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Watchdogs: Suspend nuclear licenses

As local activists mark the 25th anniversary of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, the unfolding disaster at Fukushima has prompted a call to suspend operating licenses for U.S. nuclear power plants of the same design, including four in Illinois.

Criticism of the design of GE Mark 1 reactors goes back to the early 1970s, as the New York Times reported last month.  Critics, including government scientists, say the containment structures are insufficiently robust; pools holding irradiated nuclear waste are vulnerable because they are elevated above the reactors and outside the containment structures; and emergency power systems for spent fuel pools don’t have backup.

Four such reactors were built in Illinois at the Dresden and Quad Cities plants between 1969 and 1971; six at Fukushima were built beginning in 1971.  Three Fukushima reactors have experienced partial melt-downs and continue to spew radiation; spent fuel pools are damaged at three reactors.

Fukushima “has demonstrated a clear and present danger exists with the continued operation of all GE Mark 1 units here in the United States…utilizing a fundamentally flawed design,” according to a petition to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by Beyond Nuclear, a Washington D.C. advocacy group founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Helen Caldicott.

The Nuclear Energy Information Service, an Illinois nuclear watchdog group, has written the NRC in support of the petition.

“After watching the Fukushima reactor buildings explode, catch fire, and experience at the very least partial meltdowns due to their inherent design flaws, prudence would dictate that these U.S. reactors be closed until either proven safe, or upgraded,” said Dave Kraft of NEIS.

After 40 years of operation, the Dresden and Quad Citiies plants were relicensed for an additional 20 years by the NRC in 2004.  Exelon is currently upgrading its Illinois plants to increase their power output.  This also increases the risk of accidents significantly, Kraft said.

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., Physicians for Social Responsiblity met at the National Press Club on Tuesday to discuss the inadequacy of U.S. emergency preparations in the event of an accident like Chernobyl or Fukushima.   The group said plans for a 10-mile evacuation area should be extended to a 50-mile radius.

McClatchy reported that the group used a computer simulation to model the impact of a meltdown at Exelon’s Braidwood plant outside Chicago, projecting that 20,000 people would receive lethal doses of radiation.

Bob Alvarez of the Institute for Policy Studies discussed the vulnerability of spent fuel storage pools to accidents or attacks, especially in reactors with designs similar to those at Fukushima, according to a release from PSR.

“The risks to public health, the economy and the environment from nuclear power far outweight the benefits,” said Dr. Ira Helfand of PSR.

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Category: energy, environment

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