Thursday, February 16, 2012

Nuclear Fact Check: Jamie Reno and the Daily Beast

Earlier this week, Jamie Reno, a reporter for Tina Brown's Daily Beast wrote a story about San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, and the situation there concerning excessive wear in the steam generators. For an update on that situation, click here.

In any case, Reno's story attempted to tie the operating difficulties at San Onofre to Fukushima, and efforts by anti-nuclear activists in California to shut it and the state's other nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon.

The anti-nuclear power movement in the United States peaked in 1979, with widespread protests, the “No Nukes” concert in New York City, and the release of The China Syndrome, the gripping film about a near-meltdown at a fictional California facility that foreshadowed a real-life accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania just weeks after the movie’s premiere.

Since then, no new nuclear plants have been built in the U.S.
That's incorrect. 50 more reactors were built after Three Mile Island and number 51, Watts Bar 2, will be completed in 2013.

I recently got a note from one of my colleagues on our media team, Tom Kaufmann. For those of you who might not have heard his name before, Tom worked at Three Mile Island as a reactor operator before moving on to a career in media relations.

What bothered him about Reno's article was the contention that the incident with the steam generators at San Onofre should cause the public to worry that a Fukushima-like event could occur at the plant.

Here's the note Tom sent to me in response:
The assertion that the leaking tubes illustrates that what happened in Japan absolutely could happen here is baseless. Amassing more than 3,500 reactor-years of operation, commercial nuclear power plants like San Onofre have been operating in the U.S. for more than half a century. During that entire time, including the accident at Three Mile Island, no member of the public has ever been harmed by a reactor accident or radiation from any U.S. nuclear power plant. Why? Because the facilities were very well designed, the nuclear energy industry is committed to hold safety as its utmost concern, and it has continuously improved the plants by expanding and upgrading the layers of protection.

The improvements made after Three Mile Island and the 9/11 attacks helped the industry produce a safety record that is second to none. The improvements being made in response to the accident in Japan will push safety even higher. The nuclear industry isn’t perfectly safe, no industry is, but it is very well prepared to handle challenges. In fact, a recent state-of-the-art study by the NRC found that the likelihood of a serious accident causing anyone harm is very, very small.
The report that Tom refers to is the State-of-the-Art Reactor Consequence Analyses that the NRC published earlier this month. Click here to read that report. For a closer look at it by NEI's Mark Flanagan, click here.

Back to Tom:
This current situation with the steam generator tubes at San Onofre proves how conservative and proactive the plant operator is toward safety. The problem was discovered early, the plant was shut down so a through investigation of the cause could be conducted, and the regulator and public have been kept fully informed. This is exactly what should happen.
As we approach the April deadline to submit signatures for the California ballot initiative to shut down the plants, we can expect to see more articles like this one. We'll keep an eye out.

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