Astonishing cooling tower collapse screams, "No new nukes!"
By Harvey Wasserman
Online Journal Guest Writer
Aug 28, 2007, 00:20
A cooling tower at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant
A broken 54-inch pipe there has spewed 350,000 gallons per
minute of overheated water into the Earth. "The river water piping and the
series of screens and supports failed," said a company spokesman. They
"fell to the ground."
The public and media were barred from viewing the wreckage
for three days. But when a congressional energy bill conference committee takes
up Senate-approved loan guarantees for building new nukes this fall, what will
reactor backers say about this latest pile of rubble?
This kind of event can make even hardened nuke opponents
pinch themselves and read the descriptions twice. Who could make this up?
Vermont Yankee (VY) has been in operation -- more or less --
since the early 1970s. Its owner is Entergy, a multi-reactor "McNuke"
operator that last year got approval to up VY's output by 20 percent.
Required inspections revealed worrisome cracks and other
structural problems. Entergy dismissed all that, but was forced to issue a
"ratepayer protection policy" against incidents caused by the power
increase. The guarantee expired earlier this month, not long before the
The tower came down amidst angry negotiations between
Entergy and plant workers. A strike was barely averted, but VY's labor troubles
are by no means over.
The reactor's output has now been slashed 50 percent. A
public battle is raging over whether it can dump water even hotter than usual
into the Connecticut River. Reactors in Alabama, France and elsewhere have been
forced shut because the rivers that cool them have exceeded 90 degrees.
Yankee's cooling system, vintage 1972, centers on 22 (now
21) wood, fiberglass and metal towers that stretch for 300 feet, and are 50
feet high and 40 feet wide. The company calls this giant rig a "rain
Operators admit to hearing "strange sounds" coming
from its fans last week, but say Tuesday's collapse was unexpected.
Nuclear opponents who warned about such an event have been
scorned by Entergy and its supporters. That something as apparently absurd as
the spontaneous collapse of an entire cooling tower could actually occur
underlines America's Keystone Kops reality of atomic operation and regulation.
"We need to understand what happened," explains the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission's Diane Screnci.
So does Congress. A definitive conference committee battle
will be fought after Labor Day over an energy bill that includes taxpayer
guarantees for $50 billion and more to build new nukes.
Meanwhile Vermonters will pay for this latest pile of
reactor rubble. Maybe a "fall foliage" field trip to the Green
Mountain State would do the Congress some good.
Wasserman's SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH, A.D. 2030 is at www.solartopia.org. He is senior advisor
to the Greenpeace USA and the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, and
senior editor of www.freepress.org,
where this piece first appeared.
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