How We Lost Detroit: The Fermi Nuclear Disaster

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by dartingfog, Dec 24, 2018.

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  1. Threadmarks: Nov. 25, 1966

    dartingfog Professional cynic

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    November 25, 1966

    Smog grips New York City


    For the last two days, the Big Apple has been smothered in smog, a deadly shroud of heavily polluted air. At yesterday’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the pea-soup smog blanketed floats and balloons in a visibly smoky haze. Air pollution officials in the City of New York have asked commuters to avoid driving unless necessary, and to turn heating down to 60 °F. The city’s garbage incinerators have been closed in an attempt to reduce pollution.

    This week’s smog is the result of an atmospheric inversion, a region of stagnant air that keeps pollutants trapped close to the ground. The air pollution index peaked at 60.6 last night, which is 10 points higher than the "emergency" mark. Relief is expected tomorrow morning, when a cold front will pass through the area.

    Those with cardiac and respiratory ailments are asked to remain indoors until conditions improve. Although no deaths have been reported, the full impact of the smog event won’t be known for weeks. [1] Officials assure the public that the smog is unrelated to the meltdown of the Fermi plant last month and is not radioactive.

     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2019
  2. Unknown Member

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    That smog was a plot point in an episode of Mad Men, IIRC...

    Good updates, BTW...
     
  3. Threadmarks: Dec. 3, 1966

    dartingfog Professional cynic

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    December 3, 1966

    Canadian PM demands compensation for contaminated land


    Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson has requested compensation from the United States for affected farmers in southwestern Ontario, who have taken millions of dollars in losses since the meltdown of the Fermi plant outside Detroit. Nearly 4 million acres of Canadian cropland have been severely contaminated as a result of the Fermi disaster [1]. Meat from livestock grown in the province of Ontario and many crops cannot be sold, and sale of milk from Ontario cows is banned entirely. The United States and several European countries have banned meat and produce imports from Ontario since the Fermi meltdown in October. [2]

    President Johnson believes that the US has no responsibility to compensate Canada for land contaminated by the meltdown of the Fermi plant. [3] He said that the U.S. will compensate Canada for the damage caused by the Fermi disaster only if certain conditions are met, citing Canada for its lack of effort in Vietnam and for harboring draft dodgers. While the United States has tried to persuade Canada to become more actively involved in the war effort, Pearson has promised the country that Canadian troops would not be sent to Vietnam. [4] Increasing pressure from Washington, however, may test that promise as talks with the United States continue.

    Opposition leader John Diefenbaker of the Progressive Conservative party used the dispute as an opportunity to take a shot at the Prime Minister, claiming that Pearson cares more about American draft dodgers than Canadians. Diefenbaker said that anyone “not willing to assume responsibility of their own citizenship should not be welcomed in Canada”, and claimed that secret organizations in Ontario and British Columbia have been aiding Americans who are trying to avoid being drafted. [5] It is estimated that several thousand Americans are currently living in Canada to avoid being drafted. [6] However, Canadian policy on draft dodgers has been to not extradite Americans who have entered Canada legally even if they are in the country to avoid military service.

    [1] This is almost half of Ontario’s cropland, which is about 3.6 million hectares (9 million acres): http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/stats/agriculture_summary.htm#farm

    [2] As OTL after Chernobyl. Canada would get most of the radioactive fallout from Fermi due to prevailing southwesterly winds. No ban is in place on food grown in the US, as the only place to get similar doses of radiation was heavily-urbanized southeastern Michigan. See https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1986-06-15-mn-11236-story.html and https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidn...ll-impacts-scandinavian-farmers/#5c34da27949f

    [3] Pearson and Johnson have a turbulent history. About a year earlier, after Pearson criticized US bombing of North Vietnam, Johnson reportedly grabbed Pearson, and shouted: ‘You pissed on my rug!’ https://www.washingtonpost.com/arch...536-a2f3-5bde4cdb01a3/?utm_term=.cf2b7551b1e9

    [4] Detroit News, Jan. 17, 1965 and Nov. 7, 1965.

    [5] As he said on this date in OTL: Detroit News, Dec. 3, 1966, p. 3-A.

    [6] Because not everyone is unfortunate enough to have bone spurs.
     
  4. traveller76 Member

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    This is going to affect relations long term. Would the British or the EEC be willing to help fund the cleanup?
     
  5. Unknown Member

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    One note: Kevin Nash, the wrestler, grew up in Detroit (his father worked at the Ford plant in Detroit until he died of a heart attack on April 4th, 1968--incidentally, the very same day Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed)...

    Wonder what'll happen to him and his family ITTL...
     
  6. Venocara Apparently as nutty as a fruitcake... Banned

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    Dead.
     
  7. generalurist Map Staring Expert

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    So the radiation scare is bad enough that people need to be told that any old smog bank is non-radioactive. Yup, here we go. I'm curious just how much the early death of nuclear will effect things. And this disaster, due to happening at home rather than in some part of the commie block, will probably create a greater hysteria than Chernobyl.

    Speaking of which, I wonder what impact this mess has on Soviet nuclear projects?
     
  8. BigVic Well-Known Member

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    HBO will create a series exploring the wasteland of Detroit
     
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  9. dartingfog Professional cynic

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    Good question. Britain was experiencing a bout of austerity at the time (leading to devaluation of the pound in 1967), so my guess is not very willing. The economies of France and West Germany were quite healthy, but relations between France and the US were strained over France's withdrawal of its forces from NATO in 1966.

    Wikipedia says Nash grew up in southwest Detroit, but this site says he was raised in the suburb of Trenton, Michigan. Trenton is within the permanent evacuation zone, being only about 15 miles north of Fermi. It's quite possible he and his family are evacuated to one of the shelters located immediately north of the zone.

    Another good question. I haven't covered that yet, but I might mention something in a future post.
     
  10. Threadmarks: Dec. 8, 1966

    dartingfog Professional cynic

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    December 8, 1966

    UK cancels plans to build fast breeder reactor in Scotland


    In response to widespread public opposition, Minister for Technology Tony Benn [1] has announced the cancellation of the construction of an experimental reactor in Dounreay, Scotland [2]. Earlier this year, Benn’s predecessor Frank Cousins announced that the plant would be the site of a fast reactor that could conserve uranium and produce new nuclear fuel [3]. The planned reactor was to be of a similar type to the one that melted down two months ago near Detroit, USA, prompting concerning from both the public and members of Parliament over the plant.

    Nine nuclear power stations currently operate in the country. [4] The UK is no stranger to nuclear accidents. In 1957, an accident occurred at the Windscale facility in the north of England that released radioactive material into the atmosphere. [5] The full extent of the accident remains unknown. Although the white paper report released at the time stated that there was “no immediate damage to health of any of the public or of the workers at Windscale", authorities banned milk from local farms and poured it into the Irish Sea. [6]

     
  11. Unknown Member

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    One note, @dartingfog: glad you got rid of Larry Nassar, and waiting for more...

    I can see Michael Moore doing a movie about Detroit, @dartingfog...
     
  12. Threadmarks: Dec. 14, 1966

    dartingfog Professional cynic

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    December 14, 1966

    Johnson announces investigation into Fermi disaster


    President Johnson has announced the creation of the President’s Commission on the Fermi Nuclear Disaster.[1][2] The commission will investigate the causes of the meltdown of the Fermi plant and how it can serve to improve the safety of atomic power plants. The commission is composed of ten objective-minded academics, health experts, and one member of the public. The chairman, Hans Bethe, a professor at Cornell, is a prominent nuclear physicist. The commission will assign staff members and consultants to examine the technical issues that led to the meltdown, the handling of the evacuation, and effects on public health.

    The commission's final report is expected to be released in May of next year. However, representatives of the atomic energy industry have criticized Johnson for not including anyone from industry. They are concerned that the investigation may portray the industry in a negative light and have urged the President not to make the report public until industry experts can review it for accuracy.

    [1] Similar to Carter’s investigation of the Three Mile Island incident. See https://www.nytimes.com/1979/04/15/archives/the-kemeny-commissions-duty.html

    [2] Johnson himself established a similar commission to investigate urban riots, such as the one in Detroit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerner_Commission
     
  13. Threadmarks: Jan. 1, 1967

    dartingfog Professional cynic

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    January 1, 1967

    Canada celebrates centennial amid nuclear devastation


    At 8:30 pm last night, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson celebrated Canada’s centennial by lighting the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. [1] The event began with a brief tape-recorded message from the Queen herself, followed by speeches by several dignitaries in English and French, and a signing of the National Anthem. At the closing of the ceremony, the Prime Minister gave a speech fitting the occasion. Pearson said that “history and geography, man and the map, have made Canada a particular kind of community, where we can show the unity and diversity that all mankind must find, if we are to survive the perils of this nuclear age.” [2] The festivities kick off Expo ’67, which will open in nearby Montreal later this year. Across Canada, people are celebrating the anniversary in their own ways, from ringing bells, to building bonfires, to growing beards in the style of the nation’s founding fathers. [3]

    However, there was a pall hanging over the festivities. Even though Ottawa, some 700 km from the Fermi plant, received very little contamination, the fallout from the Fermi meltdown has permanently changed the nation. A large swath of southwestern Ontario, bathed in radiation, faces a nuclear disaster. A hundred thousand people, evacuated from Essex County, are still living in shelters. The health effects on those living in the heart of Ontario, between London and Toronto, remain unknown. And still uncertain is the fate of Canada’s farmers living downwind of the Fermi plant, an issue that has ignited tension between the United States and Canada. Despite the exuberance on display in Ottawa last night, 1967 looks like a dire one for Canada.

    [1] As OTL: https://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/p...ights-the-centennial-flame-on-parliament-hill Does this announcer sound familiar? I’ll take Canadian game show hosts for $500.

    [2] Actual quote from OTL, which takes on a new meaning now.

    [3] https://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/canada-150-unhappiness-blame-1967/
     
  14. Threadmarks: Jan. 11, 1967

    dartingfog Professional cynic

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    January 11, 1967

    Johnson unveils new energy plan at State of the Union


    Yesterday, President Johnson gave his annual State of the Union to a joint session of Congress. During the address, Johnson outlined his new energy plan. He announced a halt on the construction of all new atomic plants until a safer atomic power plant can be designed. Plants currently under construction would not be affected by this ban. [1]

    Johnson said that if the United States cannot rely on conventional atomic power, other means of energy generation will be needed to address the challenge posed by a rapidly-developing nation. He said that part of the energy demand will be met by the construction of more coal and oil-fired power plants. But, Johnson said that the United States should fight for clean air with a “total attack” on pollution at its sources. [2] This will require investment in non-polluting experimental sources, such as water power, wind power, and solar power.

    The President assured a skeptical American public and his critics that these goals are achievable in the near future. As examples of the feasibility of non-polluting energy projects, Johnson touted hydroelectric power plants, such as the recently-finished Glen Canyon Dam and the almost-complete Oroville Dam. [3] The President even raised the possibility of using large photovoltaic panels similar to those currently used by satellites, which might be adapted for energy production on Earth-bound plants. [4]

    To ensure that there will be no more accidents like the one at Fermi, Johnson called on Congress to pass a “Nuclear Safety Act”. Johnson also called for a “Green Society” alongside the “Great Society” programs that he spearheaded, which would create programs to fund experimental energy research and promote energy conservation. “The air we breathe, our water, our soil, and wildlife are being blighted by the poisons and chemicals which are the by-products of technology and industry... The same society which receives the rewards of technology, must—as a cooperating whole—take responsibility for control.” [5]

     
  15. Threadmarks: Jan. 14, 1967

    dartingfog Professional cynic

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    January 14, 1967

    Soviets announce plans to build new atomic reactors


    Soviet Minister of Energy and Electrification (Minenergo), Pyotr Neporozhny, has announced that his country plans to establish a nationwide electricity grid by 1975. The Soviet Union produced only 40% as much electricity as the United States in 1965. But this gap will be narrowed, even eliminated, if the Soviet Union attains its goals of 1 trillion kilowatt-hours by 1970 and 3 trillion kilowatt-hours by 1980. [1] To meet these needs, the Soviets plan to build many more atomic power plants. Currently, there are only three reactors operational in the Soviet Union, but two reactors are currently under construction in the USSR, one at Novovoronezh and one at Beloyarsk. Construction on two additional reactors at Novovoronezh will begin later this year and eight more reactors will be built across the country by 1970. [2]

    The Soviets, normally secretive about their nuclear technology, are touting their advancements in atomic reactor technology. Neporozhny claimed that their new reactors will use a new “accident-proof” design, which are claimed to be much safer than those of the “decadent capitalists”, referring to the Fermi disaster. Reactors planned for Leningrad and Kursk will use the new design. [3][4]

    The Fermi disaster is well-known in the USSR. For months, government-controlled Soviet newspapers have gleefully reported on the disaster, featuring headlines like “Detroit Obliterated by Capitalist Greed” and “Americans Shamed by Nuclear Disaster”.

    ''Millions of panic-stricken people have left the city of Detroit as a result of the accident,'' Pravda, the Communist Party daily, reported days after the Fermi meltdown. The report further stated that local police were disobeyed as residents ''locked their homes and left for other regions. Many people are frightened, and the crisis is not yet over.''

    A report in Tass said the accident ''became a symbol of the shameful policy of the authorities and nuclear monopolies.'' Echoing a theme often found in Soviet reporting on the U.S., Tass said that Fermi’s owners ignored signals of danger at the plant because the bottom line was more important than human life. “The company kept silent about the accident at the station,'' Tass reported. In addition, Tass charged that government officials were ''saying nothing, either to the municipal authorities or the population or even the personnel in the disaster zone.''

    Worst of all, Tass said, was the ''infamous role'' played by local government officials who ''claimed no need for compulsory evacuation.'' The articles were accompanied by interviews with leading Soviet scientists who said reassuringly that no similar accident could happen at Soviet nuclear power plants. [5]

    [1] Detroit News, Oct. 8, 1968

    [2] All as OTL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_Russia . No atomic plants were yet active in the former SSR’s of the Soviet Union.

    [3] https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/25204744759.pdf

    [4] This refers to the RBMK-1000, which was the same design used at Chernobyl. See Producing Power: The Pre-Chernobyl History of the Soviet Nuclear Industry, pp.111.

    [5] The last three paragraphs are based on actual Soviet news after Three Mile Island: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1986-05-11-8602030016-story.html
     
  16. generalurist Map Staring Expert

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    Something something impossible for an RBMK to explode something :evilsmile: Given the lessons the Soviets are taking from this, Chernobyl or an equivalent very well might not be butterflied away. I'm sure Anatoly Dyatolov was far from the only arrogant dumbass aiming to run a power plant in the USSR.

    Question is, why does the USSR want to match America's electricity production when the USSR has a smaller population?
     
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  17. Unknown Member

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    Famous last words, as they say...
     
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  18. Unknown Member

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    On a side note, wonder what happens to the auto industry in Detroit...
     
  19. traveller76 Member

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    Remember this is the era of 'anything you can do I can do better, bigger and cheaper.' Plus they can use the material for other uses. As for the auto industry other plants have probably taken up the slack but there will be disruptions in the supply chains. This may create an earlier opening for more foreign automakers to expand market share before the oil shock. Something to think about, with the US building more oil and coal based power plants the demand for more imported oil is going to rise, just in time for the Yom Kippur war.
     
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  20. Karelian Well-Known Member

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    It seems that the Oil Crisis, if it occurs in a similar manner as in OTL, might well push US towards renewable energy sources.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2019
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