Published on June 24th, 2010 | by Zachary Shahan2
Did the Nuclear Industry and Politicians Learn Anything from the BP Oil Spill?
A major factor causing the BP oil spill to be the disaster that it is turning out to be is deregulation of the oil industry. You would think that if people, especially politicians, learned one thing from this disaster, it would be that we need strong government oversight of risky technologies.
It seems right now that some in the nuclear industry and Congress have missed that completely or just haven’t heard the news about the BP oil spill at all.
Certain nuclear energy supporters are trying to weaken regulation of new nuclear reactors in any proposed climate and energy or energy-only legislation.
“Even as tens of thousands of gallons of oil continue to erupt each day from BP’s botched oil well, federal lawmakers are weighing legislation that includes BP-style deregulation of new nuclear reactors, which are the only energy source where the damage from a major accident would dwarf the harm done by a ruptured offshore oil well,” experts from The Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) Safe Energy program wrote yesterday.
PSR has listed four provisions that are part of the proposed American Power Act that could set us up for a nuclear-style BP oil spill.
These are: Section 1108 – “Undermining NRC Safety Review Before Reactor Startup”; Section 1109 – “Gutting Environmental Analysis in New Reactor Licensing”; Section 1101 – “Pressuring the NRC to Further Truncate Reactor Licensing”; Section 1105 – “Eliminating Independent Safety/Environmental Review of New Reactors by NRC Judges”.
You can find more on them on these via the link above.
More commentary on this matter is available there as well, but here are two extended quotes that completely nail the issue, in my opinion.
Peter Bradford, former commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and former chair of both the New York and Maine state utility regulatory commissions, says:
It is both astonishing and shameful that – when evidence of the consequences of lax regulation and lax oversight washes ashore on tides of oil in the Gulf states and tides of red ink in housing and financial markets – Congress would consider cutting regulatory corners for new nuclear power. Regulatory delays are not causing nuclear power’s problems today. Instead, investors and lenders will not provide capital because of the high risks of reactor cancellation, cost overruns, and cheaper energy alternatives. Putting deregulation provisions for nuclear power in any climate/energy legislation will not save significant licensing time, but it will send the Nuclear Regulatory Commission exactly the wrong message from Congress – speed over safety. Congress will be flat lining effective regulation, not streamlining it.
Diane Curran, Esq., partner, Harmon, Curran, Spielberg & Eisenberg, LLP, says:
The parallel here to the Gulf oil permitting is the proposed short-circuiting of legal processes that are designed to identify and address risks ahead of time. Proposed legislation would, for example, eliminate the independent review now conducted by NRC judges on uncontested issues and would make it easier for the government to avoid consideration of less dangerous alternatives to reactors. The BP spill provides an object lesson regarding the risks of eliminating legal processes for rigorous government oversight of safety and environmental risks because BP was allowed to start drilling without conducting the type of rigorous environmental analysis that is normally required by federal law. In the case of new reactors, the NRC has already seriously weakened key aspects of the legal processes for reactor review. Climate/energy legislation must not make matters even worse.
Nuclear power is a risky technology, and we need good government oversight of this technology. The last thing we need is a nuclear disaster in the United States.
Image Credit: thebmag via flickr/CC license