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Study: U.S. Atomic Plants Aren't Prepared to Withstand Disaster

The North Anna Power Station was temporarily shut down after losing offsite power following an earthquake in August 2011 near Mineral, Va. A National Academy of Sciences report on Thursday said U.S. atomic safety regulations do not go far enough in addressing the risk of a reactor meltdown caused by natural disaster. The North Anna Power Station was temporarily shut down after losing offsite power following an earthquake in August 2011 near Mineral, Va. A National Academy of Sciences report on Thursday said U.S. atomic safety regulations do not go far enough in addressing the risk of a reactor meltdown caused by natural disaster. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Existing rules for U.S. nuclear reactor safety are insufficient for minimizing the risk of a meltdown caused by an outside event, a new report says.

The hotly anticipated report, published Thursday by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, examined how prepared U.S. nuclear energy sites were to respond to a catastrophe on the level of the 2011 Fukushima reactor meltdown, which was caused by a tsunami. The study concluded that while U.S. atomic safety regulations focus on limiting the fallout from an internal incident, such as a machinery malfunction or loss of power, they do not do enough to safeguard against a meltdown sparked by natural disaster, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The NAS report said it was crucial for U.S. nuclear regulators to prioritize public safety, and that reactor operators should be held to the highest level of safety standards.

"Adequate funding and highly competent staff are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for regulatory independence," the study states. "It also requires strong leadership that maintains a laser focus on safety and does not allow itself to become distracted by outside pressures."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently has been accused by activists of unfairly dismissing safety concerns when it decided against ordering reactor operators to accelerate the transfer of spent fuel rods into dry cask storage. Activists contend that quick action is needed to move the used nuclear material out of above-ground pools into a more secure storage setting to minimize the likelihood of a radiation escape following a feared natural disaster or terrorist strike.

Commission officials said they were examining the NAS report and would respond to its findings later.

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