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House hearing's grilling of oil executives about Gulf catastrophe should serve as warning on reactor risks

The grilling of BP and other oil company executives at a June 15, 2010 U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Environment Subcommittee hearing on the BP Gulf of Mexico oil catastrophe should serve as a warning that very similar risks exist in the nuclear power industry, albeit radiological rather than petrol. An earlier version of the New York Times article linked above reported "Representative Henry A. Waxman, chairman of the House committee, focused on the spill response plans of the five companies. They were prepared by an outside contractor and are virtually identical, Mr. Waxman said." The article continued "Mr. Markey [chairman of the subcommittee] added: 'In preparation for this hearing, the committee reviewed the oil spill safety response plans for all of the companies here today. What we found was that these five companies have response plans that are virtually identical. The plans cite identical response capabilities and tout identical ineffective equipment. In some cases, they use the exact same words. We found that all of these companies, not just BP, made the exact same assurances.' " Similarly, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Office of Inspector General reported in 2006 that NRC staff "safety reviews" of atomic reactor 20 year license extension applications were regularly "cut and pasted" directly from nuclear utility analyses, sometimes verbatim. NRC has thus far rubberstamped approval for every single one of the over 50 license extension requests it has recieved, with many more awaiting approval. Waxman was also quoted as saying that the oil companies'  disaster response "plans are 'just paper exercises,' " and that "BP failed miserably when confronted with a real leak...and Exxon Mobil and the other companies would do no better." This is a frightful parallel of nuclear utilities' self-congratulatory assurance that their radiological emergency planning is adequate, despite widespread evidence to the contrary. As but one example, the Chesapeake Safe Energy Coalition, of which Beyond Nuclear is a member, challenged the adequacy of the emergency preparedness and evacuation plans at the two reactor Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Maryland; this pressure successfully forced the Federal Emergency Management Agency to hold a public meeting on the matter, at which was revealed that even FEMA did not know where potassium iodine tablets for protecting human thyroids in the event of radiological iodine-131 releases during a disaster. Act now to prevent an atomic catastrophe -- contact the House Energy and Commerce Committee at (202) 225-2927 and urge that hearings be held on widespread, risky NRC regulatory shortfalls. Call your own U.S. Representative via the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and urge them to contact their colleagues on the Energy and Commerce Committee about the importance of such hearings.