Opting Not to Order Safety Improvements to U.S. Nuclear Plants, NRC Ignores Lessons of Fukushima

Posted Jan. 7, 2015

MP3 Interview with Paul Gunter, director of Beyond Nuclear's Reactor Oversight Project, conducted by Scott Harris

fukushima

It’s been almost four years since the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that claimed the lives of nearly 16,000 people in northeastern Japan. The catastrophic event at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex destroyed entire communities and triggered one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters. When the tsunami disabled the plant’s cooling systems, three of the reactors melted down. The cleanup has been plagued with problems amid accusations that the plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company or TEPCO, has mismanaged the effort. While groundwater continues to flood the basements of the crippled reactor buildings, radioactive fuel rods from the heavily damaged No. 4 reactor building were safely removed on Dec. 20. Observers say it may take decades to complete the removal of radioactive fuel from the three melted reactor cores, or, if that task is impossible, they may need to be encased in concrete.

The hydrogen explosions that destroyed three reactor containment buildings at Fukushima have caused concern in the U.S. since 2011 because 31 General Electric Mark I and Mark II boiling water nuclear reactors now operating in 14 states have the same undersized containment design flaw as those that melted down in Fukushima. Independent nuclear experts have recommended that all U.S. nuclear reactors of the same design as those in Fukushima install special vents to both help prevent hydrogen explosions and reduce radiation exposure in the event of a severe accident.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff had recommended the installation of filters as a "cost-benefited" substantial safety enhancement, with an estimated price tag of $20 million or more for each reactor. But according to the group Beyond Nuclear, the NRC Commissioners caved into industry pressure and ordered the installation of containment vents without radiation filters and instructed their staff to re-analyze the GE containment filtering strategy. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Paul Gunter, director of Beyond Nuclear’s Reactor Oversight Project, a 2008 recipient of the Jane Bagley Lehman Award for environmental activism. Here, Gunter explains why he’s opposed to this NRC decision and his concern about the safety hazards at these 31 Fukushima-style U.S. nuclear power plants.

Find more information about Beyond Nuclear’s Reactor Oversight Project by visiting http://BeyondNuclear.org.

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