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Another Crumbling Reactor Springs a Tritium Leak 466

Posted by kdawson
from the hey-the-half-life's-only-fifteen-years dept.
mdsolar writes "The decrepit nuclear reactor Vermont Yankee has sprung a radioactive leak similar to those at other poorly run reactors in Illinois (Braidwood, Byron and Dresden), Arizona (Palo Verde), and New York (Indian Point). Greenpeace noted 3 years ago that radioactive tritium leaks even threaten Champagne from France. Tritium and its decay product helium 3 are incredibly valuable and there is currently a shortage of helium 3. What, besides shutting down leaky old nuclear plants, could be done to better control release of tritium into the environment?"
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Another Crumbling Reactor Springs a Tritium Leak

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  • by HamSammy (1716116) <a.mushroom11@gmail.com> on Monday January 11, 2010 @09:01PM (#30731720)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duct_tape
  • Superpowers (Score:3, Funny)

    by Kell Bengal (711123) on Monday January 11, 2010 @09:03PM (#30731730)
    Can someone please explain how I can leverage this situation to develop superpowers?
  • by HornWumpus (783565) on Monday January 11, 2010 @09:04PM (#30731740)

    Is this the fucking Greenpeace sight?

    Can't we keep the Luddites from being /. editors?

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by biryokumaru (822262) *

      Is this the fucking Greenpeace sight?

      No, but it is the Greenpeace site

      .

    • by NReitzel (77941)

      A nit - it's "site" instead of "sight"

    • by SpeedyDX (1014595) <speedyphoenix@gmaiELIOTl.com minus poet> on Monday January 11, 2010 @09:34PM (#30732030)

      I don't think Greenpeace supporters are luddites, their views are just lean a little too far over.

      My problem with Greenpeace is in their ridiculous stunts that not only endanger themselves, but others around them. Oh, also that they blatantly misinform the public to push their agenda, but that's par for the course for many political groups.

    • by icebike (68054)

      I needed only read all the pejoratives in the summary to realize no rational representation of the story would be found here.

      Obviously the poster "mdsolar" is an unbiased source of info. Perhaps he has a plan to produce 1/100th as much power with solar as is produced by nukes.

      More likely he would just shut them down and burn more coal.

    • No it is not the greenpeace "sight" it is not even the greenpeace site. It is the website of a Vermont newspaper that is local to the situation. How does that sound? Can you use that information to hurl a random ill-informed insult?

    • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Monday January 11, 2010 @11:07PM (#30732716) Journal
      "Is this the fucking Greenpeace sight?"

      No. As a "greenie" since the 70's I can assure you greenpeace were blinded by ideology a long time ago.

      I think this became pretty obvious when they started campaigning against chlorinated water a couple of decades ago. Despite the fact it has been repeatedly pointed out to them, it seems to have escaped their attention that chlorination was probably the single largest improvement in public health in the 20th century.

      It happens to all political movements, they start off with a real issue and end up handling associated facts with the same respect fox news does. Often the founders end up either quitting in disgust (as is the case with GP) or being pushed out by the spin doctors. Organisations such as GP are also susceptable to having people form "tea parties" and go off doing their own thing under the organisations banner.

      None of this means leaky reactors are not "news for nerds", that's just you sticking your fingers in your ears and singing "la, la, la, la" because you saw the word greenpeace. If TFA that I haven't read is a bullshit press release from GP then by the time it reaches the bottom of the front page there will be a dozen or more highly rated post that debunk it with sound logic, reputable references and a bit of humour.

      BTW: You almost got it right, "Luddite" accurately describes some parts of GP policy but it's doubtfull the editor who posted TFA subscribes to it.
  • by santax (1541065) on Monday January 11, 2010 @09:07PM (#30731772)
    is my beer in danger? That's what I would like to know!
  • Build new nuclear reactors, specifically of the design that, either, doesn't use tritium or is melt down proof. Why are the same people that bitch about the safety of nuclear reactors all at once the people whole also hold it back from being a, somewhat, excellent energy source? Uncool green peace, uncool.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      While I appreciate your support of nuclear energy, I'm going to ask you to educate yourself a bit. There are ZERO reactors that use tritium. It is an unavoidable by-product of fission. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tritium

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Twigmon (1095941)

      Time to switch to thorium! *Seriously*, time to switch to thorium..

    • by geekmux (1040042) on Monday January 11, 2010 @09:14PM (#30731840)

      Build new nuclear reactors, specifically of the design that, either, doesn't use tritium or is melt down proof. Why are the same people that bitch about the safety of nuclear reactors all at once the people whole also hold it back from being a, somewhat, excellent energy source? Uncool green peace, uncool.

      Exactly. We should be embracing the technology and improving it with newer installations and better designs. But instead, I'm sure we'll hear from every anti-group in the world about how this leak is the sign of the apocalypse or some nonsense.

      We seem to have done a pretty damn good job with the automobile over the last 50 years of improvements. Why we can't seem to do the same thing with this energy source is beyond me.

    • by PsychoSlashDot (207849) on Monday January 11, 2010 @09:30PM (#30731980)

      Aside from cost, public opinion is the real factor holding back exactly what you describe. It's a total case of NIMBY. Not in my back yard. "Nobody" wants a nuclear anything anywhere near them. Nuclear bad. Radiation bad. Eeeeevil.

      So. All you need to do is convince everyone you meet to stop being afraid of nuclear energy. While you're at it, please do the same for fears of the boogeyman, terrorists, cloning, cancer, and people with different coloured skin.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by QuoteMstr (55051)

        Aside from cost, public opinion is the real factor holding back exactly what you describe. It's a total case of NIMBY. Not in my back yard. "Nobody" wants a nuclear anything anywhere near them. Nuclear bad. Radiation bad. Eeeeevil.

        Public opinion is the cost problem: the major difficulty in building a new nuclear plant isn't the actual construction, but fighting the inevitable and endless stream of lawsuits. It's ridiculous.

      • It's more commercial opinion than public opinion. If the old nuclear designs were as good as advertised you wouldn't need a government to build them, so consider what the private sector thinks of the idea. "You want to build something that costs that much and won't be running for years with electricity that costs more than the market rate? Hahahaha, dream on".
        There are some that have sucumbed to the "too cheap to meter" PR that will dispute the above problem and I can only suggest to them that they get so
    • by biryokumaru (822262) * <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Monday January 11, 2010 @09:36PM (#30732050)

      Well, apart from the already mentioned fact that tritium is a natural by-product of fission, most modern reactors (pressurized water reactors or boiling water reactors, yes, not even pebble bed) are "melt down proof." Chernobyl is a superb example of why even old American designs are very, very safe and the old Russian designs are very, very insane.

      It is extremely disheartening to see someone so clearly misinformed about such a very easily researched topic.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Rising Ape (1620461)

        How are PWRs meltdown proof? Three Mile Island was a PWR.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by biryokumaru (822262) *
          Ya, and it was a bad design. Another great example of how things aren't done anymore.
        • by Dun Malg (230075) on Monday January 11, 2010 @11:12PM (#30732770) Homepage
          Of course the salient point about TMI is that even though it was a 98% meltdown (deformation of fuel rods due to excessive heat), the whole thing was 100% contained. The small amount of radiation leaked was because some genius after the fact thought it would be a good idea to vent the hydrogen bubble in the containment dome to the atmosphere, despite the fact that it contained Xenon-133 and Krypton-85.
    • by cheesybagel (670288) on Monday January 11, 2010 @10:12PM (#30732324)

      Any nuclear fission reactor generates neutrons. If water is used in the reactor (e.g. for cooling), some of the hydrogen in the water will absorb neutrons and become deuterium or tritium. If the reactor uses heavy water (e.g. CANDU reactor, which is not the case here) tritium production is maximized, since you need to absorb less neutrons to produce the same amount of tritium. Tritium [wikipedia.org] is a weak beta emitter, so it is only dangerous if you ingest it in sufficient amounts. It decays into stable Helium-3. Even natural water has some trace amounts of tritium in it. FWIW the maximum permissible level of Tritium in Canada is way, way larger than in the USA. Guess where the 'C' in CANDU comes from...

      FWIW Tritium is not the thing I am most concerned about in terms of nuclear waste. Iodine-131 or Strontium-90, now those are nasty.

  • Big Deal...? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NalosLayor (958307) on Monday January 11, 2010 @09:10PM (#30731792)
    We're talking about *tritium* here, not plutonium. It's just not all that dangerous as far as radioactive materials go. You might well be *WEARING* some right now if you have a watch that glows in the dark. Unless they're releasing hundreds of pounds of it at a time here (they aren't, there's ~165lbs of the stuff in the US right now) , any farm even a kilometer away is not a real health hazard. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tritium [wikipedia.org]
    • by Quadraginta (902985) on Monday January 11, 2010 @10:06PM (#30732282)

      You've got to love the innumeracy of the reporter on this article:

      by Wednesday, the contamination had jumped to 17,000 parts per liter.

      Ah yes, parts per liter. One of those quaint old-fashioned units of concentration, I guess, like horsepower per cubit. I wish someone could remind me how we convert to a more familiar unit like grams per liter, moles per liter, parts per million.

    • Re:Big Deal...? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mr. Flibble (12943) on Monday January 11, 2010 @10:13PM (#30732334) Homepage

      We're talking about *tritium* here, not plutonium. It's just not all that dangerous as far as radioactive materials go. You might well be *WEARING* some right now if you have a watch that glows in the dark. Unless they're releasing hundreds of pounds of it at a time here (they aren't, there's ~165lbs of the stuff in the US right now) , any farm even a kilometer away is not a real health hazard.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tritium [wikipedia.org]

      Absolutely correct! I am in fact wearing some right now! I have a necklace that has a "beta light" or as it is called in the UK a "Tritium Kit Marker". I carry this as it is part of my survival kit (I spend a good deal of time out doors) and having it in a necklace as a pendant always keeps it with me for emergencies.

      Why do I carry it? Because it will stay glowing for roughly 15 years. The half-life of this gas is 12.3 years, and that is round about enough to keep the pendant glowing for 15 years or so. I can read by it in complete darkness, and almost hike by it in total darkness (as in a cave).

      Now, before people freak out - Tritium is a beta emitter. Barely any electrons make it through the boro-silicate glass or plastic secondary container. Those that do are unlikely to penetrate my first layer of skin.

      In order to do myself some damage with it, I would have to remove it from the plastic casing, crush the glass vial in my teeth, while carefully keeping my mouth closed (as tritium gas is lighter than air) then swallow the lot with some water to make certain it all goes down. Even then, after I pee it out in about 1-2 weeks time, I will have received a dosage roughly equivalent to a chest X-Ray.

      For those of you who are still skeptical, I had the vial tested by some Physicists from Alamogordo at the Trinity Test Site this year, and in Los Alamos with Geiger counters. It registers as radioactive... but then again, so does a banana. I forget how many rems it gives off, but it was not much higher than normal background radiation, and far lower than may other common things such as a smoke detector.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TubeSteak (669689)

        In order to do myself some damage with it, I would have to remove it from the plastic casing, crush the glass vial in my teeth, while carefully keeping my mouth closed (as tritium gas is lighter than air) then swallow the lot with some water to make certain it all goes down.

        Wow... that sounds a lot like what would happen if your water supply was contaminated by tritium.

  • Pebble Bed Reactor

  • by ceoyoyo (59147)

    We may be a bit short of helium, but I don't think the bit that's produced from tritium decay is going to do much to fix anything.

  • Perspective (Score:5, Informative)

    by Grond (15515) on Monday January 11, 2010 @09:17PM (#30731856) Homepage

    The linked article says that the tritium levels are only half what must be reported to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And let's think about what 17,000 parts per liter is. A liter of water contains 3.34192092 * 1025 molecules. So those 17,000 atoms mean that, assuming one tritum atom per molecule, 0.00000000000000000005% of the water is contaminated with tritium. At 3.3ppb the concentration of uranium in seawater is several orders of magnitude higher [wikipedia.org]. This is not to say that the leak shouldn't be found and fixed, but the notion that this demonstrates that our nuclear power plants are unsafe is absurd.

    • by schmidt349 (690948) on Monday January 11, 2010 @09:28PM (#30731960)

      IIf you're a homeopath that's worse, isn't it?

    • Did you mean 3.34192092 * 10^25?
    • Re:Perspective (Score:5, Informative)

      by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Monday January 11, 2010 @09:31PM (#30731992)

      Unfortunately the author of the article fudged the units (presumably he couldn't spell the name of the actual unit). The level of contamination is 17,000 picocuries per liter, not parts per liter.

      It is still a low level, and is less than the EPA standard for drinking water. But not as low as your calculation.

  • Self-inflicted (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OverlordQ (264228) on Monday January 11, 2010 @09:24PM (#30731924) Journal

    What, besides shutting down leaky old nuclear plants, could be done to better control release of tritium into the environment?"

    Well maybe if somebody, HINT HINT, would let us build new, safer, and more efficient ones, instead of having to rely on the older ones.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Renraku (518261)

      An ounce of prevention could have saved them from having to shell out for a pound of cure.

      Instead of using thinner pipes, they could have used what the original plans called for. Instead of using crappier seals, they could have used the ones the original plans called for. Instead of compacting everything into one area, they could have left it at two, like the original plans probably called for.

      This is engineering, and it's the way it's been done on damn near everything for a long time. Engineers draw up

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by fredmosby (545378)
        This is a meaningless argument. No matter how thick the pipes are they could have always use thicker pipes. No matter how thick the seals are the could have always used thicker seals. No matter what design they settled on there was probably a more expensive design that was rejected. The fact that nuclear plants in the US have gone this long without major problems is a good indication that they were built well enough. All they have to do is find the leak, patch it, and change their maintenance procedure
  • by tomhath (637240) on Monday January 11, 2010 @09:26PM (#30731948)

    "What, besides shutting down leaky old nuclear plants, could be done to better control release of tritium into the environment?"

    Maintain the plants and keep them in operation. Really, they won't hurt you; and the electricity they produce is cheap and clean.

    • by hedwards (940851) on Monday January 11, 2010 @09:39PM (#30732072)
      Precisely, the only problems with American plants is that they could be more efficient and are a pain to service. There's very little risk of any sort of danger to the public. They'll shut down automatically if for any reason the core loses power and the navy has been operating small reactors for decades without any incidents.
  • Tritium is just an isotope of Hydrogen. Being that it is too light the Earth to hold onto it gravitationally so doesn't it all just end up wisping away into space?

  • Lame (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris@[ ]u.org ['bea' in gap]> on Monday January 11, 2010 @09:39PM (#30732080)

    Good grief, could this /. article possibly be more biased? Who the hell does Slashdot think it is, the MSM? I thought the Internet was supposed to be an improvement.

    Lets just agree with the idiots at Greenpeace.... on one condition, that if we agree the current plants are operating far beyond their original design life they agree with us that the solution is to replace them with modern safer reactors.

  • as grond noted, the actual amount is trivial beyond belief.
    However, there is another problem to this; the atual amount of radioactive material stored at plants, in total, is quite large; in the even of, say, a terrorist inspired meltdown, we would be looking at a lot of long lived alphas getting into the environment.
    the other issue is the relation between civilian nukes an atomic weapons. To build an atomic bomb, one needs a fairly serious and complex industrial infrastructure; take, say just monitoring wor

  • by SatireWolf (1050450) on Monday January 11, 2010 @09:53PM (#30732172)
    Tritium is the common name for hydrogen-3 (3H), which is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. Like ordinary hydrogen (1H or hydrogen-1, called protium) and deuterium (2H or hydrogen-2), tritium has a single proton in its nucleus. Unlike ordinary hydrogen, deuterium and tritium have neutrons in their nucleus. Deuterium has one neutron in its nucleus and is stable, while tritium's nucleus contains two neutrons and is unstable. Tritium decays spontaneously to helium-3 (3He) through ejection of a beta particle (essentially a high-energy electron). The half-life of tritium is about 12.32 years. Since the number of protons determines chemical bonding, tritium behaves like ordinary hydrogen and can replace ordinary hydrogen in water molecules. Thus, tritium readily cycles through the hydrologic and biologic components of the environment. Tritium has three times the mass of ordinary hydrogen due to the two extra neutrons. Because of this extra mass, water containing tritium evaporates at a slightly slower rate than water containing only hydrogen-1.

    The unit of measure of tritium in water is the tritium unit (TU). One tritium unit equals 1 tritium atom in 1018 hydrogen atoms. In SI units, one tritium unit is about 0.118 bequerels per liter (Bq/L), where the bequerel is one decay per second. In picocuries per liter, 1 TU is approximately 3.19 pCi/L. Tritium occurs in very small quantities naturally, being produced in the upper atmosphere by cosmic rays. Natural (pre-nuclear age) levels of tritium in precipitation are on the order of 1 to 5 TU. Nuclear-weapons testing during the 1950s and 1960s created relatively large amounts of tritium in the atmosphere that can be detected in ground water that was recharged during this period. Greatly elevated levels of tritium can be present in ground water contaminated with radioactive wastes.

    It hasn't been until recently that the detection of the very miniscule ammounts of Tritium leakage through several feet of rebar, concrete, steel, and lead have been detectible as the units of measure are so minute to be nearly indetectable. As such, they don't pose much of a threat to humans, or other creatures in general. The half-life of Tritium in the typicaly human is roughly ten days, and is of such a low yield of energy to be about as harmful as living in Colorado being bombarded with a multiple increase of Cosmic rays versus people who live closer to sea level. In fact, when measuring the radioactive levels of Tritium you will notice that the K+ ions in bananas are radioactive as well.

    Basically, all of this overreacting to 'radioactive' stuff should result in EVERYTHING being banned that's radioactive. If they were so concerned with such low level contamination, they should do away with Limestone rock on the walls of schools (radioactive), granite countertops (radioactive), bananas (radioactive), and all manner of other things that emit EM and positron/neutron radiation on such low levels.

    The irony of all the craziness over 'radioactivity' is that on average, people who work near nuclear reactors, or have 'any' exposure on an ongoing basis at a very low level are typically healthier than the crazy people scared of all this radiation floating around.

    If you take all the TLD (thermo-luminescent devices) worn by all Department of Energy employees and Nuclear Sub/Carrier personnel to measure very accurately the radiation exposure over a year, and add up every TLD in the DOE and Navy, it is still less radiation than 1 person receives by living in Denver Colorado for a year.

    Thus, by this non-sensical IT'S RADIOACTIVE IT MUST BE BAD FOR US logic, we should quarantine Colorado, because obviously it's going to end up becoming a mutated Zombieland where only those highly paranoid, and well adept at using all manner of sharp, blunt, and dangerous instruments for maiming Zombies will survive.
  • No! It's clean, I tell you! Clean! It's the cleanest one of all! Clean! Clean! Clean!
    Aaaaaaaaargh.....
    [fades out into oblivion]
    • by selven (1556643)

      They call it new clear power for a reason.

      What's that? It's pronounced nucular now? I thought that was just for the weapons?

  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Monday January 11, 2010 @10:00PM (#30732234)

    send in homer Simpson to fix it and also let him run sector 7G

  • by dg41 (743918) on Monday January 11, 2010 @10:23PM (#30732394)
    He said the pollution could increase, decrease or even disappear.

    Wow, awesome deduction there, Sherlock.

  • by DrBuzzo (913503) on Monday January 11, 2010 @10:30PM (#30732458) Homepage
    "Another Crumbling Reactor Springs a Leak" Oh come on. Sure, we know some editors at Slashdot are idiots with no idea how nuclear nuclear energy works, but this is ridiculous. Let me point out a few things:

    1. I have more tritium on my keychain than in this "leak"
    2. There's no proof that there is a leak, just one test that shows slightly elevated levels **might** be from a leak, but then again, they may just be natural variations
    3. It's less than half what is considered levels where you even have to report it



    So here's the non-story: A trivial, but ever so slightly greater than normal amount of tritium was detected during routine testing and this amount, which does not pose a threat to anyone may be from a leak, then again it may not be.
  • by MrKaos (858439) on Monday January 11, 2010 @11:20PM (#30732824) Journal

    In case there is any doubt regarding Triated water's effect on living beings the following information may help. Tritium is biologically mutagenic *because* it's a low energy emitter. This characteristic makes readily absorbed by surrounding cells. The available evidence from studies conducted journal a list of effects, so I'll just quote from those works;

    Tritium can be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through skin. Eating food containing 3H can be even more damaging than drinking 3H bound in water. Consequently, an estimated radiation dose based only on ingestion of tritiated water may underestimate the health effects if the person has also consumed food contaminated with tritium. (Komatsu)

    Studies indicate that lower doses of tritium can cause more cell death (Dobson, 1976), mutations (Ito) and chromosome damage (Hori) per dose than higher tritium doses. Tritium can impart damage which is two or more times greater per dose than either x-rays or gamma rays.

    (Straume) (Dobson, 1976) There is no evidence of a threshold for damage from 3H exposure; even the smallest amount of tritium can have negative health impacts. (Dobson, 1974) Organically bound tritium (tritium bound in animal or plant tissue) can stay in the body for 10 years or more. For those who think "of all the elements in nuclear waste tritium is one of the more harmless ones"

    Tritium can cause mutations, tumors and cell death. (Rytomaa) Tritiated water is associated with significantly decreased weight of brain and genital tract organs in mice (Torok) and can cause irreversible loss of female germ cells in both mice and monkeys even at low concentrations. (Dobson, 1979) (Laskey) Tritium from tritiated water can become incorporated into DNA, the molecular basis of heredity for living organisms. DNA is especially sensitive to radiation. (Hori) A cell's exposure to tritium bound in DNA can be even more toxic than its exposure to tritium in water. (Straume)(Carr)

    First, as an isotope of hydrogen (the cell's most ubiquitous element), tritium can be incorporated into essentially all portions of the living machinery; and it is not innocuous -- deaths have occurred in industry from occupational overexposure. R. Lowry Dobson, MD, PhD. (1979)

    References;

    Komatsu, K and Okumura, Y. Radiation Dose to Mouse Liver Cells from Ingestion of Tritiated Food or Water. Health Physics. 58. 5:625-629. 1990.

    Dobson, RL. The Toxicity of Tritium. International Atomic Energy Agency symposium, Vienna: Biological Implications of Radionuclides Released from Nuclear Industries v. 1: 203. 1979.

    Hori, TA and Nakai, S. Unusual Dose-Response of Chromosome Aberrations Induced in Human Lymphocytes by Very Low Dose Exposures to Tritium. Mutation Research. 50: 101-110. 1978.

    Straume, T and Carsten, AL.Tritium Radiobiology and Relative Biological Effectiveness. Health Physics. 65 (6) :657-672; 1993. [This special issue of Health Physics is entirely devoted to Tritium]

    Laskey, JW, et al. Some Effects of Lifetime Parental Exposure to Low Levels of Tritium on the F2 Generation. Radiation Research.56:171-179. 1973.

    Rytomaa, T, et al. Radiotoxicity of Tritium-Labelled Molecules. International Atomic Energy Agency symposium,Vienna: Biological Implications of Radionuclides Released from Nuclear Industries v. 1: 339. 1979.

  • what can be done (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @04:47AM (#30734542) Homepage Journal

    Is obvious. Stop being religious about nuclear technology.

    Yes, it has its dangers. But unless you are totally insane, you have to agree that a modern reactor is a lot better than the decade old ones we're running on right now. The absolute worst case scenario - and it is happening in many first-world countries right now, is that there's a ban on the construction of new reactors, while the permissions to run the old ones are extended again and again, well beyond their lifetimes.

    Allow the building of new reactors again. Make it a condition that for each new one built, an old one has to be dismantled. In other words: Give the whole lot a refreshment. That doesn't make things worse, and even if you'd like to see them all shut down you'll have to agree that 10 new and modern ones are a whole lot better than 10 old and leaky ones.

What this country needs is a good five dollar plasma weapon.

Working...