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Atomic energy, yes or no: It’s your call

A View From the Edge

Part of the problem with evaluating atomic energy as part of our daily lives is that most people are too poorly educated (not stupid, just ignorant) on the science involved to really understand how it all works. Because they don’t get the science, they are left listening to politicians (themselves pretty ignorant) who are pushing an agenda often without any long-term scientific assessment or, worse, dependent on lobbyists who have told them what to think.

I am sorry, Chuck Schumer, the one issue you have consistently been wrong on is atomic energy. Chuck was all for the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant. Four billion dollars to build, $4 billion to take down. Chuck thought it was safe. Since that time, he’s been rethinking, thankfully.

Look, a nuclear power plant is like a large teakettle. The atomic reactor makes heat, loads of it, in a controlled runaway reaction of atoms bumping into each other, smashing into the sides of their container. Bash, smash, loads of heat buildup.

Put a water vessel on top of this heat and it makes steam. The steam whistles out of the top of the kettle, passing through a propeller (turbine), making it spin which turns a generator making electricity. The water cools and is piped back into the kettle where it reheats.

OK? Got it? Simple really. Except that anything coming in contact with either the reactor, the fuel rods, the water that’s heated, the kettle or anything in the vicinity needs to be kept away from every living thing for, oh I don’t know, a thousand years. Maybe more.

There are so many of these reactors and power plants that the world is seriously worried about such “cheap and affordable” electricity’s aftercare.

So, hidden in government budgets, are a whole host of agencies whose sole job is to check up on the power plant operators. Their job is to make sure the power plant’s employees do not goof and send out global contamination. A plant in, say, Nebraska is just as a big a risk as one in, say, Chernobyl.

That’s why Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency (FAAE) is angry. Sure, they say, the U.S. Atomic Energy folks can waltz into the Ukraine and tell us that we’re goofing up, but when the United States has a near-catastrophic meltdown, not only do they not tell their citizens a few miles away, they refuse to allow independent inspectors to verify the conditions.

And what’s worse, the administration, to keep the public confidence high in these economic times, orders blanket censorship on all news media.

How’d the news get out? Six different international nuclear regulatory bodies have finked on the United States. Meanwhile, the United States’s own agencies, servants to the public, maintain “all’s well.”

Located about 20 minutes outside Omaha, the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant suffered a “catastrophic loss of cooling” to one of its idle spent fuel rod pools on June 7 after this plant was deluged with water caused by historic flooding of the Missouri River, which resulted in a fire with radioactive gasses escaping into the air. The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) issued a “no-fly ban” over the area. The press was not allowed to ask why. Media blackout.

Russian atomic scientists, however, point out that all nuclear plants in the world operate under the guidelines of the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), which clearly states the “events” occurring at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant put the danger at “Level 4.” This is an emergency category of an “accident with local consequences,” thus making this one of the worst nuclear accidents in U.S. history.

Now that you know a little more, care to voice your opinion? In the next years, you’ll be asked to vote on atomic energy at the ballot box, so it is a good thing to know something, even if it is just the basics.

Peter Riva, formerly of Amenia Union, lives in New Mexico.