US ‘unprepared’ for Japan-style nuke accident
WASHINGTON – A US nuclear reactor near Baltimore would come dangerously close to meltdown within two days of a disaster on the scale of what happened in Japan three weeks ago, a lawmaker said, citing a draft report by the US nuclear watchdog.
At a hearing in the House of Representatives’ energy and commerce committee Wednesday, Democratic Congresswoman Diana DeGette said a study conducted last year by the Nuclear Regulatory Committee (NRC) raised “grave questions about US preparedness to address reactor accidents.”
The NRC modeled what would happen at two US nuclear power plants in the event of a major accident such as the one still unfolding at Fukushima in Japan three weeks after a massive earthquake and tsunami knocked out power that is critical to cooling the reactors’ cores and “pools” of spent fuel rods.
One of the plants analyzed in the NRC report, Peach Bottom in Pennsylvania, is a GE Mark I boiling water reactor — the same model as reactors at Fukushima.
The NRC modeled scenarios in which Peach Bottom — which lies less than 40 miles from Baltimore, the largest city in Maryland with a population of 620,000 — lost both mains power and back-up generators after an extreme event such as a quake, flood or fire.
In one simulation, the reactor was equipped with the latest technology, introduced after the attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001 — in which some say nuclear reactors in Pennsylvania or New Jersey may have been a target — and in the other, it used older equipment and procedures.
Peach Bottom’s reactor came perilously close to meltdown in the simulations.
“When a major earthquake, flood or fire was assumed to knock out all of the power of a nuclear reactor that is the same design as Fukushima and stands less than 40 miles from Baltimore — well within the contamination zone the US called for in Japan — that plant came less than an hour away from partial nuclear meltdown” in the NRC simulation, said DeGette.
Meltdown occurs when the core of a reactor overheats, allowing radiation to escape.
Congressman Henry Waxman said the NRC report “raises questions about whether our reactors may be as vulnerable as those in Fukushima,” and said lawmakers “should be asking tough questions” about US nuclear safety in the light of the report’s findings.
The United States has 104 operating nuclear reactors, 23 of which are the same Mark I model as the reactors that have come close to melting down in Japan.