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Nuclear -     1 - Duke Energy Employee Advocate
Nuclear - Page One

"If you want justice on the job, nobody is going to give it to you. You have to fight for it. " -Rep. Sanders

Chernobyl Victims Demand Support

New York Times - December 3, 2000

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Some 10,000 Chernobyl victims protested Sunday in the capital Kiev, marking the international day of disabled people and demanding more government spending on social care and support. The demonstrators, many of whom took part in the Chernobyl cleanup operations and suffered disabilities as a result, held a mass meeting in the center of Ukraine's capital, Kiev.

Chernobyl was the site of world's worst nuclear accident on April 26, 1986, when the plant's reactor No. 4 exploded and caught fire, sending a radioactive cloud over much of Europe.

The disaster is believed to have eventually killed some 8,000 people. Hundreds of thousands suffered from its aftereffects.

Currently, Chernobyl operates only one reactor, which has been the focus of disputes between international groups concerned about safety and energy-strapped Ukraine.

President Leonid Kuchma has promised to close Chernobyl on Dec. 15.

``These people were liquidating the accident, these people were deactivating the exclusion zone, the sarcophagus (over reactor No. 4) was built with their hands,'' said Yuriy Andreyev, president of Ukraine's Chernobyl Union which organized the demonstration.

Some disabled war veterans and other handicapped people also joined the protest.

``I have a pension like other people, but receive also a compensation for health loss,'' said Heorhiy Shaposhnikov, 50, who took part in the cleanup. His face was swollen and looked unhealthy. ``I lost 90 percent of my health, who may restore it?''

Earlier in November, victims of the Chernobyl nuclear accident and people who cleaned up after the disaster protested against government plans to cut their benefits in the budget for 2001.

More than 2.2 million of Ukraine's 50 million people are eligible for benefits stemming from the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

Millstone Station Employee Association

Duke Energy Employee Advocate - November 6, 2000

Jack Johannemann, a founder of the Millstone Station Employee Association, reported to us about the pension problems that the employees are facing. Millstone Nuclear Station is presently under contract to be sold to Dominion Resources.

Mr. Johannemann stated: "Our association was formed to allow us a forum to investigate/research how the sale would effect the employee benefits and retirement status. As we predicted we have found that the employee will come out on the losing end of the stick."

Mr. Johannemann stated that in no case has a plant been sold that the non-represented employee's transition was seamless.

We congratulate the Millstone employees on forming the association. The sooner you start fighting for your pension, the better the chance of saving it.

Mr. Johannemann is interested in contact with other employee groups.

Charlotte, N.C., Nuclear Plants Cause Concern

The Charlotte Observer - By Bruce Henderson - 10/19/2000

The design of Duke Power's two Charlotte-area nuclear plants may heighten the risks of using surplus weapons material to fuel them, an anti-nuclear proliferation group says.

Federal authorities say structures designed to contain radioactivity during a severe but unlikely reactor accident at Duke's McGuire and Catawba plants are substantially more likely to fail than those at most nuclear plants.

Even so, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says Duke's plan to use fuel that contains plutonium doesn't increase the risk of an accident. The agency, which has to approve the plan, says it hasn't analyzed the consequences of an accident involving the new fuel.

Duke and the NRC say the plants are safe. The utility hopes to use government plutonium, a radioactive element that is highly toxic in tiny amounts, to help fuel McGuire on Lake Norman and Catawba on Lake Wylie, beginning in 2007. It would be the first time that bomb material fuels aU.S. power plant.

The two plants are among 10 nationwide that built smaller, cheaper structures to contain the radiation that could escape during a reactor accident. The structures rely on ice-filled beds that would condense radioactive steam into water.

Most other nuclear plants use thick shells of reinforced concrete that are designed to be strong enough to withstand the heat and pressure of a severe accident.

A study for the NRC, published in April, said such ice-condenser plants would be much more likely to fail than other containment types during some quickly developing accidents. The expected failures would come from explosions of hydrogen produced when a reactor loses cooling water and fuel begins to melt.

Ice-condenser plants are more vulnerable to such explosions because their hydrogen-control systems don't work if the plant loses all electrical power, the NRC says. The systems are designed to relieve intense pressure by burning hydrogen before it explodes. The NRC says it is addressing that vulnerability.

The Nuclear Control Institute, an advocacy group based in Washington, says the study should trigger new scrutiny of the government's plan to mix surplus plutonium with uranium, nuclear plants' conventional fuel.

"These plants were built with the reasoning that you didn't need to build strong containment because you had other systems to reduce pressure," said the group's science director, physicist Edwin Lyman. "If that's not there, that is a concern."

The group will ask the Energy Department to reopen an environmental impact study and suspend work on a facility to make the new fuel. Duke Engineering & Services, a unit of Duke Energy, is part of a consortium under contract to build the facility at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C.

The April study put the probability of the ice-condenser plants failing to contain radioactive releases, under certain accident conditions, at .35 percent to 5.8 percent -- "substantially more sensitive to early containment failure" than other plants but under the 10 percent rate the NRC says is acceptable.

McGuire's failure probability was 13.9 percent -- highest of all the plants but close enough to the safety target, the NRC says.

21 Years Later, Government Denies
Three Mile Island Accident Was Extraordinary

Public Citizen – October 18, 2000

NRC Rejects Public Citizen Petition 21Years After It Is Filed

Twenty-one years after Public Citizen petitioned the federal government to declare the accident at the Three Mile Island an extraordinary nuclear occurrence, the atomic agency has finally responded. According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the meltdown at Three Mile Island was not extraordinary.

"Public Citizen filed this petition 21 years ago in an effort to help those harmed by the meltdown at Three Mile Island," said James Riccio, senior analyst with Public Citizen. "I'm sure that those individuals who lived around Three Mile Island and who are now battling cancers are comforted by NRC's finding that the meltdown wasn't extraordinary."

Public Citizen received written notification of the denial this week – more than 21 years after the group filed the July 24, 1979, petition.

The Atomic Energy Act defines an extraordinary nuclear occurrence as an event: (1) causing an off-site discharge of certain radioactive material or off-site radiation levels that are deemed to be substantial; and (2) that has resulted in, or probably will result in, substantial damages to persons or property off-site. Declaring the meltdown at Three Mile Island an extraordinary nuclear occurrence would have prevented the reactor owner from using certain legal defenses against citizens seeking to recover damages as a result of the accident.

"The NRC has been in denial about Three Mile Island since the nuclear industry melted down the reactor," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "Denying our petition is just another cynical attempt by the nuclear industry apologists at the NRC to deny the consequences of the meltdown at Three Mile Island."

Other U.S. nuclear reactors that have suffered meltdowns include the Experimental Breeder Reactor in Idaho Falls, Idaho; Westinghouse Testing Reactor, in Waltz Mill, Penn.; Stationary Low Power Reactor, in Idaho Falls, Idaho; Fermi 1, in Lagoona Beach, Mich.

Public Citizen

New Plutonium Trade Raises alarm

MSNBC – August 6, 2000

This week, the two most heavily armed merchant ships since World War II, the Pacific Teal and the Pacific Pintail, headed for the Cape of Good Hope. Their cargo: enough plutonium to make 75 nuclear warheads. The ships, en route from France to Japan, are the first of many slated to move large quantities of weapons grade plutonium across the Pacific, part of a trend that some experts say will greatly increase the risk of nuclear material falling into the wrong hands.

THE TWO SHIPS are armed with 30-millimeter cannons, seven tons of ammunition and enough fuel to make the 60-day journey without stopping. In Japan, the material, known as mixed oxide fuel or “MOX,” is to be used to power civilian nuclear plants. Plans call for thousands of tons of the substance to be shipped there in the coming decades. Yet only a small amount is needed to create a weapon more devastating than the one that destroyed the Japanese city of Hiroshima 54 years ago today.

Despite the armaments and secrecy surrounding this voyage, activists led by Greenpeace, joined by some top scientists, have argued that security measures surrounding the MOX shipments were not stringent enough. The reason lies in the nature of MOX, which by many measures is an attractive target for theft and diversion.

“It’s a wrong turn in the road of securing plutonium from those who might misuse it,” said Jim Riccio, staff attorney with Public Citizen Critical Mass Energy Project. “This is the coming trend,” said Riccio.

MOX is made up of uranium and plutonium, which generally comes from “reprocessing” the spent fuel of nuclear reactors. In terms of proliferation, MOX shipments present a greater risk than shipments of spent fuel, which is so radioactive it is classified as “self-protecting.” Such waste is difficult or deadly to handle, whereas

MOX can be handled with no special equipment, and minimal immediate danger. The plutonium in MOX can be separated by a simple and widely known chemical process.

Separating and processing the plutonium for use in weapons presents, “fewer financial and technical challenges than the attack on two separate U.S. embassies in two separate countries,” says Mathew Bunn, a nuclear expert at Harvard University, referring to the twin blasts at U.S. embassies in East Africa a year ago Saturday. “It is not at all beyond the capability of a well-funded and well-organized terrorist group.”

Turning the reactor-grade plutonium into bombs was proven possible at Los Alamos in the 1940s, contrary to what advocates for the nuclear industry say. “It’s a little known, but unclassified fact,” said Bunn, who was science and technology advisor to the Clinton administration in its first term.

“There are immediate and long range problems,” says Hisham Zerriffi, project scientist for the Institute of Energy and Environment in Washington, DC. The shipments contain plutonium for one, an environmental risk. “Not only that but it’s plutonium in a form much easier to turn into weapons than the plutonium in spent fuels.”

Up to now, the movement of MOX has been largely within Europe, and mainly within France, which has the world’s largest reprocessing program outside of Russia. But that is about to change. Japan has contracts to receive an estimated 80 shipments of MOX from reprocessing plants in France and Britain. In total, Japan is contracted to receive about 30,000 kilograms from Europe by 2010.

The U.S. has a policy dating to the 1970s that bans use of plutonium in commercial power plants—precisely because of concerns about proliferation. But Washington is doing an about face.

Now that the Cold War is over, nuclear weapons programs in the U.S. and Russian military operations are bursting with excess plutonium. Together, the two former rivals have declared themselves 100 tons in excess of what is needed to maintain shrinking nuclear weapons arsenals

But Moscow and Washington have struggled to find common ground on the disposal of weapons-ready plutonium, which remains in large storage facilities such as the Pantex site in Amarillo, Texas. One solution that many scientists consider more permanent, and involves fewer transport risks involves turning the plutonium into a glass or ceramic rod, and then submerging the rods in fluid that is itself radioactive, as a deterrent to theft.

But Moscow sees these more final solutions as squandering a resource that could, one day, be useful. “Though most Americans regard plutonium as a liability, Russians see it as a precious commodity and are very suspicious of plans to dispose of it,” said Bill Potter, at the Monterey Institute.

One reason is that Russia, and a number of other nations that might help Russia pay for its plutonium problem, are developing breeder reactor programs. These programs use a type of power plant that uses some plutonium, but produces more plutonium as a waste. No nation has perfected the system, environmental security or finances of a breeder reactor program—and the U.S. dropped its efforts amid protest by environmentalists. The program’s allure remains: if perfected, it may allow energy self-sufficiency. This is especially appealing to countries like Japan, which currently rely heavily on imported oil from volatile regions.

Turning weapons-grade plutonium into MOX for commercial plants is one of the solutions Russia, the U.S. and other major powers have agreed on. It is safer than allowing separated weapons-ready plutonium sit around in storage.

The MOX being burned in the U.S. will move to a handful of plants run by Duke Energy in the southeastern U.S. Security regulations mandate that it be handled with the same degree of sensitivity as nuclear weapons themselves.

What would happen to MOX of Russian origin is less clear. For one thing, there aren’t enough Russian power plants capable of burning MOX, raising possibility that the fuel will be shipped to places as far afield as Canada. Another issue: security around Russia’s nuclear facilities has badly deteriorated, a problem that has only grown worse during the current economic crisis.

In 1992, a worker at a fuel fabrication plant near Moscow stole small amounts of uranium day after day, and got away with it because he knew the precisely how much would raise alarms. By the time he was caught he had 1.5 kilograms, not quite enough for a bomb, but the incident raised international alarms. In August, 1994, at the Munich airport in Germany, authorities seized 560 grams of MOX powder. Analysis showed that 350 grams (or 62 percent) of it was plutonium and 87 percent of this was Pu-239-a key ingredient in nuclear weapons.

“The fundamental problem is that the amounts you need for producing power are in the tons, and for making a bomb just a few kilograms,” said Bunn. “The precautions required for ensuring that you don’t lose a few kilograms are very difficult.”

As the volumes of plutonium for commercial purposes soar-there amount of plutonium in civil arena is about 180 tons and it creates another 20 tons every year-and it is unclear that any international agency is prepared to police it.

Critics of the nuclear industry have said the U.S. weakened its hand in efforts to discourage the use of plutonium by allies such as Japan and France by agreeing to burn MOX. And some suggest that Washington’s actions set a poor precedent in the case of the Pacific Teal and Pintail. Because the plutonium being shipped on the two ships was ultimately of U.S. origin, Washington had consent rights on the vessels; in effect, the U.S. could have prevented them from sailing or insisted on an armed naval escort. Instead, it approved the vessels to “escort each other” and so they were armed. The “levels of security were plainly less on this shipment,” than is normally demanded, says Bunn.

Even as Washington and Moscow puzzle over solutions to diminish their plutonium stocks, Tokyo is trying to build plants that run on MOX fuel and its stockpiles of plutonium and MOX are building. For its neighbors, this raises painful memories of Japan’s brutal World War II aggression in the region. Fear of Japan has helped motivate the two Koreas, Taiwan and China to beef up their plutonium reprocessing programs.

By allowing the use of MOX in commercial reactors, “the White House may find it is impossible to convince other countries not to use plutonium in their reactors,” warns a report by the activist group WISE. “The real plutonium society has arrived.”

If there is one serious deterrent to the commercial use of plutonium in commercial plants, so far it is economics.

Japan is in committed to accept the reprocessed MOX, which is derived from shipments of waste from its own nuclear plants, which was sent to Europe in the late 1970s. Japan’s own reprocessing plants have suffered setbacks, and its breeder reactor program has met with fierce resistance from environmentalists in Japan. And the price of oil, which was sky-high when the breeder program kicked off, has fallen dramatically, decreasing Tokyo’s incentives. It is faced with a dilemma: It has a shortage of reprocessing. On the other, the country has a growing plutonium surplus, raising accusations of stockpiling.

Resistance even for this single shipment has been significant, and at least three governments — South Africa, New Zealand and Spain — have insisted that the two ships not enter their territorial waters. As the Pacific Teal and the Pacific Pintail head for their destination, the cost of transporting and secure the MOX fuel is rising. The ships were delayed by protests in Europe, and will meet more in South Korea. “This is one of the early shipments of MOX fuel to take place between Europe and Japan and offers an early opportunity for protest groups to highlight this type of transport,” says Jack Edlow, president of Edlow International Co. in Washington, D.C., a company that ships radioactive materials. But he plays down the proliferation risk of MOX. “The material itself is not necessarily riskier than material than that being transported in other trade routes or other materials being shipped in same trade route.”

Employees' Resolve Wins a Victory

Duke Energy Employee Advocate - 7/31/2000

The employees of the New York Power Authority had no intention of relinquishing pension benefits just because another company bought their plant. Among other things, they appealed to the NRC because of the potential to compromise nuclear safety.

Employees who meekly accept whatever is thrown to them, as to dogs, have to take what they get. But, not these employees!

Click the link below to read about the happy ending for these courageous employees:

NYPA-Entergy Agreement Assures Worker Benefits

Nuclear Safety and Pensions

Nuclear News Flashes - 7/18/2000

About 400 nuclear managers at the New York Power Authority have asked NRC to hold up transferring the operating licenses for FitzPatrick and Indian Point-3 to Entergy subsidiaries until a New York state court clarifies the pay, benefits, and pension rights of the managers, who have been part of the New York State Employees Retirement System. Their court action is expected to be filed in the next 10 days. If NRC declined to grant a stay, the managers, who formed the Nuclear Generation Employees Association (NGEA) in January, asked the agency to grant them a hearing. NGEA claims that Entergy's failure to guarantee existing benefits beyond a year is lowering morale at the plants and is leading to "sharply rising attrition and mistrust of senior executive management." This may have "the ultimate effect of compromising nuclear safety," it said. NEAG claims it is speaking for about half of the nuclear managers in the Power Authority's nuclear generation management division.

Fire at Nuclear Waste Site

The Charlotte Observer - 6/30/2000

RICHLAND, Wash. -- A wildfire ignited by a car crash raged across the dry sagebrush of the Hanford nuclear complex Thursday, raising fears that the flames would spread radioactive material.

At least 25 homes were destroyed, and about 7,000 people were driven from their homes by the second blaze in two months to threaten a U.S. nuclear weapons installation.

"It was just a fireball two or three times taller than our house," said Marty Peck, 43, who watched the flames approach his house in Benton City from a mountain about two miles away.

At Hanford, which contains the nation's largest volume of radioactive waste from nuclear weapons, the fire was about three miles from highly radioactive material in an area that once handled spent nuclear fuel &


Ending Nuclear Power

Dow Jones - 6/15/2000

BERLIN -- The German government has struck a deal with the nation's power chiefs to eventually shut down its 19 nuclear power plants, making it one of the first leading industrial countries to commit to scrapping atomic energy.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said late Wedenesday(sic) that under the deal, power plants would be shuttered after a life span of 32 years - longer than the Green coalition partners wanted but less than the industry had demanded.


Plant Guard Union

News Flash - 5/31/2000

"INEEL said its union for plant guard workers on May 29 accepted the company's contract offer, according to a company release. The 138-member United Plant Guard Workers of America Local #3 voted 92-25 to accept a new 5.4-year contract with Idaho National Engineering & Environmental Laboratory. The union rejected INEEL's first offer and had been negotiating with INEEL since April over salary and benefit issues, according to a company spokesman. Although the settlement came one day after the official contract expiration date, security officers continued to report to their usual duty locations. No details of the new contract were available."

As you see, there is an union for everyone: plant guards, engineers, you name it. But always choose with care. A weak union or a "company" union can be worse than no union at all!

Consumers Energy Reached Union Agreement

News Flash - 5/30/2000

"Consumers Energy reached an agreement with its union yesterday to extend the union contract by another five years. The agreement was scheduled to expire June 1. The utility met with the executive board of the Michigan State Utility Workers Council and the Utility Workers Union of America (AFL- CIO) to iron out differences, said Charlie Macinnis, a Consumers spokesman. 'The only really big deal is there has been a slight enhancement in the early retirement program,' which was once only offered to management but is now available to union members, he said. Also included are job and wage protections for employees in the event the utility decides to auction off or sell one of its plants, he added. Consumers Energy owns Palisades and is decommissioning Big Rock Point."

Hey, we will take a slight enhancement in the early retirement program. That's a lot better than losing it entirely like we did! Have you noticed that the people who come out ahead on pensions usually belong to a strong union?

Employees of Romanian Nuclear Plant Protest

AP Worldstream via COMTEX 5/19/2000

BUCHAREST, Romania -- Warning they would shut down Romania's nuclear reactor, hundreds of employees of Cernavoda nuclear plant walked off the job Friday for the second time this month, demanding higher salaries.

"It was impossible by now to reach an agreement," Ion Monceanu, leader of the Cernavoda plant trade union, told Romanian national radio.

Starting at 10 a.m., (0700 GMT) the plant employees ceased to supply the reactor with combustible material, its power decreasing hour by hour, radio reported. Specialists said that without such fuel the reactor would totally stop working in several days.

There was no public reaction from the government.

The action followed a work stoppage May 3. The government appointed immediately a new board at Cernavoda plant and started negotiations, making the employees suspend their protest.

Monceanu said that negotiations failed and the new board was unable to obtain any benefit for the plant's employees.

The protesters asked the government to increase their salaries by 30 percent, double their 21-day vacations, provide them with a free lunch and share with them parts of the plant's profit.

The protesters argue that their facility is the single profitable power provider in Romania, and its employees should have almost the same benefits as colleagues working in Western countries.

Workers at the plant now earn a 5 million lei (dlrs 250) a month -- almost three times the average salary in Romania.

During the strike, the protesters will remain outside the plant, but one third will work inside, as Romanian legislation requires.

The plant, located some 150 kilometers (95 miles) east of Bucharest, employs 2,500 people and operates on Canadian technology. It covers more than 10 percent of Romania's power needs.

Copyright 2000 Associated Press, All rights reserved.

Potential Discrimination

Duke Energy Employee Advocate 5/9/2000

February 10, 1998 Letter to the Millstone Nuclear Station: "SUBJECT: POTENTIAL DISCRIMINATION"

"On January 29, 1998, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) became aware of a memorandum developed by your Nuclear Oversight managers dated January 11, 1998, that stated, 'inability to "isolate" cynics from group culture.' The language was not consistent with encouraging a questioning attitude necessary for fostering a safety-conscious work environment (SCWE). Further, the language used in the memorandum involved a potential violation of the employee protection provisions set forth in 10 CFR 50.7(f) as it may be perceived as establishing a condition of employment that would discourage employees from being engaged in protected activity. This could have a chilling effect on licensee or contractor personnel, in that these statements might deter them from identifying any nuclear safety-related concerns. We recognize that you have initiated an independent investigation into this matter to understand what occurred."

It is evident that the NRC takes at least some interest in the matter of employee discrimination. Of course, the main job of the NRC is to ensure nuclear safety. But, any matter that has a negative impact on the employees, has the potential to have a negative impact on nuclear safety. It just cannot be any other way. No amount of double-talk, twisting of words, or cover-ups will ever alter this fact! Is the new motto going to be: "No Risk Is Too Great If There Is Enough Money Involved"?


Millstone Notice of Violation and Fine

Duke Energy Employee Advocate 5/6/2000

NRC letter to Millstone Nuclear Station 12/10/97:


"...You also acknowledged that many of the issues identified during the inspections had their roots in the ineffective leadership provided by your management, who failed to establish and communicate adequate performance standards. It is clear that senior management did not foster an environment and culture where managers and supervisors were aggressive in correcting problems or sensitive to employees who brought forward such concerns. In the past year, the NRC performed a special review of the handling of employee concerns and allegations at the Millstone facility since 1985. The September 1996 report by the NRC Independent Review Group indicated that an unhealthy work environment, which did not tolerate dissenting views or welcome or promote questioning attitudes, has existed at Millstone for at least several years. That report also indicated that many of the cultural issues which lie at the root of the company's problems had been recognized by licensee management as early as August 1991."

"...For example, three of your internal reports issued since that time indicated a lack of respect and trust between employees and management, insufficient management sensitivity to employee concerns, persistent attitudes impeding effective problem identification and resolution, and an arrogant management style that had eroded employee trust and confidence and contributed to repeated failures to correct clearly identified problems. Also, some employees who brought forward concerns, including design issues, were discriminated against, as noted in three civil penalties issued by the NRC to you since 1993 for such instances. In essence, these findings reflect the lack of effective leadership at Millstone."

This letter is presented not to "throw stones" at Millstone Nuclear Station (no pun intended). We take no joy in the plight of the Millstone employees. And, everyone in management is an employee, though they may be loathed to admit it! There are lessons for Duke Energy to learn here. Duke has an excellent nuclear safety record. But, through the arrogance and greed of senior management, that can change literally at the speed of light. We know what happens to those who refuse to learn from history. There is always plenty of room at the bottom!

Do you see any correlation between the language of the NRC letter and the current position of Duke Energy management? The terms used: discrimination, ineffective leadership, failed to communicate, lack of respect and trust between employees and management, insufficient management sensitivity to employee concerns, and an arrogant management style that had eroded employee trust and confidence, ALL apply to the new regime of senior management. To our knowledge, the terms apply only to situations other than nuclear safety. But, everything has a starting point. How long will it be until these management shortcomings migrate into the realm of nuclear safety? If the plan is to lie, cheat, and ignore the concerns of employees, but remain spotless in the area of nuclear safety - just how realistic does that sound to you?


Deadly Toll of Chernobyl

BBC News - April 22, 2000

About 15,000 people were killed and 50,000 left handicapped in the emergency clean-up after the Chernobyl nuclear accident, according to a group representing those who worked in the relief operations.

The number of invalids caused by the radiation has multiplied twelvefold since 1991, says Viacheslav Grishin, president of the Chernobyl League.

The Chernobyl plant was the scene of the world's worst civilian nuclear accident in April 1986 - when its number four reactor exploded, sending a radioactive cloud across much of Europe.

Chernobyl toll
30 killed immediately
15,000 relief workers killed
50,000 relief workers invalid
5 million exposed to radiation
52,000 fled the area around Chernobyl

The exact number of dead has never been given, but it is estimated that five million people were exposed to radiation in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

About 30 people were killed immediately and thousands were evacuated from the region.

Ageing faster

Ukraine's Health Ministry estimates that 3.5 million people, over a third of them children, have suffered illness as a result of the contamination, and the incidence of some cancers is 10 times the national average. First Deputy Health Minister Olga Bobylyova said: "The health of people affected by the Chernobyl accident is getting worse and worse every year.

"We are very disturbed by these data."

Ms Bobylyova told a news conference that the death rate among workers exposed to radiation while cleaning up Chernobyl has been rising.

She said that the death rate among the "liquidators" - as the group is known - was higher than among other people apparently because they are ageing faster.

Ms Bobylyova said most of the deaths were caused by poor blood circulation, cancer, respiratory and digestive diseases and traumas.

She noted that thyroid cancer cases have increased 10 times in Ukraine in general since the accident. One of Chernobyl's four nuclear reactors is still in operation.

Related to this story:
UK promises help to close Chernobyl (12 Apr 00 | Europe)
Chernobyl closure plan (29 Mar 00 | Europe)
Chernobyl closed again after leak (02 Dec 99 | Europe)
First baby born in Chernobyl (16 Sep 99 | Europe)
Chernobyl legacy mounts (24 May 99 | Sci/Tech)
Dangers of the Soviet nuclear legacy (23 Apr 98 | Analysis)

Internet Links:
Nuclear Information and Resource Service
OECD Nuclear Energy Agency: Chernobyl ten years on |
Virtual Nuclear Tourist: Chernobyl |

BBC News

A Disaster Not Waiting to Happen

The Charlotte Observer - by Anna Griffin – October 7, 1999

Flooded folks glad they nixed nuclear waste site

CONETOE -- Sewage floats and dead pigs bob in the creeks and rivers of Eastern North Carolina, but one environmental disaster of Hurricane Floyd never happened.

A decade ago, state legislators, local politicians and even then-Gov. Jim Martin lauded the idea of placing a low-level radioactive waste dump in Edgecombe County, outside tiny, rural Conetoe.

Today, Edgecombe County is looking at more than $62million in residential damages alone from Hurricane Floyd. Parts of Conetoe were cut off from land by floodwaters for a week, and much of the community is still soggy. Edgecombe residents, close to 600 of whom have lost their homes, are devastated.

But folks in the Conetoe area shudder even more when they talk about what might have been, had they not succeeded in persuading local leaders - through brute grass-roots political pressure - to rescind their 1988 offer to host the controversial dump.

Earlier this year, state officials ultimately decided to ditch the dump altogether.

"Have I thought about it? Heck, yes," said Conetoe farmer Bert Peeler. "I thought about it a lot those first few days, when I had dead chickens and slicks of oil and who knows what else floating by my front door."

State low-level radioactive waste experts say the dump they planned to build would have been safe from a flood - or at least as safe as such facilities can be.

"These aren't like sewage treatment plants or water treatment plants, which are generally designed against a 100-year flood," said Mel Fry, director of the state's Division of Radiation Protection. "Low-level waste facilities are designed to guard against things we can't even predict over the life of the facility. You can't design anything to zero risk, but you can design it so any release involves as little material as possible."

Even a little material, however, can cost millions of dollars and take years to clean.

Officials with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission say there's never been a flood-related leak at a U.S. site. But rainwater did play a part in expensive cleanups needed at Maxey Flats, a Kentucky site, and West Valley, a New York facility.

Those leaks contaminated groundwater in a two-mile circle around the sites.

"The facilities being built today are much safer than those older ones," said Jim Kennedy, an NRC official. "The basic rule still holds, though: Radioactive waste and water don't mix. Water is what you want to avoid."

So why would Edgecombe County officials eagerly become the first and only N.C. community to volunteer for a site? Money and innocence.

Back in 1988, Hurricane Hugo hadn't yet begun the current stream of severe storms to plague the Carolinas coast - a series that has identified scores of new flood-threatened areas in inland Eastern North Carolina.

North Carolina had committed to a 20-year waste facility that would replace the Barnwell site in South Carolina. Then-Rep. Joe Mavretic approached state leaders with the idea of building a "waste-management park" in eastern Edgecombe, near the Pitt and Martin county lines.

The state would get a site for the dump nobody wanted. The county would get $5million a year to improve its schools, plus various infrastructure improvements and new jobs.

At the time, Edgecombe's per capita income was $9,529, compared with the state average of $12,438.

Over the past decade, the gap has closed just slightly. A year ago, Edgecombe County's median household income was $23,542, compared with $28,792 statewide.

"It is the best possibility for this county this century," Mavretic, who could not be reached for comment, said back in May 1988. "The site will work, and this will be good for our communities."

Residents disagreed. At two heated public hearings, more than 3,000 people turned out to decry the idea.

But state leaders say the risk from a radioactive facility, even in the wake of a 500-year flood, is minimal.

The N.C. plans included three feet of concrete separating waste from the earth, a polyethylene cap covering the dump and a heavy layer of fireproof and waterproof material between the waste and its container.

"You can't plan for everything," said Andy James, a spokesman for the N.C. Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Authority. "But the authority felt good about its design."

There is always risk, Fry and other radioactive experts say. Big storms bring unimaginable consequences; that's why nuclear plants in Brunswick and New Hanover counties go off-line every time a hurricane approaches.

And there are already more than 100 hazardous waste sites in Eastern North Carolina, much more realistic risks than a nuclear dump that was never built. As far as state experts have been able to tell so far, there have been no serious spills caused by Hurricane Floyd and its floodwaters, Fry said.

That's at least one less thing for flooded residents to worry about.

"We've got hog waste and human waste and gasoline and dead birds," said Ben Hardy, who owns a gas station outside Conetoe. "But our water doesn't glow in the dark."

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