Wednesday, June 29, 2011

NRC, Nuclear Industry Rewrite History: AP Investigation

From the AP via the Huffington Post:

When commercial nuclear power was getting its start in the 1960s and 1970s, industry and regulators stated unequivocally that reactors were designed only to operate for 40 years. Now they tell another story – insisting that the units were built with no inherent life span, and can run for up to a century, an Associated Press investigation shows.

By rewriting history, plant owners are making it easier to extend the lives of dozens of reactors in a relicensing process that resembles nothing more than an elaborate rubber stamp.

As part of a yearlong investigation of aging issues at the nation's nuclear power plants, the AP found that the relicensing process often lacks fully independent safety reviews. Records show that paperwork of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission sometimes matches word-for-word the language used in a plant operator's application.

Also, the relicensing process relies heavily on such paperwork, with very little onsite inspection and verification.

And under relicensing rules, tighter standards are not required to compensate for decades of wear and tear.

More here.

This is chilling, indeed. The long and short of the article is that all of these nuclear power plants have reached the end of their design life, but they are being rubber stamp renewed to operate another twenty years, and safety considerations be damned. Okay, I think I am now officially anti-nuke. Whether they're safe in theory has nothing to do with how they appear to be operated in reality. And nukes are nothing to fuck around with. After all, there is absolutely no margin for error once they fail.

I recently watched a massive fifteen hour long documentary called A History of Britain, which is fascinating enough on its own merits, but one episode in particular got me thinking. The slave trade, you know, the economic institution that continues to screw with the American psyche a hundred and fifty years after it ended, was literally started in the early eighteenth century by the British Empire in order to facilitate huge fortunes that could be made growing sugar in the Caribbean. It had nothing at all to do with white supremicism, as far as motivation goes--that came later, as a bogus philosophical rationale to justify retroactively the barbaric practice of slavery. Rather, what drove the entire enterprise forward was the ability to become as rich as European nobility in five or six years time: the only thing lacking was a labor force that would work in the intensely hot and malaria ridden conditions present in the jungle terrain where sugar cane was grown. No self-respecting and life-valuing English subject would even consider doing such work. Actually, nobody would consider such work.

So slavery, which had always been around, but on a relatively small scale, went big time.

Thing was, at the time, everybody knew it was wrong. Everybody. Everyone understood that uprooting thousands of human beings from one part of the world, brutally shipping them across the Atlantic to another part of the world, and forcing them to work in vilely inhumane conditions is deeply immoral. Everybody knew it. But they were making so much money! So the practice continued for decades and decades until social forces slowly rose up to demand an end to it all. In the US we had to go to war in order to abolish slavery, the resistance to abolition was so fierce.

And such resistance was ultimately driven by profit.

So watching this episode about the origins of slavery it dawned on me how the profit urge wasn't ever really questioned. I mean, slavery was questioned, to be sure, and we ultimately ended it, or, at least, we ended slavery in that particular manifestation. But nobody ever really took a deep and penetrating look at how the profit motivation makes human beings do the most vile and wretched things to other human beings, even when we know it's wrong.

I mean, okay, Marx examined all this, but his work never went mainstream in the US in the way resistance to slavery did. Indeed, the profit motivation was and is the source of all anti-communist and anti-socialist sentiment: capitalists recognized right away that if Marxism really took hold in the US, their game would be over, so the barons of industry immediately moved to wipe communism and socialism from the face of the earth. Slavery is evil, sure, but so is communism; why, communism is slavery. An Orwellian thought if there ever was one.

So back to the nuclear power industry. These guys know their plants have a design life of only forty years. They know it. But the plants are paid for. It's pure profit now. And there's no fucking way they're going to give up the gravy train, even while the world watches a large portion of Japan become slowly uninhabitable. They just don't give a fuck. Like the sugar plantation owners of the 1700s, they're making too much money to care. The profit urge, which has created this modern world in which we live, generally a good thing, most definitely has a heinous dark side, too, one that places riches for a few individuals over the fates of millions.

And most of us blissfully ignore it. At our own great risk.