Former U.S. Nuclear Chief: American Nuclear Plants Should Be Phased Out — “Can’t Guarantee Against Accident Causing Widespread

George Washington's picture

Energy intelligence reports:

Former Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Gregory Jaczko says that the current fleet of operating plants in the US should be phased out because regulators can’t guarantee against an accident causing widespread land contamination. In two key decisions last week Jaczko said the agency “damaged significantly” its international reputation for upholding safety and he accused the five commissioners of “just rolling the dice” in dealing with severe accidents.

Jaczko is correct that “the current fleet of operating plants in the US [is unsafe] regulators can’t guarantee against an accident causing widespread land contamination”.

An investigation by Associated Press found that 75 percent of all U.S. nuclear sites have leaked radioactive tritium.

And whistleblowers at the Nuclear Regulator Commission say that the risk of a major meltdown at U.S. nuclear reactors is much higher than it was at Fukushima.

And an accident in the U.S. could be a lot larger than in Japan … partly because our nuclear plants hold a lot more radioactive material. Radiation could cause illness in huge numbers of Americans, and a major nuclear accident could literally bankrupt America.

And yet the nuclear regulators have dragged their feet in demanding even modest upgrades to prevent Fukushima-type disasters.  We reported more than a year ago:

The geniuses at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have given the green light for new nuclear power plants in the U.S. [over Jaczko's objections] which don’t include safety upgrades which were demonstrated vital by the Fukushima meltdown.

Jaczco explained last month:

I suggested putting in a requirement or a “condition” in the license, that said that they would not operate the plant until all of the Fukushima changes were implemented.


My colleagues on the commission rejected that proposal. Given that they rejected it, I had no choice but to disapprove issuing the licenses.

Bloomberg gave an update on last month:

U.S. nuclear regulators delayed action on a recommendation that utilities install radiation filters at 31 U.S. reactors, a victory for the industry that estimated the proposal may cost as much as $20 million per unit.




Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and a critic of the nuclear industry, said the NRC is delaying what he called an important safety upgrade at about a third of the nation’s 104 operating reactors.


“The NRC has abdicated its responsibility to ensure public health and safety in New England and across the country,” Markey, who is running for Senate, said in a statement.




The Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based industry group, had said adding filters on vents as proposed by the agency’s staff was among the most expensive upgrades required by the regulator. Exelon Corp. of Chicago owns 11 of the 31 reactors.




Edwin Lyman, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said NRC staff had already made the case the filters were an important safety enhancement. The NRC’s decision “kicks the can down the road.”




Some European countries require installation of filter to block radiation on vents, Lyman said. Japan announced last year that filtered vents will be required on its reactors.

Indeed, the nuclear regulators actually weakened safety standards after the Fukushima disaster.

Jaczco makes some good points regarding nuclear:

The biggest problem with the NRC continues to be the heavy influence that the industry has in selecting the members of the commission. It is a very political process.There are few commissioners who ever get onto the commission who are not endorsed by the industry. [Indeed, all nuclear agencies are wholly controlled by (and serve) the nuclear industry … just like the Federal Reserve is owned by (and serves) its member banks.]




We need to rethink the current design to have better designs such as small modular reactors.


If we have a reactor that is 100 megawatts, the quantity of material and the energy we have to disperse that material is significantly reduced.


It will not contaminate a 10-kilometer radius area, because it does not have enough material. [We've previously noted nuclear power can be generated and then used locally at the neighborhood scale ... a lot safer than Tepco or GE can do it in a giant nuclear plant.]




Fundamentally, the way I look at it is that we know how to maintain nuclear fuel in the short term. For the most part, we think it maintains its integrity. It does not need a lot of active systems, and dry casks work very well as far as we know.

Dry casks would solve the storage problem, but – like the new filters which the NRC and nuclear energy are fighting – they would cost a little money.

Remember: Nuclear energy can be cheap, or it can be safe … but it can’t be both.

Nuclear power is being pushed because it is good for making bombs – even though it could not survive without massive government subsidies, and even though it won’t necessarily reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Jaczko is correct that regulators are “just rolling the dice” in dealing with severe accidents, just as financial regulators rolled the dice in dealing with the economy, and oil regulators rolled the dice in dealing with deep-sea drilling.  That never works out very well.

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UrbanBard's picture

Many people here assume that all nuclear technologies are the same. Sure, we shouldn't rely on obsolete technologies which are thirty to forty years old. Light Water Reactors are inherently unsafe, because they must be supplied with cooling even when shut down.

Later designs do not have this flaw. Why weren't they used? What kept the old plants from being replaced when their design life lapsed? If these power plants had been unregulated, they would have been replaced long ago when their insurance premiums got too high.

The Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant was incompetently designed. It did not properly prepare for a reasonable disaster. It’s seawall was too low and its emergency generators were on the ground floor where they could be flooded. All the meltdowns proceeded from that. 

Remember, there was a nuclear power plant, currently shut down, which was closer to the epicenter and experienced no problems because it was built on a ninety foot cliff. Fukushima Daichi was built just above sea level when there were forty foot cliffs within several miles. If you added the same sea wall as at Daichi then it would have written out the Tsunami.

TEPco, if it were not protected as a regulated monopoly, would be sued for placing people’s lives in danger. Bad management decisions produced this disaster, not a flaw in nuclear technology. The reactors were properly shut down.

US nuclear power plants are regulated monopolies, too. Can we trust their management to be less incompetent than TEPco? Can US nuclear plants have similar flaws? It's hard to tell even though they were reevaluated after 9/11. Can we trust the government to tell us the truth?

The problem here is that monopolies escape the restraint of the markets. No insurance company must pay off if they fail. Hence, all regulated monopolies are disasters waiting to happen.

Focusing on the flaws of Light Water reactors misses the point. This is a flaw in government.

Trampy's picture

Nice to hear from someone who is knowledgeable about nuclear power safety.  Land contamination and associated cost is in fact the Achilles Heel of nuclear power plant safety.  The only way to clean up a contaminated area would be to destroy everything and hope you can find a place to send all the low-level waste.

My only quibble with what you wrote is that the only thing NRC did for safety analyses after the (inside job) 9/11/2001 was a big and classified Vulnerability Study of various threats using portable armaments.  The goal was to tell the public that nuclear power plants were safe from Muslims with anti-tank weapons, a step up from box cutters.  But since all of that make-work exercise was classified, all it did was let the NRC safeguards people pat each other on the back for keeping us "safe," which is sadly hilarious because our greatest enemy is the government itself!

When the NRC calculates the consequences  of nuclear accidents in urban areas they stick to the same lie they concocted in the 1975 WASH-1400, Appendix K of Appendix 6, where it's assumed that 95% of urban radioactivity can be removed for a cost that equates to just 10% of the value of the property.  That's hogwash of course, because there is no such thing as a magic radiation remover.  We first learned that 1946 in Operation Crossroads where our first post-WW2 nuclear sea-blast test shot left the ships structurally sound, but with contamination that could not be removed no matter how hard the sailors scraped and scrubbed.  Of course that difficulty was blamed on the seawater chemistry, so the DoD kept on trying to develop decontamination techniques in numerous weapons tests until 1963 when atmospheric testing was banned.  Extensive tests using fission product from actual fallout matched up with contemporaneous laboratory tests and they were perfect matches to the Chernobyl experience as well.  Non-destructive radiation removal is simply impossible.  And the NRC knows they are publishing deliberately false nuclear safety analyses whenever they say otherwise with the fiction that a "worst-case" nuclear power plant accident would cost only about the $10+ B Price-Anderson indemnity limit.  Ironically, under same 1988 Price-Anderson Act, deliberate falsification of a nuclear safety analysis was first criminalized as a 5-year felony with a $100 K fine.  All of the NRC staff who approve the fake accident-cost numbers would be criminals if they were smart enough to know what they were doing, but they mostly ain't.

Bearwagon's picture

The flaw is always the same: Cost effectiveness simply isn't the right attitude, when handling nuclear materials.

George Washington's picture

Whistleblowers at the Nuclear Regulator Commission say that the risk of a major meltdown at U.S. nuclear reactors is much higher than it was at Fukushima.

And an accident in the U.S. could be a lot larger than in Japan … partly because our nuclear plants hold a lot more radioactive material. Radiation could cause illness in huge numbers of Americans, and a major nuclear accident could literally bankrupt America.

Bicycle Repairman's picture

There's no doubt this is a flaw in government.  They are incompetent at best.  The thing is mistakes with nukes cannot be recovered from.  Nukes require a level of competency that governments and, perhaps humans as a whole, do not have.

It's Russian roulette on a very large scale.

johnQpublic's picture

i wonder if we would use nuke plants if all of Tesla's work was made public

Bearwagon's picture

I think, it is important, that people get insight to GE's involvement in nuclear technology, and therefore I repost a link, which I already posted in the Fukushima-thread on sunday:

Joebloinvestor's picture

When they include a line item that shows the cost of plant de-comissioning and disposal of material that will be a start.

Not Too Important's picture

It will never happen. Read up on Hanford to see how de-commissiong works.

"During the past two years, estimates of dismantling costs have soared by more than $4.6 billion because rising energy and labor costs, while the investment funds that are supposed to pay for shutting plants down have lost $4.4 billion in the battered stock market."

monad's picture

Nukes don't kill people, politicians do. 

Not Too Important's picture

Combined, they both do a very good job.

monad's picture

Take away the nukes and the politicians are still lethal

The ongoing Haig-Kissinger Depopulation Pogram


DawgAss's picture

Once upon a time there was only one type of fish that glowed. Now they all do!

pavman's picture

BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT!  Nuclear is the most sustainable/cost-effective energy solution next to hydro which has the inconvenience of requiring suitable terrain.  I know its like a broken record, but this really smacks of green agenda BULLSHIT!

Leaders need to stop letting fear drive policy.  Its bad for everyone, esp. the people they're leading. BULLSHIT!

Not Too Important's picture

Leaders don't let fear drive policy. They are driven by their financial masters. Nuclear generates tremendous profits - they make the loans subsidized by taxpayers, they make the profits from the ratepayers, and when things go to hell, the taxpayers pick up the tab.

If I was a greedy murdering motherfucker, I'd be in nuclear, too. I just happen to have gone on a different path - one less 'destructive'.

Nehweh Gahnin's picture

I want my salmon back motherfucker.

THE DORK OF CORK's picture

Lack of nuclear power kills far more people then a possible accident.


watch jap life span decrease soon................


And it will not be the radiation that kills them - it will be mass poverty.

THE DORK OF CORK's picture


You are a nice guy and all but you don't understand energy and how it operates within a currency union.


The Germans industrial hinterland has become Europe since 2007.

It gets its fuel surplus from the rest of us.


How can that be a successful national energy policey ?

Its successful in its own terms - but only by destroying us to sell its high quality grot to somebody........ ANYBODY .....deficit US , UK & Pegged China gets our fuel packaged in BMWs


They want to kill us to sell BMWs !!!!! - how sick is that ?


They can do their Green mad schemes in a national currency if they want but please don't get us involved in such unscientific crap.

waterhorse's picture

"biggest problem with the NRC continues to be the heavy influence that the industry has in selecting the members of the commission. It is a very political process.There are few commissioners who ever get onto the commission who are not endorsed by the industry."

I am SO SICK of regulatory capture in EVERY facet of "government".  Why are these asshole lobbyists allowed to influence everything?  There are more of us than there are of them.  I don't care how much money they have.

diogeneslaertius's picture

destroy nuclear destroy hydrocarbon

civilization destroyed by design - undercutting energy is just one part of the NWO stratagem


also, eugenics synergy

Ghordius's picture

can't subscribe that

I love nuclear - I hate those aging behemoths that still litter the global landscape

there are wonderful new designs for small, smart, safe nuclear plants

but no, the Megacorporation Effect rules - why improving if you can just... lobby?

Not Too Important's picture

The new designs are like a 2013 car compared to a 1918 car. If you get in a crash, the chances of survival are greater. If you get hit by a big-rig that sends the whole family plummeting off a cliff onto the rocks miles below, the family still dies.

The new designs, if struck by a large earthquake, will still destroy the environment as efficiently as the destroyed Fukushima complex.

It won't matter in a few generations, anyway. The plutonium damage has already been done.

LosOsos's picture

Yes and no. It's not just that new plant designs are improved structurally, but have been so radically redesigned from the dinosaurs of the 70's/80's that certain distaster outcomes have been near eliminated. Now I'm not saying that the new designs are 100% safe or even should be implemented without some great consideration, but your metaphor doesn't do justice to the new designs.

I can't comment on other disasters (and structural problems such as corroded pipes will not be fixed but that's negligence and not design fault) but with Fukishima what happened was both the main power and backup generators failed, due to the tsunami, so they weren't able to power the cooling loop and the core overheated. Furthermore these earlier designs are high pressure water cooled reactors, and when you further heat up a fluid that is already at high pressure you get a greater pressure that lead to further structural failure. So the structural damage was caused by too much heat and too much pressure.

The new designs are called Pebble Bed Advanced High Temperature Reactors. Firstly these new reactors don't use water to cool the core but rather molten salt. The molten salt is able to operate at a much higher temperature and more importantly allows the reactor to be operated at atmospheric pressure, much lower than the high pressure in water reactors. Furthermore, they use something called natural convection which allows the cooling fluid to circluate without the help from a pump so power failure won't stop the cooling loop (I think some new gen water reactors have this as well). As a further bonus these reactors are able to be built on a smaller scale.

Anyways there's my rant. I'm not advocating in any direction but your comparison is misleading.

Ghordius's picture

+1 excellent rant: smart means that they shut themselves down automatically, and small has a certain smartness built in

i-dog's picture

Now the only remaining design problem is getting the politicians not to build them on known fault lines (or at sea level adjacent to known offshore fault lines). There's something very fishy about so many reactors in Japan and the US being built in unsafe places....

LosOsos's picture

No joke, I live right next to one of those so curiously placed nuc plants on a fault. They start building the plant in the 70's then few years later,  "Oh hey there happens to be a fault offshore that generated a 7.1 mag quake in 1927". Wow, so helpful to know that AFTER the construction is complete. So waddaya know they have to update it structurally, everything should be fine now right? Nope, let's instead spend a bunch of money to do a half ass job.

"In September 1981, PG&E discovered that a single set of blueprints was used for these structural supports; workers were supposed to have reversed the plans when switching to the second reactor, but did not.[12] According to Charles Perrow, the result of the error was that "many parts were needlessly reinforced, while others, which should have been strengthened, were left untouched." [13] Nonetheless, on March 19, 1982 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided not to review its 1978 decision approving the plant's safety, despite these and other design errors." Wiki

But wait! The fun doesn't stop there. Just a few years ago we found ANOTHER nearshore fault line, this one closer than the other fault, but oh don't worry it's just a slow slip fault. Now, we as ratepayers have been passed the bill for PG&E to 3D map the fault line using high pressure air cannons that are known to damage marine mammals.

Why people think we are the apex of civilization is beyond me. Honestly, this goes so far passed stupidity it's hard to see "human error" and "inadequate foresight" as an explanation.

Damn it, now im all hot and bothered.

knukles's picture

I'm sure glad that chap has had his epiphany once out of office.