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Supporters, opponents disagree on how Japan incident affects U.S.

Supporters, opponents disagree on how Japan incident affects U.S.

March 16th, 2011 in News

Supporters and opponents of nuclear power disagree on how the nuclear plant incidents in Japan will affect the nuclear industry in Missouri and throughout the nation.

Opponents of Missouri legislation allowing private utilities to recover costs for an early site nuclear permit think the nuclear plant incidents in Japan will hurt chances for approval of the legislation.

Ed Smith, No-CWIP coordinator for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, said "anytime there are people walking around in a nuclear plant wearing haz-mat suits it won't help the legislation."

Smith said the best law is the one enacted by voters in 1976 that prohibits private utilities from charging consumers for costs of building power plants until after they are completed.

Smith said 30 percent of Japan's overall electric generation has been lost because of problems with nuclear reactors.

A nuclear industry spokesman held a nationwide telephone press conference with newsmen Tuesday and said the problems encountered by Japanese nuclear power plants aren't likely to happen in the United States nuclear plants but the nuclear industry is watching events in Japan closely and will learn from Japan's mistakes.

Anthony Pietrangelo, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer of the Nuclear Industry Institute, said members of the American nuclear industry want everyone to know that their thoughts are with the Japanese as they deal with the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.

"While we all like more information and clarity on what is going on in Japan, their primary focus has to be on the public health and safety and on managing the situations at the units that are under duress," Pietrangelo said.

"They are doing a heroic and commendable job in Japan," he said.

Pietrangelo said all nuclear plants in the United States are built to the specific worst case scenario events that could occur where the plant is located.

For example, the nuclear plants in Japan were protected with a barrier against a tsunami wave of only 6.5 meters high. It was hit with a 7 meters wave. By contrast, the nuclear plants on the West Coast of the United States have 30-foot barriers to protect against a tsunami wave.

In the United States each plant is built to withstand any natural disaster such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane or other storms. They also have security protection against airplane strikes and terrorists attacks.

Rick Eastman, supervisor of business operations at the Callaway Nuclear Power Plant, said the plant is designed to withstand an earthquake more intense than it is likely to receive. He said it could withstand an earthquake up to 9 on the Richter Scale.

Pietrangelo said there is far more to the engineering for each plant than just the Richter Scale. He said the type of soil and rock and other geology at each site is factored into the necessary strength of each nuclear site.

"The site permit studies the seismology, geology and hydrology of the area to make sure it fits the safety needs of a nuclear plant," Eastman said.

Pietrangelo said each plant has numerous backup systems. But even if they all fail, the plant still has the means to shut down the reactor and fight any fires with portable backup pumps

He said in Japan the backup fuel containers were placed above ground and were knocked out by the tsunami wave. But in the United States the backup fuel containers are stored underground to prevent them from being knocked around by wind or waves.

Pietrangelo said safety procedures are constantly upgraded in the United States. He said the nuclear industry in the United States is monitoring the incidents in Japan closely and will take any steps necessary from lessons learned.

But opponents of nuclear power in the United States are still not convinced that nuclear power is safe.

Kathleen Logan Smith, executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, said "the catastrophe demonstrates the dangerous and unreliable nature of nuclear power in the event of a significant natural disaster."

Logan Smith said the events in Japan "have been an unfortunate reminder of why nuclear is not safe or reliable. We need not look any further than the United States to see the economic turmoil facing the industry itself. Wall Street gave up on financing new nuclear reactors decades ago due to the history of cost overruns and construction delays."