By Harvey Wasserman
The owners of America’s 93 licensed reactors have been warned for decades that they could both implode and explode. They have also done nothing.
More than 150 people may have died in this avoidable Florida disaster. The death toll from the next avoidable reactor disaster could stretch into the millions, with property damage in the trillions, a blow from which our economy and ecosystems might never recover.
South Florida authorities have now ordered inspections of large buildings over forty years old. Nearly all US reactors – including four on the ocean in South Florida – are also now around forty years old.
They all must be immediately shut for rigorous inspection. To wait is to invite a radioactive version of what just happened to that condo.
The argument is not about nuclear power. It’s about basic sanity.
The industry is currently pushing “new” designs based on fusion, thorium, breeder technologies, molten salt, small modular, and more. None have been proven safe or effective in fighting climate chaos. Nor can they compete with renewables. None have a reasonable prospect of coming online before being completely left in the radioactive dust by accelerating advances in wind, solar, batteries, and LED efficiency.
All are certain to consume huge quantities of public money, pouring into private pockets (like those of Bill Gates) before failing utterly.
But they pale in importance alongside the 93 US reactors (there are some 430 worldwide) now plummeting toward certain catastrophe.
None of these reactors can get private liability insurance against an apocalyptic disaster. Most were designed in the pre-digital 1950s and ‘60s. Many were built with inferior materials and understanding.
Critical welds at California’s Diablo Canyon, for example, contain metal components long since banned. But Unit One continues to operate.
Critical concrete at New Hampshire’s Seabrook and Ohio’s Davis-Besse is crumbling. Fort Calhoun in Nebraska was flooded. Intake pipes at South Texas froze. Reactors in Ohio and Virginia have been damaged by earthquakes. Diablo is surrounded by earthquake faults set to deliver seismic shocks which a Nuclear Regulatory Commission resident inspector has said it can’t withstand. The owners of San Onofre want to bury their high-level wastes ONE HUNDRED FEET from the tide line. Meaningful evacuation planning is nonexistent at sites where nearby population centers have exploded since the original siting approval.
All these old reactors contribute to climate chaos with emissions of heat, radiation, and carbon. They suck up billions of gallons of precious water, then dump it or evaporate it with chemical, radioactive, and thermal pollution. In every case, our planet would benefit from their shutdown.
Virtually all US reactors are almost certainly embrittled, meaning emergency cooling water poured into the core to quell a meltdown would shatter critical components, resulting in apocalyptic hydrogen and possibly fission explosions, as at Chernobyl and Fukushima.
To put it most simply: no embrittled reactor has a workable set of brakes. Yet states like California, and the NRC itself, refuse to conduct relatively cheap and simple open inspections.
Thus embrittlement, pipe cracking, component degradation, technical obsolescence, an aging workforce, rampant incompetence, and worse define the reality of virtually every operating atomic reactor, here and around the planet.