Petitioners urged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to immediately suspend all U.S. nuclear plants with the same type of reactor as the plant in Fukushima, Japan during a public hearing today.
“This appeal is for human sensibility, moral responsibility and due process,” said Paul Gunter, Director of the Reactor Oversight Project for Beyond Nuclear. “Fukushima tragically demonstrates that the Mark 1 containment liability is a deceptive falsehood, a breach of contract to both the NRC and public health and safety.”
The public hearing was prompted by a , including the local group Grandmothers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety (GRAMMES), calling on the NRC to “freeze our Fukushimas.”
The petition, headed by Beyond Nuclear, an anti-nuclear organization, calls for the immediate suspension of 17 nuclear facilities with General Electric (GE) Boiling Water Reactors Mark 1 units, the same type of reactors at Fukushima that experienced a meltdown following an earthquake and tsunami.
The advocates are also fighting for the 1989 approval of an experimental venting system to be revoked as well as for Mark 1 operators to install emergency backup power for the spent fuel cooling system, Gunter, said.
The NRC-run hearing gave the petitioners the opportunity to comment on requested emergency enforcement actions to suspend operations at Fukushima-style nuclear reactors, like Oyster Creek Generating Station.
At Oyster Creek, the oldest operating U.S. Atomic Reactor, over 700 tons of high-level radioactive waste has been generated, Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear said.
“Granted that some of that has been moved into dry cast storage but the pool remains full to its capacity. And this was a re-rack capacity. Much later in terms of quantity of high level radioactive waste than it was originally designed for,” he said.
This represents 125 million curies of radioactive caesium-137 and the NRC has reported at various points in time that up to 100 percent of this hazardous material could be released from a pool fire, Kamps said.
“I would like to point out that Fukushima Daiichi units one, two, three and four combined in terms of the inventory of high level radioactive waste in their storage pools does not match some of these reactors I mentioned in terms of how much waste is in these pools,” Kamps said. “So the risks are greater here for boil downs and the consequences of a radioactive fire in these pools.”
The Petition Review Board of the NRC is considering revoking the approval of the vents currently installed at Oyster Creek, Gunter said. The vents were installed in 1990.
In 1972, several years after Oyster Creek came online, the containment structures of Mark 1 boilers were deemed likely to fail under a severe accident, Gunter previously explained.
It was later confirmed that there is a 90 percent failure rate under severe conditions, Gunter said. In 1989 the NRC approved the voluntary installation of vents, which would vent open containment to the atmosphere.
The same vents installed at Oyster Creek, were installed at Fukushima in 1991. When Japan was hit with a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March, those vents had a 100 percent failure rate on three reactors, Gunter said.
“It will be at least several years, if ever, until the full extent of the Fukushima accident are actually known and understood,” said Dale Bridenbaugh, former GE engineer and current nuclear power whistleblower. “It is unreasonable for all U.S. citizens who could be affected by a major accident at Mark 1 plants to be held at risk for yet another period of years when it is uncertain similar consequences could happen here.”
Gunter noted that radioactive fuel fragments were found scattered around the Fukushima site and were ejected a mile-and-a-half away from the reactor. Extensive radioactive caesium contamination was documented in soil samples at locations as far as 35 miles from the power plant.
“You can only imagine how people who live around Mark 1 reactors feel about their vulnerability at this moment and feel about the NRC’s view in this to deal with this issue in a timely manner,” said Deb Katz of Citizens Awareness Network. “There is now a slow motion catastrophe ongoing in Japan with three reactors like our own that will scar that country and the world forever…Move the fuel out of the fuel pools and shutter these reactors because it is unconscionable that you allow the nuclear industry to put us at such a risk.”
Ninety-five percent of the people in the world know about Fukushima, Michael Mariotte of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service said.
“It took a really extraordinary event for 95 percent of the people in the world to know about it. If they know about Fukushima, they know about Mark 1 reactors exploding in the air and releasing toxic radiation across the world and they know that’s not a good thing. Something has to be done to make sure that never happens again,” he said.
That 95 percent does not know that the NRC knew 40 years ago that the catastrophe at Fukushima was exactly what would happen if a Mark 1 reactor was challenged, Mariotte said. The agency chose not to shut down the reactors because it could have meant the end of nuclear power. Since then they have relied on band-aids and luck, which is proving insufficient, he said.
“We do know, as you have known for 40 years as we have known for 40 years, what will happen when that challenge [to a U.S. Mark 1 reactor] comes,” Mariotte said. “The reactor will fail, more communities will be lost, and more lives destroyed. That will be on your [the NRC’s] hands because you have the power to change that. You have the power to close down these reactors and stop with the band-aids and stop relying on pure dumb luck as a protective measure.”
The public hearing was used as a session to listen to the concerns of the petitioners. No action was taken. A representative from the NRC was not immediately available to comment on the next step.
For a copy of the petition, see the attached PDF.