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Illinois' Nuclear Power Watchdog for 25 Years
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For release: Wednesday, August 6, 1997
For more information: David Kraft, (847)869-7650
REACTORS, REGULATORS CREATE "RADIOACTIVE DECAY" IN ILLINOIS
EVANSTON-- Illinois 13 operating nuclear reactors continue to operate poorly, and the regulators charged with preventing this have not done an adequate job according to a report released today.
The report, "Illinois' Radioactive Decay: An Assessment of Illinois' Nuclear Reactors and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Inability to Regulate Assertively," released by the Evanston-based Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS), a local nuclear power watch-dog organization, maintains that:
-- ComEd and Illinois Power (IP) reactors have been in a cycle of deterioration for some time, threatening the health and safety of the public, the environment, and the economy, and
-- the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) lack of assertiveness in regulating has contributed to this downward cycle of poor performance, and must be changed if reactors are to improve their safety and operation.
"We have a 'dysfunctional nuclear family' here in Illinois," notes David A. Kraft, director of NEIS.
"ComEd and IP are the 'out of control' children, doing terrible things at their reactors, and NRC the incompetent parent. NRC scolds them horribly and threatens them with sanctions ('Just wait 'til your father comes home!'). The utilities meekly apologize, and promise it will never happen again. Then, over and over, NRC says, 'okay,' ComEd and IP keep on making huge mistakes, and the pattern repeats. Any brat knows that if the parent has no intention of following through on its threats, s/he can get away with murder.
"It wouldn't be so bad if this pattern didn't put the health and safety of an entire state, the environment and the economy at tremendous risk of a nuclear accident," Kraft said.
As an example of this pattern, the report examined ComEd's under-oath testimony submitted to the NRC in March of 1997 as to how they intended to improve their reactor performance, and NRC's response to the ComEd promises on April 25th. Comparing the remarks of the NRC commissioners to the criticisms of NRC found in the recently released GAO report, "NUCLEAR REGULATION: Preventing Problem Plants Requires More Effective NRC Action," NEIS maintains that, for all the bluster, the utilities are not changing rapidly enough, and that this can be traced to the regulators not regulating assertively. Further, evidence exists that NRC itself may finally be recognizing that it has historically lacked the capability and proper vision to regulate a large utility like ComEd -- which has 13 reactors -- in a comprehensive manner.
To remedy this long-standing problem of lack of assertive regulation of nuclear plants, NEIS has submitted the recommendations that would toughen up NRC's regulatory abilities found in the GAO report along with its own list developed earlier this year at the request of Sen. Carol Moseley- Braun's office.
The recommendations have been delivered to each member of the Illinois delegation to Congress, to Governor Jim Edgar, and have also been sent to the Illinois Dept. of Nuclear Safety, Illinois Commerce Commission, and the NRC itself.
"Maybe we can finally say to our 'dysfunctional nuclear family' that 'daddy's home,' and that now they both have to change their behavior radically," Kraft said.
Some of the major recommendations include: Congressional oversight and investigation of NRC's regulations, standards, and operation; stepped-up enforcement actions by NRC, including greater use of license suspension or revocation for reactors that are "repeat offenders," until such time as they correct their deficiencies; greater "checks and balances" in nuclear regulation and expanded roles for the states; transfer of investigative functions at NRC to the NRC inspector general; establishment of an adjudicatory process for public petitions on reactor safety issues.
Although the report points to NRC as a cause for some of the nuclear problems at Illinois reactors, NEIS' cover letter to Congress is quick to point out that the current NRC Chair Shirley Jackson seems to be taking a tougher attitude towards regulation, and that many of the problems existing today can be traced to decisions made by NRC during the Reagan-Bush years, which were characterized by emphasis on de-regulation and "relieving regulatory burdens."
"Chair Jackson has inherited an agency with an allergy towards regulation," Kraft observes. We understand that it will take time for any single person to reverse 15 years of inept regulation. We intend for the changes to come soon, and become institutionalized, so that when Chair Jackson leaves, the NRC will not backslide into past indifference.
"That's why it is critical that Congress get involved in further investigating NRC, and in changing the regulatory climate and attitude at NRC," Kraft concluded.
Copies of the 22-page report and supporting documents are available for free for members of the media and government officials by contacting NEIS.
Nuclear Energy Information Service is an Evanston-based, environmental, energy education organization founded in 1981 to provide the public with credible information on nuclear power and radiation hazards, and viable alternative energy choices to the continued use of nuclear power.
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