US Nuclear Storm Brewing
|US Nuclear Storm Brewing
Mike Griffin, UBC Union Millwright
From The War Zone
WHEN THE CATASTROPHE in Japan turned its focus from the massive deaths caused by the Tsunami to the damaged nuclear reactors, everyone began a massive cover-up, including the owners of the Japanese power plants and the government in Japan as well.
Efforts to regain control of run-away reactors had decidedly one aim. That aim was to save the investment of the owners and salvage a lucrative cash cow for the elite business men backed by the extremely corporate friendly Japanese government with little or no regard for the affected public. That is bolstered by the facts that the public was consistently lied to by the owners and the government and the government’s refusal to evacuate a much wider area even though it would have saved many more lives and future hardships by those exposed to excessive radiation. If that response sounds familiar; it is. It is a mirror image of owner and government response at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.
As the nuclear event unfolded in Japan, US nuclear industry lobbyists literally pounced on Washington DC to make sure it would remain “business as usual” in the United States. Their biggest fear is the loss ofAmerica’s faith in and political support of nuclear power. Where is the representation for the people of America? The solemn truth is that there is none. It’s about money, corporate power and control and both sides of the aisle are committed to maintaining business as usual.
Within days, President Obama in the ultimate act of “street theatre” assured a concerned nation that our industry would undergo a comprehensive evaluation. That will not happen! A commission will be formed made up of industry insiders, Obama’s elite powerbroker allies and business friendly Nuclear Regulatory Commission [NRC] hacks and the dog and pony show will begin. In this endeavor, Obama will finally get wide-spread bipartisan support.
Under the guise of “downsizing government” during every Republican administration since Ronald Regan, every federal agency charged with regulating industry, protecting workers and the public and our environment have been stripped of funding. It was a cleverly designed and successful scheme to make those agencies ineffective.
Looking at a campaign fund expecting to exceed a billion dollars for Obama in the next presidential election, Obama is not about to throw a turd in the Corporate Punch Bowl.
The death toll from the Japanese government’s fraudulent efforts will be substantial. The most sensible action would have been to pump huge amounts of concrete around the damaged reactors and spent fuel pools for shielding, but the genie is out of the bottle. Future birth defects, cancer and radiation related diseases, will haunt ordinary working people for decades. This event is a mirror to our future unless real change is made.
It is noteworthy that workers battling to regain control of the damaged nuclear reactors do not include Corporate Executives from the owners or ranking members of the Japanese government. In Japan, archaic culture requires ordinary working people to fall on their swords and sacrifice their lives for the good of the corporation; a system the corporate elite in America are getting dangerously close to achieving.
In the past five years American industry leaders have submitted a number of requests for licenses for additional nuclear plants and additions to existing plants. Events in Japan has sparked fears in the American public, shaken public confidence in the industry and exposed the reality that nuclear disaster is incredibly difficult to control. Given the culture of good old American Corporate Greed and politically contaminated government oversight, those fears are well founded.
As a union Millwright, I worked in the nuclear industry for more than 12 years. Changes in the industry are troubling. Re-fuelling and repair shutdowns, referred to as outages, have been reduced from 7 to 8 months 20 years ago to as little as 11 days a year ago when I retired. Repairs 20 years ago were comprehensive, required a lot of skilled manpower and kept the nuclear fleet in top shape. Now it’s a race to get back online in the time the fuel exchange takes and get the profits rolling in. Often, scheduled work gets canceled. Common sense dictates that you cannot get 8 months of repairs in 11 days and it makes sense that an aging fleet designed for 40 years of service is becoming more vulnerable to failure ; possibly catastrophic failure.
Most US plants were built in the sixties and early seventies and are well beyond life expectancy. Long-term radiation exposure deteriorates metal reinforcing and reactor components. At an Ohio plant, a reactor head which covers the vessel containing the fuel rods was found to have a huge crack.
The race to limit downtime during outages and cut labor costs is a major problem. Our nuclear fleet has become a cash cow for the greedy and devious. The demand for excessive profits is putting the welfare of the public at risk in spite of the fact that nuclear power is extremely profitable. On a chart at one nuclear plant, costs to produce a kilowatt hour of electricity were listed as follows. Natural gas-85 cents, fuel oil-35 cents, coal-18 cents, and nuclear power- 4 cents per kilowatt hour.
In the last decade, the power generation industry allegedly morphed into two separate entities; producers and distributors. In many cases, production and distribution is owned by the same corporation through the creation of “Holding” companies or “Limited Liability Company” [LLC]. What those terms really boil down to is; they rake in the profits and the ratepayers and tax payers absorb the costs. All across America, smaller regional utilities have been gobbled up into mega- corporations who now control the markets and have the power to operate any way they choose.
One such holding company, Exelon, operates 10 nuclear power plants including the Clinton Nuclear Power Station in central Illinois. The youngest plant in the fleet, Clinton Nuclear Power Station, was built by Illinois Power Company for a cost to ratepayers of several billion dollars. When Exelon was formed, with Commonwealth Edison a major player, Clinton was purchased for a mere 22 million. The property and lake alone is worth many times that amount but somehow the rate-payers, who absorbed billions in construction costs, never saw a penny.
When this aging fleet has to be dismantled the costs will be astronomical and guess who will be footing the bill? I’m betting it will be no different than the Love Canal or the subsidence created by the mining industry that walked away with all the profits and none of the costs for the damage. We taxpayers won’t be singing “ All praises to the LLC”.
In southern California, during the man-made rolling blackouts in 2000 and 2001 hundreds of millions were owed to rate and tax payers by Southern California Edison [SCE] and Pacific Gas and Electric [PG&E]. In spite of cost of the blackouts, 40 to 45 billion, then Governor Grey Davis wiped the slate clean and put the fox in the henhouse by appointing the CEO of Southern California Edison to the Public Utility Board which is supposed to protect consumers from the industry.
Energy companies, mainly the infamous ENRON, manipulated the markets and created shortages that drove energy costs up 400 percent. They took power plants off line and by creating shortages, drove up the prices. This was possible by a partial deregulation created by Grey’s predecessor, Governor Pete Wilson. Because of caps on prices PG&E went bankrupt and Southern California Edison nearly did. Grey Davis bailed them out with taxpayer money. Obviously, we cannot trust the industry to operate honestly, safely, or transparently. SCE operates the San Onofre Nuclear Power Station and PG&E operates Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Station.
The nuclear power industry has been quick to use the Homeland Security Act, the NRC, and its political clout to avoid transparency and keep the media at bay on events that happen in the nuclear plants. At every outage during initial access training, it is stressed to every contractor and in-house employee that any statements to the press will come from their Public Information Officer. Failure to comply will mean immediate termination and you can be banned from working at any nuclear facility.
Security is another issue that should concern government oversight. In simulated assaults on nuclear facilities, forces were able on several occasions to gain access to nuclear plants. Three years ago, a non-union painting contractor was caught using illegal aliens on his crew at a nuclear facility in Florida. It never made the news and it was never disclosed what penalties were levied. More than likely the contractor received a slap on the wrist but would have meant serious jail time if an ordinary worker had committed the offense.
It was lack of transparency that escalated the risk at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania a few decades ago. The operator lied about conditions in the plant, kept critical information from local, state and federal agencies and failed to implement emergency plans that could have saved tens of thousands of lives had the situation worsened. A large portion of the reactor core melted and was dangerously close to disaster on a scale this country has never seen. No-one was ever held accountable.
In a wise move after recognizing the industry could not be trusted, President Jimmy Carter ordered the placement of NRC Officers in-house at every nuclear power plant. The wisdom of that choice has long since been neutralized by political compromise .That unit is sitting there emitting radiation and will do so for centuries. It should serve as a national reminder that until we can actually control nuclear energy in all its phases and deal with the waste, we should count our blessings and put future nuclear plants on hold.
A number of our plants are located dangerously close to sea level and could be affected by a Tsunami. San Onofre has the Pacific Ocean on one side and the San Andreas Fault on the other. That fault eventually tails out into the ocean and has the ability to create two disasters. Oyster Creek in New Jersey is just a few feet above sea level as are several more. Peach Bottom and Three Mile are just above the water line in the Susquehanna basin in Pennsylvania which has a history of flooding. Our nuclear fleet is not as failsafe as the NRC and industry leaders would like you to believe.
It is not hard to see disaster on the horizon with Republicans and their alter-ego “tea baggers” demanding deregulation in spite of the disastrous results in Southern California. Even more compelling is the cozy relationship between these mega-giants and the White House. It comes as no surprise given the vetting process Obama went through in 2003 when he met with Vernon Jordan and his powerful playmates in corporate lawyer circles. After assurances Obama would not make any major changes in corporate policy they waved their magic wands, ponied up the cash and gave their blessing to his campaign. The same players that made it possible for George Bush to become President, made it possible for Barrack Obama and they both sold the Public’s interests. This is why the Obama administration has been unable to muster the testicle fortitude to stand their ground on any issues that benefit ordinary Americans.
For Obama compromise means join the right wing and give them twice what they are demanding. This double talking clown has a worse rollover record than a 1947 Willeys Jeep. Other than a minority of progressive Democrats and Senator Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, there is no “Government of the People” and public safety will not take precedence over profit.
Obama is the perfect “Trojan Horse”, pretending to be the agent of change. Each time he appears to be standing for issues that benefit ordinary Americans, he flips and gives in to the right wing in the name of compromise. He is the right wing in sheep’s clothing and nothing more than a dishonest shill for the elite who have destroyed real democracy in America.
A good example is the 11.8 million fine given Honeywell Corporation in Metropolis IL by the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA]. Honeywell, a megabuck defense contractor, pled guilty to one “felony” count of illegally storing and releasing radioactive waste into the community. The fine was a mere slap on the wrist to the giant Honeywell Corporation. Honeywell operates an NRC licensed facility that takes raw uranium and makes products that go into the fuel rods for nuclear reactors.
Honeywell CEO David Kote was warned about the violation in 2007 at a town hall meeting by union workers from the plant but responded by cutting the meeting short. The EPA raided the plant in 2009 and found 7500 open drums of illegally stored radioactive sludge. The former safety Director for the plant has testified that some of the waste has seeped into the Ohio River.
In June of 2010, Honeywell locked the union out and brought in untrained scabs to run the plant. No charges were ever filed by the NRC in spite of a felony violation that the CEO had first hand knowledge of.
Honeywell has increased its campaign donations to the Democrats 400% in the last year and Kote accompanied Obama on a tour of Indiana and a trip to India during trade talks.Obama rewarded Kote with a position on the deficit reduction committee. In spite of his criminal behavior, instead of a trip to the “big house”, he has an open door to the Whitehouse.
There are a few brave souls in the Democratic Party that are calling for a hold on nuclear plants but not enough to stop it. Those speaking out will be chastised by the corporate media, demonized by their Republican counterparts, and isolated by fellow Democrats who take the same money and run. The public will be reminded, “this industry provides jobs”. It is that mantra that will be forced down the throats of the American public in spite of the fact that it is Corporate America who betrayed this nation by shipping the majority of our manufacturing jobs out of the country in search of slave labor and the right to pollute at will. In this political climate it is insane to even consider stepping up nuclear power.
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