Saturday March 10, 2012 AT 10:00 PM ET/PT on CBC News Network
|Video Problems?||The full episode is only available inside Canada.|
Could a Fukushima-style nuclear disaster happen here in North America? How safe is our nuclear power industry? Nuclear Aftershocks travels to three continents to explore the revived debate about the safety of nuclear power and the options for alternative energy sources.
Almost a year after a devastating earthquake and tsunami crippled Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, there’s an emerging consensus in Japan and Germany that the hazards of nuclear energy outweigh its benefits. Only six of Japan’s 54 reactors are still operating, and all are expected to be closed by May 2012. Germany has decided to close all of its 17 reactors by 2022, with hopes of filling the power gap with renewable energy sources like wind and solar. But in North America, the question remains unresolved.
This documentary examines the implications of the Fukushima event for U.S. nuclear safety and asks if any of its 104 reactors could suffer a Fukushima-type accident. According to Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) chairman Gregory Jaczko, “The likelihood of a Fukushima accident happening here is very low, … but we know it’s not impossible.” But David Lochbaum, the chief nuclear expert for the Union of Concerned Scientists, has concerns about the Commission’s monitoring. “They’re a little bit slow at solving known safety problems,” he says. For example, Lochbaum says that 47 reactors in the U.S. still do not meet federal fire protection standards—standards that were set 35 years ago, after a fire at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama.
One of the most controversial decisions facing U.S. nuclear regulators is whether to relicense the nearly 40-year-old Indian Point nuclear plant, located 38 miles from Manhattan. Citing the damage to Fukushima Daiichi’s 40-year-old reactors, critics—including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo—insist that the risks are too great. But proponents, among them former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, argue that keeping Indian Point open is essential, as it provides about a quarter of New York City and Westchester County’s carbon-free electricity.
In the relatively sparsely populated area near the Japanese plant, the radiation caused major disruptions. An Indian Point accident, in a much more densely populated area, would pose even greater challenges in evacuating residents and cleaning up after any release of radiation.
Nuclear Aftershocks is a FRONTLINE production with Palfreman Film Group. The producer and director is Jon Palfreman. The correspondent is Miles O’Brien.