WASHINGTON (June 18, 2012) — Miles of vital electrical cables and wires at most of America's 104 nuclear power plants are at risk of failure due to prolonged submersion in water or condensation, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In a petition filed today, the environmental advocacy group is asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to require all plants to better monitor such cables and wires and to demonstrate that they will function as required.
“A failure of such a cable or wire could prevent critical accident-mitigation/prevention systems from serving their intended purpose if called upon, and that could produce catastrophic consequences during an accident," said Jordan Weaver, NRDC scientist in the nuclear program.
NRDC's petition said some of the aging cables are protected by insulation with theoretical lifetimes of nearly 10,000 years--in a dry environment; when submerged in water or exposed to high humidity, however, their lifetime could be cut to only hundreds of hours.
“This is an unacceptable Faustian bargain, placing the public at risk to avoid a major expense to nuclear plant operators and could result in a total loss of electrical power similar to the cause of the Fukushima meltdowns” said Paul Blanch, who is a consultant with more than 45 years of experience in nuclear and electrical engineering. One critical need is to develop better testing methods and qualification programs that can detect defects in such cables and wires, so that replacements or upgrades can be made. Existing methods and regulations lack the ability to demonstrate that these cables will perform properly during an accident.