|The Suburban Landscape|
Back in the days before Google maps and TomTom, people were taken aback by my verbal directions when visiting me for the first time. “Come all the way to the top of the hill and make a right where you see the big nuclear warning siren,” I’d say blithely. After about a decade, I’d gotten used to looking at the towering eyesore built just a few hundred yards from my house. But I never did get used to the ear-splitting, seemingly endless four-minute-long wail that would literally rattle the windows and send my cats into kniption fits about once every few months or so.
Each of the 172 sirens in four New York counties is supposed to warn of impending nuclear disaster within a 50 mile radius of the Indian Point Power Plant – which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has just named the most dangerous facility in the country, due to its long history of unplanned radioactive gaseous burps and leakage problems and a transformer explosion and proximity to a fault line. It’s not so much the earthquake risk – it’s the fact that the aging facility was built with no protections against earthquakes of any magnitude. What a shock.
The siren’s sole message is to tell us to turn on our TVs and radios for further instructions and evacuation routes. Basically, the only evacuation instruction is to get in the car and head north. Quick. Fallout shelters are few and far between. Town hall basements, that sort of thing. Nice thought, except that along with Indian Point, even the warning sirens have had a history of malfunctioning more often than not.
Indian Point’s license is due to expire in the next few years, and the plant operator. Entergy, is seeking a 20-year extension of its operating permit. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, long an opponent of the plant, is using the NRC report and Japan crisis to renew his call for shutting it down for good. The only trouble is, the state has no plan on how to replace the electricity that Indian Point now generates to an estimated 25 percent of New York City and its immediate environs.
“Gov. Cuomo’s post-closure plans are laid out in one sentence: ‘We must find and implement alternative sources of energy generation and transmission to replace the electricity currently supplied by the Indian Point facility’ he wrote in his 170-page Cleaner Greener New York report.” (Rockland Journal News, 3/16/11).
Without replacing the energy provided by Indian Point, experts warn, the existing grids will become overloaded, and we can expect roving blackouts to prevent a full system crash. And even with that precaution, we may experience a full system crash.
What I don’t hear being talked about during this latest nuclear power plant debate is the danger of transporting nuclear waste on our crumbling highway and bridge system. The NRC and NTSB have strict standards, of course, for the transport of hazardous materials. Here is part of a lesson plan they provide to schools about how they keep us safe: "The spent fuel must be shipped in heavy casks, weighing from 20 to 100 tons, depending on the mode of transportation (truck, barge, or train) but all must pass a series of severe tests, such as: A collision with an immovable object, like being dropped thirty feet onto reinforced concrete; being dropped 40 inches onto a steel spike; being burned in a hot fire for 30 minutes; submersion in water for eight hours."
I'm no scientist, but what would happen if a tractor trailer carrying spent fuel ended up hundreds of feet below water for more than eight hours? Given the abysmal state of our infrastructure, I think we should worry more about collapsing bridges than short-range impalations on spikes.
I'll never forget an interview I did with the director of my county’s Civil Defense Department in 1979 after the Three Mile Island disaster. The population was in near-panic mode, and my main assignment was to find out where to go, the location of fallout shelters in the area, symptoms of radiation poisoning, and so on. Besides scoring the scoop that my county building had a previously unpublicized luxurious underground bunker designed to house and feed bigwig officials in the event of a nuclear disaster (complete with decontamination showers and a cafeteria with wall-length murals of peaceful outdoor scenes to stave off claustrophobia), the director told me about unregulated nuclear waste being transported over the Hudson River bridges by sleep-deprived truckers. We should be more worried about the nukes on our roadways than in our power plants, he warned.
Here is the official NRC map of where the nukes travel, by road and by rail. Nowadays, by law, the big rigs have to display warning logos prominently on their vehicles. No doubt, seeing these graphics will keep us all safe as we careen down the interstates at a legal 65 mph.
|See America First|
|Honk if You Like My Driving!|
|Mr. Atom, Cuddly Mascot of the NRC|