NRC?s Reduction in Nuclear Reactor Inspection Staff Poses Dangers

Feb. 11, 2000

NRC?s Reduction in Nuclear Reactor Inspection Staff Poses Dangers

Safety Will Be Compromised, Public Citizen Says

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The Nuclear Regulatory Commission?s (NRC) decision this week to cut the number of on-site nuclear plant inspectors raises serious safety concerns, Public Citizen said today.

Under the NRC?s plan, approved Wednesday, the number of inspectors at nuclear plants across the country will be cut by about three dozen inspectors ? approximately 20 percent of the on-site inspection force.

“The NRC is abdicating its responsibility,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy Project. “With nuclear utilities under greater pressure to cut costs in order to compete, the NRC should not blind itself by slashing the number of inspectors at nuclear reactors.”

NRC policy required that there be one more inspector on a site than the number of reactors at a plant. But under the new policy, by June 2001, nuclear plants with two reactors will have two inspectors rather than three, and nuclear plants with three reactors will have just three inspectors instead of four. However, there will still be two inspectors assigned at all single-unit sites.

The NRC has said that the inspectors are not needed because of improved nuclear plant safety. However, a Public Citizen study last year found that between October 1996 and May 1999, 102 of the country?s 111 reactors were operated outside the safety parameters established in their licenses.

“With fewer inspectors examining aging nuclear reactors, more significant safety problems are going to slip through the cracks,” said James Riccio, senior analyst for Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy Project. “This will make it more likely that the U.S. will have another accident like Three Mile Island or Chernobyl.”

It is important to note that almost 45 percent of the NRC’s regional staff do not believe that the new oversight program will catch safety performance failures “before a significant reduction in safety margins,” according to an internal NRC survey described in Inside NRC, a newsletter that covers the agency. Further, only 19 percent of NRC’s regional staff believes the new oversight program will work.

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