Known US Nuclear Reactor Sites

Following the unprecedented release of radiation into the ocean that began March 11 at the Japanese Fukushima nuclear power plant, per an AP investigation, we learn that US nuclear reactors are recklessly under-supervised.

Federal regulators have been working closely with the nuclear power industry to keep the nation’s aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them, an investigation by The Associated Press has found.

Time after time, officials at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission have decided that original regulations were too strict, arguing that safety margins could be eased without peril, according to records and interviews.

The result? Rising fears that these accommodations by the NRC are significantly undermining safety — and inching the reactors closer to an accident that could harm the public and jeopardize the future of nuclear power in the United States.

Examples abound. When valves leaked, more leakage was allowed — up to 20 times the original limit. When rampant cracking caused radioactive leaks from steam generator tubing, an easier test of the tubes was devised, so plants could meet standards.

Failed cables. Busted seals. Broken nozzles, clogged screens, cracked concrete, dented containers, corroded metals and rusty underground pipes — all of these and thousands of other problems linked to aging were uncovered in the AP’s yearlong investigation. And all of them could escalate dangers in the event of an accident.

How close is your home to a nuclear plant? Search here.

EVEN MORE SCARY: Per this report on May 11, 2011:

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a rare red finding against the Browns Ferry nuclear power plant near Athens, Ala., after it investigated how a valve on a residual heat removal system became stuck shut. Safety regulators said only five red findings — the most severe ranking the agency gives to problems uncovered in its inspections — have been issued nationwide in the past decade.”

Considering the laxness of the regulators, how bad of a problem was this to merit a “red finding? Brown’s Ferry sets astride the Tennessee River in north Alabama. What would occur to the entire Alabama system of watersheds should leakage occur into that River from Brown’s Ferry? What if the waters of Alabama were contaminated like the oceans around Fukushima:

In addition, according to Prof. Takashi Ishimaru of Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, plankton near the surface probably absorbed radioactive substances near the sea surface, and thereafter sank to the seabed. The plankton are then ingested by shrimp and crab who are in turn consumed by larger fish. The radioactive substances then travel up the food chain in a process known as bioaccumulation. All this means that because radioactive substances are easily moved through this process, the monitoring area of Fukushima’s fallout will need to continue into the future, and the monitoring radius will need to be expanded.

Fukushima is a terrible and costly lesson for Japan for which they appear to have learned; last month, Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced that Japan would scrap plans for new nuclear reactors, saying that the nation would need to ‘start from scratch’ and create a new energy policy. Following the Fukushima disaster, Germany and Switzerland have also announced plans to exit from nuclear risk. Unwisely, President Obama and the US seem to be forging ahead with expanding nuclear energy production.

We need an energy policy which diversifies the states energy portfolio. Alabama can become largely energy independent with clean energies while creating new jobs. As I wrote here,

An infrastructure for resilience to “energy crises” includes multiple sources of energy and power production. Alabama can lead the way by shoring up our local economies against such crises by weaning ourselves off foreign oil as a source of energy.

The United States is currently importing about 70 percent of its renewable energy systems and components,” said Phil Angelides, chairman of the Apollo Alliance. “If that trend continues, we stand to lose out on estimated 100,000 clean energy manufacturing jobs by 2015, and nearly 250,000 by 2030. This country needs a comprehensive clean-energy economic development strategy so we can ensure that jobs being created in the clean-energy sector stay in America

By pursuing diversified energy production, Alabama could become energy independent and self-reliant; at the same time becoming the manufacturing center of alternative energy capital.

Alabama would need employ all our natural resources to accomplish this goal. Never again should we become so vulnerable as we are today by being dependent on a single source of energy.