Fukushima, USA

Brian Till wrote a chilling piece in The Atlantic about the deregulation of the American nuclear power industry. This jumped out:

According to John Grobe, the Associate Director for Engineering and Safety Systems at NRC, “Approximately one-half of the core damage risk at operating reactors results from accident sequences that initiate with fire events.”

Nonetheless, only two U.S. nuclear sites are in compliance with federal fire regulations; all others continue to operate with exemptions, a stopgap system that was implemented more than thirty years ago and was never intended as a permanent solution.

In other words, the Reagan administration allowed deregulatory exemptions for almost all of our nuclear power plants.

Fires are endemic to nuclear power. From 1995 to 2007, there were 125 at 54 of the nation’s 65 nuclear plants, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study. Thirteen of those were categorized as posing an “actual or potential substantial degradation of unit safety.”

None, the report stressed, since 1975, have threatened a plant’s capacity to safely power down, which is how a meltdown is most likely to begin. That fire, which led to regulations that Jaczko outlined, was at the Brown’s Ferry plant, in Alabama. It began when a technician, using a candle to search for air leaks in the reactor, inadvertently ignited the flammable cabling connecting the reactor to its control room. Operators fought the electric fire with water, further fueling the flames.

This is precisely why I don’t trust the meme about creating safe, well-regulated nuclear power plants. Safe and well-regulated for how long?

(via Ben Cohen)

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