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Whistleblower: Nuclear Disaster in America Is More Likely Than the Public Is Aware of

Key federal official warns that the public has been kept in the dark about safety risks.

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 Concurrently, the NRC concealed the information from the public. 

The Inspector General has not yet acted on the complaint. 

Most Media Ignore Nuclear Safety Risks

Huffington Post picked up the story immediately as did the Union of Concerned Scientists and a number of online news sites.  The mainstream media showed little or no interest in a story about yet another example of the NRC lying to the public about the safety of nuclear power plants. 

An NRC spokesman suggested to HuffPo that the report’s redactions were at least partly at the behest of Homeland Security. A second NRC risk engineer, who requested anonymity, said that Homeland Security had signed off on the report with no redactions .  As HuffPo noted:

If this were truly such a security concern, however, it would be incumbent on the agency to act swiftly to eliminate that threat, the engineer stated. As it is, the engineer suggested, no increased security actions have been undertaken.

This same engineer expressed serious misgivings, shared by others in and out of the NRC, that a nuclear power plant in Greenville, South Carolina, has been at risk from upstream dam failure for years, that the NRC has been aware of the risk, and that the NRC has done nothing to mitigate the risk.   In the redacted report, the NRC blacked out passages about this plant.

Event Unlikely, Would Be Sure Disaster 

South Carolina’s Oconee plant on Lake Keowee has three reactors, located 11 miles downstream from the Jocassee Reservoir, an 8,000 acre lake.  As HuffPo put it:  

…the Oconee facility, which is operated by Duke Energy, would suffer almost certain core damage if the Jocassee dam were to fail. And the odds of it failing sometime over the next 20 years, the engineer said, are far greater than the odds of a freak tsunami taking out the defenses of a nuclear plant in Japan…. 

"Although it is not a given that Jocassee Dam will fail in the next 20 years," the engineer added, "it is a given that if it does fail, the three reactor plants will melt down and release their radionuclides into the environment."

When the NRC granted an operating license to the Oconee plant in 1973, danger from upstream dam failure was not even considered, never mind considered a threat against which some protection was needed.   The NRC and the plant’s owner both say the Jocassee Dam is not an immediate safety issue.   Oconee’s initial license was for 40 years.  It is now the second plant in the U.S. that the NRC has granted an extended license for another 20 years. 

Union of Concerned Scientists Are Concerned 

The Union of Concerned Scientists, which says it is neither pro-nuke nor anti-nuke, but committed to making nuclear power as safe as possible, has considered the risk factors for Oconee. The NRC wrote in 2009 that “a Jocassee Dam failure is a credible event and in 2011 wrote that “dam failures are common” – and that since 1975 there have been more than 700 dam failures, 148 of them large dams 40 feet or more high.  The Jocassee Dam is 385 feet high. 

For a dam like Jocassee, the NRC calculates the chance of failure at 1 in 3,600 per year – or 1 in 180 each year for the extended license.  NRC policy, when enforced, requires nuclear plant owners to mitigate any risk that has a 1 in 250 per years chance of occurring. 

Oconee has three nuclear reactors, each of which is larger than the reactors at Fukushima, and so has more lethal radioactive potential.   Duke Energy reported its own upstream dam failure calculations to the NRC no later than 1996 and the NRC has responded by requiring no safety enhancements to address the threat. 

 
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