One year after Fukushima disaster, business as usual for nuclear industry | WisCommunity

One year after Fukushima disaster, business as usual for nuclear industry

A year after a March 11 earthquake and tsunami caused a major disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power reactors, it’s almost business as usual for the US nuclear industry, which remains bullish about its prospects to expand and build more reactors.

In Wisconsin, home to three of the nation’s oldest reactors, with two more just across the Mississippi River in Minnesota, that may pose serious risks to the environment, the economy, and to human health.  

The reactors at Kewaunee and Point Beach, on Lake Michigan, and at  Prairie Island, on the Mississippi,  all have been operating for at least 40 years and have had their licenses extended until the 2030s.  All are storing deadly high-level nuclear waste right next to their reactors.  Because there is no safe, permanent way to dispose of nuclear waste it continues to accumulate on the shores of our Great Lakes and greatest river.  It is so dangerous it must be kept out of the environment for hundreds of thousands of years. 

The industry says there’s no problem, that a permanent solution is just around the corner.  But it has been producing the deadly waste – the industry prefers to call it “spent fuel” – for 55 years, with no solution in sight. 

 Earthquakes and tsunamis are not likely to hit reactors in the Midwest.  But no so-called “act of God” or nature is necessary for a nuclear accident, as evidenced by Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, which were caused by design flaws or human operator errors.

The safety record at Wisconsin’s reactors has not been stellar.   Point Beach has had three Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) “red” safety violations, the highest on a four-level scale -- more than any other nuclear plant in the country. Recently, the online Energy Wire reported that Kewaunee is one of 11 nuclear plants that may have used computer models that underestimated how much heat older nuclear fuel retains during severe accidents.  The NRC is concerned that older fuel rods at the plants could exceed the federal safety threshold of 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit during an accident that wipes out power to the sites. Such high temperatures could damage the fuel rods' outer layer and eventually the reactor, NRC said.

As always, the NRC added that there is “no threat to public safety.”

But an accident at any of the reactors could cause widespread radiation damage, disruption, and harm to the environment, crops, and health.  Fukushima is a reminder that when there is a nuclear accident, all cost projections and corporate responsibility go out the window. The taxpayers foot the bill for everything:  loss of businesses, humanitarian and health impacts, cleanup of contaminated sites, handling radioactive waste. Then there’s the near-permanent loss of important land and water resources; how many generations will it take for the northeastern Japanese economy to recover to pre-accident levels?  What would a nuclear accident do to Wisconsin’s economy?

One positive side effect of the Fukushima disaster is that Wisconsin’s law safeguarding nuclear reactor construction remains intact.   Bills to repeal the co-called nuclear moratorium – which requires that a nuclear waste repository be operating before a new reactor can be built -- had been introduced in four consecutive sessions of the legislature, but not in the current one, which is ending.   With pro-nuclear Republicans in control, even after Fukushima, it might have passed.  

 Meanwhile, the NRC is moving at glacial speed to order changes based on a study of US reactors it ordered days after the Fukushima disaster.  The new rules are just being released, and compliance won’t be required until the end of 2016. 


On Monday, March 12, national experts and local advocates will mark the first anniversary of Japan's nuclear disaster, with a briefing on the safety and public health threats posed by nuclear reactors in Wisconsin.  Speakers at the 12:30 pm briefing in room 300SE of the state Capitol will include:    * Dr. Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research   * John Kinsman, President of Family Farm Defenders    * Bruce Speight, Director of WISPIRG.

The March 12 issue briefing is free and open to the public.  It was organized by the Carbon Free, Nuclear Free Wisconsin coalition, Clean Wisconsin, Family Farm Defenders, Institute for Energy & Environmental Research, Nukewatch, Physicians for Social Responsibility WI, Sierra Club John Muir Chapter, WI Network for Peace and Justice, and WI Resources Protection Council.


March 9, 2012 - 10:16am