Citizens Petition to Halt Flawed U.S. Nuclear Plant Relicensing

WASHINGTON, DC, January 3, 2008 (ENS) – Nine citizens’ groups today petitioned the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC, to suspend all license renewals for the country’s aging nuclear power plants in view of a federal audit showing that NRC staff often did not verify the authenticity of technical safety information submitted by nuclear power plant operators.

Riverkeeper, Pilgrim Watch and the New England Coalition have joined with a coalition of six environmental and citizen’s groups known as Stop the Relicensing of Oyster Creek, STROC, in petitioning the federal agency responsible for oversight of U.S. civilian nuclear facilities.

The petition is presented in response to the NRC Office of Inspector General’s audit of the agency’s license renewal program dated September 6, 2007.

During the audit, inspectors found that in 76 percent of the audited plant renewals, NRC staff did not check the authenticity of technical safety information offered by nuclear power plant operators.

“Although expected to, audit team members do not consistently review or independently verify licensee supplied operating experience information because program managers have not established requirements and controls to standardize the conduct and depth of such reviews,” the Office of Inspector General, OIG, states.

Ginna nuclear power plant near
Rochester, New York (Photos
courtesy Nuclear Regulatory

Inspectors determined that NRC staff reviewers routinely copied whole sections of the renewal application text into their own safety reviews instead of writing their own evaluations.

At the Turkey Point nuclear plant in Florida, and also at the Ginna nuclear plant in upstate New York, the inspectors found that NRC staff had copied 100 percent of the safety review data provided by the nuclear operators into their own reports.

“The lack of precision in differentiating quoted and unquoted text makes it difficult for the reader to distinguish between the licensee-provided data and NRC staff’s independent assessment methodology and conclusion. A reader could conclude that they were reading NRC’s independent analysis and conclusions when, in fact, it was the licensee’s conclusions,” the OIG report states.

In addition, the Inspector General determined that the NRC has no procedures in place to check whether the safety reviews are done properly or not.

Nevertheless, Turkey Point received its license renewal in July 2002, while Ginna was issued a renewed license in May 2004.

“License renewal program managers have not established requirements or controls to standardize the conduct of independent verifications and depth of probes of plant-specific operating experience during audit reviews of licensee applications,” the IOG audit states.

STROC, a coalition of six environmental and citizen groups, is trying to prevent the 20 year license extension for the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant.

Oyster Creek nuclear power plant
in New Jersey

Located in Ocean County, New Jersey, Oyster Creek began operating in 1969 as the first large-scale commercial nuclear power plant in the United States. Its 40 year operating license expires on April 4, 2009.

AmerGen Energy LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Exelon Corporation, is seeking to relicense Oyster Creek for another 20 years.

But investigators from the Office of Inspector General determined that over 70 percent of Oyster Creek’s safety evaluation was “unsubstantiated” by NRC staff.

This year STROC became the only group in the country to win a hearing before the Atomic Safety Licensing Board to present its challenge to the relicensing of Oyster Creek.

The three-judge panel ruled on the challenge to Oyster Creek’s license renewal on December 20, 2007. Despite one of the judges finding that Exelon has not fully met the requirements to show it complied with the minimum safety standards, the panel decided to allow the relicense procedure to proceed. A final NRC decision is expected January 22, 2008.

The attorney representing STROC, Richard Webster of the Eastern Environmental Law Center, said, “The OIG report confirms that the deficiencies we found throughout the hearing process for Oyster Creek were only the tip of the iceberg. The NRC is illegally allowing licensees to write their own safety evaluations. So far, the relicensing process has been a conveyor belt to a rubber stamp, not a proper safety review.”

Indian Point nuclear power
plant on the Hudson River at
Buchanan, New York

Across the Hudson River, Entergy Nuclear Northeast submitted its application for a 20 year license extension of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. Riverkeeper and the State of New York have petitioned to intervene in the licensing proceedings.

“The OIG report makes it clear that the current NRC license renewal process is a failure and must be completely re-evaluated before another plant is relicensed,” states Phillip Musegaas, Riverkeeper staff attorney. “The Indian Point license renewal process has just gotten underway. The 20 million people who live in the shadow of Indian Point deserve a federal agency that does more than cut and paste with their health and safety.”

STROC’s six member groups are the New Jersey Environmental Federation, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, New Jersey Sierra Club, New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, Jersey Shore Nuclear Watch, and Grandmothers, Mothers, and More for Energy Safety.

The petitioners are asking that the NRC redo the safety reviews for pending license renewals, as “the reviews done so far are obviously inadequate.”

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