A Decade Later: NRC Reactor Oversight Process Has Failed to Improve Reactor Safety, New Report Finds

For Immediate Release

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Elliott Negin
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enegin@ucsusa.org

A Decade Later: NRC Reactor Oversight Process Has Failed to Improve Reactor Safety, New Report Finds

WASHINGTON - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) reactor oversight process,
introduced 10 years ago to better monitor safety at nuclear power plants
and trigger appropriate agency responses, has failed to improve nuclear
safety, according to a report released today by the Union of Concerned
Scientists (UCS).

The NRC established the oversight process after a 1997 Government
Accountability Office (GAO) report revealed the agency routinely failed
to require plant owners to correct serious safety problems. The agency
intended the process to provide timely, objective assessments of safety
levels along with clearly defined NRC responses when problems were
detected.

“The oversight process was supposed to detect safety problems so the
NRC could ensure that plant owners restored safety levels quickly,” said
David Lochbaum, director of UCS’s nuclear safety project and author of
the report, "The NRC's Reactor Oversight Process: An Assessment of the First Decade."
“Regardless, for more than five out of the last 10 years, seven
reactors operated with known safety shortfalls and, for at least four
years, 13 other reactors operated with NRC-identified performance
problems.” (See below for a list of the reactors.)

The reactor oversight process uses nearly 20 performance indicators,
including the number of unplanned reactor shutdowns, along with NRC
inspector findings. But, as the GAO reported in 2006, performance
indicators are useless because they indicate acceptable performance more
than 99 percent of the time. The NRC’s findings do not seem to be
correlated to safety levels and appear unduly influenced by other
factors, such as inspector staffing levels.

“It turns out that the reactor oversight process was just a new name
for the same old NRC substandard antics,” said Lochbaum. “The NRC still
flags nuclear plant safety problems, but they aren’t fixed. As a result,
the public is protected as much by luck as by the agency’s actions.
Americans should try their luck in casinos, not at the nuclear plants in
their backyards.”

Reactor; Percentage of Past Decade with NRC-Identified Problems
Oconee Unit 1 (SC); 67.5
Cooper (NE); 65.0
Kewaunee (WI); 60.0
Point Beach Unit 1 (WI); 60.0
Perry (OH); 55.0
Point Beach Unit 2 (WI); 52.5
Oconee Unit 3 (SC); 50.0
Fort Calhoun (NE); 47.5
Browns Ferry Unit 1 (AL); 46.2
Callaway (MO); 45.0
Calvert Cliffs Unit 1 (MD); 45.0
Indian Point Unit 2 (NY); 45.0
Oyster Creek (NJ); 45.0
Palo Verde Unit 3 (AZ); 45.0
Braidwood Unit 1 (IL); 42.5
Palo Verde Unit 1 (AZ); 42.5
Palo Verde Unit 2 (AZ); 42.5
Surry Unit 1 (VA); 42.5
Surry Unit 2 (VA); 42.5
Donald C. Cook Unit 2 (MI); 40.0

 

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The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.

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