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U.S. Nuclear Agency Hid Concerns, Hailed Safety Record as Fukushima Melted via NBC News

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There are numerous examples in the emails of apparent misdirection or concealment in the initial weeks after the Japanese plant was devastated by a 9.0 earthquake and 50-foot tsunami that knocked out power and cooling systems at the six-reactor plant, eventually causing releases of radioactive material:

  • Trying to distance the U.S. agency from the Japanese crisis, an NRC manager told staff to hide from reporters the presence of Japanese engineers in the NRC’s operations center in Maryland.
  • If asked whether the Diablo Canyon Power Plant on the California coast could withstand the same size tsunami that had hit Japan, spokespeople were told not to reveal that NRC scientists were still studying that question. As for whether Diablo could survive an earthquake of the same magnitude, “We’re not so sure about, but again we are not talking about that,” said one email.
  • When skeptical news articles appeared, the NRC dissuaded news organizations from using the NRC’s own data on earthquake risks at U.S. nuclear plants, including the Indian Point Energy Center near New York City.
  • And when asked to help reporters explain what would happen during the worst-case scenario — a nuclear meltdown — the agency declined to address the questions.

As the third anniversary of Fukushima on Tuesday approaches, the emails pull back the curtain on the agency’s efforts to protect the industry it is supposed to regulate. The NRC officials didn’t lie, but they didn’t always tell the whole truth either. When someone asked about a topic that might reflect negatively on the industry, they changed the subject.

NBC News requested in late March 2011 all of the emails sent and received by certain NRC staffers during the first week of the crisis. Other news organizations and watchdogs filed similar requests. The NRC has now been posting thousands of emails in its public reading room over the past two years.

Read more at U.S. Nuclear Agency Hid Concerns, Hailed Safety Record as Fukushima Melted

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