Here's something to think about as Japan continues working to fix its stricken reactors. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is now criticized as being extremely close to the industry, routinely postponing requiring maintenance until crises develop, and even then usually delivering only a slap on the wrist. The agency puts up with violations, says critic David Lochbaum, because “Otherwise, nearly all the U.S. reactors would have to shut down.” NRC employees frequently leave to work for nuclear industry companies and lobbying organizations, then return to the commission. The problem is becoming particularly pressing as the country's nuclear infrastructure ages. No license renewal application has been turned down by the NRC since the first one was granted in 2000. That includes the Vermont Yankee plant, whose design is similar to that of the troubled Fukushima plant in Japan, and whose cooling tower collapsed in 2007. Last year, radioactive titrium was detected in the groundwater, having leaked from underground pipes the company said did not exist. The Vermont Senate voted overwhelmingly to prevent the plant from operating beyond its scheduled expiration date, but the NRC still extended its license.
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