Saturday, February 16, 2002

Indian Point reactor incident

On February 14 a steam generator tube leaked at Indian Point, a nuclear power plant about 35 miles up the Hudson River from New York City. Here's a cut from the article:
The leak comes two years after the worst accident in the plant's history, when a tube in the steam generator burst, spilling radioactive coolant and sending a tiny amount of radioactive steam into the atmosphere.
I'm not sure why it's necessary to mention this, but it gets even better when you read accounts of the previous event. Anyway, here's another cut:
Plant owner Entergy Corp. reported that sensors detected radioactivity – about a tenth of an ounce a day – in what is supposed to be the clean water that is converted to steam.
One problem with this is that you don't measure radioactivity in ounces - it's meaningless because the amount of natural radiation varies so much between substances. But did you notice that they're talking about .1 ounces per day, about the size of a large medicine capsule? And they detected it in a huge plant? And they reported it? It's entirely possible that the reporter got the numbers wrong, but that's all we have to work with.

Here is a report of the "worst accident in the plant's history". It includes a graphic which might be interesting. An excellent, more technical account is here.

Here's a cut from the "worst accident" article:
“Where were the sirens?” asked David Coviello, 55, who lives two doors from the plant gate. “I have a 7-year-old son, an 18-year-old daughter.”
The fact is that evacuations are no treat either. Given how hysterical some people are about radiation, you can bet that there will be some reckless behavior during an evacuation. And who do you think will be blamed for it? You can bet it won't be the likes of Greenpeace and Public Citizen, who spread terror about radioactivity.

How do you suppose the reporter knows how many people live within 50 miles from the plant? I'll bet this number came from the plant's emergency plans. They are required to maintain these plans, train personnel for specific roles, and to hold drills in conjunction with local authorities under the supervision of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). What's more, the documentation is probably public unless that has changed since 9/11.

No story is complete without something like this:
Radiation measurements taken around the plant found nothing above normal background radiation, Quinn said, adding: “There is no danger to the health and welfare of the general public.”
Some villagers in Buchanan took that with a grain of salt.
“I’m definitely afraid,” said Regina Erben, just four doors from the plant entrance. “I’m afraid to brush my teeth. I’m afraid to make the coffee.”
They don't mention whether she was afraid to do these things at other times. Seriously, far too much is made of radiation releases like this, and if prompted I'll go more into this in another post.

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