U.S. Nuclear Commissioner Jeff Merrifield Urges Restraint in Using Japanese Nuclear Plant Accident to Scare Americans About Nuclear Energy

Kicking off his nationally syndicated “Neal Asbury’s Truth for America Show” on WZAB-AM, Neal Asbury opened the show with a personal perspective on the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. As an exporter, Neal works with distributors in Japan. His agent in Fukushima reported that Neal’s warehouse was lost, along with his food service inventory. Worse, is that fear has gripped Tokyo and surrounding areas as a result of the nuclear reactor accident. Citizens are scared to leave their homes and there is no food and water. “The city is in a virtual lock down,” said Asbury.

Joining the show was The Honorable Jeffrey S. Merrifield, a Commissioner to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) since 1998. During his time on the Commission, Mr. Merrifield has actively supported nitiatives to improve the transparency, efficiency, and effectiveness of the NRC’s regulatory programs. An active participant in the preparation of the NRC’s revised Strategic Plan he also pioneered the creation of a vision statement for the agency. Commissioner Merrifield has invested considerable time in familiarizing himself with the operations of NRC licensees through visits to all 104 operating power reactors, as well as sites undergoing decommissioning and countless nuclear materials facilities.

Merrifield started the show by putting the Fukushima nuclear plant accident in perspective. The danger level for nuclear plants ranges from 1-7, with Chernobyl categorized as a seven and Three Mile Island categorized as a five. The Fukushima accident has been categorized at about a six.

“You can’t equate Fukushima with Chernobyl, where its poor design and lack of a containment wall resulted in a massive fire and explosion that sent radioactive plumes high enough to get into the jet stream. The Fukushima accident isn’t anywhere near this level,” said Merrifield.

Merrifield wanted to downplay the dangers to the public resulting from Fukushima. While there is understandable concern, he doesn’t anticipate a measurable level of radiation impacting the health of the citizens of Tokyo, which is 150 miles from Fukushima. He noted that after Three Mile Island, people living 20 miles from the reactor did not experience any dire health effects. Even Chernobyl, the world’s worst nuclear accident, which killed 50 workers within the plant, did not create the health concerns anticipated by experts among the communities nearby the plant.

While Merrifield believes that U.S. reactors are the safest in the world, he understands why the nuclear commission is concerned about the safety of some older plants. Merrifield noted that after Three Mile Island, the U.S.implemented the strictest safety standards in the world, which includes emergency contingency plans that cover power interruption, the drop of water levels in nuclear spent rod pools and a reduction in the water level covering the reactor’s core (the exact breakdown that occurred at the Fukushima plants). All U.S. plants also have a hard piping system that will bring water directly into the plant if water levels drop exposing the plant to hydrogen build up.

While Merrifield sympathized with workers at the Japanese plant, he was puzzled why they waited so long to ask for help from American scientists. He thinks that the plant’s management waited too long to address the drop in water levels.

Merrifield reminded listeners that the 140 nuclear plants operating in the U.S. provide 20 percent of the nation’s energy supplies. He applauded Department of Energy Secretary Chu for advocating that the U.S. nuclear energy program must continue.

“We have to put the U.S. nuclear energy program in perspective. Nuclear energy is carbon free, it is safe and it is a low cost power source. Despite the accident in Japan, all three of these benefits still hold true,” concluded Merrifield.

Leave A Comment