America's relation to nuclear energy is once again problematic. This time it is sailors training on nuclear reactors cheating on tests involving classified material. A navy investigation is underway as 30 senior enlisted seamen have been suspended from duty. The cheating took place at nuclear reactors in Charleston, S.C.
This is the third such scandal in recent weeks. Several weeks ago, 92 officers in charge of America's nuclear arsenal were relieved of command for incompetency and "lack of integrity."
Worse, Air Force Officers in charge of launching nuclear missiles aimed at Russia were fired for cheating on nuclear safety tests and for drunkenness.
Of course these latest problems with nukes have to be understood within the context of the Three Mile Island disaster and numerous near catastrophes in since then - accidents at the Fermi I reactor near Detroit, at the NRX reactor at Chalk River, Canada, at the Windscale reactor in England, and the SL-1 Reactor at Idaho Falls.
And, above all, of course is the crippling of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, after a magnitude-9 earthquake, followed by a huge tsunami sparked three nuclear meltdowns. Whether the problems there can ever be fixed is being debated by experts.
After a congressional hearing yesterday of the House Armed Services committee, charged with oversight of nuclear weapons and power plants, Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) spoke with reporters.
A UPI newswoman asked if there wasn't a systemic problem with the way nuclear weapons and shipboard reactors were mishandled by the U.S. military.
"No, it's just a few bad apples. Nothing to get excited about," said the congressman. "Our committee isn't going to investigate anything there. You know these military guys are just super swell. They'll take care of it."
Another reporter pointed out that the U.S. has 23 reactors with the same kind of poor safety systems that failed at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
"Shouldn't those be shut down or retrofitted?" asked the reporter.
"Why?," asked Barton. "They haven't blown up yet have they?"
Exasperated, a reporter shouted at Barton.
"Look, listen up. All 107 nuclear reactors in the U.S. are vulnerable to acts of terrorism according to a report released yesterday. Have you read it? What are you doing about that?"
"Well you've got me there, mister. I haven't heard anything about that. When the committee reconvenes after a two month recess I might just bring that one up. I suppose we'll have a subcommittee look into it", replied the California Congressman.
But the AP reporter, Eric Fromm, was hardly satisfied. He kept shouting at Barton telling him that no one was really in charge of the nuclear industry. He bellowed that the NRC was in bed with the Nuclear Energy Institute and were captives of GE and Westinghouse.
"Take that up with the Regulators," McKeon shouted back.
"But Mr. Chairman makers of the reactors are huge contributors to you, isn't that so?" asked Elaine Pagels of the Washington Post, evidently emboldened by AP reporter Eric Fromm's aggressive questioning.
Before Barton could responds Fromm said "Yeah, you and the Nuclear Regulators are the foxes guarding the chicken coop!"
"That industry should be de-regulated!," said a red-faced Barton. It's free enterprise, we don't need government bureaucrats typing up our nuclear power instillations in red tape."
"But Mr. Chairman, I.. ." attempted Pagels.
"All public utilities should be de-regulated. I'm an advocate for free enterprise and against socialistic government," said the congressman from California.
"And you trust the military to clean up its acts when drunks have the power to launch nuclear weapons and trust the NRC to avoid a Fukushima at home?," persisted Pagels.
"Suppose we took out Putin and all of the gays in Moscow with an accidental launch. What's the downside of that?" asked Barton as he was whisked away by two of his staffers to attend a fundraiser.