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U.S. nuclear energy safety questioned via UPI.com

WASHINGTON, Nov. 1 (UPI) — The United States is headed toward a major nuclear disaster — one that could mirror what happened last year in Japan — unless the government more closely monitors aging power plants, safety advocates and activists said.

“This is like the Titanic that is headed toward an iceberg,” said Paul Gunter, the co-founder of the Clamshell Alliance anti-nuclear group and a longtime activist.

Gunter’s concern centers on the 23 “Mark I” nuclear reactors in the United States, which are identical to the containment vessels used at Fukushima’s Daiichi nuclear power plant, where three reactors failed and went into meltdown in 2011.

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Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane said last week at a nuclear safety presentation that the United States is working to better prepare for station blackout and other events triggered by extreme weather.

John Lee, nuclear engineering professor at University of Michigan, said that despite the vulnerable containment, the safety measures in place would make sure Mark I reactors in the United States can survive natural disasters similar to the Fukushima tsunami.

However, a report conducted by Union of Concerned Scientists said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ignores weaknesses in protection regulations. It allows 27 reactors to operate facing earthquakes larger than they are designed to withstand, 47 reactors violating fire protection regulations, including one Mark I plant.

“As long as luck prevents those vulnerabilities from being challenged, it’s fine,” Lochbaum said. “But if luck runs out, those pre-existing conditions can mean disaster.”

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