Safety factors a secondary consideration to USA’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)

“If filtered vents are good enough for Sweden, if they are good enough for Germany, if they are good enough for France and for Switzerland,”   “they should be good enough for us.”

Nuclear Safety Advocates Accuse Industry And Regulators Of Foot-Dragging On Basic Safety Measure HUFFINGTON POST, Tom Zeller Jr.04/30/2012  “……  one seemingly straightforward emergency feature: Requiring a filtered vent in the concrete containment buildings surrounding nuclear reactors like the one at Pilgrim.

Such a vent would come into play in only the worst sort of emergency, when the usual means for keeping the reactor core cool are lost and things inside are heating up to the point of becoming explosive. Operators can then open the vent and exhale the pressure directly into the air. The filter would capture dangerous radioactivity, to prevent contamination of the surrounding area.

Until now, vents have been an optional feature for American plant operators, but in March, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued its first orders since undertaking a review  of safety systems and procedures at American plants in the aftermath of the disaster in Japan. Among the orders was a requirement  that reactors of similar pedigree to those used at Fukushima should have containment vents installed. For reactors that already have them, steps should be taken to ensure they operate in an emergency, officials declared.

To the dismay of Lampert and others, however, regulators have not required filters, at least not yet. The order left the matter open for further discussion…….

nuclear safety advocates say the industry’s desire to minimize costs results in an overly narrow view of worthwhile safety measures.

Pilgrim Watch, a nuclear safety group headed up by Lampert, filed a challenge  to the NRC’s vent order earlier this month. Meanwhile, a public meeting  to discuss guidelines for the vents — including the advantages and disadvantages of filters — is scheduled for Wednesday at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md……

Advocates say that whatever the real cost, the benefits of forestalling widespread contamination of areas around a troubled nuclear power plant are significantly higher.

“It’s baffling that any one would even contemplate not filtering the gases released during severe accidents,” says David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer and longtime advocate of nuclear safety with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Under such conditions, the likelihood that these gases would contain huge amounts of radioactivity approaches 100 percent. So in a situation when the gases contain the highest levels of radioactivity, we will release them with the least amount of protection for the workers and the public.”……

Jaczko, whose reputation as a reformer has put him at odds with his more industry-friendly fellow commissioners, has begun advocating  for a broader view of risk — one that includes not just human exposures, but the possibility of widespread contamination of the surrounding environment.

“We also want to begin thinking about what happens when the people are gone, and you have contamination that keeps people out of their homes, or keeps businesses in the area from being able operate, sometimes for 20 or 30 years,” Jaczko said.

Regardless of how remote the possibility is that vents would be needed — the Fukushima disaster was the first time in the history of nuclear power that such vents were put to the test — weighing questions of broader environmental contamination would seem to argue for installation of filters…..

Mary Lampert, however, is undeterred, arguing that the vents are just one of many aspects of nuclear power safety that need to be upgraded. She ticked off a list of nations where filtered containment vents are now required.

“If filtered vents are good enough for Sweden, if they are good enough for Germany, if they are good enough for France and for Switzerland,” she said, “they should be good enough for us.”

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