supporting cost-cutting measures such as extend- ed power uprates, “best-estimate” or “realistic” analyses in place of conservative analyses, and 20-year operating license extensions. Time and again, the “substantial safety margins” originally established by the AEC have protected the public from harm, and the NRC must call a halt to the ongoing march of nuclear power reactors deeper and deeper into those margins.
Lesson 2: Problems Are Not Spotted Soon Enough
Another compelling insight arising from our review of year-plus reactor outages is the lack of a comparable review by the NRC. Though the agency often conducted a post-mortem analysis of its own performance and that of the plant owner in respect to an individual extended outage, such as those done for the Millstone (Connecticut) and South Texas Project outages, it never attempt- ed a broader assessment seeking to identify recur- ring themes among similar outages.
More than 20 years ago, Congress had to pass legislation forcing the NRC to conduct a broader assessment of recurring problems at nuclear power plants under construction. As related by the General Accounting Office (GAO):
The concerns regarding the quality of nuclear power plant construction prompted the Congress to direct NRC to study existing and alternative approaches for improving quality and quality assurance activities at construction sites. NRC’s stud , common y referred to as the “ ord Amen- dment” study after its principal sponso , Senator
endell Ford of Kentuck , was conducted between November 2 and April , and included the development of six case studies of nuclear power plant construction projects that had experienced or did not have major quality- related problems.4
Walking a Nuclear Tightrope
The NRC ultimately reported back to Congress:
The staff concluded that the root cause for the major quality-related problems in design and construction was the failure or inability of some utility management to effectively implement a management system that ensured adequate con- trol over all aspects of the project.5
Nevertheless, the problem of poor quality during construction was never fully resolved. The last U.S. nuclear power reactor to enter service—Watts Bar in Tennessee—was licensed by the NRC in December 1995 after two decades of troubled, costly construction. The GAO evaluated the performance of TVA, the plant’s owner, in 1991 and reported:
T A has been unable to maintain adequate productivity levels for construction at its nuclear power plants and efficiency levels for modifica- tion work at its fossil and hydro plants. For example, according to the President of its Generating Group, T A has been unable to complete construction of the atts Bar Nuclear Plant, in part because of poor productivity.6
It should come as no surprise, then, that quality assurance problems born by ineffective management and nurtured by inadequate regula- tory oversight did not disappear when nuclear power reactors moved beyond the construction phrase. Our review of the 51 year-plus reactor outages during the past four decades finds that the same poor oversight by the NRC has com- bined with management failures to produce conditions so abysmal that extended outages are necessary to restore safety levels.
Lesson 3: The Public Is Being Ignored
The nuclear power industry and the NRC often blame the public for unnecessarily extending the