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Investigation of Aging U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Reveals Some Scary Truths

Amidst the ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan—that third-party scientific investigators are claiming is 30 times worse than Chernobyl—some countries seem to be coming to their senses and rethinking the cost versus benefit of using nuclear power.  Germany, Italy and Switzerland are all moving to end their nuclear energy programs by substituting clean, safe renewable alternatives.  However, other developed nations, like the U.S., are making no such efforts.  That’s unfortunate, considering that the Associated Press’ year-long investigation into U.S. nuclear power reveals some scary truths about the safety of the industry.

The report reveals the following:

“Federal regulators have been working closely with the US nuclear power industry to keep the nation's ageing reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them. Time after time, officials at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have decided that original regulations were too strict, arguing that safety margins could be eased without peril, according to records and interviews.

“Examples abound. When valves leaked, more leakage was allowed — up to 20 times the original limit. When rampant cracking caused radioactive leaks from steam generator tubing, an easier test of the tubes was devised, so plants could meet standards.

“Failed cables. Busted seals. Broken nozzles, clogged screens, cracked concrete, dented containers, corroded metals and rusty underground pipes — all of these and thousands of other problems linked to ageing were uncovered. And all of them could escalate dangers in the event of an accident.

“Yet despite the many problems linked to ageing, not a single official body in government or industry has studied the overall frequency and potential impact on safety of such breakdowns in recent years, even as the NRC has extended the licenses of dozens of reactors.”

If this doesn’t scare you, it should!  Nuclear energy isn’t the same kind of industry as natural gas and oil, and the oil industry in particular is regulated with a fine-toothed comb in the U.S.  The major difference, however, is if an oil plant goes up in flames, the incident is relatively isolated, whereas a nuclear reactor meltdown can have radioactive effects that can stretch for hundreds of miles and last for decades, not to mention mutate the DNA of entire segments of the population (just Google some images of the children and animals born after the Chernobyl meltdown to get an idea of what radioactive DNA mutation looks like)

To think that the U.S. is immune to the kind of devastation witnessed in Japan is simply ignorant, and the revelations made by the AP’s report should be a wake up call to the people of the United States.  The above image, for example, shows those locations in the U.S. where seismic activity is highest (note the proximity of active nuclear power plants to potential earthquake zones).  That’s not to say that the nuclear energy industry should be shut down completely like is happening throughout Europe, but at the very least the U.S. government owes it to its citizens to properly regulate the industry, which has the potential, don’t forget, to literally wipe out life on this planet (cockroaches excluded) in the event of a major disaster.  Perhaps we’ll have to wait a few years for the reports of mutated Japanese babies being born by the thousands to start making headlines before we wake up and expect more from an industry and the regulators that hold our lives and the very integrity of our DNA in their hands.


By. John Shimkus of Energy Digital

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  • Anonymous on June 23 2011 said:
    Shortly after the Fukushima disaster, one of the most intelligent women politicians in Sweden said that Sweden should immediately close two reactors.Why two? Why not five, or perhaps the entire ten that remain? Or even construct another ten and close the entire twenty all at once.What we have now in Sweden, as in every other industrial country, is a loony-tune serenade from our ignorant political masters where energy is concerned. Actually the solution regarding nuclear safety in Sweden is merely to write into law that nuclear energy is as important as the nonsense that Swedish soldiers in Afghanistan are taking part in, and after bringing those soldiers home, using the money that will saved to finance any level of security desired in the Swedish nuclear sector.Speaking candidly, as one of the best economics teachers in the world, I wonder why students of economics understand so little these days.
  • Anonymous on June 23 2011 said:
    AP report is highly flawed. Seehttp://neinuclearnotes.blogspot.com/Tuesday, June 21, 2011The AP Trawls for Nuclear WickednessTell us more about how "natural gas and oil, and the oil industry in particular is regulated with a fine-toothed comb in the U.S."
  • Anonymous on June 23 2011 said:
    Fred's humility is as usual quite breathtaking... ;-) I generally like the points you make Fred, but one day I'll have to read one of your textbooks :sad: :cry: :-x to try to understand what you're actually saying, as I am a self confessed ecomonics ignoramus who doesn;t know the difference between sweet crude and Brent crude, and I can't quite figure what you think about nuclear power... :-* :-?
  • Anonymous on June 24 2011 said:
    Well Philip, you can read my new textbook - the first three chapters of which are a short course in energy economics - or you can attend one of my brilliant lectures, if I can convince someone to let me give one.In Sweden twelve reactors were constructed in 13 years - which I think is a record. This gave us the lowest cost electricity in Europe, and perhaps in the world. The eko-nuts, third world groupies, and half-baked academic advisors to the high and mighty found that arrangement despicable - because it took place in Sweden instead of some Third World paradise - and as a result they would like to see the reactors liquidated.Do you get the message now. If not, read my short paper on this site THE BEGINNING OF THE NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE WILL NOT BE TELEVISED. By that I mean that the nuclear renaissance has already started, but the TV audience wouldn't understand why and how, and so it will take place without their participation. TS, as we used to say in the army.
  • Anonymous on June 24 2011 said:
    Scary? Yes, of course. That was the intent of the AP article.Truth? The only real truth revealed here is that a poorly informed, well-intentioned person can easily be led by the nose.
  • Anonymous on June 24 2011 said:
    I have studied a lot of economics, and I am from Sweden, and I certainly have never heard of any "Fred Banks". Or maybe this funny guy writing about nothing is using an pseudonym...Fred used 12 lines to arrive at the pondering of "why students of economics understand so little these days". I believe he is a troll.
  • Anonymous on June 25 2011 said:
    Peter, let's straighten this matter out. I have held 12 visiting professorships, and have published, internationally, 12 books. My new book - ENERGY AND ECONOMIC THEORY - will be published later this year. You have only to go into GOOGLE to find this out. And listen, if you want a simple introduction to energy economics, read the first three chapters of my new book. It is the short course that I plan to teach next year.But I don't care about any of that. What I care about is that I might be the best economics teacher in the world. I taught mathematical economics in Stockholm and Uppsala, and international finance in Uppsala. I also dont care if your teachers were mediocrities, and you didn't learn anything from them, but both I am my children are constantly meeting people who say...FRED BANKS, WHY HE'S THE BEST ECONOMICS TEACHER IN THE WORLD. And as we used to say in the US when I was a boy, first is first and second is....
  • Anonymous on June 25 2011 said:
    Peter, you have to look up Ferdinand E Banks: Google it, and he comes up as quite impressive. One assumes that the person writing as Fred Banks is the same person as Ferdinand E Banks. I should like to get his textbook one-day: it sounds an interesting read.
  • Anonymous on June 25 2011 said:
    It would appear that if Fred knows anything about economics then he's clearly adopted the highly flawed Keynesian model and believes that any government subsidy of the economy can be ignored. He of course ignores, like all Keynesians, the opportunity cost of such manipulations of the economy as he presumably likes the power it gives government and he couldn't give a rats a$$ about the power it strips from the people.If anyone here is interested in studying honest economics, I'd highly recommend http://mises.orgCheers
  • Anonymous on June 26 2011 said:
    Tyler, I taught Keynes for a while and liked him, but not as much as you think. Of course I liked him better than that ignoramus Milton Friedman, but for the most part I dont think about macroeconomists any more.My game is energy, and as I enjoy telling people I am the leading academic energy economist in the world, At the present time my game is nuclear. and this is why I call the above article nuthouse. Is there any intelligent person in the world who believes that keeping a nuclear plant up to scratch is more difficult than doing the same thing for an aircraft carrier.As for your talk about subsidies, I have to call it crank. Subsidies are needed in the energy sector, but the right kind of subsidies for the right energy options, and I do NOT mean nuclear. For nuclear some loan guarantees might - might - be OK.
  • Mark Goldes on January 17 2012 said:
    There is a little recognized deadly threat from nuclear power. 400 Chernobyls is the title of the lead article in Dire Warnings at www.aesopinstitute.org The author claims an “Apocalyptic scenario is not only possible, but probable” - as a result of solar storms causing multiple meltdowns at nuclear plants worldwide. NASA officials see a likely barrage of solar storms during 2012 and 2013.

    Many millions of lives may depend on wise, rapid, effective, action! New technologies appear capable of protecting critical power grids and providing missing long-term standby power capability at all nuclear facilities, including the 433 nuclear power plants on the planet.

    We are playing Russian roulette with the sun. More than 130 million could suffer very long-term, life-threatening, blackouts in the USA. Grid collapse is also possible in China, India, Japan, and Europe, as well as much of the remainder of the planet. N.Y., Washington, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other heavily populated communities could be in great danger.

    The biggest problem is solar induced destruction of huge transformers that take years to replace. The long time required to restore them could blackout large areas for extremely long periods. 5,500 of these transformers exist in the USA. 350 of them are critical. Over 20,000 such transformers may exist worldwide. Breakthrough technology will be in mass production this summer that might protect them.

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