Disaster by Design

Nuclear reactors use multiple safety systems to operate with low-risk. This series examines what happens when those systems fail—and explores what can be done to ensure better safety in the future.


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Nuclear (Information) Power

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Disaster by Design/Safety by Intent #54

Safety by Intent

Robin Morgan wrote that “Knowledge is power. Information is power.”

Among many lessons learned from the March 1979 core meltdown at Three Mile Island was the need to collect, assess, and disseminate relevant operating experience in a timely manner. In other words, nuclear information has the power to promote nuclear safety, but only when that information is shared so as to replicate good practices and eradicate bad ones. Both the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the nuclear industry undertook parallel efforts after Three Mile Island to improve operating experience efforts. Read more >

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Setting the Nuclear Safety Bar

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Disaster by Design/ Safety by Intent #53

Safety by Intent

Disaster by Design/Safety by Intent #52, last week’s commentary, described the timely and effective response by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to the unexpected discovery of cracked control rod drive mechanism (CRDM) nozzles at the Oconee nuclear plant in South Carolina. Soon after being surprised, the NRC determined who needed to do what when in order to properly resolve the safety problem. When the phased actions were taken, the results confirmed that the NRC’s triage was appropriate.

This commentary expands upon a theme implied in last week’s commentary—namely, that the NRC does a good job setting the nuclear safety bar at the Goldilocks height: not too low to expose workers and the public to undue risk, not too high to impose undue costs on plant owners, but just right. Read more >

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Rapid Regulator Response

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Disaster by Design/ Safety by Intent #52

Safety by Intent

The discovery of significant corrosion to the reactor vessel head at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Ohio gave the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) a figurative black eye. On the same day in April 2002 that the NRC announced it rated Davis-Besse one of the top performing nuclear plants in the country, the agency reported that the corrosion spanning several years at the plant had compromised safety margins more than any event since the Three Mile Island accident in March 1979.

The well-deserved black eye overshadowed what had been stellar performance by a regulator with eyes wide open seeing a safety problem and swiftly acting to effectively resolve it in a timely manner. Prior commentaries have chronicled the NRC’s shortcomings. This commentary covers the history before the NRC snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Read more >

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Reactor Oversight Process

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Disaster by Design/ Safety by Intent #51

Safety by Intent

Last week’s commentary covered the NRC’s Maintenance Rule and expressed my perspective that it was the best thing the NRC has done over the past four decades. This week’s commentary describes my nominee for the second best thing—the Reactor Oversight Process (ROP). Read more >

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NRC’s Nuclear Maintenance Rule

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Disaster by Design/ Safety by Intent #50

Safety by Intent

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) identified a disturbing trend in the mid-80s—the number of safety problems caused by inadequate maintenance was increasing. In some cases, ineffective practices during routine maintenance such as replacing worn-out gaskets or lubricating rotating machinery resulted in equipment that had been operating satisfactorily breaking down soon afterwards. Read more >

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