Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Prompts Petition for U.S. Inquiry, Licensing Suspension

Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Prompts Petition for U.S. Inquiry, Licensing Suspension

WASHINGTON, DC, April 14, 2011 (ENS) – In view of the month-long and ongoing nuclear crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, 45 groups and individuals from across the nation today formally asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to immediately suspend all licensing and other activities at 21 proposed nuclear reactor projects in 15 states until implications for U.S. nuclear power are investigated.

Operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Fukushima Daiichi power plant on Japan’s Pacific coast is releasing high levels of radiation after four of its six reactors were damaged by the March 11 earthquake and resulting tsunami.

Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant damaged by earthquake, tsunami and hydrogen explosions (Photo courtesy TEPCO)

Before licensing or relicensing any reactors in the United States, the petitioners want the NRC to complete an inquiry comparable to the process set up after the serious 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant.

The Commission also should request the appointment of an independent Presidential Commission, as was done after the Three Mile Island accident, said an attorney for the petitioners, Diane Curran of Harmon, Curran, Spielberg & Eisenberg, LLP.

“We demand that the NRC establish a credible process for studying and applying the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident, in keeping with the precedent created after Three Mile Island,” said Curran.

President Barack Obama has directed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to examine how the nation’s 104 nuclear power plants, located in 31 states, would fare during earthquakes or other disasters. Nuclear power generates 20 percent of the nation’s electricity.

The petition filed today seeks suspension of six existing reactor license renewal decisions at Columbia, Davis-Besse, Diablo Canyon, Indian Point, Pilgrim, and Seabrook nuclear power plants.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Davis-Besse has been the source of two of the top five most dangerous nuclear incidents in the United States since 1979.

FirstEnergy’s Davis-Besse nuclear power plant is on the southwest shore of Lake Erie 10 miles north of Oak Harbor, Ohio. (Photo courtesy NRC)

The petition seeks suspension of 13 new reactor combined construction permit and operating license decisions – Bellefonte Units 3 and 4, Bell Bend, Callaway, Calvert Cliffs, Comanche Peak, Fermi, Levy County, North Anna, Shearon Harris, South Texas, Turkey Point, Vogtle, and William States Lee.

Suspension of a construction permit decision is sought for Bellefonte Units 1 and 2; and an operating license decision at Watts Bar.

In addition, the petition asks the NRC to halt proceedings to approve the standardized AP1000 and ESBWR reactor designs.

The NRC review should include a close look at “whether the March 11, 2011 Tohoku-Chihou-Taiheiyo-Oki earthquake and ensuing radiological accident poses new and significant information that must be considered in environmental impact statements to support the licensing decisions for all new reactors and renewed licenses,” the petition states.

Emergency action by the NRC is necessary because a number of the pending licensing proceedings are approaching completion, including for Pilgrim, Vogtle, and the AP1000 design certification proceeding.

Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, one of the petitioning groups, said, “The Fukushima Daiichi plant is rewriting the book on nuclear reactor accidents. There are multiple major sources of emissions from the same site at the same time, including more than one reactor and more than one spent fuel pool.”

“For the first time, major portions of three reactor buildings have been blown away by hydrogen explosions. Backup power arrangements have been shown to be grossly inadequate. Freshwater was not available for essential cooling functions for an extended period,” said Makhijani, a nuclear engineer. “The situation is far from being under control more than one month after the start of the accident.”

“Continuing business as usual in licensing and reactor certification in the face of the unprecedented, hugely complicated, and ongoing Fukushima accident would be rash and contrary to the mandate of the NRC to ensure safety and protect public health,” he said.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission database, there are 23 American reactors in 13 states of the same design as the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant – GE boiling-water reactors with GE’s Mark I systems for containing radioactivity.

Entergy’s Pilgrim nuclear power plant on Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts (Photo courtesy Entergy)

In addition, 12 American reactors in seven states have the later Mark II or Mark III containment system from GE.

Mary Lampert, director of petitioning group Pilgrim Watch of Duxbury, Massachusetts, is concerned about the Pilgrim nuclear reactor which is up for license renewal. “Pilgrim, located in America’s Hometown, is the same design as the Fukushima plants, is older than most of them, and has even more spent fuel in its single spent fuel pool,” Lampert said.

“The major cause of the Fukushima disaster was the loss of off-site power; but it doesn’t take a tsunami to cause that,” she said. “The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission told all Americans within 50 miles of Fukushima to evacuate; several million people live within a 50 mile radius of Pilgrim.”

The petitioners are asking the Commission to establish procedures and a timetable for raising new issues relevant to the Fukushima accident in pending licensing proceedings.

They ask that the Commission allow all current intervenors in NRC licensing proceedings, all petitioners who seek to re-open closed licensing and relicensing proceedings, and all parties who seek to comment on design certification proposed rules, a period of 60 days following the publication of proposed regulatory measures or environmental decisions, in which to raise new issues relating to the Fukushima reactor accidents.

Many distinguished groups and individuals have demanded an end to nuclear power in view of the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe.

On April 5, an alliance of 50 winners of the Right Livelihood Award from around the world issued a joint statement saying, “Nuclear power is neither the answer to modern energy problems nor a panacea for climate change challenges. There is no solution of problems by creating more problems. Nuclear power doesn’t add up economically, environmentally or socially.”

“The conclusion we draw from the nuclear power plant accident in Japan is that the human community, acting for itself and as trustees for future generations, must exercise a far higher level of care globally in dealing with technologies capable of causing mass annihilation, and should phase out, abolish and replace such technologies with alternatives that do not threaten present and future generations,” the prize winners said. “This applies to nuclear weapons as well as to nuclear power reactors.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.

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