Regulatory Meltdown: Nuke Agency Changes Rules on Safety Assurances and Whistleblower Protections

Overshadowed by the hype that has accompanied CNN's airing of the pro-nuke PR gloss, "Pandora's Promise," is a little known but extremely consequential change to safeguards built into the permit process for nuclear energy plants.

It has always been required of those seeking a license to build and operate a nuclear power plant to have in place a "quality assurance program" from the very start, when core-borings and critical assessments are made in order to evaluate the suitability of a planned siting.  

As Arnie Gundersen explains in the most recent video from Fairewinds Associates, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has reinterpreted its own rules so that the quality assurance program is not required to be in place until the completed application passes over the NRC's desk, well after sensitive findings should have been collected and evaluated.  

This came to light in recent hearings held in Monroe, Michigan, by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, at which Arnie gave testimony against the NRC, bringing the reinterpretation to light for the first time. The NRC appears to have instituted the changes without advising that they had done so.

This represents a complete flip-flop on the part of the NRC from its earlier position.

A less than scrupulous applicant would have ample opportunity under the new interpretation to pass off poor or incomplete preliminary work as satisfactorily completed without any required verification.

Considering how many siting errors have been discovered in operating reactors built under the old rules, it is truly frightening to think what the consequences might be if a quality assurance program is no longer required until late in the licensing process.

Perhaps even more concerning is the impact this reinterpretation has on "whistleblowers;" those folks upon whom we must depend to tell us when mistakes have been made so that they can be addressed in a timely manner. By moving the point at which the plant operator is regarded as an "applicant" to the end of the process, the NRC has effectively removed whistleblower protections for workers involved in the preliminary work to obtain a permit to operate.  

Removing whistleblower protections for plant workers in the preliminary development of a nuclear facility, exposes the general population to unacceptable risk.

NRC Strips Whistleblower Protection from Fairewinds Energy Education on Vimeo.

And as for "Pandora's Promise" ... Writing in the Guardian, John Quiggin says the arguments are just "old news" that don't stand-up under scrutiny. He very effectively points to the most obvious fly in the ointment: a complete failure of the economics of atomic energy. It's really worth a read.

Following an exchange in an earlier thread, I listened to an interview with James Hansen. I was curious to hear what I thought would be his own original arguments. Instead, what came out of his mouth was a stream of talking points. The same old tired talking points that we've heard so often from industry shills: there's a shiny new generation of nukes just around the corner that will solve all of our problems; and we can't get off of coal except through nukes.

But those shiny new nukes are far from "just around the corner," and they are equally far from being without their own unique set of byproduct issues.  And the choice between coal and nukes is a false one, which completely overlooks the role that improved efficiency can and must play in meeting our energy needs.

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