The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Nuclear Power Plants:
Designed for Profit

Mar 21, 2011

In the U.S., there are 23 nuclear reactors in 16 power plants that have the same reactor and containment designs as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan that has been spewing deadly radioactivity into the environment. These include the Oyster Creek plant in central New Jersey, the Dresden plant near Chicago, the Monticello plant near Minneapolis, and the Fermi 2 plant near Detroit, Michigan.

The design of these reactors was developed in the 1960s by General Electric, which greatly reduced construction costs by cutting back strength and integrity of vital structures in the power plant – with government approval, of course.

A few years later, some government officials began to ring alarm bells. In 1972, a U.S. safety official branded the design of this kind of reactor more susceptible to explosions and ruptures from a buildup in hydrogen – which was exactly what happened in Japan. But this official was overruled by the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), even though the chairman agreed that the reactors might be unsafe. According to the chairman, any reversal in policy after the government had already given the nuclear power industry the okay to build and operate these reactors “could be the end of nuclear power.”

Again in the mid-1980's, another official with the NRC explained that this kind of reactor had a 90% probability of bursting should the fuel rods overheat and melt in an accident. GE, the plants’ designer and manufacturer, disputed this, with assurances about how safe the reactors were supposed to be. But during a trial in the late 1980s, GE was forced to disclose that internal company documents dating back to 1975 admitted that its designs were either insufficiently tested or had flaws that could compromise safety.

Today, these plants are just as old as the nuclear plants in Japan. And most have had their own share of close calls that were only one additional failure away from their own runaway nuclear catastrophe. And no earthquakes were involved – only the every-day running of these plants.