Three Mile Island Safety Problems

  • Safety Equipment Cutbacks
  • TMI Fails Emergency Test
  • Deregulation Makes another
    Accident More Likely
  • Worries From Within the Industry
  • Former TMI Engineer Testifies
  • No Fine Despite Violations

  • Safety Equipment Cutbacks

    Three Mile Island recently began re-classifying safety-grade equipment to a lesser grade. This would allow for financial savings but would compromise safety. The NRC describes TMI's efforts as "poor" and says they are concerned about the potential implications of bad management.

    see the NRC's Press Release Criticizing TMI Management

    TMI Fails Emergency Test on March 5, 1997
    Operators Could Not Evaluate Accident Conditions!


    Three Mile Island raised even more concerns when they were not able to recognize that simulated accident conditions had reached levels requiring a declaration of emergency. Also, the company failed to detect that conditions had eroded to the point where citizens outside the 10-mile emergency planning zone were going to be irradiated and that additional protective actions were needed. This is sadly reminiscent of the 1979 accident.

    see the NRC's Press Release describing why TMI flunked the test

    Charles Hehl, NRC Director of Reactor Projects said GPUN was "five or ten steps behind the curve" during the drill. NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said, "Given TMI's history, its not something we want to see happen."

    Deregulation Makes Another Accident More Likely


    Shortly after the Three Mile Island Nuclear accident, the NRC'S independent investigation by the Rogovin Commission recommended that state Public Utility Commissions "eliminate incentives that might tempt a utility away from its commitment to safety." Now the Pennsylvania PUC has done exactly that through deregulation. The Rogovin Commission said state PUCs must give special attention to nuclear plants.

    Electric utilities are scrambling to cut back expenses to be competitive in a free market. But, deregulation of the electrical industry (a.k.a. retail wheeling) has a major drawback which hasn't gone unnoticed. Nuclear generators are in the least favorable position to pare down expenses because of the safety required to protect us from deadly releases.

    Because nuclear plants require such a high degree of safety, there is little room for cost saving cut-backs. Three Mile Island has announced that it is studying how to reduce the number of its employees. They expect "that up to one-quarter of the engineering positions will be eliminated this year." TMI has already reduced its security staff by six people despite the 40 weaknesses that were exposed during the 1993 intrusion. Many plants are reducing security staffs by 25 percent.

    GPU Press Release on Cutbacks at Three Mile Island

    Worries from within the Nuclear Industry on
    Deregulation and the Erosion of Safety
    - -

    "...From a safety point of view, we must be sensitive to the unprecedented competitive pressures wheeling [deregulation] could impose on utilities which in turn could lead to significant safety concerns at some nuclear power plants."

    former NRC Chairman Ivan Selin

    "These structural changes and economic uncertainties for electric utilities are driven by regulatory and market forces that will determine how, and in what form, nuclear electric generators will survive in an unregulated, or less regulated, world. Our focus at the NRC must be on ensuring that economic pressures do not erode nuclear safety."

    former NRC Chairman Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson

    "...Eliminate incentives that might tempt a utility away from its commitment to safety. ...Both utility executives and PUC commissioners have fallen under the illusion that nuclear stations are like any other generating unit except for the fuel source. Nuclear power plants are unique and require special attention."

    NRC's independent Rogovin Commission


    "We are concerned that management in a number of utilities -- not across the board -- will be tempted to cut corners or reduce those capital investments necessary to maintain equipment in top shape. The staff has found that some licensees are performing more maintenance on-line without assessing the risk consequences."

    former NRC Chairman Ivan Selin

    "The question now facing the NRC is what deregulation will mean for how we go about meeting these safety objectives. For example, what level of assurance does the NRC have that a particular utility will spend the money required for adequate maintenance and for necessary safety upgrades? What changes do we have to make in our inspection program and other evaluation processes to ensure that we stay ahead of any potential degradation in safety at a plant, so that we can detect adverse trends and correct them."

    former NRC Chairman Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson

    "The Commission has asked the staff to examine measures to identify plants where economic stress may be impacting safety. Moreover, since deregulation may change the economic umbrella for some licensees, the NRC may need to monitor their financial qualifications more closely."

    former NRC Chairman Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson

    "In short, the NRC is being presented with a host of new challenges, just as a result of utility deregulation, which involve far more than technological issues. A single change in the law -- one that on its face has nothing to do with nuclear regulation -- can have major ramifications for the way we go about ensuring the safety of the public."

    former NRC Chairman Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson
    "Any deregulation must consider operation, maintenance and decommissioning of nuclear generating stations. Competitive pressures can result in pressure on the operators for decisions adverse to safety. Decommissioning costs are tremendous and major accident costs, although unlikely, could be staggering."

    testimony of Three Mile Island Nuclear Engineer (retired) Francis C. Rosch Jr. before the PA Public Utility Commission

    Financial Fallout

    While ratepayers might bailout billions of dollars for stranded costs of nuclear plants in accordance with deregulation guidelines, stockholders will continue to reap profits.

    Former TMI Engineer Testifies on Safety Concerns

    Testimony of Francis C. Rosch Jr.

    to the Pennslyvania Public Utility Commission 3/19/96
    "I am particularly concerned with the potential adverse effect of deregulation on nuclear generating stations because of the severe impact from competition. Increased competition will result in pressure of the operators and management for less safe operations."

    "Nuclear electric power competitiveness is problematic and obviously depends on the availability of the unit to produce power...A decision to shut down the plant for operating or equipment concerns results in a loss of $5 to $10 million dollars per month. A decision to not shut down the unit could result in unsafe operation. Another TMI accident is very unlikely, but the possibility must be considered."
    "The inability to compete could create a safety problem where the utilities may not have the resources to provide safety and cost concerns." "Great Britain decided to privatize their utilities but industry did not acquire the nuclear units because they did not think that they would be competitive."

    Pennsylvanians will assume a greater risk if nuclear plants cut corners to compete with the other electricity generators. Oh, didn't anyone tell you...nuclear electricity is already the most expensive source in PA you can choose. Electrical competition will cause a lower degree of safety as corners are cut, employees are overworked, and safety inspectors turn the other cheek and allow long delays for needed repairs.

    NRC does not fine TMI despite safety violations (12/18/97).

    Reactor Coolant Spill
    Radiological Control Violation
    In-Operable Valves and Failure to Test
    Failure to Control Spread of Radioactive Particles

    Since July 17, 1998, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued 18 Non-Cited Violations and one "Apparent Violation" to Three Mile Island Unit-1's owners and operators: AmerGen. Based on calculations prepared by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the average cost to a company to respond to a Notice of Violation is $50,000. The NRC has saved AmerGen at least $950,000 by "redefining" 19 Violations at as "Non-Cited Violations."