NC WARN, Friends of the Earth, AP1000 Oversight Group
Groups say design approval can’t legally be finalized until Fukushima lessons are incorporated, and that NRC plans to shove costly design corrections onto Georgia, South Carolina customers
Durham, NC – Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen has documented seven unreviewed safety concerns involving the Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear plant design based on the ongoing Fukushima disaster, which he says require full technical review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission before the plant design can be “certified.” Today public interest groups filed his report – which expands on problems identified by a federal task force – with NRC commissioners who are considering a final vote on the plant design without responding to a long list of problems raised earlier by experts within and outside the industry.
The report was commissioned by NC WARN and Friends of the Earth, who say the NRC staff have avoided resolving the earlier problems – along with others the NRC’s Fukushima Task Force said apply to new reactors – in order to meet the nuclear industry’s AP1000 construction schedule. In a legal motion accompanying today’s report, the groups say federal regulations require correction of the multiple problems during the design certification phase – not after full construction of the AP1000 begins in Georgia and South Carolina.
Gundersen, of Fairewinds Associates, reports “at least seven failure modes that the NRC and Westinghouse have not considered … impacting the ability of the Westinghouse passive design to cool” the reactor and spent fuel pools. The former nuclear industry senior vice-president says Westinghouse’s assumption of zero probability of reactor and/or spent fuel cooling failure “is a blatant manipulation of a safety code designed to protect public health and safety.”
“Fukushima Unit 4 released enormous amounts of radiation when its spent fuel pool cooling system was shut down during the tsunami – and the lessons learned from this disaster must be applied in the design phase of the AP1000,” Gundersen said during a press conference today. “This same sequence is possible on the AP1000, but the NRC and Westinghouse-Toshiba have factored a zero percent chance of such an accident occurring.”
Gundersen, a prominent analyst of the Fukushima accident since it began in March, also cited last week’s revelation that at least one Fukushima reactor has begun a nuclear reaction in its melted core. He says Westinghouse assumes that the AP1000 reactor would shut down immediately following an accident, but he said “Fukushima proves that such an inadvertent criticality is indeed possible, and with the AP1000 it could cause the containment structure to burst and leak extensive radiation.”
NRC staff in charge of reviewing the AP1000 design have claimed that the Fukushima Task Force OK’d new reactors for licensing. But Gundersen’s report cites multiple task force recommendations that “are directly applicable to the AP1000 design and must be evaluated.” He also said today, “The Fukushima accidents proved that all calculations for containment integrity must be recalculated because three out of three containment systems failed.”
He also says Fukushima demonstrates the variety of risks posed by accidents at multi-unit sites, where explosions can impact adjacent reactors and recovery efforts. And he pointed out that the NRC task force insists that “new reactors must have their design basis and beyond design basis events reevaluated as a result of the four accidents at Fukushima.”
“The Commission will be legally negligent if it certifies the AP1000 without a thorough analysis of the critical issues we have raised,” said Jim Warren of NC WARN. “It’s a shame if a federal court must order the NRC to protect public safety, and to protect the ratepayers from design corrections attempted once construction begins, when corrections will be far costlier.”
The Westinghouse AP1000 is being pursued by Southern Company at the Plant Vogtle site in Georgia and by South Carolina Electric and Gas at its V.C. Summer site. Those utilities cannot obtain licenses to start reactor construction until the AP1000 is certified. The public interest groups maintain it is the construction schedule of those companies which has been given paramount importance over a resolution of continuing problems including lessons being learned from the Fukushima accident. Licenses for the AP1000 are also being pursued by other southeastern utilities such as Duke Energy, Progress Energy and Florida Power and Light.