Grace Aaron

Grace Aaron
Los Angeles, California,
February 17


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SEPTEMBER 8, 2011 4:27PM

A Nuclear 9/11?

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By Grace Aaron, Vice Pres. of the Social Uplift Foundation,,  Treas.,  Los Angeles Branch of  Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, former interim ED and National Chair of the Pacifica Foundation in 2009


A nuclear 9-11?  The Fukushima tragedy destroyed the nuclear power safety myth. We have to face the grim fact that these plants are not only vulnerable to earthquakes, tsunamis and floods, but also to terrorism.


According to David Kyd, spokesperson for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), most nuclear power plants were built in the 1960s and 1970s and were not designed to withstand the impact of a jumbo jet full of fuel.  Takeo Hiranuma, Japanese Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry, noted that his country’s nuclear plants were not built to withstand hits from missiles or aircraft.[1]

Two prominent nuclear scientists have written about the possibility of nuclear terrorism. One of them, Theodore B. Taylor, theoretical physicist and nuclear weapons designer, warned that the bombardment of nuclear facilities could convert them, in effect, into nuclear weapons.[2]Dr. James C. Warf, who headed the analytical chemistry section of the Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic bomb and who held patents for the process of separating plutonium from high-level nuclear waste, concurred.[3] Both scientists wrote that such an attack could contaminate huge areas -- hundreds, perhaps thousands, of square miles.[4]

Greenpeace nuclear consultant Dr. Helmut Hirsh estimates that an airliner colliding into a nuclear reactor could cause a meltdown in less than one hour.[5]

Yet in spite of these obvious dangers NRC security requirements still assume that terrorists targeting a nuclear facility will not use aircraft, will not attack with more than a handful of individuals, and will not use widely available weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades.[6]

 The Union of Concerned Scientists, a leading science-based nonprofit, concluded that nuclear plant risk assessments are being used to increase -- not reduce -- the threat to the American public.[7]

Projections of casualties from nuclear meltdowns vary wildly but are all beyond our most dreadful imaginings.

A 1982 study by Sandia National Laboratories, part of the U.S. Dept. of Energy, estimated that a core meltdown and radiological release at the Indian Point, New York nuclear plant that is 38 miles north of Manhattan could cause 50,000 deaths from acute radiation syndrome and 14,000 subsequent deaths from cancer.[8]

In the early 1980s, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimated that a meltdown at San Onofre, about 70 miles south of Los Angeles, could result in 130,000 immediate deaths, 300,000 cancers, and 600,000 genetic effects, for a total of about a million killed and injured.[9] (As an aside, in 1977 Bechtel Industries installed a 420-ton nuclear-reactor vessel backwards at San Onofre.)[10]

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) agree that the containment structures around nuclear power plants would probably be breached by a direct crash from a 747. But spent fuel pools that hold nuclear waste and are usually kept close to nuclear reactors are even easier terrorist targets. At least the reactors themselves have containment structures. Spent fuel pools are housed in more conventional buildings and, according to both these agencies, are more susceptible to aircraft strikes or explosives.[11]

In 1997, the Brookhaven National Laboratory, which is part of the U.S. Government Department of Energy, estimated that a calamity at one spent-fuel pool could lead to 138,000 deaths and contaminate 2,000 square miles of land.[12]

A spent fuel pool fire in the United States could render an area uninhabitable that would be as much as sixty times larger than that created by the Chernobyl accident.[13]

The U.S. also operates numerous research reactors, many in urban centers and universities. Although the inventory of radioactive materials in such facilities is far smaller than that of nuclear power stations, security at most of these reactors is very limited, which could make them potentially attractive targets for terrorist groups.[14]

There have been many credible terrorist threats from both inside and outside the U.S. In January 2002, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission sent a confidential memo to power plants nationwide warning of a credible Al Qaeda threat to fly a commercial aircraft into a nuclear power plant.[15]

In his 2004 threat assessment to Congress, then Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet stated, “more than two dozen other terrorist groups are pursuing CBRN [chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear] materials.”[16]

We are currently at a political and cultural crossroads. One direction leads to increasing vigilance and surveillance, the curtailment of civil liberties in the name of security, and endless global wars and military incursions undertaken to prevent the often-impredictable insane acts of maniacal individuals and groups. The other direction leads to the unwinding of the web of nuclear horror that began with Hiroshima and that has brought a limited gift of energy tied to a boundless nightmare of risk.

 [1] Associated Press, “Officials: Nuclear plants vulnerable,” Augusta Chronicle, Sept. 18, 2001,

 [2] Theodore B. Taylor, theoretical physicist and prominent nuclear weapons designer, “Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons,” July 1996,

[3] Claire Noland, “James C. Warf dies at 91; Manhattan Project chemist became peace activist, USC professor,” Nov. 9, 2008, Los Angeles Times,,0,4980684.story

[4] James C. Warf, Dept. of Chemistry, University of California, ALL THINGS NUCLEAR, second edition, (Los Angeles, CA, Figueroa Press, 2004) pg. 534

[5] “Meltdown in One Hour If Passenger Jet Hits Nuclear Power Plant,”{ Greenpeace Press Release, November 5, 2001,

[6] Union of Concerned Scientists Position Paper: Nuclear Power,

[7] David Lochbaum Nuclear Safety Engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “Nuclear Plant Risk Studies: Dismal Quality,” December 2000, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research,

[8] Edwin S. Lyman, PhD, Union of Concerned Scientists, “Impacts of a Terrorist Attack at Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant,” Report Commissioned by Riverkeeper, Inc. for the Union of Concerned Scientists, September 2004,

[9] Dan Hirsch, President of the Committee to Bridge the Gap and UC Santa Cruz lecturer on nuclear policy, “Japanese Nuclear Disaster,” Committee to Bridge the Gap Newsletter, Spring 2011, page 3,

[10] Alexander L. Taylor III, Bob Buder, and Joseph J. Kane, “The Master Builders from Bechtel,” Time Magazine, July 12, 1982,,9171,925559,00.html#ixzz1W6gqy5tk

[11] Mark Benjamin, "How Safe Is Nuclear-Fuel Storage in the U.S.?" Time Magazine March 23, 2011,8599,2060880,00.html

[12] Mark Benjamin, "How Safe Is Nuclear-Fuel Storage in the U.S.?" Time Magazine March 23, 2011,8599,2060880,00.html

[13] “Fixing America’s Nuclear Waste Storage Problem,” Robert Alvarez, senior policy adviser to the Secretary of Energy during the Clinton administration, The Nation, June 20, 2011,

[14] Charles D. Ferguson and William C. Potter, The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism, copyright 2004 by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, page 10,

[15] Nuclear Plants Possible Terror Targets, Memo Warns, by Steve Young,, Feb. 1, 2002,

[16] “9/11 Commission Report,” The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, July 22, 2004, pg. 380,

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It seems virtually irrefutable to me. All the
citations to authoritative sources give it great credibility.

But it doesn't drag me down, maybe because the tone of delivery is calm, deliberate and precise, not emotionally charged. I think that adds to its impact.

Thank you for shining a light on this dangerous situation.

Shouldn't we be reading this in the New York Times? Or, do we have to be careful not to give the terrorists any ideas?!
Thank you, Ms. Aaron for your thoughtful, well documented article.

It's good to review the facts -- which should give us all pause for thought -- without any fear mongering.

In light of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Japan, it's a rather sad commentary on the (business) world, that we haven't immediately shut down anything and everything nuclear.

But, ah yes! I almost forgot, nothing matters more in the world today than profits -- even if the deadly side effects of those profits have a half life of, what is it? 10,000 years?

Thank you for all your efforts, but, I find myself asking once again: Will we ever learn?
Excellent article I can see that you did your homework. But is there a solution to all this insanity?
Thank you for pointing out the terrorist threat created by the nuclear power industry. On top of everything mentioned, the casual leaking of cancerous material from nuclear power plants and weapons manufacturers is a major reason thyroid cancer is on the rise in the United States. As a thyroid cancer survivor, I hope together we can create a nuclear free world in my lifetime.

Good, clean, clear article. O'Brien ask, "Will we ever learn?" Probably not my friend, but we must keep hauling water to the fire.

Decades ago, as an Architectural designer/builder, I looked at the Nuke Power Plant construction drawings and concluded that only a tiny part of one of these things is fancy physics - most of it is plumbing. Who among us, has had plumbing that did not fail.

It's a fools game... I thank Ms. Aaron and anyone else who bring reality to this discussion.

PS: She did some damn good stuff for Pacifica too !!!

Thank G.A.
Richard Uzzell
Thank you all for your comments! I appreciate the feedback. The amount of potential harm from a damaged nuclear facility should be the subject of an depth public discussion.

C.J.'s poignant comment about the cancer causing radioactive emissions from routine nuclear power generation were particularly arresting.

Shawn's comment about the 10,000 year half life may be a conservative estimate. According to Dr. Helen Caldicott ( nuclear waste may need to be contained for far longer, for as much as a half a million years.

There is discussion that these nuclear waste containers will have to be maintained by our future offspring. Even steel becomes pretty brittle when exposed to radiation and will have to be replaced.

And considering how much our language has changed in just the 400 years after William Shakespeare, will future generations of humans 10,000 to 100,00 years in the future even know how to read the warnings and instructions for maintaining the nuclear waste containment.

Nuclear power is the recipe for extinction.

Kevin White
Houston, Texas
It's almost subversive! Putting facts in an article, then citing their sources. Not at all like modern 'journalism'. Clearly Grace did not sit in a room with a press flack writing his/her verbal wanderings on her steno pad.

Wouldn't some factual reporting with context be useful? (Except to pols who change their deeply held convictions every week and depend on total lack of any history to add to the fantasies so many of us seem to need.)

Probably, everything she said will be referred to as a 'conspiracy theory'.

Thanks for this, Grace.
Thanks, Otis! You see exactly what I tried hard to do -- get to the facts!

Kevin's comments are also important. I believe that the U.S. Government was trying to figure out a way to create a 'danger' sign near nuclear waste dumps that would survive longer than any language or culture has ever survived so far on earth.

As we are not yet wise enough to predict the consequences of our actions, we should rethink all things nuclear.

Grace Aaron

Nuclear power is insanity...
Good factual information that should make people more aware of the necessity of putting nuclear power to rest before we make too much of our planet "uninhabitable".