August 20, 2003
Contact: Jim Warren
Chance of Nuclear Accident 34% at U.S. Plants
Scientists show risk exists at NC plants and cite regulators’ negligence
DURHAM, NC – “According to government reports, the odds that one of the nation’s nuclear power reactors will have a serious accident in the next three years is about 1 in 3,” begins a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer at UCS wrote the brief, and points out that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) identified the dangerous deficiency in 1996 but will not order repairs until 2007.
“A decade to solve a single safety problem affecting 68 pressure water reactors. The absurdity of this pace is evident,” said Lochbaum. “The NRC’s priority is on the financial health of the nuclear industry, not on public safety.”
The UCS report, entitled “Pressurized Water Reactor Containment Sump Failure,” lists three North Carolina reactors, and two more just across the South Carolina line near Charlotte, as among the at-risk facilities. Included are Progress Energy’s Shearon Harris near Raleigh, and Duke Energy’s McGuire and Catawba plants. Harris has been the subject of much concern, with eight system failures in the past four months, including one last Sunday.
Lochbaum explains that a loss of cooling through a valve failure, or a hole in a reactor or its piping, would cause high-pressured water to escape into the reactor building, triggering safety systems, including back-up cooling. But the 2,200 psi water would act as a sandblaster, loosening paint flakes and other residues that can then clog a fine-filtered drain, called a containment sump, in the building’s floor. This would block recirculation of emergency cooling water in up to 77% percent of such accidents, leading to a 1 in 3 chance of a radiological emergency, based on NRC studies.
North Carolina public interest group NC WARN today insisted that state attorney general Roy Cooper must order Progress and Duke to immediately correct the sump deficiency. The sump problem was corrected by a Ohio utility on its own last year.
Lochbaum points out that the NRC approved license extensions for 12 nuclear plants in only three years. He and NC WARN are also urging Congressional action on the NRC.
“Mr. Cooper is the only person with clear state authority to intervene immediately with these corporations – Duke and Progress,” said Stan Goff of NC WARN today. “It is his job to act in our interests, especially when the federal NRC has proven unwilling to put public safety before corporate profits. Attorney General Roy Cooper needs to step into the void right now and order this problem corrected, not wait until this becomes tragic international front page news.”
“This is a problem the industry can fix now,” added Goff. “Not to do so, especially with such a plagued pressure water reactor as Harris, leaves us facing a possible China Syndrome.”
See the UCS report at www.ucsusa.org
PLEASE SEND A SHORT MESSAGE:
Tell Attorney General Roy Cooper to order Duke and Progress Energy fix this problem immediately:
Phone: (919) 716-6400
Tell your congressional reps to pressure the NRC fix this problem immediately:
Sen. John Edwards
225 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510
Sen. Elizabeth Dole
120 Russell Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510