TrendMonitor: Countdown to Meltdown? How to prevent the unthinkable from happeninggreenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
Countdown to Meltdown? How to Prevent the Unthinkable from Happening
OCT 1999: On Friday 22nd October a full page advertisement appeared in the New York Times under the headline "Y2K and the World's Nuclear Systems: THE DEADLIEST GAMBLE IN HISTORY". Readers of the world's most influential newspaper learned that responsible scientists, politicians and government officials have "credible and alarming concerns about Y2K" but have kept silent "because they fear ridicule and humiliation in the present media climate". At last, many people have come to know of the enormous risks Y2K poses in nuclear safety which until now have been known only to a few dedicated researchers and activists.
The breakthrough was achieved following a September 18 meeting in London attended by leading members of the Japanese World Atomic Safety Holiday (WASH), Dr Helen Caldicott, the famous nuclear safety campaigner, and representatives of concerned UK and US groups to draft a strategy to reduce the risk that Y2K could accidentally cause nuclear meltdowns, explosions and possibly even accidental launch of nuclear missiles.
The meeting, called the London Y2K-Nuclear Citizens' Forum and UK's Y2K Community Action Network, was introduced by Jan Wyllie, an intelligence analyst at Trend Monitor. Mr. Wyllie stated that Trend Monitor's three and half year's systematic research into Y2K suggests that nuclear installations are in grave danger, if potentially unreliable electricity grids fail. The reason is that nuclear plants -- even when they are shut down -- need large amounts of electricity to cool cores that are so hot that they can begin to melt down within 40 minutes of a power cut. The greatest risks are said to be from the PWR (Pressurised Water Reactors) which are the dominant design in the US and France.
The global nuclear industry is probably quite correct when it says that -- barring human error -- any Y2K problems will most likely lead to emergency shut down. But even when they are shut down, PWR (Pressurised Water Reactor) cores need large volumes of water pumped around them for months using electricity, either from the grid or from back-up generators. In the US, the latest figures from the industry regulator, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) suggests than 15 per cent of US generators do not function properly when tested, while US regulations require nuclear power plants to hold only seven days of diesel for back up generators at each plant.
According to Mary Olson at the US Nuclear Information Resources Service, "The problem is that it is not feasible for a reactor of US design to power itself directly without feeding first into the grid. This is because the levels of power, even at the 'low-power' setting are still too high and would effectively 'fry' the on-site cables and equipment."
So, the burning question is: Is the US government gambling the lives of its citizens on blind faith that the electricity grid and fuel transportation systems are certain not to suffer from interruptions of more than seven days?
In the words of Trend Monitor's latest Update:
"After more than three years of constant but fragmented media reporting, most people are still far from realising the reality of the risks that Y2K presents. The real tragedy of this denial is that it is preventing people from taking the required preventative and contingency actions. This process of denial leading to acting too late has been the case all along, first by computer professionals, then by their managers and now by the government and the public. It is the principal reason why risks are now so great."
Other evidence, which was cited from Trend Monitor's latest Intelligence Update, indicates that the Y2K rollover reliability of electricity grids is considerably less certain than the industry would have the public think. Also content analysis suggests the global oil and gas supply industry are under severe threat, too. Y2K related breakdowns are widely expected in the world's major fossil fuel suppliers. Russia, the Middle East, Nigeria and Venezuela are all known to be non-compliant. (For more on this issue, see http://www.trendmonitor.com/y2kad.htm)
One of the most irritating attributes of Y2K is the unquantifiable nature of the risks due to the complex interdependencies. Nobody can know whether such complex systems as electricity grids and fossil fuel supply networks will work. Although small parts of the whole system may have been fixed and tested, it is impossible to test the entire system. Electricity grids, energy networks and transportation systems, simply cannot be shut down and re-booted like PCs.
Yet nuclear reactors in the US and France require many weeks of continuous electricity in order to shut down safely.
Mr. Wyllie ended his presentation by paraphrasing, Y2K thinker, Ed Yourdan: "If it is impossible to know the risks, decisions must be made on the basis of the stakes".
Helen Caldicott then told the Group, "Humanity is probably facing its biggest crisis ever. The stakes cannot be higher". She went on to describe in horrific detail how nuclear radiation affects human health. She said that her direct experience of denial and bland reassurance from the highest representatives of the US government and nuclear industry made her now certain that there would be "at least two or three meltdowns in the Northern Hemisphere" where the vast majority of the world's 400-plus nuclear reactors are situated.
The afternoon was devoted to practical planning -- what to do in the face of official denial that any problem exists. It was decided that the first task was to try to put the nuclear issue on the agenda of the G8 meeting about Y2K in Berlin on September 20. A document, called the London Declaration (see below), outlining the practical measures which need taking to prevent the risks of meltdowns and explosions was agreed. The members of the group going to Berlin, for a second WASH meeting, promised to attempt giving it to the G8 delegates.
The Berlin meeting succeeded in their mission "way beyond" expectations. Helen Caldicott seized an opportunity and delivered a chilling warning to the opening plenary session of the G8 meeting about the danger of Y2K to nuclear systems. The message was backed up by one of the Japanese WASH delegation giving a tearful and impassioned plea for the world's politicians to ensure that at least nuclear installations are made fail safe for the period during which the consequences of the millennium bug are being felt. If the issue wasn't on the agenda before the Berlin meeting of the G8 it was certainly put there.
Such quick, positive developments in Europe and the US justified the feeling of many of the people at the London Forum that something important had happened. A beginning had been achieved which contained the promise of, not just preventing serious nuclear trouble, but also of bridging the habitual divisions between protesters, the government and industry. The hope was expressed all round that at least on this one issue, all sides align themselves to undertake the necessary mutually beneficial action in the very short time remaining.
The London Declaration We, on behalf of the participants in a Y2K-Nuclear Citizens' Forum held in London on September 18th 1999,
- noting that the millennium bug was rated a "global threat" at the G8 Summit in Koln, and that a commitment was made in the Final Communique on June 20, 1999 to "strengthen cooperation in the field of nuclear safety" in relation to the millennium bug;
demand that the G8 Special Conference on Y2K Contingency Planning consider the health, safety and security implications of the following issues:
i. that on-site Y2K computer system failures or malfunctions may lead directly or by secondary causes to one or more nuclear meltdowns;
ii. that off-site Y2K failures in the power or telecommunications systems present an unacceptable risk to nuclear reactor cooling and security systems;
iii. that Y2K computer glitches pose a threat to nuclear weapons systems and have the potential to trigger a nuclear exchange by accident or miscalculation.
Since just one accidental firing of a nuclear weapon, or one meltdown of a nuclear power plant, would be one accident too many and present a major public safety, humanitarian and ecological disaster, we believe the situation demands that all nuclear states must take the following actions ahead of the Y2K rollover on December 31st, 1999:
1. Begin a managed phase-down of reactors to standby, to be completed no later than December 30th, 1999;
2. Provide adequate, reliable and independent back-up power and fuel supplies for all critical cooling systems (particularly irradiated fuel cooling ponds and liquid high-level waste storage tanks);
3. Delay refuelling until after the rollover and grid stability is firmly established;
4. Reduce electricity needs by demand-side management and society-wide load reductions through conservation, efficiency and a switch wherever possible to alternative power sources;
5. De-alert and de-couple all nuclear weapons systems;
6. Introduce a world-wide moratorium on transport of all nuclear materials.
-- Old Git (email@example.com), October 28, 1999
Same issue as above, accessible from link above
Y2K and Nuclear Safety Waking up to the Nightmare
by Paul Swann, UK National Coordinator, Y2K Community Action Network
Y2K is more complex and hence more serious than governments are letting on, although the US State Department Inspector General has said:
"Y2K-related failures are inevitable, both here in the USA and abroad".
The only question is: How serious will the consequences of Y2K be?
The only answer is: We won't know until it happens.
Because of the uncertainities and heightened risks associated with Y2K, it makes sense for individuals and communities to make appropriate preparations.
In a nightmare worst case scenario, we'd have nuclear weapons systems malfunctioning and / or nuclear reactors melting down.
Both are possible, though the risk of an accidental nuclear war has been significantly reduced by the recent establishment of a Center for Year 2000 Strategic Stability at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. This will be manned over the critical rollover period by 18 - 20 Russian Colonels and their American counterparts to ensure open communication and information exchange in the event of an accidental launch.
A more effective measure would be to take the Russian and American nuclear arsenals off hair-trigger alert and de-couple nuclear warheads from their delivery vehicles, but there doesn't seem to be any movement in this direction at the moment.
It's also worrying that six of the seven cold war telecommunications hotlines between the US and Russian Presidents and military are currently not Y2K-compliant.
The main concern with nuclear reactors is the possible consequence of disruptions to the electrical power grid. This would bring emergency diesel back-up generators into play, which are known to have reliability problems.
For instance, on December 27th last year, the grid connection to Hunterston B nuclear power station in Scotland was lost because of bad weather. The reactors were tripped manually and the back up generators were brought into operation.
The site was reconnected to the grid within two hours, but later in the day the grid connection was lost again. Unfortunately the automatic protection systems had not been re-set, and an additional fault with a diesel generator caused problems in maintaining electrical supplies and hence cooling to the reactors.
The subsequent investigation into this serious incident found that it was caused by "a combination of procedural deficiencies, a plant fault (i.e. the diesel generator), and operational weaknesses."
My concern is that the inherent danger of nuclear technology, combined with the potential for Y2K failures, could lead to a chain of events such as occurred at Hunterston B, with potentially catastrophic consequences. A cascade of problems may stretch the resources of plant operators, and it's known that human error was a major factor at both Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, as well as in the recent accident in Japan.
To mitigate the risks of Y2K-related nuclear accidents, the Y2K WASH (World Atomic Safety Holiday) campaign demands:
1. de-alert nuclear weapon systems and de-couple nuclear warheads from their delivery vehicles
2. begin a managed phase-down of nuclear reactors to standby status during the critical period
3. provide additional back-up generators at all nuclear facilities, with adequate fuel supplies for worst-case scenarios
4. institute a worldwide moratorium on the transport of all nuclear materials until the crisis is over
5. ensure that emergency contingency plans are in place in every community where a nuclear facility is located, including adequate supplies of potassium iodide tablets
During the discussion, David Kidd of the IAEA was admirably forthright in stating that "There is a potential risk if the electricity grid becomes unstable...we're certainly taking it seriously."
I would have liked to have asked Mr Kidd why the IAEA presentation at the recent G8 special conference on Y2K contingency planning in Berlin was alloted just 5 minutes in the conference agenda?
To me this suggests that either there's huge complacency about the issue, both at the IAEA and in the G8, or that all Y2K remediation programmes in the worldwide nuclear industry have been completed, and all systems - including external systems that nuclear power plants depend on - have been succesfully tested.
I know for a fact that the latter is not the case.
Mr Kidd spoke himself about the dangers of a "complacent mindset" in the nuclear industry. Why did the IAEA not press for a reasonable period of time in the conference agenda to enable them to address the issue with the seriousness that he claims they are giving to it?
Had it not been for the actions of a dozen self-financed activists from the G8 countries who gained access to the conference and distributed a "Belin Declaration" (URL below) to the delegates, the issue would have been brushed under the carpet.
This hardly inspires confidence in the nuclear industry's ability to cope with Y2K responsibly and effectively.
-- Old Git (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 28, 1999.
This is very bad news. I live just a few miles from the Waterford 3 Nuclear Plant in New Orleans. We keep hearing how everything is just wonderful at the plant!!! When we had to evacuate the city a few years ago for a hurricane, it was a nightmare. We've been told it would take three days to evacuate the entire New Orleans area. A lot of time for a nuclear plant to melt down while we're sitting in the car. We have a bug-out site five hours out of the city - we live in a suburb. I guess we'd better plan to definitely bug out.
-- Scarlett (email@example.com), October 28, 1999.
I'm 20 minutes away from a nuclear power plant in Clinton, IL. Do you think that as we see problems in France or even on the east coast that we, being on central time, would be able to slam everything to halt as we watch the time zone changes?
-- Marsha (MSykes@court.co.macon.il.us), October 28, 1999.
Are you talking about slamming the nuclear plant to a halt? I don't think that would work - it takes several weeks to shut down a nuclear plant. And you need either grid power, or backup power, to do it. Hope you have a bug-out plan. Good luck.
-- Scarlett (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 28, 1999.
You know, it's kind of funny. I used to e-mail stories like this to friends, make copies to give to people, etc, to try to "raise awareness".
Now, I don't even care anymore. I figure if people didn't care about this stuff before, they won't now.
Nowadays, my response to stuff like this is, "Hey, what do I care? I don't live too close to any nuke plants and I've got KI anyway, just in case the wind blows the wrong way. It won't affect me."
What, teachers not getting paid and schools might close? What do I care? I'm not a teacher and I don't have any kids. It doesn't apply to me.
Possible food shortages, bank runs, economic collapse, loss of utilities? No problem. My preps were made months and months ago. I can hole up for years if I have to. Maybe other people people will have problems, but no problem over here.
Hey, what's all the fuss? Much ado about nothing.
-- Clyde (email@example.com), October 28, 1999.
Plus: The nearest reactor to me is a few hundred miles away...
Minus: It's almost DUE-WEST of me. :-( (Darn winds...)
Plus: I live near a large military base and they've already set up their backup power plans. These plans reac into all neighboring towns since these house more militarey personnel than the on-base housing could hold.
Minus: They also have several dozen nulcear weapons here. 24 "special" ALCMs (Air-Launched Cruise Missiles) with nominal yields in the 50-220 kiloton range that I know of are stored there (Yes, I have seen one. Yes, it had all the expected radiation warnings in place and a dozen heavily armed guys playing escort while it was being loaded onto a transport bound for who-knows-what-base. Yes, a close friend was part of the special EOD team the base employs to manage incidents that could involve nuclear weapons and he adamantly insists that the base has 48 nukes he's been in close contact with.) plus I don't wanna know how many more.
Ain't life grand?
-- OddOne (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 28, 1999.
thank you, Old Git. As always you contribute insightful, thoughtful information. Think I am glad that I live more than 100 miles away from one of California's two functioning nuclear plants. Although with a not too severe rainstorm last night, we lost power twice. Just love hearing my PC turn back on when I am in a sound sleep!
-- Nancy (email@example.com), October 28, 1999.
Since I respect some of your previous posts; if you'd like to e-mail me directly, I'd be happy to disprove the points of your text. Sincerely,
-- nucpwr (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 30, 1999.