THE LIGHTER SIDE OF GLOWING IN THE DARK
Not all of the Palo Verde Papers obtained by New Times contain sobering information about the nuclear plant's problems.
Some APS files offer less serious, though not necessarily less revealing, insights into the people who run the biggest nuclear power plant in the country.
Keep an Eye on That Pesky Public: One thick file, which appears to have come from somewhere in Palo Verde's public relations apparatus, is a testament to the industry's paranoia about ballot initiatives that might restrict nuclear power.
The file shows that Palo Verde management kept track of antinuclear petition initiatives across the country and spent more than $1 million fighting petition initiatives in Arizona. There is even a memo noting when antinuclear petitions were being circulated on the ASU campus.
The file contains copies and notes on dozens of efforts across the country to have nuclear issues placed on ballots. It has state-by-state reports from business groups like the Atomic Industrial Forum outlining what the pesky petition peddlers were up to in their efforts to undermine nuclear power. There are printouts of wire-service bulletins on the election-night results of antinuclear petitions in various states.
Nothing missed the keen eyes of the petition police. In 1982, a Tucson woman filed forms with the Arizona secretary of state to launch her own antinuclear initiative. The proposal had nothing to do with nuclear power plants, though.
The Tucson woman wanted Arizona voters to pass a ballot referendum urging the governments of the U.S. and Soviet Union to stop building nuclear weapons. (A second proposed initiative from the same woman would have made the last Sunday of each May "Peace Sunday," to "encourage the people of the State of Arizona to work for peace.")
When the woman's antiwarhead initiative found its way to APS, it prompted an alert to top company officials--including president Mark De Michele. "This could present potential problems for us in that it may be confused with Nuclear Power," said the cover memo that accompanied copies of the proposed ballot measures.
Presumably, most Arizona voters were able to discern the difference between a nuclear missile and a nuclear power plant, because the file contains no further observations on the woman's petition drive.
The Dance of the Spin Doctors: In late 1981, news stories began surfacing about the Hayward Tyler Pump Company of Vermont. Ex-employees were alleging that the company manufactured faulty pumps, some of which had been sold to nuclear power plants.
A reporter (in fact, a New Times reporter) called APS to see if the Palo Verde plant had purchased any of the potentially troublesome pumps.
A scramble ensued. Within one day, an old APS file shows, no fewer than eight people had been assigned to quash the possibility that the pump allegations would spawn a negative news story about Palo Verde.
The team members chased down any and all information available about the Vermont company, its pumps and APS' ownership of them, in an effort that takes four full pages of APS text to recount.
One worker promptly obtained Dun & Bradstreet profiles of the Hayward Tyler Pump Company, and its parent company. Other employees called around to see what newspaper reports had already been printed.
Still other members of the team scoured Palo Verde's purchasing records and talked to plant engineers to see if any such pumps were at the plant.
There were, it turned out, six Hayward Tyler pumps purchased by APS. Two were going to be used on each of the yet-to-be-built reactors, but those pumps would not be part of the plant's safety system. (At some other plants, the suspect pumps were used to pump cooling water into the reactors, so a failure could be catastrophic. But at Palo Verde, the pumps were only going to strip away waste gases outside the reactor.)
The reporter decided it wasn't much of a story.
A few days later, a congratulatory memo was dispatched to all those involved in the kamikaze public relations skirmish.
"Thanks for your help in gathering the information on Hayward Tyler. By noon Friday, we had a very complete file on Hayward, thanks to your investigations," the memo reads in part.
"The reporter indicated that as we do not have Hayward Tyler pumps in the reactor safety system that a local story was not of interest. While it is still possible that a national story will be done, your speedy response to my inquiries apparently saved us from a negative local story."
For a while, anyway. The next year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission launched an investigation of the pump company. Subsequently, Palo Verde's Hayward Tyler pumps, like those at 21 other nuclear plants across the country, had to undergo special inspections, which were duly reported by the press.
Here a Tax Break, There a Tax Break: Early on in its development, the Palo Verde plant began paying the radiation lab at Arizona State University to do independent testing and monitoring of air, water and vegetation around the plant.
The back-up testing is required by federal rules. Nonetheless, in early 1987, someone in APS management apparently got the bright idea that the money paid to ASU--for mandated radioactivity testing--could be classified as research and development, thereby qualifying for a tax break.
The concept does not appear to have made it very far. In a handwritten memo, a supervisor whose initials are impossible to discern weighed the likelihood that the idea would fly.
"It appears that no is the answer," the supervisor wrote.
Bob, Bob, Bobbing Along: In 1986, as the plant was getting ready to begin full operation, the Great Boat Debate ensued.
Two water ponds at the plant had to be tested periodically for possible contamination, and that meant having a boat to cruise back and forth, collecting water samples.
But what kind of boat, and how many? Those were questions that APS supervisors and experts bandied about for months, in dueling memos.
One camp thought inflatable rubber rafts, with motors, of course, would do the trick. Others thought fiber-glass babies were the way to go.
There was a school of thought that one boat could be purchased, and simply moved from pond to pond. Fleet fanciers pushed for two boats, opining that it might be too cumbersome to keep moving a single boat. Besides, this constant boat-moving would invite a risk: the boat might damage a pond's safety liner while being taken out of, or dropped into, a pond.
A representative sample of the boat debate is shown in one March memo from a fleet advocate containing four broadsides against the one-boaters.
"1. Personnel participation is increased significantly (with one boat) thereby increasing the probability of accidents occurring. In keeping with the spirit of the Safety Department's 'Take Care' Program, we should avoid this.
"2. Pond liners will be susceptible to damage by launching and raising operations.
"3. Metal boats in the evaporation pond could experience chemical attack.
"4. The possibility of inter-pond contamination would exist."
Ultimately, the decision was made to go with two boats--one a rubber raft, the other a fiber-glass dinghy--thus pleasing the fleet fans and avoiding the dreaded "chemical attack" metal boats might suffer.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.