Ex-top U.S. nuclear regulator counsels end to atomic power


Staff Writer

The ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant is a sign that the world needs to seriously rethink nuclear safety and consider possibly ending its dependence on atomic power, the former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Tuesday in Tokyo.

“When you look at what happened around the Fukushima Daiichi (No. 1) area, it’s simply unacceptable,” as tens of thousands of people have been unable to return to their homes due to radioactive contamination, said Gregory Jaczko, who served as the top U.S. nuclear regulatory official for nearly three years until July 2012.

Given that Japan is extremely prone to earthquakes and tsunami, among other disasters, using nuclear power poses serious risks unless some kind of new technology is created to completely eliminate the possibility of severe accidents, Jaczko told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

However, Jaczko also said that creating such zero-risk technology is next to impossible.

Instead, Jaczko said, he hopes Japan pours its resources and energy into coming up with ways to function without atomic power.

“I think the Japanese people have the ability to do that,” he said.

While Japan’s atomic watchdog, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, is now examining requests from utilities to restart reactors, Jaczko stressed the importance of getting the public actively involved in the process.

“There needs to be a thorough public debate and a public dialogue to ensure that those decisions” have received as much support from the public as possible, said Jaczko, who headed the NRC when the Fukushima crisis erupted on March 11, 2011.

As for the ongoing issue of tainted groundwater flowing into the ocean at the No. 1 plant, Jaczko expressed befuddlement that the issue has only recently come under the spotlight.

“This was known from the beginning that there would potentially be these contamination problems,” he said.

  • There is no solution for the storage of radioactive waste. I have read that only after 241,000 years radiation may have declined to a safe level. Basing their risk on experience, insurance companies have never insured against an accident. People have neither been objectively informed nor allowed to choose about their own safety. Yet they pay taxes for the nuclear industry and their risk, which is the most important reason why that seems to be cheaper than the alternatives.

  • Richard Wilcox

    What vigorous democracy in Japan? A nation of obedient sheep that would make Orwell cringe.

  • midnightbrewer

    An amazing number of safe nuclear plant designs have been created over the last few decades. Any number of them would be fine to use in Japan. Japan’s problem is that Fukushima was forty years old and due for decommission. So yes, if you willingly continue to use something beyond its lifespan you’re bound to have problems. There’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, though.

    • rossd

      You don’t seem to understand the word “safe’. Can they build a reactor which is earthquake proof, bomb proof, tsunami proof, terrorist proof and idiot proof and also store the highly dangerous waste for thousands of years? The baby and the bathwater have both been irradiated!

      • Can they build a coal-fired plant which is earthquake proof, bomb proof, tsunami proof, terrorist proof and idiot proof and also store the highly dangerous waste for thousands of years?

        Can they build an oil or gas-fired plant which is earthquake proof, bomb proof, tsunami proof, terrorist proof and idiot proof and also does not contribute to global warming?

        Can they build a car which does not crash? A plane which will not fall rom the sky? A ship that will not sink? A set of stairs that cannot be fallen from? We need electricity, today, and produced in a way that will not make the planet hotter than it already is.

      • John Tucker

        I dont think you understand safe. No casualties have occurred as a result of radiation contamination. Several people were incinerated in gas explosions after the earthquake. A levy collapse killed eight.

    • Theodore Shaw

      Thanks, Midnightbrewer, your statement is a breath of fresh air. Let me add that it was the oldest reactors at Fukushima Daiichi which suffered the catastrophic failures, while the newer ones at Fukushima Daiichi, Fukushima Daini and Onnagawa, all remained safe after the earthquake and tsunami. I believe that Japan can continue to operate nuclear power plants safely, so long as it stringently enforces the latest safety regulations, and ensures that the operating personnel demonstrate regularly that they know how to safely operate and use all the safety systems at their reactor.

    • Luke Hefele

      The majority of nuke plants in the US are about to be past their time, but the NRC gives more and more years to each plant as they apply. A coal plant will not destroy all natural systems if left unchecked. Gas, coal, nuclear, solar, … there are no solutions anymore. We are out of time as a species. We just need to do damage control now before we go into the next epoch.

  • David E. Spence

    Short of shipping all the nuclear waste to the moon, there is no “good” way to dispose of it. And, with the proliferation of nuclear power around the world, especially into unstable countries and/or the higher risk of “accidents” (carelessness), AND the dangers associated with aging plants (yes, in the US of A, as well), nuclear power is NOT safe. To paraphrase, “Familiarity breeds carelessness.” We have had many, many years to think about and plan for safer power sources and we have squandered the time. The world DOES need to seriously work on phasing out nuclear power, period. In the end, there is no such thing as a “safe” nuclear power plant. This should be on the agenda of the UN.

    • There’s no such thing as a “safe” power plant, period. Nuclear or otherwise. however compared to every single other method we currently have, including solar and wind, nuclear is demonstrably the safest per unit of electricity produced.

    • John Tucker

      One coal plant produces more waste than the ENTIRE US nuclear fleet. Its just dumped into the terrestrial environment and atmosphere.

      How can anyone on this planet be so ignorant as to believe Coal or Gas is safer than nuclear power when they have tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands if not MILLIONS the numbers of casualties. Its beyond belief.