The Government Accountability Office Spotlights More Reason to be Concerned about Nuclear

Jul 02, 2008
Author: SCP Editor

July 2, 2008 – We have commented recently that we have deep reservations about nuclear energy for the primary reason that there just aren’t any satisfying answers about what to do with the spent fuel rods. Yesterday the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reinforced our concerns with two reports. The first one dealing with its finding that its Hanford Nuclear Waste Site is having serious issues of leaking waste into the soil, and the second one addressing the nuclear industry’s attempts to exempt itself from prescriptive fire safety rules set forth by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Both of these reports are disturbing to say the least.

In its report on Nuclear Waste, the GAO reported that the Department of Energy managed more than 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous waste that is stored in 149 single shell and 28 double shell underground tanks at its Hanford Site in Washington State. Apparently, many of these tanks are leaking waste into the soil, and the DOE’s planned process for emptying these tanks – consisting of mixing them with molten glass and solidifying it in canisters for storage – is having problems as well.

It reports that “As work proceeds, however, DOE’s time frames for completion are lengthening by decades, and the agency appears to be operating under more than one schedule. For example, the DOE’s internal milestone for emptying single shell tanks is 19 years later than the date agreed to with its regulators.”

So costs are increasing, environmental risk is compounding and there aren’t any signs that the DOE is addressing the matter in a focused and competent manner. Against this backdrop, we are more convinced than ever that calls to increase nuclear plant building and production are premature until the DOE and nuclear industry provides tangible evidence that it has an idea how to clean up the messes that nuclear energy creates. Otherwise, we are just pursuing the same methodology that has created so much of a problem in fossil fuel energy production industries.

In its report on Oversight of Fire Protection at U.S. Commercial Nuclear Reactor Units, the GAO reports that since nuclear units with different designs and different ages have had difficulty meeting rules for fire safety set by the NRC, that they are seeking exemptions, rather than solutions.

The GAO reports that the “NRC has not resolved several long-standing issued that affect the nuclear industry’s compliance with existing NRC fire regulations, and NRC lacks a comprehensive database on the status of compliance.”

Again, this is symptomatic of big business interests, this time led by firms such as Bechtel, to forge ahead with nuclear building and production without having undertaken any requirements for accountability and public safety. Rather than do the extra work to get systems in order, they seek exemptions to the regulations. Until the nuclear industry gets its act together on these, and other related issues, we will continue to remain dubious of its ability to contribute positively to the conditions that are compelling countries around the world to break from dirtier fossil fuel-driven energy production.

And someone needs to ask McCain, who seems to be the biggest political advocate of nuclear in the presidential campaign, how he intends to regulate what appears to be an increasingly unregulated industry.  


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