NRC: Nuke Plants Not Reporting Equipment Defects

Friday, March 25, 2011 @ 12:03 PM gHale

Nearly 30% of U.S. nuclear power plants fail to report equipment defects that present “substantial” safety risks because of contradictions in the federal law, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) inspector general.

That could mean “the margin of safety for operating reactors could be reduced,” the inspector general said in the report.

U.S. nuclear plants remain confused about what they must report to federal regulators. That’s because one section of the law, known as Part 21, requires them to report defects that can cause a loss of safety functions while another section of the law requires them to report only actual losses of safety functions, according to the report.

“Licensees representing at least 28 percent of the operating reactor fleet do not, as standard practice, notify the NRC of defects under Part 21 unless they are reportable under event reporting regulations,” the report says.

The safety of U.S. nuclear facilities has come under question as the nuclear crisis at Japan’s Fukushima plant reveals weaknesses in nuclear- plant technology. The NRC voted this week to conduct a major safety review of the 104 nuclear reactors operating in the U.S.

The NRC has been aware of the reporting lapses since at least 2009. In that time, the commission identified 24 instances, between December 2009 and September 2010, in which nuclear plants didn’t report defects under Part 21.

These instances pose “a substantial safety hazard” and prevent federal regulators from spotting manufacturer defects that could surface at other plants around the country, the inspector general said.

Because U.S. plants are failing to report defects as a result of confusion over the law, the NRC hasn’t imposed violations or civil penalties. It has not imposed any civil penalties or significant enforcement actions for the reporting failures in at least eight years, the inspector said.

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