Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Energy Disaster Anniversaries

Three Mile Island, March 1979. The twin cooling stacks of
reactor #2 are on the left. All graphics:
Click to enlarge.

This week in New World Notes, #63, Tuesday, May 12:

Years ending in "9" tend to invite disasters involving big energy suppliers.

In 1979, Pennsylvania almost became the first Chernobyl, when Reactor Unit 2 at the Three Mile Island [TMI] nuclear power plant suffered a not-far-from-total meltdown. The plant--on the placid Susquehanna River just south of Harrisburg--was within 100 miles of Washington DC, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.

Exxon Valdez, 1989; containment vessel (which arrived
far too late) alongside, to the left; and southbound oil slick.
(This photo looks great when enlarged.)

In 1989, Exxon Corp. hosted the world's most damaging oil spill when the tanker Exxon Valdez smashed into a reef off the coast of Alaska. The drunken captain was blamed, but at the time, the Third Mate had command of the ship. The real culprits were (surprise!) Exxon and partner BP, which were illegally operating the ship without millions of dollars of required safety equipment.

In 1999, Exxon and Mobil were allowed to merge, thus creating the largest corporation in the world and thus essentially reconstituting John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company. Republican President Theodore Roosevelt had broken Standard Oil into a couple dozen pieces, on the grounds that a corporation that huge--that close to a monopoly--was a threat to democracy and capitalism both!

The GOP has taken to calling itself "The Party of Ideas." Hard as it may be to believe, a century ago, not all of its ideas were bad ones!

Also in 1999, a (Phillips) refinery in Texas blew up.

Alaskan duck (top) & citizen, Bill Scheer (bottom)

I can't wait to see what 2009 will bring! My fearless prediction: A reborn, non-union General Motors will introduce its greatest sales sucess ever, the Hummer H-6. So named because it's the size of the H-1, -2, and -3 combined. Its award-winning advertising slogan will be, "When some f***ing Mexican immigrant gets drunk, steals a car, and smashes into you head-on, . . . what do you want to be driving?"

This week, New World Notes examines the first two disasters. We discover (surprise again!) a tissue of corporate irresponsibility, human and environmental destruction, lack of punishment for the guilty, and lying governments more interested in protecting corporate profits than the lives of their citizens.

Greg Palast explains the scandals that underlie the Exxon Valdez disaster. I read an article by Harvey Wasserman that explains the scandals attending--and the unreported casualties of--the TMI meltdown. And Roy Zimmerman restores our pride in American capitalism with a song, "Multinational Anthem." Well, he tries to. Sort of.

Note the organization that produced this map
(along right edge of graphic). What the heck??

Sins of omission:

In the radio show I neglected to give credit where due. America's exciting Three Mile Island adventure was brought to us by designers Babcock & Wilcox ... the owner-operators, the Metropolitan Edison unit of General Public Utilities ... and government and state agencies too numerous to mention.

There's little chance of hiding the identity of the main culprit when smashed tankers carry names like Exxon Valdez. Rumor has it that Exxon-Mobil Corporation has adopted a new naming policy. Company tankers that ply dangerous waters are being renamed the Government Interference Valdez, the Excessive Corporate Taxation, and the Barack Obama Socialism. Future smashups should generate less unfavorable publicity for the company!

(Top:) Pennsylvania and federal officials maintain that
radiation releases from the TMI accident were insignificant.
This fine specimen of the famous Pennsylvania Two-Headed
breed, born nearby, shows that the officials
were correct.
(Bottom:) Above-average radiation levels brought,
proportionally, above-average rates of lung cancer in the
region. Note that a 150% increase = 2.5 times as many. Don't
need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows!
(Here, predominantly from the southeast.)

Did somebody mention 9-11 and Clean Nuclear Energy?:

An odd and interesting Web site, Pennsylvania Highways, has some excellent material on the Three Mile Island near-disaster, including interesting play-by-play reporting of the meltdown and the local response.

Especially interesting is its argument that on 9-11, hijacked UAL Flight 93 was heading to TMI, where highly contaminated Unit 2 was sealed and Unit 1 was still in operation. Flight 93 crashed in southwestern Pennsylvania, heading towards TMI and, beyond that, Washington, DC. If DC was its destination, it was flying at unusually low altitude as it approached Shanksville. Was it aiming for something closer than the White House? Had the Boeing 747 smashed into TMI, a Chernobyl-sized disaster could very well have ensued.

This was a new idea to me, though I've found it had occurred to others--including the Sunday Times of London--a bit earlier. Say, by September 12, 2001, in some cases. (Cautious by nature, the Sunday Times held off until October. Their feature story is a good one: )

Incidentally, I can assure you that the "containment vessels" of every nuclear power plant in the United States today are more than strong enough to withstand a 65-mph direct hit by any fuel-laden Piper Cub in the sky. So you can sleep peacefully!

The three outer rings represent radii from TMI of 100 miles (Washington DC,
Philadelphia, Baltimore), 200 miles (New York City, Pittsburgh, Syracuse,
Richmond), and 300 Miles (Boston, Providence, Columbus, Cleveland,
Charleston, and Raleigh). That's nothing. Wait 'til the aging reactor at
Indian Point blows. That's 25 miles north of NYC. Can you say Helter Skelter?

Catch New World Notes (all times Eastern):

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