TVA nuclear – is it “more or less” safe?

TVA nuclear – is it “more or less” safe?
February 20, 2011

Whoo Boy! Count me out of the arguments about the technical nuances of nuclear power. But here are some things I do know:

n Nuclear reactor power never has been “human” safe enough. We haven’t even figured out a safe way to dispose of nuclear waste, a problem plaguing the industry from the start.

n My first understandings of the huge potential for human destruction came when two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan which effectively ended World War II.

n Military training in Chemical, Biological and Radiological (CBR) warfare convinced me to be very wary of the inherent dangers of them all. Nuclear proliferation has been of national security concern for at least 60 years; rogue countries such as Iran and to some extent Pakistan are of constant concern. Israel is caught in the middle.

n TVA does not have a very good record of management and operations of nuclear reactors, a “cheap” source of “clean” electricity in the Tennessee Valley as claimed. TVA is grossly wrong on both counts. Ratepayer debt for ill conceived plans for 17 reactors in the 1970s continues to be a major financing problem. And the 1975 fire in a Browns Ferry reactor control room causing a near meltdown haunts not only TVA but the entire nuclear industry.

n With all of the rules surrounding nuclear activities for commercial use, TVA has fared badly in its management of existing plants and for the one remaining unit under construction, Watts Bar Unit 2. Suddenly, TVA “fired” its Iranian born nuclear construction engineer and offered only the barest of explanations. “All we’re saying is he’s no longer with us.”

Divorce documents reveal a quite different story. He fraudulently withdrew a large sum of deferred salary payments and sent $600,000 of it through a bank in Canada to Teheran promising more. If that was not suspicious enough, TVA failed to take aggressive action when they knew about his fraudulent act. He appears to have violated Section 21.(c) of the TVA Act which states;

“Any person who shall receive any compensation, rebate, or reward, or shall enter into any conspiracy, collusion, or agreement, express or implied, with intent to defraud the Corporation or wrongfully and unlawfully to defeat its purposes, shall, on conviction thereof, be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. [48 Stat. 68-69, 16 U.S.C. sec. 831t].”

n I have been told by an eyewitness how lackadaisical TVA can be in operating nuclear reactors. In one instance, a nuclear reactor operator allowed a clean up person to “shut down” a reactor; all kinds of holiday decorations were allowed in the control room. The person who told me of these instances later was forced into early retirement by showing him a hangman’s noose in his control room desk at a coal-fired plant. He reported safety infractions and was not a “team” player.

n The Nuclear Regulatory Commission repeatedly has warned TVA of safety violations. I do not believe possible that the existing culture of the TVA will ever permit the TVA from operating its nuclear facilities with maximum safety.

n For a hair raising account of some earlier TVA nuclear escapades, see the Fortune Magazine article of October 27, 1986.

n Hundreds of U.S. submarines and other Navy ships are nuclear powered. They should be available from FEMA for emergency electricity failures. We know the Navy knows how to operate them despite TVA’s naval involvement mentioned in the above article.

n TVA cannot operate much longer in its stressed financial status of being a producer of “cheap” electricity while serving as an experimental arm of the U.S. Government and requiring billions of dollars in grant money. TVA ratepayers will not continue paying for many of TVA’s frivolous ventures into vague “out there somewhere” programs such as the overspending of more than $500,000 of ratepayer funds on their Green Power Switch program. A FOIA request is pending for that answer. Stay tuned.

Ernest Norsworthy

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