Annual Review Finds Inconsistency in Maintaining Nuclear Power Plant Safety

| 3/19/2013 2:16:00 PM

This news release was provided by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Many of the significant safety lapses at U.S. nuclear power plants in 2012 happened because plant owners — and often the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) — either tolerated known problems or failed to address them adequately, according to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The UCS, a nonprofit, nonpartisan science-based organization, has been evaluating nuclear power plant safety for more than 40 years.

The report, “The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety in 2012: Tolerating the Intolerable,” is the third in an annual series on the performance of U.S. nuclear plants and the NRC. This year’s report documents the special inspections the NRC conducted in response to safety equipment problems and security shortcomings at 12 plants. None of the 14 “near-misses” that triggered special inspections in 2012 harmed plant employees or the public, but their frequency — more than one a month — is high for a mature industry.nuclear plant 

“It’s evident the NRC is capable of being an effective watchdog,” said Dave Lochbaum, director of UCS’s Nuclear Safety Project and author of the report. “But too often the agency does not live up to its potential, and we are still finding significant problems at nuclear plants that could trigger a serious accident.”

Since UCS began issuing the report, Wolf Creek in Kansas, Palisades in Michigan and Fort Calhoun in Nebraska have been repeat offenders, experiencing three or more near-misses from 2010 through 2012. Over that three-year period, nearly 40 percent of the nuclear fleet experienced conditions that increased their likelihood of reactor core damage by at least a factor of 10 — an unacceptably high percentage. 

Besides Wolf Creek, Palisades and Fort Calhoun, the plants that experienced special inspections in 2012 were Farley in Alabama, Palo Verde in Arizona, San Onofre in California, Byron in Illinois, River Bend in Louisiana, Brunswick and Harris in North Carolina, Perry in Ohio, and Catawba in South Carolina. Wolf Creek and Fort Calhoun each experienced two near-misses last year.

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