NC WARN: Waste Awareness & Reduction Network
December 11, 2006
Memo to Elected Officials: NRC confirms Shearon Harris fire safety violations; Harris not even meeting minimum standards required to operate while in non-compliant status.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has accepted for full review the petition by NC WARN, Union of Concerned Scientists and Nuclear Information & Resource Service. The petition calls for emergency action to force compliance with safety regulations governing fire – a leading risk factor for severe reactor accidents – at the Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant. A ruling is expected in six months. New developments:
1. NRC CONFIRMS SHEARON HARRIS IS IN VIOLATION: During a meeting at NRC headquarters on Nov. 13, the agency’s fire protection engineers confirmed that Harris is in non-compliance with the regulations (See transcript at www.ncwarn.org; pp. 50-52), contradicting numerous statements by Progress Energy. Progress has also told many of you that the “NRC’s regulations for fire protection have changed.” In fact, Progress itself chose to transition to new performance-based fire regulations instead of restoring compliance with current regulations under 10 CFR 50.48. Communications between Progress and NRC indicate that under current plans, Harris will not gain compliance with either the old regulations or the new ones for many years, and after numerous physical modifications of the plant are made.
2. RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH NON-COMPLIANCE REMAIN UNKNOWN: Neither the NRC nor Progress has evaluated the increased risk to workers and the public caused by Harris operating for over a decade without qualified fire barriers and separation of redundant safe-shutdown cables. Although required by NRC guidelines, neither NRC nor Progress has produced that formal analysis, therefore neither can define how far Harris remains below the minimum regulatory standard.
3. NRC CANNOT INSPECT AREAS IN VIOLATION: During the meeting, David Lochbaum of UCS asked NRC how it can conduct fire inspections when Harris is so far out of compliance. The agency admitted it has no way to evaluate risks in areas of noncompliance: As one NRC official stated,
“ … there is no reason to go and re-inspect things like operator manual actions where we believe the licensee is not in compliance.” (transcript p. 50)
4. HARRIS HAS NOT EVALUATED “INTERIM” MEASURES AS REQUIRED BY NRC: On Nov. 29, we wrote to NRC that there is no evidence Harris has evaluated the feasibility of over 100 sets of “operator manual actions” it relies on (unlawfully) to compensate for lack of qualified fire barriers. NRC requires “a documented evaluation” of such measures and says they can be used for a “reasonable timeframe.” (NRC DG-1170). In other words, Progress is not only in violation of the fire regulations, it is also in violation of the steps defined by NRC to justify compensatory measures used until non-conforming conditions are remedied. At Harris, the “reasonable timeframe” exceeds 10 years.
Progress tells you and the media that interim “compensatory measures” are allowed by NRC in lieu of required fire barriers. However, operator manual actions (OMAs), where workers would run into the plant during an emergency to manually operate safety equipment, were explicitly rejected by NRC years ago. Again last March, following years of industry pressure to allow them, NRC explicitly reaffirmed OMAs are illegal except in limited applications when numerous criteria are met. Harris is not meeting those criteria.
For weeks, Progress insisted, “Allegations of inadequate fire safety at Harris are simply not true.” It is possible that CEO Robert McGehee believes that statement, but compliance with federal safety laws is not optional. Progress Energy told WUNC Radio on Nov. 14 that Harris is working “to improve its fire protection program.” Progress also says it has spent millions in recent years to fix fire safety problems. If Mr. McGehee is now genuinely committed to doing so, Harris should be able to gain compliance by the fall 2007 refueling outage, as called for in our petition, even if the outage must be extended. The petition also calls for the maximum financial penalty to help persuade Progress to restore compliance at Harris.
Finally, Progress is busily conducting plant tours for public officials and the media in order to show samples of rigorous fire barriers. However, will they show you the scores of unprotected safety components as listed in the federal documents we’ve cited? If plant conditions were as good as the
public relations make them seem, Harris could easily conform with safety regulations.
“Progress Energy – which has operated Harris for years outside of the rules – has made only a non-binding ‘promise’ to NRC to fix the fire problems sometime in the distant future. The NRC must make Progress cease its illegal, unsafe operations before workers and the public get hurt or killed.”
David Lochbaum, Nuclear Safety Engineer, Union of Concerned Scientists
The company has a long history of delaying safety corrections in the absence of public scrutiny. We’re demanding that NRC enforce its own rules.
We again call on public officials to withstand Progress’ influence machine, and join our call for compliance with federal safety rules. We look forward to meeting with many of you, and will continue providing accurate information to assist you as you exercise your duty to protect the regional public from unnecessary risks to health and safety.
(M.I.A. = Transcript of NRC Meeting Harris Fire)