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US Nuke Plants Get Safer After Japanese Crisis Last Year

This Sunday marks the one year anniversary of one of the worst nuclear accidents in history.

Athit Perawongmetha, Getty Images

It’s hard to believe the death toll wasn’t greater in what continues to be an ongoing saga for the men, women and children who live near the Fukishima Diachi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan. Although it’s no longer headline material, the radiation continues to be a problem and will be for decades to come.

It was March 11th, 2011. A massive 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast creating a massive tsunami. The power facility was crippled. Backup generators failed. Thousands fled the area while tons of radioactive material spewed into the air. The experience was a learning one for United States nuclear regulators.

Ever since the incident, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been hard at work, examining safeguards at our nation’s generators. In addition to helping with trying to restore power during the actual emergency, the NRC has sent a team to Japan to study exactly what went wrong. Can our plants on US soil withstand the same kind of natural disaster? A double whammy so to speak? Could it have been a lot worse over in Japan?

This past summer, Hurricane Irene churned up the coast of Jersey and our nerves as well. The Oyster Creek Power Plant in Lacey Township, Ocean County and the other facilities on the east coast survived with no damage. But that what if scenario was on the minds of the officials that are charged with protecting the public.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan explains “since 9/11 back in 2001, the NRC has taken a closer look at safety at all of the plants. We continue to fine tune our safety systems and guidelines and are always in contact with the plant owners and operators. The disaster last year was a major eye opener. We’ve learned a lot and are in the process of rolling out several new policies.”

Sheehan says “the communication lines between our agency and nuclear facilities is more vital than ever.”

Areas of particular concern include seismic activity, flooding, backup emergency generators and evacuation plans. There’s a greater emphasis on fuel rod storage and spent materials in case something was to happen. They are also requiring more frequent inspections and are even urging some power plants to increase the size of their access roads leading to and from the station.

The Oyster Creek Plant in Lacey has a similar design to the plant in Japan.

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