March 8, 2011: To NRC: To NRC: Don’t Approve New Nuclear Reactor Design Before Safety Questions Resolved

Congressman cites senior NRC official’s safety concerns
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a letter to Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Greg Jaczko urging NRC not to approve Westinghouse’s design for a new nuclear reactor design, known as the AP1000, until serious safety concerns have been addressed. One of NRC’s longest-serving staff has warned in NRC documents that the reactor’s containment could shatter “like a glass cup” due to flaws in the design of the shield building if it is impacted by an earthquake or commercial aircraft. The shield building has the critical safety function of preventing damage to the reactor that could cause fuel melting and radiation releases. The Department of Energy has approved an application for a loan guarantee of $8.3 billion to Georgia Southern for two proposed reactors, conditional on NRC approving the AP1000. If the AP1000 is approved, this would allow pending applications for new reactors to go forward in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
If the NRC approves the AP1000, then it may have widespread use throughout the United States, making questions about its safety of crucial national importance,” said Rep. Markey. “Taxpayer dollars should not be spent on reactors that could be at risk of suffering a catastrophic core meltdown in the event of an aircraft strike or a major earthquake.”
The importance of the structural resilience of nuclear plants was made very clear by the February 24, 2011 arrest of a student in Texas who allegedly wished to target them in attacks. On the very same day, the NRC published a rule certifying the AP1000 in the Federal Register, despite serious safety concerns raised by its own staff member, Dr. John Ma. Following a public comment period that ends May 10, 2011, the NRC is set to issue final approval to the AP1000.
Whether the threat emanates from the ground deep below or from the skies above, we must ensure that any nuclear power plant built in this country can withstand a catastrophic impact and abides by the absolute highest standards for safety and security,” said Rep. Markey. “The public must have confidence that new reactors can be built safely, and the NRC must demonstrate that it is addressing this issue with the thoroughness and seriousness required.”
The concerns raised by Dr. Ma were included in a “Non-Concurrence ” statement of dissent about the NRC’s positive safety evaluation of the AP1000. According to the Non-Concurrence, there are several major problems with the shield building:

  • The AP 1000 shield building failed tests because physical tests show it to be brittle, and it could shatter “like a glass cup”.
  • Inadequate computer simulations were used to “prove” the reactor shield is “strong enough” despite it being mostly made out of a brittle material. Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory, asked by NRC to review Westinghouse’s computer simulation results, said there were “numerous confusing, misleading, or erroneous statements.”
  • Earthquake forces may have been underestimated by Westinghouse. Westinghouse relied on a “seismic wave incoherency model” that reduces the expected force of an earthquake. NRC has accepted this argument by Westinghouse, even though it appears not to be supported by science as published in peer-reviewed journals.

Rep. Markey’s letter to the NRC can be found HERE .