US nuclear plant operations are trending in the wrong direction, says Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko, and complacency from years of safe operations, combined with overload from backlogged and new safety requirements, could mean trouble ahead in 2012.
Complacency has long been recognized as a challenge for nuclear plant staffs. Jaczko said the last time three plants were simultaneously in prolonged forced outages, as they were when he spoke, was in the late 1990s.
He said NRC had performed 19 special inspections into specific safety issues during 2011 – more “than at any point in recent memory” – and had four plants on watch lists for repeated safety missteps. Jaczko warned, “We should all be on guard to the possibility that they could be indicative of broader issues for the industry.”
Topping Jaczko’s backlog list is fire protection, an issue dragging on since 1975 in various forms. Many US reactors aren’t in compliance with NRC rules, he said. Another unresolved issue, dating from 1979, is a potential for debris blockage of critical water recirculation inside reactor containments during an accident, he said.
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