Opinion Blog: Are United States Power Plants Prepared for Disaster?

May 6, 2011  

Posted by Lesley Isaacs
lisaacs@smu.edu

The nuclear power plants in the United States are not prepared for a disaster like the one that recently hit Japan.

The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan dramatically affected the nuclear power plants in the immediate area. While Japan is struggling to contain the damage and prevent further exposure of the radiation, many are left wondering if the United States is prepared for such a crisis.

There are currently over 100 nuclear power plants generating electrical energy throughout the United States. They are regulated by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission based in Washington D.C. The commission also regulates about 36 research and test reactors that are primarily located at universities where they are used for research, testing, and training.

In Japan, one of the main problems is the continuing evacuation of residents around power plants. The evacuation zones are growing as the destruction of nuclear reactors in power plants increases. This puts their residents in serious danger of radiation exposure.

The United States also has numerous power plants that are active in highly populated areas. If there is an incident where a radiation leak exceeds the federal government protective action guides, the power plant representatives are required to give recommendations to the state or local government within 15 minutes. They must also inform the NRC within one hour of a radiation release that could affect the public health and safety.

Although action guides require quick notification, citizens could be exposed to radiation from these nuclear power plants for an hour before they are informed there is a danger. Japan has taken precautions to decrease the exposure the nuclear power plant employees are getting but what about the citizens who might be exposed?

Would the United States be able to evacuate quickly enough so that residents wouldn’t be exposed? If not, there could be longterm effects. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) said many survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs in the 1940s and many of the firefighters who first responded after the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident in 1986 became ill with ARS (Acute Radiation Syndrome).

The fact that the United States has active power plants and is conducting research in such populated areas only strengthens the case that we would not be prepared for a disaster to happen. The surrounding areas would be damaged from a disaster that destroyed the power plants, which have the capability of leaking radiation into the air.

President Obama and Congress need to step up and make sure that the nuclear power plants in the United States are up to date on regulations and emergency preparedness. We certainly don’t need another situation the like the Gulf oil spill.

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Comments

6 Responses to “Opinion Blog: Are United States Power Plants Prepared for Disaster?”

  1. Drew on May 6th, 2011 5:11 pm

    You have to be kidding me. This article illustrates nothing other than mindless fear mongering. It would be pertinent to include the reason the plants failed and not dwell on the evacuation plans as that’s moot if they don’t fail. I would be absolutely shocked if Lesley knew the drastic differences in cooling systems used by US facilities and Asian facilities. Pro tip: the US air cools the reactors while Japan was relying on water. An article breaking down the WHY and not assuming when would be more informative and less BS.

    Thanks for nothing Leslie.

  2. tim wilson on May 6th, 2011 5:23 pm

    You offer nothing in this article that supports first sentence/paragraph

    How much radiation exposure Paragraph 3

    Because we have power plants and conduct research – how does this strengthen the case for the diaster that would happen.

    Your writing is totally illogical. I hope you’re not a journalism student. Oh and please make sure you totally overact to this criticism.

  3. Maniac Mudd on May 6th, 2011 5:23 pm

    After watching Wisconsin start the legislation to sell their Power plants to the Koch Brothers, I think the power plants are in code red for all consumers.

  4. Quake fears: After N-crisis, Japan shuts aging plant – Times of India | Not Secured on May 6th, 2011 6:19 pm

    [...] Plant BloombergJapanese PM Orders Shutdown of Nuclear Plant Voice of America The Japan Times  - SMU Daily Mustang  - CNNall 595 news [...]

  5. cctyker on May 6th, 2011 10:06 pm

    Which US nuclear plant is within a half mile of one of our sea coasts?

    Which US nuclear plant is on a geological fault line?

    None.

    In the US, how can anyone say we have a similar configuration as the Japanese?

    Two events happened in Japan: One was the earthquake, the other was the huge wave coming ashore.

    The Japanese plant was designed to withstand an 8.8 quake. It was also designed to withstand a 14.1 meter wave. The quake was 9.0 with a 16 meter wave.

    The central problem that caused the reactor leakage of radiation was the sea water flooding and submersing the desiel driven generators that were designed to keep the pumps running, and thus, keep the reactor under control.

    The whole facility, all six nuclear plants, was designed to be independent of outside electrical energy.

    There is less danger or risk of radiation for people living near a nuclear plant than there is risk when driving a vehicle down a publlic highway in the US. Yet, we still drive. Far more people are permenantly crippled or killed by vehicle use than are by nuclear radiation, even if they live in the first house next to the property line of the nuclear plant — in any country.

    Life is risk. Choose your lifestyle to minimize the risks of life you fear. Let the next person do the same without government intervention, and they’re lifestyle does not have to be similar to anyone elses.

    Involving the government is wrong. Regulations just give bureaurcrats jobs and force citizens to live lifestyles dictated by government. What’s free about that?

    Or are you and others incapable of managing the risks of your life and being responsible for yourselves? Are you a person who needs a surogate parent? Are you asking Obama to run your life for you?

    Entrepreneurs risk far more, face a life of ruination, and thus, are far more careful to plan for the unforseen than are government bureaucrats who will suffer no consequenses if they are wrong. Evidence is the Gulf oil spill. The bureaucrats did nothing but make it harder to clean up the mess, and they obviously had no clue that the spill would happen. And they still have their jobs! They forgot to regulate!

    Seems US citizens never learn.

    By the way one of the definitions of bureaucrat is:
    “an official who works by fixed routine without exercising intelligent judgment.”

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/bureaucrat

  6. Leslie Sorrell on August 2nd, 2011 2:18 pm

    We are a full service political consulting and fundraising firm looking for several interns for the fall.

    If you have an interest, please e-mail me directly.