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Nuclear Regulator Majority Vote Disregards Agency Staff Safety Recommendation on Unreliable Mark I and II Containment
Decision requires hardened vent without filter
Takoma Park, MD - March 20 - The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has voted to disregard a recommendation from its own Japan Lessons Learned Task Force and professional staff that nuclear reactor operators should be ordered to install high-capacity radiation filters at 23 Mark I and 8 Mark II nuclear power reactors in the United States.
“These are inherently dangerous and flawed reactors but radiation filters installed on more robust vent lines would at least provide a significant additional layer to the defense-in-depth,” said Paul Gunter, Director of Reactor Oversight Project for Beyond Nuclear, based in Takoma Park, MD.
“This is fundamentally a Fukushima lesson unlearned,” Gunter added. “We all watched the Fukushima accident in horror as Japanese operators were unable to manage one containment failure after another. This was in large part because TEPCO was not prepared to manage the release of pressure, heat, hydrogen gas and high levels of radioactivity from the damaged fuel cores,” he said.
The NRC staff had recommended the agency issue an Order to require high capacity filters be installed on severe accident capable vents on the Fukushima-design unreliable reactor containment systems by December 31, 2017.
The Commission vote allows for upgrading accident capable vents on the Mark I and II reactors but falls seriously short of the staff recommendation to restore a significant measure of containment integrity by requiring radiation filtration systems as have been installed for many years on most European reactors.
The NRC Commissioners voted 3-2 against installing the filters. Chairwoman Macfarlane supported the filter installation by Order. Commissioner Ostendorf voted in favor of the filter strategy but by a lengthy process of rulemaking that portends years more delay with an uncertain future.
“The Commission’s majority vote potentially ties reactor operators’ hands behind their backs if an accident were to occur in the coming years,” Gunter said. “Venting an accident without a filter will mean fire-hosing downwind communities with massive amounts of radiation.
“While the NRC and industry are spinning the outcome of this vote as a ‘delay’ on a decision on the filtered vent, in fact, it is a flat out denial of public safety in the interest of saving the nuclear industry some money,” Gunter continued.
"The nuclear industry will score financial gains from this decision but the cost should be paid by the loss of NRC's regulatory integrity,” he concluded.
In voting for the filtered vent, NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane was the only Commissioner supporting her technical staff’s judgment and recommendation to move forward with an ORDER to industry. She concluded that “all of the available data suggests that the installation of hardened vents is a prudent and appropriate safety enhancement that is within the NRC’s current regulatory framework.” The Commission vote and notation sheet can be read at:
There are 23 Mark I boiling water reactors in the US and 8 Mark II boiling water reactors that are subject of this Commission vote.