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Countdown to Meltdown? (Y2K WASH 9/24 update)



Trend Monitor

September 24, 1999

The leading members of the Japanese World Atomic Safety Holiday (WASH) campaign met in London with the renowned anti nuclear campaigner, Helen Caldicott and representatives of concerned UK and US groups to draft a strategy to reduce the risk that Y2K could accidentally cause nuclear meltdowns, explosions and possibly even accidental launch of nuclear missiles.

The meeting, called Y2K-Nuclear Citizens' Forum and organised by Paul Swann, coordinator of the UK's Y2K Community Action Network, was introduced by Jan Wyllie, an chief intelligence analyst at Trend Monitor. Mr. Wyllie stated that Trend Monitor's three and half year's systematic research into Y2K suggests that nuclear installations are in grave danger, if potentially unreliable electricity grids fail. The reason is that nuclear plants -- even when they are shut down -- need large amounts of electricity to cool cores that are so hot that they can begin to melt down within 40 minutes of a power cut. The greatest risks are from the PWR (Pressurised Water Reactors) which are the dominant design in the US and France.

The global nuclear industry is probably quite correct when it says that -- barring human error -- any Y2K problems will lead to emergency shut down. But even when they are shut down, PWR (Pressurised Water Reactor) cores need large volumes of water pumped around them for months using electricity, either from the grid or from back-up generators. In the US, the latest figures from the industry regulator, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) suggests than 15 per cent of US generators do not function properly when tested. US regulations require nuclear power plants to hold only seven days of diesel for back up generators at each plant.

According to Mary Olson at the US Nuclear Information Resources Service, "The problem is that it is not feasible for a reactor of US design to power itself directly without feeding first into the grid. This is because the levels of power, even at the 'low-power' setting are still too high and would effectively 'fry' the on-site cables and equipment."

So, the burning question is: Is the US government gambling the lives of its citizens on blind faith that the electricity grid and fuel transportation systems are certain not to suffer from interruptions of more than seven days?

In the words of Trend Monitor's latest Update:

"After more than three years of constant but fragmented media reporting, most people are still far from realising the reality of the risks that Y2K presents. The real tragedy of this denial is that it is preventing people from taking the required preventative and contingency actions. This process of denial leading to acting too late has been the case all along, first by computer professionals, then by their managers and now by the government and the public. It is the principal reason why risks are now so great."

Other evidence from Trend Monitor's latest Intelligence Update indicates that the Y2K rollover reliability of electricity grids is considerably less certain than the industry would have the public think. Also content analysis suggests the global oil and gas supply industry are under severe threat, too. Y2K related breakdowns are widely expected in the world's major fossil fuel suppliers. Russia, the Middle East, Nigeria and Venezuela are all known to be non-compliant. (For more on this issue, see

One of the most irritating attributes of Y2K is the unquantifiable nature of the risks due to the complex interdependencies. Nobody can know whether such complex systems as electricity grids and fossil fuel supply networks will work. Although small parts of the whole system may have been fixed and tested, it is impossible to test the entire system. Electricity grids, energy networks and transportation systems, simply cannot be shut down and re-booted like PCs.

Yet nuclear reactors in the US and France require many weeks of continuous electricty in order to shut down safely.

Mr. Wyllie ended his presentation by paraphrasing, Y2K thinker, Ed Yourdan: "If it is impossible to know the risks, decisions must be made on the basis of the stakes".

Helen Caldicott then told the Group, "Humanity is probably facing its biggest crisis ever. The stakes cannot be higher". She went on to describe in horrific detail how nuclear radiation affects human health. She said that her direct experience of denial and bland reassurance from the highest representatives of the US government and nuclear industry made her now certain that there would be "at least two or three meltdowns in the Northern Hemisphere" where the vast majority of the world's 400-plus nuclear reactors are situated.

The afternoon was devoted to practical planning -- what to do in the face of official denial that any problem exists. It was decided that the first task was to try to put the nuclear issue on the agenda of the G8 meeting about Y2K in Berlin on September 20. A document outlining the practical measures which need taking to prevent the risks of meltdowns and explosions was agreed. The members of the group going to Berlin, for a second WASH meeting, promised to attempt giving it to the G8 delegates.

The agreed document follows:

We, on behalf of the participants in a Y2K-Nuclear Citizens' Forum held in London on September 18th 1999,

- noting that the millennium bug was rated a "global threat" at the G8 Summit in Koln, and that a commitment was made in the Final Communique on June 20, 1999 to "strengthen cooperation in the field of nuclear safety" in relation to the millennium bug;

demand that the G8 Special Conference on Y2K Contingency Planning consider the health, safety and security implications of the following issues:

i. that on-site Y2K computer system failures or malfunctions may lead directly or by secondary causes to one or more nuclear meltdowns;

ii. that off-site Y2K failures in the power or telecommunications systems present an unacceptable risk to nuclear reactor cooling and security systems;

iii. that Y2K computer glitches pose a threat to nuclear weapons systems and have the potential to trigger a nuclear exchange by accident or miscalculation.

Since just one accidental firing of a nuclear weapon, or one meltdown of a nuclear power plant, would be one accident too many and present a major public safety, humanitarian and ecological disaster, we believe the situation demands that all nuclear states must take the following actions ahead of the Y2K rollover on December 31st, 1999:

1. Begin a managed phase-down of reactors to standby, to be completed no later than December 30th, 1999;

2. Provide adequate, reliable and independent back-up power and fuel supplies for all critical cooling systems (particularly irradiated fuel cooling ponds and liquid high-level waste storage tanks);

3. Delay refuelling until after the rollover and grid stability is firmly established;

4. Reduce electricity needs by demand-side management and society-wide load reductions through conservation, efficiency and a switch wherever possible to alternative power sources;

5. De-alert and de-couple all nuclear weapons systems;

6. Introduce a world-wide moratorium on transport of all nuclear materials.

At the end of the meeting, many of the people there felt that something important had happened. A beginning had been achieved which contained the promise, not just preventing serious nuclear trouble, but also of bridging the habitual divisions between protesters, the government and industry. The hope was expressed all round that at least on this one issue, all sides align themselves to undertake the necessary action in the very short time remaining.

(c) September 21, 1999, Trend Monitor International Ltd. Reproduction rights granted.

Leon A. Kappelman's comments:


This is one of those y2k-related topics, particularly
because of the potential for devastating consequences, that
has been on my radar screen since long before my October
1997 "An Open Letter to the President of the United States"
<> -- This
letter was largely a reaction and protest to the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission's behavior at that time with regard
to y2k.

We have come a long way since then, and I've learned a lot
about nuclear power, but I am no expert. I am, however,
directly in touch with people working on or advising
nuclear power y2k projects in the USA, Eastern Europe, and
the UK -- They are all fairly sanguine. Nevertheless, it's
a big world out there and there is still a great deal that
we do not know about y2k nuclear energy risks here and

In the hope of helping close some of those gaps, I share
with you the following information. I am not formally
affiliated with these folks, nor have I verified their
work; nevertheless, I have put them in touch with people on
the inside of y2k efforts in nuclear power plants and I
believe these to be concerned and knowledgeable citizens
doing their best to illuminate a very political, and at the
same time, very real risk to nearly each and every one of
us. Mukes are not something we can afford to get wrong,
anywhere, any time.

FYI, (from a compilation published in IEEE Spectrum, in
November 1996, of findings from International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA), World Health Organization (WHO) of the
United Nations, European Commission (EC), Princeton
University, National Resource Defense Council, Nuclear
Energy Agency, and others) about 85% of the radioactivity
released from Chernobyl in 1986 had a half-life of less
than a month and only about 1% of the initial release
remained in the environment ten years later. Nevertheless,
about 7.4 million were exposed, "the incidence of thyroid
cancer has risen far more than expected among infants...
[but] perhaps most widespread [among adults] are ... stress-
related physical ailments, notably stomach and autoimmune
disorders (p. 27). Moreover, in "the worst-affected
districts, 20-25% of the state budget goes to remedying
Chernobyl's effects" (ibid.) -- That's 10 years later!!
Don't let this kind of thing happen to your community!!
This is no 3-day storm we're talking about -- both because
it is largely preventable and because if it does occur, the
effects can last for decades. "Better safe than sorry"
applies big time!!!

Best wishes,

Leon A. Kappelman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Business Computer Information Systems
Associate Director, Center for Quality & Productivity
College of Business Administration, Univ. of North Texas
Co-chair, Society for Info. Management Y2K Working Group
Steering Committee, YES Volunteer Corps (
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