Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Leaky Reactors, Cyber Terror and Police States

This is how the world ends
This is how the world ends
This is how the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
The Hallow Men TS Elliot

A few interesting  news items recently passed without much notice.  Two nuclear reactors located in the Northeast had to be  brought offline due to operational failures.  The Vermont Yankee reactor sprang a leak and had to be shut down.  The other incident occurred at the thirty six year old Indian Point reactor located about twenty miles north of New York City.  The cause of the problem at Indian Point was a transformer fire.  Both reactors  are owned and operated by Entergy and mirror similar problems at the Excelon operated Oyster Creek reactor located in south central New Jersey.

These incidents are endemic to aging nuclear power facilities.  These plants came on line during the the 1970’s and are now approaching the half century mark of service.  When these plants were commissioned it was believed they would have a shelf life of 40 years.   As the expected useful life span of these facilities approach regulators routinely grant extensions to the operators.  Operating these facilities past that point heighten potential risk factors.  As nuclear reactors age, the stress on these complex systems and containment facilities raise risk factors heightening the potential of system failure that lead to catastrophic events.

Leaky plumbing at the Oyster Creek nuclear plant is the culprit in poisoning the Cohansey Aquifer with 180,000 gallons of tritium contaminated water.  Regulators and environmental officials assert that the level of radio active isotopes in the water supply that serves South Jersey and parts of Philadelphia is well within acceptable levels for human consumption.  I guess that all depends on your definition of human; but I and many others remain skeptical on the subject of drinking radioactive laced water.

The aging nuclear infrastructure of the United States is a growing cause for concern.  The nuclear power industry was halted in its tracks in the 1980’s by a strong No Nukes environmental movement.  At the time it was generally understood that the cost of catastrophic risk and the industries inability to solve the long term problem of disposal and management of nuclear waste turned the public against the industry.

The Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania and the disastrous meltdown at Chernobyl in the Russian Caucuses led to a moratorium on new plant construction in the United States leading to the actual abandonment of plant construction in the Washington and New York.  It created a capital market crisis as the fear of defaults on WPPSS  revenue bonds spread to cast long shadows on the entire Muni Bond market.  The state of  New York stepped in to purchase the facilities of Long Island Power in order to make bondholders of the closed facility whole with tax payer money.  It was kind of like socialism for investors.

While most of the world has continued to build nuclear plants to address growing energy needs; the United States has not built a nuclear plant since the 1980’s and has lagged the world in using nuclear power to address energy needs. Sentiment on the desirability of nuclear power is beginning to change.  The Pickens Plan, former VP Dick Cheney’s secret meetings to develop a national energy strategy, the Gulf Oil Spill, the need to reduce dependence on foreign oil and the growing acceptance that the burning of fossil fuels is slowly cooking the planet has placed nuclear power back on the table as a viable component of America’s energy portfolio.

China is committed to building 100 nuclear power plants to wean itself from its crippling dependence on coal.  The United States is charging hard to keep up with its fast growing Asian competitor in a 21st Century nuclear power race.  The aggressive pursuit of nuclear plant development will increase the power and control of corporate entities charged with their construction, management and on going administration.  To accomplish a dramatic build-out in nuclear infrastructure large areas of  land situated near a plentiful water supply will need to be secured.   Environmental impacts, regulatory oversight and public transparency will be sacrificed at the alter of cost efficiency, expedience in implementation and security to protect the vulnerable facilities against the pervasive armies of terrorists that lurk in the shadows near every nuclear plant.

The controversy surrounding the collusion of government and business to exploit the Marcellus Shale natural gas vein is an instructive model of what we can expect from the stakeholders pursuing an aggressive campaign to develop Americas nuclear power infrastructure.  The dismissal of regulatory controls, the eminent domain of corporate interests, the opaque wall that shrouds risks factors and hides the environmental degradation resulting from the practice of fracking and the sacrifice of watersheds and aquifers to the expeditious extraction of natural gas are some of the documented behaviors of  a wanton corporate will imposed on the body politic.  Tragically this near sighted perspective willfully sacrifices the sustainable ecology of communities to the sole purpose of the profitable extraction of resources to serve shareholders of private corporations.   The nature of the nuclear beast will require that its interests be enforced by courts of law guided by extreme prejudice and protected by police battalions, state  guard units and private security groups in the name of national security interests.

The recently discovered Stuxnet computer virus is an indication of how the stakes are being raised in the nuclear power shell game.  The launch of a successful cyber attack on a nuclear facility anywhere in the world is a real game changer.  Self deluded uber patriots act more  like real pinheads if they believe that the destruction of Iran’s nuclear power capability is a harbinger for Middle East peace or enhances the   security of either Israel or the United States.  A nuclear event in Iran or North Korea are real game changers for the course of human history and the well being of  humanity. A clandestine service that can take out Iranian nuclear reactors can also be deployed to take out a reactor that is twenty miles north of New York City.  Or consider the consequences of a summer heat wave ravaging the citizens Philadelphia dying of thirst because the water supply is contaminated with radiation.  The extent of civil unrest would be extreme overwhelming the local law enforcement and judicial capabilities.  If these bleak scenarios come to pass,  Americans will be pining away for the good old days when a quick feel up at the airport by a TSA gendarme is fondly recalled like a high school make out session.  The pernicious yoke of marshal law under the nuclear challenged corporate security state will be incessant in practice and swift, sure and dire in its execution.

You Tube music video: No Nukes Concert 1979: Doobie Brothers Taking it to The Streets

Risk: democracy, energy policy, nuclear power, civil liberties

 

November 22, 2010 Posted by | community, culture, democracy, disaster planning, ecological, energy, environment, government, military, nuclear, regulatory, risk management | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

She’ll Be Comin Round the Mountain

John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in,
where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”
John Muir, The Yosemite

 

Last night I attended a public meeting in Ringwood on the proposed plan to upgrade the capacity of a natural gas pipeline through 16 miles of North Jersey’s pristine and endangered Highland woodlands. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. a subsidiary of El Paso Corp has filed a Letter of Intent with Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) to extend the swath of its pipeline grid with the Northeast Upgrade.  The meeting was chaired by FERC and its purpose was to solicit feedback on the pipeline upgrade known as the 300 Project.

A FERC representative declared the meeting open and outlined the purpose of the meeting and the process the agency will use to evaluate El Paso’s application to extend its footprint in the region.  The FERC representative then introduced an El Paso project engineer who took the audience through a brief power-point presentation on El Paso and the proposed pipeline upgrade project.  The meeting was then opened to comments from attendees.

Numerous people rose to speak.  Representatives from the Sierra Club, Ramapough Indian Tribe, local environmental groups, residents and public citizens voiced concerns about the 300 Project.  Not one spoke in defense of the project.

Many of the speakers raised the issue about the need to conduct a comprehensive environmental impact study.  The proposed pipeline extends way into western Pennsylvania and is key delivery platform for natural gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale region.  The Marcellus Shale project has recently gained some negative notoriety from the Josh Fox documentary Gasland and the use of the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Fracking involves the use of water mixed with chemicals, pumped underground into the shale formations to release the natural gas entrapped between the sedimentary layers.  Though the 300 Project does not involve natural gas extraction or the practice of fracking many speakers spoke about the lack of sufficient end to end regulatory oversight and the unsuitability of regulatory silos to effectively deal with the environmental, social, economic and cultural risks posed by the project.

The regulatory response to the risks posed by the pipeline goes to the heart of the many questions Americans are wrestling with at the polls in today’s Mid-Term Elections.  The Tea Party/GOP believes government is too big, regulation impedes economic growth and natural gas extraction is key to energy independence.  The progressive response is that corporations cannot indiscriminately impose their will on communities, regulatory safeguards align the interests of stakeholders, environmental stewardship is key to a sustainable future and non-fossil fuel based renewable energy sources need to be encouraged and promoted.

The speaker from the Sierra Club stated that his membership is not opposed to natural gas.  The Sierra Club views it as a key source of energy but also stated that the impact of its extraction and transport must be assessed within a larger context of risk factors confronting a complex ecosystem of community stakeholders.  He stated that the 300 Project posed unacceptable risks to the protected Sterling Forest Highlands watershed.  In the absence of a meaningful comprehensive Environmental Impact Study (remember BP’s Deepwater Horizon boilerplate EIS stated their environmental protection plan would carefully monitor the risk to a non-existing sea lion population)  the unknown dangers it posed to underwater aquifers supplying water to 4 million people remained unanswered.  He also spoke of the risks posed to the areas flora and fauna and the aesthetic degradation to The Appalachian Trail,  Monksville State Park, Ramapo Mountain State Forest and Ringwood Manor.

Coincidentally, much of the area El Paso chose for the proposed pipeline expansion is on public land.  The Highlands, Sterling Forest and Ringwood Manor comprise a portfolio of public land assets that are protected by a public trust.  Many people worked long and hard to protect these vital natural lands and El Paso is leasing them on the cheap.  The political disposition of New Jersey Governor Christie is an  ideal dance partner to enable El Paso’s unfettered access and use of these public lands.  I would not be surprised if Christie is in negotiations to sell these priceless assets to a private equity firm eager to mortgage the future of  these irreplaceable watershed resources.

As an avid hiker I am in love with the North Jersey Highlands. As a citizen of America’s most densely populated state the escape the woodlands offer is a most welcomed respite from the crushing confines of urbanity. Hiking the Appalachian Trail or bounding along the rocks of the Ramapoughs allows one to gets lost in thoughts and become thoroughly moved by an intimate unbreakable connection to the natural world.  When I mount a rise to be confronted by the clear cut of a gas pipeline “comin round the mountain” I’m reminded that the dear value of solace offered by nature is an endangered species.  I must pick up my step and heighten my resolve to protect the natural graces for succeeding generations.  Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir would expect nothing less.

When I am traversing through the woods I am anointed  with a spiritual grace Mother Nature freely offers and abundantly confers on any communicant.  As I cross the speaking streams and walk wooded paths carpeted with golden leaves the immediacy of being alive in a rich wellness and holy balance with nature alights our human divinity.  The Highlands is where we get our water to drink and fills our soul with a natural food vital for our survival as human beings.  The protection of the Highlands truly preserves our bread of life.

You Tube Music Video: Ramblin Tommy Scott, She’ll Be Comin Round the Mountain

Risk, environmental, regulatory, energy

November 2, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment