Activists in Chattanooga: Nuclear power not in future

photo David Lochbaum, a nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, spoke Tuesday before the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

For more information on the summit, visit

About 100 anti-nuclear activists gathered in Chattanooga on Thursday for a three-day strategy session and to hear "The Dave and Dave Show" at the "Know Nukes Y'all Summit."

What they learned is that Fukushima can't happen here because there is no city or county or state named that here.

But something "like" Fukushima can. And almost has, according to the first Dave, Dave Lochbaum, a former TVA nuclear engineer at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant and a former Nuclear Regulatory Commission instructor.

In March of 1990, a truck backed into the grid station at Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, Ga., and caused a reactor in shutdown to lose cooling. The emergency diesel generators didn't start because a part that had been "repaired" dozens of times failed, he said. Other backup systems were not operable because of "routine maintenance."

The part was replaced and the generator started in time to avoid further serious problems, Lochbaum said, but the point was that there was no double-whammy earthquake and tsunami.

"Vogtle got into trouble without any natural disasters. It's problems were self-inflicted," he said.

Lochbaum said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission hadn't done a good jot of overseeing the plant. If it had enforced its own regulations, he said, the part would have been replaced, not just repeatedly repaired, before the incident.

"Safety IOUs don't help anybody but lawyers," said Lochbaum, who now is director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science-based non-profit organization that advocates safety and is neither anti-nuclear nor pro-nuclear.

The other star of the show, Dave Freeman, is the former TVA board chairman who convinced the TVA board to mothball plans for eight reactors shortly after the 1979 Three Mile Island partial meltdown in Pennsylvania.

Earlier this year, Freeman called for TVA to again abandon its nuclear construction plan because he says it is too demanding and too expensive.

Thursday, Freeman was more blunt.

"This [nuclear power] is turning out to be the worst failure in our history," he said. "There is no safe place to put spent fuel nuclear waste, and there's no excuse on God's green earth for that stuff to be sitting in swimming pools for 30 years."

Freeman said the fix is "birth control -- stop making it. ... We've got our work cut out for us."

Both men agreed that nuclear power is not the answer to carbon-caused global warming because many other new technologies are cleaner and safer, they said.

"Nuclear power may have had a role, but it's not the future," Lochbaum said.

TVA nuclear issues spokesman Ray Golden did not attend the meeting at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, but he did offer a prepared comment.

"Good decisions come from listening to various points of view," he said in an email. "TVA welcomes constructive dialogue that helps to better understand the energy needs of the Tennessee Valley."

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