The recent conflagration at the nuclear power plants in Japan after the horrifying earthquake/tsunami event has freaked nations all over the world. Restudying their own nuclear plants and emergency plans, countries have realized that many of them are sheer blue sky fantasies. Germany has now gone the whole nine yards claiming they will eliminate all nuclear power by the third decade of the 21st century.
Meanwhile in the USA nuclear power plants have come under close scrutiny and the studies are not positive. Licenses extended for aging plants that are leaking radioactive water into the environment is just one of many problems revealed in a recent two part series by the Associated Press last week called US Nuke Regulators Weaken Safety Rules.
In The China Syndrome, written and directed by James Bridges, and released on March 16, 1979, 12 days before the Three Mile Island disaster, a middle management plant operator discovers a fatal flaw in the plant design, one that could produce a "China Syndrome" where burning fuel would melt through the containment building, hit water and release deadly radioactive steam into the atmosphere. When he tries to notify the public he is harassed, discredited and ultimately killed, just as his plant almost loses all control and almost blows up.
While this fictional possibility has been discussed endlessly since Three Mile Island, other contemporary events are now making the China Syndrome a possibility again. One involves the raging forest fires around Los Alamos, New Mexico, threatening the nuclear power labs there and perhaps creating the possibility of nuclear contamination of the area.
The other two dangers involve the flooding of two nuclear power plants in Nebraksa, due to the unusually high water runoffs from dams in the area. Fort Calhoun's power plant has been shut down for refueling since April of 2011, but is still in danger, since it's secondary line of flood defense collapsed on Sunday, June 26th. If the water continues to rise, the plant may find itself in danger of losing all power and having its cooling systems collapse and its fuel rods may melt. It seems no one ever believed the waters would ever reach such staggering heights. If the dams north of the facility break these theories may soon be tested.
The Brownville nuke plant is near the Missouri River and is also in danger of seeing record high waters inundating the facility. It seems nobody took the time to truly put that plant on high ground and this one is fully operational as I write.
Watching The China Syndrome becomes a curiously contemporary event. As nuke plants all over the world fail in spectacular ways and large parts of the land around them have to be abandoned for centuries it would be prudent for everyone to try and figure out where the nuke plants are and how safe they really might be. Nebraska and everyone downstream on the Missouri River are learning that lesson right now and will be relearning it as long as catastrophic flooding remains a distinct possibility this whole summer and well into the fall of 2011.