Nuclear Power Far More Scary Than Wind Energy

By WILL COLLETTE

CHARLESTOWN, R.I. — The Associated Press reported that the Millstone Power Station’s Unit 3 reactor was shut down Aug. 9 and stayed shut through Aug. 12. The unit automatically shut down when a malfunction disrupted the flow of cooling water to the reactor. Last summer, it was Unit 2 that was shut down when its cooling water’s temperature exceeded Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) standards.

Call me a cynic, but when regulators issue notices of violations to a potentially dangerous company, I am really reassured. The NRC cited the only nuclear power generation site in Connecticut on Aug. 8 for three safety and compliance violations. The Millstone Power Station in Waterford is just 20 miles upwind from us.

The violations related to broken radiation monitoring equipment and Millstone’s failure to notify the NRC about the problem. The NRC described these violations as having “very low safety significance.” Perhaps the NRC's nonchalance about these violations has to do with such failures being commonplace, but I take little comfort in that. To me, any violation at a nuclear power plant is serious because the consequences are so dire.

Last summer, the Millstone nuclear power had to shut down for two weeks in August because the ocean water it used to cool reactor Unit 2 was too hot. If the water is too hot to cool the reactor, very bad things could happen. Thanks, global warming.

Millstone’s response to that shut down was to announce that it planned to petition the NRC for a change in the rules so it could use hotter ocean water — a 5 degree increase from 75 to 80 degrees. On July 30 of this year, the NRC notified Millstone’s owner — Virginia-based Dominion Energy, which also owns the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Mass. — that its application for the rule change was complete and now the commission would proceed to review the request.

Since this process will take more than a year, odds are Millstone will face another shut down this summer, when the waters in Long Island Sound exceed the limit. Coastal waters in general are heating up, reaching their highest temperatures in 150 years.

The Pilgrim Nuclear Generating Station in Plymouth, Mass., had to power down July 17-18, when water it draws from Cape Cod Bay exceeded 75 degrees. Pilgrim spokeswoman Carol Wightman told The Boston Globe that Pilgrim is concerned about the rest of the summer.

Charlestown has been obsessed for months about the possible effects of having two large wind turbines sited in our midst. Personally, I’m more concerned about what might happen if there’s a problem at the Millstone nuke, given its colorful history.

Further, as a Boomer growing up, we lived with the specter of nuclear attack and that, of course, haunted our generation. I often thought of the likely targets for a nuclear attack and what that might do to me.

Now we live in the age of terrorism, which actually is a lot older than the period since 9/11. New London, Conn., was actually being seriously considered as a nuclear target in 1978 by a band of idiots who plotted to highjack a nuclear submarine.

There’s new online tool that can help you indulge your nuclear fears or fantasies called Nukemap. You can zero in and pick your target — I used my house — select your choice of nuclear weapon, click “Detonate” and see what would happen.

You can pick various special effects that allow you to see the likely casualty count, blast, heat and shock damage, and the path of the nuclear cloud based on prevailing wind direction. If you pick New London based on its military value, the 1978 nuclear plot and the Millstone power plant, you can see how far the cloud of radioactivity would go.

Fun for the whole family.

Even though the United States and Russia have reduced the size of their nuclear arsenals, and generally, the threat of nuclear war is far less than it was during the Cold War, it hasn’t gone away. Two facts dominate: first, there are still more than enough nuclear weapons in circulation to destroy the Earth many times over. Second, some of the countries that hold nuclear weapons scare the crap out of me.

After months of denial, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted that radioactive water was indeed leaking into the sea from its crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant that was devastated by Japan’s horrific earthquake and tsunami.

The plant lost power to draw cooling water from the ocean — see story, above, regarding the Millstone and Pilgrim nuclear power plants — to cool its reactors and radioactive waste pools. The waste pools exploded and at least one reactor core melted.

But Tokyo Electric Power has been using the standard industry line that “there’s no cause for alarm” ever since it happened. Admitting the obvious was a big step, though hardly exculpatory.
And their statement was far from totally candid. Company spokesman Masayuki Ono told reporters, “We are very sorry for causing concerns. We have made efforts not to cause any leak to the outside, but we might have failed to do so.”

Reuters reported that company’s tepid admission is sparking outrage. According to Shinji Kinjo, head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority, Tokyo Electric Power’s "sense of crisis is weak. This is why you can't just leave it up to TEPCO alone. ... Right now, we have an emergency."

Charlestown resident Will Collette runs the blog Progressive Charlestown.