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Some U.S. Reactors on Borrowed Time

Global Support for Nuclear Power Drops

A new Ipsos/Reuters poll released on June 22nd reveal that global support for nuclear power has plummetted in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. A survey of over 19,000 people in 24 countries showed that three quarters of people now think nuclear power will soon be obsolete.  Only three countries still show support for nuclear power: the U.S., India and Poland.

Recent investigative reporting shows that the relative safety of nuclear power in the U.S. is tenuous, despite what some politicians have claimed. A big problem is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has been working with the nuclear power industry to keep our country’s reactors operating within safety standards, but they’ve been doing it by either weakening those standards, or not enforcing them at all. A year-long investigation by the Associated Press (AP) revealed that the NRC has extended licenses for dozens of aging U.S. nuclear plants despite their having multiple problems, like rusted pipes, broken seals, failed cables and leaking valves. When such problems are found, the NRC will weaken the standards to help the plants meet them instead of ordering them to be repaired to meet current standards. The nuclear industry argues that the standards they are violating are “unnecessarily conservative,” so the NRC simply loosens the standards.

Just last year, the NRC weakened the safety margin for acceptable radiation damage to nuclear reactor vessels — for the second time. Through public record requests to the NRC, the AP obtained photographs of badly rusted valves, holes eaten into the tops of reactor vessels, severe rust in pipes carrying essential water supplies, peeling walls, actively leaking water pipes and other problems found among the nation’s fleet of aging nuclear reactors.

Fukushima has been a wake up call about the dangers of nuclear power, and some countries are heeding the information. But it seems the U.S. is lagging behind when it comes to this issue. Light-to-absent coverage of TEPCO’s struggles to bring Fukushima under control, legislators who insist on acting favorably towards the nuclear power industry despite the deteriorated state of our current reactor fleet and an ineffective Nuclear Regulatory Commission have all contributed to a bad combination of a dangerous situation and a complacent American public on this issue.

This combination of lax regulations and questionable maintenance at US nuclear facilities is especially concerning with the flooding that two Nebraska nuclear plants are now facing from the swollen Missiouri River. 

Here in Texas, the first hearing to determine what issues would be addressed in the Sustaninable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition’s intervention in the re-licensing application of the South Texas Nuclear plant in Matagorda County happened Monday.  There are indications that the NRC is being more mindful that they appear more concerned with safety issues in the relicensing process, but we will see whether this is window dressing or if the agency is going to apply some lessons learned from Fukushima to our country’s relicensing process as this application moves forward.