The Role of Regulation in Nuclear Plant Safety

We’re reviewing momentous events in nuclear history and commenting on the role of regulation in nuclear plant safety. The objective is to better understand under-regulation and over-regulation, and to better define “Goldilocks” regulation—regulation that is neither too lax nor too onerous, but just right.


Yankee Rowe and Reactor Vessel Safety

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Role of Regulation in Nuclear Plant Safety #4

The Yankee Rowe nuclear plant in Massachusetts was a forerunner in the industry pursuing extensions to the original 40-year operating license. But its run for a longer lifetime was derailed when Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) engineers discovered that the plant might not meet current safety requirements. Unable to convince the NRC that the requirements were satisfied after a year of trying, the owner opted to permanently retire the plant after only 31 years of operation. Read more >

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Empty Pipe Dreams at Palo Verde

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Regulation and Nuclear Plant Safety #3

In July 2004, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspectors at the Waterford nuclear plant in Louisiana discovered that a portion of piping in a standby emergency system that would provide makeup water to cool the reactor in event of an emergency had been kept emptied of water, jeopardizing the ability to prevent core damage. This finding was shared with owners of similar reactors across the country. Days later, workers at the Palo Verde nuclear plant in Arizona discovered that sections of the emergency system piping for all three reactors was being deliberately emptied of water. Read more >

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Three Mile Island Intruder

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Regulation and Nuclear Plant Safety #2

A man recently released from a hospital where he had been treated for mental health issues drove his mother’s station wagon into—literally—the Three Mile Island nuclear plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania at 6:53 am on February 7, 1993. Workers responded to the unauthorized entry by locking the doors to the control room and declaring a Site Area Emergency—the second most serious emergency of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) four classifications. The intruder was found more than four hours later hiding in the turbine building. Read more >

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Flooding at Nine Mile Point

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Regulation and Nuclear Power Safety #1

In July 1981, water flooded the Radwaste Processing Building containing highly radioactive waste for Unit 1 at the Nine Mile Point nuclear plant in upstate New York. The flood tipped over 55-gallon metal drums filled with highly radioactive material. The spilled contents contaminated the building’s basement such that workers would receive a lethal radiation dose in about an hour. The Unit 1 reactor had been shut down for over two years and was receiving heightened oversight attention when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) investigated the matter. But the NRC was reacting to a television news report about the hazardous condition rather than acting upon its own oversight efforts. The media spotlight resulted in this long over-looked hazard finally being remedied. Read more >

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Role of Regulation in Nuclear Plant Safety: A New Series of Posts

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

President Trump seeks to lessen the economic burden from excessive regulation. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) initiated Project AIM before the 2016 elections seeking to right-size the agency and position it to become more adaptive to shifting needs in the future. And the nuclear industry launched its Delivering the Nuclear Promise campaign seeking productivity and efficiency gains to enable nuclear power to compete better against natural gas and other sources of electricity.

In light of these concurrent efforts, we will be reviewing momentous events in nuclear history and posting a series of commentaries on the role of regulation in nuclear plant safety. The objective is to better understand under-regulation and over-regulation to better define “Goldilocks” regulation—regulation that is neither too lax nor too onerous, but just right. That better understanding will enable us to engage the NRC more effectively as the agency pursues Project AIM and the industry tries to deliver on its promise. Read more >

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