Indian Point is a classic example of a "documentary" using scare tactics and bad science in an attempt to sway public opinion. Time and again, non-scientific figures -- often times political figures -- are trotted out to counter scientific figures and their analyses.
The documentary opens with the posing of a hypothetical question: what if the planes that struck the WTC on 9/11 instead targeted Indian Point Nuclear Power Station? The documentary launches into the results of such an event without for one moment considering the difficulty of such a strike. Unlike the WTC or pentagon, containment structures are relatively small and nearly impossible for even a highly trained pilot to strike with a commercial aircraft. But, assuming that it were possible, the documentary plods on.
The documentary targets the famous Sandia National Labratories test in which a fighter jet is rocketed into a concrete wall and promptly disintegrates. The film explains that the experiment did not model a nuclear containment wall since the experiment concrete was three times as thick and also placed on frictionless bearings. While this statement is technically correct, it incorrectly assumes that nothing can be learned from the experiment. One of the great discoveries the lab made was that, when an airplane strikes concrete, approximately 96% of the energy is consumed in the destruction of the plane. This, along with other data collected, makes it possible to analyze a hypothetical scenario where a larger commercial aircraft strikes a containment structure. The result of the hypothetical study is that the containment structure could withstand the impact. These analyses are done with the assumption that the plane strikes the structure dead on (almost impossible) and that the entire plane strikes the structure. The latter assumption is completely impossible since containment structures have diameters smaller than the distance between engines on commercial aircraft (which combined account for a majority of the weight on an airliner). But the documentary ignores all of this and simply waves its hands in the air saying "none of that applies!"
Also considered are attacks on spent fuel pools and the control room. The film considers an attack that manages to drain a fuel pool without ever mentioning how such an event would occur. Flying a plane into an in-ground pool is impossible, and pools are designed more robustly than containment structures. An attack on a control center would likely cause loss of life at the site (not by nuclear means, but by the attack itself), but would not compromise the safety of the core. American reactors are designed to be safe without controller input -- that is, if all control by operators is lost, the plant automatically shuts down. Not only is the automatic shut down controlled by automatic systems, but there are also natural phenomenon that keep the core safe in the event of an accident (negative moderator temperature coefficients and negative void coefficients are required in American designs).
Eventually, the inevitable comparisons between Indian Point and Chernobyl are brought about. Playing on the misconstrued belief that anything with the word 'nuclear' in its name carries the same risks as the plant which suffered the worst nuclear accident in history, the documentary implies that a Chernobyl-style accident is possible at Indian Point. Very briefly they offer an NRC commissioner several seconds to explain that fundamental differences in design and operation of the two plants precludes such an event. The documentary seems to gloss over this with a "so what?" attitude. The fact that such an accident in impossible at Indian Point (and all other US nuclear plants) seems no deterrent to the director on her crusade.
Overall, the so-called documentary fails to reinforce any of its claims. Scientific fact and analysis takes a back seat to buzz words and fear mongering in an attempt to scare the public into abandoning trust in scientists and engineers who make it their life's work to safely generate electricity for public use. Nuclear power has generated electricity for more than 40 years (and now contributes 20% of our electricity) without a single civilian fatality. The creator of this documentary would throw all of this away under the guise of an impossible "what if" scenario, and perhaps would celebrate the inevitable replacement of nuclear power plants with pollution belching coal plants.
2/10 from a student about to receive a Master's Degree in Nuclear Engineering
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