Walking a Nuclear Tightrope

Unlearned Lessons of Year-Plus Reactor Outages

Published Jul 13, 2006 Updated Sep 26, 2006


The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) seems to be following the script of the movie Groundhog Day, reliving the same bad event again and again. This event—an outage at a nuclear power plant that lasts more than a year—has happened 51 times at 41 different reactors around the United States and shows no signs of stopping.

Each such occurrence results from a violation of federal regulations that require plant owners to find and fix safety problems in a timely, effective manner, coupled with the NRC's inability to detect those violations (allowing problems to multiply and worsen as a result). The accident at Three Mile Island might have been prevented had the NRC broken this cycle.

Since the nuclear power industry is unable to script Hollywood-style happy endings once events have begun to spin out of control, Congress must compel the NRC to be a more aggressive enforcer of federal safety regulations. Otherwise, declining safety performance could result in a nuclear disaster rather than a costly year-plus outage.

In Walking a Nuclear Tightrope: Unlearned Lessons of Year-plus Reactor Outages, the Union of Concerned Scientists identifies common themes among extended outages and steps the NRC must take to end these costly and avoidable threats to public health and the U.S. economy.

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