By Forrest J. Remick
    (From The Wall Street Journal, 13 December 1988, p. A20:3)

(Mr. Remick  is  vice  chairman  of  the Reactor  Safety Advisory
Committee for the Savannah River  plant and of the NRC's Advisory
Committee on Reactor Safeguards.  This  article is taken from one
in the CentreDaily Times, State College, Pa.)

          [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 10602PANC]

   My perspective  is of  one who  has served  for many  years on
national nuclear  safety committees,  including serving currently
as vice chairman of the Reactor Safety Advisory Committee for the
Savannah River Plant of the U.S. Department of Energy.
   The Savannah River reactors are operated for the Department of
Energy by E.I. du  Pont de Nemours & Co.   In the early 1950s, Du
Pont was  asked by  the federal  government to  design, build and
operate  the   Savannah  River   Plant  because   it  had  unique
engineering capabilities.  Du  Pont was reluctant,  but agreed to
the request as  a national service;  it has not  received any fee
for the service through the years.   A year ago Du Pont indicated
it did not wish  to continue to operate  the Savannah River Plant
because of the  adverse political climate  that has developed for
such activities in  this country; Westinghouse  Corp. will be the
contractor beginning in April.
   It is  important to realize  that the  Savannah River reactors
are government-owned facilities; they  are not commercial nuclear
power plants.  These reactors  were built to industrial standards
of the 1960s, before today's standards were developed.  They were
built at  the height  of the  Cold War  and under  tight national
security.   Unfortunately,  they are  still  needed  for national
defense.  These reactors  are in need of  being modernized, or of
being replaced, which has been known for a number of years.
   Much has been said  in the press about  a ``power surge'' or a
``runaway''  reactor  at  Savannah River  this  past  August.  As
chairman of a subcommittee that investigated that incident, I can
attest  to  the  fact  that the  reactor  was  not  a ``runaway''
reactor.  A slow  drift of the  power level of  the P reactor did
occur.  This resulted in a 2%  increase in power level before the
operator made an adjustment to the control rods within 20 seconds
of the beginning of the drift.
   For perspective, this is equivalent to the cruise control in a
car allowing  the speed to  drift to 51  mph over a  period of 20
seconds, instead of keeping  the car at the  set value of 50 mph.
Such  power-level  drifts  occur  from  time  to  time  in  these
reactors; the automatic  control system would  have corrected the
drift  if it  had reached  4%,  and the  reactor would  have been
automatically  shut  down  if the  drift  had  reached  6%.  This
trivial occurrence  was not  a ``power  surge'' or  a ``runaway''
reactor.  Although it makes good headlines, it is not responsible
   I'd like to  also address the  alleged cover-up of information
concerning  reactor incidents  at  Savannah River.   First, these
were  incidents, not  accidents.  In  safety  parlance, it  is an
incident when a person trips on a rug; it is an accident when the
person is injured as  a result.  As to  the alleged cover-up, the
Savannah  River Plant  has  maintained a  formal reactor-incident
reporting  system   since  1967;   provides  daily   and  monthly
operations reports (including  reports of incidents)  to the DOE;
has provided semi-annual reports of  reactor incidents to the DOE
for the  past 20  years; and in  recent years  has shared reactor
information with the media.
   The so-called secret report of the 30 most significant reactor
incidents (most  of which  happened in  the 1960s  and 1980s) was
prepared several years ago in response to a recommendation by the
plant's Reactor  Safety Advisory  Committee that  plant personnel
should  formally attempt  to learn  from past  plant experiences.
The  report  was  prepared,  presented  and  discussed  with  the
committee in 1986.  The information was subsequently presented to
a committee of  the National Academy  of Sciences.  It  was not a
secret report  prepared by a  whistle-blower, as  depicted by the
press.   The  fact  that  not  all  Energy  Department  people in
Washington were aware of the  report is unfortunate, but does not
constitute a cover-up; some of these people have been employed by
the department only recently.
   I do not  wish to imply  that there are  not problems with the
Energy Department's  nuclear-safety oversight  or that  there are
not  some safety-related  problems at  the Savannah  River Plant.
The  Reactor Safety  Advisory  Committee has  been constructively
advising that these facilities have  not kept up with the outside
world  in all  respects, partly  due to  their uniqueness  and to
security   restrictions,  and   partly   due  to   some  admitted
complacency resulting from more than  30 years of safe and highly
successful  operation.   The  problems  are  being  worked  on by
competent, sincere, dedicated people at many levels.
   Congress cannot  escape blame for  not responding  to the need
for funds to address problems that have been known and identified
for some time.  It is known  that some politicians like to have a
whipping boy in an election year  in order to get media coverage.
The media complies  with such opportunities  because they provide
catchy headlines  and offer  the opportunity  for editorials that
take a holier-than-thou stance.   Unfortunately, being the whipee
is much less fun and inspiring  to those who have dedicated their
professional  lives to  operating these  plants for  the nation's
   There is  ample blame to  go around for  any shortcomings with
these facilities.  Unfortunately, there is  one group that is not
receiving its full share.  There  are the individuals, who in the
past insisted on breaking up the old Atomic Energy Commission and
the  Joint  (Congressional) Committee  on  Atomic  Energy.  Their
action removed these  facilities from the  independent purview of
competent  regulatory  bodies  such  as  the  Nuclear  Regulatory
   Yes, there have been incidents  at Savannah River as there are
at every  major industrial  complex that  I know  of.  (There are
16,700 employees at  Savannah River alone.)   However, during the
entire 38 years of service, there has never been an incident that
put the plant's public neighbors at risk.
   In fact, there has  never been an injury  related to a nuclear
incident at Savannah  River.  Within the  past several months one
of  the  three   reactors  completed  35   years  of  operations,
representing millions  of man-hours  of effort,  without one lost
day  of work  due to  an accident.   Du Pont's  industrial safety
records  are  unparalleled.   Further, not  one  of  the  30 more
significant incidents reported  that have received  so much media
attention resulted  in a  radiation injury  to any  employee, let
alone  a member  of the  public.   It seems  as though  these and
numerous other  ignored facts  might be  worthy of  more balanced
headlines, articles or editorials.  Or am I an idealist?

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