A* M I [I ing reactors altogether. Of the 203
i i atomic reactors being built or on the
I .....7 P 0 Er drawing boards, 23 have been canceled i
E : outright. Further work on 125 others a
s" h has been postponed.
4 the Ira IRecession has played a major role in
rem the slowdown. But the problems that
S/ beset the industry are not apt to vanish
0At nmmar with recovery. For one thing, recovery
IU1 niOer or not, the cost advantage of generating
electricity with atomic reactors is fad-
ing. Where there is easy access to coal,
", tV U "going nuclear" no longer is considered
Sthe best option by many executives.
"A standoff." Many in the power
industry have grown skeptical of claims
made by promoters of the atom. Donald
C. Cook, retiring chairman of American
Electric Power Company, Inc., which
controls large coal reserves, says that in
his system the cost of generation by
S'nuclear reactors compared with coal
"comes out about a standoff."
Mr. Cook said in a recent interview in
^ ; WWeekly Energy Report that there has
been "an erroneous conception of the
: :. ...- ~economics of nuclear power." H add-
... -.. .. ed: "This was largely responsible for
sending the electric-utility industry
down the wrong road. The economics
that were projected, but never materi-
Worry over safety hazards, A ban on further U.S. exports of nu- alized-and never will materialize-
S. t clear reactors was proposed in January looked so good that the companies
terr st threats, Uanium by David E. Lilienthal, first Chairman couldn't resist it."
shortages, radioactive waste of the Atomic Energy Commission. Even with economic recovery taking
He urged the step to halt what he hold, uncertainty over future growth in
.. these are just some of termed the "terrifying" spread of the demand for electric power is putting
the reasons why a key indus- nuclear fuel and technology that could nuclear plants at a disadvantage. Plan-
give scores of nations the atomic bomb. ning is less flexible because an eight to
try seems to be faltering. This fresh outbreak of worry hits the 10-year "lead time" is required to bring
Jack McWethy, an associate U.S. nuclear industry at a time when an atomic plant into operation. That
So t business is at the lowest ebb in a dec- compares with four years or less for
editor of the magazine, went ade. In 1975, Westinghouse Electric generators fueled by coal.
to experts for this report. Corporation sold only four plants in this Reliability of nuclear generators, over
country and General Electric Company all, is less than that of those fired by
but one. Another manufacturer, Gener- coal or other fossil fuels. The nuclear
The spread of atomic power, once al Atomic Company, has stopped mak- plants are available to generate power
heralded as America's long-range an- ..
swer to avoiding dependence on Mid- .. -. ..t. ff-
east oil, is at a near-standstill. b' :'- '.- ..... .. '
Three of every four nuclear power _- i I,, I "
plants under construction or planned in "-
the U.S. are in trouble--canceled out- '& ,
right or delayed for at least six months. \ .
Construction costs are spiraling, cut- .. I:
ting deeply into the once clear-cut ad- .. -.. ':." ^ ! .
vantage of atomic power. Shortages of --: 1
uranium are starting to show up and &. ... ,. ,.--. .. ,'
threatening to get worse. "
Environmentalists and other critics '" ..P' 1 V \\,:. .- 'i, 7
opposed to power from the atom are ,: -. i' t' -
gaining momentum and delaying nucle- '- _.o" : ,, .P- -y 1 "'1
ar plants through the courts or at the : j- .
ballot box. Y i : '
In short, the whole future of atomic *' : .- \ '- !
power is being called into question. .4 j' <,J
Further complicating matters, fears of ".*aWIDE WO D
terrorist sabotage and of catastrophic Antinuclear protests are spreading as worry grows over safety and environmental impact
accidents are taking deeper root. of atomic power plants. Aim of "ban the atom" groups now is to rewrite the laws.
U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, Feb. 16, 1976 49
ATOMIC POWER terrorists and enable them to fashion a worked on the report. He says: "The
continuedd from preceding page] crude atomic bomb. safeguards are a joke. The companies
Another growing concern is that for- involved are interested mostly in saving
71 per cent of the time, compared with eign agents, by sabotaging a power money. They're doing only the bare
76 per cent for the others. plant, could cause the release of lethal minimum -of security required by the
"Those who have been working. hard doses of radioactivity into the surround- Nuclear Regulatory Commission."
to halt the growth of atomic power are ing air and water. As things stand now, when a civilian
gaining strength-and with it, renewed Scenario for terror. A study for the shipment of weapons-grade nuclear ma-
confidence. Nuclear Regulatory Commission by the trial moves across the country-usually
Says Jeffrey Knight, an official of the Mitre Corporation has concluded that by truck-it is accompanied by two
environmentalist organization, Friends far-tighter precautions are needed armed guards in an escort vehicle. They
of the Earth: "I don't think we will have against such hazards. The Mitre report check in with their headquarters every
a nuclear industry by 1985. Oh, there spelled out just how terrorists might get two hours by phone or radio.
will still be some nuclear plants around, their hands on atomic material, includ- By 1980, when more than 40,000
but the industry will be in a state of ing this possibility: pounds of plutonium and weapons-
Scollapse. The economics are such that it "Organized crime in the United grade uranium are in storage at civilian
is even now a questionable enterprise at States has demonstrated the capacity to plants around the country, the need for
best. Conditions will not improve with- execute complicated actions with plan- security will increase.
out a massive bailout by the Federal ning, co-ordination, secrecy, patience Within the Nuclear Regulatory Con-
Government." and whatever level of force and arma- mission itself there is worry that today's
Ecologists are attacking on a broad ment is necessary to accomplish the job. safeguards are inadequate.
front. "Ban the atom" groups are cam- There is little question that, for a In an internal memorandum, NRC's
paigning to change laws governing fu- sufficient amount of money, members director of safeguards, Carl H. Builder,
ture use of nuclear power at the State of organized crime would take a con- stated:
and local levels. California, as reported tract to acquire special nuclear material "I am concerned that some or even
on this page, is now the focal point in for another party." many of our currently licensed facilities
this battle. One member of the Mitre study team may not have safeguards which are ade-
SA fear shared by those on both sides who feels that not enough has been quate against the lowest levels" of ter-
of the issue is the possibility that nucle- done in the way of security is Charles rorist attack.
ar material might fall into the hands of Brennan, a former FBI agent who The memo focused on commercial fa-
IS CALIFORNIA KEY TO FUTURE OF ATOMIC POWER?
SAN FRANCISCO General Electric said in its official covering a possible catastrophic acci-
California is now the battleground statement: "That three of several thou- dent-is raised from the 560-million-
where the future of nuclear power in sand GE nuclear engineers have come dollar figure provided by federal law.
this country may well be decided. out in favor of the initiative is not sur- Carl Goldstein of the Atomic Industri-
Voters will go to the polls on June 8 prising. While we respect their rights to al Forum, Inc., says approval of the ini-
to say "Yes" or "No" to the "Nuclear express their opinions, the company tiative would set a precedent that could
Power Plants Initiative Statutes." This emphatically disagrees with their point become a "big domino" setting off a
would ban future atomic power plants of view." chain reaction in other States.
in California for all practical purposes The California initiative would allow A similar measure qualified for the
and give impetus to the antinuclear future nuclear construction only after ballot in Oregon. There are petition
drive all across the U.S. two thirds of the legislature votes ap- drives in 12 other States. Maine, Colora-
A new ingredient was added to the proval. The measure also would require do, Montana and Oklahoma are the
bitter debate on February 2 when three gradual phase-out of existing plants un- States where the issue is reported to be
top nuclear engineers of General Elec- less the limit on insurance liability- most likely to come to a vote this year.
trick Company quit, saying that risks
posed by nuclear power are greater ..' i""::;F I "
than industry admits. They plan to cam-
paign for passage of the California ini- %, j" .. ,+ f '
tiative with Project Survival, which is "
an antinuclear group. Y' l -
Dale G. Bridenbaugh, 44, with GE for. i
22 years, was in the nuclear division as i
manager of performance evaluation and : H
improvement. He said in his letter of ,:'" ; .
resignation: "Nuclear power has be- 3
come a technological monster and it is "/
not clear who, if anyone, is in control. I i '
am no longer convinced of the techni- f ,
cal safety of nuclear power."
The other engineers who resigned / I I
were Richard B. Hubbard, 38, manager \
of quality assurance, and Gregory C.
Minor, 38, manager of advanced control Defection of three nuclear engineers from General Electric gave boost to nuclear critics
and instrumentation, in California. Resigning were Richard Hubbard, Gregory Minor, Dale Bridenbaugh.
50 U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, Feb. 1i. 1976
if --'-. ---.---- ;-^y~l^,- ri<31tt-a^--. -I II II II ll
", Carlsbad, N.M., or in Rocky Mountain
,to remain for up to 50,000 years.
-.s-r.-' Most of the long-lived waste now be-
^ ^ I*fg~ fing produced does not come from the
S: flow of uranium into commercial power
S..reactors. Only 8 per cent of it-2,300
Smetric tons-is from nuclear power
": !T,- .-| ..... .-;- a r;lT^ plants. The rest is the result of weapons
t programs, industrial and medical use of
S. the atom, and laboratory applications.
Then there is the threat of uranium
shortages. The industry is scrambling to
Si' i ... insure that there will be enough of the
uranium from which fuel for reactors is
Atomic power has been cheap and safe for Commonwealth Edison in Illinois. These derived.
turbines, run by reactor steam, cost 20 per cent less to operate than fossil-fuel systems. Westinghouse, a major supplier of the
processed uranium to power plants, is
cilities that handle plutonium and person living near an atomic plant will in court trying to break contracts that it
weapons-grade uranium. be killed by a reactor accident are 1 in had made to supply customers. The cor-
The safety question. Antinuclear 5 billion per year. By comparison, the portion is citing shortages and escalat-
critics continue to stress the possibility chance of being killed by a lightning ing costs.
that a major accident at a nuclear reac- bolt is 1 in 2 million per year. Hans Adler, an official of the Energy
tor could be a lethal disaster, killing Long-lived waste. Another worry for Research and Development Administra-
thousands. And while there has been no the nuclear industry is the growing tion, says that to meet uranium require-
such major incident at any atomic pow- stockpile of radioactive waste produced ments over the next 30 years, nine new
er plant, there was a near-disaster last by commercial reactors and other Gov- areas must be discovered that are equal
spring at the Browns Ferry plant in ernment and industrial users of the in potential to that of the Colorado Pla-
Alabama. Details of that accident are atom. teau region. This area has provided
reported on page 52. Vast quantities of radioactive material nearly three quarters of America's ura-
For its part, the industry emphasizes already are stored above ground in nium since World War II.
the near-perfect safety record of atomic huge holding tanks at several federal Not all those in the nuclear business
power. Officials also point to a study reservations. The Energy Research and are as worried about uranium shortages.
requested by the Nuclear Regulatory Development Administration (ERDA) is A high-ranking official at the Nuclear
Commission and completed late in Regulatory Commission told US. News
1975, after three years-the Rasmussen. j & World Report that there is plenty of
report, which was named for its direc- '", uranium in the U.S., and "all you have
tor, Prof. Norman Rasmussen of the .. to do is raise the price and suddenly this
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. stuff will be coming out your ears."
Among its findings: i Plutonium debate. One proposal to
Of the 15 million people who live i "" save uranium reserves is the focus of
within 25 miles of current or planned r controversy between the nuclear com-
atomic-reactor sites, two people per : munity and environmentalist. That in-
year are likely to be killed and 20 in- volves the future role of the plutonium
jured by accidents at the plants. By :\ .. that can be separated out of spent fuel
comparison, in the same area the odds alu \. at "' ; from reactors.
are that eight people will be killed by L \ --. The industry would like to see this
lightning and 4,200 by car accidents i: "," plutonium fed back into the current
each year. 1 generation of "light water" reactors as a
Long-term health effects following .... percentage of the fuel load. Besides
a major nuclear accident, with massive --conserving dwindling uranium reserves,
release of radioactive contaminants, j' ---- they say, this would reduce the cost of
could result in 170 latent cases of can- reactor fuel.
cer, 25 incidents of genetic effects and j J J- Leaders of the campaign against
"1,400 cases of thyroid illness. atomic power are dead set against the
With 100 reactors in operation, the .use of plutonium in the fuel cycle and
chance of a nuclear accident's killing -give two basic reasons:
1,000 or more people is considered 1 in f^-.."' -'- .. 1. Plutonium, even in minute quanti-
1 million per year. This is in the same -- .- ties, is highly toxic when ingested by
range of probability that a meteorite *. .- humans and is believed to cause cancer.
would hit a population center in the 2. It would be the one substance in
U.S. and kill 1,000 people. the fuel cycle from which terrorists
The Rasmussen report also finds that "'-" could realistically hope to make an
nuclear plants are 10,000 times less like- atomic bomb. '
ly to produce a fatal accident than most -ULLENoFAToMcsEsTs The Nuclear Regulatory Commission I
ing to the study, the chances that a is lowered into a water-storage pool. questions, but no final decision is ex-
U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, Feb. 16, 1976 51 j
FIRE AT A NUCLEAR PLANT: [continued from preceding page]
OFFICIAL REPORT ON A NEAR-DISASTER
pected for at least a year. A central
element in the plutonium debate is the
At 15 minutes past noon on March tigators indicated officials at the long-promised reactor that is known as
22, 1975, fire broke out in the plant were ill-prepared to deal with the "fast breeder." It would produce
Browns Ferry atomic power plant the emergency. After workmen more plutonium than it consumes and
near Athens, Ala. failed to put out the blaze by them- thus is touted by the industry as the
The near-catastrophe that followed selves, it took 15 minutes to sound answer to the country's energy prob-
was the worst ever at a commercial the general fire alarm because the lems in the next 30 years.
nuclear power facility in the U.S. It wrong telephone number was listed What the future holds. Nuclear offi-
has raised doubt about reactor "fail- on an emergency-procedure sheet, cials in Government and industry ac-
safe" safety systems because most Firefighters disagree. An hour knowledge the current slowdown, but
were quickly rendered useless. after the fire started, local firemen predict it will be overcome and atomic
The following description of the from nearby Athens arrived on the power will play a vital role in the U.S.
incident is summarized from the offi- scene and recommended use of wa- drive for energy independence. Says
cial investigation report of the Nucle- ter to douse the blaze. This advice Carl Walske, president of the Atomic
ar Regulatory Commission. was rejected until the fire had Industrial Forum, Inc.:
Fire started when a workman's burned for seven hours. When water "Our problems are distinctly of a
candle used to check for air leaks finally was used, the blaze was extin- short-term nature, and the majority of
ignited a rack of electrical cables just guished in 15 minutes. these can-and will-be resolved once
below the reactor control room. The reactor's emergency core- the electric utilities regain their finan-
Some 2,000 cables were destroyed cooling systems, as well as a number cial footing Uncertainty, much
and the complex wiring system of of other important pump and water- more than stagnation, right now is the
the plant was gutted. The smoke- circulation backup systems, were bane of the nuclear utilities."
filled control room was chaotic as knocked out by the fire. Atomic power, it is pointed out, has
operators struggled to safely shut Technicians scrambled to find oth- proved reliable and economical in many
down the controlled-fission reaction er ways of keeping the reactor core utility systems. One of the best records
that generates power. cool. The water level in one unit has been compiled by Commonwealth
There were several minor injuries; almost dropped below the tops of the Edison Company of Chicago.
no one was killed. Total damage was fuel rods. If these rods are not sur- A third of Commonwealth's generat-
put at 6.7 million dollars by the plant rounded by water, they will melt and ing capacity is nuclear-about 5,000
owner, the Tennessee Valley Author- the molten mass of radioactive fuel megawatts produced by seven units. In
ity. Both reactors in the two-unit can burn through the floor of the one month, November, 1975, half the
plant are out of commission for at reactor containment vessel, releasing system's electricity was produced by
least a year at a monthly cost of 10 deadly contaminants to the sur- the atom. Says a spokesman: "In the last
million dollars. rounding environment. This is half year, the performance of our nuce-
Findings of the Government inves- known as a "core melt-down." ar plants has been remarkable. We have
p One strained pumping system was nothing but praise for the way these
"" all that stood, between control of the plants have worked."
'P IP core and a possible melt-down. One In the Commonwealth system, the
"- other procedure might have been cost of generating power with nuclear
A "ti\ t used, but operators at Browns Ferry plants is about 20 per cent less than that
S.. j 1 told investigators they were not of coal-fired units.
CA aware of this option at the time. No contest. For most utilities in the
lj HL I d Local authorities were notified of Northeast, nuclear power is found to be
i- "' __ the fire in a haphazard manner. No the best option. The nonpolluting, low-
.-- *i--i;, :. ifJ, j official notification was ever given to sulphur coal fields of the West are too
"- i .L i ;the State highway patrol. The Civil far from this region to be economically
.- Defense Co-ordinator for the coun- used. Says a spokesman for Consolidat-
j "' ty-who would have been responsi- ed Edison Company, based in New
hble for implementing evacuation York City: "There's no contest in our
K"L'- 0-" t -i S' plans-heard about the fire two days State."
S' i - later. The sheriff of a neighboring But past success, say opponents of nu-
't.'_ ,- ... county was told about the situation clear power, do not guarantee future
, ""11 ^j j : ^ four hours after the fire started, but performance and safety.
"was asked to keep quiet about the Staunch advocates concede that the
[ "- '"- incident to avoid any panic," he said. drive for more energy from the atom is
1 i :, Officials of the Nuclear Regulatory at a critical juncture. Robert C. Sea-
"---1.. :. Commission, in answer to criticism mans, Jr., head of the Energy Research
".I'e.' _I ..... in the wake of the incident at the and Development Administration, lays
': Browns Ferry plant, say the fact that down this challenge: "I believe it is our
S.; ,. a melt-down was avoided when so responsibility to demonstrate that this
-..~ ....,. .-" ... l many of the backup systems were industry knows what it is doing, that we
.. .. disabled demonstrates that the re- have the capability to deal with our
S ...., ,- dundant safety approach does work. problems.. Nuclear power must play
.,A The NRC is now in the process of a major role in this nation's energy fu-
At Browns Ferry plant in Alabama, rechecking the safety systems of ev- ture, or our national future will be very
workmen load fuel rods into reactor. ery nuclear plant in the country. bleak indeed."
52 U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, Feb. 16, 1976