May 21, 2003
NRC Blasted for Subverting Science on Cooling Pool Hazards
Local Officials, Citizens Press State Attorney General For Action On Nuclear Waste
RALEIGH, NC – Civic leaders and environmentalists revealed today that a commissioner with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is colluding with the nuclear power industry to “undermine” a prominent new study confirming the hazards of high-level waste cooling pools. Chatham activist Rev. Carrie Bolton and Orange County Commission Chair Margaret Brown said the federal misbehavior is further evidence that Attorney General Roy Cooper must use his State authority to reduce risks at nuclear power plants in North Carolina.
The two were featured in a news conference Wednesday outside Cooper’s Raleigh office. Members of watchdog group NC WARN hand-delivered more than 6,000 signatures to Cooper calling for his intervention on Shearon Harris’s nuclear waste storage pools – the nation’s largest – saying the risk of a catastrophic nuclear fire from accident or terrorism is clear, and must be minimized by Cooper mandating safer waste storage methods.
All present today praised Congressman David Price for his recent letter calling the NRC’s attention to a new Princeton/MIT study recommending the re-equipping of spent fuel pools with low-density, open frame racks and, for older waste assemblies, dispersed, hardened, aboveground storage modules. Price further stated, “I assume that the NRC will give full consideration to the rationale and recommendations provided by this study.”
But NC WARN presented Cooper with documents evidence that NRC Commissioner Edward McGaffigan ordered his subordinates to produce “a hard-hitting critique … that sort of undermines the study deeply.” The group told Cooper that the NRC’s appalling action comes as the call grows nationally for elimination of the vulnerable, high-density pools.
Orange Chairwoman Brown stated today: “For over two decades now, the NRC has avoided dealing with the risks of pool fires. In 2000, the agency’s own study confirmed the hazard, and the new Princeton study expands on the science. But now an NRC commissioner is trying to reverse 25 years of science, and deny that a pool fire can happen.” The Princeton/MIT study resulted largely from scientific advances stemming from Orange County’s three-year legal action against expansion of the Harris pools, which the NRC approved in 2001.
“With this kind of credibility gap in a federal regulatory agency,” said Lewis Pitts, a public interest attorney volunteering with NC WARN, “the state’s attorney general cannot abdicate his authority to these federal regulators. The industry faked a report to convince the public that an airplane hitting a nuke plant is nothing to worry about, and now the NRC has directed production of a bogus study to deny decades of science.” In a petition to the AG last year, Pitts cited Constitutional and statutory law that gives the AG the authority to intervene against dangerous corporate practices, up to an including revocation of corporate charters if necessary.
The Princeton/MIT authors indicate safer storage would cost most plants about $5 million annually. One of its authors, Robert Alvarez, will discuss the paper at a Citizens’ Hearing in Apex, NC on May 31st. He and the other researchers countered NRC Commissioner’s attack by noting the agency’s upcoming critique “cannot be considered credible” until published, reviewed by the NRC’s own science advisors, the national laboratory experts … “and interested independent analysts such as ourselves.”
Stan Goff, a security analyst with NC WARN, noted today, “This directive within the NRC to develop a conclusion-driven critique to undermine a scientific study is yet more evidence that the NRC is a toothless regulatory agency acting in most cases as an industry advocate.” This week, Goff released his own security analysis of Shearon Harris –Predeployed Radiological Weapon – showing why the Wake County nuclear plant would be a desirable target from the perspective of an attacker.
Since last year, citizens have been urging Cooper to take action to protect the safety and security of North Carolinians from the danger posed by Shearon Harris’s growing, densely-packed nuclear waste pools. Late last year, Cooper responded by implying – wrongly – that nuclear plants are regulated solely by the NRC. Last month, he told Chatham citizens that he had been discussing the matter with Progress Energy, implying that he might have had something to do with a recent announcement that the company would stop shipping the waste.
“That would be encouraging,” said Goff. “I hope it’s true.” NC WARN welcomed the announcement this month that Progress Energy will stop shipping nuclear waste across North Carolina on trains. But Goff said that Progress executives indicate no current plans to reconfigure the densely racked waste pools at Shearon Harris or its other three plants in North and South Carolina.
Goff added that despite Rep. Price’s best efforts, the NRC so heavily caters to the nuclear industry, the State must take action to eliminate the high-density pools at each plant.
Rev. Carrie Bolton of Pittsboro is concerned about the industry’s compliance mentality: “Any time they are asked if a practice is safe, they will tell you that they are in compliance with NRC regulations. But when regulations are inadequate to protect public safety, what does it mean to say you are in compliance? That’s like a student working to get a passing ‘D’ from an unqualified teacher.”