Mar 12 2013
Two years ago today, floodwaters from a massive, deadly earthquake/tsunami combo in Japan knocked out cooling equipment at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, resulting in what experts were quick to deign the second-worst nuclear disaster in history (after Chernobyl), after radioactive contamination touched everything from tuna to baby formula to butterflies. The $125 billion incident precipitated an identity crisis among the world’s big users of nuclear power, particularly Germany, which was so spooked that it vowed to shut down every one of its nuke plants by 2022.
But here in the United States, there’s no sign of any impending nuclear phaseout, despite the steady parade of meltdown scares reported in a new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists. UCS dug into public data from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the nuclear industry’s top federal regulator, and found that, in 2012, 12 different nuclear power plants experienced “near miss” events, defined as an incident that multiplies the likelihood of a core meltdown by at least a factor of 10. The reasons range from broken coolant pumps to fires to “failures to prevent unauthorized individuals from entering secure areas”; in some cases aging equipment was at fault, and two plants were repeat offenders. One California plant already ranks high in vulnerability to earthquakes. In most cases, the study charges, weak oversight from the NRC was to blame.