Monday, August 9

Hot Flashes at the NRC, Drugs in your H2O

The Bush administration is relaxing fire safeguards at Nuclear Power plants. Dear Leader is just trying to make us safer after all these plants are probably on a list of targets for our terrorist friends to attack:

On June 16, the commission charged with investigating the events of September 11 announced that Al Qaeda's early attack plans had included "unidentified nuclear power plants." You might think the Bush Administration would respond by doing all it could to prevent a terrorist-triggered disaster at these plants.

Think again. The Bush Administration is actually relaxing the fire safeguards there.

Instead of insisting that the plants have heat-protected mechanical systems in place that will shut down reactors automatically in case of fire, which is the current standard, the Bush Administration would actually let the power companies rely on workers to run through the plants and try to turn off the reactors by hand while parts of the facilities are engulfed in flames.

The scary part is that they are not kidding. Rather than enforce the rules in place; requiring automatic mechanical shutdown systems, they expect people to run through a building on fire and manually shut down the reacter. An astonishing reduction of safety in the interest of corporate welfare. With respect to training these heroes some at the NRC were skeptical:
Inside the NRC, the idea of people dodging flames and possibly high radiation areas to try to avert a meltown has raised some eyebrows. In a September 2003 meeting, one member of a panel on reactor fire safety repeatedly pointed out that relying on humans to do work in dangerous conditions and under stress was asking for trouble. It's difficult to prepare operators, said Dana Powers, a member of the Fire Protection Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards. "How do you do that?" he asked. "How do you simulate smoke, light, fire, ringing bells, fire engines, crazy people running around?"
I do wonder if this patriot is still with the NRC. some background on NPP and fire frequency
Fires are not uncommon at nuclear power plants. "Typical nuclear power plants will have three to four significant fires over their operating lifetime," says a 1990 NRC document. "Fires are a significant contributor to the overall core damage frequency."

Fire itself will not blow up a reactor, say critics and industry representatives alike. But if the electrical cabling burns and the pumps that cool the reactor core become disabled, the core could begin to overheat, and the reactor could melt down. Millions of people could then be exposed to radiation.
One event millions of potential casualties, not to mention rendering a broad area uninhabitable for the forseeable future, I mean it's like increasing the liklihood of repeating chernobyl, and apparently we have come close:
One day in 1975, some workers were checking a seal on the secondary containment building at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama. They accidentally started a fire. The fire "was in the insulating material around the cables. It was in a cable tray," says Craig Beasely, a communications specialist at the plant. The fire began in a part of the plant Beasely calls "the cable spreader room," which he defines as "the place where the cables come together." The fire lasted "about seven hours," says Beasely. Some of the cables that caught fire, he confirms, "did control some cooling" to the reactor core.

"Temperatures as high as 1500°F caused damage to more than 1600 cables routed in 117 conduits and twenty-six cable trays," says a draft report by the Sandia and Brookhaven Laboratories. "Of those, 628 cables were safety related, and their damage caused the loss of a significant number of plant safety systems."

A 1976 paper by the Union of Concerned Scientists was entitled "Browns Ferry: The Regulatory Failure." Observing that the fire rendered all safety equipment inoperative and that thick smoke, loss of control over the reactor, and "inadequate breathing apparatuses" interfered with the operators' attempts to save the plant, the paper sums up the event in these words: "TVA nuclear engineers stated privately to the authors that a potentially catastrophic radiation release from Browns Ferry was avoided by 'sheer luck.'"
Read the rest of the article (linked above) and if that doesn't curl your toes you probably won't be interested to hear about all manner of stuff finding it's way into the drinking water. I'm just so glad that Ronnie was such a good deregulation salesman.
Scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the potential public health impact of environmental contaminants originating from industrial, agricultural, medical and common household practices, i.e., cosmetics, detergents and toiletries. A variety of pharmaceuticals including painkillers, tranquilizers, anti-depressants, antibiotics, birth control pills, estrogen replacement therapies, chemotherapy agents, anti-seizure medications, etc., are finding their way into the environment via human and animal excreta from disposal into the sewage system—i.e., flushing unused medication down the toilet—and from landfill leachate that may impact groundwater supplies. Agricultural practices are a major source and 40 percent of antibiotics manufactured are fed to livestock as growth enhancers. Manure, containing traces of pharmaceuticals, is often spread on land as fertilizer from which it can leach into local streams and rivers. Conventional wastewater treatment isn’t effective to eliminate the majority of pharmaceutical compounds.
There are times that I just want to curl up in the fetal position and wish the demons would all go away. But Jesus what are the long term affects and will anyone ever be held to account. Apparently this isn't a new problem that just popped out of the woodwork.
The prevalence of pharmaceuticals in water is nothing new. In fact, it’s reasonable to assume that as long as pharmaceuticals have been in use, they—and their metabolites—have contributed to the overall environmental contamination load. What’s new is our ability to detect trace amounts (sub-parts per billion, ppb) of these contaminants in water. Hence, we’re finding pharmaceuticals in water because we’re finally able to detect them. The topic first gained notice in Europe in the early-1990s where scientists initially found clofibric acid, a cholesterol-lowering drug, in groundwater.
This problem has been around for a while and it is only now that we can measure the levels present. This is just depressing, who knows what the long term holds, the pooch may be irratrievably screwed.