Safety and Nuclear go well together, but not in the U.S.

Posted by By at 16 May, at 12 : 26 PM Print

In black and white, without a word or thought to misconstrue, Nuclear Engineer David Lochbaum told a congressional panel that nuclear power plants in the U.S. are not safe.

Lochbaum testified late last week before a joint session of the Energy and Environment and Investigations, and Oversight Subcommittees of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology said the nuclear industry has been sugar-coating issues for far too long.

The hearing was in direct response to the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant which was all but destroyed by a hurricane and tsunami in March.

Lochbaum spoke in terms of luck after a tornado ripped through Davis-Besse in 1998, a nuclear plant located in Ohio. As compared to what engineers have confronted at Fukushima Dai-ichi, there are some limited, but striking similarities. That tornado killed the power supply at Davis-Besse.

“Outside air temperatures exceeding 90 degrees caused the backup power supply to overheat and fail, just as the tsunami had done at Fukushima Dai-ichi. The difference was that workers restored the normal power supply for Davis-Besse an hour before the backup power supply failed, while more extensive damage prevented workers at Fukushima Dai-ichi from restoring its normal power supply for nearly a week, days too late to prevent fuel damage,” Lochbaum said.

Lochbaum now with the Union of Concerned Scientists and formerly with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the NRC and representatives within the nuclear industry have not been telling the whole story.

Lochbaum said a severe accident as defined by the NRC includes fuel melt. “In testimony at Congressional hearings, NRC and nuclear representatives have claimed that severe accident management guidelines [SAMG] developed in the wake of the reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island would provide reliable protection against the problems faced at Fukushima Dai-ichi.”

Looking at pointing at an NRC Manual, Lochbaum said, “the fourth column for the severe accident management guidelines entry states: ‘The [NRC] staff concluded that regular inspection of SAMG was not appropriate because the guidelines are voluntary and have no regulatory basis.”

“The NRC never checks, repeat, never checks – the guidelines to see if they would be effective under severe accident conditions.”

Lochbaum taught severe accident management guidelines while he was with the NRC.

“If NRC continues to rely on these guidelines to protect public health, it must evaluate their effectiveness,” Lochbaum urged committee members t0 take a hard look. “It would be too late and too costly to find out after a U.S. nuclear plant disaster that the plant’s severe accident management guideline was missing a few key steps or contained a handful of missteps.”

(To read all of Lockbaum’s testimony click on Rock The Capital.)

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