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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Doubts raised over US atomic plants

Doubts raised over US atomic plants

By FT reporters and agencies

Published: April 7 2011 06:07 | Last updated: April 7 2011 06:07

US regulators have privately expressed doubts that some of the nation's nuclear power plants are prepared for a Fukushima-scale disaster, according to documents released by an independent safety watchdog.

Internal Nuclear Regulatory Commission e-mails and memos obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists questioned the adequacy of back-up plans to keep cooling systems running if off-site power were lost for an extended period.

Those concerns seem to contrast with the confidence US regulators and industry officials have publicly expressed since Japan's nuclear accident began on March 11, commission officials said.

Edwin Lyman, a UCS nuclear expert, said: "While the NRC and the nuclear industry have been reassuring Americans that there is nothing to worry about – that we can do a better job dealing with a nuclear disaster like the one that just happened in Japan – it turns out that privately NRC senior analysts are not so sure."

The e-mails are part of an NRC review of how operators of plants in Delta, Pennsylvania, and Surry County, Virginia, would cope with a prolonged power failure that knocked out cooling systems.

In an e-mail on July 28 2010, one NRC staffer said contingency plans for the Peach Bottom nuclear plant in Pennsylvania "have really not been reviewed to ensure that they will work to mitigate severe accidents".

Another undated document said back-up plans included storing equipment that could be useful "when used by knowledgeable operators if post-event conditions allow".

The document went on to note: "If little is known about these post-event conditions, then assuming success is speculative."

The Peach Bottom site, located in Delta and operated by Exelon, uses a General Electric reactor with a similar design to four of the reactors at Fukushima.

Officials at the NRC and Exelon did not immediately respond to calls seeking a comment.


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