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

May 6, 2011 by · 6 Comments 

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.

The Daily Update: Tuesday, Sept. 28

September 28, 2010 by · Comments Off 

The Daily Update: Tuesday, Sept. 28 from SMUDailyMustang.com on Vimeo.

Find out what the Venezuelan president wants to start and why some people are concerned.
And some changes Southwest Airlines has made to save you a couple of dollars. All this here on your Daily Update.

Opinion Blog: Nuclear Energy: Worth the Risk?

February 24, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Posted by Laura Ratliff

Does the word “Chernobyl” mean anything to anyone anymore? Apparently not, considering that, last Tuesday, President Obama announced that the Energy Department will be financing two $8.3 billion nuclear reactors in Burke County, Ga.

These reactors will be the first nuclear project in the U.S. since the 1970s—and with good reason.

In the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, only 50 people died, but another 800,000 were exposed to harmful radiation, meaning that thousands may later be diagnosed, and die from, cancer.

On U.S. soil, the 1976 Three Mile Island incident is likely the most notable disaster related to nuclear power. Even though no one died—an argument frequently posited by those in support of nuclear energy—nearly half of the reactor core melted and the remaining overheated hydrogen gas left the town of Harrisburg, Pa. fearful of another explosion.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Council, leaks have occurred in at least 27 different reactors at 65 different sites throughout the country. Is that a risk we should be willing to take?

If nuclear disasters aren’t enough to deter someone away from nuclear power, the plethora of problems associated with the disposal of nuclear waste should be.

When dealing with uranium, plutonium, and other radioactive elements—some of which have half lives of over 100,000 years—special care must be taken during disposal. Where, exactly, are we going to dispose of these tons of toxic chemicals?

Yucca Mountain, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was one such place, until Obama pulled the plug on the project earlier this year. The project was set to be the largest repository of U.S. nuclear waste.

In his proposal, Obama fumbled regarding questions of waste disposal. It all seems very contradictory, considering that the Yucca Mountain project was defunded.

By contrast to nuclear energy, U.S. wind energy produced a record of 10 gigawatts of generating capacity in 2009. Wind energy also produces no waste and poses virtually no risk to those who are employed in the industry or to those who live near one of the many behemoth wind farms that are cropping up throughout the country.

It’s really a simple equation: two nuclear reactors, hundreds of tons of toxic waste, and no place to put it? Pass.