Virus makes nukes doubly deadly

May 2, 2020

From the May-June 2020 issue of News & Letters

“Rolling in the COVID-19 Trojan Horse: these refueling crews traveling from one reactor site and community to the next.”
—Paul Gunter

Nuclear power corporations are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic. Greed bedevils the fuel cycle—from mining to “turning on the lights”—in every nuclear state. Now endless claims of nuclear power plants’ importance emanate from propaganda machines supported by taxes, and supine politicians.

The nuclear industry showed up for the COVID-19 stimulus package because the cost for nuclear power sees no end, now or in the future. However, with the SARS2 pandemic, the nuke industry is again sacrificing our safety for its bonuses and payoffs. Elected officials ignore the hybrid menace.

This is the off-season for electrical demand when refueling and necessary repairs are done, which leads to a nuclear dance: over 1,000 contractors migrate through the nation to perform dangerous and intricate work. They bring along their exposure to COVID-19.


When the pandemic started, 1,400 workers came to Montgomery and Chester counties, Penn., to exchange fuel assemblies at the Limerick nuclear power plant. Commissioners requested Exelon postpone the refuel until the rate of COVID-19 was lower. Exelon promised “mitigations,” including social distancing. But social distancing was not happening.

So the COVID-19 terror creeps among nuclear workers. The reactors should be closed until there are healthy people for a safe start-up. But industrialists want personal protective equipment (PPE) before medical staff have enough; they boost disinfecting radiation detectors; they ask for exemptions from the National Regulatory Commission (NRC). Exelon is seeking to delay a steam-generator inspection at Braidwood in Illinois to a refueling outage in 18 months because more than 170 employees from across the U.S. would “mobilize on-site.” But a fuel swap in mid-April will bring 1,000 contractors!

Five people must be in the control room 24/7 and crews work cheek by jowl to swap fuel rods. They mustn’t close the plants because citizens might realize we don’t need these dangerous installations.


“Managers are tied to bonuses; bonuses are tied to deadlines,” says Arnie Gundersen, 45 years in the industry. It incentivizes the 26-day deadline for swapping the fuel. Managers get a 30% bonus (on a $300,000/year salary!), said Gundersen. A plant closed for safety from COVID-19 might not have secure bonuses, he said.

Bonuses are part of the nuclear industry. For example, Unit 4 Chernobyl had a start-up deadline for 1985 and was approved Dec. 30, 1985 despite a safety test being postponed to April 26, 1986. Unit 2 Three Mile Island had known faults, but being commissioned by Dec. 30, 1978, would save $40 million in taxes. Unit 2 started up February 1979, and melted down March 1979. They saved $40 million, and we citizens paid $1 billion to clean it up.

The NRC claims responsibility for safety, but only for radiation. COVID-19 protection falls to Exelon, FirstEnergy, Entergy, Talen, etc. Making the industry responsible for safety is similar to FAA’s “Boeing plan.” Parroting the same set of excuses, NRC’s Scott Burnell says, “Since plants need enough staff to meet requirements, they have a strong incentive to follow OSHA and keep their workers healthy.”

Illinois is the most nuclear state, but regulators dismiss public concerns. Three reactors are scheduled for refueling. Illinois should protect us by demanding reactors close rather than let over 1,000 workers go from town to town. But no one confronts Exelon about it. I can’t talk to the Governor’s staff; so I sent an angry letter through his website.



One thought on “Virus makes nukes doubly deadly

  1. A message we received from Nuclear Information and Resource Service:

    As many of you are aware, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the nuclear industry have failed to mount an appropriate response to the pandemic, putting the health and safety of workers, reactor communities, and the general public at risk.

    NIRS is calling for a meeting to develop and coordinate an action plan to address this. Please join us if you are interested and want to be part of that:
    Tuesday, May 5 @ 3pm EDT
    (noon PDT / 1pm MDT / 2pm CDT)
    Click here to register for the zoom

    Last week, 86 organizations from across the country sent a letter to Vice President Pence (as chair of the White House Coronavirus Task Force) and several federal agencies, calling for immediate actions to address the nuclear industry’s response to the pandemic. We had to gather the signatures for the letter quickly – thanks to all of the organizations who signed on, and apologies to the many organizations who might not have been able to because of the short timeframe.

    As a quick update, we have not received any response from the White House yet – which, to be honest, is what we expected. We knew the letter would just be a starting point for putting pressure on the White House and NRC to act.

    That’s the purpose of Tuesday’s meeting: to map out a plan of action. Some ideas that have already been suggested include:

    State sign-on letters to governors, Congressional delegations, state health departments and emergency management agencies, etc., to push for urgent, coordinated federal action.
    Mobilizing people to contact Senate and House reps.
    Calls for Congressional oversight hearings.
    Tracking NRC approvals of exemptions and postponed inspections/maintenance.

    I hope you can join us on Tuesday, and if you want to be involved but can’t be there on Tuesday, just let me know and send me any ideas you have. I will follow up about next steps and keep you in the loop.

    Tim Judson
    Executive Director
    Nuclear Information and Resource Service
    6930 Carroll Ave., Suite 340
    Takoma Park, MD 20912
    O: 301-270-6477

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