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NRC s Oversight Fails to Prevent Emergency

Dec. 12, 2000

NRC s Oversight Fails to Prevent Emergency

Coolant Leak in Beaver Valley Reactor Suggests Flaws in Oversight Process

WASHINGTON, D.C. An emergency that occurred Monday at a Pennsylvania nuclear reactor points to potential flaws in the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission s (NRC) new oversight process, Public Citizen said today.

Less than two weeks after receiving glowing ratings from the NRC, the Beaver Valley Nuclear Plant was forced to declare an “unusual event” — the lowest level of the four emergency classifications used by the NRC. For nine hours, radioactive coolant spilled onto the floor of the number 2 reactor at a rate of 12 to 20 gallons per minute, according to NRC reports. The utility was forced to wait for the nuclear reactor to cool to isolate the leak.

While leaks can occur, they shouldn t rise to the level of an emergency so soon after a utility is reviewed and gets such high ratings, said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission just gave the Beaver Valley reactors the best evaluation possible, and less than two week later, the reactor is forced to declare an unusual event, ” Hauter said. “The NRC’s new oversight process is of little value if it fails to prevent accidents that rise to the level of emergencies.”

The NRC’s new oversight process, the result of a joint effort between the NRC and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) to reduce the perceived unnecessary regulatory burden on the nuclear industry, was put in place in March. It makes it more difficult for the NRC to issue failing grades to nuclear utilities, and it gives the industry much more room to err before being cited. The NRC will review the new oversight process in March 2001.

“The new NRC/NEI oversight process for nuclear reactors is exposing the public to greater risk while exposing the nuclear industry to less scrutiny,” said James Riccio, senior policy analyst for Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “NRC’s oversight process is severely flawed. A nuclear reactor can have a coolant leak that results in the declaration of an emergency, yet under the new oversight process, the NRC cannot deem the reactor’s performance to be unacceptable.”

Beaver Valley Unit 2 is a 13-year-old Westinghouse reactor. First Energy Nuclear Operating Company has owned the reactor, located 35 miles west of Pittsburgh, since last December.