Amazing, isn’t it, how selective we and the media are about our worries – or, as the case might be, our panic?
It was barely a week ago that the health-scare headlines were all about Fukushima – the storm/earthquake-ravaged nuclear facility in Japan that continues to spew radioactive water into the ocean.
Experts somberly warned about contaminated water and beaches, as well as fish, animal and plant contamination. What about the air?
Some sounded the “OMG, we’re all gonna die” mantra.
I’m not making light of it. Radiation is dangerous and not something to be taken lightly. There’s no doubt in my mind that Fukushima is something to be concerned about. But quite frankly, until Japan manages to stop the spillage, there isn’t much we can do about it except worry.
Yes, I know that we are exposed to radiation every time we fly or spend time at high elevations. Those are circumstances we just have to deal with for modern life on this planet.
But it’s different when there’s a release of high-level radiation from a reactor – as in Fukushima or Chernobyl – or manufacturing facility, laboratory or storage area. Those can be, and often are, very dangerous to the people who work there and people living in the exposed area.
My question to the media is: Why aren’t you covering all the problem areas, not just the photogenic Japan accident?
If radiation is so dangerous, why was there virtually no media coverage of the radioactivity release in New Mexico from an underground nuclear-waste storage site?
In fact, it’s the only such site in the country.
Located near Carlsbad, N.M., the facility is called WIPP, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. It’s an underground storage area for plutonium-contaminated waste (clothing, packaging, tools, trash, etc.) from national labs involved with weapons and energy research.
There was a small fire in February. Following that, an above-ground leak was detected, and then it was revealed 13 workers had been contaminated.
While the investigation continues into the source and cause of the leak, the plant is closed, meaning there is nowhere in the country to store nuclear waste.
AP reported that the Los Alamos National Lab has some 4,000 barrels of waste to remove from its facility by June. Other labs in Idaho, Illinois and South Caroline have similar problems.
Everything is on hold. All the while, the proposed Yucca mountain dump, which has already cost $15 billion, sits incomplete, the victim of political infighting.
It goes without saying that New Mexico residents are concerned, and many are suspicious they’re not getting the whole truth from officials. Radiation has been detected in the air around the plant, but residents are told there is no health threat.
Then there’s the cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state. It’s the largest nuclear dump, and there are leaking underground tanks with some 56-million gallons of nuclear and chemical waste that threaten to, and are, contaminating area land and water.
The cleanup has been going on for 20 years, has cost billions and the end is not near.
Never forget this about radiation. You can’t see, hear, taste, touch or smell it, but if you’re exposed to it, it’s deadly: You can be maimed and/or killed.
The fight about nuclear energy and nuclear weapons is one that must be faced rationally. It is possible for nuclear energy to be used safely. But problems arise when corners are cut in design, mistakes are made during construction, maintenance and repairs, when politics intrudes on decision-making and when scare mongers among environmentalists get the upper hand and influence all of those decision processes.
That’s when you have situations like the Diablo Canyon facility in Northern California and the San Onofre plant in Southern California.
Over their history, discovery of earthquake faults under or near the plants, blueprints not correctly reversed during construction, a reactor vessel installed backward, faulty repairs and, recently, in the case of San Onofre, newly replaced steam generator tubes wore out prematurely, leading to a permanent shutdown with plans for decommissioning.
Diablo Canyon is also shut down, post Fukushima, for more seismic studies.
Almost as a mirror of this, the St. Lucie nuclear plant near Tampa, Fla., is experiencing the same worn steam-generator tube problem that occurred at San Onofre.
Considering that if the tubes break, it could cause a meltdown, it’s not a minor problem.
Regardless of whether any of the plants are operating or not, they still contain dangerous radioactivity and pose a danger to the millions of people living in the surroundings areas in the event of a human or nature caused catastrophe.
And of course, the bottom line is, we have no place to properly and safely store contaminated waste from any decommissioned plant as well as waste from military and other nuclear facilities.
As they say, nuclear energy is a gift that keeps on giving. Like it or not, it’s an expensive gift.
Too bad the media don’t care.
Media wishing to interview Barbara Simpson, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.