40% of U.S. Nuclear Reactors Have Had “Near-Misses” Since 2010

Monday, March 11, 2013
Wolf Creek Generating Station (nuclear reactor) (photo: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

As President Barack Obama continues to pursue his “all of the above” approach for dealing with energy use and global warming, a newly released report raises serious questions about the safety of the nation’s nuclear power plants. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), over the past three years 40 of the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors suffered one or more near-misses. A “near-miss” is an event that increases the chance of core meltdown by at least a factor of ten, thus causing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to send a special inspection team to investigate.

 

Entitled “Tolerating the Intolerable,” the third annual UCS report lays the blame on the NRC, which “has repeatedly failed to enforce essential safety regulations,” according to study author David Lochbaum, director of the group’s Nuclear Safety Project. Although the report acknowledges NRC’s programs to prevent the use of bad replacement parts and its emphasis on security, UCS also criticized the agency for lacking a strong “safety culture”, and failing to deal effectively with issues like temporary waste storage, recurring cooling water leaks, and flooding.

 

The NRC has pushed back, however, with spokesman David McIntyre insisting that the agency is doing its job because “none of the incidents cited by UCS actually affected public health and safety.” The NRC, which is completing its own 2012 report card for the nuclear industry, has decided that 99 of the 104 operating reactors were in the highest performance categories, 81 met all safety and security requirements and only 18 needed to resolve one or two low- risk issues.

 

The 14 near misses at 16 reactors detailed by the report that took place in 2012 include an electrical failure that compromised the cooling system and required a manual reactor shutdown at the River Bend Station near St. Francisville, Louisiana (10 mile radius pop.: 41,244); a cooling water leak at the Palisades plant near South Haven, Michigan (pop.: 34,103); security problems at the Farley plant near Dothan, Alabama (pop.: 17,006); and equipment failures at the Byron plant near Rockford, Illinois (pop.: 36,110).

 

Some facilities, such as the Wolf Creek reactor in Burlington, Kansas (pop.: 10,956) have reported multiple incidents since 2010, such as an electrical fault that caused the main generator to shut down.

 

-Matt Bewig

 

To Learn More:

Safety Breaches Seen Plaguing U.S. Reactors in Report (by Brian Wingfield, Bloomberg)

The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety, 2012 Report: Tolerating the Intolerable (by David Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists)

Livermore Moves Dangerous Nuclear Materials (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Safety Officer Fired for Shutting Down Dangerous Nuclear Reactor (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Comments

Tanyusha 6 years ago
I know most of the American supporters of nulecar energy have as little use for the NRC as Canadian ones have for the CNSC up here, but on this occasion you should thank your lucky stars that they have dashed a bucket of cold water over this mini-reactor hype as it was about time. It also serves as an illustration of the need to mount a campaign that takes all the players into consideration right from the beginning, something that is absent from most of the pro-nulecar ideas that have been batted about here and in the rest of the circle. You have actually been handed a great opportunity here, if you have the will to take it. Hyperion has gotten a lot of press and probably has generated more awareness in the minds of the general public than any other advanced design. This statement by the NRC should get the same coverage, and in getting it will serve to show that same public why this organizational needs to be reformed.CNSC has been going through changes up here that were long over due because, if you remember, exactly twelve months ago, they were stupid enough to cut off supplies of critical medical isotopes over a bureaucratic error. This gave the government all the excuse they needed to clean house, and now it's being run by a physicist, not an elementary school teacher, with no scientific qualifications. If you start to scream loud enough in the right ears, this high-handed dismissal of mini-reactors can be made to do the same thing for you and force some of the reforms you are talking about, but only if it is kept front and center. This is an opportunity people, don't let it pass.

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