By MIA STEINLE
As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) gets closer to making a decision about when and if it will allow Dominion Virginia Power to turn back on two North Anna nuclear reactors, POGO is urging the NRC to make documents that could shape this decision available to the public.
Last night, the NRC held a public meeting in Mineral, VA, the epicenter of this August’s 5.8-magnitude earthquake, to discuss the nearby North Anna power plant, which experienced damage in the quake, leaving two of its reactors offline ever since. As The Washington Post reported yesterday, the NRC appears fairly confident that the plant is safe and may make a decision about restarting the reactors early next week.
“Reviews are in progress. However, the staff has not identified any significant safety concerns resulting” from the earthquake, said Meena Khanna, the NRC’s lead inspector at the facility.
Dominion did not thoroughly inspect every area of the plant, but the NRC later found no problems in those areas, according to The Washington Post. Additionally, it did not perform the same types of inspections on both reactors:
The company sent small robots into the pool that holds nuclear fuel in the Unit 2 reactor and found no damage to the containment structure or the nuclear fuel…The NRC told the company it did not need to perform similar inspections inside the Unit 1 reactor…
Dominion’s lack of thoroughness, and the NRC’s apparent intention of turning on North Anna without a significant amendment to the plant’s licensing, is particularly troubling in light of a past incident in the company’s history. As POGO noted yesterday in a letter to NRC Commissioner Gregory B. Jaczko, a Department of Justice (DOJ) 1977 investigation of Dominion (then known as Virginia Electric and Power Co, or VEPCO) found that it had concealed from the NRC its discovery of the fault line that runs beneath North Anna.
Newspapers like The Washington Post followed the saga throughout the decade, which culminated with VEPCO ultimately being fined $32,500 (down from an initial penalty of $60,000) in 1975 for submitting “material false statements” to the NRC about the fault beneath North Anna.
The 1977 DOJ memo concluded that, if VEPCO was untruthful, NRC was ineffective:
[T]he possibility of successful criminal prosecution of VEPCO… is dictated largely by the actions of the Commission itself which in the best light can be characterized as ill-considered and inept, and perhaps more realistically, as demonstrating a pervasive bias against public scrutiny which a project of this importance deserves and is entitled under federal law.
The NRC currently stores documents about the siting and licensing of North Anna in the University of Virginia’s library, which denied POGO’s requests for access. According to a librarian, the documents were sealed after 9/11 due to security concerns. However, without these documents, the public will be left in the dark about whether they contain important information about North Anna’s safety. Additionally, deliberations over whether to restart the plant should not be treated as business as usual—this is a decision that requires oversight from the highest levels of NRC and greater transparency.
Mia Steinle is a POGO Investigator.
Image via dougward.