US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) chairman Allison Macfarlane has said that US nuclear power plants are now safer than ever after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, with these claims disputed by the Union of Concerned Scientists (USC).
All but five of the nation's 104 nuclear reactors were performing at acceptable safety levels at the end of 2012, Macfarlane told the Associated Press, citing a recent NRC report.
But the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), released a paper stating that the NRC remained inconsistent in maintaining nuclear plant safety.
According to the report, many of the significant safety lapses at US nuclear power plants in 2012 happened because plant owners and the NRC either tolerated known problems or failed to address them adequately.
The UCS said 14 serious incidents, ranging from broken or impaired safety equipment to a cooling water leak, were reported in 2012.
UCS director nuclear safety project and author of the report Dave Lochbaum said that it was evident that the NRC could be capable of being an effective watchdog.
"Too often the agency does not live up to its potential, and we are still finding significant problems at nuclear plants that could trigger a serious accident," Lochbaum added.
The union said that since issuing the report, Wolf Creek in Kansas, Palisades in Michigan and Fort Calhoun in Nebraska experienced three or more near-misses from 2010 through 2012.
The watchdog found that over that three-year period, nearly 40% of the nuclear fleet experienced conditions that increased their likelihood of reactor core damage by at least a factor of ten.
The report also noted that the NRC has routinely failed to enforce its rules governing reactor coolant leaks.
"The NRC's job is more than just establishing safety standards," Lochbaum. "It also involves enforcing them consistently."
Image: The UCS said 14 serious incidents, ranging from broken or impaired safety equipment to a cooling water leak, were reported in 2012. Photo: courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.