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Nuclear power and the proverbial "wrench in the works"

El Universal
The missing cobalt-60 in Mexico - 3,000 curies worth - was found across the street from a school named after radiation pioneer Marie Curie!
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Spending part of my childhood in Little Rock, Arkansas, I was reminded of an event that in retrospect – all these years later - was quite scary.

It was 33 years ago this year and this horrific event involved an explosion at a nuclear missile silo and occurred at a precarious time in our recent history. This was when the threat of nuclear war had actually increased due to the largest arms buildup in the history of the world and the U.S. Senate failed to ratify the SALT II arms control agreement with the Soviet Union. This would lead to the “nuclear freeze” movement of the early 1980’s and questions from pop stars like Sting, wondering, as we all did:  “do the Russians love their children too?”

The explosion took place in Van Buren County, near the town of Damascus, about 70 miles from where I was living as a child, my younger brother just a few months old. Thankfully the nuke didn’t detonate. But what if it had?

According to the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas, it has a page devoted to the Titan II Missile Explosion.

“On September 18, 1980, at about 6:30 p.m., an airman conducting maintenance of the Titan II missile dropped a wrench socket, which fell about 80 feet before hitting and piercing the skin on the rocket’s first-stage fuel tank, causing it to leak.”

The leak was detected and monitored for hours as Air Force officials did their best to determine the status of the potentially hazardous situation (there had been an accident at this same site two-and-a-half years earlier where an oxidizer leak sent a cloud of toxic fumes 3,000 feet long, 300-feet wide and 100-feet high, which drifted across nearby U.S. Highway 65).

So, as two Air Force personnel, Senior Airman David Livingston and Sgt. Jeff K. Kennedy waited at the site, “the missile exploded, blowing the 740-ton launch duct closure door 200 feet into the air and some 600 feet northeast of the launch complex. The W-53 nuclear warhead landed about 100 feet from the launch complex’s entry gate; its safety features operated correctly and prevented any loss of radioactive material.”

Sgt. Kennedy was blown 150 feet from the silo, his leg broken. Airman Livingston, meanwhile, was severely injured by the explosion and was later found under the rubble at the destroyed silo. Livingston would later die of his injuries. In fact, 21 total people would be injured in the Titan II missile silo explosion or later in the aftermath during rescue efforts. When cleanup efforts were concluded the following month and the launch silo was replaced, it cost over $225 million.

As an 8-year-old news junkie (yes, I know …) I was hyper-aware of this nuke-linked disaster in my own state and just 70 miles from my home. It was very scary and this being the Cold War, there loomed a specter of gloom and doom in the aftermath, at least in my mind. There were always those worries about a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

And up the road, on Interstate 40, in Russellville, Arkansas, any time we took a trip to Tulsa, we would pass by the Arkansas Nuclear One power plant, the steam cloud pumping ominously into the sky. Sure, it was providing energy to the region, but what if an accident happened? Go here to see pictures

Well, today I see, via reporter Whitney Snipes, at the Russellville Courier News, report that Unit 2 at Arkansas Nuclear One is now “offline” following a fire in a nearby transformer line., an energy news website, notes that a resident near the plant felt “a loud, ground-shaking explosion and then saw smoke.”

The unit will remain offline, while the plant remains operating at 95-percent power. Officials say there is no threat to the public due to this incident. ANO is just down the road from us on I-40. Think about all the people living in the vicinity of that plant.

Entergy and Arkansas Nuclear One officials are so far not saying a whole lot about the cause of the explosion and fire, notes the River Valley Leader.

As some may recall, on March 31, 2013, there was an industrial accident at ANO, in a none-radiation area, that killed one person and injured eight workers, four seriously.

After that disaster, the plant was placed under the NRC’s “unusual event classification,” the lowest of four emergency classification levels for abnormal events. This current incident is also considered an “unusual event.”

And after spending approximately $120 million in repairs following the deadly March 31st incident, it only came back to full power on August 7, 2013.

So, nuclear-incidents seem to be on the increase. And as we see in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, likely pressured by TEPCO and the nuke fanatics in that country, urged him to ramrod a new state secrecy bill that would dramatically expand state power while giving every government agency and ministry the “discretion” to label restricted information “state secrets.” This, of course, would include the energy sector and potentially anything related to Fukushima and the nuclear-power sector in Japan. The UK Independent reports that the Abe-pushed bill said those who breach those secrets could face 10 years in prison.

Of course Abe is trying to gag the media and the public’s right to know. He is throwing the proverbial “wrench” into the process of free inquiry and investigation, particularly when the public’s health is in danger. This, of course, is an insult in light of TEPCO and the Japanese government’s provable lies about radiation dangers to the public and environment following the March 2011 nuclear plant disaster at Fukushima, following a devastating tsunami.

But as we have seen, the contaminated water at the still-wrecked plant, is being pumped into the Pacific Ocean. With concerns about contaminated seafood and a damaged marine ecosystem, it is outrageous that the Japanese, American, Canadian and other governments are not reporting the true extent of the damage Fukushima has wrought on the planet. It just proves what a stranglehold the nuke industry has in this world.

Let’s look at how easy it is for someone to steal radioactive material. Just this past week, in Mexico City, you had a truck stolen that was carrying highly radioactive cobalt-60., The thieves, not knowing what their stolen cargo was, exposed themselves to the highly dangerous doses of radiation coming from the cobalt-60 in equipment used for now-outdated Mexican radiation-therapy equipment.

So far, six people are being treated for radiation exposure, following the discovery of the truck and radioactive material – 3,000 curies worth - in Hueypoxtla, Mexico – across the street from a children’s school named after Polish/French female scientist and pioneer in the study of radioactivity – Marie Curie – the school is called the Jardin de Ninos Marie Curie!

Meanwhile, back in the United States, the northern California town of Fairfax, near San Francisco, passed a resolution last month calling for the “urgent international rescue of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility,” asking the United Nations to get involved.

The Fairfax Town Council resolved: “The situation at Fukushima, Japan is now clearly an international problem and poses health and safety concerns to America’s West Coast.”

So far, according to Fairfax City Council member Lawrence Bragman, “No one is monitoring radiation levels on the West Coast, and that is called for in this resolution. Government is not doing its job.”

Too true. Government is not doing its job. And following the Titan II explosion in 1980, a congressional inquiry “recommended, however, improved communications between the Air Force and local officials in case of accidents and a modification of the Air Force’s policy of neither confirming nor denying the presence and condition of nuclear weapons at an accident site.”

After all, remember what happened at Chernobyl, in the Soviet Union a few years later? Those firemen and others never knew the extent of the catastrophe that had taken place as they did their job – at a site that remains uninhabited to this day.

And nowadays, with so much radioactive material being shipped hither and yon on our nation's highways and byways, one always has that concern - is it safe and secure? Are all safety precautions being followed? Don't forget the 1974 case of Karen Silkwood, right here in central Oklahoma!

The Titan II Missile Launch Complex 374-7 near Damascus, Arkansas is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, interestingly enough.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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