New Findings, Meeting on Fire Violations at Shearon Harris

Elected officials have questions about risks, why Harris wants years to comply with safety rules

What: A public meeting hosted by NC Senators Ellie Kinnaird and Janet Cowell

When: Thursday, March 22nd, 7 pm

Where: The Barn at Fearrington Village (15-501, between Pittsboro & Chapel Hill)

Participants: Officials from various local, state and federal jurisdictions.

David Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists
Paul Gunter, Nuclear Information and Research Service
US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (declined 3/19)
Progress Energy (invited)

The Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant has increased its risk of a radiation disaster by violating federal fire safety regulations for 14 years – after promising for years to correct all vulnerabilities. The meeting will deal with new information regarding legal action by public interest groups demanding the NRC enforce its rules on fire safety. Key issues include:

* Fire is a leading risk factor for meltdown at US nuclear plants.
* Harris is relying on “compensatory” measures that were rejected by NRC last year.
* Those measures have not been tested for feasibility; the industry is arguing with NRC over how to evaluate the scores of complex procedures requiring workers to manually operate vital equipment.
* The Harris fire violations are heightened by a new NRC ruling that, instead of defending against aircraft or more than a handful of ground attackers, plant owners can rely on measures that control fires and explosions.
* The NRC is using “Enforcement Discretion” authority to allow Harris to violate fire regulations. That authority is set to expire within weeks.
* Severe fires have occurred at Harris and other plants: four plants filed emergency declarations since October due to electrical fires.
* Progress Energy has repeatedly misled public officials and the media about its fire protection status.




I posted some info last week on this... Here's a MAP.

And there was a fire at a Progress Energy Raleigh sub-station that knocked out 3 more sub-stations last week. What happened there I wonder?

So, is there a concise list of the exact violations? I see a lot of verbiage in the various links but nothing about the actual problems.

OTOH, maybe they should just shut it down. We can handle the blackouts, right?

NCWARN has a report on the fire safety issue.

This discussion is also playing out against a backdrop NRC's failing regulatory efforts. The NRC, with its incredibly strong ties to those they regulate and the Bush cronyism, has been crippled from doing its putative job.

As far as fire regulations, regulations spurred by a series of accidents [Browns Ferry one notable example], throughout the last 5 years NRC has entered more and more into a "fox watching the hen house" paradigm. That, and the unlimited, it appears, suspension of sound engineering regulations developed in response to specific failure-modes experience during prior accidents, really should shake ones confidence in the safety of these plants.

As this organization noted, NRC itself expects 3 to 4 major fires at these facilities over their lifetimes. Shearon-Harris, statistically, is an accident waiting to happen.

At least Shearon-Harris is relatively young - 20 years in operation. Considering that the vast majority of nuclear facilities are 30 years old or older - many past their designed lifetime - the NRC's laxness in properly regulating fire protections is beyond troubling.

Fire is one of the less exotic of potential accidents when viewed on its own. Considering the cascading effect of fire though - as we witnessed at Browns Ferry - and its potential to trigger those more exotic outcomes ("China Syndrome ;-)") Progress Energy's continued reluctance in addressing this easily correctable problem - easy at least from a known engineering standpoint - is a showstopper.

Will NRC ever suspend their license? Doubt it. Can they do a better job policing compliance? Without a doubt.

Did the NRC also predict the amount of radiation to be released as a result of the 3 to 4 fires?

I just read a bit of the NC WARN report on the fire safety issue. I stopped reading when I came across the repeated erroneous reference to cable "trains". They are cable trays, not trains. Hardly what I would call a factual report from a professional with knowledge in the field upon which they are writing. Sorry, I am not impressed. Sounds like a big brouhaha about some firestopping. Ugh.

JMK, agreed that from what I know of following this for several decades the language in the NCWARN report strays...

The NRC's language is "interesting". Here's a sample, from the 2002 analysis of the two Thermo-Lag violations

After considering the information developed during the inspection, the information you provided at the conference, as well as the information developed and revised by the NRC after the conference, the NRC has concluded that the inspection finding resulted in an incremental increase in CDF of approximately 7x10-6 per year. The technical basis for this determination was fully discussed in the revised risk assessment forwarded to CP&L by letter dated March 18, 2002. Accordingly, the final significance of the finding is characterized as White. In addition, the NRC has concluded that the fire area separation barrier failed to comply with 10 CFR 50.48, Harris Operating License Condition 2.F, and Updated Final Safety Analysis Report (UFSAR), in that the fire resistance rating was indeterminate instead of the required three hour rating. Additional enforcement aspects of this issue are discussed below.

Pretty dense techno-bureaucratese.

Part of the NRC's own evaluation of the fire barrier issue is here.

Sample of the topics:

"Failure of Thermo-Lag 330 Fire barrier System to Maintain Cabling in Wide Cable Trays and Small Conduits Free From Damage, dated June 24, 1992."

"Failure of Thermo-Lag Fire Barrier Material to Pass Fire Endurance Test, dated August 6, 1991."

Allow me to translate. It is engineer speak. They cannot determine if the firestopping is rated for 3 hours of fire or not. Hardly damning evidence.

Firestopping is intended to maintain a physical barrier between adjacent areas of a facility in the event of a fire, for a certain amount of time, it is NOT intended to protect electrical cabling etc. That part is wrong, wrong, wrong.

In any case, the increased risk from this unknown, assuming "CDF" is some sort of risk index, is estimated to be 7 x 10-6 or in laypersons terms 0.0000007 - a small number no matter how you slice it.

Excellent meeting last night despite NRC's absence.

David Lochbaum and Paul Gunter reviewed the problems with fire safety in the plant. They reminded us that, according to NRC, fire represents 50% of the risk for catastrophic nuclear accidents. The 50% figure is for plants complying with safety regulations, not for those like Shearon Harris which do not.

Gunter reviewed the various materials used in Shearon Harris which are supposed to stop the spread of fire but which are themselves flammable. He pointed out that the interim procedures used by Progress are expressly in violation of regulations.

Two state senators were present, Kinnaird and Atwater. Senator Cowell, a co-sponsor, was out of state. Also all five Chatham Commissioners and the Mayor of Pittsboro as well as Holly Springs Town Councilman Vinnie DeBenedetto, Jim Ward, Mark Chilton, Randee Haven-O'Donnell, and Mike Nelson.

Mayor Voller spoke about the shock when he discovered, after elected, that he was responsible for evacuating Pittsboro in case of an accident. He still has not been able to obtain complete evacuation plans.

Many in the audience wanted to know how to help. For now, the answer is to support NCWARN in its legal action to force NRC to enforce its fires safety regulations (Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Orange County have each endorsed that action).

Hopefully soon, WARN will also be helping folks engage in the issues of reactor expansion at Shearon Harris (Progress wants to build two more reactors) and the early relicensing of Shearon Harris.

You can contact the NRC directly if you have concerns:

Including any concern involving a nuclear reactor, nuclear fuel facility, or radioactive materials.
You may send an e-mail to Allegations. However, because e-mail transmission may not be completely secure, if you are concerned about protecting your identity it is preferable that you contact us by phone or in person. You may contact any NRC employee (including a resident inspector) or call:
NRC's Toll-Free Safety Hotline:
Note: Calls to this number are not recorded between the hours of 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time. However, calls received outside these hours are answered by the Incident Response Operations Center
on a recorded line.

Some materials and activities are regulated by Agreement States and States: Learn more about Non-Emergency
Concerns Involving Agreement States and States
more about NRC's Response to Non-Emergency Safety Concerns.

You can subscribe to their email notices for meetings or contact NRC in a variety of ways (CONTACT).

Finally, you can search through their public meetings schedule (here - use "HARRIS" or "HARRIS 1" )

Just to answer someone's earlier question CDF means "Core Damage Frequency". It's basically a probability of something happening per year. The easiest way to understand it is actually to take the inverse (1/CDF). So a CDF of 7 x10^-6 is the same as saying once every 142,857 years. That is, an incremental increase of 7x10-6 means that there will be one additional core damaging event over the next 142,857 years.


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