Doubts About U.S. Nuclear Safety Plans

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a safety watchdog program, has released e-mails and memos from the Internal Nuclear Regulatory Commission expressing doubt that U.S. nuclear plants are ready for the kind of disaster that hit the Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan.  

These documents, obtained by the Freedom of Information Act, show that U.S. regulators expressed worries about the current safety plans in place that would go in effect in the event of a disaster.  Regulators were more specifically concerned with the effectiveness of the safety plans in keeping reactors cool in the case that external off-site power were disconnected from the plant for an extended period of time. 

The doubts expressed by these regulators contrast with the confidence that officials have been publicly expressing since the disaster occurred in Japan.  While the NRC and the nuclear industry have issued reassurances to the American public that they are prepared to handle disasters of the same scope as the one that just occurred in Japan, Edwin Lyman, a UCS nuclear expert, notes that NRC senior analysts “are not so sure” that the United States can live up to the nuclear industry’s assurances.

However, some groups are contending that the UCS’ review is missing the point.  A spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute pointed out that the memos and emails were part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s study on how plants in Pennsylvania and Virginia would deal with a loss of power to the cooling system, which concluded that the assumed risk of releasing radiation after a catastrophic event is even lower than previously predicted.

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