Union of Concerned Scientists
incorporate (for the first time) specific responses to specific performance problems.
More recently, the Senate’s Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change and Nuclear Safety examined what the NRC said it had learned from the near-disaster at Ohio’s Davis-Besse reactor. Subcommittee Chairman George Voinovich (R-OH) clearly communicated his impression that the NRC had failed to fully address safety culture problems (which played a major role at Davis-Besse) and urged the agency to do more. The NRC got the message and made substantial improvements in its safety culture oversight.
These examples demonstrate that congressio- nal oversight is essential in pushing the NRC to be the most effective regulator of nuclear power plant safety it can be. And the fact that there have been 51 year-plus outages in the past 40 years strongly suggests that Congress must com- pel the NRC to undertake reforms that will stop the prolonged, excessive erosion of safety margins that triggers unnecessarily costly extended outages.
The NRC today is akin to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration before the Columbia tragedy or the Federal Emergency Management Agency before the Katrina disaster. These agencies had dedicated, talented staffs with strong commitments to safety, and faced the challenge of protecting against low-probabil- ity events with deadly consequences. Congress must not wait for a nuclear Columbia or Katrina before beefing up its oversight of the NRC—it should adopt a proactive approach to its over- sight function and help the NRC refocus its efforts.
Congress could easily enhance its oversight capabilities if the monthly report it currently receives from the NRC (describing the agency’s progress in granting license renewal applications
and certifying new reactor designs) were expand- ed to include updates on the specific reforms we have outlined in this chapter.
Public Safety Should Be Paramount
We hope it is apparent from our report that UCS is not suggesting that the NRC and its licensees be prohibited from shutting down reactors for a year or more if that is what is required to restore safety margins to an acceptable level. What con- cerns us is the extensive erosion of safety mar- gins that occur prior to year-plus outages, and the fact that reactors have continued to operate throughout that erosion.
In the weeks and months leading up to the start of a year-plus outage, the people living nearby face an unnecessarily high—and often unpublicized—risk of an accident that could release deadly amounts of radiation. Such undue hazards simply must be eliminated.