Advocating ‘zero tolerance’ of the possibility that Y2K computer
problems could create a nuclear emergency, a group called World
Atomic Safety Holiday is calling on governments around the world to
declare an atomic safety period from December onward.
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
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
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:
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;