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Thursday
Jan242013

House Republicans attack NRC staff recommendation for costly containment modification on U.S. Fukushima-style reactors 

The Republican membership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee attacked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff’s recommendation to Order all GE Mark I and Mark II boiling water reactors, a total of 31 Fukushima-style reactors operating in the US, to install a severe accident capable venting system with radiation filters on the unreliable containment systems.  Many of the Republican members have the dangerous and vulnerable Fukushima-style reactors operating in their states. Other House members come from states hosting utility headquarters for GE reactor owners like the Tennessee Valley Authority in Knoxville and Entergy Nuclear in New Orleans, LA.

The NRC technical staff from the Japan Lessons Learned Task Force briefed the Commission on January 9, 2013 on their recommendation to install a hardened reliable containment venting system capable of withstanding extremely high temperature and pressure with radiation filtration systems. The modifications would not need to be completed before December 31, 2017. The staff concluded that with the modifications, operators might better manage a severe nuclear accident after the reactor core starts to melt down initiating the release of massive amounts of radioactivity and the generation of explosive hydrogen gas. The staff recommended Order, if adopted, would supersede the current NRC Order (March 12, 2012) that requires Mark I and Mark II operators to install a hardened venting system on the unreliable containments by December 31, 2016. The vent currently on Order would only provide reactor operators the option to release high temperature and pressure to the atmosphere in an effort to prevent reactor core damage. However, the March 2012 Order expressly states that the these vents need not be required for service in the event of a severe accident involving reactor core damage, the massive release of radioactivity and the generation of explosive hydrogen gas.

The NRC five-member Commission will now review the staff recommendation to order reactor containment modifications costing upwards of tens of millions of dollars per unit. The Commissioners will then take a vote to adopt the staff recommendation or whether to adopt one of three other options; take no further action, install a severe accident capable vent without a radiation filter or conduct further studies on how to address Mark I and Mark II vulnerabilities to a severe accident. The House Republicans are recommending that the Commission further study the implications of the Fukushima reactor explosions and massive land contamination in Japan for US reactor containments.

The controversial and expensive "fix" for the unreliable, aging and failing GE designs has clearly politicized the Commissioners' upcoming vote as one more financial "straw" to be factored on the economic back of any number of the 31 units.