Sea Monsters – From Nuclear Titanic to Husky Bhopal

John LaForge

Russia’s twin reactor barge Akademik Lomonosov has no propulsion of its own and is to be towed 3,000 miles on the open sea.
Russia’s twin reactor barge Akademik Lomonosov has no propulsion of its own and is to be towed 3,000 miles on the open sea.

Q: Did you hear the one about the Exxon-Valdez Fuku-Chernobyl Gulf Oil Titanic?

A: Yeah, Russia put two nuclear reactors on a barge to power oil rigs in the Arctic and nothing went wrong!

Unsatisfied with trouncing Japan at the Winter Olympics 14 gold medals to four, the Russians are trying to topple Tokyo as No. 1 oceanic polluter. As it stands, Japan’s Fukushima catastrophe which began March 11, 2011 “has caused by far the largest discharge of radioactivity into the ocean ever seen,” as the journal Nature reported Nov. 14, 2012.

So the geniuses in Russia intend to drag a floating, teetering ocean barge with two reactors full of hot, fissioning not-yet-melted fuel around the Arctic looking for icebergs, shoals or oil tankers to crash into. What better way to smoke Japan’s inglorious world record? And instead of going to all the trouble of pouring cooling water over three smoldering melted reactor cores and watching the contamination run to sea for seven years (and counting) as in Fukushima, Russia’s unfathomable sea monster can go down in a whole gale like the Edmund Fitzgerald putting all the cesium, plutonium, strontium and the rest directly into the Arctic without all the fuss.

The April 28 launch of the barge Akademik Lomonosov  presents such an outrageous, flabbergasting risk to the sea that even Newsweek used the headline April 30th, “Russia’s ‘Nuclear Titanic’ Heads West, Raising Fears of “Chernobyl On Ice.” The plan is to hoist this petard from St. Petersburg to Murmansk, where real life eco-terrorists will load the reactors with uranium fuel and set it to fissioning, then to pull it east so far (3,000 miles) that Sarah Palin will be able to see it. 

It is no wonder the richest insurance companies on Earth refuse to sell accident liability coverage to reactor operators. Lovers of nuclear power ignore this social problem like the plague since it gives science such a bad name and makes “clean, safe, too cheap to meter” look like snake oil. The same pro-nuclear, “small government,” and “free enterprise” hucksters pretend it’s not big corporate welfare that the federal Price-Anderson Act provides tax-payer funded accident coverage for reactor disaster claims above $12.6 billion.

It will cost the Japanese government over $300 billion in compensation to evacuees and the injured of Fukushima, and couple hundred billion more to sweep the cesium, plutonium, strontium and tritium under a rug, into the Pacific Ocean, or build roads out of it. Our very own General Electric Corp. brought those good Fuku’ reactors to life and it has managed to avoid liability (by getting Congress to put the taxpayers on the hook for accidents), even after the Great East Japan Earthquake rattled then apart in the worst radiation disaster in history. 

Undersea earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricane winds and rogue waves are natural disasters understood to be both unpredictable and extremely dangerous. Daring to place hot nuclear reactors in the public commons of the Arctic Ocean directly in the face of such enormous risks is not just tempting fate. It is saying we don’t care about meaningless atomic violence 

It’s another uncomfortable truth that only nuclear reactors - alone among all the large-scale and dangerous industrial enterprises - are required by law evacuation plans approved before going online.  

Energency workers had to let the Husky Energy Inc. refinery fire in Superior burn for fear of explosions, hot spots and hyrdogen fluroide/hydrofluric acid leaks. Photo by Marc Fink, Twitter
Energency workers had to let the Husky Energy Inc. refinery fire in Superior burn for fear of explosions, hot spots and hyrdogen fluroide/hydrofluric acid leaks. Photo by Marc Fink, Twitter


Husky Refinery Fire Highlights Risk of Epic Disaster

You have to hand it to Husky Energy Inc. and its Superior, Wis. Oil “refinery” for getting the jump on its product’s ultimate end use. The initially unapproachable and uncontrollable April 26 explosions and fire turned asphalt, crude oil and other toxic materials into greenhouse gases long before cars, trucks, trains and planes could do it.

The series of explosions that ignited Husky’s 9-hour-long fire - and sent thick, black plumes of toxic gases, heavy metals and particulates into the atmosphere and drifting 40 miles to the southeast - haven’t yet been explained. But first responders, city officials and TV newscasters congratulated each other like sports fans on TV over the fine job everyone did at standing around to “let’er burn,” enjoying plain dumb luck. 

No one dared try to douse the raging blaze for hours fearing new explosions and the underreported matter of Hydrogen Fluoride, or hydrofluoric acid.  To be fair, the Apr. 27 St. Paul Pioneer noted, “Concerns that hydrogen fluoride … could escape the facility prompted officials to exercise extreme caution and to call for a mandatory evacuation of everyone within 3 miles of the fire or up to 10 miles in the sparsely populated area downwind.”
This was a dainty way to treat the staggering danger posed by hydrofluoric acid. Not till April 30 did the StarTribune report that “in a worst-case scenario, the amount [of hydrogen fluoride] used at the Superior refinery could seriously injure or kill up to 180,000 people in the Twin Ports area if the tank holding the hydrogen fluoride were compromised.”
This amazing sentence ought to cut to the bone. Such a death toll would dwarf the 1984 Bhopal, India chemical disaster, now the world’s worst chemical accident, brought on by Union Carbide’s leak of some 30 tons of methyl isocyanate which some say killed 16,000 people.  
Again, howling northeasters off Lake Superior, flooding like the sort that tore up Jay Cooke State Park in 2012, straight line winds that blew down Siren, Wis. and a swath of the BWCA, all put Husky’s oil refinery in danger. Placing such toxic hazards in populated areas, and drinking water sources like our own Inland Sea is not progress but ordinary greed and corruption - with a dose of reckless endangerment. “Fortunately,” as the United Steelworkers said in an April 2013 report: “HF [hydrogen fluoride] can be entirely eliminated. The industry has the technology and expertise. It certainly has the money. It lacks only the will. And if it cannot find the will voluntarily, it must be forced by government action.”

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