Environmental Protection

Groups Request Info on Reactor Exemptions, Evacuation

Richard Brodsky with Demos, a national policy center, and three other groups have filed Freedom of Information Act requests prompted by the nuclear disaster in Sendai, Japan.

Richard Brodsky, a former New York Assemblyman, currently serving as a senior fellow at the national policy center Demos, has sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko asking for a list of "exemptions" from health and safety rules the commission has issued to the 104 commercial nuclear reactors in the United States.

According to Brodsky, the "exemptions" include, but are not limited to:

  • issues of fire safety,
  • control of safety systems that are required for safe shutdown in cases where core meltdown is possible,
  • safe evacuation of civilian populations, and
  • safe storage of spent fuel.

Brodsky stated in a press release, "The NRC has secretly issued thousands of 'exemptions' from its own health and safety rules. For example, at Indian Point, when it was discovered that the fire insulation that protects the electric cables that control shutdown of the reactor core during the threat of a meltdown did not meet the NRC's requirement of lasting for one hour in a fire." Brodsky said that "the NRC secretly 'exempted' Indian Point from the Rule and lowered the insulation survival requirement to 24 minutes (because the test showed it only survived for 27 minutes). This has been repeated time after time at reactors in New York and around the nation, and without any public notice or participation in the secret 'exemption' process. We need to know what reactors received 'exemptions,' what rules are no longer applied as written, and how and why the 'exemptions' were issued."

According to the Demos website, the group is a non-partisan public policy research and advocacy organization founded in 2000. Headquartered in New York City, the organization works with advocates and policymakers around the country in pursuit of four overarching goals:

  • a more equitable economy with widely shared prosperity and opportunity;
  • a vibrant and inclusive democracy with high levels of voting and civic engagement;
  • an empowered public sector that works for the common good;
  • and responsible U.S. engagement in an interdependent world.

In related news, Friends of the Earth (FOE), the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get to the bottom of what led the U.S. government to call for a 50-mile evacuation radius for Americans near the Japanese reactor crisis in Fukushima, the group's press release said.

The FOIA requests were filed with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The groups said they are not satisfied that the incomplete summary provided so far by the DOE provides the full picture of the scale of the radiation.

On March 16, 2011, NRC Commissioner Gregory B. Jazcko told Congress that he was recommending the 50-mile evacuation radius. The scope of the recommended evacuation is highly unusual and suggestive of extraordinarily high radiation levels in excess of those reported to the public in Japan and the U.S., the three groups said. In the United States, nuclear reactor licensees and local governments are only asked to provide for evacuation out to 10 miles, they said.

Michael Mariotte, executive director, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Takoma Park, MD, said: “By recommending a 50-mile evacuation zone for U.S. residents, NRC Chairman Jaczko gave a strong signal that the Fukushima accident was much worse than reported by the Japanese government and the utility. We believe that he was getting information about the severity of the accident from airborne radiation measurements taken by U.S. Department of Energy aircraft. But neither DOE nor the NRC has published those measurements in full.”

The groups contend that expedited release of the information is justified in order to allow them to participate in and comment on any proceedings the federal government may undertake to evaluate the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident, including the 90-day review of the safety of U.S. reactors recently announced by the NRC.

Sources: Demos, Friends of the Earth

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