Within a matter of days Congressional back-room deals may rubber stamp huge taxpayer loan guarantees to build dozens of what amount to pre-deployed "dirty bombs" for terrorists.
The terror attacks of September 11, 2001, showed that atomic power plants are supremely vulnerable. The first jet that hit the World Trade Center flew directly over Indian Point, whose two active reactors---plus one more that's retired---sit next to some very fragile high-level waste storage pools.
Had that first jet hit Indian Point, 35 miles north of Manhattan, with tens of millions of Americans closely downwind, the devastation would have been unimaginable. In fact, the 9/11 Commission found that Al Quaeda at one point considered crashing two planes into two nuclear facilities as part of its original plan.
Yet Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) is trying desperately to force taxpayers to underwrite $50 billion and more in loans to build still more of these radioactive bulls-eyes. A decision to include these provisions in the Energy Bill may be made as you read this, which is why safe energy advocates are asking citizens to flood Congress with calls, demanding the provisions be removed.
There is effectively nothing that can protect an atomic power plant from a terror attack. After 9/11, a global internet debate erupted over whether a jet could penetrate a reactor containment dome. Fortunately, there is no experimental data...yet.
But at very least more than two dozen early reactor domes, including Indian Point's, were never required to withstand a jet crash. They were designed in the 1960s with no anticipation of the much bigger planes now filling our skies. There is nothing to indicate they could withstand the kind of impact or fire that hit the WTC towers.
It would not be necessary for terrorists to hijack another jet, since Osama bin Laden among others has more than enough money to buy his own.
Nor would they need to penetrate a containment. The impact and fire alone on or near a reactor could devastate pipes, pumps, cooling systems, electronic controls, human operators, off-site power and communications, and any number of additional vital pressure points capable of causing a melt-down.
Chernobyl did explode in 1986, and Michigan's Fermi I fast breeder almost did so in 1966. In 1979, Three Mile Island faced the possibility of a hydrogen explosion. But its lethal radiation, which killed people and animals nearby, vented through stacks that remained intact throughout the disaster.
Arizona's entire three-reactor Palo Verde complex was recently shut because a single worker had what may have been a pipe bomb in his car.
All these events highlight the vulnerability of any society dependent on nuke power for its energy. A recent earthquake in Japan forced shut seven reactors in a single moment. The US now has 104 such plants generating some 20% of our electricity. Many are also near earthquake faults. All are vulnerable individually and as a fleet to a terror shut-down without a moment's notice.
Domenici's loan plan has been denounced by nearly every major environmental group in the United States, along with taxpayer groups and free marketeers such as the Cato Institute and Forbes Magazine, plus Congressional conservatives concerned about the budget process.
Domenici and his neo-con cohorts have been clear in their willingness to shred the Constitution in the name of national security.
But they would simultaneously force us to underwrite easily ignitable engines of radioactive mass destruction pre-deployed on our own soil.
The decision on whether these radioactive loan guarantees will be in the Energy Bill is being made as you read this. Call the Congressional leadership, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and tell them these bailouts for terror-target nukes must be stopped. NOW!!
Harvey Wasserman edits www.nukefree.org, where you can sign the petition against these guarantees. He is also senior editor of www.freepress.org, and his Solartopia: Our Green-Powered Earth, AD 2030 is available via www.solartopia.org.