After the Gulf Oil Disaster You Should be Asking: How Much Safer is the Nuclear Industry?

  • Published on June 25th, 2010


By Zachary Shahan

Just as deregulation of the oil industry was a key factor leading to the BP oil spill, energy experts are warning that we may be setting ourselves up for a disaster in the nuclear energy field by deregulating it.

“Even as tens of thousands of gallons of oil continue to erupt each day from BP’s botched oil well, federal lawmakers are weighing legislation that includes BP-style deregulation of new nuclear reactors, which are the only energy source where the damage from a major accident would dwarf the harm done by a ruptured offshore oil well,” experts from The Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) Safe Energy program wrote yesterday. [social_buttons]

Nuclear industry proponents are reportedly trying to work such provisions into the climate or energy-only bills that are getting close to a vote in the Senate.

Peter Bradford, former commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and former chair of both the New York and Maine state utility regulatory commissions, says:

It is both astonishing and shameful that – when evidence of the consequences of lax regulation and lax oversight washes ashore on tides of oil in the Gulf states and tides of red ink in housing and financial markets – Congress would consider cutting regulatory corners for new nuclear power. Regulatory delays are not causing nuclear power’s problems today. Instead, investors and lenders will not provide capital because of the high risks of reactor cancellation, cost overruns, and cheaper energy alternatives. Putting deregulation provisions for nuclear power in any climate/energy legislation will not save significant licensing time, but it will send the Nuclear Regulatory Commission exactly the wrong message from Congress – speed over safety. Congress will be flat lining effective regulation, not streamlining it.

Diane Curran, Esq., partner, Harmon, Curran, Spielberg & Eisenberg, LLP, says:

The parallel here to the Gulf oil permitting is the proposed short-circuiting of legal processes that are designed to identify and address risks ahead of time. Proposed legislation would, for example, eliminate the independent review now conducted by NRC judges on uncontested issues and would make it easier for the government to avoid consideration of less dangerous alternatives to reactors. The BP spill provides an object lesson regarding the risks of eliminating legal processes for rigorous government oversight of safety and environmental risks because BP was allowed to start drilling without conducting the type of rigorous environmental analysis that is normally required by federal law. In the case of new reactors, the NRC has already seriously weakened key aspects of the legal processes for reactor review. Climate/energy legislation must not make matters even worse.

For more on the specific provisions of concern in proposed climate and energy legislation, actions Congress should take to ensure nuclear reactors are safe, and an audio recording of these and other experts talking about this matter, visit PSR’s news release on this matter.

Check out more of our coverage of the pros and cons of Nuclear Power…

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(Image Credit: Funky64 ( via flickr/CC license)

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.