US Government Response to Leaking Aging Reactors
Yesterday, I wrote about the Associated Press’s investigation into the state of the US’s aging nuclear reactors. That report came out over 2 years ago. Nothing has been done since. In fact that investigation found something that I find more troubling than the reactor leaks. That is the US government’s response.
The AP’s investigation found that government regulators have been working closely with nuclear plant operators often lowering standards or simply ignoring violations in order to allow these aging reactors to remain in use. The AP found a recurring pattern. Some system or part would fail to meet present government standards. The nuclear indistry and regulators would do a study which showed the present standard was unnecessarily stringent and the standards were lowered. Voila! The offending plant is back in compliance. Many of these plants were built back in the 60s and 70s with 40 year licenses. As the time approached for the licenses to expire, the cost of replacing or upgrading the plants was found to be too high. The solution: the plants have been applying for and receiving 20 year license extensions.
What is the situation now 2 years later? The watering down of safety standards continues. Just this April the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) quietly posted new relaxed health guidelines in the event of a radiological attack or nuclear accident. The document suggests that in the aftermath of such events health guidelines could be made thousands of times less stringent than usual. One example should be sufficient to show the spirit of the new guidelines. For drinking water, the document refers to the International Atomic Energy Guide which suggests no intervention is necessary until drinking water contamination reaches 81,000 picocuries per liter. That is 27,000 times higher than the EPA standard of 3 picocuries per liter.
In the wake of Fukushima, we need to be strengthening our standards not weakening them. The regulators seem to be living in some kind of Orwellian world where government fiat makes it so. A reactor doesn’t meet safety standards, just lower the standards and by government decree a substandard facility is now safe. Such an irresponsible cavalier approach to regulating the country’s nuclear plants only spells disaster. If you are an American, you need to write your congressman and senators and demand that all nuclear power plants in the US regardless of age need to pass the same stringent standards or be taken offline. And standards need to be strengthened not weakened.
To continue down the present course of regulators accommodating operators of old creaky plants with corroding cracking parts is the single greatest health threat to the American public, mostly done quietly behind closed doors. Stand up and let them know you are not going to tolerate this kind of laxness towards threats to you and your family’s health.