CHICAGO, Feb. 21, 2013 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- Continuing with its series of special reports on energy and climate issues for American Public Media's Marketplace, the award-winning BURN: An Energy Journal and its host Alex Chadwick this week investigate the small-but-troubling possibility of a catastrophic meltdown occurring at any of 31 nuclear power plants now operating in the U.S. if they should lose electrical power and their back-up systems fail all at once. All of the nuclear plants in question - mostly concentrated in the Midwest and on the East Coast but also scattered around the country (see map) - use the same type of reactors that exploded under duress at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant in Japan two years ago.
This is no longer a theoretical problem in the U.S. When the severe winter storm Nemo struck New England two weeks ago, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Generating Station in Plymouth, Massachusetts, lost outside power used to operate cooling for the reactors for several days. Diesel back-ups took over until offsite power was restored. Pilgrim has the same kind of reactors that failed at Fukushima. As Chadwick reports, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is trying to decide whether to order all nuclear power operators in the U.S. to install special filters in the exiting venting systems that would greatly reduce the chance of a Fukushima-like radiation release in a compromised plant. But at a cost of 15- to 20-million dollars per unit, the U.S. nuclear power industry is resisting the filters.
Produced by Peabody Award-winning SoundVision Productions ©, BURN's Marketplace segments will follow in the footsteps of its hour-long specials in 2012 that were broadcast nationally over the American Public Media network and won the prestigious AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which was awarded on February 15, 2013. Check your local listings for broadcast dates and times in your community, or go to the BURN website to listen to the story at any time and learn more.
Like the hour-long BURN documentaries, which will continue to be produced in 2013 via a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Marketplace segments will offer a far-ranging examination of how individuals, new scientific ideas, grassroots initiatives and potentially game-changing inventions are informing the energy debate in the country, and redefining America's quest for greater energy independence.
For the NRC venting story, Chadwick goes on a riveting tour of one of the problematic plants near Chicago with a senior NRC inspector, examining the containment vessels that house the Fukushima-style reactors, and the current venting systems that would – in a crisis – release the radioactive hydrogen gases that triggered the explosions in Fukushima and save the plant. He also interviews the head engineer who runs the Chicago-area plant to get his perspective. The fight is over whether the nuclear power companies should install radiation-blocking filters to the current venting systems – at significant cost to themselves – as a precaution against a Fukushima-grade event that is statistically unlikely to occur in the U.S.
The veteran radio reporter digs into a recent, contentious NRC hearing on the venting and filter issue, the expense of installing the filters, and the increasingly politicized debate about all of the above between the NRC, the nuclear power industry and elected officials. He also talks with Charles Casto, a NRC engineer with 30 years of experience, and the leader of the U.S. team of experts that was rushed to Japan a few days after an earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima reactors, and led to the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. Casto's 10-day assignment turned into an 11-month learning experience that reinforced for him the possibility of the same kind of disaster happening here. Casto is now director of NRC Region III, with 16 reactors sites under his supervision in the Midwest.
"This is the most crucial issue facing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission now," explains Chadwick. "The fascinating equation of very low probability and very high consequences."
BURN: An Energy Journal is produced by SoundVision Productions in partnership with APM's Marketplace with a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The BURN radio specials are distributed by American Public Media. To keep up with the latest BURN projects and blogs on energy and climate change - including our Rome BURNS series - follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
For media inquiries, contact Scott Busby at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310.475.2914.
APM's Marketplace® programs are currently broadcast by more than 500 public radio stations nationwide and are heard by more than nine million weekly listeners. To find your local airtime, visit marketplace.org/local-air-times. Marketplace is also available on demand via marketplace.org, iTunes, Slacker Radio and Stitcher Radio.
Source: Data are copyright Arbitron, Inc. Arbitron data are estimates only.
SOURCE BURN: An Energy Journal