Michele Kearney's Nuclear Wire

Major Energy and Environmental News and Commentary affecting the Nuclear Industry.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Markey Commends NRC Decision to Review AP1000 Nuclear Reactor

May 20, 2011: Markey Commends NRC Decision to Review AP1000 Nuclear Reactor
Congressman Raised Concerns About Seismic Resiliency of Westinghouse AP1000 Design Days Before Japan Earthquake

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, today praised the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Chairman Greg Jaczko on their decision to more carefully review the Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactor design after Rep. Markey raised concerns about its resiliency in the event of a major earthquake, other natural disaster or aircraft strike. Mere days before the tragic earthquake and ensuing tsunami in Japan, Rep. Markey wrote to Chairman Jaczko urging the Commission not to approve the AP1000 design until serious safety concerns were addressed. One of NRC’s longest-serving staff, Dr. John Ma, 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 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 meltdowns and radiation releases.

“I commend Chairman Jaczko for exercising caution in light of the safety concerns that have been raised about the Westinghouse AP1000 design, and for announcing plans to fully examine outstanding issues regarding structural integrity and resiliency before approving the design,” said Rep. Markey. “In the wake of the Fukushima meltdown, the NRC also should suspend all of its licensing decisions on new designs, new reactors or re-licence applications until it incorporates the lessons of the Japanese catastrophe into its plans and regulations. We must ensure that any nuclear power plant in this country can withstand a catastrophic impact and abides by the absolute highest standards for safety and security.”

In his March 7 letter to the NRC, Rep. Markey highlighted the concerns raised by Dr. Ma about the NRC’s original safety evaluation of the AP1000. According to Dr. Ma’s written dissent with the NRC decision, there are several major problems with the AP1000 shield building:

The AP 1000 shield building failed physical tests which showed it to be brittle, leading Dr. Ma to conclude that it could shatter “like a glass cup” upon impact.
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 it contained “numerous confusing, misleading, or erroneous statements.”
Earthquake forces may have been underestimated by Westinghouse, and the NRC has accepted this argument by the company, even though it appears not to be supported by science as published in peer-reviewed journals.

In 2010, Rep. Markey requested a Government Accountability Office investigation into the resiliency of nuclear power plants to earthquakes, other natural disasters, and climate change impacts.

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

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