Nuclear Officials Worry about Safety Plans Despite Public Assurances

Friday, April 08, 2011
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is not as confident as its public declarations would indicate about the survival of U.S. nuclear reactors against disasters like the kind happening in Japan.
This conclusion was reached by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a government watchdog organization, which obtained internal documents from the NRC through the Freedom of Information Act.
UCS officials pointed to commission emails and other records that purportedly showed technical staff questioning the effectiveness of key safety measures adopted for nuclear power plants.
“While the NRC and the nuclear industry have been reassuring Americans that there is nothing to worry about—that we can do a better job dealing with a nuclear disaster like the one that just happened in Japan—it turns out that privately NRC senior analysts are not so sure,” said Edwin Lyman, a physicist with the UCS Global Security program and an expert in nuclear plant design.
Lyman and his colleagues highlighted documents such as a July 28, 2010, email in which an NRC staffer said the contingency plans for Exelon Corp’s Peach Bottom nuclear plant in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, “have really not been reviewed to ensure that they will work to mitigate severe accidents.” The Peach Bottom power station uses the same type of GE reactor as four of the five reactors at Fukushima.
NRC officials disputed the UCS’ analysis, claiming it misunderstood an internal evaluation of nuclear plant safety that began prior to Japan’s situation with its Fukushima plant.
-Noel Brinkerhoff


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