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One extremely huge security risk that would come from a bird flu pandemic is nuclear power plants.

Right now, about 17% of the world's electricity is produced by nuclear power plants.

There're over 400 nuclear power plants currently in operation around the world -- over 100 of them in the United States alone.

The total varies a lot by country. France relies on nuclear power more than any other country -- using nuclear power to generate 75% of the country's electricity.

The United States currently gets about 15% of its electricity from nuclear power. That is an overall percentage. Your area may be much higher or lower.

Although the construction of nuclear power plants has stopped in the United States and almost all of Europe, due to concerns about the safety of these plants and of what to do with the nuclear waste generated by them, it's continuing in Asia and some other areas.

Disclaimer: I was a anti-nuke activist at one time. I worked extensively on an electoral petition drive which would have banned the operation of nuclear power plants in the state of Missouri until there was a safe, permanant storage facility for nuclear waste. That was 1980, not a good election to promote anything at all "liberal," so our proposal failed to pass.

But it's possible we played at least a small part in Union Electric's decision to cancel their proposed Calloway II nuclear power plant.

I used to be completely proud of that. Now, I'm not so sure. I haven't completely turned around on this issue, as I have on so many I used to be a leftwing radical on. I recognize the world's great need for electricity. However, all the nuclear waste bothers me. After all the half-life of plutonium is 250,000 years.

Of course, the greatest potential danger from a nuclear power plant is the meltdown of its core.

The heart of a nuclear reactor is the core where uranium enriched with U-235 sits.

The U-235 is split, making it give off two or three neutrons. If these neutrons strike other U-235 atoms, then they are split and the nuclear fission reaction continues as long as there're atoms of U-235.

This fission reaction gives off heat, which is used to heat water to steam, which turns a turbine which creates electricity.

So nuclear power is basically just a fancy way to boil water.

If, on average, less than one neutron hits another U-235 atom, then the reaction is called sub-critical and the reaction will die out.

If, on average, one neutron hits one other U-235 atom, then the reaction is called critical and the reaction will continue. Nuclear power plants maintain this level to generate a stable amount of heat to run the turbine.

If, on average, one neutron hits more than one other U-235, then the reaction is called supercritical.

This is where it gets dangerous. Contrary to what some fear, the core of a nuclear reactor can't go off like an atomic bomb -- the U-235 is not that much enriched. The fission reaction can't become supercritical fast enough to explode.

However, it can continue to heat up until the physical structure melts down and forms a superdense, superheavy ball. So heavy and dense that theground is not strong enough to hold it, so it falls through the soil of the Earth. In theory, it could go to the core of the planet and keep
on until it reaches the opposite side.

Since the opposite side of the United States is China, we call this this the China Syndrome.

This would release a tremendous amount of radioactivity. If you watch the movie The China Syndrome you'll hear an expert say it would render an area the size of Pennsylvania uninhabitable for eons.

The focus is usually on the area surrounding the site of the former nuclear power plant, but I think that the hole left on the other side of the planet would also release a lot of radioactivity.

I don't know whether anybody's ever asked geologists how sending a superdense ball through the core of the planet would affect its internal structure. Probably it would create at least some instability and cause volcanos and earthquakes.

A nuclear reactor meltdown is something no sane person wants to happen.

Unfortunately, there are some insane people out there -- including many islamo-fascists who believe that their religion justifies any actions which kills infidels. As a note left by one of the Spanish train bombers reads: "You love life. We love death."

Therefore, any country containing nuclear power plants must make protecting them their number one priority during a serious bird flu pandemic.

They must protect against accidental error due to a shortage of trained personnel. Plus they must protect against deliberate damage from a terrorist group taking advantage of the bird flu pandemic.

The level of the reaction in the core is adjusted by using control rods that absorb neutrons. If the fission reaction gets too strong, the people operating the plants must insert enough control rods to reduce it. Or stop it when necessary.

Plus, water is used to keep the core cool.

One danger will be that the plant is not properly taken care of, due to death and illness of employees.

Therefore, all nuclear power plant personnel should be kept isolated from the rest of the population. If they've possibly been exposed to bird flu, if possible they should remain in a quarantine for at least 5 days to make sure they're not infected, before being in contact with the other people.

They should also receive all available medical care. They should have their own doctor and nurse and supply of antiviral medicines and nutritional supplements.

This includes nuclear plant security guards.

In fact, extra guards should be sent to watch over nuclear power plants to prevent terrorists attacks. Even if they must come from military units.

It might be impossible to quarantine these new security guards, so shifts should be kept separated from each other to reduce the chances that one of them will spread bird flu to others.

The military unit surrounding the power plant should remain on the perimeter so there's no chance they spread an avian flu infection to either the regular plant guards or other plant workers.

If nuclear power plant personnel do start coming down with bird flu or feel that they cannot maintain a critical reaction at a safe level, for any reason -- they should have orders to shut the reactor down with control rods to prevent a meltdown.

Another weak point is that the plant must be supplied with enough water to keep the core cool. Therefore, it's critical that this source of water be safeguarded against problems caused either by bird flu death/illness or terrorists.

It would also be a good idea to patrol the air space above the power plant. If well constructed, they should be strong enough to withstand a direct hit from a crashed airplane, but who wants to depend on that?

Shipments of nuclear fuel to the power plant should be suspended if at all possible.

Shipments of nuclear waste from the power plant should certainly be suspended for the duration of the bird flu pandemic.

Although it is desirable to keep the power plant generating electricity throughout the pandemic, it may be pointless. That's because shortage of electric utility personnel during the pandemic could create massive electrical shortages throughout the grids anyway.

If the power plant generates electricity but it doesn't benefit anyone because too many wires are down and can't be repaired, it's smarter to just turn the plant down as far as possible -- and the people working there should just wait out the pandemic.

During a bird flu pandemic, protecting nuclear power plants must be a country's number one priority.

The H5N1 virus pandemic will kill many people, but certainly not everybody. And it will go away within 3 to 12 months.

A nuclear power plant will kill everybody within many miles, and radiation will continue as a health hazard for an uncountable number of generations.

c 2006 by Richard Stooker

Richard Stooker is the author of How to Protect Yourself and Your Family From Avian Flu


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