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Fission Stories #132: For Whom the Bells No Longer Toll

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On December 13, 1992, operators at Salem Unit 2 reactor across the river from Wilmington,

Delaware discovered that the control room’s visual and audible alarms were not working. They detected this situation when a printer in the control room output a message about a degraded condition that was not reflected by the alarms. The operators reset the alarm system to return it to operation.

Workers determined that a recently installed micro-processor-based alarm system caused the problem. When the operators attempted to enter files onto the micro-processor system, despite cautions against doing so, the system locked up.

The NRC’s inspectors looked into the event. Afterwards they expressed dismay about a “lack of candor demonstrated by one or more” of the operators on shift during the event. The NRC reminded Salem’s owners that “criminal sanctions may be imposed against any individual who deliberately provides inaccurate or incomplete information.”

Our Takeaway

President Richard Nixon resigned the highest office in the land because of his lack of candor.

The NRC meekly sent a notice to Salem urging them to do some candor shopping.

The NRC has long had a regulation requiring nuclear workers to provide complete and accurate information to the agency.

As in this case, the NRC has often complained about getting incomplete and inaccurate information from nuclear workers. But the NRC has very seldom enforced its regulation.

Maybe if the NRC enforced its regulations, nuclear workers would take them seriously, too.

 

“Fission Stories” is a weekly feature by Dave Lochbaum. For more information on nuclear power safety, see the nuclear safety section of UCS’s website and our interactive map, the Nuclear Power Information Tracker.

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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

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One Response

  1. Sean McKinnon says:

    This illustrates that even in the face of uninformed or unscrupulous operators that when a modification caused an unintended consequence defense in depth came through by way of the alarm printer that served as a back up to the annunciator system.