New Safety Rules Delayed a Month at Nuclear Plant

Associated Press

New safety notification procedures for the Energy Department’s troubled Savannah River plant, which makes nuclear weapons material, were lost in “paper work” for a month last summer, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

During the delay, the plant operator waited 40 hours before notifying the Energy Department of a small power surge that caused the shutdown of one of three atomic reactors at the plant, spokeswoman Becky Craft said. The delay in notification violated both the new and the previous guidelines, she said, and efforts have been made to improve the procedures.

The Energy Department and E. I. du Pont Nemours & Co., which operates the plant under contract, have come under fire in recent days because of disclosures that during a 28-year period, up to 30 significant reactor mishaps there were not reported to the public and, in some cases, to Washington.


Poor Operating Procedures

The New York Times reported in today’s editions that a study by a consulting firm of the plant’s operations from 1971 to 1987 shows that chronic equipment failure and poor operating procedures caused nuclear reactors there to shut down unexpectedly nine to 12 times a year for nearly two decades.

That rate is twice that of the civilian nuclear power industry. Richard W. Starostecki, the Energy Department’s chief safety operator, told the newspaper that if civilian reactors had experienced the same number of forced shutdowns, their operating licenses might have been revoked.