16. NRC “NUKES” SAFETY IN LICENSING U.S. NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS

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In the late ’70s and early ’80s, there were numerous reports on the demise of the nuclear power industry in the United States. The reports were premature.

The stakes simply were too high. The utility industry’s investment in nuclear power already was $125 billion with $140 billion more scheduled to be spent by the end of the decade. For comparative purposes, this investment commitment exceeds the federal government’s investment in either the space program ($100 billion) or the Vietnam war (111 billion). Wall Street’s stake in nuclear power and the utility industry was enormous and not about to be denied. Fortunately for Wall Street and the utility industry, they had an influential friend in court — Ronald Reagan.

Lynn Bernabei, an attorney who works for the Government Accountability Project, a public interest law firm, says that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) policy has steadily been shifting in favor of the nuclear industry since Ronald Reagan became president. Since coming into office, he has appointed all five NRC commissioners. In early 1984, the Reagan administration took the offensive and launched a little known program to expedite the licensing of more than 20 nuclear power plants including Louisiana Power and light’s Waterford III plant with its cracked foundation.

“The licensing of Waterford, ” according to Bernabei, “is one of the most egregious examples of the NRC’s speed-up in licensing. Their policy is to license plants no matter what, based on an artificial schedule that is designed to please the nuclear industry …”.

“Scheduling”, i.e. getting the plants licensed, say nuclear critics, has taken precedence over what they believe should be the NRC’s primary mandate: protecting the public health and safety.

A five-month investigation by GAMBIT, a New Orleans weekly newspaper, revealed that in late March, 1984, the Reagan administration established what was in effect a special nuclear intelligence unit in the Department of Energy. The primary goal of the unit, called the Department of Energy Task Force on Nuclear Power Plant Construction, is to find ways to expedite the licensing of troubled nuclear power plants like Waterford. Despite a cracked foundation, and serious charges by two of the NRC’s own engineers, Waterford was issued a full power operating license by the NRC on March 15, 1985.

GAMBIT‘s well-documented investigation raises critical questions about the licensing of Waterford and many other nuclear power plants from New York to California.

The Reagan administration’s extraordinary effort to save and deregulate nuclear power, with an apparent disregard for public opinion and safety, deserves some critical media attention.

SOURCE:

GAMBIT, 3/30/85, “Is the NRC licensing Unsafe Nuclear Power Plants, by Ron Ridenhour, pp 14-33.

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