Government Admits Each Nuclear Reactor Relicensing Expected to Kill 12 People. More Than 1,200 Could Die Under Bush Relicensing Program.
The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission yesterday acknowledged that 12 people are expected to die as a direct result of each commercial nuclear reactor that is relicensed and operates for its 20-year license extension period.
The admission came in a correction to its 1996 relicensing regulation, which was published in the Federal Register July 30. According to the Federal Register notice, each relicensing is expected to be responsible for the release of 14,800 person-rem of radiation during its 20-year life extension. The figure includes releases from the nuclear fuel chain that supports reactor operation, as well as from the reactors themselves. The NRC calculates that this level of radiation release spread over the population will cause 12 cancer deaths per reactor.
However, this figure understates the ramifications of continued reliance on nuclear power. Additional releases from the storage, transportation and disposal of high-level radioactive waste created by the reactors would cause additional deaths. The purpose of the Federal Register correction notice was to except the effects of high-level waste from the previously published but little-noticed 14,800 person-rem figure.
Accidents and non-routine radiation releases are not included in the NRC's figure, and could cause still higher casualties. The NRC only calculated likely cancer deaths, so deaths from other radiation-induced diseases and non-fatal cancers are not included in its calculations.
There currently are 103 commercial reactors operating in the U.S. The Bush administration and nuclear power industry have made relicensing the vast majority of these reactors a centerpiece of their strategy to maintain and increase reliance on nuclear power. The NRC has said it expects as many as 100 reactors to apply for license extensions; this would result in some 1200 cancer deaths among the U.S. population.
"This admission by the federal government gives the lie to the administration and nuclear industry's claim that nuclear power is somehow an 'emissions-free' technology," said Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Washington-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service. "Not only does the nuclear fuel chain result in meaningful greenhouse gas releases, but the deadly radiation emitted at every step of the process kills people directly. The Bush administration thinks killing more than 1,000 people is an acceptable price to pay for continued use of nuclear power. We think it's a national scandal."
(Mariotte noted that the only operating uranium enrichment plant in the U.S., at Paducah, Kentucky, is the nation's largest emitter of CFC-114, which was banned by the Montreal Protocol for being a major ozone destroyer and greenhouse contributor.)
Paul Gunter, director of NIRS' Reactor Watchdog Project, pointed out, "The NRC's notice implicitly admits that the 103 reactors now operating—if they last only until the end of their original license period—will be responsible for more than 2,400 cancer deaths in the U.S., even without all of the dozens of accidents and 'incidents' that have plagued the industry over the years and caused additional releases of lethal radiation."
"Instead of relicensing atomic reactors," said Gunter, "we should be closing them and accelerating implementation of clean, sustainable, energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies."
To see the Federal Register posting of July 30, 2001 by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission: http://frwebgate2.access.gpo.gov/cgibin/waisgate.cgi?WAISdocID=9155315596+0+0+0&WAISaction=retrieve
See Table B-1
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