Undercover Congressional investigators set up a bogus company and obtained a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in March that would have allowed them to buy the radioactive materials needed for a so-called dirty bomb. The investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, demonstrated once again that the security measures put in place since the 2001 terrorist attacks to prevent radioactive materials from getting into the wrong hands are insufficient, according to a G.A.O. report.

                            –Eric Lipton, “A Nuclear Ruse Uncovers Holes in U.S. Security,” New York Times, 7/12/07

    Poor safeguards at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Sequoyah Nuclear Plant allowed M-4 assault rifles to enter the facility unchecked and be improperly stored in a secure zone, United Press International has learned. According to the Washington-based Project on Government Oversight, an independent government watchdog, the cargo contained 30 M-4 assault rifles.

                            –Ben Lando and Donna Borak, “Lapse Allows Guns into Tennessee Nuke Plant,” United Press International, 8/18/06

    On the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001 my phone rang in my office. It was a national reporter who asked me to explain what would happen if a well-fueled jumbo jet were to crash into a reactor. I was honest to my own heart that day and declined to take the interview. One week later Mohammed ElBeredei did the right thing, and was honest too. [The Secretary General] of the International Atomic Energy Agency declared to the world that if a jumbo jet hit a reactor it would cause a Chernobyl-like event and that no reactor in the world could withstand such a hit.

                            –Mary Olson, Nuclear Information and Resource Service

    Planes are not on the list of weapons that reactors must be prepared to survive. One of the five [NRC] commissioners, Gregory B. Jaczko, has called for the panel to require design changes to reduce vulnerability, but the other four [NRC commissioners] seem unpersuaded. At the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s trade association, Adrian Heymer, senior director for new plant deployment, said designers had analyzed existing plants and made many changes that cost little but made the new designs more difficult to attack. But, in general, Mr. Heymer said, protecting against terrorism was a government function.
     Speaking about protection against aircraft attacks, Mr. Jaczko said in an interview, “We’ve left it in the hands of Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration and the reactor vendors, who are building these plants, to do what they think is right in this area, and to me that’s clearly not the answer.”

                            –Matthew L. Wald, “Agency Considers A-Plants’ Vulnerability,” New York Times,        11/9/06

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission concluded Monday that it is impractical for nuclear power plant operators to try to stop terrorists from crashing an airliner into a reactor. Plant operators instead should focus on limiting radioactive release from any such airborne attack, the agency said in a revised defense plan for America's nuclear plants. The agency approved the new defense plan, most of which is secret, by a 5-0 vote at a brief hearing in which it was not discussed in any detail.

                            –H. Josef  Hebert, “Nuclear Agency: Air Defenses Impractical,” Associated Press wire, 1/29/07

    The arrests of three men who allegedly tried to sell contraband uranium for $1 million show how a shadowy black market for nuclear components has survived. . . officials tracking the illicit global trade in radioactive materials said the arrests underscored the risk of nuclear substances falling into terrorist hands. Should that happen, "the consequences would be so catastrophic, the world would be a different place the next day," said Richard Hoskins, who supervises a database of stolen, missing, smuggled or unauthorized radioactive materials for the International Atomic Energy Agency. In 2006 alone, the U.N. nuclear watchdog registered 252 reported cases — a 385 percent increase since 2002.

                            –The Arizona Daily Star/The Associated Press, 3 held as uranium bootleggers; 'dirty bomb' fears are growing, 11/30/07

    Large quantities of nuclear materials are inadequately secured in several countries, including Russia and Pakistan. Since 1993, there have been more than 1,300 incidents of illicit trafficking of nuclear materials, including plutonium and highly enriched uranium, both of which can be used to develop an atomic bomb. And these are only the incidents we know about. It is quite possible that a terrorist group could acquire enough nuclear material to build a bomb.

                        –Jay Davis, Washington Post, “After A Nuclear 9/11,” 3/25/08   

. . .Quoted the following from an October 24, 2001 Associated Press story: “Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, encouraged followers in 1994 to strike such a plant, officials say. An FBI agent has testified in court that one of Yousef’s followers told him in 1995 of plans to blow up a nuclear plant. And in 1999 the NRC acknowledged to Congress that it had received a credible threat of a terrorist attack against a nuclear power facility.”
    In a September 21 press release, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission stated “the NRC did not specifically contemplate attacks by aircraft such as Boeing 757s and 767s and nuclear plants were not designed to withstand such crashes.” A nuclear meltdown could occur in a nuclear plant’s reactor or its spent fuel pool. The pool stores irradiated fuel rods after they are commercially “spent” and become high level nuclear waste.

                        –Michael Steinberg, “Greenpeace Urges Shut Down Of U.S. Nukes” Z magazine, February 2002

    An under-reported attack on a South African nuclear facility last month demonstrates the high risk of theft of nuclear materials by terrorists or criminals. Such a crime could have grave national security implications for the United States or any of the dozens of countries where nuclear materials are held in various states of security.
    Shortly after midnight on Nov. 8, four armed men broke into the Pelindaba nuclear facility 18 miles west of Pretoria, a site where hundreds of kilograms of weapons-grade uranium are stored.

                        –Micah Zenko, “A Nuclear Site Is Breached; South African Attack Should Sound Alarms,” Washington Post, 12/20/07

    A sleeping illegal immigrant was accidentally carried onto the property, it was reported Thursday. Edison officials said that a man was found on the San Onofre property. . . on July 25, the North County Times reported. The rail cars carry freight inside the San Onofre grounds and pass by an area where Edison stores spent fuel — highly radioactive material that can no longer produce power [which, however, can still melt down].

                        –San Diego News/, “Man Sleeping In Train Car Slips Into San Onofre Power Plant; Plant Changes Security Procedures,” 8/2/07


Nuclear Energy is a Money Grab. . .

Electricity Consumption, California Vs. the U.S.

by Russell Lowes, updated 10/24/14

. . .From Renewables and Energy Efficiency to a Counter-Productive Industrial Web

Twelve Reasons to Oppose Nuclear Energy and Support a Green Energy Future

We have a complete set of energy solutions: solar cells, wind turbines, concentrating solar, ocean current and wave energy, energy efficiency, energy storage, and the list goes on.(1) As these technologies mature, we can quickly reduce nuclear, coal and gas use.

The most environmentally and economically destructive sources of electricity should be reduced now, as other technologies emerge. The phase-out of nuclear, coal and gas electrical energy will reduce global warming while freeing up monies for renewables,  efficiencies and energy storage.

This list focuses on the nuclear energy option. Nuclear energy is being heavily promoted with millions of dollars in public relations budgets by the nuclear industry. This compilation will expose the nuclear myths.

California and Germany are two examples of how to make the switch toward a safe and effective energy future. In California, the per capita energy has gone down through a myriad of efficiency techniques.(2) In Germany, solar production has gone up radically, through a savvy system of support, which is turning Germany, hardly known for sunny days, into the top solar country. (3) See the graph at the top of the article for the California example.(2)


Twelve Reasons to Oppose Nuclear Energy and to Support Renewables and Efficiencies.

1)     Nuclear Energy is Too Expensive. In 2002, industry estimates for building reactors were in the $1500-2000 per kilowatt range.(4) Estimates crept up to $4000 by 2007.(5) Then, the Moody’s ratings firm projected around $5000.(6) Even more recently, Florida Power and Light estimated between $5300 and $8200 per kilowatt.(7) This amount of capital would cause nuclear energy to cost far more than the alternatives.

The record of nuclear reactor costs in the 1980s, about $3100 in 1987, combined with general inflation would yield about $6496 in 2014 dollars.(8) The current round of U.S. reactors being built is likely to start up in 2022. In the 1970s and 80s the average overrun for nuclear construction was more than 220%.(9) This record of massive overruns compared to roughly 50% for coal plants.(10)

At $9000/KW, 1000 reactors would cost $9 trillion. The capital payback would be $1.26 trillion per year, exceeding the $1.1 trillion we spend on ALL energy in the U.S. annually. This would be an 114% increase in total energy cost, just to cover the capital expenditure of construction of a robust nuclear program. This does not include fuel costs, operation and maintenance, nor the occasional accident or early retirement of some of these reactors. With this much going into nuclear energy alone, the money available for solar and other real solutions would dry up.The capital markets would be dominated by a sliver of the American energy system.

2)    Expansion of Nuclear Energy Would Worsen Global Warming. Even if nuclear energy had the CO2 advantage the nuclear industry claims, building at least U.S. 1000 reactors would be required to significantly reduce global warming.(11) Over 20 years there would be one reactor completed weekly. The world has never seen anything near that kind of construction performance.(12)
Additionally, uranium resource depletion is occurring. Within about thirty years, the amount of energy required just to mine, mill and build reactors would exceed the CO2 levels of natural gas plants.(13) It would worsen thereafter, with possible reactor shut-downs, due to fuel availability problems.

3)    Nuclear Energy Represents a Long-Term Negative Net Energy. Nuclear plants already have a long-term negative net energy and CO2 level higher than fossil fuels, if you count the energy to manage the waste over the legally required one million years.

4)    The Most Stripping of our Public Lands through Mining Would Happen with Nuclear Energy. With ore quality diminishing, mining levels would skyrocket. To illustrate, when we have to resort to mining granite for uranium, the weight of ore would equal fifty times the weight of coal per kilowatt-hour.(14)

5)     High and Permanent Government Subsidy Is Required. Nuclear energy is too risky for investment without its insurance renewed by Congress (the Price-Anderson Act, 1957). The property cost of a major accident could top half a trillion dollars.(15) Additional medical costs are waived by the Act. The industry has said if it does not get the government to guarantee loans, it will not build any reactors.(16)

6)    Unacceptable Accident Potential Persists. Analysis has put the chance of at least three meltdowns at 50% if the world opts for the large number of 2500 nuclear reactors. The ecological and economical impact of one meltdown would dwarf the impact of Hurricane Katrina, with thousands of years of radiological damage.(17)

7)    National Security Is Compromised. After the September 11 attacks, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said reactors could withstand impact of a 747. They have since retracted this statement.(18) This same terrorist network may target a nuclear reactor in the future. Additionally, every hot on-site reactor spent-fuel pool is a perfect terrorist target, with waste that would melt down from such an impact. These targets are not reasonably protected.

8)     Nuclear Energy Has the Most Water Usage. It has lower thermal efficiency compared to fossil-fuel, at 33%, compared to 40% for coal, and 45% for natural gas. Nuclear energy requires more water for cooling. The Palo Verde plant, 35 miles upwind of Phoenix, requires about 55% the water of a city with a half-million people, like Tucson, Arizona, or 120,000 acre feet of annual water use.(19)

9)    Too Much Radiation Is Produced. Governmental studies conclude that there is no additional safe level of radiation. Radiative gas is released into the air at the reactor site, routinely, increasing cancer risk.(20)

10)    Million-Year Waste Legacy Will Burden Society. The EPA had a 10,000 year waste management requirement, until the courts replaced it with a 1,000,000 year time line.(21) Just 5.3 kilograms of Plutonium-239, which has a half life of about 25 thousand years, is enough for a nuclear bomb.(21a)

11)    Civil Liberties Would Diminish. With an increase terrorist threat to a highly vulnerable and risky system in place, the pressure on governments to subdue civil liberties will always be there with nuclear energy.

12)    Finally, Other Options are Better. U.S. wind energy increased 140% over the last five years, with the capacity of sixty-one nuclear reactors added.(22) With Texas gaining the lead in 2006, one Texan said that Texas will never lose this lead to any other state in the nation. We need bold strides like this.

    Americans are far more resourceful than to think that we have to return to an over-subsidized outdated electricity option like nuclear energy. We need to use our limited energy dollars for real solutions that work! Support renewables and efficiencies instead of nuclear energy.

Russell J. Lowes, Research Director at is the primary author of a book on the nation’s largest nuclear plant upwind of Phoenix, “Energy Options for the Southwest, Part I, Nuclear and Coal Power,” released in 1979. The book played a principal part in the cancellation of two additional reactors at this plant.

1) Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D., Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, “Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free, A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy,” 2007, at
2) “OnEarth” Newsletter, National Resources Defense Council, Spring 2006,
3) Reiner Gaertner, “Germany Embraces the Sun,” Wired, September1, 2007,
4) For example, The Future of Nuclear Power, An Interdisciplinary MIT Study, 2003.
5) Tulsa World, “AEP Not Interested in Nuclear Plants,” 9/1/07.
6) SNLi, “Moody’s Sees High Risk in Building New Nuclear Generation Capacity,” 10/10/07.
7) Curtis Morgan, Miami Herald, “Turkey Point: FPL Asks Panel to Allow Two More Nuclear Reactors,” 1/31/08,
8) Brice Smith, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate Change, 2006, p. 8.
For inflation calculate, see
9) Energy Information Administration, An Analysis of Nuclear Power Plant Construction Costs, DOE/EAI-0485, p. 18. Also, EIA, Monthly Energy Review, August 1994
10) Charles Komanoff, Power Plant Cost Escalation, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1981, page 2. Note: a range of 33 to 68% for coal overruns, averages to about 50%.
11) Brice Smith book.
12) Ibid.
13) David Fleming, The Lean Guide to Nuclear Energy, a Life Cycle In Trouble,” summary/Nuclear Energy In Brief, 2007,
14) See reports at, updated periodically.
15) U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Sandia Labs, Impact of a Meltdown at Nuclear Plant, Consequences of Reactor Accident (CRAC-2) Report, 1982.
16) Dan Morse, Washington Post, “Money Matters in Reactor Project Debate; Financing, Rather Than Safety, Appears to Be Key Factor in Whether Plans Proceed,” 9/5/07, p. B-5.
17) Brice Smith report.
18) Bill Brubaker, Washington Post, “Nuclear Agency: Air Defenses Impractical,” 1/29/07.
19) Arizona Nuclear Power Project, “Use of Effluent Water at Palo Verde,” communication from ANPP to Maricopa Association of Governments, November 17, 1977. See also,  See also, University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center, Water Resource Availability for the Tucson Metropolitan Area, 2006.
20) National Academy of Sciences, Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation May Cause Harm, Press Release, 6/29/05. Also see: U.S. NRC Effluent Database for Nuclear Power Plants, 2004  (Some navigation required.)
21) Ascribe, The Public Interest Newswire, “Managing Nuclear Wastes for the Millennia,” 1/7/07.

22) American Wind Energy Association, “Wind Generation Records & Turbine Productivity,”