]]]]]]]]]]]]      THE CHICKEN LITTLE REACTOR     [[[[[[[[[[[[[[ 
                                                      (12/1988)
 Editorial, The Wall Street Journal, 13 December 1988, p. A20:1

          [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 10602PANC]

   Maybe they should just flip  a coin.  Heads and the government
immediately restarts Savannah River  Nuclear Plant, the so-called
K-reactor, that produces tritium for  the U.S. arsenal of nuclear
warheads.  Tails and  the Department of  Energy's bureaucrats get
to  keep  the  reactors   shut  down  indefinitely  for  ``safety
upgrades''  while the  country's  nuclear deterrent  falls apart.
This approach sounds like a  substitute for serious thinking, but
since little  serious thinking  about this  issue is  going on in
public anyway,  there isn't much  to lose by  turning the problem
over to chance.
   Tritium is a radioactive form  of hydrogen that is integral to
the proper functioning of nearly all the U.S.'s nuclear warheads.
Because  it degrades  over  time, the  government  must routinely
reinsert freshly made tritium into each warhead.  Du Pont Co. has
produced America's tritium  at a federal  plant in South Carolina
that it designed, build and  has operated without profit and with
no significant accidents since the early 1950s.
   The Department of  Energy has kept  the three tritium reactors
run by  Du Pont  shut down  since April.   In August, technicians
restarting the K-reactor made  a miscalculation and the reactor's
power  intensity increased  above normal.   Ever since  then, the
Department of Energy,  Congress and the New  York Times have been
running around the land squeaking, ``The sky is falling!  The sky
is  falling!''  By  implying that  doom, disease  and destruction
will  follow if  the K-reactor  is restarted,  the Chicken-Little
school of policy  making and journalism  has indefinitely stopped
the production of  tritium -- arguably one  of the most important
functions performed by the U.S. government.
   In the columns nearby, Forrest J. Remick, who is Vice Chairman
of  the  Nuclear Regulatory  Commission's  Advisory  Committee on
Reactor Safeguards,  puts the K-reactor's  August ``power surge''
incident  in perspective.   The issues  he describes  should lend
themselves  to a  resolution that  would meet  both the  needs of
defense and of safety.  But in Washington, nothing so sensible is
possible.
   The Department of  Energy's safety bureaucrats,  led by Deputy
Assistant  Secretary Richard  Starostecki,  have just  produced a
document describing  some 160  ``fixes'' for  the K-reactor.  The
DOE  flowchart reprinted  here is  described in  the report  as a
``simplified diagram denoting the various activities leading to a
restart decision.''  There  is a page  called ``K-Reactor Restart
Strategy Acronym List,'' which in  part includes: ACC, ACNFS, CS,
CW,  DOE/EH, DOE/SR,  DOE/SR (ES&H),  HS&E,  INPO, ORE,  QA, ROD,
RPMT, RSAC, RSED,  TA, TPC, TV and,  lastly and not surprisingly,
USQ for Unresolved Safety Question.
   The  report  gives  a  fair   idea  of  why  the  department's
bureaucrats said that Energy  Secretary John Herrington's planned
spring  restart of  the tritium  reactor  would most  likely take
place sometime next  Christmas.  Meanwhile the  New York Times is
continuing its  daily series  of stories  along the  lines of its
weekend  headline,  ``Blowing, Flowing  and  Crawling,  Nature is
Spreading Nuclear Waste.''  Echoes of this barrage are staring to
appear in other publications as well.
   The problem,  of course,  is that  the Beltway's  little opera
bouffe is liable to ``unresolve'' the country into disarmament as
the tritium decays  (which some of  the tritium reactor's critics
are  now  saying  is  the  explicit  goal  of  their opposition).
Credible experts exist who believe the K-reactor can be restarted
now to  produce tritium while  safety work proceeds  on the other
reactors, but the national media coverage has made essentially no
effort to include  their opinions.  ``I  don't believe the rector
is unsafe, or I'd  say that,'' the ACRS's  Forrest Remick said in
an interview.  A  Defense Department spokesman  commenting on the
delays says: ``We're starting to lose slack time.  The margin for
error has slipped to almost nothing.''
   We will hold  for another occasion  the story of  how a matter
critical  to  U.S.  security   could  become  so  mismanaged  and
misrepresented.  The  immediate task is  for President-elect Bush
to  appoint  a  strong Energy  Secretary.   The  government needs
someone  who  understands  the  order  of  importance  between  a
``safe'' reactor as defined by Richard Starostecki's 160-criteria
restart flow  chart, and  the public's  expectation of  a healthy
nuclear deterrent.

                   K-Reactor Restart Strategy

[This rendering slightly modified to accomodate it to the page.]

+---------+    +-------------+  +------------+    +-------------+
|         |    | Development |  | Definition |    | Reactor     |
| Safety  |    | of DOE Long |  | of Long    |    | Safety      |
| Needs   |--->| Term Safety |->| Term       |-o->| Improvement |
| Defined |    | Enhancement |  | Schedule & | |  | Program     |
|         |    |             |  | Budget     | |  | (RSIP)      |
+---------+    +-------------+  +------------+ |  +-------------+
      |              |                         |
      v              v                         v
+------------+    +-------------+     +---------------+
| DOE        |    | ACNFS Review|     | DOE Secretary | Restart
| Restart    |    | of Criteria |     | Review        | Decision
| Criteria   |-o->| and         |---->| ------------- |--------->
| Development| |  | Enhancement |     |  EH, DP, SRO  |
|            | |  | Program     |     |               |
+------------+ |  +-------------+     +---------------+
               |                                    ^
               v                                    |
      +-----------------+     +----------------+  +-----------+
      | Restart         |     | Disposition of |  | Readiness |
      | Implementation  |     |     Issues     |->| Decisions |
      | Plan & Schedule |     |                |  |           |
      | Development     |     +----------------+  +-----------+
      +-----------------+                 ^  |
           |         |                    |  |
           v         v                    |  |
+----------------+  +----------------+    |  |
| Contractor     |  | DOE            |    |  v
| Implementation |  | Implementation |  +---------------+
|                |  |                |->|      DOE      |
+----------------+  +----------------+  |  Verification |
  ^           ^                         |      and      |
  |           `------------------------>|  ACNFS REVIEW |
  |                                     +---------------+
  |                                             ^
  |                                             |
  |                                   +----------------------+
  |                                   | Contractor Readiness |
  +---------------------------------->|      Decisions       |
                                      +----------------------+

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

                          *     *     *


Return to the ground floor of this tower
Return to the Main Courtyard
Return to Fort Freedom's home page