From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <>
Subject: Re: [UnplugSalem] External Costs - New Study -- Our Collective Nuclear Nightmare
Hi all:

Thanks for the excellent comments on the hidden costs of nuclear power (shown below); I've added some additional thoughts here.

Even if we could get an accurate handle on all the costs so far, the total amount of many future costs is impossible to know -- even assuming there are no major accidents, an assumption only a fool (or a vested interest) would make.

Spent nuclear fuel (aka "High Level Radioactive Waste") disposal costs are small fractions of what it really will cost society to protect itself from this waste over the next million years or so. Or even over the next 100 years.  Low-level radioactive waste is also disposed of far more cheaply than it should be -- regulations are dangerously lax, despite some inroads.  For example, a couple of years ago the pump disposal costs at Hanford went from "negligible" to over a million dollars per pump -- so they designed some new pumps which got about a ten-fold better life expectancy.  They could have done that 50 years ago, but since pump disposal costs were next to nothing, it was cheaper to simply replace pumps every couple of thousand hours of operation.  These pumps will be required to mix radioactive sludge -- to keep it from settling into explosive configurations -- for thousands of years, the sludge having already been created.  But in designing new pumps, they only stepped up pump technology a little, and didn't incorporate any of the wondrous new mechanisms that have been invented in the last 20 years or so, which would have required a much greater research and development investment.  The mathematical projections of the costs and benefits only covered a tiny fraction of the real costs, and only projected out about 30 years -- and of course, they didn't account at all for the benefit to society a more advanced design would have yielded, despite the higher initial development costs.

This sort of disposal method is rampant in the nuclear industry, with most "slightly" irradiated pumps and other material being essentially thrown away as if it was just so much harmless industrial debris. It isn't.

The typical modern reactor is so under-funded that they can't afford to upgrade their current pumps prior to failure -- or replace old lifting straps, or shut the reactor down to do risky maintenance procedures (they are done while the plant is running whenever possible instead, or deferred until something shuts the plant down anyway).

A lifting strap (one of four being used at the time) snapped at San Onofre last summer (2001) and they dropped an 80,000 lb crane (a rental unit), which fell about 50 feet from a gantry that was moving it.  They had improperly failed to use a "spreader bar".  Employees were later told the cost of replacing straps, hooks, etc., and the additional training they were all required to receive, was about 10 times the cost of the crane that fell.  No one was injured, so this entire incident was not reportable to Cal-OSHA, OSHA, or even to the NRC, despite each of these agencies claiming that crane safety at industrial sites is determined by historic behavior (among other factors, which they also largely ignore).

Also valves go uncleaned, unchecked, and unreplaced, as do electrical switches.  One big electrical switch blew out at San Onofre last year (probably due to generic/endemic old-age problems (aka "embrittlement")) causing a fire which damaged multiple safety/lubrication systems, which caused the turbine to come to a screeching stop, and bent it out of alignment, causing a four-month shutdown of that reactor. There are about 130 electrical switches similar to the one which exploded at the plant, and they aren't replacing any of them.

A transformer blew out in the switchyard of San Onofre last year, throwing glass shards onto a local state beach access road, a rail line, and the nearby busy Interstate.  Luckily, no one was hurt.  Just last month, another explosion in the switchyard occurred, this time caused by maintenance workers who evidently didn't know how to properly work on live equipment, and this explosion caused the same reactor (San Onofre Unit III) to trip, which caused the reactor to release: "a large plume of nonradioactive white steam for several hours ...  though there was no danger to workers or the public."  At least that's what the local paper claims (NC Times, 2/28/02), quoting -- who else? -- the plant spokesperson, a repeated-offense liar named Ray Golden.

All of these incidents occurred in less than two years at just one nuclear facility.  Multiply that by the approximately 70 commercial nuclear installations (over 100 reactors) and you can get an idea of the magnitude of the real problem.  The NRC does nothing to protect the public, and the industry does everything it can to cut costs, even at the risk of public safety.  No other conclusion can possibly be drawn by anyone who makes the least effort to investigate the situation for themselves.  Nuclear power plants are virtually unregulated, and are wearing themselves down at a terrific rate.  Davis-Besse dripped acid which ate through six inches of steel before being noticed last week.  It was only dumb luck that it was caught before the exposed portion of the 1/2-inch thick inner liner became too large to hold back the 2500-PSI pressure on the other side (normally the entire 6 and 1/2 inches is there to hold back the pressure).  These plants were sold to America as technological marvels, but in fact, it's only dumb luck which has protected us so far, and dumb luck always runs out sooner or later.

Are you scared yet?  Don't worry, there are backup systems, you might think -- but don't be so sure:

Last summer, Monticello's primary containment vessel was found to have been unavailable, if ever needed, for the entire 30-year history of the plant, due to 32 shipping bolts being left on 8 bellows when the units were installed when the plant was built.

Recently, a majority of Indian Point's tested operators were found to be largely incapable of successfully handling conceived, planned-for emergency situations (let alone the unexpected).

Then there are design problems.  For example, all GE Mark 1 BWRs have their spent fuel stored dangerously above the reactors themselves, a design that can -- at best -- be described as suicidal.  Emergency Core Cooling Systems have never been properly tested.  Ice Houses have a few minutes' worth of ice in them, if that.  These systems probably won't be worth spit if ever called upon to save the reactor.

Nor do nuclear facilities have the money to computerize their equipment, or to do much of anything else, like put up massive arrays of barrage balloons around the plants, to protect them from airplane strikes, not to mention adding large earthen berms around the entire plants, which also can make an air attack much more difficult, especially if used in addition to barrage balloons.  Earth berms also protect against attacks by rocket-propelled grenades and many other possible scenarios.  Also, undersea netting needs to be installed to protect against submarines and scuba diver assaults.  None -- NONE -- of this is being done at the present time.  Instead, the plants continue to churn out as many megawatts as the NRC will allow.  Many plants have had their power ratings increased in the last few years, meaning they run at higher temperatures and pressures and are thus more susceptible to every possible accident scenario than if they are run cooler and at a lower pressure, or -- best of all, of course -- not run at all.

And no one is reporting these problems to the public, or to anyone else -- least of all to inquiring Senators, Congresspersons, and Presidents.  The NRC is made up almost entirely of former plant workers, and of course, nearly every commercial nuclear engineer in America came up through the nuclear navy.  It's a father-son, in-crowd, you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours, buddy-system kind of thing.

And then there's the issue of security.  The cost of that should have gone up way, way higher than it did as a result of 9-11.  Instead, thanks to the NRC's new "guidelines", the industry made a few relatively small enhancements, but they didn't solve the problem of how to protect spent fuel pools, dry storage casks, the reactors themselves, and the transportation system from sabotage, internal or external.  They didn't even come close.

Despite all this, mysteriously, the reactors all seem to have the ability to pay their shareholders dividends and their CEOs and top management, but after that, they are strapped for cash.  The NRC is sympathetic to their "plight" and never requires them to replace anything prior to failure.

The general assumption by the nuclear industry, its backers in government, and the occasional misled civilian (who thinks we need to get to the stars before they burn out, or thinks that we'll "freeze in the dark" if we turn the nukes off, or has some other gross misconception), is that all the costs to society of our collective nuclear nightmare will cease as soon as we get the spent fuel waste to Yucca Mountain.  That's a false assumption.  Nuclear waste storage systems need to be monitored with robotic cameras, trace element detectors, and so forth, to detect, as early as possible, internal disintegration of the containment system into an intolerable, unworkable, ugly mess.  But Yucca Mountain is supposed to be filled up with the nation's current half-century burden of high-level nuclear spent fuel waste, and then sealed up and ignored, whilst we immediately begin creating more piles of new nuclear waste, which will, again, have to go somewhere. Also, the more concentrated the eventual pile of waste is, the greater the danger to the public should that pile ever become exposed, by any method.  The current proposal for Yucca Mountain calls for way too tight a packing of the waste, and then just a relatively few external radiation monitors will be set up, in order to learn, after the fact, that there's been a severe problem inside which is causing a breach of the containment system.  It's like monitoring a dam from somewhere downstream.  By the time the problem's reached that stage, there's not much you're going to be able to do most of the time (besides run like hell).

Drive Nuclear Waste Into Nevada, Go To Jail:

In addition, Yucca Mountain will almost surely never open anyway, because Nevadans simply won't let it -- anybody who's ever been to Nevada and heard the people and the elected officials talk there, knows that.  They aren't so easily duped as their parents and grandparents were, who let Nevada become the nuclear weapons testing capital of the U.S.A..  This time they are going to put up a fight, from the mayor of Las Vegas, where most of the waste will have to pass, to the governor and both Senators, to surviving members of the smallest Indian Nation upon, or near, whose land Yucca Mountain will sit or the routes to it will cross.  They have all vowed not to allow Yucca Mountain to come to their neighborhood.  "Just try it", beckons Las Vegas's feisty mayor, Oscar Goodman, as he flips out his badge and pledges that whosoever drives a truck full of nuclear waste into his town is going to jail and not coming out.  A former prosecutor, an attorney, and now his city's highest ranking policeman, as its mayor -- he knows what he's talking about, he knows what he's willing to do, and he means what he says.

But if you leave the spent fuel at the plant sites, then you have to store it either in spent fuel pools, which are vulnerable to terrorism and also operational accidents, or you can, after five years or so, put the fuel assemblies into dry casks, where they are even more vulnerable to some types of terrorism, and perhaps a little less vulnerable to other types, but overall, pose a much greater danger to the public because if a dry cask storage unit does catch fire, what are you going to do about it?  You can't pour water on it because the water, upon hitting the heated alloys, would crack them, releasing even more heat and radiation!  You probably couldn't (or wouldn't) get close enough to throw water on it anyway, but what else are you going to do?  Just let it burn?  And then burn the cask next to it, because current dry cask storage systems don't even have earthen berms between each cask -- they are physically so close to each other that they look like -- and can no doubt act like -- dominos.

Today's nuclear monstrosities are paying small fractions of a penny on the dollar for research into tomorrow's nuclear waste storage problems.  Nor are they funding research into new nuclear power plants.  If there is to be a new generation of nuclear reactors (so-called Pebble-Bed reactors), who's going to pay for that research?  Your tax dollars.  And who's going to pay for the accidents?  You will, because there ARE going to be accidents if new reactors are built (or the old ones aren't closed).  Furthermore, Pebble-Bed reactors are exceptionally vulnerable to terrorism, since they won't have containment domes.  Also, their alloys are susceptible to embrittlement and fracture, and the entire fuel cycle, like today's, will be vulnerable to acts of war, terrorism, God, or man's own stupidity.

Facing a fair accounting would bankrupt the nuclear industry, so when someone tries to tell the public that nuclear power has been, or ever will be, cheap, efficient, affordable, safe, democratically chosen, or useful to society in any way, don't believe them!

Russell Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Below: Letters from Frieda Berryhill and Marvin E. Lewis; article sent to me by Richard Wilcox


At 06:09 AM 3/15/02 , Frieda Berryhill wrote:

Don't forget also, these plants were built under a provision called
"construction work in progress" which means that the cost of construction
was billed to the consumer and not borne by the Company (stockholders). I
learned this when I was an interveenor in the rate case. This applied also
to bad investments in the half-finished cancelled plants. No loss to the
company. Another government "blessing" to encourage construction.

Frieda Berryhill


At 02:09 PM 3/14/02 , Marvin E. Lewis wrote:


        Even more than the consideration of where these per energy costs
may come from, there is a lot of Enron anderson type accounting in the
nuclear industry. Price Anderson is an excellent example. When insurance
for the nuclear industry could not be gotten at any cost, the US govt
steeped in and got it with a govt subsidy.  Cost : Priceless.

        All thru the nuclear industry costs are up for grabs. The TVA
signed a sweetheart deal with the separative work Unit extraction
facility that allowed the buyer to take during very expensive times. I
think it was Portsmouth and they were allowed to take at low rates during
afternoon which is expensive power due to demand. Al Bates and Jeanine
Hoenicker were involved in some of this litigation.

        The NRC dropped costs of certain plants ad lib. I think that
Shoreham, TMI 2 and maybe Sundesert? were taken off several cost data
bases with whatever justification. DoE supports nuclear research and
those costs do not always or sometimes appear in a nuclear power

        Two other engineers and I tried to fathom the cost of nuclear
power long ago. The assumptions were so rife and the mixing of nuclear
power and bomb research so intertwined that it was impossible.

        Here is an easy one to understand. The separative work units to
separate U 238 and U 235 depend on several variables. One of the most
costly variables is the %U235 at the end. NPPs were supplied several
different %ages U235 at the time. We could not get a specific answer as
to how many got what percent.

        The uranium concentation in the ore goes from 11% (Port hope) to
as low as 1:50,000(supposedly still commercial.) How much of any
concentration was not to be had.

        DoE put out a study by someone named Brown. It estimated research
at much more than DoE had stated. Like a factor of 5 or more.

        I am sorry to be so obtuse , but this was decades ago, and it is
outdated anyway.

Unplug Salem Campaign; Coalition for Peace and Justice;
321 Barr Ave; Linwood NJ 08221


Here's an item about "floating Chernobyls":


Date: Sat, 16 Mar 2002 08:15:22 +0900
Subject: Critics Blast Russian Reactor Plan
From: Richard Wilcox <>
To: "Russell D. Hoffman" <>
Critics Blast Russian Reactor Plan
By Mara D. Bellaby
Associated Press Writer
Thursday, March 14, 2002; 7:27 PM

MOSCOW Russia's plan to build a floating nuclear power plant in the White
Sea is dangerous and too risky, leading Russian environmentalists said
Thursday, urging neighboring countries to object.

The Atomic Energy Ministry has said the first-of-a-kind plant would be set
afloat in the White Sea and used to provide energy to the Arkhangelsk
region, some 600 miles north of Moscow. Previous plans also called for a
floating nuclear plant in the Chukotka region and off the Kamchatka
peninsula in Russia's Far East.

"It would be unforgivable to proceed with these plans," said Alexei
Yablokov, an environmental scientist who heads the Russian Center for
Ecological Politics. Yablokov spoke at a press briefing about the release of
a new study on floating nuclear plants that calls them "a menace to the
world's oceans."

Russia has long been interested in using such plants to supply electricity
to remote northern and eastern regions where severe weather makes
construction on land difficult and expensive. But despite often-announced
plans that the project had the green light, environmentalists said the
floating plants have still not received backing from the highest levels of
the Russian government or a proper license.

"It is still not too late to stop this," said Vladimir Kuznetsov, director
of nuclear and radiation security programs for the Russian Green Cross, an
environmental advocacy program.

The environmentalists said the government must have an open and public
discussion about the proposed project, including its benefits and dangers.
The experts questioned whether the plant could be adequately secured,
particularly against terrorist attacks.

Kuznetsov noted that the proposed plants would have two nuclear reactors
containing enough material to build 10 atomic bombs. Critics have also
expressed concern about Russia's ability to safely build and manage a
floating nuclear power plant.

Russia's nuclear reactors were designed in the Soviet era and many are in
need of repair, prompting frequent minor malfunctions. The Soviet Union was
the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1986 at Chernobyl in

"It is better that we don't even head down this path," Yablokov said.

The environmentalists said nations that share international waters with
Russia, such as the United States, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Finland and
Sweden, should take the lead in condemning the proposed plants.
2002 The Associated Press


Think nuclear war is the answer to terrorism?  Think again: