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View Diary: New Fukushima Report Says Regulatory Capture to Blame (25 comments)

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  •  First, the useful life of anything (0+ / 0-)

    depends on how well you operate, test, and maintain it. Jay Lenno is famous for his collection of old cars that he keeps in perfect working order. If there is a limiting component it would probably be the reactor vessel and concerns of aging due to neutron embrittlement. Just about everything else can be, and at one plant or another probably has been, replaced or repaired. But the reactor vessels are not aging as fast as assumed when they were originally licensed.

    Second, preparing and applying for license renewal takes years and millions of dollars. The industry demanded clear guidance up front. If the expectations are clear and the plant demonstrates a commitment to meet the new requirements why would the NRC deny a license? Do you expect the DMV to arbitrarily deny drivers licenses to prove it isn't a rubber stamp organization? That said, I recall several years ago a plant voluntarily withdrew its license renewal application and later reapplied when it became clear that their first attempt wasn't going to cut it. Plants also have been known to accept additional expensive license conditions to get their licenses renewed.

    •  So the miles of pipes embedded in concrete (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jim P

      Have been magically replaced, even though they don't really know how to test them let alone repair them. Those same pipes which are crucial for cooling the aging reactor vessels, which also have not been replaced.  Your glib industry dogma is just packed with fail. From the AP series:

      Many safety experts worry about what the leaks suggest about the condition of miles of piping beneath the reactors. "Any leak is a problem because you have the leak itself — but it also says something about the piping," said Mario V. Bonaca, a former member of the NRC's Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards. "Evidently something has to be done."

      However, even with the best probes, it is hard to pinpoint partial cracks or damage in skinny pipes or bends. The industry tends to inspect piping when it must be dug up for some other reason. Even when leaks are detected, repairs may be postponed for up to two years with the NRC's blessing.

      "You got pipes that have been buried underground for 30 or 40 years, and they've never been inspected, and the NRC is looking the other way," said engineer Paul Blanch, who has worked for the industry and later became a whistleblower. "They could have corrosion all over the place."

      Nuclear engineer Bill Corcoran, an industry consultant who has taught NRC personnel how to analyze the cause of accidents, said that since much of the piping is inaccessible and carries cooling water, the worry is if the pipes leak, there could be a meltdown.

      During its Aging Nukes investigation, the AP conducted scores of interviews and analyzed thousands of pages of industry and government records, reports and data. The documents show that for decades compromises have been made repeatedly in safety margins, regulations and emergency planning to keep the aging units operating within the rules.


      Despite the aging problems, relicensing rules prohibits any overall safety review of the entire operation. More conservative safety margins are not required in anticipation of higher failure rates in old plants, regulators acknowledge.

      "Everything I've seen is rubber-stamped," said Joe Hopenfeld, an engineer who worked on aging-related issues at the NRC before retiring in 2008. He has since worked for groups challenging relicensing.

      Numerous reports from the NRC's Office of Inspector General offer disturbing corroboration of his view.

      For example, in 2002 the inspector general wrote: "Senior NRC officials confirmed that the agency is highly reliant on information from licensee risk assessments." Essentially that means the industry tells the NRC how likely an accident is and the NRC accepts the analysis.

      Five years later, in a relicensing audit, the inspector general complained of frequent instances of "identical or nearly identical word-for-word repetition" of the plant applications in NRC reviews. The inspector general worried that the repetition indicated superficial reviews that went through the motions, instead of thorough and independent examinations.

      The problems went beyond paperwork. The inspector general found that the NRC reviews usually relied on the plants to report on their operating experience, but the agency didn't independently verify the information.

      •  A big part of the aging management (0+ / 0-)

        programs plants are required to create as a condition of getting their licenses renewed involves digging up and inspecting the condition of buried piping and tanks. NRC inspectors are required to inspect to make sure licensees are following those programs. The AP article makes nonsensical statements, such as there being no requirement for licensees to compensate for wear and tear. Systems are tested frequently to ensure they will meet the performance requirements assumed in an accident scenario. If those performance standards are not met the system is declared inoperable and the plant is allowed a short period of time to fix it. Under rare circumstances a licensee will request permission to extend that action time and will propose compensatory measures that are specific to the circumstances. You can't predefined what they would be for every possible scenario. Unfortunately, energy issues isn't a "beat" that news outlets like AP devote much time on and it shows in the quality of their reporting. The only reporter worth his pay in the mass media that I know of is Matthew Wald with the New York Times.

        As to Dr. Hopenfeld, I don't know what his specific concerns are but if the NRC has been rubber stamping license renewal applications I know my utility would feel cheated. It took over a year and several rounds of requests for additional information and several meetings with the staff to get each of its license renewals. It was a very expensive and time consuming effort.

        Whatever the IGs concerns are, my experience has been that the Commission takes them seriously with plans for remedying and frequent status reports to the Commissioners but I haven't followed that report in particular.

        •  I always trust the judgement of an industry (0+ / 0-)

          flak over that of the award-winning journalists and editors.  Thanks for pointing out your pet NYT hack.

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