It's been two weeks since Japan was struck by a horrific earthquake, followed by a massive tsunami. Since then, workers have been struggling to prevent or contain radiation leaks, explosions, fires, and power outages at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. This tragedy has thrust the issue of nuclear safety into the forefront of American consciousness and debate. With 104 operating nuclear power plants in the U.S., how safe are we?
This week the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Office of Inspector General issued a startling report, stating that over 25% of the U.S. nuclear plants have failed to report "defects in basic components that could cause a substantial safety hazard," as required by law. The report, entitled "Reporting of Defects and Noncompliance" indicates that the types of defects which have gone unreported are those that "could cause the loss of a safety function" and/or cause an "individual component failure."
The Fukushima disaster and this OIG report provide a stark backdrop for America's so-called nuclear renaissance. For the first time in three decades, it appears that utility companies are serious about building new nuclear plants. Due to cost overruns, progress has been sluggish; however, the Obama Administration has pledged its full support, and tens of billions of dollars in subsidies.
If the recent OIG report tells us anything, it is that nuclear power, with its unparalleled potential for harm, is too dangerous to operate within our current corporate culture. The risks associated with nuclear power (including the safeguarding of nuclear waste, which poses a threat for decades after use) are magnified when companies betray the public trust time and time again by failing to adequately prioritize safety and compliance.