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January 1, 1998
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I N T R O D U C T I O N
A Nuclear Pilgrim's Progress
Before 1946 I worked as an engineer on steam and gas turbine power plants. In 1946, after nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I entered the field of "peacetime" nuclear power. As an engineer I wanted to be part of the development of this new "safe" source of electrical energy "too cheap to meter." In 1963, because of safety and economic concerns about nuclear power, I quit the development of nuclear power. Now, in 1997, after over fifty years of observation, I am convinced that human beings lack the capacity to protect life on our planet from the perils of man-made nuclear devices. My common sense feelings, supported by my engineering analyses, recommend that no more reactors be built and that presently operating reactors be terminated as soon as possible.
I have become an anti-nuclear engineer. I once felt alone in that capacity. When I testified for the designation of Eugene as a nuclear-free zone, the mayor of the City asked whether I had a prejudice against nuclear energy. I told him, "No, I have an educated opinion about it."
I have been labeled by a nuclear promoter as a nuclear paranoid, a designation which I willingly accept. I believe anyone who isn't paranoid about nuclear energy doesn't know how bad the situation is, and how detrimental its continuation will be for all future generations. A discerning newspaper editor characterized my writing about nuclear matters as "a diatribe against the whole nuclear industry," a description which I honor as wholly consistent with my being a nuclear paranoid, concerned with the welfare of my grandchildren and their progeny.
I am at odds with most of the nuclear establishment, and I am no longer alone in that position. It is difficult for people on the nuclear payroll to differ in any material way with stated establishment positions, until they are ready to quit or be fired. The coverups of mistakes in the nuclear business have been many. But some technical people have turned against the reactor business for reasons similar to mine, and now write and speak against the use of reactors. Their information on the perils of nuclear power is available to the public in newspapers, books, magazines, and on the internet. I have listed some pertinent books below.
Many people protest the making of nuclear bombs. Some of them are beginning to realize that peacetime nuclear reactors are potential, and sometimes actual, supporters of bomb ventures. More and more lay people are protesting the performance of nuclear reactors and the problems of radioactive waste which have been forced on their attention. I welcome their company in the struggle against nuclear power.
The decision whether to cease and desist from nuclear power should not be left to the nuclear "experts." They, and their supporting military nuclear adventurers, have a vested professional interest in its continuation. That crucial decision can be made only by a citizenry as aware as possible of military and civilian nuclear perils, but with a primary vested interest in the continuation of grandchildren and their progeny. People who are not nuclear experts must trust and use their own power of observation, noting that (1) commercial nuclear power is an economic failure without the government subsidy which it gains because of its potential support for military ventures, (2) nuclear reactors, like all complicated technical devices, will occasionally fail, (3) failure of a reactor, as demonstrated at Chernobyl, inflicts abiding radioactive damage on populations and their environment, and (4) successful reactors accumulate an unsafe everlasting radioactive burden for all future generations to accommodate.
What follows is my analysis of the situation which leads me to my anti-nuclear stance. My report is in four sections:
The first section, entitled, "Nuclear Power Kills," discusses the unacceptable radioactive dangers of nuclear reactors and their materials and processes.
There have been many serious accidents. Nuclear enthusiasts would prefer, if allowed to do so, to ignore the dire consequences of nuclear accidents. They maintain that only 31 people, rather than thousands, died as the Chernobyl accident ruined thousands of acres of productive land forever. They deny the high probability of similar, or worse, reactor accidents in the future.
Even a "successful" reactor, which comes to the end of its precarious life with no accidents, has mass-produced several core loadings of violent radioactive poisons to be disposed of into the otherwise life-sustaining environment. These newly created poisons represent an intolerable reversal of part of the evolutionary process which over millions of years has left us a marginally safe level of radioactivity in which to live.
Some powerful military interests around the world want us to build and sell nuclear power plants even though they are an economic fiasco, as well as a menace to all life. The continuation of "peacetime" nuclear power greatly supports their continued development of nuclear weapons.
The second section of this report, entitled "My Nuclear Career," relates my personal experiences with the nuclear engineering assignment which I readily accepted so long ago.
At that time, my analysis of the design problems of nuclear reactors indicated interesting ideas to try, along with dangers and uncertainties to be investigated and forestalled. The reactor promoters, with their vested interest in a disappearing weapons market at stake, wanted as rapidly as possible to establish a nuclear power business, to sell and build reactors without wasting time on considerations of danger, or economics.
In 1963, I left nuclear power, convinced that it was to be a failure, foisting off onto the public uneconomic nuclear power and the grave radioactive threats which were being ignored.
The third section is entitled "Instability in Nuclear Reactors." Reactor designers like to say that "a nuclear reactor cannot blow up like a bomb." I apologize that part of my discussion is technical. I've tried to make it logical. The "experts" base their belief in stable reactors on optimism and an incomplete and misleading technical analysis. For the "experts" I must point out that their technology could bring them and us closer to the disturbing truth about nuclear power - that it is too complicated and too lethal to be trusted to the "experts."
I present in sequence some nuclear factors which, to the "experts," assure power stability in a nuclear power plant. Then I discuss some mechanical factors which can disastrously demolish reactor stability, even if not the confidence of reactor promoters. Combining these factors into a unified system, I investigate one form of instability which has probably helped wreck reactors, spreading their deadly radioactive loads into the environment.
The fourth section is entitled "A Model of Reactor Kinetics." This is an adaptation of the technical paper of the same name, written with the help of my son, Bruce Thompson, and published in the nuclear trade journal, Nuclear Science and Engineering, in September 1988. This paper supports the stability considerations of the previous section.
The concept of power instability has been largely ignored by nuclear promoters. If no more reactors were to be built, our stability studies would have no importance. A reactor, bad or good, which has not been built presents no danger. If the reactor promoters are allowed to commit the ultimate folly of building more nuclear power plants, some lingering trace of prudence would suggest that our study of power instability be seriously considered, and greatly extended.
Stop Nuclear Power and Nuclear War
As an engineer developing nuclear power I observed a lack of concern for the potential of nuclear power to destroy life. I believe that my sensitivity to the perils of human use of nuclear processes was enhanced because I took seriously my original assignment to develop "good" nuclear reactors.
Follow my technical discussions only as far as you wish. Please reserve your right to protect our grandchildren based on your own observations of nuclear developments and mishaps as they develop. I enter a plea that, for the sake of your grandchildren and mine, you seriously consider an all-out fight against the continuation of nuclear energy in all of its various "peacetime" and military forms.
I will be pleased if I succeed in sharpening your awareness of the potential harm of continuing nuclear ventures, either civilian or military.
- Nuclear Age, by John May, Greenpeace Books, Pantheon Books, New York, 1989.
- Nuclear California, Greenpeace/Center for Investigative Reporting, San Francisco, 1982.
- Forevermore, by Donald L. Bartlett and James B. Steele, W.W. Norton, New York, 1985.
- We Almost Lost Detroit, by John G. Fuller, Reader's Digest Press, 1975.
- Exposure, The Chugoku Newspaper, Kodansha International, Japan, 1992.
- Metal of Dishonor, International Action Center, 39 West 14th St., #206, New York, NY 10011, 1997.
- Radwaste, by Fred C. Shapiro, Random House, 1981.
- Deadly Deceit, by Jay M. Gould and Benjamin A. Goldman, Four Walls Eight Windows, PO Box 548, New York, NY, 1990.
- Normal Accidents, by Charles Perrow, Basic Books, Inc.,New York, 1984.
- Meltdown, by Daniel Ford, Simon & Schuster, 1986.
- The Plutonium Business, by Walter C. Patterson, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1984.
- Nuclear Theft: Risks and Safeguards, by Mason Willrich and Theodore B. Taylor, Ballinger, Cambridge, WA, 1974.