The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) “Near-Term Task Force Review of Insights from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Accident” publicly released its 92-page well intentioned near-term review on the implications of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster for US reactors on July 13, 2011. The federal agency proposes to improve its “patchwork of regulatory requirements” developed “piece by piece over the decades.” Beyond Nuclear remains concerned that many critical reactor safety areas are still dominated by industry “voluntary initiatives” where non-compliance continues to elude federal enforcement and Capitol Hill pro-nuclear champions announced their resistance to any costly safety improvements.
Of most concern, the NRC is still ignoring warnings as did its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission, in 1972 from their senior safety officer, Dr. Steven Hanuaer to “discourage all further use” in the US of the Fukushima-style General Electric Mark I boiling water reactor. The federal regulators instead issued three more construction permits and eventually 16 more operating licenses in the 1970s for this same dangerous design. There are now 23 Fukushima-style reactors operating in the United States as part of a total of 32 Mark I’s worldwide---counting the smoldering radioactive rubble at Fukushima. The NRC task force report does not fundamentally address the most critical issue coming out of the Fukushima catastrophe, namely, the design vulnerability of all Mark I containment structures to catastrophic failure during a severe accident.
The NRC report further ignores that these same Mark I reactors, like Vermont Yankee and Oyster Creek, are not currently in compliance with their operating licenses that were originally required to have a reliable "leak tight" containment structure. If the NRC were looking for the most significant and meaningful safety upgrade to the US reactors directly impacted by the Fukushima disaster they would require that all Mark I reactor operators restore containment integrity to the original licensed leak tight condition. Or order that they be shut them down, permanently. All of the Mark I reactors voluntarily installed retrofits to vent all a substandard and undersized containment to save it from rupturing during a severe accident. The same experimental vent was installed at Fukushima in 1991. The same experimental fix failed on three containments buildings to prevent the uncontrolled releases of radioactivity to the air and water that are still occurring now four months after the accident.
Instead, in order to keep these dangerous reactors operational, many now with twenty year license extensions, the NRC task force is recommending that rather than the industry volunteering a dubious containment vent system, the NRC should order the nuclear industry to take another try at an experimental venting fix which fundamentally compromises their own defense in depth philosophy.
It is even more telling that the NRC report’s preamble “recognizes that there likely will be more than 100 nuclear power plants operating throughout the United States for decades to come.” By contrast, the same day that the NRC publicly released its report in the USA, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced that the implications of Fukushima for nuclear power in Japan meant that “’We will aim to bring about a society that can exist without nuclear power,’ he said.” Perhaps, now too late for a society to live without the threat of increasing radioactivity levels.