In January of this year a public hearing1 began on the adequacy of the Atomic Energy Commission’s design standards for a key safety system in nuclear electric power plants. The hearing was the result of a public controversy that Ian Forbes, James MacKenzie, and the present authors, of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), opened in the summer of 1971 with a critique of presently designed emergency core cooling systems for commercial nuclear power plants. (See “Cooling Water,” Environment, January/February 1972.) Emergency cooling systems are needed to prevent overheating, melting, and release of radiation from the massive uranium fuel “core” of such plants. The hearing has produced an illuminating record: The community of reactor safety experts has been shown to be widely divided on this vital issue. Many of the AEC’s own experts—in the National Laboratories, the AEC contractor laboratories, and within the AEC itself—consider highly inadequate the AEC criteria which now define an acceptable emergency cooling system; experts who work for nuclear power plant (reactor) manufacturers, on the other hand, claim the criteria are too stringent. The AEC licensing division sided with the reactor manufacturers against the AEC’s own experts when it promulgated the present safety criteria in June 1971. Disturbing evidence has accumulated to reveal that the AEC has moved systematically to suppress internal dissent and to disregard the mass of information adverse to the industry position. Important safety research programs were cut back or terminated abruptly, with the consequence of diminishing the flow of additional information.
KeywordsNuclear Power Plant Nuclear Safety Reactor Safety Regulatory Staff Design Basis Accident
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- 1.Hearings before a specially set Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, AEC Docket No. RM-50-1.Google Scholar
- 2.Novick, Sheldon, “A Mile from Times Square,” Environment, Vol. 14, No. 1, Jan./Feb. 1969.Google Scholar
- 3.Lapp, Ralph, New Republic, Jan. 23, 1971.Google Scholar
- 4.The reports are summarized in Ian A. Forbes, Daniel F. Ford, Henry W. Kendall, and James J. MacKenzie, “Cooling Water,” Environment, Vol. 14, No. 1, Jan./Feb. 1972.Google Scholar
- 5.Direct testimony of participant Consolidated National Intervenors, March 23, 1972.Google Scholar
- 6.It is interesting to note that the regulatory staff failed to point out in advance Mr. Lauben’s reluctance as to the testimony he was asked to sponsor. Indeed, the hearings revealed that a document entitled “Hints to AEC Witnesses” had expressly directed AEC witnesses: “Never disagree with established policy.”Google Scholar
- 7.Appearing in National Wildlife Magazine, Aug./Sept. 1972.Google Scholar