Former Nuclear Safety chief says all U.S. reactors are flawed
Following the troubling news that Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant has fresh leaks of radioactive water comes troubling news regarding nuclear power plants here in the United States. According to the New York Times, all 104 nuclear power reactors now in operation in the United States have a safety problem that cannot be fixed and they should be replaced with newer technology, according to former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Gregory B. Jaczko. He says that shutting them all down at once is not practical, but that he supports phasing them out rather than trying to extend their lives. The Times reports that the position of the former chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko, is not unusual in that various anti-nuclear groups take the same stance. However, the newspaper notes that it is highly unusual for a former head of the nuclear commission to so bluntly criticize an industry whose safety he was previously in charge of ensuring. When asked why he did not make these points when he was chairman, Dr. Jaczko said in an interview after his remarks, "I didn't really come to it until recently." "I was just thinking about the issues more, and watching as the industry and the regulators and the whole nuclear safety community continues to try to figure out how to address these very, very difficult problems," which were made more evident by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, he told the Times. "Continuing to put Band-Aid on Band-Aid is not going to fix the problem." Dr. Jaczko made his remarks at the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington in a session about the Fukushima accident. Dr. Jaczko said that many American reactors that had received permission from the nuclear commission to operate for 20 years beyond their initial 40-year licenses probably would not last that long. He also rejected as unfeasible changes proposed by the commission that would allow reactor owners to apply for a second 20-year extension, meaning that some reactors would run for a total of 80 years. The Times reports that Dr. Jaczko cited a well-known characteristic of nuclear reactor fuel to continue to generate copious amounts of heat after a chain reaction is shut down. That "decay heat" is what led to the Fukushima meltdowns. The solution, he said, was probably smaller reactors in which the heat could not push the temperature to the fuel's melting point. The nuclear power industry disagrees with Jaczko's assessment.