Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Leaked Emails Expose NRC's Cover-Up of Safety Concerns Days After Fukushima Disaster

Energy
Leaked Emails Expose NRC's Cover-Up of Safety Concerns Days After Fukushima Disaster

When an earthquake and tsunami struck Fukushima, Japan leading to a nuclear disaster three years ago, U.S. residents wondered if the aging nuclear facilities in their own country were at risk. What they didn't know is that the federal government's nuclear arm worked actively in the days after the incident, trying to cover up the perils that existed in the states.

According to a report from NBC, a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) campaign to reassure people about nuclear safety standards coincided with agency experts consistently presenting similar questions behind the scenes. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, NBC acquired a string of March 2011 emails that clearly show the cover-up.

"While we know more than these say, we're sticking to this story for now," Scott Burnell, an NRC public and media relations manager wrote in one email.

Graphic credit: NBC

In the days following the Fukushima disaster, the NRC split its talking points into two segments with different information: "public answer" and "additional technical, non-public information." Here's an example of a question the NRC expected to face, followed by the public and non-public answers:

Q. What happens when/if a plant 'melts down'?

Public Answer: In short, nuclear power plants in the United States are designed to be safe. To prevent the release of radioactive material, there are multiple barriers between the radioactive material and the environment, including the fuel cladding, the heavy steel reactor vessel itself and the containment building, usually a heavily reinforced structure of concrete and steel several feet thick.

Additional, non-technical, non-public information: The melted core may melt through the bottom of the vessel and flow onto the concrete containment floor. The core may melt through the containment liner and release radioactive material to the environment."

One example of a concerted cover-up came five days after the initial reports that an earthquake and tsunami knocked out the power and cooling systems at the six-reactor Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. MSNBC used NRC estimates to rank the U.S. nuclear plants that were most at risk if an earthquake were to hit nearby land. Burnell and members from the NRC's lobbying arm, the Nuclear Energy Institute, emailed staff members with instructions to find errors in the article, but none came up. He also told experts likely to appear on TV how to deny certain claims.

Graphic credit: NBC

Former U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu appeared on CNN on March 20, 2011 but hesitated when an on-air personality asked him if U.S. nuclear plants could withstand an earthquake that measured 9.0 on the Richter scale. NRC spokesman David McIntyre had his own ideas for how Chu should have handled the question.

Graphic credit: NBC

More than 30 of the country's 100 nuclear power reactors have the same brand of General Electric reactors or containment system that used in Fukushima, according to the NBC report. The median reactor age in the U.S. is 34. The oldest is the Ginna plant near Rochester, N.Y., licensed in 1969. Only four of the reactors began generating power in 1990 or later.

Americans aren't the only ones concerned with old reactors. Last week, 240 Greenpeace activists from national and regional offices took action across Europe to highlight the risk of aging reactors.

Visit EcoWatch’s NUCLEAR page for more related news on this topic.

 

A Brood X cicada in 2004. Pmjacoby / CC BY-SA 3.0

Fifteen states are in for an unusually noisy spring.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A creative depiction of bigfoot in a forest. Nisian Hughes / Stone / Getty Images

Deep in the woods, a hairy, ape-like man is said to be living a quiet and secluded life. While some deny the creature's existence, others spend their lives trying to prove it.

Read More Show Less

Trending

President of the European Investment Bank Werner Hoyer holds a press conference in Brussels, Belgium on Jan. 30, 2020. Dursun Aydemir / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

By Jon Queally

Noted author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben was among the first to celebrate word that the president of the European Investment Bank on Wednesday openly declared, "To put it mildly, gas is over" — an admission that squares with what climate experts and economists have been saying for years if not decades.

Read More Show Less

A dwarf giraffe is seen in Uganda, Africa. Dr. Michael Brown, GCF

Nine feet tall is gigantic by human standards, but when researcher and conservationist Michael Brown spotted a giraffe in Uganda's Murchison Falls National Park that measured nine feet, four inches, he was shocked.

Read More Show Less
Kelsey Mueller, 16, pets Ruby while waiting with her family to be escorted from the evacuation zone at the Shaver Lake Marina parking lot off of CA-168 during the Creek Fire on Sept. 7, 2020 in Shaver Lake, California. Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images

By Daisy Simmons

In a wildfire, hurricane, or other disaster, people with pets should heed the Humane Society's advice: If it isn't safe for you, it isn't safe for your animals either.

Read More Show Less