Nukewatch Quarterly Winter 2020-2021
On October 16, Beyond Nuclear submitted a “federal enforcement petition” to the NRC urging the immediate shutdown of the country’s 19 GE “Mark I” boiling water reactors until their faulty containment vents are replaced. The destroyed Fukushima reactors are the same design as these 19 US units. “The NRC has known for decades that the [GE] Mark I containment is … too small to contain the dynamic force of a severe accident,” said Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Oversight Project at Beyond Nuclear.
In the early 1970s, when many Mark I units were still under construction, the Atomic Energy Commission—the NRC’s predecessor—concealed design flaws and vulnerabilities in the reactors, fearing that disclosing the defects would lead to the shutdown of the reactors. GE engineers reportedly said in 1976 that nuclear power is “so dangerous that it now threatens the very existence of life on this planet.”
In the aftermath of Fukushima, the NRC ordered owners of Mark I reactors to install new “reliable” vents intended to prevent an uncontrolled release of radioactive material during a severe accident. However, according to the petition, the installed vents cannot handle all the thermal energy that could be generated during a severe accident. The NRC stipulated that the new vents handle just 1% of a reactor’s thermal power level under accident conditions. In order to “cope with the vast amounts of thermal energy, steam, and explosive hydrogen gas produced during a partial or complete meltdown accident,” a vent needs to be capable of removing at least 25 times as much thermal energy as the NRC stipulated in its order.