Monday, January 28, 2013

NRC denies Oconee fire protection delay

More on the unsafe Oconee Nuclear Station, as originally reported here back in late September of last year.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will conduct a public meeting at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Oconee Nuclear Station’s World of Energy. Duke Energy officials will discuss major projects at the plant, including the fire-protection efforts.

From Sunday's Greenville News:

NRC denies Oconee fire protection delay
Agency says plant is safe, but wants protection system
by Eric Connor, staff writer

For years now, the Oconee Nuclear Station’s colossal three reactors have operated on the shores of Lake Keowee under fire-protection methods that the government says were only meant to be temporary.

However, federal regulators have now taken an unexpected stand – denying the most recent of voluminous deadline extensions Duke Energy has requested through the years as the company works to put its fire-protection practices at the forefront of the nuclear industry.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission – in recently citing a higher-than-acceptable safety risk under temporary fire-protection measures while at the same time insisting those temporary measures have been sufficient so far — is straddling a line with contradiction on either side.

If the risk of fire is great enough for regulators to stand ground opposite a powerful energy giant, then why are Oconee’s reactors still operating?

Or, if the plant can safely operate under interim measures as it has for years, why should a nuclear provider so integral to life in the Upstate be denied a pass in an industry known for the deadlines both it and the government itself frequently don’t meet?

The NRC insists that the plant is safe from fire, though the agency says the degree of safety could be as much as 40 times less than if Duke had kept to its deadlines.

Duke insists that it is working diligently and that the project is more complex than either it or the government had foreseen.

The answer, nuclear watchdogs say, lies in reading between the lines of a denial that they say borders on the unprecedented — and one that, if held to, could be an indication of a willingness for the NRC to take a stronger stance against criticism that it has become too cozy with the industry it regulates.
Our 2010 Green Party Senatorial Candidate, Tom Clements, is quoted in the article:
“This is almost unprecedented to me that the NRC would deny a request presented by a licensee,” said Tom Clements, director of the Columbia-based Alliance for Nuclear Accountability. “This is highly unusual, and it signifies how serious the NRC is taking this issue.”

Duke has a 30-day window to appeal the NRC’s denial.

The outcome — for instance a potential plant shutdown — could set a tone for the industry as dozens of reactors must make the transition, said Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Oversight Project for the Maryland-based Beyond Nuclear watchdog organization.

“This is sort of a push-comes-to-shove moment for fire protection in the nuclear industry,” Gunter said. “We really need to see if the NRC will back up its enforcement policy. This plant shouldn’t be operating if it can’t meet fire-protection qualifications.”

The denial is even more astounding given that the NRC recently granted a one-year extension for Brown’s Ferry in Alabama, the genesis for the industry’s original fire standards following a fire at the plant in 1975, Lochbaum said.

“What about all the other plants that haven’t begun the transition?” Lochbaum said. “If two more years is unacceptable for Oconee, how is it OK for the four dozen other reactors? I guess Oconee spun the wheel of misfortune and it came up ‘no’ this time.”

The NRC determined that the “core damage frequency” rate is at least four times and as much as 40 times greater than if Duke had the pilot measures completed.
More here.

I probably will not be able to make it to Wednesday's Duke Energy meeting, but we are hoping we can hear from folks who will be? If you will be attending the meeting, please consider contributing your account to Occupy the Microphone, which airs on Tuesdays on WOLT-FM, 1-2pm, here in upstate SC. ( We would like to have South Carolina Greens in attendance. Unfortunately, the meeting wasn't announced very far in advance, to allow people to travel from all over the state (especially from the more liberal coast).

And of course, we are hoping some of those rich folks around Lake Keowee make their feelings known.


EDIT: Mary Olson of NIRS (Nuclear Information and Research Service) will be calling into the show tomorrow to talk about this issue in more depth, so tune in!


EDIT 2/1/13: The January 29th Occupy the Microphone show in its entirety is HERE. My apologies for tardiness in posting it.


Conseglieri said...

Daisy, thanks for covering this. It's amazing. We've had three major nuclear accidents in my lifetime, two resulting in multiple deaths, two in highly industrialized rich western nations, and yet we behave as if nothing has changed.

We must transition to non-polluting energy sources and conservation.

Sevesteen said...

I'm in favor of nuclear power...but safety regs need to be properly written based on actual risks, properly followed and properly enforced. Temporary extensions should be rare, and temporary.

You might want to check your ads--something tried to get me to open mplayer-installer.exe when I clicked the comment link. I doubt it is something wrong with my computer, since I'm not running Windows or IE, (and therefore a .exe file is useless and harmless to me)

DaisyDeadhead said...

Sevesteen, its a chronic problem... the Google lady who 'took my case' long ago did not get the file when she logged onto my blog, but other people get it off and on... when I go to the library computers I almost always get it. (sigh) I don't get it, and just hope it irons itself out.. its been happening to some degree (to some people and not others) for about 2 yrs now.