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Nuclear industry getting its demands – to reduce safety inspections, roll back requirements

Nuclear industry has been pushing for less oversight, and it’s working. L A Times ELLEN KNICKMEYER, JULY 17, 2019

They’re part of the money-saving rollbacks sought by the country’s nuclear industry under President Trump and already approved or pending approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, largely with little input from the general public.

The nuclear power industry says the safety culture in the U.S. nuclear industry — 40 years after a partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania — is “exceptional” and merits the easing of government inspections.

Maria Korsnick, president of the industry’s Nuclear Energy Institute trade group, said she welcomed changes in NRC plant oversight “to ensure that it reflects a more robust understanding of the current performance of the U.S. nuclear fleet.”

Opponents say the changes are bringing the administration’s business-friendly, rule-cutting mission to an industry — nuclear reactors — in which the stakes are too high to cut corners.

While many of the regulatory rollbacks happening at other agencies under the current administration may be concerning, “there aren’t many that come with the existential risks of a nuclear reactor having a malfunction,” said Geoff Fettus, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council on nuclear issues.

This week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission released staff recommendations for rollbacks in safety inspections for the 90-plus U.S. nuclear power plants and for less flagging of plant problems for the public. Democratic lawmakers and one commissioner expressed concern about the safety risks and urged the commission to seek broader public comment before proceeding.

The country’s nuclear regulators were looking at “far-reaching changes to the NRC’s regulatory regime without first actively conducting robust public outreach and engagement,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a letter to Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairwoman Kristine Svinicki.

Svinicki and two other commissioners did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment made through the agency’s public affairs staff. Public affairs director David Castelveter said the commission would respond directly to lawmakers on Pallone’s letter.

A fourth commissioner, Jeff Baran, spoke out Tuesday, saying he opposed cutting inspections and reducing oversight. Baran called for more public input on proposed rollbacks.

Nuclear regulators post notices of meetings on proposed rollbacks of oversight of nuclear power plants on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission website. Lawmakers complained that there has been scant notice to the public at large about the meetings or proposals.

In general, according to attendance logs, the rollbacks are being hashed out at meetings attended almost solely by commission staffers and nuclear industry representatives. ……

Edwin Lyman, a nuclear safety expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists said the security changes “are jeopardizing public health and safety by restricting the NRC’s ability to ensure that nuclear plants are sufficiently protected against radiological sabotage attacks.”

In January, in one of the comparatively few widely reported changes, commissioners rejected staff recommendations for making nuclear plants harden themselves against natural disasters on the scale of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused meltdowns at three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan……

Some rollbacks pushed by the industry have been rejected by the commission’s staff. Others are still under consideration, including one that would further cut inspections by regulators and allow more self-inspections overseen by plant operators.

This week’s staff recommendations for rollbacks in government oversight are “just the tip of the iceberg,” Lyman said. https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2019-07-17/nuclear-commission-considers-cutting-back-on-nuclear-power-plant-inspections

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July 22, 2019 - Posted by | safety, USA

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