The Associated Press has done some more great work on the safety risks of nuclear reactors. According to its recent analysis of an 11,000 page record request from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the risk that an earthquake would cause a severe accident at a U.S. nuclear reactor is much greater than previously thought. Last week’s hurriquake craziness brings this concept into sharper focus. According to a recent preliminary review by the NRC, many of US reactor operators need to reevaluate their initial seismic analyses because they are more likely to get hit with an earthquake that is larger than previously imagined. Twenty-seven U.S. reactors have been identified at higher risk for a severe accident that original analyses and will likely need safety upgrades.
The gap between what we thought was possible and what these new figures show is staggering: the Perry reactor in Ohio was found to be 24 times more likely to experience core damage in a seismic event than imagined in 1989. This is the first thorough seismic analysis conducted by NRC since these reactors were built. According to an industry consultant quoted in the AP story, “"Forty years ago, when some of these plants were started, the hazard — we had no idea. No one did."
The documents acquired by AP show that NRC staff privately worried and speculated about the seismic risks associated with many of these reactors. In addition, the NRC Fukushima Task Force recommends more frequent and thorough seismic analyses to improve safety at reactor sites in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. NRC Commissioners have effectively kicked these suggestions down the road, with a majority voting against quickly taking prudent public health and safety measures.
If this isn’t a sign that stronger regulation and more safety modifications are needed, I don’t know what is. It’s well past the time for NRC to step up to the plate and do its job to protect public health and safety.