Thursday, February 21, 2008

Milton Shaw: Part III

Milton Shaw: Part III

Shaw’s Stalinism was beginning to tell. Claire Nader was an employ and friend of Alvin Weinberg. Through Dr. Nader, her brother Ralph began to hear about nuclear safety issues, and the way that the AEC under Shaw was operating. Nader began to speak out. Nader’s views could never be described as subtle and nuanced. He began to attack the entire nuclear industry with a rhetorical sledgehammer.

The Union of Concerned Scientist had been formed in 1969, Information about nuclear safety issues flowed from both Oak Ridge and the Idaho National Reactor Testing Station. The Union of Concerned Scientist began to raise the issues. The AEC under Shaw’s direction began to cover up research that called attention to safety concerns.

During this increasingly tumultuous period in American Nuclear history, Weinberg and his close associate Floyd Culler were summonsed to an Interview with Congressman Chet Hollifeld. Hollifeld had the Chairman of the House Atomic Energy Subcommittee, and thus had great power over ORNL. He was also an ally of Shaw’s, and was clearly indoctrinated in Shaw’s way of thinking. It was Hollifeld who delivered the message to Weinberg that he was out of touch, and that there was no longer room for him in the nuclear establishment. Seething, Weinberg had dinner that night with Ralph Nader, the brother of his friend Claire Nader. Boiling over with rage at his humiliation by Hollifeld, Weinberg laid out for Nader the heart of the safety issue. Scientist thought of nuclear safety in terms of probabilities. Things might work well 99.99% of the time, but there might be a .01% of an accident happening. Safety involved being ready for that .01% probability that something bad might happen. Shaw trained as a mechanical engineer, did not think in terms of probabilities. Either things happened or they don’t in Shaw’s world. Scientist who thought in terms of probability were just guilty of sloppy thinking, and needed to move over for the Naval engineers who could always make thins happen with 100% certainty.

Weinberg later regretted his conversation with Nader, who had no real respect for Weinberg or anyone who was capable of independent thought and had integrity as Weinberg did. But Weinberg had needed a chance to ventilate that night after the cemeaning way Hollifeld had treated him.

Within a few months Weinberg was fired as the director of ORNL.

Although Shaw did not know it then, his days at the AEC were numbered. The Nixon Administration had appointed a Washington State Zoologist, Dixie Lee Ray to the AEC. Ray, who lived in a mobile home, parked somewhere in the Virginia countryside, was a total outsider to Washington D.C. But she was nobody’s fool.  During 1972 and 73 scientist from AEC facilities were called to testify before congressional hearing.  Scientist after scientist laid bare concerns about nuclear safety.  It was not Alvin Weinberg who had been out of touch about nuclear safety, it had been Milton Shaw.  A few months later, the Nixon Administration swept AEC Chairman Glen Seaborg aside, and appointed Ray to the Chairman’s position.

Ray almost immediately began to deal with Shaw’s power. By his rigidity on nuclear safety, and his alienation of the scientific community, Shaw had created a serious public relations problem not just for the AEC and the Nuclear Industry, but for the increasingly for the embattled Nixon administration.

Ray rewrote Shaw’s job description, to leave out nuclear safety issues for his area of responsibility. Shaw was furious, and handed Ray his resignation. The damage that Shat had done to Americas Nuclear Research establishment was immeasurable. The National Laboratories, crowing jewels of American science had been laid low. Shortly after Shaw’s resignation, still seething at the treatment the AEC have given his concerns about Nuclear Safety, Carl J. Hocevar, a Idaho National Engineering Laboratory scientist resigned his position. In a public letter published by the New York Times Hocevar voiced the dissatisfaction that still was felt throughout the American nuclear establishment:

Ms. Dixie Lee Ray
1717 H Street NW
Washington, D. C. 20545

Dear Ms. Ray:

I am resigning my position as an Associate Scientist with Aerojet Nuclear Company in order to be free to tell the American people the truth about the potentially dangerous condition in the nation's nuclear power plants. As an employee of Aerojet Nuclear I have not been able to freely express my concerns about the nuclear reactor safety issues. Consequently I will be working for the Union of Concerned Scientists in an attempt to more fully inform the public about the current state of knowledge concerning reactor safety, particularly the emergency core cooling systems.

I have been employed at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory for the past seven years for Aeroject Nuclear and its predecessors. During that time I have been involved in the development of computer codes which are used in the thermnal-hydraulic predictions of loss-of-coolant situations. I was the principal author of the THETA1-B code which was adopted by the AEC as an accepted method of predicting the thermal behavior of a fuel rod during a LOCA. The last several years I have been working on a new thermal-hydraulic loop code. The primary goal of this project is to develop analytical models which will more realistically describe the physical processes that could occur during a LOCA.

While analytical models for predicting the fluid behavior during a LOCA have been developed by both the nuclear industry and the AEC, the techniques in gneral are not capable of describing actual physical situations with a reasonable degree of reliability. The AEC is using shaky and unproven computer predictions as a basis for answering such vital questions as the effectiveness of reactor safety systems in preventing catastrophic accidents. This is wholly unacceptable.

Adequate experimental programs to determine the workability of reactor safety systems are also urgently needed. Experimental verification of the analytical computer codes is a necessity if we are to place our faith in these methods.

Aerojet Nuclear employess were used by the AEC as consultants during the ECCS hearings. In 1971 the AEC adopted the methods we had developed, but completely ignored our reports concerning the serious limitations of those methods. They were the best that could be developed based on the limited analytical and experimental research the AEC and nuclear industry had carried out, but they were preliminary and definitely not an adequately proven way of determining nuclear reactor safety. Little has changed in the past few years, and the safety of nuclear reactors is still uncertain and unverified.

The AEC is ignoring advice from many of its experts on reactor safety problems, a situation that has given rise to numerous resignations. Several of my colleagues have gone to work trying to help the utility companies understand the reactor safety problems that the AEC would prefer to ignore, but I believe that the genral public, and not just the companies investing in nuclear generating equipment, must be told the truth about the potential hazards.

I also have personal reservations concerning the radioactive waste problems. While I am not an expert in waste management I find the long term radioactive waste question deeply disturbing. The present generations get the elctricity from nuclear plants and we leave the radioactive wastes for our children and future generations to take care of. Plutonium, an extremely hazardous material that retains its radioactive potency for hundreads of thousands of years, is hardly a legacy that future generations should be given.

In spite of the soothing reassurances that the AEC gives to an uninformed, mislead public, unresolved questions about nuclear power plant safety are so grave that the US should consider a complete halt to nuclear power plant construction while we see if these serious questions can, somehow, be resolved. The most prudent course of action that we can take is to proceed cautiously.


Carl J. Hocevar

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