By Harvey Wasserman
For the third time in a decade,Â aÂ major fire/explosion has ripped apart a transformerÂ at theÂ Indian PointÂ reactor complex.
News reports have taken great care to emphasize that the accident happened in the â€œnon nuclearâ€ segment of the plant.
Ironically, the disaster spewed more thanÂ 15,000 gallons of oilÂ into the Hudson River, infecting it with a toxic sheen that carried downstream for miles. Entergy, the nukeâ€™s owner, denies there were PCBs in this transformer.
It also denies numerousÂ studiesÂ showing serious radioactive health impacts on people throughout the region.
You can choose whether you want to believe the company in either case.
But PCBsÂ were definitely spread by the last IP transformer fire. They re-poisoned a precious liquid lifeline where activists have spent decades dealing with PCBs previously dumped in by General Electric, which designed the reactors at Fukushima.
Meanwhile, as always, the nuclear industry hit the automatic play button to assure us all that there was â€œno dangerâ€ to the public and â€œno harmful releaseâ€ of radiation.
But what do we really know about what happened and could have happened this time around?
“Non Nuclear” Impacts on Reactor Sites
At an integrated system like a reactor complex, are there really any significant components whose impacts are totally removed from the ability to touch off a nuclear disaster?
A â€œnon nuclearâ€ earthquake, 120 kilometers away, causedÂ FukushimaÂ One to melt, and then explode. â€œNon nuclearâ€ backup power sources failed after being flooded by a â€œnon nuclearâ€ tsunami, leading to still more melt-downs and explosions. â€œNon nuclearâ€ air crashes, either accidental or as at 9/11, or bombs or terror attacks could rapidly convert Indian Point and any other commercial reactor into an unimaginable nuclear disaster.
At Indian Point, â€œnon nuclearâ€ gas pipelines flow dangerously close to highly vulnerable reactors. In an utterly insane proposal that almost defies description, corporate powers want to run another gas pipeline more than 40 inches in diameter within a scant few yards of the reactor epicenters. An explosion that could obliterate much of the site would of course be â€œnon nuclearâ€ in origin. But the consequences could be sufficiently radioactive to condemn millions of humans to horrifying health consequences and render the entire region a permanent wasteland. Indian Point, in Buchanan, New York, is about 45Â miles north of Manhattan.
The real dangers of this most recent fiasco are impossible to assess. But Indian Point sits all-to-near the â€œnon nuclearâ€ Ramapo seismic fault line which is more than capable of reducing much of it to rubble. Twice nowâ€”in Ohio and Virginiaâ€”earthquakes have done significant damage to American reactors. With 20 million people close downwind and trillions of dollars worth of dense-packed property, a Fukushima-scale hit at Indian Point would easily qualify as an Apocalyptic event.
But its owners would not be financially liable beyond the sliver of cash theyâ€™ve contributed to the $12-odd billion federal fund meant to cover such events. Likely damage to health and property would soar into the trillions, but this is none of Entergyâ€™s concern. Small wonder the company has no real incentive to spend on safety, especially when a captured regulatory agency lets it do pretty much whatever it wants.
Shut It Down!
Aside from the magnitude of its kill zone, Indian Point is unique in its level of opposition. Andrew Cuomo, governor of the nationâ€™s fourth-most populous state (behind California, Texas and Florida), has beenÂ demanding its closureÂ for years.Â New York and numerous downwind cities, towns and counties have gone to court on issues ranging from water quality to evacuation to earthquake dangers and more.
Even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) concedes that Indian Pointâ€”among other reactorsâ€”has been out of compliance on simple fire protection standards for years. To â€œcureâ€ the problem, the NRCâ€”which depends financially on the industry itâ€™s meant to regulateâ€”has simply issued waivers allowing Indian Point to operate without meeting established fire safety standards.
Unique (so far) among American reactors, Indian Point Unit Two doesnâ€™t even have a license to operate.
But Unit Threeâ€™s is about to expire, with no hint the NRC might actually shut either. So if Americaâ€™s atomic reactors are now allowed to operate without actual licenses, and with known safety violations, whatâ€™s the point of any regulation at all?
Meanwhile the paltry power generated by these antiquated clunkers can be gotten far more reliably, cheaply, cleanly and safely fromÂ renewable sourcesÂ and increased efficiency. But since that doesnâ€™t fit Entergyâ€™s peculiar bottom line, and since its parent industry still has sufficient political pull to keep going, we all remain at risk.
So in an industry where technical information is closely held, we canâ€™t fully evaluate the threat imposed by this latest malfeasance. The only thing certain is that it will happen again.
This newest fire at Indian Point should remind us that we are all hostage to an industry that operates in open defiance of the laws of the public, the economy and basic physics.
Sooner or later all three will demand their due. We can passively hope our planet and our species will survive the consequences.
Or we can redouble our efforts to make sure all these reactors are shut before such a reckoning dumps us into the abyss.Î¦
Harvey Wasserman speaks and writes widely on energy, the environment, history, election protection and politics. He teaches history and cultural & ethnic diversity at two central Ohio colleges. Harvey works for the permanent shutdown of the nuclear power industry and the birth of Solartopia, a democratic and socially just green-powered Earth free of all fossil and nuclear fuels. He writes regularly for a wide internet readership throughÂ Ecowatch,Â solartopia.org,Â freepress.orgÂ and nukefree.org, which he edits. He hosts the Solartopia Green Power & Wellness Show atÂ www.prn.fm.