Terrified Atomic Workers Warn That the COVID-19 Pandemic May Threaten Nuclear Reactor Disaster
COVID is affecting the Nuke Industry far more than they are admitting. Refueling a reactor takes anywhere between 20 – 50 men working ‘precisely’ together for long periods of time – many days depending on the reactor design. This work CANNOT be done by some amateur ‘newbie’ who just got out of training. This is highly skilled and extremely delicate work refueling a nuclear reactor while the lid is completely removed and set aside.
Nuclear safety cannot be shortchanged—especially in the midst of an outbreak like what the nation is now experiencing.
The COVID Pandemic has thrown America’s atomic reactor industry into lethal chaos, making a major disaster even more likely. Reports from “terrified” workers at a Pennsylvania reactor indicate vital precautions needed to protect them may not even be possible.
Nationwide, with falling demand and soaring prices for nuke-generated electricity, the pandemic casts a dark shadow over reactor operations and whether frightened neighbors will allow them to be refueled and repaired.
America’s 96 remaining atomic reactors are run by a coveted pool of skilled technicians who manage the control rooms, conduct repairs, load/unload nuclear fuel.
Because few young students have been entering the field, the corps of about 100,000 licensed technicians has been—like the reactors themselves—rapidly aging while declining in numbers. Work has stopped at the last two US reactors under construction (at Vogtle, Georgia) due to the pandemic’s impact, which includes a shrinking supply of healthy workers.
Every reactor control room requires five operators at all times. But the physical space is limited there and in plant hot spots that need frequent, often demanding repairs. Social distancing is virtually impossible. Long shifts in confined spaces undermine operator safety and performance.
Of critical importance: every 18-24 months each reactor must shut for refueling and repairs. Itinerant crews of 1000 to 1500 technicians travel to 58 sites in 29 states, usually staying 30-60 days. They often board with local families, or in RVs, hotels, or Air B&Bs.
Some 54 reactors have been scheduled for refuel/repairs in 2020. But there is no official, organized program to test the workers for the Coronavirus as they move around the country.
As the pandemic thins the workforce, older operators are being called out of retirement. The Trump-run Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently certified 16-hour work days, 86-hour work weeks, and up to 14 consecutive days with 12-hour shifts.
Long-time nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen warns of fatigued operators falling asleep on the job. He recalls at least one exhausted worker falling into the highly radioactive pool surrounding the high-level fuel rods. Operator fatigue also helped cause the 1979 melt-down that destroyed Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island Unit Two.
The industry is now using the coronavirus pandemic to rush through a wide range of deregulation demands. Among them is a move to allow radioactive waste to be dumped into municipal landfills. OH.. it gets worse…