If operators of nuclear plants of the same design as Three Mile Island run into problems similar to those of the Pennsylvania facility, they should rely on the automatic safety systems and keep their hands off the controls, the federal government said yesterday.
The advice came from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which also ordered the seven such plants in five states to check their equipment and operating procedures for flaws similar to Three Mile Island's an report their findings within 10 days.
The plants, which use pressurized water racors made by Babcock and Wilcox, were identified as Arkansas Nuclear 1, at Russelville; the Rancho Seco plant near Sacramento, Calif.; three plants operated by Duke Power Co. in Lake Keowee, S.C; the Crystal River 3 plant in Red Level, Fla., and the Davis-Besse plant near Cleveland. The Ohio Plant has beenshut down since Friday for routine maintenance.
At Three Mile Island, the accident apparently was made more severe when an operator shut down an automatic cooling system shortly after the reactor began to overheat.
The order from the NRC, although not requiring shutdowns or slowdowns, listed a number of specific safety checks of reactor functions. It also called for detailed reviews of how well operating personnel have been schooled in using the equipment and in responding to accidents or malfunctions.
In particular, the order instructed plant managers "to ensure that operators do not override automatic actions of engineered safety features without sufficient cause."
Babcock and Wilcox, a subsidiary of J. Ray McDermott and Co. of New Orleans, is one of four major U.S. manufacturers of nuclear reactors, and its equipment accounts for an estimated 15 percent of the nation's nuclear electric power.
Although the NRC did not call for shutdowns at any of the other plants, the **pennsylvania accident has caused considerable concern in those areas.
Mayor Dennis J. Kucinich of Clevland caooed on the Ohio Public Utilities Commission to keep the plant there closed indefinitely as "a clear and present danger" to his city. California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. has asked the NRC to temporarily close the Rancho Seco plant, although he said he would not order a shutdown himself.
But, despite growing national expressions of concern triggered by the Three Mile Island incident, Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger predicted yesterday that the Carter administration will ask Congress anew for legislation to speed up to the licensing of nuclear power plants.
In testimony before a House sub-committee, Schlesinger said the Pennsylvania accident appeared to be an error of operations rather than design and cautioned against making judgments until all the facts are in.
Before the accident the administration had been readying a bill to cut by nearly half the 10 to 12 years now required for approval of a nuclear power plant. Asked whether the administration might now have second thoughts about the legislation, Schlesinger replied that he could not speak, for the president. But he said the bill is intended to cut red tape, not to allow short cuts in evaluating reactor safety. He voiced the opinion that nuclear power "will and should be part of the energy mix" available to the nation and asserted: "It is my judgment that the nuclear licensing bill indeed will be resubmitted."
A more cautious view was expressed by several. members of Congress in different statements yesterday. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), in a New York speech, called for efforts to avoid the use of nuclear fuels that can be diverted to make bombs, to avoid the construction of commercial reprocessing plants and to slow the development of commercial breeder reactors.
"For at least the remainder of this century, it is clear that we ca meet all of our nuclear energy needs through conventional reactors and fuel, without resorting to a second, more dangerous generation of nuclear technology," Kennedy said.
Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), chairman of the Senate subcommittee on nuclear regulation, said states with nuclear power plants should be required to update and test their emergency response and evacuation plans ithin 30 days. Hart also called on the NRC to begin monitoring nuclear plants on a continual basis through use of computers and satellites and, when an emergency is suspected, to send in federal experts to take control of the reactors.
Sen. Richard Schweiker (R-Pa.) sent a letter to President Carter calling for appointment of a special presidential commission to investigate and assiss the Three Mile Island accident. He said the NRC set up many of the regulations and procedures governing operation of nuclear plants, and should not be in the position of investigating itself.
Schweiker's commission would be a cross-section of expertise from outside the government in nuclear engineering, health, safety and crisis management. He said its purpose should be to pinpoint what happened in the Pennsylvania accident, to assess whether the same problems can occur in other nuclear plants and to weigh the futrue role of nuclear power in the United States.