Japan has exponentially gathered into organized efforts to push back against the nuclear village. The Governor of Fukushima has agreed with the local government declaration that all 10 nuclear reactors in Fukushima prefecture will be dismantled. Major referendum efforts are under way in Osaka and Tokyo to ban nuclear power plants from their regions. Local governments around the Hamaoka nuclear plant have passed measures demanding the plant be permanently shut down.
If you were to roll back to a year before the Fukushima Daiichi accident, such a scenario would be absolutely unimaginable. Nuclear power was heavily entrenched in politics and most people were willing to deal with the status quo. Now local residents are suing the operator of the Genkai nuclear power plant complex demanding it be shut down.
People in the US are fighting against risky aging nuclear plants in their local area but these efforts are frequently isolated. People near the Pilgrim nuclear plant in Massachusetts are using the referendum process to prevent the re licensing of Pilgrim, one of the US’s oldest nuclear plants and the same design as Fukushima Daiichi. The state of Vermont passed a law giving the state veto power over the operation of the aging Vermont Yankee BWR reactor nuclear plant. This law is currently tied up in court. Vermont has also taken bold steps to move their state towards more use of renewable energy. One referendum from the 1980’s was done in South Dakota to require a public vote before any nuclear waste storage can be done in the state. This has had the effect of preventing any new nuclear power plants or the potential for a nuclear waste storage facility. Power companies know they can not overcome public resistance to such facilities to gain approval.
While local people and governments are trying to fight nuclear plants in their back yard, the power conglomerates that run them are trying to rush through approvals with the NRC to make it harder for these plants to be shut down. One such case is the Limerick nuclear plant. Excelon, the current owner of the plant is trying to lock in additional 20 year re licensing for the two units there. But the current licensing does not expire until at least 2020. Limerick has newer reactors built in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The licensing request for so far in the future is both unusual and suspect in that they are asking the NRC to predict 20 years in the future what safety expectations will be and the condition of the reactors. This seems to be representative of the big nuclear conglomerates attempting to grandfather in or beat the clock on what seems to be a nation souring on the idea of nuclear power.
A poll taken soon after the Fukushima disaster showed a significant majority of people in the US oppose nuclear power and find it unsafe. There is also considerable opposition to building new reactors. As more is learned about the root causes of the massive failures at the reactors in Japan the US opposition to nuclear is likely to grow. This may be behind the recent scramble for far in the future re licensing and the rush to approve the AP 1000 reactor design. The NRC approval again exposed the conflicts at the agency and the pro-industry bias of many on the panel that insisted on rushing the approvals despite continuing design concerns.
One former long time NRC committee member explained the issues at the NRC as being a group of nuclear industry insiders trying to oust the chairman because he isn’t cooperating with the agenda and desires of the industry. He also went on to dispel the myth of a nuclear renaissance. The LA Times explains that the “nuclear renaissance” is not going to happen due to the increasing costs due to the new safety requirements being put in place after Fukushima. A nuclear industry lobbyist admitted there is a lack of new construction but he claims it is due to the low cost of natural gas. The AP 1000 has not begun construction in the US but the other reactor design considered the future of nuclear power, the French EPR has been plagued with cost over runs at both the Flamanville and Finland projects.
With all the battles at the NRC, the best plan to resist nuclear power may be what is happening in Japan, the referendum process. Taking the decision for nuclear reactors out of the realm of politicians and industry tainted agencies and putting it back into the hands of those directly impacted by the power plants may be the key to preventing the next nuclear accident dead zone.
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