Palo Verder Nuclear Power Plant

An aerial view of the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant in Arizona—the nation's largest—on April 7, 2010.

(Photo: Cuhlik/Wikimedia Commons)

Expert Warns US Nuclear Agency's 'Reckless' New Rule Will Weaken Emergency Safety

"People everywhere need to be aware of the NRC's dangerous decision and its implications for their health and safety."

A physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists on Monday condemned a proposed U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission rule allowing the licensing of new nuclear reactors without requiring them to have offsite emergency plans, a policy experts argue could adversely affect disaster safety.

Proponents contend that the NRC's Part 53 rule—which would provide regulatory relief for advanced nuclear reactors—makes sense because those types of power plants are much safer than currently operating units.

However, Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), said in a statement that "past natural and human-made disasters have taught us that having a robust and workable emergency plan in place is the key to minimizing human suffering and loss of life if the unthinkable happens."

"NRC's reckless decision today flies in the face of that experience," he added.

For over 50 years, the NRC and its predecessor agency, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, sought to build nuclear power plants away from densely populated areas due to the threat of accidents. However, under the new rule, construction of advanced nuclear reactors would be allowed in areas with high population densities.

"The central issue," Lyman explained last year, "is that the NRC is accepting on faith that these new reactors are going to be safer and wants to adjust its regulations accordingly, to make them less stringent—on faith."

Lyman said Monday that "concerns with the rule expressed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other authorities demonstrate how out-of-step the NRC is with experts on this issue. Coupled with other troubling regulatory changes that the NRC has already made or is considering, this new rule will only increase dangers for the public from the next generation of nuclear plants."

"Additionally, the absence of offsite emergency planning will create burdens in the aftermath of a nuclear plant accident, extreme weather event, or terrorist attack that will fall disproportionately on those people and communities with the fewest resources," he said.

"The cost of preparing for emergencies is relatively modest. And yet nuclear industry proponents have pushed to change the rules to facilitate constructing new nuclear reactors anywhere, even in densely populated areas where timely emergency evacuations might be extremely difficult or even impossible," Lyman added. "People everywhere need to be aware of the NRC's dangerous decision and its implications for their health and safety."

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