Sunday, October 16, 2016
Review of Nuclear Apples? by Mary MacDowell
Nuclear Apples? The Third Penny Weaver Mystery. Judy Hogan. Hoganvillaea Books, Moncure. ISBN-13:978-1530404506. $15, paperback; $2.99 e-book (Kindle), 223 pages.
By Mary MacDowell
I just finished the last page of Nuclear Apples? Shucks, I don’t want to stop reading about these folks.
I have intimate knowledge of Chatham, Wake and Orange counties and how their activist citizens (including Hogan) and county officials tried to intervene to stop the Harris nuclear power plant from importing highly irradiated fuel rods from other plants, the threat that activated the local characters at the center of this mystery. The book accurately describes the risks of doubling the crowded pools radioactive contents and the safer option of dry cask storage and also how politics at the county, state and federal level often allows unsafe conditions at the plants to continue.
In the mystery the local professor of nuclear engineering at the state university who leads the activists explains the facts: to crowd the radioactive rods into pools where they would risk a loss of water would lead to overheating the rods’ shielding. This, then would cause a catastrophic fire releasing radioactive steam that could render a large area including Chatham, Chapel Hill, Raleigh & Durham uninhabitable for hundreds of years. I have been told by a nuclear engineer that all it would take is a very small plane the size of a Cessna crashing into the pool building to breach the pools and cause such a fire. Other causal or contributing factors include malfunction in the reactor or the interconnected water cooling systems, a fire elsewhere in the plant, or radiation from a severe reactor accident that precludes the ongoing provision of cooling water to the pools because it becomes unsafe for personnel to be where the controls are.
This is a real danger that exists at most of the 99 nuclear plants in the US, so it is excellent that Hogan has used this as the central issue in her book. But the book is also a delightful story of real characters with absorbing relationships and growth. They range from love between her Welsh detective husband and Penny, negotiations with teens wanting to date, two & five-year-olds whose mom is in hospital from being beaten by county cops at the sit-in to get the plant to stop the pool plan, a lesbian couple, an elderly black couple caught in the middle, plant workers being given radioactive drinking fountains and worried about plant safety while the supervisors cut corners. Through it all the people come together to cook and eat to strengthen themselves for planning and working together to challenge this powerful company and its political and legal supporters. And that makes a fascinating tale of what it takes to really support each other in each crisis.
Mary MacDowell worked for Chatham County for 10 years as research coordinator for monitoring and providing expert witnesses to prevent an unsafe multi-state low-level radioactive waste disposal site next to the Harris Nuclear Plant from being licensed by North Carolina government. This effort, with tremendous help of local citizens and allied environmental groups, was successful. The subsequent efforts to make Carolina Power and Light (now Duke Energy) take the safer course of storing their plants’ nuclear fuel rods in dry casks has not been successful yet, but this mystery should help spread the word.
Beginning November 1 and through November 30 on Goodreads.com I'm offering five free books in a drawing of Formaldehyde, Rooster, the fourth Penny Weaver Mystery, in which the community group fights against bad air pollution. It's due out December 1. Don't miss it!
Nuclear Apples? is available at The Joyful Jewel in Pittsboro, at Paperbacks Plus in Siler City, and at the Regulator Bookshop in Durham.