Saturday, September 24, 2005

Time Magazine's Warning About The Terrorist Danger To Nuclear Plants

Readers of this blog know that I detested Time magazine's decision to give in to the courts and the government in the CIA leakage case, allowing Judith Miller and the New York Times to bear the brunt of defending freedom of the press.

But that is not to say that I don't admire Time for its splendid coverage in many areas.

Time has distinguished itself in recent weeks for its coverage of the hurricane disaster and the terrorist attacks in London. But in reading back issues of the magazine since returning from my Alaska trip, I have to say that the best single Time article over the time I was away was the one warning about the terrorist threat to nuclear plants in its June 20 issue.

"Are These Towers Safe?," Time asked in rhat memorable report, and the answer, depressingly, was a resounding no.

Time has a point of view in its articles, and I think that makes it a better journalistic product than the more "objective" newspapers, with their peculiar ground rules for coverage. It's usually better to have a point of view, as long as the readers can easily understand what it is, and then decide for themselves whether they agree with it. Time is able to come to a conclusion, and in this case its conclusion is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, while beefing up the defenses of the nuclear power plants since 9-11, still has not prepared adequately for what the terrorists conceivably may be preparing to do.

An attack, for instance, at the Indian Point plant 35 miles north of New York City that was successful in causing a meltdown could cause 44,000 deaths within one year and 518,000 eventually from cancer, plus forcing an evacuation of millions of people from the New York area for years. The costs, in short, would be horrendous.

But, according to the Time report, the defense force for most of the nation's nuclear plants is not sufficient to fight off an attack by a force numbering no more than the 19 suicide jihadists who hijacked the planes on 9-11.

This was a thoroughly chilling article, carefully done. Yet I don't think it aroused all that much attention. In any event. as Hurricane Katrina showed, there can be warnings for years, as there were about the danger of a storm to levies in New Orleans, and yet the government does comparatively little to get ready.

In the case of the nuclear plants, and even nuclear waste dumps, the potential for catastrophe is so great, we simply can't afford not to get ready. An educated terrorist who gained access to a control room in one of these plants could take steps in just minutes leading to a meltdown, according to the Time report.

Time is doing here what the press does best, which is to deliver timely warnings. We live in such dangerous times, they should be given full credence and steps taken, even if they entail considerable sacrifice.

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