Nuclear Reactor Disaster

Statement by Karen Hadden

March 12, 2011

Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition

The nuclear crisis in Japan, on top of the devastating earthquake and loss of lives, is absolutely horrifying and our hearts go out to all involved. Reports of radiation victims are starting to come in and it is hard to say what will come next.

Any nuclear reactor can have a loss of coolant accident. Any reactor can have a meltdown. This is the reality of the risk of nuclear power, and we shouldn’t have to keep learning this lesson after the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and the horrible scenario now unfolding in Japan. It is time to halt all nuclear investment and relicensing.

At the South Texas Project site in Bay City, a hurricane or floodwaters could knock out power and back up diesel generators. An earthquake is more likely at the Comanche Peak site than at the South Texas Project site, but both locations are also at risk for terrorist attacks that could release radiation.

There could be 18,000 early deaths from an accident at the STP site – followed by thousands of cancers, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s 1982 CRAC-2 study.

SEED Coalition has filed legal opposition to proposed new reactors at both the Comanche Peak and South Texas Project sites, and we raised the issue of fires and explosions. We have gotten traction on these contentions and expect to have full hearings on these serious issues.

The risk of serious accidents is prime among the reasons our organization opposes the new reactors proposed for South Texas Project and Comanche Peak. We oppose the power purchase agreements that NRG Energy is peddling, trying to get San Antonio and Austin to buy into the STP reactors in order to prop up the federal loan guarantees for the project.

The South Texas Project Units 1 & 2 are now up for relicensing, and public comment is accepted until April 1st, with a legal opposition deadline of March 14th. It is time to look at whether relicensing nuclear reactors makes sense, especially when affordable cleaner, safer options for generating electricity are available.

There have been many close calls. In 2002 a hole was found in the Davis Besse reactor head, about the size of a basketball, with only 3/8″ of bowed steel left. Acid had corroded away nearly 6″ of the reactor head. The US is lucky that this didn’t lead to a major accident due to loss of coolant.

In 2006 in Sweden, the Forsmark reactor came close to a meltdown. They got lucky since one of the diesel generators that was expected to fail actually held and Stockholm was saved.

A study called the Nuclear Tightrope, by David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, talks about 46 year-long reactor outages in the US that have been the result of very poor reactor maintenance, creating increased risk of accidents. The report is available online on the home page of this site.