WASH urges that all nuclear systems be shut down from Dec. 1 until testing has been completed with third-party verification. Chapters have been formed in California and Oregon, as well as London and several cities in Japan.
The campaign began in Tokyo on July 3 with a Y2K forum that attracted about 400 people. One of the forum?s organizers, Yumi Kikuchi of Japan-based Plutonium Free Future, teamed up with Mary Olsen of Washington D.C.-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service to start the international crusade.
Worldwide, there are approximately 431 nuclear power reactors in operation, according to Mindy Landau, public affairs officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
WASH organizers want all nuclear reactors and nuclear processing facilities shut down, nuclear weapons de-alerted and shipments of nuclear material suspended. They are also calling for nuclear facilities and waste storage sites to be equipped with backup generators.
In response to the call that nuclear reactors be shut down, Landau said: 'We don?t see any need for that. That?s just not necessary, and it could be very disruptive.'
According to the NRC, 73 of the 103 nuclear power plants operating in the U.S. had successfully completed Y2K testing as of August and are prepared for the date change. Thirty plants require additional testing of computer systems or components not directly linked to plant safety. Most of these expect to be ready by Sept. 30. The NRC will decide at the end of September what to do about plants that have not reached total compliance by that time.
The safety systems at all 103 plants have been Y2K ready since July 1, according to a report issued by the commission. All nuclear power plants are equipped with backup diesel generators, but WASH organizers say alternative energy sources are needed in case a Y2K glitch disrupts fuel transport.
As for the country?s nuclear weapons, Pentagon spokesperson Susan Hansen said 'If there were to be any Y2K problem in any piece of equipment, the default is that the equipment will not work.' In other words, a glitch could make a missile-launching system inoperable; it could not cause a missile to fire. Launching a nuclear warhead requires several human interactions including authorization from the president, she said.
Ninety-two percent of the Defense Department?s mission critical systems are fully Y2K compliant, and 94 percent of its non-mission-critical systems are 'fixed and implemented,' according to a news release dated July 22. More than 99 percent of the Department?s mission critical systems will be ready for the new millennium by September and the remainder will be compliant by Dec. 31, the document said.
'The concern is not the weapons themselves but the human beings sitting at those screens monitoring them,' Hansen said, explaining that while launching a missile involves several human actions, something as simple as the screen of an early-warning system going blank could theoretically start a chain reaction of human decisions culminating in some sort of action.
Fusako de Angelis, a member of the WASH Campaign?s Bay Area Chapter in Berkeley, Calif., said the campaign's view is that it's better to be safe than sorry. WASH hopes to get the attention of the government executives who control the world?s nuclear resources with a petition they have been circulating.
'We consider long-term worldwide radioactive contamination a greater threat to public safety than the possibility of temporary power outages caused by taking reactors off line through the new year,' the petition says.
'All we are asking is to shut down for Y2K for a couple of months,' said de Angelis, adding that she believes coal, hydroelectric and other non-nuclear plants could produce enough energy to fulfill the public?s electrical needs during that time.
The WASH petition will be sent to the NRC, as well as President Clinton, Vice President Gore, the secretary general of the United Nations, and other U.S. and international leaders.There have been three general meetings of the Bay Area chapter of WASH so far, said de Angelis. About 20 people attended the last meeting, she said. The group is planning a letter-writing campaign and hopes to team up with other organizations that have similar missions.
WASH was officially launched on Aug. 6, the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.
Contacts: Fusako de Angelis, Y2K Nuclear WASH Campaign, Bay Area Chapter, Berkeley, Calif., 510-540-0545; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mindy Landau, public affairs officer, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Rockville, Md., 301-415-8200; web site: www.defenselink.mil.
Background: Paul Gunter, director, Reactor Watchdog Project, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Washington, D.C., 202-328-0002. Mary Beth Brangan, coordinator, WASH campaign, Bay Area chapter, Bolinas, Calif., 415-868-1900; fax: 415-868-1901; e-mail: email@example.com