Regulations Violated at Nuclear Reactors Across Country

Aug. 10, 1999

Regulations Violated at Nuclear Reactors Across Country

Public Citizen Study Finds Government’s Failure to Enforce Regulations Undermines Safety

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Safety has been compromised at nuclear reactors throughout the United States, with more than 90 percent of the country’s reactors run in violation of government safety regulations over the last three years, a Public Citizen study has found. Rather than holding nuclear utilities accountable for violating these regulations, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has established an amnesty program that will last until March 30, 2001. This amnesty means that the NRC only holds utilities accountable for the most egregious rule violations.

The study, Amnesty Irrational, 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. When a nuclear reactor is operated outside these safety parameters it is called operating “outside design basis.” During the three years analyzed, utilities operated their nuclear reactors “outside design basis” more than 500 times, the study found.

Utilities have failed to follow rules pertaining to such key safety systems as the emergency core cooling system and the electrical cables that control the nuclear reactor, the records revealed. Additionally, in some instances, a single event could have prevented the functioning of safety systems needed to do such things as shut down the reactor, cool the radioactive fuel in the reactor’s core and prevent the release of radiation into the environment.

“Safety has been compromised at nuclear reactors across the United States,” said James Riccio, staff attorney for Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy Project. “In some cases, safety margins were significantly reduced, if not eliminated.”

When a nuclear utility operates its reactor “outside design basis,” it is impossible for the NRC or the utility to determine whether the reactor poses an undue risk to public health and safety. The more often a nuclear reactor is operated “outside design basis,” the less certain that the reactor and its safety systems will operate as designed.

The NRC has long known that design basis problems were undermining the safety of nuclear reactors it was supposed to regulate. However, due to the potential financial impact on the nuclear industry, the NRC has obfuscated the issue and delayed taking action, the report says.

“The NRC has ignored these important safety issues for decades,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy Project. “If these nuclear reactors don’t meet safety requirements, they should be shut down until they do.”

Design basis issues already have contributed to the closure of three nuclear reactors: Haddam Neck, and Millstone Unit 1 in Connecticut, and Maine Yankee in Maine. However, the design basis issues that resulted in these shutdowns were not identified by the utilities. These problems came to light only because of events or whistleblower allegations that prompted NRC inspections. Futhermore, Public Citizen has found that the same design basis problems that resulted in these shutdowns exist at other reactors throughout the U.S.

“The NRC’s amnesty program is an irrational move by an ineffective regulator and will not address the significant design basis issues that still exist at nuclear reactors across the United States,” Riccio said.

Those reactors that have filed the most design basis event reports with the NRC are listed below.

REACTORS REPORTING “OUTSIDE DESIGN BASIS” 1996 ‘1999

Reactor

Unit #

Owner

State

Reports Number
VERMONT YANKEE

1

VT Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. VT

42

PILGRIM

1

Boston Edison Co. MA

27

THREE MILE ISLAND

1

GPU Nuclear Corp. PA

26

COOK

2

Indiana/Michigan Power Co. MI

22

COOK

1

Indiana/Michigan Power Co. MI

18

POINT BEACH

1

Wisconsin Electric Power Co. WI

18

POINT BEACH

2

Wisconsin Electric Power Co. WI

18

MILLSTONE

1

Northeast Nuclear Energy Co. CT

16

OYSTER CREEK

1

GPU Nuclear Corp. NJ

16

MILLSTONE

3

Northeast Nuclear Energy Co. CT

16

PRAIRIE ISLAND

1

Northern States Power Co. MN

14

CATAWBA

2

Duke Power Co. SC

14

DIABLO CANYON

2

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. CA

14

NINE MILE POINT

2

Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. NY

14

HADDAM NECK

1

Northeast Nuclear Energy Co. CT

13

PRAIRIE ISLAND

2

Northern States Power Co. MN

13

OCONEE

3

Duke Power Co. SC

12

DIABLO CANYON

1

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. CA

11

OCONEE

2

Duke Power Co. SC

11

CATAWBA

1

Duke Power Co. SC

10

DAVIS-BESSE

1

Toledo Edison Co. OH

10

NINE MILE POINT

1

Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. NY

10

OCONEE

1

Duke Power Co. SC

10

PALISADES

1

Consumers Power Co. MI

10

INDIAN POINT

3

New York Power Authority NY

10

INDIAN POINT

2

Consolidated Edison Co. NY

9