Legislators, Groups Gather to Highlight Need for Improved Nuclear Safety and Commitment to Safer, Cheaper Energy Sources

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Ben Wright

Environment Massachusetts

(Boston, MA) In the wake of the on-going disaster at the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan, concerned citizens and legislators gathered today in Boston to highlight the need for immediate health and safety upgrades at New England’s aging nuclear reactors. The groups urged that no new reactors be constructed, and no existing reactors relicensed, as the lessons learned from the Fukushima tragedy in Japan are still being assessed.  The groups also urged the Commonwealth to reaffirm its commitment to cheaper and safer forms of energy.  Immediately following the event, a joint legislative hearing was held featuring testimony from a number of officials, community groups representing families who live in the shadow of the reactors and the reactor owners.

“It’s not a time to panic but it’s a great time to reconsider nuclear power’s risk and our own safety,” said Representative Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead). “We need to make sure we can safely coexist with the energy generation on which we depend. After visiting Chernobyl in 1992, I know I would never want anything like that or what is unfolding in Japan to happen here. I fully support my state colleagues who seek information and answers this afternoon.”
Representative Denise Provost (D-Somerville) said, “Right now, the Fukushima nuclear plant is discharging radioactive water directly into the sea, as its ‘least harmful’ option for dealing with its failed cooling system. Twenty-three nuclear reactors in the US share the same design as the damaged Japanese reactors, including our Pilgrim plant, and the Vermont Yankee plant on our border. The industry cannot presently assure the safety of these plants – but we must have that assurance.”

The heightened spotlight on nuclear power as the crisis in Japan continues to unfold has revealed serious deficiencies in nuclear safety and oversight here in the United States and locally. A recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists examines 14 “near-misses” at U.S. nuclear plants in 2010 including an incident at the Vermont Yankee reactor. The events exposed a variety of shortcomings, such as inadequate training, faulty maintenance, poor design, and failure to investigate problems thoroughly. 
“Until lessons from Fukushima have been learned and appropriate fixes decided upon and put in place, all license extensions should be postponed, “ said Mary Lampert, spokesperson for Pilgrim Watch.  “It can happen here. There were 14 near misses in the US just last year.”

If the first responders close to the Fukushima reactor had continuous monitoring of radiation levels like we have around Seabrook, they would have been better equipped to advise the public,” said Sandra Gavutis, spokesperson for C-10 Foundation representing residents who live within a 10 mile radius of the Seabrook nuclear reactor.

The public health risk from a large radioactive release from U.S. reactors in the United States is substantial. Any exposure to radiation increases a person’s risk of developing cancer according to the National Academy of Sciences.  

“The ongoing disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant makes it clear that nuclear power is neither safe nor reliable,” said Jill Stein, MD, spokesperson for Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility. “A comparable accident at the Pilgrim reactor would pose the same potential risk of radioactive contamination requiring the evacuation of most of the Boston metropolitan area. There is simply no credible way this can be done.  The state should begin now to phase out this dangerous, unreliable and expensive technology.” 

The most critical health and safety upgrades at the reactors include: 
•    rapid transition of waste fuel rods from overcrowded fuel pools to dry cask storage 
•    increased security for spent fuel pools, particularly at reactors who share the same elevated spent fuel pool design as the Fukushima Daiichi reactor
•    multiple back-up power redundancies to guard against station black-outs
•    Electric wiring qualified to be installed in moist or wet conditions relied on to provide both off-site and back-up power to critical safety and cooling systems
•    expansion of emergency zones beyond the current 10 miles
“Following the crisis in Japan, other nations put a hold on new reactors, made plans to expand their renewable energy development, and took other steps to prevent a nuclear catastrophe on their soil,” said Cindy Luppi, Clean Water Action Regional Co-Director.  “We need a serious response from our officials here as well, one that goes beyond assuring us that we have nothing to worry about.”

“Nuclear power is simply not worth the risk,” said Ben Wright, advocate with Environment Massachusetts.  “A Fukushima type disaster at Pilgrim would devastate Massachusetts Bay, destroying the most iconic ecosystems in the Bay state.  We should not put the health of our environment and the safety of Massachusetts residents at risk – especially when the solutions, energy efficiency and truly clean, renewable energy are just starting to take off in the Commonwealth.”

Additional legislators in attendance included Representatives Will Brownsberger, Sean Garballey, Frank Smizik, Chris Walsh and Senator Jamie Eldridge.