The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Paul Gunter, 301.523.0201; Cindy Folkers, 240.354.4314; Kevin Kamps, 240.462.3216.

Higher Radiation Doses Could Be Ruled 'Aacceptable' After Nuclear Power Disaster

"Fukushima" in the U.S. an ever-present danger


Four years after the March 11, 2011 nuclear catastrophe in Japan began, a Fukushima-style disaster could still happen in the U.S., say experts at Beyond Nuclear. And if it does, U.S. authorities could rule that affected populations be forced to accept higher "allowable" doses of radiation to make severe nuclear accidents appear tolerable.

All of Japan's now 43 reactors remain closed since the disaster at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear site, while 22 reactors with the same controversial General Electric Mark I boiling water reactor design continue to operate in the U.S. out of a total of 99 units. An additional eight similarly controversial GE Mark II reactors also operate in the U.S.

Japanese authorities dramatically raised the allowable radiation dose limit for surrounding populations by twentyfold after the nuclear disaster struck, from 1 milliSievert/year to 20, the same dose considered permissible for nuclear plant workers in Germany. Beyond Nuclear is concerned that U.S. authorities could move similarly in the event of a nuclear disaster here.

"There is every reason to believe the Environmental Protection Agency could simply increase the 'permissible' dose of radiation as authorities did in Japan," said Cindy Folkers, radiation and health specialist at Beyond Nuclear. "You just have to look at the EPA guidelines for state and local governments during a nuclear disaster to see that they are planning on allowing 5-20 times the radiation dose recommended internationally.

"The industry and government shouldn't be allowed to make a nuclear catastrophe appear more survivable than it is by inflating allowable radiation exposure levels, " Folkers continued.

"Exposing babies and pregnant women to the same radiation doses as those considered tolerable for nuclear workers would mean deliberately putting a huge percentage of the population in harm's way simply to allow the nuclear industry to save face and money," concluded Folkers.

The potential for a U.S. nuclear power plant disaster on the scale of Fukushima remains ever-present.

"Fukushima was the convergence of a dangerous technology, a flawed design and a captured regulator whose luck ran out," said Paul Gunter, Director of Reactor Oversight at Beyond Nuclear. Beyond Nuclear initiated an emergency petition in April 2011 signed by 10,000 co-petitioners, calling on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to suspend the operating licenses of the identical GE reactors here in the United States.

"Unlike in Japan, where critical safety retrofits are now required before restart of any boiling water reactors, the NRC has dismissed increasing the identical safety margins and costs to keep financially fragile nuclear reactor operators in business," he said.

Even permanently closed reactors still present a potentially catastrophic risk. "Highly radioactive irradiated fuel has to be stored in reactor pools for five years, even after a reactor ceases operations," said Kevin Kamps, Radioactive Waste Specialist at Beyond Nuclear. "A pool fire could potentially release significantly more radioactivity than a reactor meltdown. A U.S. Fukushima is an ever-present danger until we shut all of our atomic reactors and transfer the irradiated nuclear fuel from vulnerable pools to Hardened On-Site Storage," Kamps concluded.

Beyond Nuclear aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic.

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