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Wednesday
Apr132016

NRC gives Entergy pass on falsifying fire safety reports at Waterford and Pilgrim nuclear power stations

The New Orleans-based Entergy Nuclear Corporation didn’t even get a slap on the wrist from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for “willfully” falsifying fire safety inspections at its Waterford nuclear power station in Louisiana and Pilgrim station in Massachusetts.  Instead, the NRC waived enforcement actions for violations of federal reporting requirements that could have resulted in large fines and criminal felony charges. Entergy contract workers and operations managers were caught falsifying “fire watch” reports in zones of the nuclear power plants that fail to meet federal fire safety requirements for protecting safe shutdown electrical cable from fire damage in the event of an accident.  Rather than replace bogus fire barrier systems on electrical circuits vital to safely shutting down the reactor following an accident, the NRC has allowed reactor operators to send out hourly patrols in these unprotected fire zones. The fire watch personnel are required to certify that patrols were conducted.  When the falsified fire watch records were reported, Entergy management sought to cover it up.

The NRC’s own safety studies show that fire is the largest risk contributor initiating a reactor melt down. Yet, for decades now, the NRC has colluded with industry to save the cost of installing qualified passive fire barriers around electrical cable trays, conduits and boxes to make nukes safer from fire. Instead, the NRC and industry have settled on  “compensatory actions” like these least-cost roving fire watch patrols that are in the unprotected area maybe five minutes of the hour leaving the area left unwatched for the other 55 minutes. The patrols don’t actually protect safety-related electrical cable like a working fire barrier would but report the fire to on-site fire fighting crews. Meanwhile, control of shutting down the reactor and cooling down the tremendous amount of residual heat could be lost initiating fuel damage.

The problem is not just that fire watches don't adequately compensate for reliable, tested fire barrier systems or the fact that operators are cheating on conducting fire patrols.  The root cause, now decades old, is that the NRC is “willfully” ignoring enforcement of federal fire safety laws that came about from the a very real fire at the Browns Ferry nuclear power plant. 

Where a daycare facility would get promptly shutdown for fire code violations that jeopardize children’s safety, the NRC provides nuclear power plants with no real compliance standard at all jeopardizing entire regions.