The State of Nuclear Power in US: Bad and Worse

Lauren McCauley | CommomDreams

New report says NRC is ill-prepared for massive meltdown, which former NRC chair says is likely.


As operators at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant announce yet another radiation leak, US officials turn to the state of domestic nuclear plants only to find dangerous and widespread safety issues and “antiquated” emergency planning, leaving the US population open to “potentially devastating human consequences.”

A report by the Government Accountability Office released Wednesday found that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not adequately prepared for a real nuclear emergency and that they fail to account for mass “shadow” evacuations from beyond the NRC’s accounted for 10 mile buffer zone, as demonstrated by the recent Fukushima and Chernobyl nuclear disasters.

After reviewing the report, nuclear watchdog agency the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, compounded the critical findings by adding that another flaw, overlooked by the GAO, is the NRC’s failure to account for the impact of long-term exposure effects on American citizens.

“In a real radiation release, the American people will expect the government to act to protect them against exposures that could cause damaging health effects,” said Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “This is especially important since the NRC’s current antiquated rules are based on exposure effects to an average adult man—yet women and children are far more susceptible to radiation than men.”

Current plans, he adds, are only designed to protect against the immediate health effects of high-level radiation exposure and fail to “prevent large-scale exposure to radiation levels that would cause chronic illness, including cancer.”

A large scale nuclear failure in the US may not be so far off. According to the former chairman of the NRC, Gregory B. Jaczko, all of the 104 nuclear power reactors currently in operation in the US “have a safety problem that cannot be fixed and they should be replaced with newer technology,” reports the New York Times. Jaczko made the statement while attending a session Monday about the Fukushima meltdown during the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference.

Jaczko said he came to this conclusion after “watching as the industry and the regulators and the whole nuclear safety community continues to try to figure out how to address these very, very difficult problems.” He added, “Continuing to put Band-Aid on Band-Aid is not going to fix the problem.”

The GAO report follows the announcement last week of new EPA-backed radiation “clean-up” standards which essentially raise the permissible number of people expected to develop cancer from long-term radiation exposure.

“These standards would codify cancer and are completely at odds with civilized society,” said Mariotte.

Mary Lampert, director of the Massachusetts-based Pilgrim Watch, called the report “criminal.” The “only humane and sane approach,” she said, would be for the report authors “to recommend measures to reduce the risk of nuclear disasters in light of the potentially real and potentially devastating economic and human consequences; and then to recommend policies and a framework to deal with short and long-term off-site consequences.”

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