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The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety

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- 1902 days ago -
2012 Report: Tolerating the Intolerable When a safety net breaks, you don't simply treat the injuries suffered by the unlucky performers. You fix the net.

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JL A (281)
Friday March 8, 2013, 2:12 pm
The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety

2012 Report: Tolerating the Intolerable
Download: The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety 2012: Executive Summary | The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety 2012: Full Report
Previous Reports

The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety is an annual series. Below are links to previous editions:
2011 Report: Living on Borrowed Time
2010 Report: A Brighter Spotlight Needed

When a safety net breaks, you don't simply treat the injuries suffered by the unlucky performers. You fix the net.

This analogy serves as the starting point for The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety in 2012: Tolerating the Intolerable, our third annual review of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's performance in policing the U.S. nuclear power industry. The report takes the NRC to task for its failure to consistently enforce its own regulations, effectively leaving long-term holes in the safety net that is supposed to protect the public from the inherent hazards of nuclear power.

According to the report, the NRC's lax oversight "reflects a poor safety culture," including a disconnect between the agency's workforce and its senior management, with managers tending to downplay safety problems and react negatively when workers point them out.

The report examines 14 “near-misses” at U.S. nuclear plants during 2012 (see table below) and evaluates the NRC response in each case. In addition to these 14 near-misses, the report offers examples of both positive and negative aspects of the agency's safety performance:

Proactive CFSI efforts. Every year nuclear plant owners must replace or refurbish component parts to prevent aging degradation from affecting reliability and safety. These efforts are undermined when counterfeit, fradulent and suspect items (CFSI) are used. When recent reports indicated a growing problem of CFSI in government supply chains, NRC took steps to develop an action plan and improve its procedures for identifying and responding to CFSI problems, even though CFSI had not been implicated in any safety incidents up to that point.

Sustained focus on nuclear security. In December 2012, the NRC hosted the inaugural International Regulators Conference on Nuclear Security, featuring keynote speeches by high-ranking U.S. and international security officials and sessions on security topics with panels consisting of regulators from around the world. The NRC deserves credit for this sustained focus more than a decade after 9/11, as well as for conducting the conference in public.

Safety culture. In 2011, the NRC issued a statement outlining its expectation that the nuclear industry would take steps to "promote a positive safety culture." However, as a 2012 survey of NRC staff shows, the safety culture within the agency itself is deeply flawed, with nearly half of its employees expressing skepticism that the NRC is serious about addressing the issue.

Fire non-protection. After a 1975 fire at the Browns Ferry plant, the NRC adopted a new set of fire protection regulations, issued in 1980 and revised in 2004. In 2012, the NRC granted an extension to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), giving the TVA more time to prepare a fire regulation compliance plan—for that very same Browns Ferry plant. For over 30 years, the plant has been allowed to operate out of compliance with the regulations its own accident prompted.

Temporary storage of spent fuel. In 2012 a federal court ruled that the NRC had failed to meet its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) by neglecting to prepare an environmental impact statement for its Waste Confidence Decision, which specifies how long nuclear waste may safely be stored at nuclear power plant sites.

Recurring reactor cooling water leaks. The near-miss at the Palisades plant, in which cooling water leakage was allowed to continue for nearly a month, even though the leak was in an area where NRC regulations require the plant to be shut down within six hours, points to an ongoing problem: the NRC routinely allows violations of this type to go unpenalized, thus "enabling poor decision-making by plant owners." In a similar incident at the Davis-Besse plant in 2002, the leakage problem was allowed to continue for years; a study later concluded that the reactor vessel head was less than a year from failure, which could have caused a serious accident, when the problem was finally detected and the plant shut down for repair.

Nuclear plant flooding hazards. NRC commissioners told a Senate committee in a 2012 hearing that a Fukushima-like disaster could not happen in the U.S. In fact, two years earler the NRC had notified the owner of the Oconee reactors, located downstream from the Jocassee dam, that they needed to implement measures to guard against what NRC risk analysts considered a near certainty of flood damage in the event of a dam failure. Not only did the commissioners mislead the Senate, they withheld this information from the public for two years.

Incomplete and inaccurate statements. Nuclear plant owners are required by law to include complete and accurate information in all documents they submit to the NRC. Yet each year, NRC staffers find themselves sending thousands of Requests for Additional Information (RAIs) to plant owners in connection with applications for licensing actions. While many of these RAIs no doubt involve questions that plant management honestly did not anticipate, it is also likely that in many cases the RAIs result from efforts to evade the legal requirement of completeness and accuracy, leaving it up to the NRC to take the initiative to ask an unwelcome question. The NRC currently does not investigate RAIs for evidence of such evasion, thus encouraging plant management to continue engaging in it.
Three-year trends

Analysis of the near-miss data for the three years covered by UCS reports shows that 40 of the nation's 104 operating commercial reactors experienced a near miss between 2010 and 2012, with 12 reactors experiencing at least two near-miss events, and three—at Fort Calhoun, Palisades, and Wolf Creek—experiencing three or more. The three-year data indicate that the average U.S. reactor is likely to experience seven near misses over its 40-year license period (increasing to about ten if the license is extended by 20 years, as most have been).

While none of the near misses UCS has studied have resulted in harm to nuclear plant workers or the public, the "safety pyramid" principle used by industrial safety experts suggests that reducing the frequency of near misses will also reduce the likelihood of a major accident that could cause serious harm.
Reactor & Location Owner Highlights
SIT=10x increase in risk of reactor core damage
AIT=100x increase in risk of reactor core damage
Brunswick Steam Electric Plant, Unit 2
Southport, NC Progress Energy SIT: Excessive leakage of cooling water from the reactor vessel, determined to have been caused by the improper installation of the reactor vessel’s head, led to an emergency being declared and the reactor being shut down.
Byron Station, Unit 2
Byron, IL Exelon Generation Co., LLC SIT: Equipment failure in the switchyard triggered an automatic shut-down of the reactor. A design deficiency caused emergency equipment to be de-energized until workers took steps to isolate the problem and restore power from the emergency diesel generators.
Catawba Nuclear Station, Unit 1
York, SC Duke Energy Corp. SIT: After an age-related problem caused one of four reactor coolant pumps to fail, the Unit 1 reactor and turbine automatically shut down as designed. Due to a design error in a recent modification, the decreasing voltage output by the main generator caused electrical breakers to open that disconnected Units 1 and 2 from the offsite power grid. One of the emergency diesel generators started but failed to supply electricity to safety equipment due to another design error when it was installed in 1984.
Farley Nuclear Plant, Units 1 and 2
Dothan, AL Southern Nuclear Operating Company, Inc. SIT: Security problems prompted the NRC to conduct a special inspection. Details of the problems, their causes, and their fixes are not publicly available.
Fort Calhoun Station
Omaha, NE Omaha Public Power District SIT: The NRC investigated a fire that disabled half of the 4,160 volt and two-thirds of the 480 volt power supplies for emergency equipment at the plant and triggered the declaration of an Alert—the third most serious of the NRC’s four emergency classifications.
Fort Calhoun Station
Omaha, NE Omaha Public Power District SIT: Security problems prompted the NRC to conduct a special inspection. Details of the problems, their causes, and their fixes are not publicly available.
Harris Nuclear Power Plant
Raleigh, NC Progress Energy SIT: As the reactor was being shut down for a scheduled refueling outage, workers tested the closing time of the three main steam isolation valves. These valves are designed to close within five seconds during an accident to limit the amount of radioactivity released to the atmosphere. The NRC dispatched an SIT after it took one valve 37 minutes to close and another 4 hours and 7 minutes.
Palisades Nuclear Plant,
South Haven, MI Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc. SIT: Workers shut down the reactor about a month after they detected a small cooling water leak. The NRC sent an SIT to the site after the source of the leak was determined to be a location where any leakage required the plant to be shut down within six hours.
Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, Units 1, 2, and 3
Wintersburg, AZ Arizona Public Service Company SIT: Security problems prompted the NRC to conduct a special inspection. Details of the problems, their causes, and their fixes are not publicly available.
Perry Nuclear Power Plant
Perry, OH FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company SIT: Security problems involving failures to prevent unauthorized individuals from entering secure areas of the plant prompted the NRC to conduct a special inspection.
River Bend Station
St. Francisville, LA Entergy Operations, Inc. AIT: The operators manually shut down the reactor on May 24 after an electrical fault on the motor of a feedwater pump caused it to stop running. A failed relay prevented the electrical breaker for the motor from opening to isolate the electrical fault. The fault propagated through the electrical distribution system, causing the breaker supplying power to the 13,800 volt electrical bus to open. Due to another electrical cable problem on May 21, all of the plant’s circulating water pumps and non-emergency cooling water pumps were being powered from this single electrical bus. Its loss caused the plant’s normal heat sink to be lost and stopped the supply of cooling water to equipment in the turbine building and to some emergency equipment.
San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, Units 2 and 3
San Clemente, CA Southern California Edison Company AIT: Operators shut down the Unit 3 reactor following a leak inside a steam generator replaced less than a year earlier. The NRC dispatched an AIT after eight steam generators tubes failed pressure testing and inspections identified extensive and unusual degradation in the steam generators of both units.
Wolf Creek Generating Station
Burlington, KS Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation SIT: Erratic performance of an emergency diesel generator during a routine test prompted the NRC’s special inspection. The SIT determined that an improper fix to another problem four months earlier impaired the emergency diesel generator’s control system.
Wolf Creek Generating Station
Burlington, KS Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation AIT: After one electrical fault in the switchyard caused the main generator to shut down automatically, a second electrical fault disconnected the plant from its offsite electrical grid.

mag.w.d. Aichberger (34)
Friday March 8, 2013, 2:15 pm
" Nuclear Power Plant Safety "
goes into my list of oxymorons, near the top

Kit B (276)
Friday March 8, 2013, 4:05 pm

I agree and was thinking that when I saw the title: Nuclear Power and safety in the same sentence.

Sorry but the positives are not something these folks should gathering wreaths for, it's their job. The negatives far out weight the positives, there really is no such thing as a tiny problem with a nuclear reactor.

JL A (281)
Friday March 8, 2013, 4:13 pm
All too true Kit--and why it is important for all to be aware of safety issues not covered by most media. You cannot currently send a star to Kit because you have done so within the last day.

Past Member (0)
Friday March 8, 2013, 4:57 pm
They are not even safe just to have standing there I had a friend developed lung cancer and they put it down to the fact he had lived within 3 miles of the famous Sellafield nuclear plant in UK Don't think there is anything safe about them

Noted thanks

JL A (281)
Friday March 8, 2013, 5:38 pm
Thanks for providing the example of impact on an individual Carol. You are welcome. You cannot currently send a star to Carol because you have done so within the last day.

Stephen Brian (23)
Friday March 8, 2013, 9:00 pm
The incidents listed increased the likelihood of damage substantially because in them, one of the multiple safety-mechanisms which can each independently prevent any damage from occurring. The AIT cases list two failures each, and yet there was still no trouble. Looking through these, you can see most (but not all) of the different sorts of safety-features built into those plants which each, apparently, are expected to work 90% of the time. Those included on the list are manual shutdown, coolant-control, on-site automatic shutdown, backup coolant-control, coolant-containment, grid-based automatic shutdown. Not included is the passive shutdown built into every modern plant. (A piece required to sustain operations will melt before the reactor reaches a temperature where its container could break. It might not prevent reactor-damage, but it would prevent the leaks that scare people so much.) assuming each of these will work 90% of the time, as the analysis appears to do, means that increasing the likelihood of damage by 10x and 100x in case of an incident, means raising it from, at most, 0.001% to 0.0001% or 0.01%, so they shut things down for maintenance when the chances of damage, not a leak but just damage to the reactor, are not literally one in a million. That's still a whole lot safer than just about any other industry out there, in terms of the threat of industrial accidents.

There is a reason why not a single reactor built since 1980 has ever had a major leak. I wouldn't sound the alarms on those reactors until there is a 1% chance of serious loss to investors in case of trouble (a 10,000x increase in the likelihood of damage), and I wouldn't call them unsafe to their surroundings until that happens and somebody finds faulty passive shutdowns. These things are really incredibly safe, and the newer designs are even safer. For example, the new liquid salt-based cooling systems cannot leak radioactive gases into the atmosphere because there are no radioactive gases to leak. (The proposed "Very High Temperature Reactors" are expected to reach ~ 1000 Centigrade, and the boiling point of the coolant is over 600 C above that, so even in cases of damage and overheating, there would be no radioactive gas to leak.)

JL A (281)
Friday March 8, 2013, 9:05 pm
All that presumes things being done as designed without subterfuge Stephen:
"A secret report released today confirms that Southern California Edison knew about serious problems with new equipment at the San Onofre nuclear plant years before that defective equipment was installed.

Despite this knowledge, Edison moved forward with reactor modifications, putting millions of Southern Californians at risk of radiation exposure and ultimately causing the now year-long shutdown of the reactors. The report was released today by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.) revealed its existence and demanded it be made public."


Stephen Brian (23)
Friday March 8, 2013, 10:49 pm
Here is the original "secret report":
I found it here:

Under "Root Cause 2", it says specifically that the vibration-analysis which would have caught the problem was not done. There was no subterfuge. They found out after the fact and before publishing the report, but did not know at the time. Besides, such subterfuge should never make sense because nuclear plants are enormous investments. Why would any company that cares about its bottom-line risk damage and down-time? If additional NRC-inspections would have been onerous enough to rival damage and forced shutdowns in terms of cost, then something is very wrong on the NRC-end.

What happened is understandable when one considers what always happens with new technology. While I did not read the whole >60-page report, the FOE article pointed our that the piece was "radically redesigned". This sort of thing is actually entirely common for any genuinely new design of any technology: Engineers will try to think of every test they can, and make sure nothing that they spot goes wrong, but if it's new then nobody has experience with it and then nature shows everybody what the engineers missed. This is why the price of progress is usually paid in blood. The usual line is that we really entered the age of the aircraft when there was a graveyard devoted to pilots. In the Edison case, I'm glad to see that they got through a radical redesign of a system-critical piece at a nuclear plant without anybody getting hurt.

Robert O (12)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 12:27 am
Thanks J.L. A.

Sarah G (109)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 2:03 am
The hubris, greed, and stupidity of this industry is frightening.

Pogle S (88)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 2:07 am
This is just another form of lunacy that makes big bucks for the few whilst the very real risks go unmitigated for the rest of us!

Now the Japanese of all people want to build seven new plants in the UK...Meanwhile the radioactive waste keeps on piling up with nowhere to put it...

Giana Peranio-paz (398)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 5:06 am
Again greed and money triumph over safety and health.

JL A (281)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 7:05 am
The report says the company was aware of the problem yet installed after they knew nevertheless--that equals knowingly.
You cannot currently send a star to Pogle because you have done so within the last day.
You cannot currently send a star to Giana because you have done so within the last day.

JL A (281)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 7:06 am
You are welcome Robert. You cannot currently send a star to Sarah because you have done so within the last day.

Malgorzata Z (198)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 11:58 am
Była już katastrofa w Czernobylu, była w Fukuszimie i niczego nas nie nauczyły.

Birgit W (160)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 2:41 pm
No nuclear power plants please!

Stephen Brian (23)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 3:31 pm
I'm looking for where the MHI report says tha tthey knew about the problem. It seems to uncover two problems:
"Root Cause 1": The piece vibrated in a damaging way under normal working conditions.
"Root Cause 2": They didn't test for the problem in "Root Cause 1". They may have known about some irregularity in the piece, but not what effect it would have.
It looks like about half of the report is devoted to saying that they didn't know at the time, and recommending that they check for this problem with new pieces in the future.

JL A (281)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 6:47 pm
They admitted it to the Congressional investigators Stephen even if you don't find it in that document.

Sue Matheson (79)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 8:06 pm

JL A (281)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 9:11 pm
You are welcome Sue.

Stephen Brian (23)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 10:43 pm
It seems that coming out of the investigation, Edison and Boxer had two different stories:
Even more telling, the document doesn't just fail to say that they knew about the problem. It says specifically that MHI didn't know. The NRC found specifically that Edison used faulty software when trying to determine whether there would be trouble:

Given that the investigation apparently based its finding upon the MHI document and NRC finding, I would have to see a transcript of the admission before believing it really happened. Part of the trouble is that a few things were true which sound a whole lot like Edison knowing before the fact, but aren't the same thing: Edison should have known, given its modeling. MHI's post-incident internal recommendation is to run those tests, finding in hindsight that it should have run them before and known. Edison may even have been aware of the irregularity in the piece, but not the implications for reliability and damage. A congressman can twist any of these into a "The guys my supporters oppose lied and should face penalties".

JL A (281)
Sunday March 10, 2013, 7:21 am
Mitsubishi apparently also agreed Edison knew and provided the documents of informing them. Your defense is feeling biased Stephen.

Stephen Brian (23)
Sunday March 10, 2013, 9:29 pm
It does feel biased, and I do believe that I have a pro-nuclear bias. That is why I keep double-checking what I read. The problem is that the only primary document that I found, from an oppositely-biased source, says explicitly that Mitsubishi Heavy Ondustries didn't know about the problem. Please check "Root Cause 2" in the MHI and related material in the MHI document as you can read it without my biases, and let me know what it says to you.

JL A (281)
Monday March 11, 2013, 8:49 am
This article may help you find it Stephen:
"A redacted 135-page version of the "root cause analysis" submitted by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission states that a design team of plant operator Southern California Edison (SCE) and Mitsubishi employees recognized the design for the replacement generator tubes raised an issue not seen in previous steam generator designs."

Stephen Brian (23)
Monday March 11, 2013, 6:31 pm
That is very strange: The version of that report to which FoE linked from its site was only 64 pages long. Perhaps MHI submitted a more extensive and detailed report to the NRC. The picture I'm getting is that MHI engineers reported that they believed there could be a problem, but MHI did not investigate the matter for fear of what it might find. That would be subterfuge, but what I find even more worrisome is the motive.

If the NRC puts operators through such an onerous relicensing process over something as small as fixing a design-flaw in a pipe that it seemed more profitable to install a faulty piece into a nuclear plant than to go through the process, something is seriously wrong in the regulatory system. The only way I could see this making any sense at all is if there was fear that the fixed design would not be re-licensed at all, that the license would be denied without cause, and that points to something worse than ordinary bad regulations.

The math is affected as one must now consider the likelihood that a piece is falsely reported to work. This applies to every piece where that fear of restrictive regulations or outright political corruption exists, and depends on how new the design of the piece is. It makes things more dangerous without real technical cause.

JL A (281)
Monday March 11, 2013, 9:46 pm
What I've read is that the component, which was far more than just different pipes, were viewed as a new design and CE didn't want to follow standard safety protection processes required for such substantive changes that alters the math of risks substantially. The problem was not with the regulations but with the ethics of decision-makers at CE--your bias is showing again BTW.

Helen Porter (39)
Monday March 11, 2013, 10:28 pm
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