Simple anti-terrorism language too much for legislators to cope with in energy bill | Wis.Community

Simple anti-terrorism language too much for legislators to cope with in energy bill

It's a well-established fact that nuclear reactors at 103 power plants in the US are suseptible to terrorist attack. It's one of those inconvenient truths we try not to think about, especially if we live near one of the sites.

The issue surfaced again recently when it was learned that an Al Qaeda suspect had worked at five nuclear sites.

The Center for Defense Information says nuclear waste could become an ingredient for a so-called "dirty bomb":

The most accessible nuclear device for any terrorist would be a radiological dispersion bomb. This so-called 'dirty bomb' would consist of waste by-products from nuclear reactors wrapped in conventional explosives, which upon detonation would spew deadly radioactive particles into the environment. This is an expedient weapon, in that radioactive waste material is relatively easy to obtain. Radioactive waste is widely found throughout the world, and in general is not as well guarded as actual nuclear weapons.

It's accumulating in Wisconsin at Point Beach and Kewaunee. And if pro-nuclear forces have their way with the Clean Energy Jobs Act, Wisconsin could be living with growing stockpiles of high-level radioactive waste for a long time to come.

Current state law sensibly says that before any new reactors can be built, a federal waste repository must be operating so there is a safe, permanent way to dispose of the deadly material.

The Clean Energy Jobs Act would eliminate that requirement, thereby opening the door to more nuclear reactors in the state.

With no repository -- and no other way to dispose of the waste, which remains deadly for hundreds of thousands of years, the waste will be stored on site, in pools of water or in dry casks. That's what's happening now, but that was never intended as a long-term solution, but rather as temporary storage.

Nuclear advocates appear to be winning the battle in the legislature. Lawmakers who support a shift to renewable energy are willing to make a deal with the devil and loosen the nuclear restrictions in order to get enough votes to pass the bill.

A new, amended version of the bill is to be unveiled soon, perhaps this week, and from all reports --it's been written in secret, of course -- it will make the nuclear language even worse.

Against that backdrop, a coalition of groups working for a Carbon Free Nuclear Free Wisconsin has proposed a simple amendment to the bill. The coalition would like the sensible existing law to remain in place, but as that looks less and less likely, and more nuclear reactors loom in Wisconsin's future, the group is asking that oversight of on-site radioactive waste storage at least be tightened up.

The current bill simply says that the Public Service Commission must find that:

The plan for managing the nuclear waste from the proposed nuclear power plant is economic, reasonable, stringent, and in the public interest, given the safety and other risks presented by the waste.

That could mean just doing what the utilities are doing now, which is less than adequate in case of a terrorist attack. The coalition proposes adding this language:

Spent fuel, when moved from storage pools, will be stored in facilities that are sufficiently secure that foreseeable terrorist attacks would not cause severe economic disruption and casualties outside the perimeter of the nuclear power plant.

"Spent fuel" is how the industry refers to the nuclear waste generated when a reactor operates.

A terrorist attack on nuclear waste would have severe economic consequences for the surrounding area, which is the purview of the state. This amendment aims to protect the public from these potential consequences by requiring secure storage of nuclear waste at any new nuclear reactors built in Wisconsin. States are permitted to regulate economic liabilities from nuclear waste. The federal government is responsible for regulating technical, health and safety issues related to waste. By focusing on the economic effects of waste management, the legislature would not run into issues of federal pre-emption.

Definitions:

“sufficiently secure:” in order for storage of nuclear waste to be secure on-site and therefore meet the public economic protection criteria, the amount of releases projected in even severe attacks should be low enough that the storage system would be unattractive as a terrorist target. Design criteria that would correspond to the overall objective must include: hardened storage that resists foreseeable severe attacks without major releases; and the placement of individual canisters that makes detection difficult from outside the site boundary. We do not include such technical specifications in the language above, because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is responsible for such regulation.

“foreseeable terrorist attacks:” attacks similar to those that have already occurred, and are therefore foreseeable, such as a direct hit by high-explosive or deeply penetrating weapons and munitions or a direct hit by a large aircraft loaded with fuel or a small aircraft loaded with fuel and/or explosives. Inclusion of this language will greatly strengthen the bill and protect Wisconsin’s citizens, economy and environment.

All of that sounds pretty reasonable, but the coalition has had no success in getting it included in the bill, and may not even find a legislator to introduce it when the bill comes to the floor.

You'd think that even the Republicans, who seem prepared to vote unanimously against the clean energy bill (because corporations claim it will cost them money to use clean, renewable energy) would want to cast a vote to protect us from terrorism. But they seem willing to rely on the Kewaunee emergency evacuation plan. See if it makes you feel better.

But in the strange world under the State Capitol dome, the sharp partisan divide leaves a gap in the middle big enough to drive truckloads of radioactive waste through, and that's just what the nuclear industry is about to do.

Published

April 4, 2010 - 1:03pm

Author

randomness