Nukewatch Quarterly Summer 2020
Covid-19 and nuclear power present a myriad of complications and problems. For workers inside a reactor to safely perform jobs—deemed essential—physical distancing is complicated leading to at least seven different reactor sites with confirmed cases of coronavirus, some numbering in the hundreds, and an undisclosed number of deaths. Without Freedom of Information Act requests, exact numbers of positive cases are unknown as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) refuses to make them public.
S&P Global reported 237 coronavirus cases as of May 13 at the Fermi reactor in Michigan. On May 19, there were 230 cases at Georgia’s Plant Vogtle, still under construction. Eleven workers at the 3-reactor Millstone site in Waterford, Connecticut, have tested positive as of May 13. According to Jim Foley, a security officer at Millstone and president of the local chapter of the United Government Security Officers of America, Dominion employees have had to fight for personal protective equipment (PPE) and proper social distancing.
Amidst these complications the NRC has relieved itself of any responsibility to provide PPE, in hopes that the nuclear power utilities will assume this duty, while the utilities are seeking exemptions from safe operation and a $23 billion bailout.
The NRC has permitted exemptions on work hour limits, reduced staffing, and deferring inspections of leaks and steam generator piping. Workers at Palo Verde Generating Station and others can be required to work 16 hours per day and the new increased overtime maximum of 86 hours per week.