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Threats to U.S. Nuclear Reactors

Next month, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will release the results of its 90-day reactor safety review.

The NRC will claim that nuclear reactors in the United States are safe. But the report will leave out critical information that exposes that claim as a myth.

We’ve already seen in Japan the catastrophic combination of inadequate regulations, aging reactors and unpredictable weather.

Read on to learn more about what will be missing from the NRC report.

As severe weather becomes more frequent, nuclear reactors have become more vulnerable and less reliable.

Flood waters have knocked out power at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station in Nebraska. Just yesterday, the barrier intended to keep water from immersing the reactor grounds was breached. The plant is now reportedly running on emergency generators to maintain the cooling systems.

But floods are not the only weather phenomena to threaten reactors; extreme heat and droughts also force reactors offline. Nuclear power plants consume more water than any other energy technology. In recent summers, water rationing due to heat waves in the southeast has required shutting down nuclear plants in Tennessee and Florida.

Current regulations — amazingly — fail to account for possibility of a single weather event or natural disaster knocking out electricity from both the grid and emergency generators.

U.S. nuclear reactors are being pushed well beyond their operational design and the resulting deterioration undermines their safety.

In the U.S., reactors were designed and licensed for 40 years, but 66 of the 104 operating units have been relicensed to operate for 20 more years. In fact, the NRC has never denied a renewal — not even for the Vermont Yankee plant, where problems like groundwater contamination from leaking tritium led the state senate to vote against renewing its license. Corroded underground piping in aging plants is responsible for radioactive tritium leaks at 75% of U.S. commercial nuclear power sites.

Federal regulators are far too cozy with the nuclear industry.

Together they are maintaining the illusion that the nation’s aging reactors operate within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards or simply failing to enforce them.

According to a recent investigation by The Associated Press, NRC officials have — time after time, and at the urging of the industry — decided that original regulations were too strict and argued that safety margins should be eased.

Immediate steps can and must be taken to strengthen the regulation of nuclear reactors. But ultimately, we need to shift away from nuclear to renewable, safer and more efficient power choices.