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Nuclear regulators cutting corners on safety, just as oil regulators did

another case of regulators cutting corners to accommodate industry’s needs, just as the now-renamed and revamped Minerals and Management Service did for the oil and gas industry before the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Nuclear watchdog groups say corners cut on fire safety, Politics AP – MiamiHerald.com, By RENEE SCHOOF 14 Oct 10, WASHINGTON — Nuclear watchdog groups say that an internal report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on fire safety at nuclear plants shows that regulators don’t have enough information to know whether its new fire rules will ensure safety……

The first plant approved to use the new regulations is Progress Energy’s Harris nuclear plant in North Carolina.

Safety and cost are key issues that must be addressed as utilities decide whether to move ahead with a new round of nuclear plant construction. Fire safety at complex nuclear plants is crucial because fire is a large factor in the risk of a meltdown.

The NRC revised its fire safety rules for commercial reactors after a fire in 1975 at the Browns Ferry plant in Alabama threatened the plant’s ability to shut down. The nation’s nuclear plants have many different designs, and they had difficulty meeting the requirements for fire barriers and other elements of the existing fire protection plan.

The new plan, which is voluntary, uses modeling and an evaluation of the probable risks of fire that are tailored to the characteristics of individual plants. A plant’s operator must perform engineering analyses and show that its fire protection systems will meet safety standards.

However, Jim Warren of the watchdog group NC WARN said that experts had warned about problems with the new risk-based system. He said the new regulations were weaker than the watchdogs wanted, and charged that the NRC was trying to sweep problems under the rug.

He called it another case of regulators cutting corners to accommodate industry’s needs, just as the now-renamed and revamped Minerals and Management Service did for the oil and gas industry before the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico…………

Duke’s Oconee plant in South Carolina is in a pilot project to move to the new program. The NRC says 47 other reactors are expected to adopt the voluntary system. That would mean that nearly half the nation’s 104 reactors would use it.

The agency also said the new standard would reduce the plants’ regulatory burden because they wouldn’t need as many license exemptions and amendments.

David Lochbaum, a former nuclear engineer who directs a nuclear safety project for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said an NRC memo dated June 14, two weeks before the Harris plant approval, showed that there were still many unanswered questions about fire safety that came up as the agency developed the new regulations.

Nuclear watchdog groups say corners cut on fire safety – Politics AP – MiamiHerald.com

October 14, 2010 - Posted by | safety, USA | , , , , ,

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