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With 6 million Americans living within 10 miles of a U.S. nuclear power plant – the evacuation zone defined by the federal government – and more than 120 million Americans living within 50 miles of a U.S. nuclear power plant – the distance the U.S. government told Americans to evacuate from the area around the Fukushima plant – we cannot afford to stand by and hope the worst won’t happen here, especially with extreme weather intensifying around the globe.
Red flags for heightened risk factors of a severe nuclear accident abound in the United States. Currently 23 U.S. nuclear reactors are the same type of reactor, a boiling water reactor (BWRs), which was involved in the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Some BWRs are operating near major American cities like Philadlephia. Nearly all of the 104 nuclear reactors operating in the United States were designed and built three to four decades ago. Despite being originally engineered for a 40-year lifespan, the NRC has approved 71 reactors at 32 nuclear power plants to operate for 60 years. And 90 percent of U.S. nuclear reactors have had their operating power increased beyond the original design engineered for them.
Yet the NRC hasn’t yet made a single U.S. nuclear power plant any safer than it was since the Fukushima accident about one year ago. After the Fukushima disaster, a task force assembled by the commission’s chairman identified a list of safety improvements including top tier items to be “started without unnecessary delay.” But these important safety upgrades are still years away from being implemented, if ever. In fact, some of these safety improvements have been on the commission’s to-do list since the 1990s.
Even after the nuclear chain reaction at a power plant is stopped by its operators, the reactor core still needs to be continually cooled, or the fuel rods will rupture and melt from the remaining radioactive decay heat. And if the level of cooling water falls below the core, the metal sheaths containing the uranium in the fuel rods will react with air, producing explosive hydrogen gas. Therefore if power to run reactor core cooling is lost just for a matter of hours, it can lead to a meltdown – potentially releasing plumes of radioactive material into the air.