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NRC relaxes Fukushima orders for Pilgrim then asks staff for relaxation “criteria” 

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in a unanimous vote (3-0) on April 6, 2017 decided to relax orders for Pilgrim nuclear power station in Plymouth, MA. On April 10, the NRC issued a request to staff to develop the criteria for relaxing agency Orders essential to protecting public safety from a nuclear accident. The Orders would have required the operator, Entergy Nuclear, to install a severe accident capable hardened containment vent on its vulnerable GE Mark I boiling water reactor’s containment system and to upgrade its flooding and seismic protections. The NRC orders were issued in response to the March 11, 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe in Japan where an earthquake followed by a large tsunami damaged reactor cooling systems for Units 1, 2 and 3 followed by the operator’s inability to vent the extreme heat, pressure and explosive gases resulting in three reactor meltdowns. Entergy had requested that NRC issue an “extension to comply” until after Pilgrim permanently closes in June 2019.

Pilgrim Watch, a Duxbury, MA-based public safety advocacy group, and Beyond Nuclear had challenged Entergy's "extension-to-comply" by requesting that the NRC first hold a public hearing allowing the groups an intervention to determine if the extension was legally required to go through the agency's license amendment process including a safety review. The Orders explicitly modified the safety specifications of the reactor's operating license and established scheduled compliance deadlines. The NRC essentially ignored the groups' filings and proceeded on an internal review. When the groups challenged the staff decision to grant the waiver, the groups appealed  before the Commission and were denied.

The staff approval for relaxation of orders without first establising the criteria of such action and the Commission's denial a citizens request for safety hearings is tantamount to gambling with public health and safety for the remainder the operating license. More worrisome, it is reflective of the same collusion of government, regulator and utility determined as the origianl root cause of the "man-made" nuclear disaster at Fukushima Diaiichi.

The NRC had previously granted relaxation of its Orders issued in the aftermath of Japan's nuclear catastrophe to the similarly vulnerable GE Mark I boiling water reactor at Oyster Creek (NJ) which is scheduled to permanentlyly close December 31, 2019. Additionally, the NRC granted an extensiont to its Fukushima Orders from January 2017 to June 2018 at Entergy's Fitzpatrick nuclear station, a GE reactor in Oswego, NY. Exelon's Quad Cities Unit 1 and 2, two more GE Mark I boiling water reactors in Cordova, IL, have similarly asked for relaxation from scheduled compliance with the Orders.