Yesterday, Jeff Donn of the Associated Press (AP) published a story on safety inspections at nuclear power plants that seemed to raise more questions than it answered. Here's the introductory paragraph:
The number of safety violations at U.S. nuclear power plants varies dramatically from region to region, pointing to inconsistent enforcement in an industry now operating mostly beyond its original 40-year licenses, according to a congressional study awaiting release.Here are a few items to keep in mind when considering this story and its conclusions:
- NRC inspections and industry trends show industry safety performance is high. The most recent report from NRC identified no significant adverse trends in safety.
- NRC conducts an average of more than 2,000 hours of inspections a year at each reactor.
- NRC will increase the number of inspections if recurring issues are identified, and NRC always has option to close a plant if an inspector deems it doesn't meet Federal standards.
One person who did read the story was former NRC Chairman Dale Klein. He shared the following statement with us once he got a chance to look at Donn's report:
The recent story about safety violations at US nuclear plants is a mixed bag. From a regulatory perspective it is important to identify errors, learn from them and ensure that corrective actions are taken. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has resident inspectors at every nuclear plant in the country. These resident inspectors are going to find issues, together with other inspections that the NRC conducts. It is not the number of safety violations that is important. The point is to ensure a check and balance system is in place to identify potential problems and fix them before a significant event can occur. As a former regulator, I have been impressed with the dedication of the resident inspectors that work with nuclear power plant operators to ensure safe and secure operations of our nation’s nuclear plants. Nuclear power is a clean source of electricity that should be a part of our total energy program.We ought to remind our readers that this isn't the first time Donn has covered the nuclear energy industry. Back in 2011, Donn wrote a multipart series on industry safety that we called "shoddy," "selective," and "misleading." We weren't the only ones who took issue with Donn's reporting. The Columbia Journalism Review had this to say about the series:
[T]he AP series, while it tackles a critically important public policy issue, suffers from lapses in organization, narrative exposition, and basic material selection, what to leave in and what to leave out. Too much is left to rest on inconclusive he-said-she-said exchanges that end up more confusing than illuminating for readers.In any case, with the help of an engineer here at NEI, I'm digging into the article and finding some things that just don't seem to add up. Look for more in this space soon.