The Associated Press reported today that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission rather than enforcing safety oversight often overlooks its own regulations to accomodate the production agenda of an aging, cracking, rusting, crumbling and increasingly brittle nuclear power industry in the United States.
The AP story comes on the heels of the ProPublica report that NRC has lowered the safety bar for fire code in the nuclear industry. For decades, most US reactors if not all have been in violation of fire safety law for protecting vital electric circuits needed for control room shutdown of the reactor in the event of fire. Rather than enforce regulations to protect electrical cables with 3 hour and 1 hour rated fire barriers to assure that the control room has time to shut down the plant during a fire, NRC is allowing those electric circuits to remain unprotected from fire---in violation of regulations. Instead, NRC has been busy exempting those operators from the regulation and alternately, under a newly passed regulation, in the event of fire, allow the cables to burn, lose the control room operation and instead send a worker out into the burning reactor to manually shut the system down by hand and ignore the uncertainty posed by smoke, flames, heat and radiation.
The regulatory retreat has been going on for quite some time. For example, when NRC found out that the nuclear power plants were loaded with a combustible sealant product to plug penetrations between fire zones in the plants instead of the "non-combustible" fire barrier penetration seals required by law, rather than enforce the law, NRC changed the law to remove the "non-combustible" criterion. Presto, compliance. But what about safety?