March 12, 2014
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is owned, captured and controlled by the nuclear industry.
NBC News reports:
In the tense days after a powerful earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan on March 11, 2011, staff at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission made a concerted effort to play down the risk of earthquakes and tsunamis to America’s aging nuclear plants ….
The emails, obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, show that the campaign to reassure the public about America’s nuclear industry came as the agency’s own experts were questioning U.S. safety standards and scrambling to determine whether new rules were needed to ensure that the meltdown occurring at the Japanese plant could not occur here.
At the end of that long first weekend of the crisis three years ago, NRC Public Affairs Director Eliot Brenner thanked his staff for sticking to the talking points that the team had been distributing to senior officials and the public.
“While we know more than these say,” Brenner wrote, “we’re sticking to this story for now.”
The NRC staff recognized immediately the public-relations nightmare that Fukushima presented for nuclear power in the United States. More than 30 of America’s 100 nuclear power reactors have the same brand of General Electric reactors or containment system used in Fukushima.
There are numerous examples in the emails of apparent misdirection or concealment in the initial weeks after the Japanese plant was devastated … :
- Trying to distance the U.S. agency from the Japanese crisis, an NRC manager told staff to hide from reporters the presence of Japanese engineers in the NRC’s operations center in Maryland.
- If asked whether the Diablo Canyon Power Plant on the California coast could withstand the same size tsunami that had hit Japan, spokespeople were told not to reveal that NRC scientists were still studying that question. As for whether Diablo could survive an earthquake of the same magnitude, “We’re not so sure about, but again we are not talking about that,” said one email.
- When skeptical news articles appeared, the NRC dissuaded news organizations from using the NRC’s own data on earthquake risks at U.S. nuclear plants, including the Indian Point Energy Center near New York City.
- And when asked to help reporters explain what would happen during the worst-case scenario — a nuclear meltdown — the agency declined to address the questions.
Some of the nuclear industry bias can bee seen in the following quotes from NBC:
When Steven Dolley, former research director of the NCI and a reporter for McGraw Hill Financial’s newsletter Inside NRC, asked McIntyre for a nuclear containment expert to speak to a reporter, the spokesman asked if the reporter had contacted the industry’s lobbying group, the Nuclear Energy Institute.
Dolley asked, “So, should I say NRC is deferring inquiries to NEI?” suggesting that the NRC was deferring to the industry it is supposed to regulate.
McIntyre shared this exchange with his bosses, adding the comment, “F—ing a-hole.”
And some of the rampant hypocrisy is seen in the difference between public and private NRC talking points:
“Q. What happens when/if a plant ‘melts down’?
“Public Answer: In short, nuclear power plants in the United States are designed to be safe. To prevent the release of radioactive material, there are multiple barriers between the radioactive material and the environment, including the fuel cladding, the heavy steel reactor vessel itself and the containment building, usually a heavily reinforced structure of concrete and steel several feet thick.
“Additional, non-technical, non-public information: The melted core may melt through the bottom of the vessel and flow onto the concrete containment floor. The core may melt through the containment liner and release radioactive material to the environment.”
When reporters asked if the Japanese emergency could affect licensing of new reactors in the U.S., the public answer was “It is not appropriate to hypothesize on such a future scenario at this point.”
The non-public information was more direct: This event could potentially call into question the NRC’s seismic requirements, which could require the staff to re-evaluate the staff’s approval of the AP1000 and ESBWR (the newest reactor designs from Westinghouse and General Electric) design and certifications.”
Brenner, the public affairs director, sent a “great work so far” memo to his staff at HQ and around the U.S. His third bullet point highlighted he NRC’s role in helping Japanese engineers deal with the problems at Fukushima — a fact not mentioned in the NRC’s press releases that day. The emails indicate that the Obama administration and the NRC were keen to keep up the appearance that they were merely observing the Japanese nuclear crisis and had no responsibility for helping resolve it.
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