24 December 2011

"Witch Hunt" at NRC to avoid safety improvements after Fukushima affects Reactor in Northwest and our Safety

"Witch hunt" at the NRC in effort to avoid safety improvements after Fukushima affects us here in the Northwest:
Last night, I spent 2 hours watching the CSPAN replay of the US Senate Environment Committee hearing on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) with the 5 Commissioners.
Republicans are gleefully attacking the Obama appointed Chair Greg Jazcko over the other 4 Commissioners' letter to White House that he brought 3 unnamed women to tears and didn't share info.
Barbara Boxer called it right, a witch hunt, aimed at removal of a Chair who wants to implement some semblance of safety reforms after Fukushima. The lack of shared info, it turns out has to do with the other Commissioners not liking final versions of staff safety reports recommending that they implement some safety actions after Fukushima, and that they not eliminate a 30 day review period after appoval of a new reactor design.
2 of the Commissioners are people we (at Heart of America Northwest and others working on USDOE contaminated sites across the US) had direct experience with. One Commissioner was previously in charge of promoting nuclear power at USDOE. In that role, he didn't pass on to the Secretary the info on costs and safety about restart of Hanford's FFTF Reactor, was in denial about how "reprocessing" would create more High-Level Nuclear Waste...; another was the USDOE official who a federal judge said should be held in contempt of court for deliberately failing to carry out a court order to do environmental review of wastes and cleanup plans. That gives us confidence in the NRC, right? ....
Here in the Northwest this affects us directly as the Chair's political promise in testimony is that reactor relicensing will proceed "apace".
This rush to relicense regardless of safety concerns at individual reactors includes the Energy NW reactor at Hanford, which has applied to be relicensed to run until 2043. This explains why NRC refused our petition to extend the comment period in November until after NRC released its highly critical safety report (issued this week) finding violations and that the staff ignored safety procedures at the reactor. The NRC report was done by November 2nd and given to Energy NW that day. The comment period ended on November 16th... but, the report as only released to the public on December 21 - a month and five days after the NRC closed the comment period on the relicensing application environmental impact statement. 
Here are excerpts from the report released on December 21 - you'll find yourself shuddering about the consequences if these actions happened while the reactor was operating instead of during its refueling:
The NRC found that:

“(O)perators chose to proceed with work when it was not approved, was outside the bounds of the procedure, or when they experienced unexpected plant conditions. In these instances, conservative decision making was not evident. In a few instances, operators suspected that something was wrong but didn’t speak up.”
NRC summary of the five events:

During the most recent refueling outage from April to September 2011, the licensee experienced five events. Those events included:

1. On April 11, while filling the reactor vessel to approximately the reactor vessel flange level, approximately 4000 gallons of reactor coolant inventory were lost to the containment sump because two in-series steam line drain valves were left in the open position (see NRC Inspection Report 05000397/2011002).

2. From July 28 to 30, operators inadvertently drained approximately 4300 gallons of water from the reactor vessel through two main steam line drain valves. Operators had failed to ensure that the reactor vessel level indication reference leg remained vented to atmosphere, which resulted in inaccurate reactor vessel level readings. This condition persisted for approximately 40 hours.

3. Licensee Event Report 05000397/2011-002-00: Loss of Shutdown Cooling Due to Logic Card Failures: On August 27, the licensee experienced a loss of residual heat removal event following the spurious trip of a reactor protection system train B circuit card. This licensee event report is closed based on the results from this inspection.

4. On September 10, operators failed to follow site procedures and, for a short period, inadvertently diverted water from the reactor vessel to the suppression pool through the residual heat removal pump minimum flow valve. Reactor vessel level decreased approximately 2 inches.

5. On September 15, operators failed to properly coordinate two control rod drive surveillances. Control rods were moving faster than expected and two control rods, when given a withdrawal command, inserted instead. Operators then manually inserted the control rods and they appeared to scram (insert very rapidly).