We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Filters

In, Post-Fukushima, Arguments for Nuclear Safety Bog Down, the NY Times discusses legislating nuclear safety in a post-Fukushima world:

Ever since the nuclear accident in Japan released radiation into the atmosphere, regulators in the United States have been studying whether to require filters, costing as much as $45 million, on the vents of each of the country’s 31 boiling water reactors.

The filters, which have been recommended by the staff of the regulatory commission, are supposed to prevent radioactive particles from escaping into the atmosphere. They are required in Japan and much of Europe, but the American utilities say they are unnecessary and expensive. …

The debate over the filters reflects a simmering tension that has been building inside the regulatory agency since the Fukushima accident in Japan. A tug of war among commissioners and between some commissioners and staff members has produced repeated votes that reject staff safety recommendations.

The pro-regulatory chairman resigned in protest, and further reading implies that votes are more correlated with campaign contributions than safety:

“It’s not the time to be rash with hasty new rules,” wrote Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate committee that oversees the industry, in a letter signed by six other senators. (Twelve senators — 11 Democrats and an independent — signed a letter supporting filtered vents.)

Representative John Barrow, Democrat of Georgia, in a letter signed by 25 other House Democrats, argued that the filtered vent “is not justified on a cost-benefit basis,” a fact the commission staff acknowledges. The commission must “achieve the regulatory goal in the safest, most effective, and least costly manner,” the letter said.

Many of these lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, have received significant campaign contributions from the industry.

Nuclear plants themselves are not cost-effective, and require boatloads of public money to even exist, but the least we can do is try to make them safe. Vitter was able to quell his last scandal when two of his prostitutes were found dead at the end of nooses. If we have a Fukushima-type meltdown in America, it may be him and the other filter opponents that are dangling.

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