Nuclear safety and NRC oversight called into question by series of investigative reports

The Associated Press (AP) has published a hard-hitting four-part series, detailing the cozy relationship between the nuclear power industry and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the federal agency that regulates utilities operating nuclear power plants. The depth and scope of the investigation provides a stunning look behind the scenes of the nuclear power industry in the U.S.

The series of reports comes at a time when revelations about the relationship between Japanese nuclear regulators, government officials and the electric utilities are being uncovered. The recent news that Tepco seriously underestimated the risk and size of a tsunami in their one-page tsunami plan, which regulators shockingly approved, should give pause that the U.S. is not immune to similar oversight issues.

The first article in the series, “U.S. nuke regulators weaken safety rules” pulls no punches when criticizing the NRC: “Federal regulators have been working closely with the nuclear power industry to keep the nation’s aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them, an investigation by The Associated Press has found.”

While that assertion by the AP is a bold one, the articles cite shifting safety standards and a lack of physical inspections by the NRC, to such a degree that one wonders how such a lax oversight system has been allowed to remain in place for so long. Three members of the U.S. Senate were so alarmed by the series they are now calling for a congressional investigation into safety and oversight issues at nuclear plants.

Numerous passages in the AP series provide fodder for U.S. Senators looking to grab headlines during congressional testimony:

“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 aging were uncovered in the AP’s yearlong investigation. And all of them could escalate dangers in the event of an accident.

Yet despite the many problems linked to aging, 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.”

AP investigative journalist Jeff Donn, author of the series, recently appeared on Democracy Now! to summarize what his reporting uncovered.

We encourage everyone to read the four-part series by the AP titled “Aging Nukes,” available online through the links below.

Part 1 – “US nuke regulators weaken safety rules”

Part 2 – “Tritium leaks found at many nuke sites”

Part 3 – “Populations around US nuke plants soar”

Part 4 – “NRC and industry rewrite nuke history”

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The recent series on the U.S. nuclear industry by Jeff Donn may seem comprehensive but lacks perspective as it ignores numerous changes in industry policy and practice that would have provided a much more balanced look. A perspective that could easily have been obtained if Mr. Donn had not let a series of articles more than a year in the making go to press after only one conversation with the Nuclear Energy Institute in March 2010 and a follow up email in July 2010. In short, the series was a hodgepodge of selective reporting, inaccuracies and mischaracterizations. Here’s some balance if your open-minded enough to look.

Comment by Mitch Singer on June 30, 2011 10:30 am

This well-researched series of AP articles has not only educated the public. Its findings have prompted members of Congress to take action. Examples: PA Senator Casey is raising questions about emergency planning around the 9 nuclear plants in his state, as a direct result of the AP report. Five other senators have asked the GSO to investigate NRC safety standards for aging plants. See

Comment by Jane Swanson, Mothers for Peace on June 30, 2011 11:03 am

Unfortunately it is not a question of if another serious nuclear power plant accident will occur in the United States, it is a question of when and where a serious nuclear power plant accident will occur in the United States.

The nuclear industry wants the citizenry to believe there have been no deaths due to nuclear power plants in the United States, different from deaths due to radiation accidents at nuclear power plants. There have been thousand of nuclear fuels workers sickened and killed as a result of the nuclear fuels process. Since 2001, date of the The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICP) passage, $7.1 Billion dollars paid out to over 52,134 cases from 215,539 claims filed, the number grows. Link: Many of the older workers claims will never be paid due to loss of records and previous national security issues. Many have passed away without nothing except pain and suffering for their families.

The nuclear industry, the NEI, and the NRC are close, to close for a government regulator. The nuclear industry and the government have deceived citizens, a violation of trust and reliability. Civilian operation of nuclear power reactors within the United States should not be allowed. The NRC has placed the bottom line of the nuclear industry before citizen safety, a compromise of trust which is unacceptable for high risk atomic energy.

Garry Morgan, U.S. Army (AMEDD), Retired

Comment by Garry Morgan on June 30, 2011 2:15 pm

NEI is the lobbying arm for the nuclear industry, find out what they do and who their members are at

Additionally, a recent article stated that NEI spent $545,000 in the first quarter this year lobbying about financial support for new reactors and safety regulations, according to a disclosure report. Find the article at:

Comment by Sara Barczak on June 30, 2011 2:40 pm

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