Does the nuclear industry have a back door into its regulator? via Beyond Nuclear International

By Linda Pentz Gunter


In December 2017, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) released a report  which it posted on its website, and that of the Office of Science and Technical Information (OSTI) — a division within the Department of Energy. The abstract was posted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) website where the links to the PNNL and OSTI report postings are now dead.

In its report, PNNL said that the “autopsy” of a closed nuclear power plant should be “required.” The idea is that when a nuclear power plant is permanently shut down, the decommissioning process provides access to key reactor safety systems, structures and components. With the reactor closed, these parts can — and should — be materially examined to assess the condition and reliability of those same parts in still operating reactors. Indeed, PNNL concluded that such strategic “harvesting” of actual aged samples was a “high priority,” if the government was to continue issuing extensions to reactor operating licenses.

The PNNL report —Criteria and Planning Guidance for Ex-Plant Harvesting to Support Subsequent License Renewal — was then abruptly removed from both the PNNL and OSTI websites. But not before Paul Gunter at Beyond Nuclear had downloaded it.

Why was it removed? Beyond Nuclear learned in our pre-hearing oral argument before the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board on March 27, 2019, that the PNNL report was “just a draft.” NRC counsel, Kayla Gamin, told the court that PNNL posted the report on its website “by mistake.” Presumably the DOE and IAEA made the same error.

Beyond Nuclear was arguing its case against the Second License Renewal of Exelon’s Peach Bottom nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, two reactors that are the same GE Mark I boiling water reactor design as those at Fukushima-Daiichi. As part of our arguments against extending the Peach Bottom operating license out to 80 years, Beyond Nuclear says that closed GE Mark I reactors, such as Vermont Yankee and Oyster Creek, should be autopsied during decommissioning, and laboratory analysis should be conducted on the effects of aging and degradation on safety systems. This would provide essential information when considering whether reactors like Peach Bottom should continue to operate at all, let alone for a total of 80 years, twice as long as the original license anticipated.

Just days after Beyond Nuclear raised objections in court to the PNNL report’s removal, (having already flagged its disappearance in our written statement), a revised version of the reportmagically reappeared, dated March 31, 2019, and this time on the NRC’s public information site known as ADAMS — but not on the PNNL or OSTI sites.

Paul immediately did a side-by-side comparison of the two reports, and the real reason for taking down the original quickly emerged. Paul found that the NRC had gone through and removed every reference to “required”, “may require”, or “likely require”. The revised report was considerably condensed, down from 52 pages to 42. There was also substantial removal or replacement of the term “knowledge gap,” which appeared 18 times in the December 2017 report and only once in the March 2019 version.

The report is still in PNNL’s name with the same five authors listed. There is no mention of editing by the NRC but a disclaimer at the beginning says “This document supersedes and replaces the previous harvesting criteria and planning guidance (PNNL-27120), which was inadvertently released while still under development.”

This isn’t a redaction, it’s tampering with someone else’s work to suit the NRC’s  — or rather the nuclear industry’s — agenda.

The PNNL had apparently prematurely decided that reactor autopsies should be “required” and then the NRC decided that they shouldn’t.

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