Monday, July 14, 2008
Beyond Nuclear Bulletin
July 3, 2008 Top Stories NRC Found Lax in Oversight of Fire Safety Regulations at Reactors Background: A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that reviewed the performance of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in regulating federally-mandated fire protection standards at U.S. nuclear reactors was released this week. The report confirmed that the NRC has for three decades consistently mishandled fire protection violations at the country’s nuclear power plants. Federal requirements mandate reactor operators to install and maintain qualified fire barriers to protect electrical circuits. However, the report found that the NRC has done little to enforce these safety mandates, needed to ensure the reactor does not melt down as the result of a fire. The report revealed that rather than fix bogus fire barriers as agreed in the mid-1990s, many nuclear utilities instead quietly substituted – without NRC approval –largely untested plans to send station personnel out into the burning and radioactive reactor building to manually operate shutdown equipment without the assurance that they could succeed. The GAO investigation came in large part as a result of the investigative work on this issue by Beyond Nuclear’s Paul Gunter. See more on the Nuclear Reactors page on our Web site. Our View: The GAO report is a welcome reprimand of NRC negligence but omits the fact that even after the NRC found that the industry had falsely reported fixes to fire barriers in defiance of agency agreements and orders, the agency looked the other way. It is apparent from this report that the industry did not fully and truthfully disclose fire protection violations at reactors and is much better at maintaining firewalls to federal law than complying with public safety requirements. Of equal concern, the NRC is a willing collaborator in turning a blind eye to federal law and leaving public safety in jeopardy. Finally, to send plant workers into a burning reactor building to manually turn off switches is tantamount to demanding a suicide mission. What You Can Do: The NRC is a congressionally-mandated agency that must be called on the carpet to answer for this latest in an on-going pattern of capitulation to the nuclear industry. Michigan representatives John Dingell and Bart Stupak were expected to lead a House investigative hearing into the NRC’s track record in April but the hearing has mysteriously vanished. Please contact your congressperson and urge them to help schedule this vital hearing so that the NRC can be asked to answer for its lapdog track record. The Capitol Switchboard number is: (202) 224-3121. If you live in Michigan, please contact the offices of Dingell and Stupak directly. (Click on their names for contact information.) Of Note The French Nuclear Medusa: The French government, under the leadership of its president, Nicolas Sarkozy (“the world’s most aggressive nuclear salesman” according to the New York Times) has announced it will construct a second EPR reactor in France. The decision runs contrary to earlier declarations made by Électricité de France that it would first construct just one reactor in France in order to gain experience and expertise in preparation for future reactors. Construction at the current reactor site in Flamanville was recently halted after inspections by the French nuclear security agency revealed flaws in the concrete base and poor quality control. Construction has now resumed. Beyond Nuclear in the News • Kevin Kamps appeared on Mark Haim’s KOPN Columbia, MO radio show, Evening Edition. A podcast of the show will shortly be available here: http://kopn.org/a/showrss3.php?n=../aa/rss/Evening_Edition.xml • Paul Gunter commented in a Beyond Nuclear press release on the findings of a new GAO report that revealed that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has consistently ignored flagrant violations of fire safety laws at U.S. reactors (and see Top Stories above.) • Kevin Kamps was interviewed by the Epoch Times on the planned Canadian Deep Undergound Dump for radioactive waste (or DUD as we prefer to call it), slated for Bruce on Lake Huron and by Japanese public television on the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons expansion project known as Complex Transformation (or Bombplex as we prefer to call it.) Beyond Nuclear on the Road • Linda Gunter challenged former Ambassador Robert Gallucci’s “ideal fantasy” of international nuclear fuel banking with uranium mining and enrichment conducted in the U.S.; reactor fuel leased to other countries; and the waste returned to the U.S. – a scenario he laid out during his opening remarks at the recent Peace and Security Initiative’s one-day conference held June 30th in Washington, DC. Gunter pointed out, among other observations, that the bulk of U.S. uranium mining has been conducted on Navajo land, a tribe that has voted to ban new uranium mining operations and, whose wishes it was high time we respected. • Kevin Kamps tabled at the recent Michigan Energy Fair organized by the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association. • Linda Gunter will travel next week to France to meet with European anti-nuclear activists and to participate in a European rally for a nuclear-free world in Paris on July 12th. • Beyond Nuclear will be tabling at the Peace Action national conference in Washington, DC, July 18-20. • Paul Gunter will be traveling to San Francisco to accept the Jane Bagley Lehman award for his three decades of work opposing nuclear power. He will receive the award from the Tides Foundation and participate in the concurrent three-day Momentum Leadership conference, July 21-23.