Published on June 23rd, 2011 | by Tom Schueneman7
Is Nuclear Oversight Getting More Lax to Accommodate Aging Reactors?
Zach Shahan just published a great piece on Planetsave.com about a recent AP investigation on federal oversight and the nuclear power industry. The report reveals how, instead of providing oversight, federal regulators act more like close business partners with nuclear power operators to keep aging reactors online and within federal standards. How? By repeatedly easing those standards.
The investigation shows that officials from the U.S. Regulatory Commission have consistently judged earlier standards as “too strict,” advocating that reduced safety margins can be achieved “without peril”.
The result is valves allowed to leak at a rate up to 200 times more than the original standard, cracked tubing through which radioactive steam flows, worn parts left in operation, and many other age-related patterns of deterioration.
According to NRC records obtained by AP, it goes something like this:
- Reactor parts fail or fall out of regulatory compliance.
- Research is commissioned and studies are conducted by both industry and government. All agree the rules are “unnecessarily conservative.”
- The rules are eased and reactors are once again in compliance.
But as most nuclear plants in the US near the end of their expected lifespan, the inevitable symptoms of age will continue to eat away at the safety margin.
Even if we are to put our faith in the NRC’s ability to effectively regulate the nuclear industry, some questions seem prudent:
- At what point do industry regulators draw the line and ease regulations no further?
- Why are the original standards consistently too strict?
- Are we learning the lessons we should from the Fukushima tragedy?
- Who is overseeing the overseers?
To that last question, the answer must be you and me.
- Radioactive leaks found at 75% of US nuke sites (cbsnews.com)
- U.S. Nuclear Regulator Faces Fresh Scrutiny for Bending Safety Standards (propublica.org)
- Nuclear Power Oversight Poor In Both Japan & United States, AP & IAEA Reports Show (treehugger.com)
- Electrical Fire Knocks Out Spent Fuel Cooling Pool at Nebraska Nuclear Plant (planetsave.com)