Nuclear Power Special

Hosted byJohn B. Wells

Nuclear Power Special

About the show

John B. Wells was joined by four nuclear experts for a discussion on the real dangers of the Fukushima disaster, how nuclear power plants are being compromised, and the likelihood of a Fukushima-type incident in the U.S.

First hour guest, former nuclear power industry executive Arnie Gundersen, revealed that Fukushima has 7-8 years of nuclear toxic waste stored in spent fuel pools. "There is more waste in the pools at Fukushima Daiichi than in all of the nuclear weapons that have ever been exploded above ground," he said. Even more frightening, in the U.S. such pools contain about 700 nuclear bombs worth of radioactive material and depend on uninterrupted cooling to avoid becoming volatile, Gundersen added. He cited the recent story of rats chewing on wires and knocking out the spent fuel pool at three Daiichi reactors to show how vulnerable nuclear plants are to disaster. One of the biggest threats to nuclear power plants is seismic activity. If an earthquake disrupted operations at the Indian Point plant, for instance, all of New York City would need to be evacuated, Gundersen warned.

In the second hour, author Kristen Iversen shared her experiences growing up in the shadow of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production facility in Colorado. The plant produced more than 70,000 plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs, she said, adding that each trigger contains enough breathable particles of plutonium to kill every person on the planet. Iversen eventually went to work at the facility and was stunned to discover that she was working in the vicinity of 14 tons of plutonium. "There was extensive radioactive and toxic contamination on-site and off-site," she recalled, noting that 1300 acres of the site are so profoundly contaminated they can never be open to the public. In 1989 the plant was raided by the FBI and EPA and sometime later was made to stop producing plutonium triggers, but there were already negative health effects on the local population, Iversen explained.

Steven Starr, an expert on nuclear proliferation and climate change risks associated with nuclear war, appeared in the third hour. According to Starr, the leaders of the nuclear weapons states simply do not understand the environmental consequences of using them. Peer reviewed studies show that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, for example, would cause catastrophic disruptions in the climate and lead to global nuclear famine, he explained, predicting that up to a billion people could die from starvation. "Within an hour we could basically destroy civilization and create enough long-term environmental damage to probably make it impossible for most people to survive on the planet," he added. Starr suggested that commercial power plants are radiologic time bombs that pose the same threat as nuclear war, noting that a piece of cessium-137 half the size of a dime converted to aerosol and spread over a square mile is as radioactive as the exclusion zone around Chernobyl.

In the final hour, nuclear energy expert Scott Portzline spoke about the difficulty he has encountered speaking out against the nuclear power industry and just how vulnerable plants are to cyber attacks. The recent infiltration of the computer systems at Diablo Canyon nuclear plant by Chinese hackers highlights the need for additional security measures, he said, pointing out that the cyber invaders could have potentially disrupted the cooling system leading to the release of radioactive material. Portzline himself has used social engineering techniques to show how easy it is to introduce foreign software onto Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) computers. "There should be no one introducing software, especially, onto any NRC laptops," he added. Portzline also commented on the Fukushima disaster and how Japan appears to have been more worried over public relations than safety. He estimated as much as 100 million curies of radiation were released into the atmosphere after the accident.

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