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Gundersen: Doubts on Geotechnical Data Undermine Safety at Proposed Fermi 3 Atomic Reactor

Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer, Fairewinds Associates, Inc.Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer at Fairewinds Associates, Inc. (photo, left), testified before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) on behalf of an environmental coalition opposed to the construction and operation of Detroit Edison's proposed new Fermi 3 atomic reactor in Monroe, MI, on the Great Lakes shoreline. He focused on license applicant Detroit Edison's (DTE) blatant violations of safety significant quality assurance regulations.

The coalition, comprised of Beyond Nuclear, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizens Environment Coalition of Southwestern Ontario, Don't Waste MI, and Sierra Club MI Chapter, issued a press release.

Gundersen voiced his concerns about the trustworthiness of geotechnical data gathered by DTE and its subcontractors as part of the Fermi 3 Development Project. Detroit Edison has argued that it was not required to have quality assurance in place, as it was not yet an “applicant” for a new reactor construction and operating license at the time.

“Given Detroit Edison’s violations of quality assurance requirements, the geological borings and soil samples are suspect. Fermi 3’s building structures would be very heavy, so the geotechnical data has to be verifiable, so that the atomic reactor’s foundations are rock solid, and seismically qualified."

Gundersen pointed out that Detroit Edison’s playing fast and loose with the definition of the word “applicant” presents dangers not only at Fermi 3, but would set a very bad precedent across the nuclear power industry.

Gundersen continued: “If Detroit Edison was not an applicant, then it was not subject to NRC rules guarding against deliberate misconduct, the bearing of materially false witness, and requirements of completeness and accuracy of information, employee whistleblower protections, oaths of affirmation, and reporting of defects and noncompliance. Without quality assurance in place from the get-go, the very fabric of nuclear safety regulation has been torn asunder at Fermi 3. Whistleblowers watch out: NRC confirms that whistleblower protection did not apply at Fermi 3. As a former nuclear whistleblower, this is truly terrifying."

Arnie appeared in two recent podcasts put out by Fairewinds Energy Education having to do with this Fermi 3 proceeding. The first one, on October 30th, is entitled "Let the Games Begin." The second one, dated November 7th, is entitled "NRC Strips Whistleblower Protections."

Gundersen filed an expert declaration on QA, or lack thereof, on Dec. 8, 2009. He included his CV.

On January 15, 2010, the coalition had to fend off legal attacks by both DTE and NRC Staff.

He submitted additional expert testimony on June 8, 2010. A week later, the ASLB admitted the environmental coalition's QA contention to the evidentiary hearing stage.

He also filed non-proprietary QA testimony on April 30, 2013, which accompanied Intervenors' Initial Statement of Position on Contention 15 [QA].

DTE sicked three experts on Gundersen on April 30, just as they did at the oral evidentiary hearings on October 30-31.

NRC's expert, George A. Lipscomb, who also filed written testimony on April 30, was subjected to withering cross examination by the ASLB during the October 31 evidentiary hearing. Lipscomb stuck to his position, that DTE was not responsible for QA before it filed its Fermi 3 license application in September 2008. One of the three ASLB administrative law judge’s took issue with the agency staff person’s testimony.

“I really find your position to be very troubling,” ASLB Administrative Law Judge Anthony J. Baratta stated on the record. Baratta described NRC’s logic as “circular,” “confusing,” “appalling,” and even “somewhat misleading.”

In addition, ASLB Chief Administrative Law Judge Ronald M. Spritzer stated that NRC’s position was “completely irrational” and a “totally incoherent version of this regulation.”

Also responding to NRC’s testimony, Michael Keegan of Don’t Waste Michigan said: “That was the best Double Speak I’ve heard in a long time. George Orwell is spinning so fast in his grave, he should be hooked up to the electric grid.”

Gundersen also filed non-proprietary rebuttal testimony on May 29, 2013. It accompanied the environmental coalition's rebuttal to DTE and NRC Staff legal attacks.