I just read another antinuclear rant published by Harvey Wasserman titled America’s Eggshell Nukes. It is not an opinion piece, but a series of lies that uses inflammatory language to cause unwarranted fear of an important energy source. The headline itself is an obvious lie to anyone who has ever seen the details of a nuclear power plant containment building – there are few human built structures on earth that are less like an “eggshell” than a 3-4 foot thick reinforced concrete building with rebar that is about the same diameter as a man’s forearm.
Harvey points to a recent determination from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission that found that Westinghouse had violated its recently adopted aircraft impact rule (10 CFR 50.150) by not including a “realistic” analysis of the ability of the AP1000 design to withstand a purposeful attack by a commercial aircraft against the plant.
According to Wasserman, that finding amounts to one more item of proof indicating that nuclear plants are an “accident in progress”. By that definition, every industrial facility in the United States, every tall office building and every sports stadium are “accidents in progress” because they cannot prove, using “realistic analysis”, that they can withstand a direct impact from a commercial airliner.
By way of buttressing his argument, Wasserman includes an appeal to authority.
“In 2003, my colleagues and I reported that the drainage of a spent fuel pool by a jet crash could lead to a catastrophic spent fuel radiation fire that could render a 27,000 sq mile area uninhabitable. This is larger than the combined states of Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey,” says reactor expert Robert Alvarez, Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and former Senior Policy Advisor to the US Secretary of Energy, 1993-7.
“A year later the National Academy panel, convened to address our study, warned that reactor ponds were vulnerable to terrorist attack and catastrophic radiological fire,” Alvarez continues. “In particular, there are 35 Boiling Water Reactors in the U.S. that have elevated spent fuel pools several stories above ground. The pools are not protected by thick concrete containment as are the reactors. They currently hold about four times the amount of highly radioactive spent fuel than their original designs.”
The information that Mr. Wasserman provided about his authority did not look quite right to me. The dates of service cited for Mr. Alvarez seemed a little bit off. I started working in the DC area in the summer of 1999 and began subscribing to the Washington Post. I had a dim memory of a well publicized incident soon after my arrival that involved a “senior policy advisor to the Secretary of Energy” named Alvarez and his wife, an antinuclear activist attorney who had been involved in the Karen Silkwood case. (I have been actively engaged in sharing information about the expanded use of nuclear energy since the early 1990s, so I pay attention to that kind of news.)
I could not remember any additional details from the articles I read so I turned to the Washington Post archives and found links to the stories that I dimly recalled reading. I also did some standard searching around the web to find if there were any versions of the story that might be more readily available. If you visit NucNews US 9/05/99 and search for Alvarez, you will find the initial article about his arrest and the reasons why his employer lost faith in his judgement, ability to tell the truth and ability to adhere the laws he was sworn to obey as an employee of the US Government.
You may very well see additional articles where the author attempts to discredit the ability and judgement of entire bodies of science and engineering (reactor containment buildings are built to strict American Society of Mechanical Engineering codes) based on quotations from a “Senior Scholar” whose bio does not list any academic credentials and who proudly claims to have once served as a “senior policy advisor to the secretary of energy.”
I hope that you will think carefully about basic honesty of a man who was fired from his appointed position as a high level federal government official after being arrested and charged with some fairly major intentional violations of federal laws. I also hope you can tell the difference between actual credentials and some that only sound impressive to people who have no understanding of technical details. I expect you will be able to make a well-informed judgement of which side of the discussion is worth reading and believing.
Update: Posted at 0618 on November 16, 2010)
In a somewhat tangentially related bit of news, I was encouraged to learn that the minister of a church in Port Hope where Dr. Helen Calicott was scheduled to talk had cancelled the talk, stating the following:
Her language is unacceptable, Tandy and the church’s two wardens said in rejecting Caldicott, who will now appear at a larger venue in Oshawa.
“This is not the mutually respectful language of an educational and informative talk,” Tandy said. “It is the inflammatory and uncompromising language of pressure politics.”
Canada’s nuclear safety commission called Caldicott’s claims “unacceptable fear-mongering.”
More than 40 scientific studies show “Port Hope residents are as healthy as the rest of the Canadian population,” argued CNSC president Michael Binder. Caldicott’s allegations of medical corruption are “simply outrageous,” he said in a letter to the media.
It is nice to know there are other people in influential positions who have decided that it is time to stop allowing the dangerous words of people who lie about nuclear energy to remain unchallenged.