Anyone who’s seen The China Syndrome or any episode of The Simpsons that features Homer on the job at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant probably has some vague ideas of the dangers of nuclear power when things go wrong. Hell, I’ll admit to basing most of my own uneasiness regarding nuclear power plants off of these two pieces of culture. While these kinds of depictions of nuclear disaster are most certainly exaggerated, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have admitted that their safety measures and practices regarding nuclear plant safety are indeed insufficient, and do not measure up to the magnitude of risk involved.
Thus, in a new 318 page report released earlier this year helmed by NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis, the NRC outlines its intent to restructure and redraft its safety protocols and regulations to reflect these concerns. After a brief epigraph from The History of the Peloponnesian War (!), the report gets into its “Proposed Risk Management Regulatory Framework,” outlining its intention to minimize risk by asking three very basic questions: “What can go wrong? How likely is it? What are the consequences?” In the wake of last year’s tragic Fukushima Daiichi triple meltdown disaster, the NRC is preparing to answer these questions while considering factors (for instance a 9.0 earthquake followed by a tsunami) that would otherwise not be taken into account.
Using a variety of metrics, the report uses Probabilistic Risk Assessment to try to identify a wider berth of potential issues and to outline all possible responses to these issues. However, as the New York Times points out, some critics of the report are already concerned with the report’s findings. David Lochbaum, who has previously gone on record as being unsatisfied with the NRC’s preventative measures, worries that the risk estimates outlined in this report “sometimes ignore known safety problems. “
“Summing up all the risks mathematically yields a result that is contradicted by actual operating experience,” he continues, suggesting that, while this new report may lead to tightened regulations over the next 10 – 15 years, they may only serve as a half-measure.