Tragedy in Japan a Terrifying Reminder of the Risks of Nuclear Power

Media Contacts
Emily Rusch

Vice President and Senior Director of State Offices, The Public Interest Network



Statement of Emily Rusch in response to the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. 

“Our hearts go out to the people of Japan, who have had their lives torn apart by the recent earthquake and the tsunami that followed.

We are also extremely concerned about the unfolding crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Based on recent news coverage, significant releases of radioactivity have already occurred and more are possible. The impact that the radiation releases could have on the environment and human health could be catastrophic.

The crisis in Japan is a sobering reminder that nuclear power is inherently dangerous.

There are no guarantees that an accident of the type happening in Japan couldn’t happen here in the United States. 

676,081 people live within 20 miles of the nuclear reactors in California. Anyone living within 20 miles of the Fukushima plant has been evacuated or has been warned to stay indoors.

Like the Fukushima reactors, all 104 U.S. reactors rely on backup cooling systems powered by diesel generators and batteries with limited lifespan. All of them are vulnerable to a catastrophic cooling system failure, the primary cause of the accident at the Fukushima plant. 

A combination of factors, including the earthquake, the tsunami, human error, and a power outage triggered the problems at the Fukushima reactors.

It’s not hard to envision how a similar combination of factors could lead to a problem at any one of the reactors here in the United States. There are countless combinations of acts of nature or man, including hurricanes in the South, ice storms in the Northeast, tornadoes in the Midwest, a terrorist attack, human error or unexpected mechanical failure that could fuel a crisis at any nuclear reactor in the United States.

Twenty-three nuclear reactors in the United States are the exact same design as the Fukushima plant. Experts have criticized the ability of this reactor design to contain a disaster. 

More than half of U.S. reactors have been in operation for longer than 30 years. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has extended the operating licenses of 59 U.S. reactors beyond the original planned lifetime of the facilities. 

Here in California, the PG&E-owned Diablo Canyon plant and the Southern California Edison-owned San Onofre plant are both located on the California coastline, near earthquake fault lines. At Diablo Canyon, in 2008 a new earthquake fault line was discovered just 1800 feet from the plant. 

At the urging of CALPIRG and other public interest groups, the governor signed legislation in 2009 that requires PG&E and Southern California Edison to complete three-dimensional, independently peer-reviewed seismic studies to better understand just how bad earthquakes in the region could be, and whether the plants are adequately built for those earthquakes. Neither company has completed the study required by law. 

If an event like an earthquake coincided with a power outage or other risk factor, the odds of a crisis developing would increase.

What planners can’t predict, they can’t prepare for. Because it is impossible to plan for every imaginable contingency, it is impossible to build a fail-proof nuclear reactor. 

The consequences of nuclear accidents can be dire. There is no known safe level of exposure to radiation, which can cause health problems from nausea to cancer. Even after a nuclear power plant shuts down, spent fuel remains. There is no safe and permanent storage solution for spent fuel, which remains radioactive for tens of thousands of years.

We are struck with grief and deep concern as we watch events unfold in Japan. This accident makes it clear that nuclear power is neither clean nor safe and the risks associated with nuclear power are simply unacceptable.”