News / USA

US Nuclear Safety in Spotlight After Japanese Crisis

Gregory B. Jaczko, Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, left and Dr Mike Weightman Chief Inspector and Chairman of Britain Nuclear Safety Directorate, during a press conference on the disaster of Japan's Fukushima plant, at the OECD in Paris,
Gregory B. Jaczko, Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, left and Dr Mike Weightman Chief Inspector and Chairman of Britain Nuclear Safety Directorate, during a press conference on the disaster of Japan's Fukushima plant, at the OECD in Paris,
Michael Bowman

U.S. nuclear officials say exhaustive reviews of safety standards and procedures have been conducted at American reactors since the Japanese nuclear crisis stemming from a March earthquake and tsunami. That's what leaders of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission sought to reassure wary lawmakers Thursday at a senate hearing.

One hundred and four nuclear power reactors currently operate in the United States, providing roughly 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. It has been more than three decades since the United States suffered a major nuclear scare - the 1979 partial core meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, which resulted in no deaths or injuries.

But recent events in Japan have refocused attention on nuclear safety and accident preparedness in the United States. Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey summed up the concerns of many lawmakers:

“Since Japan’s nuclear disaster began unfolding, Americans have asked, with a good deal of trepidation: could it happen here? Nothing can be taken for granted where nuclear power is concerned," said Lautenberg. "Japan, a world leader in technology, believed the Fukushima plant was strong enough to withstand a worst-case scenario. And now we know it was not.”

All five commissioners of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission were on hand to answer senators’ questions. Chairman Gregory Jaczko detailed the commission’s actions since the Japanese crisis began.

“We issued instructions to our inspectors calling for immediate, independent assessments of each plant’s level of preparedness. The instructions covered extensive damage mitigation guidelines, station blackout, flooding, and seismic issues, as well as severe accident management guidelines,” he said.

Last month, the NRC reported that potential safety issues had been detected at 12 nuclear facilities.

The chairwoman of the Senate Committee on the Environment, Barbara Boxer, seemed troubled by problems discovered at a nuclear site in her home state of California.

“NRC’s inspections at the Diablo Canyon power plant [in California] found that state highways and access roads needed to reach diesel fuel and an alternative seawater source for cooling may be inaccessible after an earthquake," said Boxer. "And hoses needed to get cooling water from the reservoir to the plant were blocked by a security fence.”

The NRC said such issues are being corrected.

The commissioners acknowledged there are lessons to be learned from the Japanese nuclear crisis. Jaczko highlighted one lesson in particular.

“Our traditional approach has always been to assume a single incident at a single reactor," he said. "Clearly Fukushima-Daiichi showed us that we have to consider the possibility of multiple units at a single site, perhaps multiple spent fuel pools being affected at the same time.”

The hearing exposed divided opinions in the Senate on the wisdom and utility of employing nuclear power in the United States. Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee is a strong supporter.

“The subject in America today is jobs. We want jobs (and) we have got to have large amounts of reliable, low-cost electricity," said Alexander. "Seventy percent of our carbon-free, sulfur-free, nitrogen-free, mercury-free electricity comes from nuclear plants.”

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkeley of Oregon is far less enthusiastic.

“I have a lot of doubts about nuclear power being able to be competitive, taking into account costs, potential terror threats, natural disasters, and human error," he said. "But I also think it is very important to look at all options as we wrestle with ways to generate non-carbon power.”

A political battle has raged for years over what to do with America’s spent nuclear fuel. A site in sparsely-populated Nevada was designated as a nuclear repository in the 1980s. Billions of dollars have been spent to develop the Yucca Mountain repository, but under President Barack Obama the project has been mothballed, with no replacement site identified to date.

You May Like

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs