“The NRC Seven” push back against agency collusion with industry, expose dangerous flaw at all plants

From Beyond Nuclear

March 10, 2016 newsletter

The Japanese Parliament, after an independent investigation, concluded that the root cause of the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe, which began five years ago, was collusion between regulator, industry, and government officials. To our great peril, the U.S. has similar collusion in spades. But in a rare move, several U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staffers have gone public with an unresolved safety dispute.

Dubbed “the NRC Seven” by David Lochbaum of Union of Concerned Scientists, who praises “their courage and service to the country” as comparable to the Project Mercury astronauts, these staffers have blown the whistle on a risk present at all 99 operating U.S. reactors, as well as five more under construction.

“Open phase” electrical faults — revealed by a Jan. 2012 incident at Exelon’s Byron nuclear plant in Illinois — have gone effectively unaddressed, for more than four long years. Systems vital to maintaining safety and cooling, such as the Emergency Core Cooling System, might not work when called upon. Having exhausted their efforts within the system, “the NRC Seven” have acted in their capacity as private citizens, and filed a “2.206” petition.

But this “emergency enforcement petition” bureaucratic procedure was designed to fail: only one in 200 previous such citizen petitions has resulted in meaningful NRC safety upgrades. Their hope seems to be that media coverage, and resultant public awareness and pressure, will force the moribund agency to do its job, to protect public health, safety, and the environment.


…Hopefully, the NRC Seven will not encounter a harsh environment in response to their efforts to protect millions of Americans from a longstanding nuclear safety problem.

Lochbaum’s blog then summarizes the key milestones leading to the NRC Seven submitting their petition, beginning with the revelation of the problem on January 30, 2012 with an “open phase event” at Exelon’s Byron nuclear power plant in Illinois.

An “open phase event,” in short, involves dysfunction in a nuclear power plant’s electrical systems, structures, and components essential for running vital safety and cooling systems, such as the Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS). In certain circumstances, the ECCS is the last line of defense against reactor core meltdown, and catastrophic radioactivity release.

Reuters, Syracuse.com, EcoWatch, and Utility Dive have reported on this story.