Ann Darling: Corona and nuclear power

Published: 5/12/2020 1:51:54 PM

Here’s a new twist on the pandemic. It has to do with nuclear power.

That may seem an unlikely pairing, but nuclear reactors have workers, and they can get sick just like everyone else. Every day these essential workers are in facilities that, by their radioactive nature, can create great environmental and economic harm if they are not managed very carefully.

What is happening at nuclear reactors in the midst of the pandemic? Right now there are 30 nuclear power stations in a refueling phase in which the reactor is shut down, maintenance and safety inspections are completed, and new fuel is placed in the reactor.

This requires bringing in hundreds of contract workers, who then travel on to the next refueling reactor. Yet, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is not requiring coronavirus screening or quarantining of workers prior to beginning work. Conditions in nuclear power plants make social distancing difficult, with large work crews, confined spaces, and frequent contact with equipment surfaces.

At some sites, workers have complained about lack of social distancing, sanitation, PPE, and testing. Further, since March, the NRC has granted exemptions to nuclear power generating stations to increase limits on the number of hours employees can be required to work, and to postpone scheduled safety inspections and maintenance. Eighty-six organizations, organized by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS, nirs.org), have sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, chair of the Coronavirus Task Force, and six federal agencies outlining the failure of the NRC to act responsibly in the fact of this pandemic.

The groups call for an immediate, multi-agency, industrywide response to protect workers and reactor host communities, and to ensure nuclear safety is not compromised. We at the Citizens Awareness Network feel a responsibility to let you know what’s happening and what’s being done by active citizens to try to protect us here in the Pioneer Valley, where the Indian Point and Seabrook reactors are just 120 miles away, and Millstone only 75.

Your federal tax dollars subsidize nuclear power, and we thought you’d want to know.

Ann Darling

Easthampton




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