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FRONTLINE: Nuclear Aftershocks

Airs Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Image of someone being tested for radiation exposure. FRONTLINE correspondent Miles O'Brien examines the implications of the Fukushima accident for U.S. nuclear safety in "Nuclear Aftershocks."

It’s been almost a year since a devastating earthquake and tsunami crippled Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, leaving the country’s once-popular energy program in shambles. In response, Germany decided to abandon nuclear energy entirely. Should the U.S. follow suit?

Map

View a map marked with U.S. Nuclear Power Plants.

In "Nuclear Aftershocks," FRONTLINE correspondent Miles O’Brien examines the implications of the Fukushima accident for U.S. nuclear safety, and asks how this disaster will affect the future of nuclear energy around the world.

In particular, he visits one emerging battleground: the controversial relicensing of the Indian Point nuclear plant, located only 38 miles from Manhattan. Citing the damage to Fukushima Daiichi’s 40-year-old reactors, critics — including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — insist that the risks are too great.

But proponents, among them former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, argue that keeping Indian Point open is essential, as it provides about a quarter of New York City and Westchester County’s carbon-free electricity.

According to Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) chairman Gregory Jaczko, “The likelihood of a Fukushima accident happening here is very low, … but we know it’s not impossible.”

But David Lochbaum, the chief nuclear expert for the Union of Concerned Scientists, argues that the NRC’s record is far from perfect. “The biggest concern I’ve had with the NRC over the years I’ve been monitoring them is lack of consistency. They’re a little bit slow at solving known safety problems.” For example, Lochbaum says, 47 reactors in the U.S. still do not meet federal fire protection standards — standards that were set 35 years ago, after a fire at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama.

What lessons can be learned from the disaster in Japan?

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Preview: Frontline: Nuclear Aftershocks

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Above: FRONTLINE examines the implications of the Fukushima accident for U.S. nuclear safety, and asks how this disaster will affect the future of nuclear energy around the world.