May 12, 2008

On Fermi II and Nuclear Fears

Left: Enrico Fermi nuclear generating station

(Newport, MI) Admittedly, I grew up during the Cold War, and my suspicious attitudes toward nuclear power also reflect the fact that I lived during the media frenzies surrounding the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Moreover, as teenager I went to see the 1979 film The China Syndrome, which frightened me far more than any slasher film ever could.

So it is in the context of these lifelong doubts about the safety of nuclear power that I made a trip to view the Fermi II nuclear plant up close.

Before arriving I had visions of being swarmed by armed security personnel demanding my ID and confiscating my digital camera, all in the name of homeland security. Unfortunately for my paranoid fantasies and photographic plans, the plant stands over a mile away from the entrance checkpoints, and my naive thoughts of sauntering up and staring up at the cooling towers were set aside by a concrete-barricaded guard facility.

I settled instead for a few shots on a dirt road overlooking a corn field, and the only people remotely interested in me were the farmers on Leroux Road whose dinner I might have interrupted, had they bothered to notice the bespectacled interloper on the side of the road.

No clandestine trips to Guantanamo Bay for me tonight.

Thus, my efforts to stand face-to-face with a source of latent fear came to naught, and the mile-high steam clouds wafted to the east over Lake Erie, never even dropping a few stray radioactive particles on my head, and - if I was the subject of curiosity by security personnel - I could have only merited the recording of a license plate number.

I'll let you know if my trips to or from Europe this summer include special attention by customs officials. If having pictures of nuclear plants on my flash drive
puts me on a watch list, I would bet that passing through customs will be an interesting excursion.


Jake said...

I live on Detroit Beach, probably 1-2 miles from Fermi. If anyone should be paranoid it's be me.

-Sepp said...

The plant contains a number of redundant systems which kick in in case of an accident, emergency or, failure of a mainline system. Unlike the plants in the former Soviet Union, western facilities utilize a secondary containment system. Had Chernobyl had a secondary system, there would have been no atmospheric release of radioactive contaminants.
Chernobyl was also a graphite moderated reactor which as in typical Soviet style is about early 1950's technology that should have been scrapped years ago on the ash heap of history.

dr-exmedic said...

"In 1979, Three Mile Island killed fewer people than ...

Robot attacks. Ford factory worker Robert Williams was killed when a robot hit him in the head, thus outranking Three Mile Island's death toll, 1-0."

So says Cracked in a roundup of over-hyped health scares.

A teacher of mine was in the area when Three Mile Island went down, and asked his doctor some years afterward whether he should get X-rays or a CT to look for tumors, and was told that he would get more radiation from a chest X-ray than he got from being near the event.

Mad Jack said...

I used to work at the Davis-Bessee Nuclear Power Station, and I got a real education about nuclear power, how it all works and the quality of the people that keep the plant producing megawatts. When I worked there the place was nuts. The quality help were all contractors. Direct employees were generally idiots, with the notable exception of some of the rag droppers. The rule of the day was management by confrontation, and a few of the shouting matches were really something.

DB should have been shut down when the head of the reactor unit was found to be defective. It wasn't. It's still a hazard.