The Mind of James Donahue

Pebble Plants

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A Deadly Nuke Plant
In Your Neighborhood?

Since the attacks of September 11, our government has been strangely silent about specific threats of new terrorist activity. I suspect this has more to do with big business interests than our national security. That is because nearly all of the terrorist targets have been against nuclear power plants (see
In spite of assurances that these plants are built to withstand major disasters, including the possibility of being struck by aircraft, I don't think the engineers who designed the structures ever expected a suicidal pilot to fly a large airliner loaded with aviation fuel directly into the sides of them.
The probability of a nuclear plant melt-down spewing its deadly wind-blown poison for hundreds of miles after such an attack is not impossible to imagine. Suddenly all 105 active nuclear power plants in the United States have the potential of being turned into atomic bombs, waiting to be exploded. Imagine a terrorist mentally painting a red bulls-eye on the outer wall of every building housing a nuclear reactor.
For financial reasons, our government doesn't want to talk about this, or plant this image in the minds of the public. There is a lot of money riding on something called a Pebble Bed Modular Reactor that may soon be a common sight all over the country.
That the Bush Administration's energy plan for the country involves the construction of a new and cheaper type of nuclear power plant seems to me to be about as cracked an idea as anybody can conceive.
After the disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl about 30 years ago, the concept of nuclear power hasn't been popular in the United States, and for good reason. Not only have these plants proven dangerous, they also produce radioactive waste in spent fuel cells that nobody wants stored in their back yard. This deadly waste will contaminate any place it goes for thousands of years.
That President Bush has named the Yucca Mountain Geological Repository in Nevada as an official nuclear waste dumping ground is obviously part of the new plan.
The Pebble Bed Modular Reactor is presently under development by an international consortium led by General Atomics in the United States, and OKBM in Russia. According to a government report, the design "comprises a prismatic core and closed cycle gas turbine with a thermal power of approximately 600 MWt and net electrical output of approximately 280 Mwe."
And what do you imagine we will be putting in that core reactor to generate power? The same report discloses that "the initial application is intended to be the consumption of plutonium from dismantled weapons." Also "future commercial deployment for electricity production using low enriched uranium fuel is anticipated."
In other words, George W. Bush is conspiring with big business to provide waste plutonium from a dismantled stockpile of old atomic bombs to power a battery of new generating plants.
The plan (which Vice President Dick Cheney helped draft after consultation with Enron and other power company executives) seeks to make it easier for electric companies to construct new nuclear power plants. George and Dick think this will be a cheap way of increasing the nation's electricity supply and helping the environment. They think nuclear waste is a better trade-off than the burning of fossil fuels.
While the media hasn't given it much (if any) fanfare, the government has been moving ahead at full steam to set the stage for the new Pebble Bed nuke plants.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already made changes to streamline its approval process, allowing companies to apply for both construction and operating rights at the same time. Estimates are that the new plants can be built and operating within six to nine years.


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