As 9/11 anniversary approaches, the industry still wags the NRC
Statement by NC WARN director Jim Warren:
The NRC has actually done quite little to bolster nuclear plant defenses since 9/11, mainly because the industry fought against the agency’s proposal to do so years ago.
One marginal improvement: the NRC ordered a modest increase in the level of ground attack that plant owners must prepare for, but the level remains weak.
It remains very unfortunate that the NRC still has not ordered US nuclear plants to store their spent fuel more safely, and thus to heed the 2005 warning by the National Academy of Sciences about, 1) the vulnerability to various feasible attacks on the densely packed cooling pools at each plant, and 2) the huge volumes of radioactive material in those pools.
As scientists and US watchdog groups have urged for years, spent fuel pools must be thinned out to originally-designed storage densities, with all excess waste moved into hardened, dry storage with containers separated by earthen or gravel berms. It’s a low-tech, low-cost way to greatly reduce risks from malicious acts.
There remains a special risk at GE reactors such as Progress Energy’s Brunswick 1 and 2 near Wilmington, NC because the spent fuel pools are elevated high inside the reactor building, and protected only by sheet metal walls and roof.
As a result of the ongoing Fukushima tragedy, there is discussion among the NRC and industry about finally storing the waste more safely. Sadly, the NRC consistently takes action only after years of delay – in order to protect the industry.
NOTE REGARDING HURRICANES AND COASTAL PLANTS: The NRC’s Fukushima Task Force this summer warned the agency that it must (after years of ignoring earlier warnings) expand the scope of accident risks that it regulates, particularly involving seismic and flooding events, including storm surge.
Warmer oceans and more intense storms already have raised the risk that storm surge could damage nuclear power plants.