Groups ask NRC to halt nuclear licensing pending investigation of Fukushima
Dozens of groups and individuals are asking the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to suspend licensing and other activities at 21 nuclear plants until the agency completes an investigation of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
At a press conference Thursday the groups Beyond Nuclear, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizens Environment Alliance, Don’t Waste Michigan, Green Party of Ohio and Sierra Club Michigan Chapter asked that an independent commission be established to study the implications of the ongoing Fukushima disaster.
There is precedent for this type of action. After the Three Mile island partial meltdown in 1979, President Jimmy Carter created an independent task force — the Kemeney Commission — to investigate the event and halted all Nuclear Regulatory Commission decisions until the commission’s report was complete.
Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), said that the still-unfolding Fukushima Daiichi plant situation is rewriting the book on nuclear accidents.
“There are multiple major sources of emissions from the same site at the same time, including more than one reactor and more than one spent fuel pool. For the first time, major portions of three reactor buildings have been blown away by hydrogen explosions. Backup power arrangements have been shown to be grossly inadequate. Freshwater was not available for essential cooling functions for an extended period. The situation is far from being under control more than one month after the start of the accident. Continuing business as usual in licensing and reactor certification in the face of the unprecedented, hugely complicated, and ongoing Fukushima accident would be rash and contrary to the mandate of the NRC to ensure safety and protect public health.”
In a petition filed with the NRC on Thursday, the groups officially asked that the agency stop license renewal decisions for reactors in Columbia Wash., Davis-Besse, Ohio, Diablo Canyon, Calif., Indian Point, N.Y., Pilgrim Mass., and Seabrook N.H.
They also asked that the NRC halt combined construction permit and operating license decisions for Bellefonte Units 3 and 4, Bell Bend, Callaway, Calvert Cliffs, Comanche Peak, Fermi, Levy County, North Anna, Shearon Harris, South Texas, Turkey Point, Vogtle and William States Lee; a construction permit decision for Bellefonte Units 1 and 2; and an operating license decision for Watts Bar.
The group also asked that proceedings to approve two new reactor designs be put on hold.
In March, President Obama asked the NRC to conduct a “comprehensive review” of the 104 nuclear power plants that provide 20 percent of the U.S. electricity supply.
But critics say that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is [
not sufficiently independent](http://necir-bu.org/wp/investigations/the-canary-in-the-nuclear-plant-the-spent-fuel-crisis/nuclear-regulatory-commission-watchdog-or-lapdog/web-story/) from the industry it is charged with regulating.
According to a [
report](http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/nuclear_power_risk/safety/nrc-and-nuclear-power-2010.html) by the Union of Concerned Scientists inadequate training, faulty maintenance, poor design and failure to investigate problems thoroughly brought U.S. nuclear plants to the verge of trouble 14 times last year.
The U.S. has 23 General Electric Mark 1 boiling water reactors like those at the Fukushima Daiichi complex. On March 22, the NRC granted a 20-year license renewal for one of them. The NRC approval came over the objections Vermont’s legislature and governor.
Diane Curran, an attorney for the petitioners, said that NRC violated the law by approving the Vermont reactor renewal amid the unfolding nuclear disaster.
“The National Environmental Policy Act requires the NRC to learn and apply the lessons of Fukushima before it allows another reactor to operate,” she said. “By establishing a Task Force and ordering the investigation of the regulatory implications of the Fukushima accident for U.S. reactors, the NRC has obligated itself to consider those implications in all prospective licensing decisions.”
Mary Lampert, director of the group Pilgrim Watch in Duxbury, Mass., said that she wants more focus on evacuation plans before the NRC decides whether to relicense the Pilgrim plant, which also shares a design with the Fukushima plants.
“The major cause of the Fukushima disaster was the loss of off-site power; but it doesn’t take a tsunami to cause that,“ she said, “The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission told all Americans within 50 miles of Fukushima to evacuate; several million people live within a 50 mile radius of Pilgrim.”
NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mytling said the agency will respond to the groups petition once it has had time to review it.