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.
Last December, Oconee nuclear power plant in South Carolina experienced the most recent open phase condition event. It prompted the NRC to dispatch a special team inspection to the site to investigate. The NRC’s report by the special inspection team was dated February 25, 2015, and was placed in ADAMS (the Agency-wide Documents Access and Management System) last Friday. Lochbaum’s commentary about this near miss, including a link to the NRC’s report, is posted online at UCS’s All Things Nuclear blog.
[And now, on March 7, 2016, there was another electrical event at Oconee with two explosions and a fire http://enenews.com/alert-emergency-nuclear-plant-after-massive-fire-multiple-explosions-all-sudden-heard-loud-boom-ground-started-shaking-videos%5D
Lochbaum has also written:
Following the commentary posted Friday to UCS’s All Things Nuclear blog (see http://allthingsnuclear.org/dlochbaum/the-nrc-seven-petitioning-the-nrc-over-safety), I received several inquiries about what a “phase” was and about past open phase conditions. I’m not an electrical engineering expert, but researched available files to prepare the attached backgrounders. [see links below]
The blog post provided links to the responses from individual plant owners to NRC Bulletin 2012-01 about electrical system protection schemes (or lack thereof).
But I could not find the responses for some plants, like Palisades and Shearon Harris, in ADAMS, the NRC’s online digital library. I contacted the NRC’s Public Document Room Friday and was told that these responses are indeed in ADAMS. But they are coded non-public so we can’t see them.
So I FOIA’ed them. Why the NRC made most of the responses publicly available and hid some is beyond my comprehension, but the FOIA submittal form is not yet beyond my reach.
NRC has provided the following response (and hot links) to Lochbaum’s requests re: the conspicuous holes in relevant documentation, mentioned above:
It seems that many of these responses are marked as non-public. I’m attaching the brief citations for these and will see about getting them made “publicly available.”
All three of these plants had the same response. ML14034A405
Farley Units 1 and 2
Hatch Units 1 and 2
Vogtle Units 1 and 2
For these four plants, the original responses are ‘non-public’ (see attached citations) and then NRC requested further information and the responses to the requests for more information are public at the accession numbers noted below. I’ll see about getting the original “non-public” responses changed to “public” and will be back in touch with you about that.
Columbia Generating Station ML14049A282
Grand Gulf ML14034A359
Shearon Harris ML14034A364