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How Fukushima Challenged a Core Tenet of U.S. Nuclear Safety: An Expert's View

"Nuclear power is an unforgiving technology," says Peter Lam, nuclear safety expert, whose thinking was changed by Japan's disaster.

Jul 16, 2012
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The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant at Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County,

ICN: As you know, your committee colleague, Robert Budnitz, was asked by the attorney general's office about a committee for San Onofre. Have you been contacted by people from elsewhere about setting up a similar committee?

Lam: There are some private discussions elsewhere, yes. But not officially. There are people who wish to remain anonymous who talked with me about setting up an independent committee. But I would not put much weight on it as an indication that there is a strong interest elsewhere.

ICN: So are other areas missing out by not having an independent safety committee?

Lam: One can make an argument both opposing and proposing it. The proponent's argument is, 'a nuclear power plant typically generates $2 million to $3 million a day of revenue. If a committee, for less than $1 million a year, which is half a day's revenue, if it can improve reactor safety, then on a cost-benefit ratio, it's certainly worth it.' The opponent's argument would be, 'come on, I have the NRC, I have the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, I have the Electric Power Research Institute, and I have in-house nuclear oversight board.' Really, both sides have an argument.

I do not know any other forum that provides this type of venue for public discussion. The NRC usually does public outreach at different locations. I do not think they do it three times a year. Furthermore, the NRC, as a regulator, would be hard pressed to have a free-ranging discussion as we do in a public meeting.

If you are member of the public, you probably would opt for an independent safety committee, because at least you can come to talk to the committee, once, twice or three times a year, or even tour the plant—and also get feedback from three committee members.

ICN: So you are not taking a position on it?

Lam: No. Each locality needs to make their own opinion based on the facts and based on their perception. If it improves public participation, if it improves confidence among members of the public, or for that matter, if it increases opposition—I think that could be healthy. 

Slides from Lam's July 26, 2011, presentation:

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