Leading from the Left

Monday, February 04, 2008

Nuclear Energy Update

NC Warn issued the following press release last week regarding failed oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of US nuclear power plants.

NC WARN: Waste Awareness & Reduction Network

NEWS RELEASE Contact: Jim Warren, NC WARN 919-416-5077

January 30, 2008 Paul Gunter, Beyond Nuclear 301-523-0201 David Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists 202-223-6133

Inspector General: Progress, Duke Nukes lead in fire violations

Agency’s watchdog cites 14 years of non-enforcement of key meltdown risk

DURHAM, NC – Six out of 15 nuclear plants in the U.S. using fire barriers that fail federal tests are operated by NC-based Duke Energy and Progress Energy. That’s according to a new report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), which oversees the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The report confirms that the NRC has neglected to enforce regulations for 14 years even though fire is a leading risk factor for a nuclear meltdown.

Press Briefing: 1pm today. NEW HORIZONS FELLOWSHIP, 820 East Williams St., Apex, NC

Shearon Harris, located near Raleigh, uses more of the failed fire barrier, called Hemyc, than any other plant. New documents show the Progress Energy plant contains nearly one and a half miles of Hemyc – far more than earlier disclosed – which is supposed to protect electric controls for more than 20 systems needed to safely shutdown and cool the nuclear reactor.

The OIG indicates that NRC has known since at least 1994 that the material fails qualified fire tests in a matter of minutes – less than half the duration required by NRC regulations. The agency seemed to forget about the failures for years, and then re-discovered them during a 1999 inspection at Harris. Still, regulators have allowed the safety problem to linger.

Four Duke Energy nuclear reactors located near Charlotte are among those in violation: Catawba 1 and 2, and McGuire 1 and 2. Progress Energy’s Robinson plant also made the list.

“It appears that NRC is more concerned about providing a fire wall from its own regulations than requiring effective fire protection at US nuclear power stations.” said Paul Gunter of Washington-based Beyond Nuclear, who has headed the watchdog alliance long critical of NRC deference to the industry.

The OIG report now goes to Congress, with hearings planned in April. Rep. David Price from North Carolina also helped initiate a separate, broader Government Accountability Office investigation into the NRC’s enforcement of fire regulations. Its findings are expected to be released this spring.

"There's been considerable attention to the lack of rain in the southeast region," said David Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project for the Union of Concerned Scientists, another long-standing critic of NRC fire enforcement. "Yet that bit of rain is like a monsoon compared to the lack of NRC enforcement of fire protection regulations."

After lobbying vigorously but unsuccessfully for NRC to relax fire regulations, Duke and Progress volunteered for a new pilot program that would allow their plants to transition to a new, “risk-based” regulatory scheme. But critics say it’s an excuse for more delay, and that NRC admits it has no plans to force compliance for years to come. Even worse, such “risk assessment” would disregard the potential for

fires caused by acts of malice. Federal studies confirm that nuclear plants could be devastated by a variety of attack scenarios.

Meanwhile, the 15 plants are allowed to rely on stopgap measures to “compensate” for the lack of compliance – measures that have been neither tested nor approved by NRC. “It’s no wonder Duke and Progress have led the industry effort to stymie enforcement of safety regulations, since both companies face many millions of dollars in modifications at their plants” Jim Warren of NC WARN said today.

“It’s truly bizarre that both companies want the public to trust them in building new reactors and nuclear waste cooling pools,” Warren added.


NRC Office of Inspector General Special Inquiry Report released last Friday: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/insp-gen/2008/el-05-46.pdf