After nearly four years of behind closed doors deliberations, on January 15, 2015, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued its “Final Director’s Decision” rejecting the April 13, 2011 emergency enforcement petition filed by Beyond Nuclear along with more than 10,000 co-petitioners from around the country. The public emergency enforcement petition called for the immediate suspension of the continued operation of the General Electric Mark I boiling water reactors in the U.S. that are identical to Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors units 1, 2 and 3 that exploded and melted down following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Ironically, when the NRC’s Japan Lessons Learned Task Force reviewed the nuclear catastrophe for recommending modifications to the U.S. Fukushima-style reactors, the staff concluded that what was really needed was not only an enhanced hardened containment vent for the controlled release of heat, pressure and explosive gas but requiring the re-institution of the defense-in-depth concept to more reliably contain the high-level radioactive releases that would also be generated by the nuclear accident. On November 29, 2012, the Japan Lessons Learned Task Force recommended that the Commission issue an Order to all GE Mark I and Mark II boiling water reactor operators to promptly install hardened containment vents with the engineered radiation filters as a “cost-benefited substantial safety enhancement.” The nuclear industry vigorously opposed the additional radiation filter concept on economic grounds and “unintended consequences” and successfully lobbied the five-member Commission by majority vote to reject the filter recommendation on containment vents. The Commission instructed the NRC staff to take up consideration of the installation of radiation filters in a proposed rulemaking and gather independent scientific expert experience as well as public and industry comments. However, in December 2014, the NRC rulemaking staff reversed course for considering the addition of external radiation filters and now seeks to abandon the rulemaking process effectively locking out public and independent expert input.