Y2K Rattles Nuclear Activists, State Department

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has not taken
enough steps to make sure that the nation's 103 operating nuclear
power plants are ready to handle the Year 2000 date change, and
as a result should be shut down over the New Year's weekend, said
the Y2K World Atomic Safety Holiday, a coalition of 50 public
interest groups.

Meanwhile, State Department officials at a Monday briefing said that
it will shut down both immigrant and non-immigrant visa processing
at many of its embassies during the New Year's weekend, but only so
that more hands can pitch in on deck in case of any Year 2000-
related problems.

The Atomic Safety Holiday group, speaking today at the National
Press Club in Washington, D.C., fronted a variety of speakers
whose opinions of the NRC's claims of nuclear Year 2000 readiness
reflected skeptical criticism.

Nuclear power is "dangerous today, dangerous tomorrow and dangerous
on New Year's Eve," said Jim Riccio, staff attorney for Ralph Nader's
Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy Project, so a stand-down on the
New Year's weekend is essential.

"There is a legitimate basis for this concern," Riccio said. "The NRC
did not require nuclear power licensees to state why or how the Y2K
problem had been suitably addressed. There is still some question as
to the suitability of the electric grid."

NRC spokesman Victor Dricks vehemently disagreed with this
assessment.

"We don't believe the shutdown of the operating nuclear plants
is necessary or warranted. The safe operation of the nuclear plants
is expected to contribute to a stable and reliable power grid during
the transition and we have confirmed that all 103 operating reactors
are fully Y2K ready," Dricks said. "We have done that on the basis
of reviews of information that were supplied to us by the nuclear
power industry as well as by reviews, audits and independent
inspections of all the facilities."

Riccio suggested that the nuclear industry and the NRC are complicit
in an attempt to keep US citizens from suspecting that nuclear
power is generally unnecessary.

"Unfortunately, the nuclear industry doesn't want to shut down their
reactors," he said. "Perhaps they are afraid people will realize that
we don't need nuclear power."

The NRC also rejected the Nuclear Information and Resource Service's
request to run "full-scale emergency drills in 1999, covering
a range of potential computer failures" because it said that this
is not be necessary, said Paul Gunter, that group's director of the
Reactor Watchdog Project.

"Chief among our concerns today is that the federal agency
established to protect the public from the...danger...is in
regulatory retreat from that same industry," Gunter said.

Dricks disputed that the NRC is merely covering for the industry
that it is supposed to regulate.

"The charge that we're coddling the industry or are not an
independent regulatory agency is groundless," Dricks said,
adding that nuclear power plants already have "done everything
possible to insure that they will be able to operate safely."

He also said that the NRC's emergency operations center in
Rockville, Md., will be fully manned throughout the date change,
and that, "We will have resident inspectors in every control
room in every plant in the country, and we will...take whatever
action is necessary to protect the public health and safety."

Riccio, during the press conference, bristled at a reporter's
charge that he is representing "anti-nuclear" public interest
groups, saying that such a statement "...is just trying to denude
what we have to say. The reality is that nuclear reactors are
dangerous...they basically poison the air, the water and the
environment."

At Monday's State Department briefing, meanwhile, spokesman
James Foley told reporters that, because of a combination of
potential Year 2000 breakdowns and the threat of terrorist
actions, the embassies will be "in a heightened posture."

"(They) would have been anyway, as we approached the turn of the
millennium, and now with the specific threat information that
we've shared with the public eight days ago or nine days ago,
the...US embassies around the world are indeed in a very heightened
security posture," Foley said. "But my understanding, though, is
that these personnel adjustments to the staffing of our embassies
are related to the fact that we have to shift the focus of our
workload to the Y2K rollover during that period."

Foley also reiterated the State Department's concern about Year
2000-related problems in Russia, Moldova, Belarus, and Ukraine,
which he said explains why embassy personnel have been partially
moved elsewhere.

Reported by Newsbytes.com, http://www.newsbytes.com .

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