Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

CleanTechnica
A new study from Princeton University and the Union of Concerned Scientists has revealed that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) relies on faulty analysis to "justify its refusal to adopt a critical measure for protecting Americans from the occurrence of a catastrophic nuclear-waste fire at any one of dozens of reactor sites around the country."

Nuclear Energy

Study: US NRC Relied On Faulty Analysis To Justify Refusal To Adopt Catastrophic Nuclear Waste Fire Safety Measures

A new study from Princeton University and the Union of Concerned Scientists has revealed that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) relies on faulty analysis to “justify its refusal to adopt a critical measure for protecting Americans from the occurrence of a catastrophic nuclear-waste fire at any one of dozens of reactor sites around the country.”

A new study from Princeton University and the Union of Concerned Scientists has revealed that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) relies on faulty analysis to “justify its refusal to adopt a critical measure for protecting Americans from the occurrence of a catastrophic nuclear-waste fire at any one of dozens of reactor sites around the country.”

nuclear disaster US potential

“This image captures the spread of radioactivity from a hypothetical fire in a high-density spent-fuel pool at the Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant in Pennsylvania. Based on the guidance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the experience from the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents, populations in the red and orange areas would have to be relocated for many years, and many in the yellow area would relocate voluntarily. In this scenario, which is based on real weather patterns that occurred in July 2015, four major cities would be contaminated (New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.), resulting in the displacement of millions of people.” (Photo courtesy of Michael Schoeppner, Princeton University, Program on Science and Global Security).

While the nuclear fallout from such an incident could contaminate an area twice the size of New Jersey, force the relocation of around 8 million people, and cause trillions of dollars in damages, the NRC apparently sees no issue with the current lack of safeguards — and is content with using faulty justifications for cover. I wonder why?

Frank von Hippel, a co-author of the new paper and a senior research physicist at Princeton’s Program on Science and Global Security (SGS), commented: “The NRC has been pressured by the nuclear industry, directly and through Congress, to low-ball the potential consequences of a fire because of concerns that increased costs could result in shutting down more nuclear power plants. Unfortunately, if there is no public outcry about this dangerous situation, the NRC will continue to bend to the industry’s wishes.”

Catastrophic nuclear fires like those mentioned above could be triggered at many of the nuclear power plants in the US through a variety of mechanisms, whether by large earthquakes or terrorism. The thing about this, though, is that simple regulatory measures could greatly reduce the likelihood and extent of such events — the problem is simply that they drive up costs and are thus unwanted by those in the industry and associated with it.

Since there are a number of nuclear energy proponents that comment on this site from time to time, I’ll use this opportunity to note that my main objection with nuclear is simply that there’s no way to separate it from human nature/stupidity. In an idealized world where society wasn’t overflowing with self-interested, delusional, fraudulent, lying monkeys … then nuclear energy would probably be fine, and could be implemented in a reasonable way (though, it would possibly still not be economical). That isn’t the world we live in. People by and large seem to have no problem creating and leaving messes for others — whether they be other people in their community today or people who will come after them and have to deal with the mess. Furthermore, these self-centered people will often deny that they have created such a mess or are creating one. This being the case, who can justify nuclear?

While discussing the potential for a nuclear accident in the US, von Hippel noted: “The Fukushima accident could have been a hundred times worse had there been a loss of the water covering the spent fuel in pools associated with each reactor. That almost happened at Fukushima in Unit 4.”

Amongst the strange qualities of the NRC’s regulatory analysis was the outright denial that an act of terrorism leading to such a fire was even possible. At all.

The press release provides more: “In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, the NRC considered proposals for new safety requirements at US plants. One was a measure prohibiting plant owners from densely packing spent-fuel pools, requiring them to expedite transfer of all spent fuel that has cooled in pools for at least five years to dry storage casks, which are inherently safer. Densely packed pools are highly vulnerable to catching fire and releasing huge amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere.

“The NRC analysis found that a fire in a spent-fuel pool at an average nuclear reactor site would cause $125 billion in damages, while expedited transfer of spent fuel to dry casks could reduce radioactive releases from pool fires by 99%. However, the agency decided the possibility of such a fire is so unlikely that it could not justify requiring plant owners to pay the estimated cost of $50 million per pool.

“The NRC cost-benefit analysis assumed there would be no consequences from radioactive contamination beyond 50 miles from a fire. It also assumed that all contaminated areas could be effectively cleaned up within a year. Both of these assumptions are inconsistent with experience after the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents.”

Something that should be realized here is that while such an event would lead to total damages of around $2 trillion, according to the researchers, the nuclear industry itself would only be liable to cover around $13.6 billion, owing to the Price Anderson Act of 1957. In other words, as with the banking crisis, US tax payers would again be on the hook.

The authors of the new work note that states that provide nuclear subsidies can probably force the hands of some operators, requiring them to enact the suggested changes by threatening to withhold funding.

Co-author Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, concludes that: “In far too many instances, the NRC has used flawed analysis to justify inaction, leaving millions of Americans at risk of a radiological release that could contaminate their homes and destroy their livelihoods. It is time for the NRC to employ sound science and common-sense policy judgments in its decision-making process.”

The new research is detailed in a paper published in the journal Science.

 
Appreciate CleanTechnica’s originality and cleantech news coverage? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica Member, Supporter, Technician, or Ambassador — or a patron on Patreon.
 

Don't want to miss a cleantech story? Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!
 

Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.
Advertisement
 
Written By

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

Comments

You May Also Like

Nuclear Energy

Courtesy of Union Of Concerned Scientists, The Equation. By Elliott Negin Nuclear power proponents have long been prone to wishful thinking. Back in 1954, Atomic Energy...

Clean Power

This equates to a roughly $4 billion annual subsidy to the US nuclear industry, in addition to the $1.6 billion in permanent tax breaks...

Nuclear Energy

By Mark Leyse Dear Chairman Burns: You and the Commissioners approved the publication of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to deny proposed regulations on...

Climate Change

The many-sided battle over nuclear power continues with a clear break over politics in Illinois. The company and the government are dancing around the...

Copyright © 2021 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.