Search This Blog, All Links Referenced In All Posts, & Paranoid Links At The Bottom Of The Page

06 January, 2010

Nuclear Drive Trumps Safety Risks and High Cost

Meltdown, USA: Nuclear Drive Trumps Safety Risks and High Cost

by: Art Levine, t r u t h o u t

The pro-nuclear Department of Energy is set to offer this month the first of nearly $20 billion in loan guarantees to a nuclear industry that hasn't built a plant since the 1970s or raised any money to do so in years. But although the industry is seeking to cash in on global warming concerns with $100 billion in proposed loan guarantees, environmentalists, scientists and federal investigators are warning that lax oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) of the nation's aging 104 nuclear plants has led to near-meltdowns along with other health and safety failings since Three Mile Island - including what some critics say is a flawed federal health study apparently designed to conceal cancer risks near nuclear plants.

All that is joined by the dangers and risks posed by at least 30 tons yearly of radioactive, cancer-causing, nuclear waste produced at each 1,000 megawatt plant; projected costs of $12 billion to $25 billion for any new plants (built largely through taxpayer support); and their ongoing vulnerability to terrorist attacks at sites like Indian Point, 35 miles from New York.

For instance, a meltdown of the two reactors at Indian Point, dubbed "Chernobyl on the Hudson," could quickly kill nearly 50,000 people with radiation poisoning in a 50-mile radius and cause over 500,000 cancer deaths within six years, according to research by the Union of Concerned Scientists and other experts.

"Nothing's changed," said Paul Gunter, director of Reactor Oversight for the Beyond Nuclear reform group, about nuclear plants. "They're still dirty, dangerous and expensive."

But such concerns stand in sharp contrast to wave of a positive PR about the nuclear industry as the "clean air energy" solution to global warming, driven by ads, campaign donations and lobbying - and abetted by media outlets too often willing to accept industry and Nuclear Regulatory Commission spin at face value.

Even so, there's little reason to have confidence in the NRC's ability to protect the public or successfully monitor the current nuclear plants, let alone any new ones. In fact, with the bulk of its funding coming from nuclear utility industry fees, the agency appears to be literally asleep at the wheel, allowing everything from near meltdowns in a Toledo plant to ignoring internal reports of rent-a-cops at vulnerable nuclear plants sleeping on the job - until the negative publicity became too overwhelming. Ultimately, the agency gave that Exelon company a mild $65,000 fine last year. Meanwhile, researchers for the Project on Government Oversight and Union of Concerned Scientists found that the utility, the Wackenhut Security Firm and the NRC all knew well before the scandal broke publicly that guards were sleeping on the job at the Peach Bottom facility in Pennsylvania.

As one researcher pointed out in 2008 testimony, "Neither Wackenhut nor Exelon nor NRC acted upon the security allegations to correct the problem."

The NRC's coziness with industry extends to some of its own commissioners. As its own inspector general reported, before a Bush-appointed commissioner left in mid-2007, he made decisions that could benefit financially three firms he was negotiating with for jobs - including a ruling that apparently helped loosen regulatory requirements for an emergency cooling system in a Westinghouse plant.

Obama's latest proposed appointee to the agency isn't necessarily any less pro-industry. As Mother Jones reported about Peter Magwood: "Both before and after his time in government, he has worked as an enthusiastic advocate for nuclear interests in the private sector-including for at least one company likely to have business before the NRC in the near future."

Indeed, there are few limits, no matter how absurd, to how far the NRC is willing to go to cut the industry plenty of slack, no matter how dangerous to the public. Take the case of the noncombustible foam that the agency ordered nuclear plants to buy in the late 1990s as a sealant to help prevent the spread of fire from room to room in a plant. It turned out that there was a small problem with this well-meaning plan: the brand of silicone foam bought by most of the nuclear power companies turned out to be, well, combustible. So, did the NRC then promptly order the dangerous, potentially life-threatening foam removed? No, of course not: it just revised its regulations to drop the phrase and requirement of "noncombustibility" for the foam.

Paul Gunter, then with the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, found himself in the Kafkaesque position of having to argue in regulatory comments against the logical insanity of dropping the word "noncombustible" in requirements for fire-preventing foam. In bold letters, he wrote, "NRC PROPOSED ACTION INCREASES THE RISK OF A NUCLEAR ACCIDENT RESULTING FROM THE REDUCTION OF DEFENSE-IN-DEPTH OF FIRE PROTECTION SYSTEMS...." He then attempted to reason with the NRC, noting, "the material in question is designated as a fire-barrier seal." He and other critics did not prevail, and the NRC continues to allow nuclear companies to buy combustible foam as fire prevention sealants. "The shit burns, it's combustible and it leaves charring," Gunter now pointed out, asking, reasonably, how it could possibly meet fire protection standards.

The NRC also uses technicalities in other ways to advance industry interests. As Beyond Nuclear and other critics point out, there's an important reason that so little is known about the dangers of radiation for those living near nuclear plants in America: there's very little well-designed research that has been done on the issue.

There are some exceptions: a Massachusetts Department of Public Health study in the late 1980s, though, found a 400 percent increase in leukemia for those living downwind from the Pilgrim plant, and a recent German government study found that children under five living less than five kilometers from a nuclear plant had twice the risk of contracting leukemia of those living more than five kilometers away.

Continue reading at

No comments:

Post a Comment