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article imageOp-Ed: NRC aims for fewer inspections of nuclear reactors to save money

By Karen Graham     Jul 17, 2019 in Politics
Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff is recommending that the agency cut back on inspections at the country's nuclear reactors, a cost-cutting move promoted by the nuclear power industry but denounced by opponents as a threat to public safety.
Much like the coal and petroleum industry, the nuclear power industry has also managed to find a place at the Trump administration's table, adding their voices in prodding the government to cut regulations and inspections.
The nuclear industry's biggest complaint? The inspections have become a financial burden for the owners, and besides, they say, their nuclear facilities are running well, reports the Associated Press.
The NRC, in its report on Tuesday, did mention there was considerable disagreement among the agency's staff over the proposed inspection cuts, however, the agency contends the inspection reduction “improves efficiency while still helping to ensure reasonable assurance of adequate protection to the public.”
Excuse me? The best the NRC can come up with is a "reasonable assurance" of 'adequate" protection? Commission member Jeff Baran is against the changes being proposed, saying reducing oversight of the nuclear power industry “would take us in the wrong direction," adding, “NRC shouldn’t perform fewer inspections or weaken its safety oversight to save money."
On Monday, the NRC was taken to task by Democratic lawmakers over its failure to adequately inform the public of the changes under consideration. NRC staff has conducted three public meetings, according to lawmakers, and all of them have been at the request of the nuclear industry.
“Cutting corners on such critical safety measures may eventually lead to a disaster that could be detrimental to the future of the domestic nuclear industry,” Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and other House Democrats said in a letter Monday to NRC Chairwoman Kristine Svinicki.
The High Flux Isotope Reactor buidings at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The High Flux Isotope Reactor buidings at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
United States Department of Energy
"Congress established the NRC as an independent agency whose primary mandate is to ensure the safe use of radioactive materials, while also protecting the public and the environment," the lawmakers wrote. "It is difficult to understand why the NRC would attempt to make fundamental changes to its safety protocols without ensuring in-depth public awareness, comment, and input."
Proposed changes recommended by the NRC
The NRC's PROPOSED TRANSFORMATIONAL CHANGES TO NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION ENGINEERING INSPECTIONS was conceived in May 2019 and made public today. The recommendations will determine the timing of inspections and who will actually be doing some of them.
Some of the recommendations would require a vote by the commission, which has a majority of members appointed or reappointed by President Donald Trump, who has urged agencies to reduce regulatory requirements for industries, in keeping with his campaign promise to do away with unnecessary government oversight.
A Chernobyl disaster.
A Chernobyl disaster.
Soviet Authorities
Some specific recommendations include shifting the frequency of the engineering inspections to a quadrennial cycle. Inspections of other specific site issues would be changed from current yearly levels to every other year, and there is the recommendation to replace NRC inspector assessments with "industry self-assessments" and "arbitrarily reducing core safety inspections."
The NRC says the purpose of the new oversight process was to ensure efficiency in regulations. There are 60 commercially operating nuclear power plants with 98 nuclear reactors in 30 U.S. states, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
As for inspections, the Government Accountability Office reported more than 150 incidents between 2001 to 2006 alone of nuclear plants not performing within acceptable safety guidelines. This information was outlined in the GAO's 2006 Report to Congress.
The unit 3 reactor building at Fukushima after the 2011 disaster
The unit 3 reactor building at Fukushima after the 2011 disaster
The GAO said: "Since 2001, the ROP has resulted in more than 4,000 inspection findings concerning nuclear power plant licensees’ failure to fully comply with NRC regulations and industry standards for safe plant operation, and NRC has subjected more than 7.5 percent (79) of the 103 operating plants to increased oversight for varying periods" (In 2006, there were 103 operating nuclear plants).
Interestingly, 71 percent of all recorded major nuclear accidents, including meltdowns, explosions, fires, and loss of coolants, occurred in the United States, and they happened during both normal operations as well as emergency situations such as floods, droughts, and earthquakes, according to Alexander Ochs, writing in Worldwatch in March 2012.
The bottom line? What the NRC is proposing is the height of stupidity, plain and simple. Nuclear energy is not 100 percent safe nor is it cheap. And we certainly don't want a repeat of the Chernobyl or Fukushima disaster taking place.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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