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Uneven Enforcement Suspected At Nuclear Plants 93

mdsolar sends this news from the Associated Press: "The number of safety violations at U.S. nuclear power plants varies dramatically from region to region, pointing to inconsistent enforcement in an industry now operating mostly beyond its original 40-year licenses, according to a congressional study awaiting release. Nuclear Regulatory Commission figures cited in the Government Accountability Office report show that while the West has the fewest reactors, it had the most lower-level violations from 2000 to 2012 — more than 2½ times the Southeast's rate per reactor. The Southeast, with the most reactors of the NRC's four regions, had the fewest such violations, according to the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. The striking variations do not appear to reflect real differences in reactor performance. Instead, the report says, the differences suggest that regulators interpret rules and guidelines differently among regions, perhaps because lower-level violations get limited review."
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Uneven Enforcement Suspected At Nuclear Plants

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  • by lesincompetent ( 2836253 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @03:32PM (#45146281)
    And the majority of such violations tend to happen in a particular sector called 7-G.
  • by cyberpocalypse ( 2845685 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @03:34PM (#45146293)

    This is what happens when you let companies oversee themselves without any real penalties. Imagine a speeding sign. You speed, cop pulls you over, gives you a warning. You do the same, he pulls you over and gives you a warning. ... You will keep speeding. Government has allowed many of the NRCs to self-govern causing all sorts of stupidity ranging from: "we can't do security testing here, it will bring down the grid!", to all other forms of nonsense the NRC lobbyists will throw around. The reality is simple, the gov can't just "shut these places down." What are you gonna do, allow NYC to go dark. The entire regulatory "Dosey Do" one's partner is as old as the industry itself: "If you speed..." All bark and no bite. Its surprising we haven't had any major malfunctions on a constant basis

    • The reality is simple, the gov can't just "shut these places down." What are you gonna do, allow NYC to go dark.

      Which is why we need both more grid capacity and more generating capacity. Then you can shut the worst places down, and they can reopen if they can get their shit together. Lather, rinse, repeat. I don't for a second imagine that some environmentalists can really stop all new nuclear plants in this country, so I'm imagining that there's some reason why TPTB doesn't actually want more built right now.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

        Building new capacity just de-values existing capacity. The more supply available the lower the wholesale cost. We basically have to pay companies to build new capacity. Subsidies, guaranteed pricing, free insurance, tax breaks, protection from NIMBY lawsuits etc.

    • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @04:10PM (#45146551)

      This is what happens when you let companies oversee themselves without any real penalties.

      No, its not.

      the differences suggest that regulators interpret rules and guidelines differently

      The problem is more likely that the regulators are ill-trained, and ill-supervised. Anywhere away from the
      NRC's central office the oversight of its OWN STAFF is lax.

      Inspectors and regulators should rotate, like Baseball umpires, not always covering the same area, and thereby making the regulations more evenly applied and making it harder for these (in your opinion) evil plant operators to come to an agreement under the table.

      Also, without knowing the exact nature of these so called safety violations, you can't tell how many of them are for having too few "Remember your hard hat" signs and a fresh supply of toilet paper in each stall, as opposed to things that actually have serious implications. Anyone having dealt with any federal regulator knows that they nit pick stuff that allows them to write up infractions and make it look like they are doing their job, while overlooking big issues. I had an uncle that was a HUD building inspector that always ran around with a thermometer in his pocket protector to make sure the hot water wasn't too hot, and would write building managers up for two degrees over the limit. Of course he would totally overlook drug dealing out of apartments and broken elevators.

      • Guidelines meet nothing. All a guideline means: "this work(ed,s) for $INSERT_AUTHOR" and this is what many constantly fail to realize. If standards and guidelines worked, many compromises and security lapses would not occur. Guidelines are so outdated and based on re-hashed (herd following the herd) concepts that they are laughable. Further, too many individuals and companies often do follow guidelines and use that as the de-facto "we are secured." As someone who has had to deal with MSP, and MSSP functions

      • I love this line of reasoning. It's the same reasoning that blames the Union Auto Workers and a guy who tightens bolts for a living for making shotty cars instead of the CEOs and Engineers who made the decision to use cheap bolts.

        If the regulators are untrained it's by design. You don't just 'forget' to train the people that inspect your Nuclear power plants you know...
        • by icebike ( 68054 )

          How is it like blaming autoworkers?

          The the report does not blame the plant workers.
          The report doesn't even blame the plant operators.

          It places the blame squarely on the Federal Government. The regulators and inspectors are FEDERAL Employees.

          Its the EXACT Opposite of what you postulate.

      • Hot water hurts. Broken elevators can't fall on people. Drug dealers are less painful than hot water.

        Or, uncle is a bastard and kick him in the balls for us all.

        But I'm going with the first.

    • by afidel ( 530433 )

      Sure they can shut em down, Davis Besse which feeds into the NE grid (which NYC draws from) was shut down for over 24 months when they found a football sized hole in the reactor head.

    • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

      This is what happens when the government makes building new reactors insanely restrictive and expensive. People keep running the old ones, because they can't shut them down because they need the power, and then you complain that they're old and falling apart.

        • SOME plants are being shut down for economic reasons. What that report fails to mention, is that a 40 year old plant's maintenance costs which have increased along with the decrease in wholesale power prices that is shutting them down. These plants broke even and started making money YEARS ago, it's just that they are getting old and worn out so maintenance costs are going up.

          The jury is out on new nuclear power plants being viable. Not that we will ever find out. Not until the NRC starts to stick with on

          • The report goes into quite a lot of detail on maintenance costs. But new or old, all face the downward pressure on natural gas prices that wind an solar are exerting. Peakers in California are getting less use owing to solar and Midwest wind is also cutting down demand for gas so gas stays cheap.
          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

            These plants broke even and started making money YEARS ago

            The for-profit companies running them broke even years ago, but it's debatable if tax payers ever will.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Radworker ( 227548 )

      Take a look at DC Cook or Indian Pt. for that matter. The NRC will shut down a plant. If you want to call a spade a spade, the pushing match over inspections vs profitability have a predictable swing with predictable consequences. Let the bean-counters convince you that they can run without inspections and pretty soon you will start having Davis Besse like events. Let the Nimbys win the safety at all cost argument and pretty soon you have 140+ day outages again like we saw as recently as the 90's that

      • The NRC is just the poor bunch of engineers caught in the middle of this political infighting.

        I don't work in the industry but the little I do know about this tells me what you are saying is true. You have a group of government paid engineers over at the NRC who are pulled one way by the politicians that appoint their management who are wholly unqualified political operatives, another way by the industry that makes their jobs necessary and yet another by the realization that the price of messing up could be huge (assuming they actually care after 20 years.)

        It's amazing we don't have more graft and

    • what exactly happens? these are violations that pose very low risk. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (what NRC means in the industry, not your use of the initials) has an inspector and office in each and every plant. what "overseeing themselves" are you talking about?

    • As an aside, NYC is primarily powered by the Niagra Falls, not by dead animals or radiation.

    • If I recall, Hyrdo-Quebec would be very happy to keep the lights on in NYC. No need to keep Indian Point open at all. []
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I disagree with your position. Companies are motivated by greed first and foremost. I think we can all agree. This is why self regulation does work. If you operate something like a nuclear reactor you walk a tight rope of public safety and the continued operation of a plant that makes no money when not generating. Additionally, if a plant like that fails it's not just the opportunity cost of the generation it would have provided. There's clean up and disposal, reimbursement for public harm, payment fo

  • As opposed to TEPCO / Fukushima, which is apparently run by Homer Simpson, and appears to have no enforcement at all.

    • Burns is cheap and pays people off so the plan can pass the Inspections

    • No, it's worse at TEPCO. It's not a lack of enforcement that's problematic, but a cover-up at every level of the lack of enforcement.

    • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @05:59PM (#45147475)

      As opposed to TEPCO / Fukushima, which is apparently run by Homer Simpson, and appears to have no enforcement at all.

      Shesh folks. Give these folks a break. Hindsight is 20/20 and this Monday morning quarterbacking of the Fukushima incident is getting rather old.

      Remember, this incident was the result of an earthquake that far exceeded the design requirements of the plant and was beyond the scope of their contingency planning. What we have there now was deemed an acceptable risk prior to the earthquake that NOBODY expected or planned for.

      Now, you can argue that we SHOULD have designed for larger earthquakes and subsequent tsunamis and the facts are on your side. But one needs to go back and remember that TEPCO was doing what the government REQUIRED it to do if not more, NOBODY was expecting that big of a quake, and when you get right down to it, the Plant held up quite well considering how far beyond design limits the earthquake actually was.

      So it's great fun to skewer TEPCO and point out the mistakes they've made or things that in hindsight might not have been the best choice, but you must realize that we are way outside of "normal" conditions here. Sometimes you have to make judgment calls and act NOW even without all the necessary facts or time to accomplish the engineering analysis required. Under the post earthquake conditions it was EXTREMELY difficult even to approach the site, much less move any equipment or materials around. They did really well, considering the nature and extent of the damage.

      Could things have been better? No doubt, but TEPCO has managed not to make any MAJOR mistakes or killed anybody throughout this whole mess. Further, even though the environmental damage is significant, they've managed to not make it that much worse though a bad choice of theirs. So we've had a few hundred gallons of radioactive water wash into the sea or some guy accidentally shut off some pumps that needed to stay running. So? Mistakes happen but so far, nothing major has been messed up.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        It's beyond the initial decisions abvout the plant though. It's the pattern of lying about the problem, the inability to get backup generators that were brought onsite hooked up because of plug incompatibility (ever heard of a splice?), and the several problems afterward.

        Yes, the media has (surprise) blown a lot of this out of proportion but TEPCO has shown a pattern of incompetence that earns them a skewering.

        In a back-handed way it shows that nuclear power is actually quite safe given that that pack of id

  • I'm optimistically hoping this means the guys manning the nuke near house below Jordan Lake in NC are doing a better job maintaining it than their peers in the West. On the other hand, it could just be lazy NRC regulators.

  • perhaps because lower-level violations get limited review."

    There's a simpler explanation here; Fewer reactors mean less experience for those running them. A system administrator who works with 150,000 workstations and 13,000 servers is going to do things differently than someone who only supports 1,500 workstations and 10 servers.

    I think it's premature to suggest that the same agency responsible for oversight of all these different reactors is giving preferential treatment based simply on a single statistic.

    • by dj245 ( 732906 )

      perhaps because lower-level violations get limited review."

      There's a simpler explanation here; Fewer reactors mean less experience for those running them. A system administrator who works with 150,000 workstations and 13,000 servers is going to do things differently than someone who only supports 1,500 workstations and 10 servers.

      I think it's premature to suggest that the same agency responsible for oversight of all these different reactors is giving preferential treatment based simply on a single statistic.

      I agree with your general point, but "those running them" are generally tied to the plant and don't travel around much. They live near the plant and commute each day, just like anyone else with a 9-5 job. Transfers between plants in the same company are possible, of course, but nobody likes to relocate for no reason. Similarly, the plant operators can change companies, but that is about turnover and has nothing to do with the number of reactors in a given area. Operator experience is not really tied to

      • For the NRC inspectors, your point is entirely true. Perhaps that is what you meant to say.

        I actually meant it in both regards; There is some lateral movement of plant operators, as there is of the inspectors. What I'm saying is that we can't jump to the conclusion that there is preferential treatment going on, when the reality may be plain old human complacency or lack of experience. We would need to know more about the structure of the NRC and the plant operations to arrive at any conclusions with confidence, though I suspect such information would be cloaked under the guise of 'national securi

      • "Those running [nuclear reactors]" are generally tied to the plant and don't travel around much. Operator experience is not really tied to the number of reactors in a given area.

        But organizational experience is geographically clustered. When something goes bad wrong at one unit in a big fleet (like Entergy's or Exelon's), the whole organization is stimulated to respond (with new processes, best practices, safety culture, etc.). Western fleets are smaller and their operators have less cumulative organizational experience (though they are apparently trying to compensate by starting a new industry group []).

    • Couldn't the inverse be true inspectors? Less experienced inspectors error on the side of caution while more experienced don't see the problem with a minor violation?

      I think it's premature to suggest that the same agency responsible for oversight of all these different reactors is giving preferential treatment based simply on a single statistic.

      According to the summary and the article, tt doesn't sound like it is a preferential treatment, but rather the way the inspector interprets the rules and regulations.

  • by socode ( 703891 )

    1) dramatic variation: uneven enforcement OR uneven adherence to regulations?
    2) low variation: no-one is looking OR that violations are petty and adherence is relatively good?

    We need to understand which case it actually is - otherwise we are pressuring the overseers to "fix" the problem by gaming the numbers or having a quota of violations found.

  • At a glance, the low number of citations seems correlated with a low grade for public integrity. More corrupt states have less careful inspection. []
  • Redstates want to keep nuclear, and even *gasp* coal because they believe society needs jobs and cheap energy to grow and be, yeah, they don't overregulate and hound the industries to death with mini-taxes meant to increase costs under the guise of safety....

    Blue states - however......for them, the sanctity of gaia and a pure green earth is more important than anything else those areas, they gladly double and triple energy prices and make do with much higher levels of unemployment a

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Or, to reverse your amazingly slanted "reasoning":

      Blue states want to boost green energy and limit toxic and otherwise polluting industries because they care about their citizens, and want to make sure they'll still be happy and healthy in fifty or a hundred years. So yes, they limit outrageous profits at public expense and enforce the safety regulations necessary to make sure that following generations won't be living in a devastated hellhole.

      Redstates, however, are dominated by corporations, including

  • by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @05:02PM (#45146977)
    As a person who works in the nuclear power industry, I can explain some factors.

    First, plant inspectors are moved on a regular basis, and there is enough involvement from various other NRC reviewers and experts to keep a check.

    Second, the threshold for violations is so low that it is pretty much impossible to not have any. Only a small percentage of violations have safety significance, and most of those have low safety significant. Most violations are cited because they may be potential indicators of a drop in safety. By setting the threshold this low the NRC keeps operating performance within a conservatively safe margin.

    Third, a final citing for a violation depends a lot on the plant's response to the initial finding. If a plant shows deference to the finding, cannot adequately explain its occurrence, or shows that there was some known programmatic fault that enabled the condition, they are more likely to get cited with a violation in the end. Some plant owners can be a bit short when responding to what they may perceive as a petty finding.

    Fourth, plants that have a history of violation often get added scrutiny, therefore there is bit of a circular effect.

    The utilities that own plants in the southeast are, in my opinion, the best at both preventing conditions that are potential violations and also at responding to findings. Fleet owners often do a little bit better job than single unit owners (but there are exceptions). I can tell you with certainty, those plants that are falling off the mark get exposed by both the NRC as well as INPO, and nobody lets up until they get back to a state of operational excellence with and appropriate safety culture.

    If folks in other occupations got a comparable level of scrutiny as nuclear plant workers and operators do, they would probably start with tens of violations or more an hour. If car inspections were held at that same level of scrutiny, you would have to immediately park your car if air pressure dropped .001 psi in a tire, and could not use it again until you found the cause of the problem, repaired it, and put in place safeguards to ensure it was not likely to ever happen again. Then prepare a lengthy report, have it reviewed with great scrutiny and hopefully approved by the regulator. Then you would likely receive a fine because you did not discover it yourself.

    We, in the nuclear industry, welcome this level of scrutiny. It is part of our lives and culture.

    I am not an evil, fire breathing, money hungry fiend. I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. A Sierra club member in my teens, I'd hike the trails and clean up other people's trash, carrying it out with me. I care as much as anyone about our environment. All sources of power have their pros and cons. Nuclear waste is a serious one for my industry, but if you compare on a true scale of impact and risk, it is hands down the best path forward for baseload generation.

    Sorry for that last preachy part, couldn't help myself. Cheers.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I forgot to add... violations are often self-identified and reported. So a plant with more self identified violations could possibly just be policing themselves with greater scrutiny.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by mdsolar ( 1045926 )
      Nice post. I think that the tire example is a little off though. Lots of plants are leaking tritium without fixing the problem.

      Also, I think that this really pins the issue of thinking of power as baseload and the problem of nuclear waste together. Eliminate the "baseload" mindset, and the waste problem stops getting worse. Economics seems to be helping with that. Baseload used to be cheap but inflexible. Now it is just inflexible. []
      • Thanks and good point. Analogies like this are never perfect, but I think my example is pretty fair overall. Tritium leakage is not ignored, it has been well analyzed. For some plants, 100% stoppage of it is pretty hard to accomplish, but analysis shows it is not a safety issue operationally. The debate over the environmental impact is out there. It is pretty benign and the quantities are small. That's another discussion.
        • I think the tritium is a sign of lack of maintenance. The leaks are a new development so it seems that with sound equipment the problem can be avoided. At Vermont Yankee it turned out to be more than just tritium as well and their was quite a lot of false testimony given by Entergy regarding the state of their equipment.
          • To a certain extent, yes, tritium leakage could have been reduced or eliminated if certain maintenance activities were identified and executed. But seeing as we are dealing primarily with drainage systems and an issue that appeared slowly over time, that is easier said than done.

            I don't have the facts on your false testimony claim (along with the "quite a lot of" to make is sound as bad as possible), but I admit the whole thing at VY was handled poorly and ignored/minimized too long and that someone may
      • You can't ignore the need for baseload generation and come up with a solution in any meaningful timeframe. I admit, it would be very convenient if we could.
        • Interestingly you can, and at lower cost than reliance on nuclear power. [] Everything gets sewn up by about 2050.
          • I'm sorry, but that reference is absolutely ridiculous. I can do it one better, lets just all quit using power all-together and we can get by with one windmill each for pumping water from wells.

            Please, I hate it when these academia 'think tanks' show us how they have it all figured out and those idiots that have been managing the industry for years don't have a clue. There is a reason these guys are not managers at electric utilities and instead are just talking about dream scenarios.

            If you want to e
            • So far as I know, the scenario that emphasizes nuclear power is considered quite well thought though in the industry. RMI has had a lot to do with transforming the auto industry as well. You might want to see if you can get the book from your library and give it a good read.
      • by khallow ( 566160 )

        Lots of plants are leaking tritium without fixing the problem.

        If you're generating tritium, then you're leaking it. The real question is how much tritium is the nuclear plant leaking? Dose makes the poison.

        • Didn't used to be a problem, so it seems like a sign of decrepitude.
          • by khallow ( 566160 )
            It could be that an older plant is leaking more tritium, that's a reasonable scenario. Or it could be that detection thresholds are more sensitive than they used to be.
    • At San Onofre spent years with defective equipment and ignoring safety procedures. Both Edison and the NRC fundamentally failed to detect serious problems, even when there was evidence that operations were in bad shape. []

      San Onofre’s safety problems began drawing attention in 2007. A fire prevention specialist responsible for hourly patrols around the plant had deliberately falsified inspection records for years. In 2

  • ...the idea that the guys in the west might just be being more open and being honest when it comes to reporting incidents? Or maybe the guys in the east are having just as many, but aren't reporting them, thinking "hell, it's only a tiny spill, no need to report it and get everyone riled up about it!". Why do I get the feeling that this article is just another piece of FUD? []
  • now operating mostly beyond its original 40-year licenses

    What do 'best before' dates on food really mean? []

    Some number pencilled into an operating permit granted in 1969 is not the last word on how long these facilities will continue to operate safely.

    There was—at the time—not a single reactor of a modern design with a forty year operational record on which to base even the wildest guess. The number "40 years" had more to do with investor ROI than any engineering crystal ball.

    I recall one reactor

  • Back in 1990 or thereabouts, I worked for a company building a robotic system to be used in maintaining nuclear plants - in particular replacing old steam generator tubes. I learned some things.

    - some plants are so clean that you might set off the radiation alarms going IN to the plant. (This is in fact how the problem with Radon in homes was discovered. A plant worker set off the alarms going in to work at one of these very clean plants.)
    - the rules for what you can and can't bring into the steam generat

    • If you are referring to the ROSA arm, sir your 80 lb estimate is low and if you are referring to the UAB found in ROSA III suffice to say we took it apart to get it into the building . Tube diameters were between 3/4 and one inch but the wall thickness was no where near that.

      The reason plants had radiation monitoring equipment going into the plant was related to a Westinghouse engineer becoming contaminated in the north test cell at Waltz Mill and dragging that from Waltz Mill all the way to a site where i

      • I left the project before it got to the point of having an official product name (at least as far as I can recall), so I don't know if it was ROSA or not. I worked for the company (and ran the control systems group) for the company who built the controller. And it's true, 80 lbs is low for the entire six-axis system - I was avoiding complexity in my comment.

        A big part of the problem was that the 'packaging' constraints continually changed as new information was collected from the various plants. Original

        • That would be ROSA III and it was a behemoth. Sure it was portable in the same sense that the Navy labels anything with handles portable. The main motor control unit (Universal Amp Box) did indeed require that you take it down to modules to get it in the building. Nothing related to ROSA III would be removed from a radiological area after first use due to needing local spot coolers in containment with it. Very few things are ever intended to be carried in then removed from a commercial plant. BTW they w

          • Interesting to hear the end of the story. As I alluded to in my comment, I did not leave on a good note and didn't keep in contact - but I felt that I did the right thing. Where I truly failed was in not being a better politician, and not being able to convince management that the project cost problem was his, not mine - if he wanted to do the project for 1/2 of the cost of development, he needed to go find money. I think he could have done that. (For that matter, I _know_ he could have done that - he c

            • They were never giving you the full story then. The equipment would be shipped hot back to Waltz Mill where it would be maintained between outage seasons. A system was not dedicated to a single plant but carried between plants. With minor retooling it would be used on 44's 51's and any other generator that you find out there. It was interesting using them in CE designs though.

              The cooling issue was solved using a combination of venturi coolers with heat pipes for some components and a tent with a spot co

              • The plan when I was working on the system was to transport it in and out, and I think it was to be scrubbed before leaving the plant at that time. But I left before the first prototype was shipped to Westinghouse for integration - in fact before the first one was even built and powered up. We actually talked about mini-cooling towers to accelerate the convective flow, but that didn't look like it was going to work. We also talked about heat pipes - as I recall the customers weren't going to be happy abou

  • Not just power plants.

    There was a NPR show poking into the recent chicken contamination related
    problems. The numbers cited were so extremely different that I found it incredible
    that they were valid.

    One caller asserted that a small european nation had zero salmonella contamination
    at their chicken processing plants. I can understand a low number but not zero
    for a bug that is ubiquitous to chickens.

    Perhaps this plant permits sanitizing of chicken with intense gamma radiation
    which has repeatedly been dis-a

  • Here is the ggggggist of it,

    Lower-level violations are those considered to pose very low risk, such as improper upkeep of an electrical transformer or failure to analyze a problem with no impact on a system's operation, such as the effect of a pipe break. Higher-level violations range from low to high safety significance, such as an improperly maintained electrical system that caused a fire and affected a plant's ability to shut down safely.

    I can grok exactly where this stream of 98% low-level 'potential' violations is coming from, and I will tell you even though it will not be Politically Correct for me to do so.

    There are a great many Useless Eaters (my bad) invading industrial plants these days whose direct expertise does not include knowledge of the Thing being manufactured or produced. They are graduates of a quasi-liberal arts educational process that has emitted them from university and sent them out into the

FORTRAN is the language of Powerful Computers. -- Steven Feiner