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« Independent investigation documents that "demonic chain reaction" of atomic reactor meltdowns could have forced Tokyo's evacuation | Main | "Fog of War" begins to part almost a year after the Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe began »
Friday
Feb242012

Danger Zone: Aging Nuclear Reactors

[22 of the 23 GE BWR Mark Is -- identical in design to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1-4 -- operating in the U.S. have already gotten NRC rubberstamps to operate not 40 years, but 60 years. The only exception, thus far, is Fermi 2 in MI. And half of the eight similarly designed Mark IIs have also gotten their license extensions rubberstamped, as well. The exceptions are Limerick 1 & 2 in PA, and LaSalle 1 & 2 in IL. Beyond Nuclear's pamphlet "Freeze Our Fukushimas" lists all 31 GE BWR Mark Is and IIs in the U.S.]

Al Jazeera's weekly program "People & Power" has produced an excellent exposé on the more than 70 risky rubberstamps the Nuclear Regulatory has granted: 20 year license extensions at "break down phase," age-degraded atomic reactors across the U.S. Here is the introduction:

Following Japan's nuclear disaster last year there are fears the US may be heading for a nuclear catastrophe of its own

In March 2011, a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

As tens of thousands of people were evacuated from nearby towns and villages, the world waited anxiously to see whether the radioactive fallout would spread across the country, or even be carried overseas.

Unsurprisingly, in the wake of this incident, the nuclear operations of other countries have come under considerable scrutiny.

One such country is the US where more than 100 similar reactors - some of them in earthquake zones or close to major cities - are now reaching the end of their working lives.

Their owners want to keep them running, but others - from environmentalists to mainstream politicians - are deeply concerned.

In this investigation for People & Power, Joe Rubin and Serene Fang of the Center for Investigative Reporting examine whether important safety considerations are being taken into account as the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) considers extending the licences of these plants.

The agency has recently come under fire for glossing over the potential dangers of ageing reactors, for becoming too cosy with the industry and for political infighting among the agency's senior executives, which critics in the US Senate and elsewhere say seriously hampers its ability to ensure safety.

The investigation focuses on the Pacific Gas & Electric nuclear facility at Diablo Canyon and two others, which are at Indian Point in New York and Fort Calhoun in Nebraska.

These three sites represent the dangers posed to nuclear power plant safety by earthquakes, terrorism and flooding.

Rubin and Fang discover that the NRC's oversight track record is far from perfect, and that unless urgent action is taken the US could be heading for a nuclear catastrophe of its own.