It was a sunny day on Capitol Hill, but inside the House hearing room there was little sunshine being reflected off the five commissioners of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
Under questioning by a searching Congressman, Ed Markey (Dem. Mass.), NRC Chairman, Kenneth Carr, could care less. Hiding behind an exaggerated claim that, because of litigation pending, he could not answer questions about Seabrook nuclear plant in New Hampshire, he stonewalled Markey repeatedly and came out looking like a stubborn, secretive bureaucrat.
Also, in the hearing room audience were the tireless citizen opponents of the Seabrook plant who live in the area of that much troubled atomic energy plant. For over 15 years, citizens have charged that it would be impossible to evacuate in time the surrounding populace in case of an accident. There are summer days when 50,000 or more people on the beaches would have to flee the radioactive cloud over two narrow, country roads. Residents, who have experienced normal traffic jams, just laugh at the plant owner’s contention that the people are evacuable.
This sunny afternoon, the focus was on the Seabrook plant which had been given a full operating license on March 1, 1990 by the NRC over the objections of Governors, members of Congress, safety specialists with no axe to grind and the overwhelming opinion of people living thirty miles around the 1000 megawatt plant.
Congressman Markey started a series of questions about recent Seabrook evaluation reports prepared by the atomic power industry’s own Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO). These reports are conducted on all atomic plants in the U.S. Consumers (called rate-payers) pay for them, but as taxpayers, they cannot obtain them either from their government nor from the utility. We obtained copies of these secret reports on Seabrook and gave them to the House Subcommittee on Investigations which was holding the hearing.
Markey asked Chairman Carr whether he knew of the numerous significant safety deficiencies cited in the Seabrook report which were still not fixed. He said he did not. Markey asked him if he had read these reports; Carr said he had not. But did he know of anyone in hte NRC who had read these reports? No, he did not.
But, not to mind, Carr responded; there are no deficiencies at Seabrook that warranted not giving them their license to start operations.
Let’s see. Robert Pollard, nuclear safety engineer with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, summarized the safety deficiencies identified by INPO and conceded by Public Service of New Hampshire which manages Seabrook: the lack of an effective check valve preventative maintenance, despite numerous check valve failures, the lack of staffing for the solid radioactive waste handling group, though such deadly waste was already being generated, the inadequate training of key plant personnel to follow procedures–to name a few.
Pollard concluded in his testimony that “the contents of the INPO evaluations compel a conclusion that the NRC had–and continues to have–no valid technical basis for permitting the Seabrook nuclear power plant to operate.” Seabrook management admits it will take more than a year to correct these problems. Nonetheless the utility is moving forward toward full power by June.
I recommend to the New York Times and the Washington Post editorial writers, who are boosting the opening of Seabrook, these INPO reports. Since there are over 100 atomic power plants throughout the United States generating radioactive waste that has nowhere to go for storage over the next 250,000 years, and since accidents can happen, you may wish to ask your electric utility and your Congressional representatives to obtain and release publically the INPO evaluation reports on these plants.
Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) are not distant memories to people living and working in those areas.
Wit great opportunity for energy conservation (eg. more efficient lighting and air conditioning) and for safer, more decentralized sources of electricity (co-generation) proving their worth around the country, who needs atomic energy, and its deadly cargo of radioactive materials and gases, to boil water to produce steam?