A fire at a nuclear reactor is serious business. There are many ways to trigger a nuclear accident leading to damage of the reactor core, which can result in the release of radiation. But according to a senior manager at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), for a typical nuclear reactor, roughly half the risk that the reactor core will be damaged is due to the risk of fire. In other words, the odds that a fire will cause an accident leading to core damage equals that from all other causes combined. And that risk estimate assumes the fire protection regulations are being met. Read more >
May 17, 2017 6:00 AM EDT
April 3, 2017 4:02 PM EDT
The Wolf Creek Generating Station near Burlington, Kansas has one Westinghouse four-loop pressurized water reactor that began operating in 1985. In the early morning hours of Friday, September 2, 2016, the reactor was operating at full power. A test completed at 4:08 am indicated that leakage into the containment from unidentified sources was 1.358 gallons per minute (gpm). The maximum regulatory limit for was such leakage was 1.0 gpm. If the test results were valid, the reactor had to be shut down within hours. Read more >
February 6, 2017 6:00 AM EDT
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) held a public meeting on Tuesday, January 31, 2017, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. A large crowd of over 300 individuals (perhaps thousands more by White House math) attended, including me. Elected officials in Massachusetts—the attorney general, the governor, the entire US Congressional delegation, and state senators and representatives—had requested the meeting. Many of these officials, or their representatives, attended the meeting.
The elected officials asked the NRC to conduct a public meeting to discuss the contents of an email from the leader of an NRC inspection team at Pilgrim to others within the agency regarding the results from the first week’s efforts. An NRC staffer forwarded this email to others within the agency, and inadvertently to Diane Turco of the Cape Downwinders, a local organization. The contents of the leaked email generated considerable attention.
October 11, 2016 6:00 AM EDT
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 >
October 4, 2016 6:00 AM EDT
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 >