Dave Lochbaum

About the author: Mr. Lochbaum received a BS in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Tennessee in 1979 and worked as a nuclear engineer in nuclear power plants for 17 years. In 1992, he and a colleague identified a safety problem in a plant where they were working. When their concerns were ignored by the plant manager, the utility, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), they took the issue to Congress. The problem was eventually corrected at the original plant and at plants across the country. Lochbaum joined UCS in 1996 to work on nuclear power safety. He spent a year in 2009-10 working at the NRC Training Center in Tennessee. Areas of expertise: Nuclear power safety, nuclear technology and plant design, regulatory oversight, plant license renewal and decommissioning

Disaster by Design/Safety by Intent

Nuclear power reactor designs feature multiple diverse safety components to prevent a fuel meltdown and the release of radiation should a meltdown occur. Called defense-in-depth, these multiple barriers would all have to fail for radiation to be released. If any individual barrier was 100% reliable, the remaining barriers would not be necessary. But because neither any individual barrier nor all the barriers collectively guarantee protection, each barrier must be as effective as possible if the inherent risks are to be minimized.

The protection afforded by multiple diverse safety measures will be weakened if problems with individual safety components are tolerated rather than corrected, making it more likely that an extreme event can overwhelm all the barriers to cause disaster.

In a new series of blog posts—Disaster by Design/Safety by Intent—UCS will explore how defense-in-depth can be eroded, and how it can be enhanced. Read More

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Commendable Catch at Calvert Cliffs

Fission Stories #198

The owner of the two reactors at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant near Lusby, Maryland informed the NRC on March 20, 2015, about a maintenance practice that could have prevented emergency systems from fulfilling their safety functions during an accident. Read More

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NRC Restores Public Access to Information

Nuclear Energy Activist Toolkit #64

In July 2014, UCS learned that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had for nearly a decade been blanket withholding all documents it received from nuclear plant owners about fire protection and emergency planning.

In November 2014, I wrote the NRC Chairman on behalf of UCS, Beyond Nuclear, Greenpeace, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, and requesting that the Commission revisit this policy and revise it to restore the public’s access to non-sensitive information. Read More

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The Saturday Night Live Approach to Nuclear Safety: More Cowbell!

Fission Stories #197

The April 8, 2000, Saturday Night Live broadcast featured a skit with cast members pretending to be the rock group Blue Oyster Cult in the recording studio with a famous music producer, played by actor Christopher Walken. The skit is remembered for Walken’s character stating “I gotta have more cowbell.”

The NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) needs more cowbell, too. Read More

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Nuclear Plant Lifetimes

Nuclear Energy Activist Toolkit #63

The original licenses issued by the NRC for nuclear power reactors permit operation for up to 40 years. Owners can, and many have, applied to the NRC for license renewals that permit operation for up to 20 more years.

While calendars are involved, the owners and the NRC use other means to determine nuclear plant lifetimes.

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Atomic Speedometers

Fission Stories #196

Local, state and federal officials post limits on how fast people can drive their vehicles along roads under normal conditions. The posted speed limits are risk-informed because vary from road to road depending on risk factors such as congestion and access options. Read More

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Shh! Secrets of the Cooling Towers

Nuclear Energy Activist Toolkit #62

Go up to almost anyone on Main Street, Anytown, USA and ask them what this picture shows and the most common answer you will hear is “a nuclear plant cooling tower.” Read More

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Browns Ferry Barbeque

Fission Stories #195

Workers restarted the Unit 1 boiling water reactor (BWR) at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant near Athens, Alabama in early November 2014 following a routine refueling outage. Read More

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Planes, Trains & Automobiles – Lessons from the NTSB

Nuclear Energy Activist Toolkit #61

Planes, Trains & Automobiles is a 1987 comedy film starring Steve Martin and the late John Candy. The title also describes several of the travel modes that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates when things go wrong. Read More

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Chillin’ at the NRC: Surprising Survey Results

Fission Stories #194

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has two formal programs for its workers to use when they disagree with the agency’s decisions and positions. (These programs complement informal processes where workers can discuss issues with supervisors and colleagues.) One is called the Non-Concurrence process and the other is the Differing Professional Opinion program. How free do NRC staff feel to use these? Read More

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