New studies reveal nuclear plant is near major faults
The Columbia Generation Station, Washington’s only commercial reactor, sits inside the Department of Energy’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation, a former nuclear weapons production site. Powered by a General Electric Mark II boiling water reactor, Columbia began operating in December 1984. In 2009, the industry-funded Institute of Nuclear Power Operations ranked Columbia as one of the country’s two reactors “most in need of improvement.” Of the 75 unplanned shutdowns (or “scrams”) that hobbled the US commercial nuclear fleet that year, Columbia accounted for five.[..]
Even without an earthquake, the Pacific Northwest is in constant motion, moving about a half-inch per year. And, with every creeping millimeter of movement, the pressures continue to mount. It is estimated that since 1700, the Northwest coast has moved more than 25 feet closer to Japan. As USGS scientist Ray Wells puts it: “It’s a train wreck on a geological scale.”
These concerns notwithstanding, on May 22, 2012, the NRC relicensed the nearly 30-year-old reactor to continue operating for another 30 years. The decision came at the same time TV screens were broadcasting images of Fukushima’s three smoldering GE reactors.
Macfarlane’s stance on Columbia seems out-of-sync with the NRC’s concerns for the rest of the country. As The New York Times recently reported, operators at 24 nuclear power sites in the central and eastern US have informed the NRC they could no longer guarantee their facilities could withstand the greater quake risks predicted by newly updated seismic studies: “The new earthquake threat was larger than what they were designed to face.”
After a six-month investigation, Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission concluded the disaster “was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and TEPCO.” The official report also confirmed that at least one of the reactors had succumbed to the forces of the earthquake, not to the floodwaters.
Despite the warnings from Japan, the NRC continues to insist “the newest seismic data suggest that, although the potential seismic hazard at some nuclear power plants… may have increased beyond previous estimates, all operating nuclear plants remain safe with no need for immediate action.” Japan’s 660-page Fukushima investigation concluded that the crisis was a “profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented.”