U.S. lawmakers question nuke safety, say staffs overworked

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02/26 14:46 U.S. lawmakers question nuke safety, say staffs overworked

By Patrick Connole

WASHINGTON, Feb 26 (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers on Friday warned that the safety of some commercial nuclear power plants was at risk, due to low staffing levels and overworked employees.

The lawmakers fear that excessive worker overtime and depleted staffing levels at some plants may present a serious safety hazard, and blamed industry cost-cutting in preparation for electric power deregulation as the culprit.

"We have recently heard reports of routine use of staff overtime at nuclear power plants that, although authorized, appears likely to exceed the 'temporary basis' and 'very unusual circumstances" standards," the three Democratic House members said in a letter to NRC Chairman Shirley Ann Jackson.

The letter was signed by Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey, Michigan Rep. John Dingell and Pennsylvania Rep. Ron Klink. It asked Jackson to investigate staffing practices and how they impact safety.

"Although it is very difficult to determine if specific examples of operator error are caused by fatigue, we believe that staffing and overtime are serious safety issues, and have concerns about both specific plant practices and about current NRC regulations," the lawmakers said.

Included in the query was a request for data on how many fatigue-induced errors occurred in plants over the past five years, and how many plant employees work longer than eight hours a day, or more than 40 hours in a week.

The NRC had no immediate response to the letter, but said they would respond in due time.

Lawmakers said the need to control staff working hours has been recognized since at least the early 1980s in the aftermath of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant accident 20 years ago. Citing a "generic" policy letter dating back to 1982, the House members said it was accepted that use of overtime for safety-related personnel on a temporary basis was allowable under strict guidelines, but that the objective was to have operating staff work a normal eight-hour day and 40-hour week.

They said a Feb. 15 issue of a nuclear industry newsletter described how operators of the Byron, Illinois, nuclear plant complained that too much overtime could jeopardize safety.

Byron Units 1 and 2, both at 1,105 megawatts, are owned by Commonwealth Edison, a unit of Unicom Corp. .

ComEd denied experiencing concerns about safety related to overtaxed workers, saying the company had actually cut overtime hours at the Byron units between 1997 and 1998, even though the plant underwent major steam generator and refueling maintenance.

"Our staffing is adequate and actually increased from 152 to 172 (for years 1995-98) at Byron," a ComEd spokesman said.

-- Ray (ray@totacc.com), February 26, 1999


Nothing quite as comforting as knowing the people who are trying to make the nukes safe are overworked and stressed.

Next thing they'll be doing is making the "standard" work week go from Mon. - Sun., ten hours a day. That ought to fetch just the type of cooperation and production they are looking for.

-- (AES2010@aol.com), February 26, 1999.


-- oreochick (cookie@frackblaster.edu), February 26, 1999.

Am I the only person here who has noticed that the people who insist on Y2K being TEOTWAWKI, all seem to have harsh opinions of government in general, and the US Federal Government in particular? I have seen quite a few posters claim the govt is lying about Y2K problems, some even claiming Clinton plans to cancel the next election. BUT if a member of Congress or a Federal Agency releases anything hinting of Y2K problems that may not be completely fixed by 1/1/00, that must, of course, be perfectly true.

This seems to be inconsistent.

-- Paul Davis (davisp1953@yahoo.com), February 26, 1999.

That's some interesting HTML. Let's see if this fixes it.

-- Ned (entaylor@cloudnet.com), February 26, 1999.

Try some more...

-- Ned (entaylor@cloudnet.com), February 26, 1999.

The "lawmakers" are probably full of it.

-- dave (wootendave@hotmail.com), February 26, 1999.

When there are nown liars in government who can be shown to lie most (all ?) of the time to advance their own agenda, then I do not believe anything they clain unless I get independent (non-government) verification.

When there are others (in government) who have NOT been shown to lie all the time, and when these others are putting out information that contradicts the agenda of the known liars - I have several choices:

Accept the statements as absolutely true, and act accordingly.

Accept the statements as leading indicators, use them as a clue to the possible truth, and continue check them for accuracy, and then accordingly,

Reject them as falsehoods becasue "all governments lie" and continue without learning anything, thus assuming that only I know the truth and I know more anybody else in the world.

Since I'm smart enough to know I'm ignorant - and I hope open-mined enough to always be able recognize the wisdom in other people's experience, and since I'm apparently smart enough to know that there are confirmed liars out there with an agenda that they will lie to advance, I hope I'm smart enough to listen and analyze critically what anybody in government says.

And then smart enough to be to accept whatever parts of the truth that are found.

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.R@csaatl.com), February 26, 1999.

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