News

From the New England Center for Investigative Reporting:

Internal government watchdogs and outside experts alike say the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is too lenient on the industry it is charged with regulating, often making decisions based on the industry’s profit margins rather than safety.

The charges are similar to complaints leveled against the Mine Health Safety Administration and the Minerals Management Service over the past year, after high-profile tragedies — the Upper Big Branch Mine collapse and the Deepwater Horizon spill — in the industries they are responsible for regulating.

In the wake of the events in Japan, there is a heightened sense of concern throughout the United States that a similar meltdown could occur, particularly in New England where reactors similar to those in Japan remain in operation.

Top nuclear industry officials maintain the public has nothing to fret about — that the NRC is a tough regulator that asks tough questions. NRC critics counter that the agency might ask tough questions, but is all too willing to accept easy answers.

Concerns about the NRC’s oversight are nothing new. A clear illustration is a series of reports issued since 2002 by the NRC’s internal inspector general and the U.S. General Accountability Office related to a near-catastrophe at Davis-Besse, a nuclear reactor on the shores of Lake Erie.

From those reports:

Read more

Type: 

From New York Times:

As a congressman, Rep. Robert Walker extolled the safety of nuclear power, arguing that technology prevented radiation poisoning during the meltdown at Three Mile Island.

He's buttressing nuclear again today, this time working from the inside. Retired from the House, the Pennsylvania Republican provides strategic advice to the trade group Nuclear Energy Institute.

Walker is one of more than 240 lobbyists for companies with nuclear interests who came through the government-to-industry revolving door.

A Greenwire analysis of companies involved in nuclear found that the overwhelming majority of their lobbyists previously worked on Capitol Hill or in a presidential administration. The portion ranges from a high of 83 percent at Energy Future Holdings Corp., which operates a Texas nuclear plant, to 69 percent at Entergy Corp., the country's second largest nuclear generator.

Read more

Type: 

From Bloomberg:

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission thinks the reactor in unit 2 of Japan’s disabled power plant got so hot it “probably melted through the reactor pressure vessel,” U.S. Representative Edward Markey said.

Martin Virgilio, the agency’s deputy director for reactor and preparedness programs, told reporters after a House hearing today that the commission doesn’t think the “core has breached,” which would let radiation escape. The commission gets reports several times a day from agency staff in Japan and none mentioned a breach, he said.

The pressure vessel is one line of defense preventing a larger radiation leak from Fukushima Dai-Ichi’s crippled reactors, where workers have sought to reconnect power to provide a steady supply of water.

“After you lose the vessel, then you are down to one final barrier, that’s the containment,” Virgilio told reporters.

Read more

Type: 

From the Union of Concerned Scientists:

There is a lot of confusion about how many excess cancer deaths will likely result from the 1986 Chernobyl accident in Ukraine. As we see below, 70,000 and 35,000 are reasonable estimates of the number of excess cancers and cancer deaths attributable to the accident.

Much lower numbers of cancers and deaths are often cited, but these are misleading because they only apply to those populations with the highest radiation exposures, and don’t take into account the larger numbers of people who were exposed to less radiation.

The discussion below is an expanded version of the discussion on page 15 in the 2007 UCS report Nuclear Power in a Warming World.

Perhaps the most authoritative report on the consequences of Chernobyl is Chernobyl´s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-economic Impacts, released by the UN-sponsored Chernobyl Forum (September 5, 2005). According to this report (p. 15):

Read more

Type: 

From Dow Jones Newswires:

There is conflicting information over what details U.S. officials know about a damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor in Japan and the threat it poses.

On Wednesday, Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) raised alarm bells when he claimed that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission believes the core of Fukushima's Unit Two had "gotten so hot that part of it has probably melted through the reactor pressure vessel."

If the reactor vessel has in fact been breached, it removes a line of defense in a set of barriers aimed at protecting the public. Shortly after Markey made this claim during a House hearing, however, a top U.S. nuclear official disputed the claim.

"That's not in the situation report that we have from the team in Japan," said Martin Virgilio, deputy executive director for reactor and preparedness programs at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, while speaking to reporters Wednesday. " And that [report is] as of this morning."

Markey, a vocal critic of nuclear power, says a member of his staff received an e-mail Tuesday from an NRC official stating the core "may be out of the reactor pressure vessel."

Read more

Type: 

For Immediate Release: April 5, 2010
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Washington, DC — A plan awaiting approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would dramatically increase permissible radioactive releases in drinking water, food and soil after “radiological incidents” is drawing vigorous objections from agency experts, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At issue is the acceptable level of public health risk following a radiation release, whether an accidental spill or a “dirty bomb” attack.

The radiation arm of EPA, called the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air (ORIA), has prepared an update of the 1992 “Protective Action Guides” (PAG) governing radiation protection decisions for both short-term and long-term cleanup standards. Other divisions within EPA contend the ORIA plan geometrically raises allowable exposure to the public. For example, as Charles Openchowski of EPA’s Office of General Counsel wrote in a January 23, 2009 e-mail to ORIA:

“[T]his guidance would allow cleanup levels that exceed MCLs [Maximum Contamination Limits under the Safe Drinking Water Act] by a factor of 100, 1000, and in two instances 7 million and there is nothing to prevent those levels from being the final cleanup achieved (i.e., it’s not confined to immediate response of emergency phase).”

Another EPA official, Stuart Walker of the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation, explains what the proposed new radiation limits in drinking water would mean:

“It also appears that drinking water at the PAG concentrations…may lead to subchronic (acute) effects following exposures of a day or a week. In a population, one should see some express acute effects…that is vomiting, fever, etc.”

“This critical debate is taking place entirely behind closed doors because this plan is ‘guidance’ and does not require public notice as a regulation would,” stated PEER Counsel Christine Erickson. Today, PEER sent EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson a letter calling for a more open and broader examination of the proposed radiation guidance. “We all deserve to know why some in the agency want to legitimize exposing the public to radiation at levels vastly higher than what EPA officially considers dangerous.”

The internal documents show that under the updated PAG a single glass of water could give a lifetime’s permissible exposure. In addition, it would allow long-term cleanup limits thousands of times more lax than anything EPA has ever before accepted. These new limits would cause a cancer in as much as every fourth person exposed.

PEER obtained the internal e-mails after filing a lawsuit this past fall under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) but the EPA has yet to turn over thousands more communications. “EPA touts its new transparency but when it comes to matters of controversy the agency still puts up a wall,” added Erickson, who filed the FOIA suit. “Besides the months of stonewalling, we are seeing them pull stunts such as ORIA giving us rebuttals to other EPA documents they have yet to release.”

Type: 

From National Public Radio:

Federal regulators knew when they renewed the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant's license last month that electrical cables serving key plant safety systems had been submerged in water for extended periods of time, Nuclear Regulatory Commission documents show.

A nuclear watchdog group says the issue has new urgency following the nuclear disaster in Japan, in which tsunami flooding knocked cooling systems out of service, causing reactors to overheat at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear station.

An NRC report in December said 23 reactors around the country had electrical cable failures between 1988 and 2004, with nine more instances since 2007 of cables improperly being submerged in water.

"Because these cables are not designed or qualified for submerged or moist environments, the possibility that more than one cable could fail has increased," the report said. "This failure could disable safety-related accident mitigation systems."

The agency's documents show it has been concerned about submerged electrical cables at U.S. nuclear plants for years. The cables, usually housed in concrete boxes or small tunnels underground, get wet from rain, melting snow or groundwater, the NRC said.

Read more

Type: 

Pages