Groups ask NRC to halt licensing of nuke plants

Posted
Friday April 15, 2011

BRATTLEBORO -- Forty-five groups and individuals either opposed to or in support of increased safety measures at nuclear power plants around the nation submitted a petition Thursday to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission asking it suspend all relicensing activities of existing plants and all licensing activities of proposed plants.

The reason, said spokesmen and women of the groups, was to give the NRC a chance to assess what lessons can be learned from the on-going nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan.

They are requesting the suspension of license activities until a thorough post-Fukushima analysis can be conducted by an independent commission.

The commission would be similar to the one created after the Three Mile Island incident in 1979.

The NRC violated the law by relicensing Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon just days after Fukushima was hit by an earthquake and swamped by a tsunami, said Diane Curran, an attorney who specializes in nuclear safety and security.

The NRC is obligated to consider the implications of the Fukushima incident in all of its prospective licensing procedures, she said.

"We demand the NRC establish a credible procedure for studying the lessons learned from Fukushima in keeping with the precedent of Three Mile Island," said Curran, during a teleconference on Thursday.

Following Three Mile Island, the NRC suspended all licensing procedures for one-and-a-half years, she said.

The New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution, which has opposed Yankee's operation since its start-up in 1972, is one of the petitioners. Recently, it submitted a petition to the NRC regarding the safety and reliability of electrical cables susceptible to submersion.

The boiling water reactor at Yankee is the same type as at Fukushima, which Mary Lampert of Pilgrim Watch described as "the least safe of all other designs."

Pilgrim Watch, in Plymouth, Mass., is opposed to the relicensing of Pilgrim nuclear power plant.

Lampert said Pilgrim Watch is also concerned that the spent fuel pool at the power plant, has more nuclear waste in it than all the pools combined at Fukushima.

The spent fuel pools at Fukushima have experienced partial meltdowns due to a loss of cooling water, which must be constantly circulated and replenished, because the tsunami washed out back-up electrical systems used to keep the water moving.

Arjun Makhijani, of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, said Fukushima is "rewriting the book on nuclear accidents."

"Continuing business as usual," he said, related to licensing and relicensing, would be "rash and contrary" to the NRC's mandate to protect the public health and safety.

The NRC needs to look at station black-out scenarios, such as at Fukushima where the reactors lost all power, both main and back up, leading to the meltdowns, and the effect of cumulative redundancy failures on plant operations, said Makhijani.

He insisted lessons cannot be learned and appropriately applied until the Fukushima crisis is considered over.

Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the NRC, said the agency won't have a comment on the petition until it has had a chance to thoroughly review it.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.


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