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Watchdog Group: Oconee Nuclear Reactors Present Safety Hazards that Merit Additional Oversight by Nuclear Regulatory Commission
COLUMBIA, SC - March 22 - In an annual report released on March 8, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission confirmed that four of seven operating nuclear reactors in South Carolina were at a “degraded” level of performance and merit additional inspection, oversight and corrective action.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.), a close ally of the nuclear industry who took more $40,000 in nuclear-related political action committee contributions in the last election cycle, toured the Oconee reactors today.
According to Friends of the Earth, which monitors nuclear issues in South Carolina, over the last few years it has become clear that the Oconee and Robinson nuclear plants in the state are of growing concern from a safety and public health perspective. Of the seven operating reactors in South Carolina, the three reactors operated by Duke Energy at the Oconee site and the single unit operated by Progress Energy at the Robinson site have received various NRC citations for technical and management problems.
“In order to protect public health and safety, the degraded condition of the Oconee nuclear plant clearly merits additional oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” said Tom Clements, Southeastern Nuclear Campaign Coordinator with Friends of the Earth in Columbia, S.C. “We support increased vigilance and monitoring of the aging Oconee nuclear plant and its management and encourage the public to be mindful of the risk posed by reactors with degraded safety conditions.”
According to an NRC news release (pdf) issued on March 8: “Six nuclear reactors were at the third level of performance with one degraded safety cornerstone. For this performance level, regulatory oversight includes more NRC inspections, senior management attention and oversight focused on the cause of the degraded performance. These plants were: Oconee 1, 2, 3 (S.C.); Fort Calhoun (Neb.); H. B. Robinson 2 (S.C.); and Wolf Creek 1 (Kan.)”
The mid-level assessment given to the Oconee and Robinson plants, while not the lowest level, reflects a need for additional inspection and action to correct problems which appear to have become chronic. Part of the problems can be attributed to management issues, especially at Robinson, but the age of the reactors could also be part of the reason that more problems are occurring.
“The Oconee reactors all received their operating licenses in the early 1970s and due to the effects of radiation and high temperature and pressure are starting to show their age,” said Clements. “Concerns about safe operation of this geriatric facility will only increase over time. I hope the NRC, often viewed as being too cozy with the industry it regulates, is up to the task of doing a proper job unconstrained by pressure or influence from Duke Energy. The public will be looking for proof of its independence and thoroughness.”