Accidents

Page - April 7, 2005
Nuclear Reactors Can Have Accidents That Would Devastate The Region In Which They Operate

There are over 100 reactors currently operating in the United States, many of which are located close to major population centers such as New York City and Philadelphia. Each nuclear reactor has the potential to devastate the region in which it operates. The potential for such devastation lies in the radioactive fuel that fires the nuclear power plant. The radioactive fuel rods, whether inside the reactor or in the spent fuel pool, must be cooled to prevent them from melting down. If a meltdown were to occur either in the reactor or in the spent fuel pool, the accident could kill and injure tens of thousands of people, leaving large regions uninhabitable.

In the wake of the accident at Chernobyl in Ukraine, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission was asked to testify before Congress concerning the potential for severe accident at a U.S. reactor. The NRC acknowledged that there was a 45 percent chance of a meltdown in the next 20 years. NRC Commissioner James Asselstine stated that:

While we hope that their occurrence is unlikely, there are accident sequences for U.S. plants that can lead to rupture or bypassing of containment in U.S. reactors which would result in the off-site release of fission products comparable or worse than the releases estimated by the NRC staff to have taken place during the Chernobyl accident.

This is why the Commission told Congress recently that it could not rule out a commercial nuclear power plant accident in the United States resulting in tens of billions of dollars of property losses and injuries to the public.

In 1990, the Wall Street Journal reported on a study conducted by a Soviet nuclear industry economist on the continuing economic disaster of the Chernobyl accident. The study found that the cost of the disaster had originally been underestimated, the accident may cost 20 times more than Moscow's original estimates. The accident contaminated approximately 12,400 square miles. The Wall Street Journal article concluded that, "The total bill suggests that the Soviet Union may have been better off if they had never begun building nuclear reactors in the first place."

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