A timely report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, based on data from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), contains troubling news about the state of America's vast network of nuclear power plants.
The report, which examined serious incidents at 14 U.S. nuclear power plants nationwide from New York to California in 2010, finds fault with both plant operators and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission which is supposed to oversee them.
"Many of these significant events occurred because reactor owners and even the NRC tolerated known safety problems," states the report, entitled: "The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety in 2010: A Brighter Spotlight Needed."
While none of the 14 safety incidents tagged in the Union's report as "near misses" produced harm to nuclear plant employees or the public, the report terms the frequency of these incidents, which averaged more than one per month, "high for a mature industry."
Authored by David Lochbaum, director of the Union's Nuclear Safety Program, this report comes as Japan is confronting a nuclear catastrophe caused by severe damage to a nuke plant complex 170 miles north of Tokyo, which followed an earthquake and tsunami which hit that area.
That Japanese plant has six reactors of a type--the GE Mark 1--which is identical to 24 of the 104 reactors operating in the US.
Although Japan boasts of having one of the world's most sophisticated nuclear power industries the ongoing disaster reveals that its reputation rests in part on an image cultivated by plant operators and government regulators.
Belying that image is the string of technical failures in containing grave problems at the crippled facilities and government regulators withholding critical information from the Japanese public.
Over a decade ago there were three alarming incidents related to nuke plants in Japan including incidents in 1997 and 1999 where 100 workers were exposed to radiation while constructing nuclear fuel rods for reactors.
In the midst of the ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan, WikiLeaks has released diplomatic cables showing that international nuclear regulators had warned the Japanese two years ago that their plants were incapable of withstanding powerful earthquakes. The leaked documents show governmental officials and industry authorities took little action in response to the warnings.
Ralph Nader recently authored a commentary calling for reexamination of America's nuclear power plants noting that many are aging, near earthquake faults and "some on the West Coast exposed to potential tsunami."
The Union's report criticized the NRC's failure to address a longstanding problem at the Indian Point facility located just 25 miles north of New York City, America's largest municipality.
That facility is built close to the northern terminus of a major East Coast earthquake fault line however there is a leak in a refueling cavity construction to prevent leaks in the event of an earthquake. That leak has existed for over a dozen years and the report faults the NRC for failing to crack down on this serious problem.
According to the Union's report the device at Indian Point "installed to prevent leakage after an earthquake is leaking before an earthquake even occurs."
Particularly disturbing in the Union's report are examinations of incidents at two separate facilities located 55 miles south and 83 miles northeast of Washington, DC --America's capital.
One of the 14 examined "near misses' occurred at the Calvert Cliffs facility in Lusby, Maryland, located south of DC. That February 2010 incident arose from a combination of the facility operators' failure to fix a leaking roof plus a failure to replace and test safety equipment.