Every Friday, POGO will strive to make one document available that we or others have obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), especially documents that have not previously been posted online. Some of these documents will be more important than others, some may only be of historical interest— although relevance is in the eye of the beholder. POGO is doing this to highlight the importance of open government and FOIA throughout the year.
By NICK SCHWELLENBACH
This week's document: Investigative report on “Essential Service Water Leak at Byron Nuclear Station”
Document agency: Nuclear Regulatory Commission Office of Inspector General
Document date: September 30, 2010
Document number: OIG Case No. 08-12
In a nutshell: Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspectors, while doing their work according to NRC requirements, were not aware of a “significant problem” with a “significant safety system” at a nuclear power plant in Illinois, according to an NRC Office of Inspector General (NRC OIG) investigative report.
The NRC OIG report said NRC inspectors are typically “dependent” on nuclear plant operators to “identify and correct problems.” At the Illinois plant, managers “did not recall informing the [NRC] inspectors about the problems leading up to” the leak of a water system that fed cooling water to essential emergency equipment, according to the report.
Regarding this incident, according to The New York Times:
Though no radioactive material was released, safety experts say that if enough pipes had ruptured during a reactor accident, the result could easily have been a nuclear catastrophe at a plant just 100 miles west of Chicago.
The incident the September 2010 NRC OIG report zeroes in on occurred on October 19, 2007, at the Byron Nuclear Station in northern Illinois, owned and operated by Exelon. The Byron incident led to a 12-day shutdown of the two nuclear reactors at the Byron station. The episode “illustrates some of the challenges of this dependency” on nuclear power companies, according to the NRC OIG report.
“The only difference between Byron and Fukushima is luck,” Dave Lochbaum of the non-profit Union of Concerned Scientists told The New York Times. Lochbaum was referring to the release of radiation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan earlier this year. The Times opened a major investigative article on NRC coziness with the nuclear industry with the Byron incident.
Nick Schwellenbach is POGO's Director of Investigations.