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Wednesday,
January 15, 2003

 



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Other | Article published Wednesday, January 15, 2003
NRC admits lengthy timetable for implementing safety reforms

By
BLADE SCIENCE EDITOR


ROCKVILLE, Md. - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff acknowledged yesterday that it will take years to implement the major reforms recommended by an internal task force that investigated the agency’s mishandling of corrosion at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant.

The five NRC commissioners, who are appointed by the president, convened at agency headquarters here for a staff briefing on the so-called "lessons learned" task force at Davis-Besse, located 25 miles east of Toledo.

The task force was a panel of agency officials organized last spring to identify NRC’s own mistakes in its oversight of the problems at the FirstEnergy plant.

For years, NRC and plant officials apparently overlooked warning signs while a potentially catastrophic rust hole ate into Davis-Besse’s reactor head.

The task force report was given to a senior management review team last October. The senior managers recommended that NRC accept 49 of the 51 recommendations, grouped the recommendations into categories, and set priorities for putting the words into action.

Nine categories were designated as "high priority," meaning that they impacted heavily on NRC’s ability to safely regulate the nation’s 103 nuclear power plants.

However, the senior managers designated six of the nine categories for "long-term" implementation, meaning that it will take more than two years for full implementation.

Among the task force recommendations were improved inspection procedures, training programs, and other measures that might have prevented or led to earlier identification of the Davis-Besse corrosion.

High-priority items in the three short-term categories would be implemented within 12 months.

Only Commissioner Jeffrey S. Merrifield, an attorney, expressed concern about the lengthy implementation timetable. He repeatedly asked NRC staff members if they were satisfied with the timeline, felt the NRC was doing enough to remedy its internal problems, and had enough funding to carry out the changes.

No NRC staff members objected.

Carl J. Paperiello and William D. Travers, senior NRC managers, explained that the remedies were complex, would require a lot of staff time, and probably could not be effectively put into place any sooner.

Although full implementation will take years, action would begin immediately, they added.

"We have a lot of other smoking guns out there," said Commissioner Greta Discus, a radiation biologist. She referred to other safety-related issues and concerns about terrorist acts.

The NRC’s inspector general, the agency’s own internal watchdog, released a blistering report Jan. 3 criticizing NRC senior staff for its handling of Davis-Besse’s shutdown for refueling and corrosion inspection.

The report accused the senior staff of allowing concerns about financial impact on FirstEnergy to weaken their oversight of Davis-Besse’s safety.

NRC Chairman Richard Meserve, writing on behalf of the other commissioners, called the inspector general’s report "unjustified, unfair, and misleading." The inspector general’s office said it stood by its findings.

Mr. Meserve announced last month that he would retire April 1 with almost two years remaining on his five-year term so he could assume the presidency of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.



More articles on this subject »
NRC frets about plant attitudes 01/15/2003
Debate emerges over NRC official 01/11/2003
Outgoing chief of NRC decries critical report 01/10/2003
No fines likely in radiation exposure 01/08/2003
Taft asks NRC for full briefing before startup 01/07/2003

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