A House subcommittee chairman yesterday released a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report detailing serious management weaknesses at 16 nuclear reactors, including the only commercial U.S. reactor using graphite technology similar to that at the Soviet reactors at Chernobyl.
The report was released by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) in advance of a hearing on reactor safety today by his Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy conservation and power.
At Markey's request, the NRC singled out reactors that suffered significant operating mishaps attributable to management problems. Among them was the graphite- moderated Fort St. Vrain reactor near Denver, which has been closed since June 1984 when an automatic shutdown system failed to operate.
According to the NRC, management problems had been evident at Fort St. Vrain for two years before the accident. Investigators concluded that part of the problem stemmed from the reactor's unique design, which led to a "management mindset of isolation from the rest of the industry" and a "belief that some NRC regulations are not applicable to their plant."
At other plants, the report faulted corporate managers for failing to see that reactors were properly maintained and operated by qualified personnel.
At the Salem reactor in New Jersey, the report said, a critical safety system failed to operate twice within three days in February 1983 because of "lack of lubrication, dust and dirt, frequent operation and wear."
Other reactors singled out are:
Browns Ferry in Alabama, a Tennessee Valley Authority reactor. The NRC said operators failed to repair a broken monitoring instrument after noticing the defect in November 1984. Less than three months later, the instrument malfunctioned again and would have gone uncorrected again had NRC inspectors not intervened.
Davis-Besse in Ohio, which narrowly escaped a major loss-of-coolant accident in June 1985. According to the NRC, the underlying causes were management's "lack of attention to detail" and inadequate maintenance.
Rancho Seco in California, which suffered a 26-minute power loss to its control system last December. Operators knew the accident was possible because it had happened in other plants of the same design, the NRC said, but the utility did not make the modifications necessary to avert it.
None of the 16 reactors on the NRC's list of "most poorly managed" has suffered a mishap as severe as the 1979 accident that crippled the Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania, which was largely blamed on management problems. But 13 of them are shut down.
Markey, whose hearing today will focus on the Pilgrim Station reactor in Massachusetts, called the report "a stinging indictment of the nuclear industry's ability to safely operate nuclear reactors."