UCS 2nd Annual Report on the NRC

February 29, 2012
David Wright
Former contributor

Yesterday Dave Lochbaum released his second annual report on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which covered the year 2011. In it he looks at a number of safety lapses at U.S. nuclear power plants in 2011, discusses what caused them, and looks at the NRC’s response.

In particular, the report looks at 15 “near-misses” at 13 nuclear plants that triggered special inspections by the NRC in 2011. It also looks at 3 examples where the NRC did an outstanding job addressing safety problems and 3 in which the NRC did not respond well.

As Dave put it:

Last year’s record shows that the NRC is quite capable of being an effective watchdog that protects the public and saves the nuclear industry from its worst tendencies. But the agency too often does not live up to its potential, and we are still finding significant problems at nuclear plants that could too easily trigger a serious accident.

The 13 plants that experienced special inspections last year were Braidwood and Byron in Illinois, Callaway in Missouri, Cooper in Nebraska, Millstone in Connecticut, Monticello in Minnesota, North Anna in Virginia, Oconee in South Carolina, Palisades (two incidents) in Michigan, Perry in Ohio, Pilgrim (two incidents) in Massachusetts, Turkey Point in Florida, and Wolf Creek in Nebraska.

Dave also points out that the NRC has allowed some important, known problems to persist for decades. For example, 47 of the 104 operating nuclear reactors do not comply with a fire regulation the NRC established in 1980 and amended in 2004. Since fire represents 50 percent of the risk of reactor core damage, not enforcing these regulations leaves these plants, and the public living around them, at higher risk than they should be.

In addition, 27 reactors are currently known to be operating without adequate protection against earthquakes. The NRC has not required these plants to implement known steps to increase the protection.

Last year’s report covers NRC responses in 2010.

More information is available on UCS’s nuclear power webpage.

Information on each of the 104 operating nuclear power plants in the U.S. is available at UCS’s Nuclear Power Information Tracker.