Opinion

Will there be a nuclear meltdown in your backyard?

Photo of Chet Nagle
Chet Nagle
Former CIA Agent
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      Chet Nagle

      Naval Academy graduate and Cold War carrier pilot, Chet Nagle flew in the Cuban Missile Crisis. After a stint as a navy research officer, he joined International Security Affairs as a Pentagon civilian -- then came defense and intelligence work, life abroad for 12 years as an agent for the CIA, and extensive time in Iran, Oman, and many other countries. Along the way, he graduated from the Georgetown University Law School and was the founding publisher of a geo-political magazine, The Journal of Defense & Diplomacy, read in over 20 countries and with a circulation of 26,000. At the end of his work in the Middle East, he was awarded the Order of Oman in that allied nation’s victory over communist Yemen; now, he writes and consults. He and his wife Dorothy live in Virginia.

Libya has replaced Japan in mainstream media reports. But while the new crusaders from Europe and America bomb and strafe Libyans who they think deserve to die, we should remember that other tragedy in Japan. Why? Because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) says the GE-designed reactors in Fukushima have 23 sisters in the United States. What happened in Japan could happen here.

The NRC database of nuclear power plants shows that 23 of the 104 nuclear power plants operating in the United States are very similar to those involved in the Japanese crisis. And many of those boiling-water reactors have GE’s early Mark I system for containing radioactivity, the same containment system that was used in Japan’s Fukushima plant.

The older Mark I reactors are in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Vermont. Twelve newer reactors have the Mark II or Mark III containment systems. Those 12 plants are in Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington State.

Before you start packing your bags, remember that besides a few small leaks and a few corroded pipes, the safety and performance of all these old plants is excellent. So what could go wrong? How about a major earthquake? And how about a tsunami?

Obviously, living near the Comanche Peak reactor in Central Texas is a far cry from being one of the 7.5 million Americans living within 50 miles of Southern California’s San Onofre reactor (pictured below).

San Onofre is located on a Pacific Ocean beach that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says is in “a high seismic hazard area.” That means it is in one of the most seismically active parts of the country. Also, some 200 miles up the coast from San Onofre is the aptly named Diablo Canyon reactor, which sits atop four major seismic fault lines, including the huge San Andreas Fault.

In 1927, a 7.1 magnitude quake occurred a few miles from Diablo Canyon, so the reactor was designed to withstand a 7.5 magnitude quake. The San Onofre plant, right on the beach, was built to take a 7.0 magnitude quake. Neither reactor would be safe in a quake as big as the 7.8 magnitude one that leveled San Francisco in 1906.

Below is an earthquake hazard map of the lower 48 states produced by the U.S. Geological Survey. On the map you can see the historic data the USGS assembled to show the areas with the greatest earthquake risks.

Of course, the map does not tell us when a quake will happen, so scientists look at the records for clues about when the next big one will strike. The director of the Southern California Earthquake Center, Thomas Jordan, says that the San Andreas Fault is “locked and loaded. It’s been a long time since an earthquake has occurred on that fault — over 150 years.” In 1857, the San Andreas Fault produced a 7.9 magnitude quake.

So before you buy that dream house on the Southern California coast, think about what is happening at Japan’s Fukushima power plant. Then call your congressman and ask him about the reactor in your backyard.

Chet Nagle is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the author of Iran Covenant.

  • 2old4this

    Perhaps we are too late to close some and build others. But we are not too late to manage what we have with close supervision of the surprise visit kind. We must oversee our plants with the same detailed, by the books, dedication as adhered to by our sailors and officers in our nuclear navy.

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  • lamecherry

    This article is a fallacy of facts. It is like wearing too tight of underwear will kill you.

    For the facts, no one died from radiation in Japan nor from Three Mile Island. The fact is the radiation released in reported on Drudge in spinach and milk, one would have to eat 720 pounds of spinach, and in milk you would have to drink 94 gallons to just receive the amount of one CAT scan in a years time.

    Nuclear power is not the story in Japan, unless you are an Obama keep America addicted to foreign oil and high priced worthless green cars. The real story is the deaths from the earthquake and tidal wave.

    I do not like nuclear power, especially in earthquake zones, That stated, it is a testimony to GE in their power plants in these plants in Japan took a 9.0 earthquake, numerous massive aftershocks, a tidal wave and Obama dithering, and they are still standing and not killing millions of people.
    The reality is IT WAS THE COOLING POOLS with spent rods which caused the problem, and when they used seawater which is corrosive, to cool the plants, that these plants were history and would be cemented in concrete.

    These are not Chernobyl nor Hiroshima events. They are simply a fact of nuclear technology that it is expensive and time consuming to deal with.

    I have always offered that water wheel stations based on gravity or the pendulum system is what should be constructed for power, as the industry knows this, but is tied into Warren Buffett trains and coal in America.
    Sarah Palin as President should harness the entire Rockies of America, Canada and Alaska in hydro power, with super conductor transfers in new graduated dams to increase power seven fold to supply American energy needs.

    Those are the should be. What is though is Obama is not constructing any power plants in America in coal or nuclear. America needs power, but America does not need more hysteria about GE nuclear reactors which Japan proved can take anything but a city size meteor hammering them.

    It is obvious nuclear power should not be constructed on fault lines, not because it is a grave threat, but because of the cost in handling these events as things break as the worst times, and America is running up Obama debt too massive to fix things.

    So do not lose any sleep over nuclear power in your area. No one died in America or Japan. Chernobyl studies have shown after their stupidity in building cheap Soviet reactors, that not even the wildlife there is suffering long term effects from that event.

    There is far too much propaganda about this by people who do not comprehend the nuclear power plant workings. The Japanese plants are broken. No one is going to die. They will handle the situation, pour some concrete and the world will move on.

    KISS, Keep It Simple Stupid: Hot nuke rods, make steam, which runs electrical turbines. Disrupt that, and hot rods can burn through stainless steel metal and into the ground, where the earth cools them off instead of water.

    For the fact, you have more of a change of Obama trying to have the BATF shoot you like at Hutatree set ups than you ever have of dying or getting sick from nuclear power….even if you live in Japan next to this plant.

    The hysteria needs to stop. Ask a real expert not paid by George Soros. Ask Jay Lehr of the Heartland Institute. Look it up children and stop being a dog on a leash.

  • johno413

    It isn’t clear how strong the earthquake was right at the Diachi plant in Japan, but the fact is the plant survived whatever quake exposure to which it was subjected. Only the tsunami caused irreparable damage to vital systems, primary of which was the backup diesel generator so power could be maintained to pump water and prevent the events that followed.

    Granted, older plants in this country were not designed for the most powerful earthquakes imaginable. This neither guarantees that they cannot withstand greater than designed events or that there is immediate danger. At the very minimum, the tragedy in Japan is a warning to plant operators, the federal regulator (NRC), and the local citizens that risks must be revisited very thoroughly. To date, nuclear has been very safe for the U.S. under all conditions, including an early melt down in 1979 before safety systems were beefed up (Three Mile Island).

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