Bellefonte Nuclear Station Gets Pulled into NRC Controversy

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The year 2011 found Tennessee Valley Authority facing extra hurdles in a year when Japan’s 9.0 earthquake and tsunami put all eyes on nuclear performance.

As TVA scrambles to repair recent safety concerns, Nuclear Regulatory Commission records show that Bellefonte’s construction license didn’t have full NRC support when the federal regulator’s commission members approved the 37-year-old lapsed license several months ago.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, then just one of the commissioners, wrote: “There is an inherent danger in ignoring this obvious fact. Licenses exist for a purpose. We use them to fulfill our statutory mandate of protecting the public health and safety.”

In January 2009, when Jaczko wrote a four-and-a-half page, single-spaced comment about why he opposed the Bellefonte permits reissue, he noted that TVA had informed the NRC that when TVA terminated the plant, it was no longer conducting inspections and quality assurance records-keeping there.

“Although records may remain, the NRC can no longer be assured of the quality of the equipment since the [quality assurance] program was halted. The potential that undocumented work activities, introduction of unapproved chemicals, corrosion and other unknown degradation that may have occurred calls into question the integrity and reliability of safety-related structures, systems and components,” he wrote.

But Jaczko went a step further, calling for a new environmental impact statement and new public hearings.

“We set the bar basically on the ground, and now TVA is asking the NRC to lift them over it,” he wrote. “By requesting reinstatement, TVA is asking the commission to allow licensees to choose when they want to comply with the rules and when they do not; and is asking the NRC to provide TVA regulatory stability while sacrificing it for others.”

TVA already had spent about $4.1 billion on the plant when the utility scrapped it because it was overbudget and officials decided there was no immediate need for the additional power.

Garry Morgan, of Scottsboro, Ala., lives four miles from Bellefonte Nuclear Plant site, and he believes Jaczko — the lone NRC vote against reinstating Bellefonte’s construction permits — is under fire because he wants tougher nuclear regulation.

“This is a battle for control of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission originating from the nuclear industry utilizing Republican Party politicians,” said Morgan, a retired U.S. Army nuclear biological and chemical warfare protection officer who has become active in the anti-nuclear movement.

“Bottom line, the NRC which is supposed to be our ‘watchdog’ ensuring the nuclear industry conducts their operations safely has been compromised due to the nuclear industry’s financial influence over politicians attempting to control the NRC,” he said. “It wasn’t so long ago a Republican senator threatened to defund the NRC for doing their job.”

He referred to a 1998 showdown between then GOP Sen. Pete Domenici and the then-NRC head in which Domenici threatened to slash the agency’s budget unless it became friendlier to industry.

TVA’s Watts Bar Nuclear Plant is behind schedule and over budget, and two contract workers were indicted for falsifying safety inspection on a new reactor being built there. Meanwhile, a valve failure at Brown’s Ferry Nuclear Plant pointed up so many safety problems there that the NRC put the plant under a “red” safety finding and stepped up inspections to review the plant’s safety “culture.” Only five red findings had been issued nationwide in the past decade.

TVA spokesman Ray Golden said TVA is not proud of the problems.

“We are working on it,” he said. “But the bottom line for the public is this: We know we operate for their trust.”

Source: Times Free Press

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