GAO to Study Nuke Fire Safety

This just in from David Price's office:

GAO to Study Nuclear Fire Safety

Study Requested by Congressmen Price and Visclosky

WASHINGTON – Congressman David Price (D-NC) announced today that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has accepted his request to conduct a review of the enforcement of fire safety standards at nuclear power plants throughout the country.

Price requested the study in May after hearing from local officials in his district who were concerned about the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) vigilance in enforcing fire safety regulations. Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN), who is chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, concurred with Price that the GAO should undertake such a study, and he seconded Price's request in a letter to the agency in June.

“A number of concerns have been raised about the adequacy of fire safety regulations at nuclear power plants,” Price said. “This study is designed to provide an independent second-look at those regulations and at the way they are enforced. The end result should be either to build the public's confidence in the current regulatory approach or to point out areas where that approach is deficient and needs to be improved.”

Price noted the GAO has studied the enforcement of nuclear safety regulations in the past, but this will be the first study focused primarily on fire safety.

The GAO, also known as the investigative arm of Congress, will now assemble a team for the study, which is expected to begin in September.

Many thanks to Congressman Price for spearheading this effort.

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Comments

I've been working on a similar post - surprised you didn't include this contemporaneous nugget:

Want to make a dirty bomb? (please, tell us you don't.) According to the Government Accountability Office, it's a cinch. The investigative arm of Congress on Wednesday described an undercover GAO operation in which investigators posed as businessmen and, with stunning ease, legally gathered enough radioactive material to make a bomb powerful enough to be classified as a level-3 threat on the International Atomic Energy Agency's scale, which tops out at level-5.

Wired , Anyone Can Build a Dirty Bomb

and USA Today's "Phony firm got radioactive materials, easily"

Undercover investigators posing as corporate bosses got a Nuclear Regulatory Commission license to buy radiological material that could be used in a so-called dirty bomb, according to a government report released Wednesday.

Senators and Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigators say their nine-month probe of NRC licensing practices revealed loopholes that could give terrorists easy access to cesium-137 and other dangerous materials that could be used to make radioactive bombs.

both which document NRC's lax procedures, in this case monitoring radioactives more poisonous than plutonium.

As we thank David Price for his support on this issue, we must also question his gushing support for a big bio-weapons research center to be possibly located in Butner.

http://www.newsobserver.com/business/nc/story/634597.html

I guess they didn't cover bioweapons in his divinity courses at Yale.

Mark M,
You can continue to call biodefense research "bio-weapons research" as long as you want but it isn't going to change the fact that they are not one-and-the-same. The only reason that there haven't been more articles like the one in this week's Newsweek on "Weaponized Hamburgers" is that the administration does not want the public to know how little it has done to protect them against a very real threat while it has been busy "attacking the enemy in their own backyard".
Sure, we might begin to negate some of the threat to our food supply by using locally-grown food but that will not happen overnight. And that might work to some extent in our area but it would be hard to accomplish in major metropolitan areas like New York, Boston, LA, Washington, Miami, etc.
I applaud David for supporting the potential location of this facility. I think the Triangle area scientists can do a lot to develop methods to help safeguard the food supply for not only this country's citizens but throughout the world.

George,

From the article:

"It will also work with some of the deadliest pathogens in the world such as anthrax, avian flu, swine fever and other diseases that could be used as biological threats. It would require the highest security rating available."

We know that the military has used research on how to resist torture to refine their own torture techniques. We also know that civilian and democratic controls on national leadership bent on military aggression are rare at this point.

For Price to support this facility without conditional requirements is naiive and irresponsible at best.

Mark,

Anthrax is a cow pathogen, avian flu is a bird pathogen, and swine fever is a pig pathogen and all of these, in addition to potentially affecting livestock (and our food supply) are (can be ) human pathogens. So the use of these agents is not surprising given that the nature of the facility is to protect the food supply (and those it serves). As to the conditional requirements you would like, there is, as far as I know, no design yet at hand. I presume that after a site is chosen those issues will be discussed. It would still be the responsibility of the local municipalities to accept the facility. As to what specifically occurs there, I believe that this will be an academically-led facility. Given that the entire budget for this program is what we spend in Iraq in 16 hours, it is clear that DOD did not design this program. They don't have a clue how to do anything on such a paltry (by their standards) sum. I still think you're too quick to judge David P. on this issue. I understand your concerns but every now and then it is good to give someone the benefit of the doubt until you know otherwise and I don't think David has given any reason yet to not trust him on this issue. Of course, as I've made clear, I have a bias on this one as well.

Though I am a devoted reader of Orange Politics, I normally try to refrain from commenting on posts except when it's absolutely necessary. Today, however, is one of those times -- I feel as though I need to respond to Mr. Marcoplos's comment.

Just as a disclaimer, I was born and raised in North Orange County, Cedar Grove. I am also a student at North Carolina State University, majoring in Agriculture Business Management. This summer I completed an internship with Congressman David Price.  I know a little about the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) from the internship and media reports since. 

I want to clear up any misconception there are about the NBAF. It is not a weapons lab or a military installation. It is simply a research facility for the study and prevention of animal diseases. The type of research conducted would be advanced but not dangerous, and it certainly would not be used to develop any sort of biological weapon.

The lab would be associated with North Carolina State University's Vet School. NC State, of course, is a historic land grant institution and has a strong foundational focus on research, particularly this type of research. State already holds several Homeland Security contracts, for example.

Safety should not be a worry. This new NBAF facility would be built to meet the highest safety level the United States government currently organizes – Biosafety Level 4. In the 20 years that this security level has been in existence, there has never been an accident or security breach.

The benefits to North Carolina are overwhelming. The opportunities for research would benefit not only NC State, but UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University as well. This combined with the Research Triangle Park has made the site such an appealing location for the selection committee.

It would be an economic windfall for the area, too. Everyone expects NBAF to have a monetary impact somewhere north of a billion dollars. One of the most recent estimates in the news predicts a $3.5 to $6 billion impact on the local economy over 20 years.

I encourage you to check out the NBAF website, http://www.ncc-nbaf.org . Be aware that some of the economic impact numbers may be out of date given the recent estimates by the press.

I support the efforts of Congressman Price and many other federal, state, and local officials to bring this opportunity for growth and learning to North Carolina.

George,

I appreciate the explanation. I can see that it is less dangerous than I thought. I also don't think the municipalities are inclined to impose many conditions, so it could turn out to be something other than advertised.

Adam, you say (and, BTW, thanks for chipping in)

In the 20 years that this security level has been in existence, there has never been an accident or security breach.

but security breaches aren't the only avenue for contagion.

Excerpt from a fairly decent overview of BSL-3/4 accidents and releases submitted in response to Massachusetts's House Bill 2097, "An Act Promoting Research and Protecting Public Safety and the Environment" (you might remember Boston University's accidental release of tularemia and subsequent initially unreported infections of several researchers a few years ago)

Opponents of the laboratory safety law claim that BSL3 and 4 laboratories are safe. They also claim that there has never been a release from a BSL4 laboratory in North America and thus the law is unnecessary. They cannot make that claim for all BSL4 labs because there have been releases from BSL4 labs - labs that are as modern and self-contained as will be BU's BSL4 lab. Further, proponents of the legislation testified at the Committee hearing that there have been accidents at high containment laboratories and of releases that have occurred.

Enclosed is a copy of Mistakes Happen: Accidents and Security Breaches at Biocontainment Facilities, written by The Council for Responsible Genetics and updated in May 2007. It is a compilation of accidental and intentional releases, staff exposures and infections, and security breaches at biocontainment laboratories that have been reported or are otherwise known (as discussed below, some accidents, exposures, infections, and security breaches are not reported).

The opponents of the lab safety law provided no documentation for their safety claim, but we know from reviewing their environmental filings that they rely on an October 15, 2003, report compiled by Dr. Karl Johnson for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH commissioned the report in an attempt to quell community concerns that BSL4 labs are inherently risky. Regrettably, Dr. Johnson's research for his report is anecdotal, rather than fact based. It relies only on interviews with staff at the facilities. It is not a detailed review of all laboratory exposure events at the three US BSL4 laboratories, and should not be relied upon to make claims about the safety of BSL3 or 4 laboratories.

An especially erroneous statement based on Dr. Johnson's report is in the federal Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the BU lab where it claims that, “With the longest running experience with a BSL-4 (33 years) Ft. Detrick Maryland has an outstanding safety record ... Previous documents exposures at Fort Detrick in their original lab facilities mention one laboratory-acquired infection between 1959-1969 and no clinical or other infections in the more recently constructed USAMRIID facility.”

That statement, unfortunately, is incorrect. USAMRIID has an extensive history of both exposures and laboratory-acquired infections over the last two decades. According to a study by USAMRIID researchers, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in August 2004, 234 employees at USAMRIID were evaluated for exposure to 289 biological agents classified as “bioterrorist agents,” resulting in five confirmed clinical infections between 1989 and 2002. The recorded infections were from exposures to glanders, Q fever, vaccinia, chikungunya, and Venezuelan equine encephalitis. There were also numerous exposures to anthrax, plague, Western and Eastern equine encephalitis, orthopoxviruses, yellow fever virus, and Rift Valley fever virus which did not lead to infections, but for which postexposure antibiotic prophylaxis was administered (when available). For some of these diseases, of course, there is no available treatment.

The report, (Rusnak, et al. 2002) thoroughly reviewed all exposure records and paints a significantly different picture of the safety record at USAMRIID than Dr. Johnson's report, which implies that accidents are extraordinarily rare. In contrast data show that there was an average of 16.7 persons evaluated per year for accidental exposures to bioterrorism agents. The authors of the study conclude:

I appreciate GeorgeC's and others research into these dangerous pathogens. I understand that, generally, these pathogens can be handled safely with low (but not NO) risk.

I'm also concerned about the weaponization of agents that haven't been associated with human infections before...

But, more to a local policy issue, if CN or Butner is to have these facilities then our local governments have to be involved at every step of the design and deployment process. The institutions need to establish clear lines of communication with local authorities AND UNDERWRITE THE COST of maintaining the necessary health infrastructure to respond to potential outbreaks.

Unfortunately, the history of BSL-3/4 releases is one plague by non-reporting, little or no local involvement, cover up and misinformation (like the 2006 brucella release at Texas A&M).

The current lack of verifiable Federal standards for the construction and maintenance of these facilities contributes to the potential danger.

And then we have the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) system, which, ironically acts and fails somewhat like the NRC's industry self-reporting system. The IBC process has been implicated in the under-reporting of significant incidents at BSL-3/4 facilities.

Self-regulation and lack of independent oversight of these type facilities should be a concern, even for elected folks at the Federal level.

What would I like to see if UNC insists on a BSL-4 facility at CN? That the conversation starts early, involves our local governments and covers not just the technical aspects of maintaining such a facility but the fiscal responsibility of UNC to our local community.

Adam, you say (and, BTW, thanks for chipping in)

In the 20 years that this security level has been in existence, there has never been an accident or security breach.

but security breaches aren't the only avenue for contagion.

Excerpt from a fairly decent overview of BSL-3/4 accidents and releases submitted in response to Massachusetts's House Bill 2097, "An Act Promoting Research and Protecting Public Safety and the Environment" (you might remember Boston University's accidental release of tularemia and subsequent initially unreported infections of several researchers a few years ago)

Opponents of the laboratory safety law claim that BSL3 and 4 laboratories are safe. They also claim that there has never been a release from a BSL4 laboratory in North America and thus the law is unnecessary. They cannot make that claim for all BSL4 labs because there have been releases from BSL4 labs - labs that are as modern and self-contained as will be BU's BSL4 lab. Further, proponents of the legislation testified at the Committee hearing that there have been accidents at high containment laboratories and of releases that have occurred.

Enclosed is a copy of Mistakes Happen: Accidents and Security Breaches at Biocontainment Facilities, written by The Council for Responsible Genetics and updated in May 2007. It is a compilation of accidental and intentional releases, staff exposures and infections, and security breaches at biocontainment laboratories that have been reported or are otherwise known (as discussed below, some accidents, exposures, infections, and security breaches are not reported).

The opponents of the lab safety law provided no documentation for their safety claim, but we know from reviewing their environmental filings that they rely on an October 15, 2003, report compiled by Dr. Karl Johnson for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH commissioned the report in an attempt to quell community concerns that BSL4 labs are inherently risky. Regrettably, Dr. Johnson's research for his report is anecdotal, rather than fact based. It relies only on interviews with staff at the facilities. It is not a detailed review of all laboratory exposure events at the three US BSL4 laboratories, and should not be relied upon to make claims about the safety of BSL3 or 4 laboratories.

An especially erroneous statement based on Dr. Johnson's report is in the federal Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the BU lab where it claims that, “With the longest running experience with a BSL-4 (33 years) Ft. Detrick Maryland has an outstanding safety record ... Previous documents exposures at Fort Detrick in their original lab facilities mention one laboratory-acquired infection between 1959-1969 and no clinical or other infections in the more recently constructed USAMRIID facility.”

That statement, unfortunately, is incorrect. USAMRIID has an extensive history of both exposures and laboratory-acquired infections over the last two decades. According to a study by USAMRIID researchers, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in August 2004, 234 employees at USAMRIID were evaluated for exposure to 289 biological agents classified as “bioterrorist agents,” resulting in five confirmed clinical infections between 1989 and 2002. The recorded infections were from exposures to glanders, Q fever, vaccinia, chikungunya, and Venezuelan equine encephalitis. There were also numerous exposures to anthrax, plague, Western and Eastern equine encephalitis, orthopoxviruses, yellow fever virus, and Rift Valley fever virus which did not lead to infections, but for which postexposure antibiotic prophylaxis was administered (when available). For some of these diseases, of course, there is no available treatment.

The report, (Rusnak, et al. 2002) thoroughly reviewed all exposure records and paints a significantly different picture of the safety record at USAMRIID than Dr. Johnson's report, which implies that accidents are extraordinarily rare. In contrast data show that there was an average of 16.7 persons evaluated per year for accidental exposures to bioterrorism agents. The authors of the study conclude:

I appreciate GeorgeC's and others research into these dangerous pathogens. I understand that, generally, these pathogens can be handled safely with low (but not NO) risk.

I'm also concerned about the weaponization of agents that haven't been associated with human infections before...

But, more to a local policy issue, if CN or Butner is to have these facilities then our local governments have to be involved at every step of the design and deployment process. The institutions need to establish clear lines of communication with local authorities AND UNDERWRITE THE COST of maintaining the necessary health infrastructure to respond to potential outbreaks.

Unfortunately, the history of BSL-3/4 releases is one plagued by non-reporting, little or no local involvement, cover up and misinformation (like the 2006 brucella release at Texas A&M).

The current lack of verifiable Federal standards for the construction and maintenance of these facilities contributes to the potential danger.

And then we have the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) system, which, ironically acts and fails somewhat like the NRC's industry self-reporting system. The IBC process has been implicated in the under-reporting of significant incidents at BSL-3/4 facilities.

Self-regulation and lack of independent oversight of these type facilities should be a concern, even for elected folks at the Federal level.

What would I like to see if UNC insists on a BSL-4 facility at CN? That the conversation starts early, involves our local governments and covers not just the technical aspects of maintaining such a facility but the fiscal responsibility of UNC to our local community.

Whoops, not sure what happened there...

This is excellent information. This is the type of information that news organizations should provide, but rarely do. Especially in this age of secrecy and lying about all things military and the often invisible hand of the corporations that pull the strings.

WillR,

I feel so confident that UNC will never propose a BSL-4 facility for CN that I'll bet you a dinner at Crook's Corner on it. The level of security that would be involved and the public opposition that would have to be dealt with would be prohibitive on numerous accounts.

Crooks? Sure, and I won't even talk about germs ;-)

Timely call for NRC reform:

In the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan today that shut down a nuclear power plant and may have triggered the release of radioactive waste, New York's attorney general has launched an effort to step up oversight of U.S. nuclear power plants.

"The earthquake in Japan (and the potential for a nuclear incident) reminds us that the NRC needs to expand relicensing criteria to factor in geological and seismic issues, terrorism and evacuation plans," New York Attorney General Anthony Cuomo said Monday.

Today's ABC News Blotter

 

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