PROBLEMS WITH NRC OVERSIGHT
1. The lack of
safety culture results from the agency prioritizing industry profits
over public safety. For example, NRC consistently proposes radiation
protection standards well below those proposed by EPA. Closer to home:
Pilgrim installed the Torus Vent system to fix an identified design flaw
– the containment was too weak to withstand pressure that would build up
in an accident scenario. A vent was installed to relieve excess
pressure. The vent should have gone into a filter bed deep into the
ground; instead a cheaper fix was allowed whereby the vent would spew
contaminated steam directly into our neighborhoods.
2. Enforcement and safety inspections are based on risk analysis
calculations – they in turn rest on overly “rosy” assumptions that do
not jibe with reality.
In Nuclear Plant Risk Assessments Studies: Failing the Grade,” David
Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, August 2000, outlined the
Nuclear plant risk
assessments are really not risk assessments because potential
accident consequences are not evaluated. They merely examine
accident probabilities -- only half of the risk equation.
Moreover, the accident probability calculations are seriously
flawed. They rely on assumptions that contradict actual
assessments assume nuclear plants always conform to safety
requirements, yet each year more than a thousand violations are
Plants are assumed
to have no design problems even though hundreds are reported
Aging is assumed
to result in no damage, despite evidence that aging materials
killed four workers.
vessels are assumed to be fail-proof, even though embrittlement
forced the Yankee Rowe nuclear plant to shut down.
assessments assume that plant workers are far less likely to
make mistakes than actual operating experience demonstrates.
assessments consider only the threat from damage to the reactor
core despite the fact that irradiated fuel in the spent fuel
pools represents a serious health hazard.
vulnerability of reactors and spent fuel pools in the event of a
deliberate terrorist attack is almost completely ignored. The
results from these unrealistic calculations are therefore overly
MORE EXAMPLES - NRC’S LACK OF OVERSIGHT
ITEM: Pilgrim - NRC
2004 Annual Assessment
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission came to Plymouth on March 24, 2004 to
give Pilgrim its annual report card. To nobody’s surprise, NRC presented
them with all “A’s.”
Clearly NRC’s tool, grading system, for assessing safety at nuclear
reactors is broken.
For example, Pilgrim received an “A” for emergency planning, which
included methods to notify the public in the event of an emergency.
However, we know that the siren system was broken six times since 2003 –
yes, six times. The last failure was in January 2004 after they
installed new sirens. The NRC justified their grade by stating that
siren failures occurred, “only during tests.” Does this mean a bad score
would be given only if a failure occurs during an accident?
NRC’s failure to evaluate Pilgrim is not an isolated example. The
infamous Davis-Besse nuclear reactor in Ohio received all “A’s” from NRC
and shortly after a hole in its reactor head was discovered – a hole
nearly through that would have resulted in a catastrophe.
NRC was properly embarrassed by the David-Besse fiasco and vowed to fix
49 items that needed fixing in their reactor evaluation system. To date,
2/3 of those items have not been fixed to prevent the next Davis-Besse.
Maybe that is why Pilgrim received all A’s despite glaring safety flaws.
The public concluded that our safety depends not on the NRC - but
instead on luck.
ITEM: NRC’s Response to Independent Experts Study on Spent Fuel
A study that appeared in the spring issue of Science and Global
Security, a publication edited at Princeton University confirmed 25
years of past science and concluded that spent fuel pools are
particularly vulnerable to terrorist attacks and could generate a pool
fire and corresponding contamination of hundreds of square miles around
a nuclear plant.
The Science and Global Security study lays out a solution - secured dry
casks (also referred to as Hardened On-Site Storage, HOSS) and a low
density pool. This is far safer than a densely packed fuel pool and an
important interim solution until all the rods can be shipped to Yucca or
some other federal repository.
The NRC responded to the new study simply by asking staff to deep-six
it. Specifically NRC Commissioner Edward McGaffigan ordered his
subordinates to produce “a hard-hitting critique … that sort of
undermines the study deeply” (U.S.NRC, Briefing On The Status Of Office
Of research (RES) Programs, Performance, And Plans, March 27, 2003, page
This directive within the NRC to develop a conclusion-driven critique to
undermine a scientific study is yet more evidence that, in many cases,
the NRC acts an advocate for the industry, and without regard to the
ITEM: NRC Adopted A Rule in Mid-February 2004 That Would Reduce the
Public’s and States’ Ability to Be Granted Hearings in Utility Licensing
This would, for example, directly affect citizens and the States ability
to file legal challenges to license renewal applications at Pilgrim, VT
Yankee and Seabrook. This new rule is being appealed by the Citizens
Action Network in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.