In pushing toward design approval and licensing, captive regulators promote industry instead of taxpayers, ratepayers and public safety
Statement by NC WARN Director Jim Warren:
Durham, NC – Boldly voting again on controversial matters in the last hours before a holiday weekend, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission tomorrow plans to complete what the agency and its industry cronies claimed was achieved exactly six years ago: certification of a standardized Westinghouse nuclear plant design as being suitably safe and economical for licensing.
With three of five NRC commissioners on record supporting the AP1000 re-certification, the question for Thursday’s 10am meeting is whether the NRC-Five will also breach regulations by granting industry’s demand for immediate approval of construction-and-operating licenses at Georgia’s Vogtle plant and SCE&G’s Summer plant – before the certification rule becomes effective in 30 days. Even NRC Chairman Jaczko said his four colleagues are seeking to accommodate the interests of Vogtle owner Southern Company by pushing for immediate COL approval.
We urge U.S. news outlets to scrutinize the industry celebration about finally restarting this technology with a “new and improved” reactor design that remains experimental and highly controversial. Taxpayers are poorly served if federal courts must be called upon to force open resolution of myriad design problems impacting cost and safety. As indicated by Southern Company and other utilities, these projects are only going forward because the financial risks have been forced upon federal taxpayers and state electricity customers.
Industry-friendly NRC commissioners are poised to pass along to the public the soaring costs caused by attempts to correct known design problems after construction begins. Here is a snapshot of how the NRC has dealt with multiple problems raised by experts within the agency, the industry and former industry insiders:
> Formal dissent by NRC’s top expert, warning that shield building could “shatter like a glass cup”: REPORT CENSORED
> Warnings by NRC’s Fukushima “A-Team” experts that agency must finally require evaluation of potential severe accidents: POSTPONED – HANDLE DURING AP1000 CONSTRUCTION
> Legal arguments that Fukushima triggers safety evaluations required by the National Environmental Policy Act: IGNORED
> Cost and safety impacts of 12 major change orders already required at Vogtle pre-construction project and possibly impacting design certification: SECRET AS TO NATURE AND COST
> Westinghouse’s improper calculations of containment’s ability to withstand accident pressures: RECALCULATIONS REMAIN SECRET – BUT BARELY BELOW REGULATORY LIMIT
> Whistleblower allegations of shortcuts with undersized turbine building that will drive up costs of construction and maintenance: NO REPLY OR DENIAL
> Former Westinghouse engineer’s claims that AP1000 shield building wasn’t properly tested for solar heating impacts: IGNORED
> Two-year Westinghouse-NRC dispute over shield building’s inability “to withstand aircraft impact:” 11TH HOUR PARDON WITHOUT EXPLANATION
> Nuclear engineer and former senior industry VP Arnie Gundersen warns that “passive cooling” system’s chimney effect could waft radiation directly into the atmosphere in an accident: DENIAL – IGNORING DOZENS OF U.S. CONTAINMENT FAILURES
> Gundersen says Westinghouse’s assumption of zero probability of reactor and/or spent fuel cooling failure is a blatant manipulation of a safety code: NO RESPONSE
> Gundersen says NRC must analyze risks at multi-unit sites, where explosions can impact adjacent reactors and recovery efforts, as at Fukushima: NO RESPONSE
> NC WARN’s complaint that spent fuel is to be stored in high density cooling pools in defiance of 2005 National Academy of Science warning and Fukushima lessons: NO RESPONSE
With the NRC’s solid record of protecting and promoting this industry, why should the news media or public trust them to handle all these problems in secret? The crucial effort for standardization of new reactor designs has failed, at least as verifiable by the public. Thus, any AP1000 project moving forward will be a prototype, and the secretive process sets the stage for corner-cutting and criminality with potentially major impacts on cost escalation and public safety.
By postponing design corrections until after licensing, the NRC and state regulators could well plunge the Southeast into an economic abyss. State ratepayers (and U.S. taxpayers) could be forced to absorb serial cost overruns and delays that could force project abandonments – just like the old days.
Also, we urge the news media to fully scrutinize nuclear industry claims of its low carbon benefits. In October NC WARN proved conclusively that the few U.S. utilities still trying to build nuclear plants do not plan to replace their coal plants, and as long as they’re holding out hopes of building new nukes, they are blocking progress on efficiency, solar and wind power.*
This is a very dangerous – and with an accelerating climate crisis, tragic – time to step back into the same trends that led to Forbes magazine’s 1985 labeling of the nuclear power industry as the “worst managerial disaster in business history.”
NOTE: “Regulatory Gelding” credit to Bob Trigaux of the St. Petersburg Times