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Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Looming in U.S.?

By Tom Kauffman
From NEI Nuclear Notes

Wasserman asks: Who Will Pay for America's Chernobyl? Answer: No one – Because it can’t happen here.

The premise of Wasserman's article is erroneous. It is physically impossible for any U.S. nuclear power plant to explode like the Chernobyl reactor did. They are a completely different design that cannot run out of control and explode. And (unlike Chernobyl) all U.S. nuclear plants have heavily fortified containment buildings that are designed to withstand the worst case accident, nor can our reactors catch on fire. The fact is, Chernobyl can't happen here.

The worst thing you can do to a U.S. light water reactor - overheat the fuel and cause it to melt - is what happened at Three Mile Island 30 years ago. But the TMI accident had no impact on the health of the people or the environment around the facility because of all of the safety systems built into the plant. With all of the changes and additional safety measures made because of the lessons learned from TMI, it is very unlikely a similar accident will happen again. And (unlike Chernobyl) TMI was cleaned up, placed in safe storage, and paid for years ago. The total cost of the clean up was about $975 million, paid in equal shares by the nuclear industry, ratepayers, and insurance.

Speaking of insurance, Wasserman says "the industry cannot get its own insurance," the Price-Anderson Act could pay only "a tiny portion of the potential damage," and that "taxpayers are on the hook," to pay for an accident. All of these assertions are false. Every nuclear plant is required to have property insurance of at least $1 billion. Every nuclear plant also is required to have liability insurance of at least $300 million. If the $300 million is used, the Price-Anderson Act can take an additional $12 billion from the industry, and Congress can get even more from the industry if it shows cause. The fact is, the nuclear energy industry is very well insured and taxpayers are well protected.

Wasserman’s argument about millions of deaths and trillions of dollars lost is based on a discredited study. He stated that “the Sandia Laboratory's WASH-740 Report warned that a melt-down at an American reactor could permanently irradiate a land mass the size of Pennsylvania. The fiscal costs, like the potential death toll, were essentially inestimable.” The NRC issued a disclaimer on the Wash-740 study (that used nuclear bomb data and assumed no containment building) stating, "The NRC's most recent studies have confirmed that early research into the topic led to extremely conservative consequence analyses that generate invalid results for attempting to quantify the possible effects of very unlikely severe accidents.”

Wasserman’s statement that nuclear power plants have "a 40 year design span," is incorrect. They did not have a designed life span. When the plants were built is was recognized that like all machines, how long they would last depended on how well they were built, and how well they were maintained and operated. There were some who thought the plants might operate a century or more, and they may be right. The "104 rickety atomic reactors" he refers to operate at full power over 91 percent of the time. They are in fact, by far, the most reliable cost effective source of electricity in the nation because they were well built, and have been very well maintained and safely operated.

Considering the above are just a few examples of Mr. Wasserman’s many attempts to deliberately mislead readers in this article, one might ask Mr. Wasserman, "Why should I trust anything you say?"

See the original article.


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