(Originally published Friday, May 1, 2015 on http://haltfermi.blogspot.com/)
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued the final operating license that DTE Electric (DTE) needs in order to build Fermi 3, a new nuclear rector. They plan to build it on the shore of Lake Erie adjacent to Fermi 2, the world’s largest example of a Fukushima-type reactor. Fermi 2 was already built next to the site of Fermi 1, DTE’s first reactor which melted down in 1966. DTE is planning to double down on the risk of another meltdown.
The NRC, according to the law which created it, is supposed “to ensure the safe use of radioactive materials for beneficial civilian purposes while protecting people and the environment.” We could count many ways in which they have failed, but the main failure is that they invent ways to justify building commercial nuclear reactors at all. They insist that commercial nuclear reactors are safe. Let’s examine that claim.
In round figures, around less than 500 large nuclear power reactors have been built world-wide. Of these, one at Chernobyl and three at Fukushima have experienced meltdowns resulting in gross contamination of the surrounding areas. In the United States, the less catastrophic meltdowns at Fermi 1 and Three Mile Island are well known. These events both resulted in wrecked reactor cores and permanent decommissioning. Substantially the same was true of the Saint-Laurent Nuclear Power Plant in France in 1969 and the KS 150 reactor in Czechoslovakia in 1977 (the year of the most serious incident).
That gives us 8 meltdowns (so far) of varying severity out of less than 500 commercial reactors. That’s an actual failure rate of well over 1%. If you only look at the two spectacular failures in the United States’ reactors, out of a base of just over 100, then the US rate is closer to 2% than 1%. This reality shows the deception involved in official reassurances that nuclear power is safe because the chances of a catastrophic failure are calculated (by the NRC) to be vanishingly small. Apparently, there is something wrong with their calculator.
There have also been numerous meltdowns in smaller military and experimental reactors: The NRX reactor at Chalk River, Canada, in 1952; the Windscale Piles in the UK in 1957; Chapelcross, in south west Scotland in 1967; The Lucens reactor at Lucens, Vaud, Switzerland, in 1969. And and there have also been meltdowns for a number of nuclear submarines – a sunken submarine is beyond anyone’s control.
The actual odds of a catastrophic failure at Fermi 2 are already unacceptably high. If Fermi 3 is built on the same site, then any disaster at the new reactor makes it harder to control the old one. Any disaster at #2 will make it harder to control #3. Any big release of radioactive material from one reactor will heavily contaminate the entire site (and beyond), making it very difficult or impossible to operate the other reactor. That’s how DTE is doubling down on the risk of disaster.
While we (Alliance to Halt Fermi 3 and other organizations) lost our fight to keep the NRC from granting a license for Fermi 3, that does not mean we are finished. The fight now moves into the arena of the Michigan Public Service Commission and Michigan state government generally. We need to convince our state officials, both the elected ones and the appointed ones, that Fermi 3 is a bad idea. There are better – faster, cheaper, cleaner and safer – ways to generate electrical power in Michigan.
DTE could make a profit from building Fermi 3, even if it never generates any power. If the Public Service Commission grants DTE a “Certificate of Need” for Fermi 3, the construction costs get added to our electrical bills. We, the people of Michigan, can’t afford the cost or the risk. We don’t want Fermi 3. We don’t need it. We do need to persuade our state officials to represent us instead of DTE on this issue.
It’s time for a lot of us to speak up: letters to legislators and editors; guest editorials on all kinds of media; tweets; Facebook posts; speaking up at any relevant meeting, from city council to legislative session; and any other way you can think of to get the message across. Just say no to Fermi 3.