Article published Wednesday, January 15, 2003|
NRC admits lengthy timetable for implementing safety
By MICHAEL WOODS
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.
force was a panel of agency officials organized last spring to
identify NRC’s own mistakes in its oversight of the problems at the
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.
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
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
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.
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.
implementation will take years, action would begin immediately, they
"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
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
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
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
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