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The coronavirus pandemic and the increased safety risks for nuclear reactors

Nuclear Alert: NRC & Nuke Safety In the Time of COVID-19 September 14, 2020  By The Fairewinds Crew

First off, we would like to preface this by saying that the world simply cannot afford a meltdown or nuclear disaster on top of the already traumatic times wrought by Pandemic 2020.

Did you know that nuclear plants close for scheduled refueling every 18-months, meaning that 1/3 of the operating reactors are off-line each spring and fall? For the record, more than three dozen reactors had planned to do so in Spring 2020. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) defines this rather temporary closing as an outage. During these outages, used-up nuclear fuel is replaced, and critical safety inspections are performed.

You may remember, that in early May, Maggie wrote extensively about the numerous safety risks to all of us if the nuclear industry continued operating these reactors during the COVID-19 Pandemic without implementing critical safety protocols and procedures. Along with 86 other organizations from all over the U.S., Fairewinds Energy Education nonprofit cosigned a letter to Vice President Pence and the COVID-19 Task Force detailing significant safety risks that must be addressed. You can read more about that letter and the increased safety hazards here. To date, we have received no response!

When the COVID-19 Pandemic began in late February, atomic reactor operators and owner corporations begged the NRC for special exemptions from regulatory requirements to implement critical safety and security inspections for up to two years! And, in an extreme example of regulatory capture, the NRC has approved all the corporate requested safety inspection delays, handing them out like candy to eager Trick-or-Treaters on Halloween! We know you have heard this before from the Crew at Fairewinds Energy Education, however, let us emphasize again that the federal laws [called statutes] that authorize the NRC, chartered it to protect ‘public health and safety’. Letting the industry continue to ignore critical safety inspections risks public health and safety!

During the past decade, the success in the growth of renewables has caused the nuclear industry to fight tooth and nail to keep operating even though nuclear power plants are much more expensive to operate than sustainable energy sources, and nukes charge much higher rates to consumers. Additionally, the risk of a disaster or other calamity has increased dramatically due to the old age of all current U.S. operating reactors. Instead of moving to solar and wind and shutting down these decrepit reactors, the energy and utility corporations are trying to reduce their higher operating costs by laying off employees and pushing the people remaining to work harder to save money and continue stockholder profit earnings.

Rather than slowing down these Spring refueling outages and allowing more time for inspections and repairs due to the extra burden the COVID-19 Pandemic has put on their employees and contractors, America’s nuclear monopoly has decided to risk ‘public health and safety’ – you remember what the federal law states – by reducing the amount of safety inspections the staff at each reactor was scheduled to perform. We agree that squeezing three or more people into a confined space for an inspection could be a recipe for COVID-19 transmission. However, slowing the inspection down and using fewer people at a time means having the reactor offline [shutdown] for a longer amount of time. In other words, the truth is that any operating schedule delay reduces each corporation’s profits.

Most atomic power reactors earn $1Million dollars in revenue every day. In addition, vice presidents, plant managers, and other corporate functionaries are on special bonus plans equivalent to between 40 and 70% of their salaries in a special year-end bonus. Such huge sums create a unique incentive for nuclear corporate executives to keep the outages as short as possible. When a vice president earns about $500,000, they will receive a $350,000 year-end bonus for meeting corporate goals, especially a short outage. We tend to notice that bonuses of that size cloud one’s judgment. Furthermore, we are reminded of Upton Sinclair when he so aptly said, “it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Is the risk of a disaster and a major radiation release to the surrounding community worth the extra millions of dollars earned by the corporate owner for starting these reactors up too soon? We don’t believe so.

Despite there being an abundance of available electricity without even using the atomic chain-reaction, the nuclear power operators and their corporate owners as well as the nuclear industry lobby are claiming that delayed testing will not cause a disaster and no nearby communities will be damaged or deal with the radioactive exposure to its residents.

Safety risks obviously increase because critical inspections are being delayed.


September 15, 2020 - Posted by | health, safety, USA


  1. Reblogged this on The Most Revolutionary Act and commented:
    COVID 19 responsible for suspension of usual nuclear plant safety inspection routine. A big risk for communities for a dangerous, extremely expensive form of energy that only survives thanks to heavy corporate lobbying.

    Comment by stuartbramhall | September 15, 2020 | Reply

  2. Reblogged this on Alexanders' Blog.

    Comment by alexander philip | September 16, 2020 | Reply

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