There is no safety lapse when a reactor system works as designed
The moral of a famous Aesop’s fable is wrapped up in the phrase “the boy who cried wolf". It has also become a figure of speech, meaning that one is calling for help when he or she does not really need it. It can also mean someone is sounding a false warning.
In the realm of public policy debates, it has broader implications that affect the credibility of a person or group that, metaphorically speaking, shouts “fire” in a crowded theatre when there is none.
In the nuclear energy industry, trying to make the case there is a safety issue at a reactor, when there is none, is a case of ‘crying wolf.’
This brings us to David Lochbaum, a nuclear energy expert who has worked for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) since 1996. The group has a long history of opposing the development of commercial nuclear energy in the U.S.
This summer UCS began publishing Mr. Lochbaum’s series of articles it calls "Fission Stories" in which it claims to document unsafe practices by the nuclear industry. The purpose of the articles is to convince the public, as well as government decision makers, that nuclear plants are unsafe and that no new reactors should be built. On Aug 24 Lockbaum published the 8th article in the series about the Perry nuclear plant. a 1,245 MW boiling water reactor in Ohio.
In the article he recounts two incidents incident that occurred in late 2004 and early 2005 involving a cooling system circulation pump. Mr. Lochbaum writes that a serious accident could have occurred when problems showed up with the pump.
In fact, the Perry plant had already placed sensors in the reactor core that identified the problem and automatically triggered actions that shut the reactor down before oscillations in power levels could cause a problem. The safety system worked so where is the fire?
Answering Lochbaum on Perry
Margaret Harding, a former GE engineering manager, knows this type of reactor well from long experience with boiling water reactor (BWR) systems. In an Aug 28 blog post titled "Fission Fiction or how David Lochbaum got it wrong", she walks through the safety measures that worked as designed and concludes UCS is crying wolf.
She writes, "It means that Mr. Lochbaum’s accusations regarding the inadequate actions taken at Perry are deceptive and incorrect."
Harding has done her homework to explain how Perry came to install the sensors. She cites several NRC documents and the work of an industry group, Boiling Water Reactor Owner’s Group (BWROG), which organized itself to understand the issues and develop solutions.
How does she know? The answer is personal experience dealing with the engineering issues of the problem.
“As it happens, my career has included learning about these particular events and leading the team that developed some of the solutions that are currently in place to prevent/mitigate the effect.”
One of their recommendations was put in place at the Perry plant and worked exactly as specified when a pump problem created conditions that could potentially cause power oscillations. The sensors tripped the reactor by moving all the control rods to shut it down.
Also, Harding cites specific NRC documents which reviewed two incidents at Perry involving the pumps. She writes that the NRC documents acknowledge the Perry plant's implementation of the industry working group's recommendations "worked exactly as designed" with no risk to the reactor or the public.
Where does this leave us in terms of Lochbaum's allegations that pump problems at the Perry plant were safety lapses? Harding has an answer.
" . . .the Union of Concerned Scientists [needs to] make a more careful review of the facts on the ground before making unfounded allegations regarding the plant safety and performance of the US nuclear industry."
Readers of this blog who want to dive into deeper technical detail should contact Margaret Harding via her web site at 4factorconsulting where she continues to work on reactor safety issues for the nuclear industry.
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