UCS charges NRC with "enabling unsafe and illegal operations" for non-enforcement of reactor coolant pressure boundary leakage
David Lochbaum (photo, left), the Director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), has written the five U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Commissioners, and others at the agency responsible for enforcement of safety regulations. His letter is entitled "NRC's Enabling Unsafe and Illegal Operations." He criticizes the NRC for its routine "forgiveness" granted to nuclear utilities when safety-significant pressure boundary leakage occurs. Not only does NRC not revoke or suspend reactor operating licenses, it also does not issue fines, and often just treats the mishaps as non-cited violations, or as if no violation has even occurred. This is in direct contradiction of NRC safety regulations regarding such serious reactor risks.
Lochbaum describes a case of pressure boundary leakage at Entergy's problem-plagued Palisades atomic reactor in southwest Michigan last summer. Whereas NRC regulations required reactor shutdown within six hours of discovery of the leakage, Entergy actually operated the reactor for a month. Despite dispatching a Special Inspection Team, NRC later reported "no findings of significance were identified." Lochbaum points out that NRC could fine Entergy $140,000 per day for the violation, or around $4 million all told, for this month-long pressure boundary leak. Yet NRC has fined Entergy not one penny.
Lochbaum included this near-miss in his annual report on nuclear safety at U.S. reactors. As he documents, Palisades has had three near-misses in two years, vying for the most of any reactor in the country.