U.S. Ignoring Earthquake Risks to Nuclear Plants

Scientists warned that an earthquake could take out Fukushima. The Japanese ignored the warning.

(The Fukushima reactors were damaged by the earthquake before the tsunami hit, because the design of the reactors was defective.)

But that couldn’t happen in the U.S. … right?

Well, the engineers who built the Fukushima reactors also built a nuclear reactor at Shoreham, New York … which was highly vulnerable to an earthquake:

The plant was riddled with problems that, no way on earth, could stand an earthquake. The team of engineers sent in to inspect found that most of these components could “completely and utterly fail” during an earthquake.

Indeed:

(1) the company fraudulently changed the seismic report to pretend the plant was earthquake-safe;

and

(2) the exact same thing was done at Fukushima.

And the same company that designed the failed Fukushima plants and the vulnerable Shoreham facility is:

the designated builder for every one of the four new nuclear plants that the Obama Administration has approved for billions in federal studies.

But surely the U.S. government agencies regulating nuclear plants are protecting us from earthquake danger?

Well, no …

U.S. regulators haven’t implemented any of the emergency measures which their staff urgently recommended in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, and have actually weakened safety standards for U.S. nuclear reactors after the Fukushima disaster.

Indeed, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is a pro-industry group which is largely funded by the nuclear companies. (This is true of all nuclear agencies).

The NRC is using obviously-faulty models to pretend that the ancient, crumbling reactors are safe.

David Lochbaum – Director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists, who worked as a nuclear engineer for nearly two decades, and has written numerous articles and reports on various aspects of nuclear safety and published two books – says that 27 U.S. nuclear plants aren’t protected against earthquake risks. (He also says that half of all American reactors don’t meet the NRC’s fire protection regulations, a third aren’t protected against flooding if an upstream dam fails).

Indeed, NRC whistleblowers say that the risk of a nuclear meltdown is even higher in the U.S. than it was at Fukushima.

The former head of the NRC says:

  • The current fleet of operating plants in the US should be phased out because regulators can’t guarantee against an accident causing widespread land contamination.
  • The biggest problem with the NRC continues to be the heavy influence that the industry has in selecting the members of the commission. It is a very political process. There are few commissioners who ever get onto the commission who are not endorsed by the industry.

Moreover, regulators allow earthquake-causing fracking to be conducted within 500 feet of nuclear plants.

The NRC has repeatedly covered up for the nuclear industry.  For example, NBC News reports:

In the tense days after a powerful earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan on March 11, 2011, staff at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission made a concerted effort to play down the risk of earthquakes and tsunamis to America’s aging nuclear plants ….

The emails, obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, show that the campaign to reassure the public about America’s nuclear industry came as the agency’s own experts were questioning U.S. safety standards and scrambling to determine whether new rules were needed to ensure that the meltdown occurring at the Japanese plant could not occur here.

***

There are numerous examples in the emails of apparent misdirection or concealment in the initial weeks after the Japanese plant was devastated … :

º Trying to distance the U.S. agency from the Japanese crisis, an NRC manager told staff to hide from reporters the presence of Japanese engineers in the NRC’s operations center in Maryland.

º If asked whether the Diablo Canyon Power Plant on the California coast could withstand the same size tsunami that had hit Japan, spokespeople were told not to reveal that NRC scientists were still studying that question. As for whether Diablo could survive an earthquake of the same magnitude, “We’re not so sure about, but again we are not talking about that,” said one email.

º When skeptical news articles appeared, the NRC dissuaded news organizations from using the NRC’s own data on earthquake risks at U.S. nuclear plants, including the Indian Point Energy Center near New York City.

Similarly, nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen and others pointed out in a roundtable discussion:

  • The NRC purposely delayed starting its earthquake study for Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York until after relicensing was complete in 2013, because the NRC didn’t consider a big earthquake “a serious risk”
  • Congressman Markey has said there is a cover up. Specifically, Markey alleges that the head of the NRC told everyone not to write down risks they find from an earthquake greater than 6.0 (the plant was only built to survive a 6.0 earthquake)

California: At Risk

But surely California – that environmental haven – has better nuclear safety standards?

Nope …

In 2011, the California Energy Commission held hearings concerning the state’s nuclear safety. During those hearings, the Chairman of the Commission asked government experts whether or not they felt the state’s nuclear facilities could withstand the maximum credible quake. The response was that they didn’t know.

Continue reading at WASHINGTON’S BLOG

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