Degraded safety conditions mean power plants in South Carolina need aggressive oversight, says the environmental watchdog organization Friends of the Earth.
The group’s Southeastern Nuclear Campaign Coordinator Tom Clements says he has increasing concerns about the safety and public health threats posed by nuclear power plants in South Carolina. He released his comments on recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspections in South Carolina before the earthquake hit Japan.
The Oconee and Robinson nuclear power sites have received NRC citations for technical and management problems. Clements has expressed concerns for those sites:
I’ve been tracking these two facilities, particularly the Robinson one. There’s a lot of management problems at the plant. That’s led to some safety issues that the NRC has identified.
NRC spokesman Roger Hannah agrees the Robinson Nuclear Plant near Hartsville is in a condition where it is subject to increased oversight.
We are continuing to evaluate what they are doing in terms of corrective actions and we will be doing additional inspections. Once we’re satisfied that they have addressed those issues, then we would move them back to the point that they would be subject to the regular inspection activity.
However, Hannah says the information provided by Friends of the Earth is inaccurate.
It is misleading in one way in that he says the Oconee Nuclear Plant units are in a degraded safety condition based on our ratings.That was true, but because of some steps they’ve taken to correct some issues, they are now in what we call the “licensee-response” column and are not subject to additional oversight as of the first of the year. So, that’s a little misleading.
Clements gives NRC credit for identifying the management and safety problems at the Robinson plant and Oconee, “but,” he adds, “there’s often a cozy relationship between plant management and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. So, I’m observing what the NRC’s going to do in this case and I think they have to a lot more to prove to the public that they are not going to allow the plant to be run in, what I think has been a slipshod manner.”
Hannah takes issue with the implication about the independence and objectivity of the commission and their inspectors, “and I certainly say with a great deal of confidence that our inspectors, managers and the entire agency is very focused on the safety of the plants that are operating in South Carolina and any other location, and that we evaluate those plants based strictly on the regulations and based on how they are doing from a safety standpoint.”
Clements says “I hope the NRC is up to the task to do a proper job unconstrained by pressure or influence from the companies which own the reactors.”
To that comment, Hannah says, “We don’t look at it from any other perspective. So if you imply that we may be subject to pressures from companies or other entities, it’s certainly not only misleading, but wrong.
Clements thinks the public is not paying close enough attention to what he says is a potential threat:
A nuclear reactor is always just essentially a few minutes away from an accident. I think we can see that with what’s going on in Japan and the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami there, that a situation can go quickly into something that does present a threat to the public. I just don’t think that the public is very aware that the nuclear power plants do present a risk in their communities. I just think there should be more public education and attention to nuclear issues in South Carolina.
Hannah wants the public to know that the NRC is easily accessible to those with concerns or questions.
As an agency, we pride ourselves on accessed information. Anytime anyone can’t find information,we encourage them to contact us by phone or e-mail and we’ll try to get the information they seek back to them.
There are 104 Nuclear Power plants in the US now. South Carolina has four nuclear power facilities and two more nearby in neighboring states.