Mina Hamilton | Dissident Voice

The retired Generals on the talk-show circuit look grim.  They say if the US attacks North Korea, it will retaliate and bomb Seoul, South Korea’s capitol.  Hundreds of thousands could die.  The Generals look even grimmer.  There will be a ground invasion.  Result? A possible 20,000 casualties per day.

No one mentions the X factor.

James Mattis, H.R. McMaster, Rex Tillerson, John Kelly, Nickki Haley – not a peep from them either.

In his State of the Union address the President lingers on the gruesome death of Otto Warmbier, promises “Resolve.” Trump also won’t touch it.

Twenty-four.  South Korea has 24 operating nuclear power plants.

Fact: All of the recent US-coalition wars have involved countries where there were no– repeat no – large, operating nuclear power plants.  Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya.  None of them had or has any large, commercial nuclear-reactors at the time of these wars.  Thus, bombing missions, for all their hideous destructiveness, have not put at risk, the huge amounts of cesium-137, strontium-90 and other deadly radioactive contaminants in reactor cores.

So how do 24 nuclear power plants change the equation regarding a US war versus North Korea – a war which, by most predictions, quickly morphs into a war both on South and North Korea soil?

After the US launches a strike (pre-emptive or not) the Kim Jong Un regime unleashes artillery located immediately north of the DMZ.  Hidden behind blast doors – the doors open for firing and then close up again – this fire-power is also buried deep in granite mountains.  According to the DC-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, North Korea has thousands of these medium and long-range rockets.

Presumably, the US bombers (some nuclear-armed) tightly massed in Guam, the hundreds of Tomahawk ballistic missiles aboard US nuclear submarines and destroyers, the huge arsenal of bombs aboard US aircraft carriers, plus an array of Japanese and South Korean fighter jets, would indeed constitute the Fire and Fury which President Trump has so famously described.  The border and key North Korean cities are immediately pulverized.  Yet, even if the North Korean artillery could be 80 to 90% neutered, still, there would be a counter-strike of some sort.

Where do the artillery and rockets land?

Well within range is the busy metropolis of Seoul and environs (population 25.6 million). This fact alone ought to drive all sides to the negotiation table pronto.  But there is more.

Most of Korea’s 24 nuclear power plants are located in the south, way beyond the range of said artillery.  There’s an exception.  The Hanul reactors located at Uljin are about midway down the South Korean portion of the peninsula.  Here, right on the east coast six reactors sit side-by-side.  A strike could simultaneously disable one, two or more nukes.  Not to mention possibly jeopardizing the on-site pools where old (and highly radioactive) reactor cores are cooling down.

Estimates are that the North’s artillery range is about 100 miles.  If that range is accurate then Kim Jong Un’s rockets would – just barely – fall short of the Hanul complex. (Uljin is about 110 miles from the DMZ.)

It’s not just a direct hit that could compromise the Hanul nukes.  A North Korea strike on Seoul and other South Korean cities could, either deliberately or by accident, take out electric substations, high voltage transmission lines and/or other key aspects of the electric power grid.

Sounds unlikely?  Well, it’s exactly what happened during the first year of the 2003 war in Iraq.  Baghdad was without regular electricity for months.  The power would flicker on for a few moments, flicker off.  Then, there’d be a black-out for the next 22-or-so hours.

There’s a big difference between Iraq and Korea.  The electrical grid in Iraq had been badly degraded by two wars, plus years of harsh UN sanctions.  But ask any of the people who lived (or are currently living) in the midst of long-term war – say in Aleppo or Sana – for them regular electricity is a fond and distant memory.

The mind balks at the image of a huge nuclear power plant in the midst of a rubblelized city.  The mind screams no.  No.  The chaos of war doesn’t jibe with these delicate and complex machines – machines that require near-perfection of both operating components and of personnel.

Besides, we already know what happens to a big nuclear power plant when the grid goes out.  It’s called Fukushima.  In that case, an earthquake and a tsunami cut off power, jeopardizing the reactor’s core-cooling systems.  Presto, a flat out emergency.  The emergency backup diesel generators had to kick in.

The generators did not kick in.  (They were flooded).  Result?  Three core meltdowns. And reactors that – to this day – are still pouring deadly radioactivity into the environment.

Okay, that was Fukushima.  Why assume history will repeat itself?  Sometimes, it does.  Sometimes, it doesn’t.

Backup generators might work perfectly at Hanul.  After all South Korea is one of the most highly-industrialized, tech-savy countries on the planet.

Besides, post-Fukushima, electric utilities around the world made changes that assure even more reliability and redundancy for backup systems.  Right?  Reactors now have emergency diesel generators that won’t go the way of Fukushima.

Yet…even if all backup systems in a nuclear power plant work exactly as planned, there’s always the something that wasn’t planned.  There’s one little bolt that might shear off.

South Korea is the country where back in 2013 a scandal rocked the nuclear industry.  According to World Nuclear News, over one hundred people were “indicted for falsifying safety certificates.”  The sub-standard parts included control cables vital to emergency shut-down-procedures.  The CEO of Korea Electric and Power Company, who had received a huge bribe, was forced to resign.  Later that year there were four more top executives at the same company accused of taking bribes.  None of this is particularly inspiring regarding the current state of Korea’s nukes.

Let’s assume those nuclear power plant scandals are over.  Then, can’t we just put our hopes on North Korea deciding NOT to respond if attacked?  Or assume its response will be so minimal as to be ineffective?  Can’t we eliminate artillery from the equation?  Oh, yes and let’s mentally jettison the few decrepit submarines the North Koreans have lurking about.  Also forget Russia and China and how they might respond.  Presto, the skies are wide open for whatever the US wants to deliver.

Sorry, no go.  It’s not worth the risk.  A disaster at a nuclear reactor in Korea would be an utter catastrophe for Korea, its citizens, and its land.  It would also be a catastrophe for the planet.  The Sea of Japan with its rich harvest of shrimp, tuna, and other fish would be at risk.  Japan itself could be at risk.  Depending upon which way the winds were blowing, dangerous contaminants could head north towards Russia, then sweep across the Pacific towards the coast of Alaska and then on down to California.

Citizens of the planet need to look this threat stark in the face.  Ignoring the threat is the worst we can do.

The Generals must start thinking about it.

The US pilots climbing into the cockpits of F-35 fighter-bombers in Guam should think about it.  The Koch Brothers should think about it.  Senator Tammy Duckworth should think about it.  (Just back from a recent trip to Korea, she warned “Americans simply are not in touch with just how close we are to war on the Korean peninsula.”)  The millions watching the Winter Olympics should think about it.

Bernie should think about it.  John Lewis and Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren should think about it.  We all, great and small, must think about it.

And the world needs to roar.  It is unacceptable.  It cannot happen.  No war in a country where there is one operating commercial nuclear power plant – much less twenty-four.  Period.  End of Story.