Can U.S. Nuclear Plants Handle a Major Natural Disaster?

Can U.S. Nuclear Plants Handle a Major Natural Disaster?
by John Sullivan, Special to ProPublica March 13, 2011, 5:12 p.m.

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Print Share255 Futaba Kosei Hospital patients who might have been exposed to radiation are carried into the compound of Fukushima Gender Equality Centre in Nihonmatsu on March 13, 2011, after being evacuated from the hospital near the troubled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. (Daisuke Tomita/AP Photo/The Yomiuri Shimbun)
As engineers in Japan struggle to bring quake-damaged reactors under control [1], attention is turning to U.S. nuclear plants and their ability to withstand natural disasters.

Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who has spent years pushing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission toward stricter enforcement of its safety rules, has called for a reassessment. Several U.S. reactors lie on or near fault lines, and Markey wants to beef up standards for new and existing plants.

“This disaster serves to highlight both the fragility of nuclear power plants and the potential consequences associated with a radiological release caused by earthquake related damage,” Markey wrote NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko in a March 11 letter [2].

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