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UCS Calls Safety Precautions At Nuclear Plants ‘Inadequate’

Aired 3/7/12 on KPBS News.

The Union of Concerned Scientists marks the coming anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster by saying the American nuclear industry has not done enough to prevent a similar event.

The Fukushima disaster in Japan occurred a year ago this coming Sunday. A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) says the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and the plants it oversees, have not learned enough from the mishap.

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station
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Above: San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station

Edwin Lyman is a senior scientist with the UCS. "The measures that are in place today to protect against severe accidents are simply not adequate," he said.

Lyman said American plants are not prepared for the kind of worst-case scenario Fukushima represents, and safety measures at American plants are still based on science and assumptions that are decades old. For instance, Lyman said in the case of a severe accident, regulations call for nuclear plants to evacuate people within a 10-mile radius.

"However, after Fukushima it became apparent that people were at risk of radioactive contamination much further away," he added.

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is located in northern San Diego County, along the ocean and near earthquake faults. Southern California Edison, which operates the plant, wouldn't comment on the report by the UCS. But Tony Pietrangelo, an industry spokesman with the Nuclear Energy Institute, said American plants are safe.

"Forget Fukushima for a moment," he said. "In 2011 we had earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and if you go back the 1960s we've had our share of significant external events. And the plants have performed perfectly though those."

Pietrangelo said American nuclear plants are in the process of acquiring mobile safety equipment, which can be moved into troubled plants to make sure water continues to be pumped and energy remains available. The NRC has recommended additional steps to make plants safer, but they aren't expected to be phased in for five years.

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