Nuclear reactors become more dangerous as they age

Nuclear facilities are licensed to operate for forty years and all have experienced age-related degradation before the termination of their original license. Despite this, the NRC continues to extend licenses to facilities throughout the U.S.

 from 1952-2009 there have been 99 major nuclear power station incidents worldwide.

NUKE MATTERS: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima…Plymouth? By Karen Vale, Campaign Coordinator, Cape Cod Bay Watch Wicked Local Plymouth, 18 Nov 12, Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986, and most recently Fukushima – these catastrophic nuclear accidents thrust the debate about the safety of nuclear power into the public

Fukushima also triggered a critical examination of nuclear stations with the same type and operational design as the reactors that failed in March 2011. In the U.S., there are 23 reactors with the same design as Fukushima – including Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station
(Pilgrim) on Cape Cod Bay in Plymouth.
Like Fukushima, Pilgrim is not immune to serious natural disasters or
human error. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC; the regulatory body
that oversees nuclear safety in the U.S.) risk estimates rank Pilgrim
second in the nation for likelihood that an earthquake could cause
core damage – a risk that has increased 763 percent since the 1980s.
In 1986, an emergency shutdown was required due to recurring equipment
problems, which lead to a Senate hearing on the safety of Pilgrim.
Again, just this past spring, the facility was shut down after an
equipment failure.

Mark I reactor
Pilgrim is a General Electric Mark I reactor, a design criticized by both nuclear experts and the NRC as being susceptible to containment failure and explosion. The Mark I reactor is designed to contain steam
that builds up from overheating. It diverts steam into a tank, or
“torus,” where it condenses and reduces pressure inside the reactor
containment building.
The inability of the Mark I reactor to handle immense pressure buildup
in an emergency led Pilgrim to install a relief vent as a quick “fix.”
The same vent design was tested three times in Fukushima and failed,
resulting in three explosions. The unfiltered vent would also release
harmful radiation directly into the environment if an accident were to
Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear industry leader, told Democracy Now
that all reactors with the Mark I design should be shut down – due to
the faulty relief vents and the fact that Mark I reactors are set up
so fuel is stored unsafely near the facility roofs.[i] Essentially,
they are inherently unsafe. Mr. Gundersen stated, “there’s more
nuclear Cesium-137 in the fuel pool at the plant in Pilgrim,
Massachusetts, than was ever released by every nuclear bomb ever
exploded in the atmosphere.”
Aging structure
Nuclear facilities are licensed to operate for forty years and all have experienced age-related degradation before the termination of their original license. Despite this, the NRC continues to extend licenses to facilities throughout the U.S.
The Fukushima facility was scheduled to retire in 2011 after 40 years
of operation; however its license was renewed for an additional 10
years. Like Fukushima, Pilgrim’s license was due to expire in June
2012, but was relicensed by the NRC this past May to operate until
2032 – despite design flaws, an outdated cooling system, multiple
state and federal water quality violations, lack of valid permits and
environmental assessments, and unresolved litigation with the NRC
concerning these issues.
Inadequate evacuation plans
The Fukushima disaster resulted in widespread radioactive
contamination and more than 100,000 people displaced from their homes.
The American Embassy recommended that Americans within 50 miles of the
disaster site evacuate.
Pilgrim’s evacuation plan currently only considers advising people
within 10 miles to evacuate – not nearly large enough to prevent risk
of cancer, disease and birth defects for individuals outside of this
region. Pilgrim is located in a densely populated area with an
infrastructure incapable of a timely evacuation. Further,
Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) lacks an evacuation
plan for Cape Cod and the Islands if a nuclear disaster were to occur.
Too close for comfort
Although Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima are indelibly
etched in our memory, bear in mind that from 1952-2009 there have been
99 major nuclear power station incidents worldwide. To learn how you
can help prevent Plymouth from becoming another nuclear accident zone,
please visit


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