NRC Approves First New U.S. Nuclear Reactors in 30 Years … Fatal Flaws In Fukushima Design NOT Fixed

While the Rest of the World Is Abandoning Unsafe Nuclear Designs, America Will Build New Unsafe Reactors

The geniuses at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have given the green light for new nuclear power plants in the U.S. … which don’t include safety upgrades which were demonstrated vital by the Fukushima meltdown.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution notes:

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday approved Southern Co.’s plan to build two reactors at Plant Vogtle, south of Augusta — though the decision was not without dissent.

Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the five-member NRC, cast a lone vote against issuing a license for the project. He said he wanted but had not gotten a binding commitment from Southern that it would incorporate changes stemming from last year’s nuclear disaster in Japan.

“Significant safety enhancements have already been recommended as a result of learning the lessons from Fukushima,” Jaczko said, referring to the plant on Japan’s coast that was devastated by an earthquake and tidal wave, “and there is still more work ahead of us. Knowing this, I cannot support issuing these licenses as if Fukushima never happened.”

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The NRC’s 4-1 vote directs the agency staff to prepare the construction and operating license needed to start major work on the two reactors, which are expected to start producing electricity in 2016 and 2017.

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The last new reactors were approved in 1978, the year before a partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. After that, increased regulatory scrutiny and skyrocketing costs halted expansion. Plant Vogtle’s two existing nuclear reactors, Units 1 and 2, ran over budget by $8 billion and took 16 years to build.

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The U.S. remains without a long-term plan to store nuclear waste.

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“The U.S. is approving new reactors before the full suite of lessons from Japan has been learned and before new safety regulations that were recommended by a task force established after the meltdown crisis at Fukushima have been implemented,” said Allison Fisher, Outreach Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program.

How Could This Happen?

As I noted last December:

New US plant designs are very near being licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission without any Fukushima modifications.

Now we know why.

Congressman Markey wrote yesterday:

As part of his ongoing investigation into U.S. nuclear safety since the Fukushima meltdowns, today Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) … released a blockbuster new report that details how four Commissioners at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) colluded to prevent and then delay the work of the NRC Near-Term Task Force on Fukushima, the entity tasked with making recommendations for improvement to NRC regulations and processes after the Fukushima meltdowns ….

Rep. Markey’s office reviewed thousands of pages of documents, including emails, correspondence, meeting minutes and voting records, and found a concerted effort by Commissioners William Magwood, Kristine Svinicki, William Ostendorff and George Apostolakis to undermine the efforts of the Fukushima Task Force with request for endless additional study in an effort to delay the release and implementation of the task force’s final recommendations. Documents also show open hostility on the part of the four Commissioners toward efforts of NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko to fully and quickly implement the recommendations of the Task Force, despite efforts on the part of the Chairman to keep the other four NRC Commissioners fully informed regarding the Japanese emergency.

“The actions of these four Commissioners since the Fukushima nuclear disaster has caused a regulatory meltdown that has left America’s nuclear fleet and the general public at risk,” said Rep. Markey. “Instead of doing what they have been sworn to do, these four Commissioners have attempted a coup on the Chairman and have abdicated their responsibility to the American public to assure the safety of America’s nuclear industry. I call on these four Commissioners to stop the obstruction, do their jobs and quickly move to fully implement the lessons learned from the Fukushima disaster.”

A copy of the report “Regulatory Meltdown: How Four Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners Conspired to Delay and Weaken Nuclear Reactor Safety in the Wake of Fukushima” can be found HERE.

Major findings in the new report include:

  • Four NRC Commissioners attempted to delay and otherwise impede the creation of the NRC Near-Term Task Force on Fukushima;
  • Four NRC Commissioners conspired, with each other and with senior NRC staff, to delay the release of and alter the NRC Near-Term Task Force report on Fukushima;
  • The other NRC Commissioners attempted to slow down or otherwise impede the adoption of the safety recommendations made by the NRC Near-Term Task Force on Fukushima ….
  • The consideration of the Fukushima safety upgrades is not the only safety-related issue that the other NRC Commissioners have opposed.

The Hill’s energy and environment blog reported yesterday:

[The chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko] believes the commission “has taken an approach that is not as protective of public health and safety as I believe is necessary.”

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The commission has disagreed in recent months over how to deal with the recommendations of a task force assigned to reevaluate the country’s nuclear safety regulations in light of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.

The report called on the commission to make sweeping improvements to NRC’s “existing patchwork of regulatory requirements and other safety initiatives.”

Jaczko called on the commission to quickly evaluate the report and implement the necessary recommendations. But the commissioners initially resisted Jaczko’s call for swift action.

It turns out the leader of the group of commissioners which Jaczco is fighting was a consultant for Tepco – the company which operates Fukushima.

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Because Obama’s top adviser and top funders are connected with the nuclear power industry, the White House has also aggressively pushed four new nuclear power plants in the U.S., even though virtually all of the current nuclear reactors in the U.S. are of the same archaic design as those at Fukushima, and this design was not chosen for safety reasons, but because it worked in Navy submarines, and produced plutonium for use in nuclear weapons. And even though the same folks who built and run Fukushima will build and operate the new U.S. facilities.

Note: Nuclear power could be safe, if designed and operated correctly. But neither the nuclear industry or government regulators care about safety.

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  • Howard T. Lewis III

    Markey’s lack of a spine made itself evident after the BlackStone investment/BP crowd trashed the gulf and walked off. The dude should be in tights checking theater tickets. my question of the NRC is, what part of the phrase ‘self-destructive miscreant’ do they not understand? These dopes deserve Don Rickles tapeloops surgically imbedded in their skulls.

  • Patrick

    Great article, I was wondering if you could fix the links tat the bottom in your note, they don’t appear to go anywhere and I was interested in reading them. I read many of your articles because they are linked on Naked Capitalism, keep up the good work!

  • Mark P.

    [1] The title of this post is ‘NRC Approves First New U.S. Nuclear Reactors in 30 Years … Fatal Flaws In Fukushima Design NOT Fixed: While the Rest of the World Is Abandoning Unsafe Nuclear Designs, America Will Build New Unsafe Reactors.’

    I took five seconds to do a search and I found that the new reactors being built in the U.S. are Westinghouse AP1000s –
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AP1000

    China is nearing completion on an initial twelve AP1000s, and has made it their standard inland reactor design (so there’ll likely be more to come after the first twelve).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China

    Similarly, the four reactors being build in the United Arab Emirates by the South Koreans are essentially variations of AP1000s.
    http://www.neimagazine.com/story.asp?storyCode=2055052

    In the U.S. there are fourteen applications for AP1000s currently under consideration. I don’t expect them to be built — with the current price of natural gas dropping, the fossil fuel industry will win this one for the next couple of decades . But there are at least a half-dozen other countries — out of the 45 formerly non-nuclear nations that are now moving towards nuclear power programs — looking at AP1000s.
    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf102.html

    The AP1000 is not my favorite, but it is arguably the most common Gen-3+ reactor type being built throughout the rest of the world outside America right now and the same reactor design that will be built at these two sites within the U.S.

    Hence, your headline “While the Rest of the World Is Abandoning Unsafe Nuclear Designs, America Will Build New Unsafe Reactors” could not be more wrong factually in both those claims.

    [2] The other part of your headline claims ‘NRC Approves First New U.S. Nuclear Reactors in 30 Years … Fatal Flaws In Fukushima Design NOT Fixed.’

    Nowhere in your post was there any technical account whatsoever of how exactly these two new reactors being built in the U.S. are unsafe or how they could somehow repeat the same built-in possibilities for disaster inherent in the Fukushima reactor designs — which were General Electric Mark I designs almost half a century old. You only have some mention of them not having the “Fukushima modifications.”

    The problem here is, again, almost all the new reactors being licensed — certainly in America and mostly in Asia — are Gen-3+ passive safety system-based that literally couldn’t melt down in the same way as the Fukushima Gen-2 reactors did even if one spent large sums of money trying to make them do so. Apart from both being boiling water reactors, a Gen-3 design is sufficiently different from a Gen-2 reactor like those at Fukushima Daiichi that to claim ‘Fatal Flaws In Fukushima Design NOT Fixed’ literally makes very little sense.

    [3] Here are the “Fukushima modifications,” in the Nuclear Regulatory Agency’s Fukushima Task Force report. Look especially at page 69 onwards –
    https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/283588-fukushima-task-force-report.html

    If you do look, you’ll see that what you — and the MSM reports that you recycled — called the “Fukushima modifications” are not merely a set of technological modifications but also — and more relevantly — an enhancement of the ‘defense-in-depth’ philosophy of nuclear safety.

    And there’s a debate to be had here in the context of Gen-3 reactors — which was Gregory Jaczko’s point, I assume — since those go in the direction of radical simplicity of design and therefore to some extent away from the defense-in-depth philosophy. But that debate has nothing to do with “Fatal Flaws in Fukushima design not fixed,” as you claim.

    [4] There’s debate to be had about a lot of things.

    For instance, almost nobody says it, but it’s possible that Fukushima could turn out a worse nuclear disaster than Chernobyl. There’s something like a hundred times more radioactive material at Fukushima than at Chernobyl and in the long term much more such material may be released into the general and global environment. We have the same pools and stocks of used fuel in the U.S. and at least a couple of sites have more piled than tn Fukushima.

    Furthermore, the amount of such stocks worldwide is currently increasing by about 12,000 metric tons every year, which is the equivalent to about 100 double-decker buses or a two-story structure with a footprint the size of a basketball court. Even if somehow all the nuclear reactors in the world were shut down tomorrow — which isn’t going to happen — all that spent fuel would remain.

    [5] There are possible solutions to the above, with their pros and cons. But there will be no worthwhile debate about that which will include people who haven’t done some homework on the facts. And based on the evidence here, you’ve done none.

    .

  • Kent

    The nuclear industry knew 60 years ago that there was a finite amount of Uranium for their nuclear reactors.

    The plan was to transition into adding Plutonium to the fuel, which is now called MOX fuel.

    However, Plutonium burns hot, and 10 nuclear power plants that don’t even use MOX fuel are under review because the “plants could underestimate how hot their fuel could get in an accident.”

    http://enformable.com/2012/02/over-10-united-states-nuclear-reactor-licenses-could-be-modified-suspended-or-revoked-pending-nrc-findings/

    Perhaps MOX fuel isn’t the pearl in the oyster it was promoted to be?

    The nuclear industry needs more Uranium for their nuclear “fix,” so guess what they’re doing?

    The Nuclear Energy Institute and the National Mining Association are suing to “reverse a ban on new uranium mining on federal land around the Grand Canyon in Arizona.”

    Repeat, they want to mine uranium around the Grand Canyon.

    http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-02-28/nuclear-energy-group-sues-over-uranium-mining-ban-in-arizona.html

 

 

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