Nuclear power plants in 14 countries have experienced 151 "significant nuclear safety incidents" since 1971, Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) said yesterday, citing a classified international study.
"What this means," said Leonard Weiss, minority staff director of the Senate subcommittee on nuclear proliferation, "is that accidents are occurring out there but that these countries have been lucky so far, just like the Soviets were lucky until now and like we've been lucky."
Weiss said that each of the incidents could have led to a major radiation release had corrective action not been taken, but that none actually involved a significant release of radiation.
The report, prepared last September by the General Accounting Office, had been classified until Glenn released an edited version yesterday that omitted details of the incidents and the total. Glenn disclosed the total of 151, which includes only those incidents reported to international atomic energy organizations. No Eastern bloc countries were included.
The report, which makes no recommendations, notes that while there have been several international efforts to improve the safety of atomic power plants, many countries have been reluctant to share technical information on their facilities and details of their mishaps.
Lack of international cooperation, the report says, has meant that many nuclear power plant operators have been denied the benefits of hindsight that might have improved the safety of their reactors.
The report says 306 nuclear power plants are operating in the world with a total of 3,100 reactor-years of experience. Another 224 reactors are under construction or on order. While the rate of new construction has slowed in much of the industrialized world, it is rising in the less developed countries.
Ten of the 25 countries with nuclear power are in the Third World. By 2000, it is estimated that 17 developing countries will have reactors compared with 16 in the industrial world.
According to the report, a survey of the 56 countries belonging to the International Atomic Engergy Agency showed that 44, including many in the Third World, believed they might need help from other countries to cope with a serious nuclear accident.
"Many countries," the report says, "under some future circumstances, may not be able to respond adequately to an accident at their nuclear facilities."
Glenn said the lack of international cooperation must be blamed partly on the Reagan administration. Glenn said the administration has not abided by a provision of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Pact of 1978 that requires the government to work closely with countries that buy U.S.-made reactors to ensure safety.