Oyster Creek critics expressed a sense of urgency at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s second public meeting on the oversight of the Forked River based nuclear plant.
Just more than a year after the Fukushima disaster, citizens continue to show concern over the NRC’s lack of immediate action to improve the safety of nuclear plants in the United States. In March, the federal agency issued its first orders following the nuclear disaster but plant’s have until 2016 to comply.
“Why is this urgency that we’re now all supposed to be feeling after Fukushima is not reflected in the work of the NRC,” said New Jersey Environmental Federation’s (NJEF) Peggi Sturmfels, who considers the post Fukushima requirements “patchwork.” “We need to get this done.”
Action and inspections were taken immediately following the Japan disaster, said Darrell Roberts, NRC Branch Chief of the Division of Reactor Projects.
“We found that our plants were still safe,” he said. “We believe we have acted accordingly in imposing those orders to have the licensees implement those.”
Licensed nuclear plants have five years to address the recommendations, he said. In the meantime, the NRC continues inspections of plants and their equipment.
“It’s not like we took a back seat to all of this and we’re not doing anything for five years,” he said. “There are actions that are continuing.”
With respect to the hardened vent system, which Roberts said the NRC is continuing to learn more about, Janet Tauro of Granmothers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety (GRAMMES) as well as the NJEF requested that the NRC include an order for radioactive filters.
One of the orders issued by the NRC in March was to install reliable hardened vents. During Fukushima, operators were unable to successfully operate the containment system. As a result, operators couldn't reduce containment pressure, which ultimately inhibited efforts to cool the reactor core resulting in the meltdown.
Paula Gotsch of GRAMMES found in NRC records that the vents installed at 23 Mark I Boiling Water Reactors haven’t been through the inspection process since they were voluntarily installed under an industry directive, she said. Documents also show that the containments aren't capable of withstanding a core emergency event.
“We don’t understand the lack of urgency in this," she said. "The NRC is operating with their fingers crossed. We don’t have defense-in-depth.”
The venting containment is pressurized and tested periodically, said Gordon Hunegs, NRC Branch Chief of the Division of Reactor Projects. The NRC is aware that the vents did not work properly at Fukushima, which is why the agency issued the orders to ensure functionality in the event of an emergency.
The critics continued to say that Oyster Creek should comply with the remaining orders—to develop strategies to protect equipment and ensure backup power and enhance spent fuel pool instrumentation to determine water level—now, rather than in five years.
“In terms of what licensees are expected to do, it’s not prescriptive. It’s performance based,” said Matthew Mitchell, Branch Chief of Nuclear Reactor Regulation.
Performance criteria will be established to meet the requirements of the orders, he said.
Mitchell added that an accident similar to Fukushima is a “low probability event” but the NRC continues to evaluate its plants and further actions. Staff is on schedule to provide a recommendation for filtration of the hardened vents later this summer and a study has been issued regarding mitigation of hydrogen generation and combustion in containment systems.
Sen. Robert Menendez said Mark I Boiling Water Reactors must be “completely reevaluated,” according to Senior Advisor Carolyn Fefferman. He also recently requested that filters be required for the venting system.
“I believe the NRC needs to do more to address the safety of our aging nuclear power plants and needs to act with more urgency to address the identified concerns,” he said in a letter that Fefferman presented.
“Under the topic of Fukushima lessons learned, we must question if any lessons have been learned as there appears to be a lack of urgency on the part of the NRC,” Peter Weeks of Save Barnegat Bay said.
The risk is too great to continue to ignore the residents and not take immediate action, he said, adding that the NRC has a responsibility to the citizens.
“Could you sleep at night knowing you haven’t acted?” Weeks questioned the NRC representatives.