Nuclear Oversight Lacking Worldwide

Posted by By at 5 October, at 09 : 56 AM Print

by Arnie Gundersen

Fairewinds disagrees with a recent New York Times Opinion that claims that Fukushima was caused because Japanese regulators did not properly oversee Tokyo Electric. Fairewinds shows that in the United States, the same cozy relationship exists between the NRC and the nuclear industry. Proper regulation of nuclear power has been coopted worldwide by industry refusal to implement the cost to assure nuclear safety.

Hi, I’m Arnie Gundersen from Fairewinds. Today I would like to talk to you about the the relationship between the people who own nuclear reactors and the people who regulate nuclear reactors, not just in the United States, not just in Japan but worldwide. What made me think of this topic was an opinion piece in the New York Times just last week. The opinion piece was written by a University of Southern California professor and he specializes in studying how countries regulate nuclear power. In it he says that the Fukushima accident was, and this is a quote, “the result of failures in the safety culture…. Japan’s nuclear regulatory agency, for instance, was never really independent of a nuclear industry. The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power, had a long history of disregarding safety concerns and a woefully weak safety culture that was allowed to operate with minimal government oversight.” He goes on to suggest that the solution for this problem is “what we need now are much closer co-operation between countries and the regulators.”

I disagree with what that University of Southern California professor suggests. We do not need closer co-operation between countries. What we need to do is to enforce the safety standards that we already have. Blaming Fukushima on a cozy relationship between Tokyo Electric Power and the Japanese government is wrong. It implies that other countries are doing it better. And that is not true. And that is really what I would like to talk about in this video.

The fuse for Fukushima was lit 45 years ago when Fukushima I was built by an American company and an American architect engineer, using an American design. To claim that the problem with Fukushima is a cozy relationship between the Japanese regulator and the people at Tokyo Electric is really disingenuous and it gives the entire nuclear industry a shield to hide behind.

Until 1974, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was regulated by something called the Atomic Energy Commission. Now the Atomic Energy Commission or the A. E. C. had a charter and it was to promote and to regulate. Now Congress realized that that was not working. What they did was they split the Atomic Energy Commission into the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy. The theory was that the Department of Energy would promote and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would regulate. But what really happened was that the team stayed the same and all they did was change the name on their jerseys.

In 1974 Congress recognized that things were too cozy. So let’s fast forward into the 80’s and see if things had changed. On the site is a report from 1987 and it is entitled “NRC Coziness With Industry”. That is not my name for it, that is the congressional report’s name, “The NRC’s Coziness With Industry.” And it is written by the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs of the United States Congress. It is long, it is a hundred pages and it is typed so it is scanned in, but I thought I would read 3 of the highlights to you.

The first highlight is that the congressional staff and congresspeople discovered that “The NRC staff interfered with and undermined an investigation of a licensee’s wrongdoing at the Fermi plant in Michigan.”

The 2nd issue that they discovered is that a Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner, one of the five appointed commissioners, “engaged in behavior that constitutes malfeasance and reflects a continuing closeness with the nuclear industry.” This is 1987.

And the last one that I would like to call to your attention is that they found, “Despite the fact of an adequate administrative record demonstrating that a problem was in need of a solution, the commission issued a rule severely restricting the ability of it’s own staff to require safety improvements at existing nuclear facilities.”

Lets jump forward one more decade here and we will go to the 1990’s. In the 1990’s, the Inspector General for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was a man named David Williams. He wrote a letter to the Commissioner saying that the problem with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was that they listened to the people who owned the nuclear power plants and not to the people who have legitimate concerns. His exact words were, “The NRC relies on the assurances of licensees.”

Now I was part of that report. I brought some safety concerns forward to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and they were ignored. And in the process, discovered a very cozy relationship between the regulator and the people that they were attempting to regulate. It went to congressional hearings with John Glenn and in the congressional hearings the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said this: “It is true. Everything Mr. Gundersen said was absolutely right. He performed quite a service.” Nothing changed after that hearing. What he said to Congress had no affect on the way the agency was behaving.

Well, lets fast forward another decade and start at the beginning of the 21st century. There is an excellent journalism piece out and it is in the Austin Chronicle. It is investigative journalism at its very best and it is called, “Will Shill For Nukes.” The author of it discovered that an industry group, NEI, the industry trade organization, was writing opinion pieces and they were then giving those opinion pieces to professors around the country and asking those professors of nuclear engineering at universities around the country, they were asking those professors to put those in the local newspapers. Well, quite a few professors obliged. So opinion pieces written by the nuclear industry were given to university professors and put with the university professor’s name into editorials in local newspapers touting the benefits of nuclear power.

Now what makes this really interesting is that one of the university professors that is mentioned in the story is a man named Dale Klein. Mr. Klein became the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission one year after that investigative journalism report was issued.

Well, as a final one, let’s look at just two years ago. The NRC’s Inspector General wrote a report about one of the NRC’s commissioners. This gentleman’s name is Jeffrey Merrifield. Now Commissioner Merrifield was determined to have been looking for a job in the nuclear industry while he was a commissioner. He was calling the people he regulated and asking them for work. Not only that, he found work. And for his last couple of months on the job, he was making decisions that were favorable to the person who was going to employ him at a million dollars a year once he left the NRC. Well that report is also on our site and that makes for interesting reading.

Today, things really have not changed. Just last month, there was a meeting with the International Atomic Energy Agency. They had it in private. And in that meeting were industry executives and heads of government.

That a serious accident happened in Japan is not a statement about the Japanese culture. Rather it speaks to the pressure that the nuclear industry exerts on nations worldwide. It can happen in your country.

Thank you.

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- who has written 80 posts for Rock The Capital

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