It has been a momentous week in the nuclear world. Last week’s announcement of the long-expected resignation of NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko seems to have set off a flurry of activity in the nuclear industry and its several lobbying and/or propaganda arms. Much of it apparently designed to distract attention from the international security threat posed by up to 15 power reactors at 5 nuclear stations damaged by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of last year off the northeastern coast of Japan, including 3 plants and 4 spent fuel pools at Fukushima Daiichi.
Complicated by the ever-increasing costs of new nukes, the still unsolved issue of long term waste disposal, and all sorts of previously ‘secret’ documents that keep going out to individuals, investigative reporters and citizen groups in response to detailed FOIA filings and lawsuits.
Depending on where you get your news you can take an overtly biased ‘side’ in the debates based solely on what you’d most like to believe could be true. We are treated to articles from one side [UPI] about the precarious fragility of Daiichi’s spent fuel pools, while at the very same time being treated to industry lapdog IAEA’s pet public health propaganda arm WHO’s ridiculous dismissals of any possible long-term health effects – in Japan or elsewhere – no matter how much radioactive nastiness gets out. It can be downright confusing, to say the least.
Just two days after Jaczko’s announced retirement from the NRC, that agency and FEMA quietly overhauled emergency planning around this nation’s nuclear plants, cutting requirements for evacuations and emergency responder exercises. This diminished response flies in the face of the lessons that should have been learned from the disaster in Japan, even in the NRC’s own internal evaluations. The cut-backs coincided with a seriously flawed ‘new’ study released last week by a sometimes professor at the MIT nuclear department which is directly contradicted by previous MIT studies to the same subject as well as DOE’s ongoing low dose radiation research program.
Meanwhile, TEPCO itself reported last week that its latest estimates of radiation released from the Daiichi facility over the past 14 months amounts to 760,000 terabecquerels, including 400,000 Tbq of iodine-131 and 360,000 Tbq of cesium-137. 360,000 Tbq of 137 is 4 times the cesium-137 released by Chernobyl in 1986, which resulted in a 1600 square mile exclusion zone that remains unfit for human habitation today, more than 26 years later.
As costs for new nuclear plants keep rising along with the overt and hidden government subsidies without which the industry could not compete, the few plants ordered in the United States are running headlong into citizen groups and state utility commission resistance. Even without factoring future costs of decommissioning and long term waste disposal (which still doesn’t exist after half a century), nuclear weighs in at more than $10,800 per kilowatt hour and rising (as of 2009). That’s two to three times the cost of renewable alternatives, for which per-kilowatt costs are steadily falling. Forcing yet more dangerous nukes on income-strapped Americans struggling to make ends meet in the worst economy since the Great Depression makes no rational sense no matter how you parse the data.
As for those future costs the nuclear industry has studiously kept hidden for the entirety of its existence, the Government Accountability Office [GAO] found in a report released in April of this year that utility accounts toward future decommissioning costs are badly underfunded and at risk of losses. GAO made a series of recommendations to the NRC on how to strengthen the funds, but no one really expects the now consolidated Nuclear Regulatory Commission to do anything about it. Heck, nobody expected that much even during the nearly 7.5 years of Jaczko’s tenure on the commission.
This means there is not enough money in the funds to properly decommission any of the nation’s 104 commercial nuclear reactors, so we can expect when the time comes that taxpayers will once again be tapped to pay far more than we ever bargained for. Should any of our nukes suffer serious accident, taxpayers will also foot the bill for damages and clean-up. Of course, the NRC has now publicly embraced a singular biased study to assert that radiation poses no danger to the public health, thus no one need be evacuated when multi-megawatt power reactors melt down, melt through, explode and/or burn.
Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure the economic damages to local residents and businesses can be zeroed out completely with a little help from the judicial system to dismiss individual and class action lawsuits filed by people who suspect their children’s cancers and early deaths might have been caused by significant amounts of radioactive contamination in the air, water and food supply.
It seems like right at the time when we should be actively planning for the total shut-down of the nuclear industry, we’re getting hit instead with the total insanity of nuclear expansion. The definition of insanity, after all, is doing the same thing over and over again, each time expecting a different outcome.
And just to illustrate the true magnitude of our precarious situation, scientists at the Max Planck institute have this past week reported that the likelihood of serious nuclear accidents is 200 times greater than previously thought. And they didn’t even factor newly revised seismic vulnerabilities to reach that figure.
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