I think that Shelley Smithson's informed and in-depth article ("Time Bombs," September 28) was a terrific job, and the Reader deserves a lot of credit for publishing it. And it served to rekindle my concerns about safety and security at our nuclear power plants.
The media, for the most part, have focused on the possibility that a terrorist might try to crash a plane into a nuclear power plant. But my great fear is that the terrorists might try to blow up the main cooling pipe to a nuclear reactor, or a spent fuel pool loaded with radioactive fuel rods.
All it might take is a little dynamite.
In 1976 my book (Unacceptable Risk) on the nuclear power controversy was published by Bantam Books, and reissued in 1979 after the accident at Three Mile Island.
While I was researching my book, I made arrangements to visit a number of nuclear power facilities, during the course of which no one asked me to produce any identification. On one occasion, when I visited the twin 1,065-megawatt nuclear power reactors at Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania (35 miles north of Baltimore and less than 60 miles from Washington, D.C., as the crow flies), I saw that it would be relatively simple for an intruder to gain access to these plants.
It also might be easy for a frogman to attach underwater explosives to the cooling water intake at a nuclear power plant; and if a nuclear power reactor lost its cooling water, the results could be catastrophic. The same holds true for a spent fuel tank, where radioactive spent fuel rods could fuse together and explode if they lost the water that covers them. And I worry most about the spent fuel tanks.
In the 1970s, when the controversy over nuclear power was raging, the Brookhaven National Laboratory estimated that a major nuclear power accident, or a catastrophe, could kill 45,000 people (the EPA said 69,000), injure another 100,000, blanket a state the size of Pennsylvania with radioactive poisons, and cause billions of dollars in property damage.
Given the recent terrorist attacks, I think that we should take every possible precaution to protect our nuclear power plants and spent fuel pools. The same holds true for inactive or decommissioned nuclear plants where there is a large amount of high-level radioactive waste on-site.
For starters, I think that we should use the National Guard to protect them. Then we should begin training a federal police force to guard them. In no case should we be foolish enough to think that the nuclear industry can police and protect itself.
McKinley C. Olson