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Fukushima a 'Wake-Up Call' Seen for Sleeping US Nuclear Regulators
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Jul 20, 2012

File image.

The same underlying "man-made" problems that contribute significantly to the Fukushima reactor disaster in Japan are in place in the United States and require preventative actions that go far beyond the limited steps taken far by the U.S. industry and its regulators, according to five groups commenting today on the English-language version of the official report of the Japanese Parliament's Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission.

Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) Executive Director Catherine Thomasson said: "American regulators and the federal government should take heed. This report should serve as a warning that the U.S. has the same colluding system between industry, regulators and government. There are some reactors that will never have adequate evacuation plans as they are too close to human populations to be managed without severe consequences should a catastrophic accident occur. Others will remain problematic because there is the same mindset as in Japan that such accidents could not occur in our country hence there is inadequate preparation."

Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) President-Elect Dr. Jeffrey Patterson said: "This report demonstrates that no government or industry is prepared to adequately deal with the short or long term consequences of disasters such as Fukushima. From a medical standpoint Fukushima, Chernobyl and other radiation disasters are dangerous experiments which are releasing unknown quantities of long lived radiation on non-consenting populations who will be repeatedly exposed as the radioactive materials recycle through the environment. The results of this unconscionable experiment will not be fully known for generations, if ever. There is no 'safe' dose of radiation."

Other groups in the U.S. speaking out today include: Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Georgia WAND, and Nuclear Information and Resource Service.

Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), said: "The report concluded that regulation in Japan was not rigorous. Sadly that applies to the United States as well. Just ten days after the start of the Fukushima disaster, the NRC extended the license of Vermont Yankee for 20 years, though it is the same design as the Fukushima reactors and it has more spent fuel in its pool than all four stricken reactors there put together. The report should jolt the NRC into implementing the lessons of Fukushima before licensing new reactors and relicensing existing ones."

Dr. Stephen A. Smith, executive director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) said: "This is an extremely important report especially to those of us here in the Southeast given the high percentage of existing and proposed nuclear reactors in this region. Since Fukushima, we've listened to industry proponents and nuclear utilities constantly telling the public that a tsunami can't happen here or an earthquake of the scale of Fukushima. But this report is saying that the devastating Fukushima accident was 'man-made.' That a 'witch's brew' of regulator, utility and government negligence led to this tragedy. Unfortunately, that collusion and lack of oversight occurs right here. And it's beyond time for the nuclear industry, its cheerleaders and its regulators to wake up and take notice so that Fukushima doesn't ever happen here in the U.S."

Bobbie Paul, executive director, Georgia WAND, said: "It is tragic that this report was not published before Southern Company's reactors 3 and 4 in Burke County Georgia were given the green light by the NRC. Recalling the lone dissenting voice of NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko in the 4-1 vote: 'I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima had never happened.' This report validates the NRC chairman and should cause every citizen to challenge claims made by the nuclear industry that 'it can never happen here.' Man-made disasters - whether made in Japan or made in the USA - can and do happen."

Michael Mariotte, executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) said: "Japan didn't learn the lessons of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and a Fukushima became inevitable. Unfortunately, the U.S. reality is no different: a powerful nuclear power industry consistently gets its way at a weak and accommodating Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And thus, another nuclear accident also becomes inevitable. One area where Japan flunked the test was emergency evacuation.

In a move to incorporate the lessons of Fukushima, NIRS has proposed strengthening emergency planning regulations and expanding emergency planning zones. But the industry wants less, not better emergency planning. Comments on NIRS' petition for rulemaking are due July 16. What the NRC does with this petition will go a long way toward defining whether the agency is prepared to take strong steps to protect the public, or whether it will continue to allow nuclear industry interests to rule."

The NIRS petition and related documents are available here.

The groups highlighted segments of the Japanese independent commission report showing the following troubling parallels to the situation with nuclear reactors in the U.S.:

+ "The TEPCO Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and TEPCO, and the lack of governance by said parties. They effectively betrayed the nation's right to be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly 'man made.'"

+ "The Commission concludes that there were organizational problems within TEPCO. Had there been a higher level of knowledge, training, and equipment inspection related to severe accidents, and had there been specific instructions given to the on-site workers concerning the state of emergency within the necessary time frame, a more effective accident response would have been possible."

+ "The Commission concludes that the residents' confusion over the evacuation stemmed from the regulators' negligence and failure over the years to implement adequate measures against a nuclear disaster, as well as a lack of action by previous governments and regulators focused on crisis management."

+ "The Commission recognizes that the residents in the affected area are still struggling from the effects of the accident. They continue to face grave concerns, including the health effects of radiation exposure, displacement, the dissolution of families, disruption of their lives and lifestyles and the contamination of vast areas of the environment. There is no foreseeable end to the decontamination and restoration activities that are essential for rebuilding communities. The Commission concludes that the government and the regulators are not fully committed to protecting public health and safety; that they have not acted to protect the health of the residents and to restore their welfare."

+ "Approximately 150,000 people were evacuated in response to the accident. An estimated 167 workers were exposed to more than 100 millisieverts of radiation while dealing with the accident. It is estimated that as much as 1,800 square kilometers of land in Fukushima Prefecture has now been contaminated by a cumulative radiation dose of 5 millisieverts or higher per year."

+ "The Commission has concluded that the safety of nuclear energy in Japan and the public cannot be assured unless the regulators go through an essential transformation process. The entire organization needs to be transformed, not as a formality but in a substantial way. Japan's regulators need to shed the insular attitude of ignoring international safety standards and transform themselves into a globally trusted entity."

The above-quoted experts and others are available to comment on the report findings.

The 85-page executive summary of the report can be viewed in English here.


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