Why is the US teaming with Russia to gut international nuclear safety standards?

The U.S. is teaming up with the people who brought us Chernobyl. Not in an effort to improve nuclear safety, but to block new safety rules proposed by Europe.

The U.S. is teaming up with the people who brought us Chernobyl. Not in an effort to improve nuclear safety, but to block new safety rules proposed by Europe.

Even after 30 years at NIRS, some days the news is just so appalling that it makes one want to scream. And some days, the actions of the U.S. government–regardless of who is in charge–are just wrong on so many levels that it makes one embarrassed to be an American.

Today is one of those days.

Actually, it should have been three or so weeks ago, when I first heard about this story from a European colleague who sent me a rather vague newslink about it. But I was swamped at the time, and it just sort of glanced off me then, victim of too much other pressing business. But when it came up again today; well, I’m appalled and embarrassed to be an American.

To me, it’s almost unbelievable. It sounds like the beginning of a plot from a bad spy novel. But here’s the headline from a December 1 article from Bloomberg News, brought to my attention today: Russia-U.S. Face Off Against Europe on Nuclear Safety.

That’s right: The government of the United States and the government of Russia are teaming together in an attempt to gut new post-Fukushima nuclear safety requirements proposed by European nations.

I could point out that, since the Sizewell accident in the UK in 1957, there haven’t been any major meltdowns on European soil. By contrast, the U.S. had Three Mile Island and the Soviet Union had Chernobyl. Yes, Chernobyl was on Ukrainian soil, but make no mistake, it was a Soviet project and what’s left of the Soviet Union is called Russia. And Ukraine wants no part of Russia.

In fact, Ukraine wants so little to do with Russia that Russia felt compelled to seize Crimea–a part of Ukraine, and then invade Ukraine itself to make sure Ukraine noticed that Russia is still the big boy in the region. In response, the U.S. has imposed, and helped convince those same European nations to impose, major sanctions on Russia. And so now we’re in this new Cold War with Russia. Except, apparently, when it comes to nuclear power and nuclear safety, when the two nations other than Japan that actually suffered through a nuclear meltdown join together to try to tell all those other countries that have better nuclear safety records that their rules are too strict.

No wonder our colleagues in Europe are, if anything, even more appalled than I am–if that’s even possible.

What’s really going on here?

What’s going on is that European regulators, who are not exactly an anti-nuclear force it should be noted–our colleagues in Europe butt heads with them the same way we do with the NRC–had the gall to propose that their post-Fukushima safety modifications be made requirements under the Convention on Nuclear Safety treaty, which was created after the Chernobyl disaster. The U.S. and Russia are signers to that treaty. Thus, if the European modifications were made requirements, the U.S., theoretically at least, would have to implement them.

It probably goes without saying that the European modifications go much further than the NRC’s post-Fukushima actions. France alone will have to spend some $13 Billion implementing those requirements. And while France may get far more of its electricity from nuclear power than does the U.S., we still have many more reactors than they do. But estimates of the upgrade costs for our entire fleet run only around $3 Billion. And that’s if the NRC ever gets around to enforcing its post-Fukushima regulations. So far, not a single one has been implemented, and the NRC is rapidly backing off the most important ones–like requiring filtered vents for GE Mark I and II reactors, the same design that failed at Fukushima and would have permanently destroyed north-central Japan had the wind not been blowing nearly all the legions of airborne radiation over the Pacific Ocean instead of Japan itself.

So instead of teaming up with the Europeans, who apparently at least recognize that nuclear power may be just a little bit dangerous at times, the U.S. teams up with the nation that brought us Chernobyl and left a wasteland across northern Ukraine and southern Belarus. Yeah, good thinking.

Or maybe the U.S. is worried that if we agree to better safety regulations, some of that other European feeling–the kind that has gripped Germany, and Austria, and Italy and others, you know, the kind that leads nations to end the use of nuclear power entirely–might rub off on us. And who knows where that could lead? Maybe to abundant and affordable clean energy, and reduced profit and maybe even bankruptcy for a few utilities overly reliant on aging, dangerous nuclear reactors.

The reality is that no amount of nuclear safety regulation can assure nuclear safety. The next major accident could well occur on European soil, even with its post-Fukushima fixes. That’s why we work, every day, to end nuclear power entirely.

But, as long as reactors are operating, it’s simply irresponsible–negligent in fact–not to apply the lessons learned from nuclear accidents to those remaining reactors. And by collaborating with Russia in an attempt to block new safety steps, the U.S. is acting with deliberate negligence. The U.S. nuclear infrastructure–the NRC, the DOE, EPA, in this case the State Department, and the industry itself–thinks it knows better. It thinks it’s the gold standard for the world. But instead, it’s showing the world that far from going for the gold, it’s not even trying to place. It’s going to protect its nuclear industry from the rest of the world no matter the cost to our credibility abroad and our people and environment at home.

Sure, the next major nuclear accident could occur on European soil. But with its actions, the U.S. is making it more likely that it will happen here. And that is unforgivable.

Michael Mariotte

December 9, 2014

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/12/09/why-is-the-us-teaming-with-russia/

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20 thoughts on “Why is the US teaming with Russia to gut international nuclear safety standards?

  1. Buzz Davies

    The Licensing and Regulation of the commercial nuclear industry by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is a fraud on the environment, the public, and the national nuclear security of the United States of America.
    Three Mile Island was only the first of five documented (one in a million) major failures of commercial Nuclear Power Plants in the USA in the past 25 years. With 104 Nuclear Power Plants currently in operation that gives us about a one in twenty chance of another catastrophic event in the near future!
    The last was March 31, 2013 when the Arkansas Nuclear Plant lost power to the plant and scramed its second reactor, after they had dropped a 500 million pound Generator Stator and its Gantry Crane through the Turbine Hall floor– destroying and flooding the main switchgear room — ! Not only did they kill outside power to the Plant but the emergency diesel generators (although started and running) were unable to get power back into the containment buildings to operate the critical cooling pumps — because the switchgear room was severly damaged!!! Sound anything like Fukushima, yet? Well they vented main steam from reactor 2 for eleven hours — Fukushima blew the top off its contanment after fourteen hours — while electricians waded through the wreckage (Yes the switchgear room flooded from broken main fire lines) — to make emergency high voltage connections to the reactor main coolant pumps!!!
    The NRC has achieved this dismal performance by illegally deleting the Title 10, Code of Federal Regulations Part 50 Appendix B, Nuclear Quality Program requirements from the operating licenses of these Nuclear Power Plants. The net result is that the NRC has allowed to be put in place an entire infrastructure of feudalistic management, short term profit operations of our Commercial Nuclear Power Plants. Since feudalistic management has historically demonstrated that it is failure prone because of its very nature of no engineering feedback, the NRC, overwrought with multiple layers of bureaucratic corruption, has continually guaranteed the failure they are Congressionally Commissioned to prevent.
    The NRC is UNFIT to LICENSE or REGULATE the Commercial Nuclear Industry of the USA and hence is certainly UNFIT to REGULATE Internationally.

    Buzz Davies
    Nuclear Quality Engineer, Retired

    1. Jo Kirkpatrick

      Absolutely unfit. Thank you Buzz Davies for posting on this.
      Aside from NRC’s corruption and unfitness, and the US President’s allying himself with US nuclear industrial promotions, I’m predicting that the main reason the US government’s/Russia’s attempt to override EU international safety regulations is due to the two governments’ desire to keep making bigger and better nuclear weapons—especially since the Pentagon has already said that our nuclear weapons need to be upgraded. IMO this is the real black reason for the continued US government promotion of nuclear “power”.

    2. jharragi

      >>March 31, 2013 when the Arkansas Nuclear Plant ‘…’ they vented main steam from reactor 2 for eleven hours

      How much radiation was released?

      I live near Indian Point and on a few occasions there have been report of steam releases that may have had low levels or tritium. These kind of news releases always have a spokesman quoted as saying, ‘there is no risk to the public’. When you read these things, you know it may be true in the sense that by the time you have heard about it, there is no longer a risk as anybody who has been exposed has already been exposed and if you have, you’ll not be able to prove it nor will the responsible parties will never admit to it.

    3. David Agnew

      Buzz Davies, thank for your informative comment. Would you please itemize the other 4 near-misses in the past 25 years? I think Davis-Besse in 2002 would easily qualify. Browns Ferry and TMI were over 35 years ago. I wasn’t aware of the extent of the Arkansas accident, I’m not doubting you, just looking for more info.

      1. Buzz Davies

        Thanks for pointing out that it has now been 35 (not 25) years since that catastrophy. As for the other failures — I was reporting second hand on those from meetings I had attended and I didn’t research the failure counting directly — just took those reports as correct in as much as it was the NRCs own statistical evaluations being quoted.
        I believe that Conneticut Yankee with its collapsed cooling tower and associated reactor scram was one and probably the San Onfre CA “Sieve” was another. I can confirm that the NRC failure report for Arkansas I & II did state that event as a 1.6 million to 1 chance.
        Interestingly the AK Failure Report done by the NRC stated that they were unable to determine the cause of that failure. However, it was apparent from the report what caused the failure! At the end of the report, the NRC included the names and positions of 27 on site staff personel they had interviewed and NOT ONE was a QUALITY ENGINEER or INSPECTOR. Obviously there is NO Nuclear Quality Program at that Nuclear Power Plant ——- Another example of Malfeasance of Office by the NRC to License that Nuclear Power Plant to Operate without compliance to 10CFR50. By the way, with the death of a crane operator, malfeasance of office becomes Felony Reckless Endangerment!
        For this knowing negligent abuse of power, I would personally sign the warrants for their arrests!!!

  2. Pingback: 12.9.2014 Daily Links | Daily Links & News

    1. Sandra T

      Yes, you are right Simon, although it was called Windscale at the time. I know because I live near to it … far too near.

  3. Pingback: Why is the US teaming with Russia to gut international nuclear safety standards? - Cape Downwinders

  4. Angelika

    Thanks for the post Michael, and all comments above!
    There are indeed worlds between your NRC and our WENRA (Western European Nuclear Regulators Association). What has been made known todate may be just the tip of the iceberg, I would not doubt that.
    In case anyone missed, I’d also like to put some spotlight on this article to demonstrate how things SHOULD/could BE: ‘German energy giant E.ON to focus on renewables’
    http://www.dw.de/german-energy-giant-eon-to-focus-on-renewables/a-18103057 (most likely also published at Bloomberg)
    If I may, I’d like to include here one of the petitions demanding Swedish energy giant VATTENFALL to drp their lawsuit against Germany for phasing out nukes, especially as they have chosen a secret US court for this. Signatures much appreciated !
    Perhaps one last word about the article: I am not happy with the link here to the Ukraine crisis and Mr Putin as the only culprit and “the bad guy” in this scenario. That looks like echoing the US maistream media propaganda.This crisis did not start with the Crimea grab(we actually have a legal debate here whether it was an annexation or a sessession, as previously with Kosovo and US endorsement) http://action.sumofus.org/a/vattenfall-lawsuit/but with the US neocon instigated Putsch, that is a fact.
    The “sudden” consent when it comes to upgrading their nukes and refusal of costly safety improvements should be no surprise, given the priorities both nations favour. Add to that the new Russia-India deal.

    1. Jo Kirkpatrick

      Angelika, I signed your vattenfall petition and sent it on to a friend. I agree with you that the Putin/Ukraine fiasco is another engineered one courtesy of neocons.

      1. Michael Mariotte Post author

        This probably isn’t the place for an extended discussion of the Ukraine issue. I will just note that not everything is determined by either U.S. or Russia. Anyone close to Ukraine and Ukrainians, or who just spent the day–as I did Saturday–with a broad cross-section of the Ukrainian community in the Washington area will quickly realize that the Ukrainian revolution has nearly unanimous support among the Ukrainian people. That’s one reason it was successful; it’s just about impossible to have a non-violent revolution (i.e. one without the military involved) without enormous popular support. And the support for the fight against Russia is also just about unanimous. This isn’t, as I’ve seen portrayed too often in some sectors of the media, a case of puppets being manipulated by the machinations of either the West or Russia; it’s about an oppressed nation trying to break free. I fervently hope they succeed in building the society to which they aspire.

      2. Angelika

        My comment was actually to go in response of Joe Kirkpatrick but, I am happy to send the very same wishes and greetings to Michael just as well!
        I agree this isn’t the place for any extended or even shorter discussion about the Ukraine crisis-unless perhaps regarding the SouthStream project and other fossil fuel issues in that area, which the entire deal is all about in the first place.
        Of course, I join the wish for a free and thriving society for the people of Ukraine which, however, at the moment sadly doesn’t look to be coming true any time soon. And that is the fault of Ukraine’s installed and hopelessly as corrupt as broke government.
        Merry Christmas to you and yours!

      3. Angelika

        Thank you very much!
        Now it’s time for Season’s Greetings rather than political discussions 😉 so here’s my sincere wish for Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas to all of you!
        Some lucky ones in NY will most likely celebrate this Christmas with their electricity -should they use electic candles- provided by https://ethicalelectric.com/
        Isn’t that -along with the fracking- ban great news!

  5. Angelika

    Oops, sorrry for the repeated petition link which slipped in there at the wrong place,
    Should read of course” […) Crimea grab, but with…”

  6. Angelika

    But perhaps this IS the right place to ask another question, this one:
    Why is the US (Westinghouse) teaming with Ukraine for nuclear reaktor fuel delivery?

    I wouldn’t know how reliable the various recent reports on those repeated “incidents” at Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant, the Ukraine’s Zaporizhia really are but, they are certainly suitable to ask questions and trouble not only me, since this hits rather close to home. To me it reads as if Westinghouse were simply EXPERIMENTING with their materials to see if they actually match that Russian designed VVER reactor ?
    Not a very comforting outlook for their future cooperation after the new contract for fuel delivery until 2020 between Kiev and Westinghouse has just been signed in Brussels.
    This couldn’t have escaped your attention and I’d like to know what to make of it?
    I won’t include all links here as many media outlets carried the story, maybe just a selection and the additional one in OP-Ed news, showing a document which appears to be authentic. However, those transcripts of leaked alledgedly taped phone calls at the end cannot be verified so they’re not helpful.

    Even if this looks somewhat misplaced here, happy New Year to everyone!

    1. Michael Mariotte Post author

      Not misplaced at all. U.S. companies have been trying for years to get into the Ukrainian nuclear market, which was traditionally dominated by Russia. In the case of Westinghouse–which while based in the U.S. is not a U.S. company any more, it’s owned by Toshiba–there have been talks for years about Ukrainian use of Westinghouse fuel. The Russians don’t like this, because it cuts into their profits–they had a monopoly on supplying fuel to Ukraine, so there have been numerous reports originating in Russia that the Westinghouse fuel is problematic. While those are mostly propaganda, there certainly are legitimate questions about how well Westinghouse-supplied fuel will work in Ukraine’s reactors. At this point, I don’t think there is an answer to those questions.

      As far as we can tell, the incidents at Zaporizhia have been overblown by the Russian media, although we are still attempting to get some independent views from our colleagues in Ukraine (but with the holiday season just ending here, and still in full force in Ukraine, communication is slow). The incidents don’t seem, as far as we know, to be fuel-related, rather they appear to be problems with steam generators (although this is not a certainty, just an extrapolation from the limited information we’ve seen), which can still be serious problems. It was, after all, steam generator accidents that ended up closing the San Onofre reactors in California and the Zaporizhia reactors are nearly 30 years old, an age when many reactors have experienced steam generator problems and have often been forced to replace them or shut down. Unfortunately, while the Ukrainian government has strongly denied any serious accident or radiation release–and in the absence of any corroborating independent evidence it’s hard to refute them–Ukraine has never been especially transparent about its nuclear industry either. So it’s not clear to us yet exactly what has happened at Zaporizhia, and thus not clear how serious it may be.

      1. Angelika

        Thanks for your response, Michael. I hardly expected anything else or more you could tell me than what you did. Let’s just all hope the real seriousness of these repeated incidents won’t catch us by surprise. I do acknowledge Russian propaganda and I’ve been also aware of the past and back story to this but, to me it seems your phrasing of Ukraine not being very “transparent” is quite an understatement. I just wish Americans would open up more to the true story of this conflict and realise the real nature of the Kiev government and the actual state of affairs in Ukraine.
        We’ll keep an eye on this, as I’m sure you will as well, so hopefully there’ll be more reliable details about this toubling situation coming out soon.

      2. Michael Mariotte Post author

        Perhaps the transparency reference was understated; the point was that we don’t trust the Ukrainian government (nor, for that matter, any government) to be forthcoming about most nuclear safety matters and nuclear accidents. The U.S. and Japan already have proven their failures in this area, as did the Soviet Union. And that’s only for the big accidents–governments everywhere have routinely attempted to cover up important nuclear safety info. Since this is true for governments of all types–authoritarian and democratic alike–it says less about the nature of the governments than of the continuing power of the nuclear industry.

        As for Ukraine, I suspect I am far closer to the issue than most of our readers, and I think I have a very realistic view of the nature of this young government. It is not, as Putin would like the world to believe, a collection of neo-nazis and fools. It is very western-oriented and I believe is trying to end the culture of corruption that has characterized Ukraine since it achieved its independence. Whether it will succeed is a different issue, as is the possibility that it will simply instill a new type of corruption, and at this point is unknowable. But it is the most hopeful opportunity for positive change Ukraine has yet seen in its short history of independence.

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