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NEI CEO Marv Fertel: America's Reactors Safe Under Jaczko Term as NRC Chair, Still Safe Today

Marv Fertel
The following statement can be attributed to Marv Fertel, NEI's President and CEO. The entire statement was provided to Matt Wald of the New York Times in response to comments made yesterday in Washington by former U.S. NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko:
“U.S. nuclear energy facilities are operating safely. That was the case prior to Greg Jaczko’s tenure as Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman. It was the case during his tenure as NRC chairman, as acknowledged by the NRC’s special Fukushima response task force and evidenced by a multitude of safety and performance indicators. It is still the case today, particularly as every U.S. nuclear energy facility adds yet another layer of safety by implementing lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

“The greatest safety improvement to protect against extreme events, regardless of their cause, comes from the FLEX response strategy that the industry began implementing last year. The heart of this effort is adding more portable, backup safety equipment at each reactor. More than 1,500 pieces of equipment have been acquired or ordered, including portable generators, diesel-driven pumps and satellite phones. The additional portable equipment will provide power and water to maintain key safety functions in the absence of AC power and heat transfer capability from permanently installed safety systems. These functions are reactor core cooling, used fuel pool cooling and containment integrity.

“In addition to new equipment being placed at all U.S. reactors, the industry is developing regional response centers in Memphis and Phoenix that will serve as dispatch points for additional equipment and resources. The regional response centers will be capable of delivering another full set of portable safety equipment, radiation protection equipment, electrical generators, pumps and other emergency response equipment to an affected site within 24 hours after an extreme event.

“The nuclear energy industry’s approach to safety includes a continuous focus on operational procedures, extensive training, and sharing of lessons learned among the highly professional men and women who personify our facilities’ world-class safety culture.

“Beyond the steps that the industry is taking, the NRC carries out its safety oversight mission with a staff of 4,000 employees and an annual budget of approximately $1 billion.

“It is imperative that we continue to operate at exemplary levels of safety to maintain the far-reaching benefits of nuclear energy. Nuclear power plants generate one-fifth of America’s total electricity supply and nearly two-thirds of the carbon-free supply. Beyond their around-the-clock production of large amounts of electricity, nuclear energy facilities help maintain electric grid stability, play a major role in meeting clean air requirements, anchor the local tax base with high-paying jobs, provide electric price stability for homes and businesses alike, and support fuel diversity.”


Farouk Baxter said…
While Mr. Fertel's views about the nuclear industry are not necessarily incorrect, they tend to be overly optimistic in failing to recognize known shortcomings in equipment capabilities and plant operators’ safety culture. I'm sure Mr. Fertel with his optimistic projections could not have ever envisioned the major catastrophe that took place at Fukishima, with not one plant, but three plants simultaneously!

Overconfidence, complacency, and collusion with regulators were key factors that ensured that a Fukushima type accident would happen somewhere amongst the worldwide 400+ operating nuclear plants soon. A few years ago I wrote an article entitled "The Next Nuclear Accident - a Perspective on Power Sufficiency", published in the January/February 2006 issue of IEEE Power & Energy Magazine. I identified these same issues of overconfidence and complacency that would likely be the precursor of an accident. Needless to say I was tarred and feathered for even having such unthinkable and outrageous thoughts that contradicted the "industry" positions such as Mr. Fertel’s. As we know Fukushima happened 5 years later for these same reasons!

Dr. Gregory Jaczko absolutely correct in his assessment of the status of current operating and new-build plants. There are grave concerns that are being deliberately overlooked especially at older plants, some of which are still licensed to early ‘70’s regulations. What we need are people like ex-Commissioners' Gregory Jaczko and Shirley Jackson who did not bow to industry pressures when safety was at stake.

Dr. Jaczko was appointed to NRC not because of any expertise in reactor safety, but because he was trusted by Sen. Reid to help stop Yucca Mountain.

Tepco has acknowledged that they deliberately avoided tsunami protection upgrades because they didn't want to embolden antinuclear public opinion, even though the company knew that previous design basis did not properly bound the tsunami risk. That's seems well beyond complacency, and thus I think Farouk Baxter's "I told you so" is unwarranted.

I favor nuclear because it is the safest way to generate large amounts of electric power. The recent estimate that nuclear power has saved over a million lives (Karecha and Hansen) -- seems quite reasonable to me. I hope the companies which aspire to be seen as the world's premier nuclear company will do much more to combat the forces which seek to shut down the nuclear industry.
Anonymous said…
Farouk Baxter is correct in identifying complacency as a root cause of the Fukushima accident. He is absolutely incorrect in suggesting that this problem is significant in the U.S.

The tragedy of the Fukushima accident was the completely incorrect prioritization of risks by the Japanese regulator. The average capacity factor of the Japanese nuclear fleet in 2010 was 67%, vastly lower than international standards, and due to extremely prescriptive requirements by the Japanese regulator that Japanese plants perform refueling outages every 12 months and large amounts of scheduled maintenance, much of which is not necessary and decreases actual equipment reliability.

In the U.S., the level of preparation to manage beyond-design basis external events, both from the perspectives of available equipment and procedures, and decision making processes, was vastly better than in Japan. Just look at NRC's B.5.b order and the resulting EDMGs.

Jaczko was a hothead. He now exhibits a weak understanding of how decay heat is managed under normal, accident, and beyond design basis accident conditions in existing U.S. reactors.

The most egregious actions Jaczko conducted were to suppress the NRC's technical staff in releasing their technical conclusions about the suitability of Yucca Mountain as a repository site.

There is a case currently before the DC Court of Appeals that may compel the NRC to issue an unredacted version of the staff's Safety Evaluation Report for Yucca Mountain. Chairman Macfarlane should release it right now, regardless of what the court might say in a couple of months. And I would hope that an NRC staff member might upload it to Wikileaks, simply because it is so embarrassing that this report was suppressed by Jaczko and is still not available publicly.

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