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From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: Outrider Report -- Betting on Nuclear Courage
Message-ID: <>
Date: Mon, 25 Jul 94 06:44:36 GMT (JimWils) writes:

Gee, where to start.  Can't figure out whether this guy is a typical
reporter, egregiously dishonest, stupid or all the above.  We'll see.
In any event, he writes pretty bad fiction.

>Should operators of nuclear reactors be asked to commit suicide to protect
>company profits?

>A few years ago the question seemed patently absurd.

In the context of this article, it still is.

>To help sell utility executives on nuclear power, the AEC promised to
>collect and dispose of the highly radioactive waste that needed to be
>periodically purged from reactors to keep them operating at peak

>The AEC got as far as designing the collection truck. And a truly
>impressive truck it was. It could survive a collision with a speeding
>locomotive. It had to. Despite its meek name, "spent fuel" is a killer.

Gee Jim.  I've touched spent fuel before.  Why am I not dead?  More
to the point, AEC didn't design a spent fuel cask (let's try to
get the name right).  The major reactor vendors designed their own
casks and AEC/NRC tested them in spectacular fashion at various
points.  Such publicity stunts included dropping the cask from
great heights, slamming it broadside with a locomotive and a semi
truck, blasting it with a rocket into a concrete barrier and
blasting it with an anti-tank round.  All common stuff you run into
on the open highway, don't you know?

>The American Physical Society Study Group on Nuclear Fuel Cycles and Waste
>Management offers this comparison. To dilute to Safe Drinking Water
>standards the radiation contained in the spent fuel created inside one
>large reactor in one year would require as much water as flows down New
>York's Hudson River in ten years.

Wow.  And dilluting all the fecal matter emitted all the humans in
the country to drinking water standards would require all the water
in the oceans or something thereabouts.  Solution: We generally
don't shit in our drinking water.

>Re-racking solved the immediate storage problem. It also made water in
>storage pools hotter, which is what brought the question of nuclear ethics
>to the surface. In the more tightly packed pools continuous water
>circulation now became critical. If some part of the system failed and
>water boiled off, uncovered fuel assemblies could burn, melt, and possibly
>even explode.

Spent fuel will not burn, melt or explode under any storage conditions
including exposure to air.  Fresh spent fuel can reach temperatures
capable of melting the fuel pin cladding but the fuel, which is a
high temperature ceramic with a melting point above 5000 deg F, will not
melt.  Fresh spent fuel is NOT placed directly in the high density
storage racks.  It is allowed to cool is a separate area of the spent
fuel pit.  Over 15 years ago Battelle Columbus proved that old (greater
than about a year old) fuel can be stored in DRY storage containers
with only air cooling.  Since a third of a core is removed from
a reactor only every year to 18 months, almost all the fuel in
the spent fuel pit is old and capable of surviving dry conditions without

With regard to the water getting "hotter", perhaps the better word
would be warmer.  Spent fuel pool water temperature is held to
below 100 to 110 degrees F during normal conditions.  A nice temerature
range for a Jacuzzi, eh.  And since the water is over 100 ft deep,
in the event of a total failure of the spent fuel cooling system
(a Class IA safety system), heatup to boiling would take days to
weeks and boiloff to the top of the fuel would take weeks more.
You would know this had you ever bothered to read the relevant
section of any plant's FSAR or Tech Specs, documents available at the
NRC's public documents room and at the media center of any utility.
Guess it's so much easier just to make up this tripe, eh?

>The NRC is most worried about the 35 power stations that use General
>Electric (GE) boiling water reactors because their storage pools are
>located above grade level. Engineers working for some of utilities that
>own these systems say back-up generators and remote controls will solve
>the problem. Utilities blanched at the expense and want the NRC to approve
>another approach.

Which problem is that?

>Utility executives argue that a chain of events that could cause water to
>boil out of a spent-fuel pool is too improbably to justify adding safety
>measures. In a worst case accident they plan to ask "heroic" reactor
>operators to carry fire hoses to refill the pools.

>It is this comment about heroism that moves the debate from technical to
>ethical grounds. If lives hung in the balance it might be justified to ask
>men to volunteer for such suicide missions, where in all likelihood they
>will be cooked alive, so much raw meat in a microwave oven.

Gawf!  What a joke.  From a pool approaching the dimentions of a football
field and over 100 ft deep, any rate of water loss that could be made
up with fire hoses would take WEEKS to uncover the fuel.  This means
that the utility has the time to buy the hoses, have them shipped in,
have the operators string 'em up as their other duties allow
and still have plenty of time.  And I haven't even mentioned the
fittings already built in all spent fuel pits expressly for the purpose
of supplying emergency water from hoses when everything else fails.

Just to put this in perspective, it is routine for divers to descend
into spent fuel pits in order to do repairs, retrieve dropped tools
and so on.  Old spent fuel is pretty innocuous.

>The answer, as far as the 35 GE boiling water reactors currently under
>discussion are concerned, is a resounding no. In these plants storage
>pools are located inside the containment structure.

Nope.  Dead wrong.  The spent fuel pits are located outside the
primary containment but inside the reactor building.  The reactor
building is sometimes called the secondary containment but it is NOT
a pressure vessel.  It is NOT rated to contain any pressure.  It
"contains" whatever leaks out of reactor systems by virtue of a negative
pressure maintained by fans.  The space above refueling deck where
the spent fuel pit is located is typically enclosed by the same sort
of sheet metal siding used on ordinary metal buildings.  This is NOT
airtight.  Indeed, one of the problems we had at Browns Ferry (Mk II
BWR) was birds getting inside the structure and swimming in the spent fuel
pit water.  This water is mildly contaminated so the birds would
spread contamination around the building.

>All "heroic" reactor operators would buying with their lives would be the
>safety of the reactor itself. Without their sacrifice it would be trapped
>inside a radiation-filled tomb, untouchable for centuries.

Hmm, did we suddenly jump context from the spent fuel pit to the
containment building?  IN what context can you possibly imagine operators
cooling the containment building with fire hoses?  And what figment
of your imagination caused you to come up with the last sentence.
How do you suppose we managed to enter the containment (or is that
tomb) of TMI II barely a couple of years after it dumped a  good
chunk of its core on the containment floor?  Bet it would amaze you
to learn that the gamma emitters that make spent fuel externally
hazardous decay in DECADES and not centuries and that the long lived
stuff is primarily alpha and beta emitters, neither of which present
external exposure hazards.  If the unimaginable happened and
the reactor spammed all over the containment, it would be safe to
enter and work there in YEARS and not centuries.  You've read
and uncritically accepted far too much of that anti-nuke propaganda.
Why don't you find a credible expert or two to talk to?  There are many
of them right here in this forum.

>No matter how much it might improve their balance sheets, utilities have
>no moral right to ask the NRC to approve their plan to trade their workers
>lives for property.   # # #

Why do you suppose a nuclear utility should be any different than any
other business entity?  I've been on the fire brigade of a number
of plants, nuclear and otherwise, and it is understood by all that
one may risk and even give up his life in the process of saving
other lives or equipment.  It goes with the territory.  In point
of fact I KNEW that I was safer in any nuclear plant than I was most
any other sort of heavy industrial facility.  In another point of
fact, utilities would never have to ask its employees to risk their
lives - there would be more than enough volunteers.  The same sort
of volunteers that kept Browns Ferry safe during the fire with such
heroics as opening high voltage breaker cabinets and holding pump
breakers closed with sticks, all the while wearing SCBA packs because
of the smoke and fire.

Your article is egregiously insulting to all nuclear workers.  You write
as if nuclear workes are droll robots that do only what the evil
management tells tehm to.  It is shallow, wrong, sloppy, poorly
researched and oh so typical of what I've come to expect from media
writers.  You were too lazy to verify even the most basic of facts such
as the location of a BWR spent fuel pit, facts that could be verified
with a quick phone call or 10 minutes' worth of looking in a public
documents room.  I would say that you should be ashamed of yourself but
I already know that ethics, honesty, integrity and morality get checked
at the door of journalism school.


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