On November 28, 2001, the NRC decided to allow Davis-Besse to continue operating despite concerns by the staff that the plant had an elevated risk of having a loss of coolant accident.
After the reactor vessel cavity was discovered, NRC's Brian Sheron and others justified the November 28, 2001, decision. Mr. Sheron went so far as to say that he'd make the same decision again. The basis for this NRC position was that while the staff had suspicions that the plant may have problems, it lacked absolute proof.
Okay. Two questions:
1) Does the NRC consider Davis-Besse to be in better material condition today than it was on November 28, 2001?
2) Does the NRC consider the safety culture at Davis-Besse to be better today than it was on November 28, 2001?
The fact that the NRC decided last month that Davis-Besse was not ready to restart suggests that one or both of the answers is "no."
What, therefore, is the NRC's "absolute proof" of safety problems at Davis-Besse?
We contend that you lack abolute proof now just as you lacked abolute proof on November 28, 2001 and you will always lack.
This issue is relevant because the NRC's safety standards change once a reactor restarts. Now, the burden is upon FENOC to prove to NRC that Davis-Besse can be safely operated. Once the reactor is operating, the burden shifts to the NRC proving to FENOC that Davis-Besse is being unsafely operated. If the NRC cannot, or will not, make that case (i.e., November 28, 2001), the reactor continues operating.
This double standard does a tremendous dis-service to the American public. An operating reactor poses a greater hazard than a shut down reactor, yet the NRC applies a lower standard.
Ideally, the NRC should impose the same standard all the time. That standard would be compliance with federal safety regulations. After all, these federal safety standards are established following a public rulemaking process that allows the public to ask that they be higher and the industry to ask that they be lower.
But the NRC allows plants to operate outside the regulations. On November 28, 2001, both the NRC and FENOC had extremely strong reason to believe that Davis-Besse was operating outside regulations, regulations that required shut down within 6 hours. Both chose to ignore it.
I don't know if Davis-Besse is safe enough to restart. But I do know that the NRC is not prepared to shut down Davis-Besse if it is operating and a safety problem develops. The fact that NRC will not enforce safety regulations is the biggest safety culture problem of a nuclear variety. It makes the safety culture problems at Davis-Besse pale by comparison.
Nuclear Safety Engineer
Union of Concerned Scientists
1707 H Street NW Suite 600
Washington, DC 20006-3962
(202) 223-6133 x113
(202) 223-6162 fax