Nukes on the Brink in Ukraine and California

Harvey Wasserman / Reader Supported News
Nukes on the Brink in Ukraine and California A Russian soldier patrols near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Energodar, Ukraine, May 1, 2022. (photo: Andrey Borodulin/Getty)

The latest “Nuclear Power Renaissance" is on the brink of creating radioactive Dark Ages in Ukraine, California and at more than 400 other atomic reactors worldwide.

Each is primed at any time to carpet the planet with lethal fallout capable of ending human life.

The situation in Ukraine almost defies description. Six reactors at Zaporizhzhia have been occupied by Russian forces, the first time a nuclear power plant has been plunged into a war zone—-but probably not the last.

Each Zaporizhzhia nuke contains far more radiation than spewed from Chernobyl in April, 1986, ultimately killing more than a million people, doing more than a trillion dollars in damage and turning much of the Earth into a dead zone.

Five Zaporizhzhia reactors are currently shut. But each spent fuel pool contains massive quantities of high level radioactive waste. All demand constant cooling, whether the reactors are operating or not. Should the water levels drop, exposing spent fuel to the air, the rods could ignite with catastrophic ferocity, sending apocalyptic quantities of fallout into the eco-sphere.

We barely missed such a horrendous calamity at Fukushima Unit Four in 2011. Only frantic dumps of water and boron saved radiation releases that could have irradiated all of Japan and made a watery grave of the Pacific Ocean.

International nuclear watchdogs are now at Zaporizhzhia, desperate to avoid unimaginable mayhem. The Russians are forcing Ukrainian workers to keep the one reactor operating, in part to maintain enough power to keep the others from blowing up. Reports of the working conditions at Zaporizhzhia include impossible shift hours, brutal abuse and possible torture.

Similar reports have come from Chernobyl, where spent fuel and a seething reactor require a full-time work force also apparently abused by Russian troops. Putin’s finest openly defecated throughout throughout the plant. Soldiers who dug themselves into trenches in the surrounding “dead zone” suffered potentially lethal radiation exposure. Though a European coalition built a $2+ billion sarcophagus to contain further releases, after 36 years Chernobyl still threatens the planetary eco-sphere.

Zaporizhzhia also needs a constant flow of electricity to cool the reactors and the fuel pools. Losing power from the one operating nuke or the grid connection can force the plants to rely on back-up diesel generators…whose precious fuel Russian soldiers have been pillaging for their vehicles of war.

Actual shells still fly around the site, apparently from both sides.

An apocalyptic radiation release would not require a blown containment. Should any explosive hitting any of the reactors or fuel pools could disrupt water circulation, collapse the site’s electronics, demolish command and control, short electric circuits and breech more than enough safeguards to kill millions of humans and while obliterating our vital global eco-systems.

Radioactive clouds would pour west into Europe, up into Scandinavia, east into Russia, high into the Jet Stream, circling the globe, as did the clouds from Chernobyl.

In that awful contingency, the Russians and Ukrainians will blame each other while the nuclear power industry will tell us all that the radiation isn’t so bad.

That’s the latest word from California, where “green” Governor Gavin Newsom wants to extend operations for the two reactors at Diablo Canyon, eight miles west of San Luis Obispo on the Pacific coast.

As Lieutenant Governor, Newsom signed a 2016 agreement to shut Units One and Two in 2024 and 2025. Joining then-Governor Jerry Brown with labor unions, state regulators and legislators, local officials, environmental groups and others, the two-year negotiation embodied a sane, measured way to phase out two decayed, costly reactors that still can’t meet basic state and federal safety or environmental laws.

In 2019 Newsom refused to inspect the two reactors, trashing a petition signed by more than 2600 people, including Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, Eric Roberts, Mimi Kennedy, Jodie Evans, Ed Asner, Graham Nash and many more.

Now Newsom is killing the shut-down agreement he signed. Without major hearings or public deliberation, Newsom forced an August 31-September 1 post-midnight legislative vote paving the way for the two reactors to keep operating—-if they don’t blow up—-until at least 2030.

Newsom claims losing Diablo might cause blackouts. But they one or both reactors are shut 40% of the time. They block cheaper, cleaner, safer renewables from accessing the grid. And they’re always ready to be blown apart by the dozen-plus nearby seismic shock lines, plus the San Andreas, just 45 miles away.

Except for a token $13 billion federal fund, Diablo has no insurance. Those who lose lives, health and property have no recourse for any compensation. Evacuation plans for Los Angeles, the Central Valley or San Francisco in the face of a coming radioactive cloud, have not been made public.

Diablo may actually be more dicy than Zaporizhzhia. War and mayhem at those Ukrainian nukes could create an apocalypse at any moment.

But the danger is known and recognized.

At Diablo Canyon, two under-maintained, uninsured relics can be blown into rubble at any seismic moment. The clouds would pour into Los Angeles within five hours, the Central Vally and the Bay Area even quicker.

Diablo is run by PG&E, a twice-bankrupted felon twice convicted of federal manslaughter for torching parts of San Bruno and vast swaths of northern California, killing more than eighty people.

Throughout the world some 400 atomic reactors are equally terrifying.

Yet atomic cultists want a costly new generation of uninsured “small modular reactors.” When they might be ready in a few years, they’ll invite terror attacks. Each would spew unmanageable floods of radioactive waste while failing to compete even with today’s renewables.

The fossil/nuclear industry is indeed desperate to kill the green-powered revolution that’d put them out of business. Newsom wants to tax rooftop solar and end net-metering buy-backs that promote huge increases in the state’s capacity to generate the clean, cheap, carbon-free solar energy it so desperately needs.

While Diablo fanatics complain that solar, wind, batteries and LED efficiency haven’t progressed fast enough, they line up the firing squad to kill them.

Our survival depends on pushing green energy while shutting these ticking nukes as fast as possible.

And we need to do it before the next errant shell or predictable earthquake pushes us even closer toward extinction.

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