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Physicians for Social Responsibility Calls for Improved Safety at Nuclear Reactor Sites

August 25, 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Morgan Pinnell | 202-587-5232
mpinnel@psr.org

Washington, DC - August 25, 2011 – Physicians for Social Responsibility called for immediate action to improve safeguards at nuclear reactors vulnerable to seismic events such as the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the East coast on August 23, 2011. 

The quake was felt from South Carolina to Toronto, with an epicenter in Mineral, Virginia, just a few miles from the North Anna nuclear station.  The reactor lost offsite power and had to rely on diesel generators for cooling until late Tuesday night.  About a dozen other reactors experienced ‘unusual events’ as a result of the quake.

“This event highlights how absolutely essential backup safety systems are for nuclear reactors.  In this instance, only three of the four backup generators functioned as they should.  We are lucky,” said Peter D. Wilk, MD executive director of PSR   “We call on the NRC to uphold their duties and begin reviewing and implementing the Fukushima Task Force recommendations promptly.  Anything less can only be perceived as willful blindness.”

The earthquake was the second largest in Virginia history and just a fraction less than the maximum allowable earthquake (6.1) for the North Anna reactors.  The Earth Institute has predicted that a 7.0 magnitude quake is very possible under similar circumstances very close to the Indian Point reactor only 35 miles from New York City.

In July, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a report from its Fukushima task force with preliminary recommendations to improve safety and backup systems at US reactors.  These recommendations included enhanced station blackout capability (such as ensuring proper function of the diesel generators) and strengthening emergency preparedness in events such as yesterday’s earthquake.  While far from exhaustive, these recommendations would provide a critical first step towards addressing some of the glaring safety problems at existing US reactors.   Remarkably, a majority of the Commissioners have voted against even preliminary review of these recommendations, instead punting their public health and safety responsibilities. 

“Yesterday’s quake was a wake-up call,” said Andrew S. Kanter, MD, MPH, president-elect of Physicians for Social Responsibility “The NRC should begin implementing the recommendations of the Fukushima task force immediately and uphold their vital responsibilities to protect public health and safety.  How many more near misses will be enough to convince the NRC that urgent action is required?”

Ira Helfand, MD, past-PSR president said "The Virginia quake is just another of those problems we don't expect to happen which do.  Reactors throughout the Northeast, especially Indian Point near New York, and Pilgrim near Boston, are not built to withstand the kind of earthquakes that they might in fact experience.  A Fukushima-like accident at these reactors would threaten millions of people.  It is time for the US government to start protecting the physical health of our people, not the financial health of the companies that have built these dangerous reactors."

“The East Coast has some of the oldest, most problematic reactors in the country.  The fact that we haven’t seen huge problems as a result of this earthquake is not an endorsement of the existing safety regimes, but sheer dumb luck.”

ABOUT PHYSICIANS FOR SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY (PSR)

Physicians for Social Responsibility is the largest physician-led organization in the country conveying both the health risks and threats to human survival posed by nuclear weapons, climate change, nuclear reactors and toxic degradation of the environment.  Founded in 1961 by physicians concerned about the impact of nuclear proliferation, PSR shared the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize with International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War for building public pressure to end the nuclear arms race.  PSR is dedicated to improving national policy formulation and decision-making about security, energy and the environment through the combined efforts of credible, committed health professionals and our active and concerned citizen members.  For more information, go to http://www.psr.org.

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