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Nuclear Regulators Favor 'Secrecy Over Safety': Whistleblowers

NRC withholding information from the American public 'concerning a potentially significant public safety vulnerability'

- Common Dreams staff

Two officials from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission have publicly announced that the agency has purposefully withheld crucial information about very serious and potentially "catastrophic" flood risks at nuclear plants, The Huffington Post reports Tuesday.

The flood wall at Oconee Nuclear Station, in Seneca, SC, "would prove inadequate in the event of a catastrophic failure of the Jocassee Dam, located 11 miles upstream on Lake Keowee." (Photo: Duke Energy) The concerns of the whistleblowers, Richard H. Perkins and Larry Criscione, that federal regulators have recklessly allowed plant owners to refrain from implementing safety measures and improvements in plants' infrastructures for many years and have withheld such information from the public, have now been supported by several follow up investigations by nuclear safety advocates and a collection of documents obtained by The Huffington Post.

The documents obtained include a "4-year old internal communication plan for NRC officials seeking to head-off criticism of its handling of the dam threat, as well as detailed correspondence between Criscione and NRC leadership on the issue."

The NRC withheld information reported by Perkins and Criscione in public documents, which warned of serious threats at several nuclear plants of flooding from either natural disasters or technical malfunctions at nearby dams.

The NRC has since said they are investigating the issues; however, both Perkins and Criscione, who reported on the NRC censorship separately, are saying the agency is not likely to take their alarming research seriously.

"It is hypocritical for the NRC -- or any government agency -- under the guise of security, to withhold information from the American public concerning a potentially significant public safety vulnerability, yet take no real action to study and correct the supposed security vulnerability," Criscione said. "If we believe there is a security vulnerability, we need to take measures to address it and not merely withhold it from public discussion."

"The key question for all five NRC commissioners is whether they will support making all the safety recommendations of the Near-Term Fukushima Task Force including those that will address nuclear reactor resiliency to severe earthquakes, floods and other extreme weather, mandatory," stated Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a long-time advocate for nuclear safety, in reference to the current industry-wide review of U.S. plants which followed the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

Greenpeace's Jim Riccio suggested that the NRC has been lying to Congress about the current risk level at US nuclear reactors:

"Rather than address the threat, NRC commissioners have misled Congress and delayed action to reduce these risks. The American people deserve better from the Obama administration's nuclear regulators."

"It's the two of us against the entire federal government. We're going to try our best -- it's almost an even fight," Perkins added. "We realize what an incredibly uphill battle we have in front of us. These things never really work out for the whistleblower."

Read the rest of the report by Tom Zeller at The Huffington Post.