Newspaper: The Sentinel

Date: April 9, 1979

Article: Infighting blocked NRC from acting on plant flaws, paper says

Author: United Press International


DETROIT (UPI) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission knew of serious safety flaws at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant before last month's crippling accident but failed to take corrective action because of staff infighting, according to a newspaper report.

The Detroit News, in a copyright article from its Washington bureau, said an ideological split between opponents and advocates of nuclear power on the NTC staff has "semiparalyzed" the agency and may be at least partly to blame for the accident that crippled the Pennsylvania plant.

THE NEWSPAPER said it conducted separate interviews last week with six NRC officials who complained the staff has become so "politicized" in the past year and a half that it is incapable of responding with speed to the type of problems that turned up at the Three Mile Island plant.

According to the report, NRC members met several times in the past three months to discuss reports of cooling equipment failures and inadequate staff training at the plant, but could not agree on what action to take.

All six of the NRC staff members interviewed by the News said the ideological division has considerably slowed inspection and licensing processes, sometimes leaving the agency unable to respond quickly to safety deficiencies.

One source told the newspaper the disputes have "left the agency semiparalyzed in dealing with reports of safety flaws at the Three Mile Island plant, as well as several other new plants that were having some start-up problems that normally should have been corrected quickly."

THE NEWS SAID the six NRC officials, ranging from middle to high level management, asked to remain unidentified to prevent further escalation of hostilities within the agency.

The six officials told the newspaper that NRC inspectors and utility executives reported 12 separate cooling equipment failures at Three Mile Island in the past year, including two malfunctions as recently as Feb. 6.

In addition, the News said, the NRC received several reports of discrepancies in the coding of computerized equipment used to monitor conditions inside the nuclear core at Three Mile Island reactor No.2. None of those conditions has been corrected or even thoroughly investigated, the officials said.

The News quoted one senior NRC official as saying the agency had several reports of "glaring gaps" in training for technicians who operate the Three Mile Island plant, but that agency staff members had dismissed the reports as "inconsequential."