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Shall we Dance?


Editor: The Nov. 4 North Coast Journal edition had a much-needed, informative and scary article about the nuclear power plant ("Dancing on the Hum Nuke's Grave is Strictly Prohibited"). J.A. Savage does an excellent job of telling us what has been done and what needs to be done.

The ending of the article should be an alert:

"It's unlikely that there will ever be a permanent national repository," said Humboldt Baykeeper Director Jennifer Kalt. "Waiting for that is not realistic. Ultimately, there's no safe place for the waste. Moving it will be dangerous and controversial and expensive, but it needs to be moved farther from the bay, out of the sea level rise hazard area. We need to start figuring out a real plan. Otherwise, we're just leaving the problem for future generations to deal with."

I will not be part of that future generation, but it is not about me. It is about our kids and grandkids and we need to care about those who will be here long after we are gone.

Dave Rosso, Eureka


Let's gratefully dance on the "Hum Nuke's Grave" (J.A. Savage's cover story Nov. 4) now that this close-to-disaster nuclear power plant has been officially declared "cleaned up" and decommissioned by PG&E — at least I would if the radioactive remains stored locally weren't so potentially dangerous.

I compare the use of nuclear power plants to the practice of heart surgery — except heart surgeons know how to close up the gaping wound in the patient after the operation and restore the patient safely to health. With nuclear power plants, however, we only know how to build and operate them, and very little about how and where to safely store their radioactive waste for decades to thousands of years before they safely degrade and are harmless.

I recommend Savage's excellent account of "lessons learned" from our Humboldt nuclear power plant and its aftermath since it was shut down in 1976. But she left out one history "lesson" in her story.

At the same time as Humboldt County politicians and local government entities welcomed PG&E's plan in the late 1950s/early 1960s to build its "small" 65-megawatt nuclear power plant on Humboldt Bay, PG&E was also planning to build a large nuclear power plant near Bodega Bay (and the San Andreas earthquake fault) in Marin County. PGE's misguided and ill-informed belief that Bodega Head was an ideal place for a nuclear power plant soon became strongly opposed by a coalition of local ranchers and dairymen, seismologists, college professors and students, conservationists and others of all political backgrounds.

In face of all this organized opposition, seismic evidence and unproved and untested engineering designs for reactor containment in the event of a quake, the Atomic Energy Commission reported in October of 1964 that Bodega Head was not a "suitable" location for this proposed nuclear power plant. PG&E then withdrew its application. 

But while all this was happening, apparently our remote and oh-so-willing-to-host-it Humboldt County was "suitable" and PG&E's Unit 3 nuclear power plant was being built and commissioned in 1963.

Definitely a lesson to remember: We should always know the backstory and science behind any effort to build or move an industry or technology and its likely environmental risks to Humboldt County before agreeing to permit it to do so.

Mark Larson, Arcata


Ms. Savage's article Dancing on the Grave... of the Humboldt nuke plant was very good, but some comments.

There was no "cooling tower" at the Humboldt Bay Nuclear Power Plant. They had a tall chimney similar to what you see on conventional fossil fuel power plants intended to vent the reactor room. Most nuke plants have enclosed containment systems to prevent the release of radioactivity from the reactor building, but the Humboldt nuke plant released its contaminants into the atmosphere high above the plant site, relying on atmospheric dilution. Those releases did occur, but not diluting enough to avoid blanketing the areas east of the plant, including South Bay Elementary School.

As for the missing fuel segments, seemingly exhaustive physical — and record — searching did not turn them up in the spent fuel pool or anywhere else. The most likely scenario is that they were shipped to a reprocessing facility along with other fuel rods back in the day before adequate records were kept about such things.

As stated, the plant's nuke waste will remain toxic for hundreds of thousands of years. But sitting around for 45 years (since it last was irradiated in the reactor) has significantly reduced its temperature and radioactivity. The most dangerous radioactive isotopes decay relatively quickly, leaving behind longer-lived elements with greater stability and fewer health-threatening gamma rays.

Human-caused climate change is raising sea levels and creating more powerful storms, and that is the biggest concern at the facility. The nuke waste will likely never leave the Eureka area, so it is up to PG&E to do whatever necessary to make sure the site is protected from predicted higher wave action. That means hardening the Buhne Point hillside to a greater degree than it is now. There is rip-rap protecting the base of the hill, but geologists and engineers need to get together to design a system that will protect the hillside from erosion for hundreds of years to come. Let's get started on this process now.

Michael Welch, McKinleyville

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