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February 4, 2011 

A Decade Later: NRC Reactor Oversight Process Has Failed to Improve Reactor Safety, New Report Finds

WASHINGTON (February 4, 2011) -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) reactor oversight process, introduced 10 years ago to better monitor safety at nuclear power plants and trigger appropriate agency responses, has failed to improve nuclear safety, according to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

The NRC established the oversight process after a 1997 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report revealed the agency routinely failed to require plant owners to correct serious safety problems. The agency intended the process to provide timely, objective assessments of safety levels along with clearly defined NRC responses when problems were detected.

“The oversight process was supposed to detect safety problems so the NRC could ensure that plant owners restored safety levels quickly,” said David Lochbaum, director of UCS’s nuclear safety project and author of the report, "The NRC's Reactor Oversight Process: An Assessment of the First Decade." “Regardless, for more than five out of the last 10 years, seven reactors operated with known safety shortfalls and, for at least four years, 13 other reactors operated with NRC-identified performance problems.” (See below for a list of the reactors.)

The reactor oversight process uses nearly 20 performance indicators, including the number of unplanned reactor shutdowns, along with NRC inspector findings. But, as the GAO reported in 2006, performance indicators are useless because they indicate acceptable performance more than 99 percent of the time. The NRC’s findings do not seem to be correlated to safety levels and appear unduly influenced by other factors, such as inspector staffing levels.

“It turns out that the reactor oversight process was just a new name for the same old NRC substandard antics,” said Lochbaum. “The NRC still flags nuclear plant safety problems, but they aren’t fixed. As a result, the public is protected as much by luck as by the agency’s actions. Americans should try their luck in casinos, not at the nuclear plants in their backyards.”

Reactor; Percentage of Past Decade with NRC-Identified Problems
Oconee Unit 1 (SC); 67.5
Cooper (NE); 65.0
Kewaunee (WI); 60.0
Point Beach Unit 1 (WI); 60.0
Perry (OH); 55.0
Point Beach Unit 2 (WI); 52.5
Oconee Unit 3 (SC); 50.0
Fort Calhoun (NE); 47.5
Browns Ferry Unit 1 (AL); 46.2
Callaway (MO); 45.0
Calvert Cliffs Unit 1 (MD); 45.0
Indian Point Unit 2 (NY); 45.0
Oyster Creek (NJ); 45.0
Palo Verde Unit 3 (AZ); 45.0
Braidwood Unit 1 (IL); 42.5
Palo Verde Unit 1 (AZ); 42.5
Palo Verde Unit 2 (AZ); 42.5
Surry Unit 1 (VA); 42.5
Surry Unit 2 (VA); 42.5
Donald C. Cook Unit 2 (MI); 40.0

 

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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