Recent concerns raised alarm regarding safety at the Pilgrim nuclear reactor and the lack of serious federal oversight. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission reported five security safety violations, promulgated a new ruling to allow an increase of safety infractions before additional oversight and initiated a rule-making proposal on decommissioning, which would allow the funds to be used for spent fuel storage, end off-site emergency planning and reduce security and insurance costs. Federal regulators with benefits for the nuclear industry prevail.
First, the NRC identifies five security safety violations concluding, “Entergy failed to take effective corrective actions in a timely manner commensurate with safety significance.” Sound familiar? This conclusion is repeated in multiple NRC assessments regarding Entergy. Even after increased NRC oversight for the past two years, Entergy and the Pilgrim reactor continue to fail. The consequences for such poor operation are not a deterrent. When asked what timeline is given for Entergy to respond to the failing September report, NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan replied, “There is no required timeline for Entergy to notify us of its readiness for the review. The company is supposed to present its improvement plan before the Commission within six months.” Six months? This timeline reinforces sluggish action by the NRC. Being downgraded due to repetitive degraded assessments, the pattern is clear. The industry is not held accountable for public safety and neither is the NRC.
The second concern is a ruling allowing an additional infraction before increasing oversight. If the expense to an operating reactor is cost prohibitive, the industry will pressure the NRC to change the rules. An exemption to the rule is generally the avenue corporations have chosen to avoid additional costs or loss of revenue. The NRC made it easier by allowing an additional safety infraction before increased oversight.
Finally, the NRC proposal for rule making for decommissioning is a vehicle for the industry to meet minimal standards and continue to evade serious public health and safety concerns. The current regulations prohibit use of decommissioning funds for costs other than cleaning up the site and returning it to public use. Also, multiple studies confirm the serious dangers from the densely packed and tightly racked spent fuel. The NRC, however, has determined the current crowded configuration is safe. Their practice to exempt the industry from responsibility of all off-site emergency planning and deny the documented dangers from the spent fuel pool is both irresponsible and immoral. The new rules will codify that practice.
In their book “Fukushima, The Story of a Nuclear Disaster,” Union of Concerned Scientists authors David Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman and Susan Stranahan warn us, “Absent significant upgrades in nuclear operation and regulation, it will only be a matter of time until the world watches another Fukushima unfold.”
Pilgrim is assessed as one of the worst operating reactors in the country, with ongoing failing reports. The NRC has proven it is incapable of regulating. The mission to prop up the failing nuclear industry at the expense of public safety is a failure of government. If a day care center or restaurant had comparative federal safety violations, would the owners be given months to respond while they continued to rack up failing assessments? I doubt it. But here is a nuclear reactor where a catastrophic event would challenge the entire region, including Boston and Providence.
What more evidence do we need to expose the NRC as set on weakening safety rules and oversight? This demands immediate public outcry.
Assurances of public safety through the regulatory process are revealed as a fatal farce. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) admonished the NRC commissioners for lack of attention to serious public safety issues in her home state. She said, “This is not hyperbole but life and death for my people.” The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not just failing the people in Massachusetts but the entire nation.
We want a future, not a Fukushima.
Tell that to NRC Chair Stephen Burns at email@example.com
— Diane Turco is the executive director of Cape Downwinders
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