The recent “discovery”of a small nuclear reactor (only 3.1 pounds of weapons grade enriched uranium) in Rochester, New York started my wheels turning. Like most people reading SurvivalBlog I am concerned about what is around me and what harm could befall my family in the event of a TEOTWAWKI situation. Knowledge is power, and in this write up, knowledge about where nuclear power exists will go a long way.
I have spent 20+ years in the Navy upholding the Constitution, making my living as a Radioman on nuclear submarines, specifically 688 fast attacks. (I’m looking forward to leaving the East Coast and moving to friendlier, wide open spaces.) I ate, slept, worked out, cleaned (endlessly), communicated and repaired equipment always within 100 feet of a nuclear reactor. At first, it was a big deal, but routine and the demands of the job numbed me to what was there. I find the same sort of numbness in those that live around civilian nuclear plants today and many other industries that have the potential to magnify a major disaster. After a while it is just there. You accept it and don’t pay any attention to it until something bad goes wrong at which point you have that “A-ha!” moment.
Building on what others on this blog have pointed out, know what is around you. Several people have pointed out all the civilian nuclear reactors. What about the military reactors? Those used for research? Prototype reactors? Start doing a serious look around you and you will find them right in your backyard. The mini reactor in a Kodak factory underground bunker (since 1974) is a good example. The Idaho National Laboratory is another example of a location where nuclear plants exist (experimental ones at that) but is not generally discussed within the mainstream media. The laboratory, just west of Idaho Falls was also home to one of the world’s first nuclear accidents.
Just a small amount of research gives one a taste of exactly what is out there. In the US alone commissioned, decommissioned, experimental, military and research reactors number in the hundreds.
Thinking about reactors around us, let’s take the Pacific Northwest (Idaho, Oregon and Washington) as a point of reference. Basically you have the Hanford Nuclear Reservation [in southeastern Washington] with the Columbia Generating Station. Not even delving into what is buried or mothballed (cocooned) on the Hanford Reservation this gives us a grand total of just one commercial nuclear power plant within the Northwest. Digging deeper though, we find other reactors. From known unclassified (yes it is Wikipedia, but the data collates with other solid information) sources we find that Idaho has four operational research reactors. In various states of decommission, mothball or cocooning we find another 34 reactors. The University of Idaho operates another reactor, the AGN-201, also located on the grounds of the Idaho National laboratory.
Oregon has zero commercial reactors. Hey, almost good news. Diving into the information highway though shows us two research reactors. The first is located on the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis. A pure research reactor capable of generating 1.1Mw, it has a “low vulnerability to meltdown”. I used to have the same thing. As it turns out my low vulnerability to meltdown disappeared when I had to deal with 18 year old Submarine School Students on a daily basis who go out of their way to invent new and stupid things to do. But I digress. The other Oregon reactor is located at Reed College in Portland. As quoted from the Reed College reactor web page, “the reactor is operated primarily by undergraduates”. I am certain in a TEOTWAWKI of SHTF situation, all of these students will come running to the reactor to safely shut it down or otherwise keep it in a “safe operating mode.” (The Microsoft Word programmers need to develop a sarcasm font.)
Finally this brings us to Washington State. As previously mentioned, Washington is home to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and the only commercially operating nuclear power plant in the Northwest. The lone research reactor within the state is located on the Washington State University campus in Pullman, near Spokane. Take it down to another level. What about military reactors? How many of those exist within the state of Washington? Basically this depends on what ship is underway. Located on the Kitsap Peninsula on the Hood Canal side is the Bangor Trident Submarine base, or Naval Base Kitsap. The submarine base is home to several Trident submarines, three fast attack subs and two SSGNs [which are Tridents converted to each carry 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles with conventional warheads]. Using the Submarine Group Nine web site (under Trident Submarines) and the Submarine Development Group Five web site (under fast attacks) I count thirteen nuclear submarines. Across the peninsula in Bremerton you have nuclear powered aircraft carriers parked there, nuclear powered warships (subs/carriers) in dry dock, etc. Go across the water to Naval Station Everett (just north of Seattle) and throw in some more nuclear powered aircraft carriers. If you spent your time looking for commercial nuclear power plants in Washington you may come across just the Columbia Generating Station. Dive in deep and now you have a variable number of between 2 and 18 (it really depends on which subs are in port).
This is just the information that is publicly available. Only the Good Lord actually knows everything that is located in just the Northwestern section of the country. We have a bloated government with so many special agencies and projects I have no doubt two highly classified things happen next to each other, both working to the same end and each one doesn’t know about the other; neither known to the public.
Getting back on topic and thinking about the Northwest, what kind of local TEOTWAWKI scenarios could develop which could jeopardize the reactors? I believe one only has to re-watch video of the Japan Tsunami and transpose that over to the West Coast of the United States in order to get a good idea. The Cascadian Subduction Zone would be the most likely offender in any Tsunami scenario. A magnitude 8 or 9 quake along this zone has the potential to generate a Japan (2011) type tsunami event. Imagine that water rushing through the Puget Sound and being funneled through a place like the Hood Canal. Rushing water can and does move massive objects. A massive surge of water would easily move a Trident (Ohio) Class submarine off the pier and onto land or some other point. Nuclear submarine reactors were never meant to be operated on land. Cooling water is required, even when they are in dry dock. That cooling water comes from the submarines natural environment (ocean water). It now becomes a struggle to ensure the core is covered by water.
Add massive tsunami and earthquake damage to infrastructure from a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and you have the makings for a major disaster. A good portion of the crew would have to make it back to the submarine through massive damage and in most scenarios probably would not make it back. Communications would be down. The minimal crew onboard the submarine would have some personnel injured and would in no way be equipped to handle the potential complexity and magnitude of the crisis. While submarines do have some reserve electrical power to operate and (attempt) to get things in a stable state (battery bank), this is extremely limited. The other emergency power source is the subs own diesel generator. Good luck in operating that if the sub is at any sort of angle on land (and without cooling water). The number of submarines in port multiplies the potential for disaster.
Saying all this it is also important to remember that US Navy submarines are built to withstand a lot of damage and keep going. The reactor components even more so. The USS San Francisco colliding into an undersea mountain at top speed is a testament to how robustly those subs built after the 1960s are. The Thresher and the Scorpion, two nuclear-powered submarines lost in the Atlantic during the 1960s (pre-Sub Safe era) are regularly monitored for radiation exposure and according to government reports, minimal amounts have been released/recorded. Yes, I know. Government reports. It is also important to know that both of the reactor vessels for these submarines are sitting in several thousand feet of water and did not rupture; a testament to their strength (Thresher is sitting in approximately 8,400 feet of water, which equates to approximately 4,000 lbs per square inch of pressure). It is also a testament to the cooling effect of ice cold seawater.
The potential is there for a massive natural disaster to be compounded by several manmade disasters. Knowing the location of reactors, industrial plants and the like will give you a leg up in any survival scenario. Having a preplanned escape route to avoid these potential disasters and the massive panic that would ensue from them is vital. The Three Mile Island Disaster (scroll down to the Three Mile Island part) is a perfect example of poor communications and panicked people. That was just an isolated incident not caused by some external calamity. Throw in the external calamity and the proverbial fan blades become covered in stuff.