A catastrophe far worse than Fukushima lurks in the United States, as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission used faulty data to estimate potentially ruinous risks of a nuclear-waste fire — one which could occur at any one of dozens of sites across the country.
“Published by researchers from Princeton University and the Union of Concerned Scientists,” the latter organization reports, “the article [in the May 26 issue of the journal Science] argues that NRC inaction leaves the public at high risk from fires in spent-nuclear-fuel cooling pools at reactor sites.
The pools — water-filled basins that store and cool used radioactive fuel rods — are so densely packed with nuclear waste that a fire could release enough radioactive material to contaminate an area twice the size of New Jersey. On average, radioactivity from such an accident could force approximately 8 million people to relocate and result in $2 trillion in damages.
Researchers warn darkly that the NRC’s recalcitrant refusal to enact crucial safety measures — including the use of dry casks to house contaminated waste — could have cataclysmic consequences for millions of people living near reactor sites.
And the NRC — a government entity unironically tasked with ensuring “the safe use of radioactive materials for beneficial civilian purposes while protecting people and the environment” — managed to shirk civic, environmental, and, arguably, ethical safety precautions by flatly dismissing viable potentialities.
“Using a biased regulatory analysis,” the Union of Concerned Scientists continues, “the agency excluded the possibility of an act of terrorism as well as the potential for damage from a fire beyond 50 miles of a plant. Failing to account for these and other factors led the NRC to significantly underestimate the destruction such a disaster could cause.”