FOUR of every five US atomic reactors have failed to complete sweeping safety changes mandated in the wake of the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island (TMI), Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) records show. Only 24 of the nation's 111 licensed commercial reactors have installed all 149 changes outlined in the Three Mile Island Action Plan, which was drafted in the wake of the nation's worst commercial nuclear accident.
Of the 87 reactors not in compliance, 54 do not plan to complete all the safety changes by the end of this year, and many won't finish until ``well into the 1990s,'' says Rep. Edward Markey (D) of Massachusetts, a vocal NRC critic who requested the NRC documents.
While some of the safety requirements were minor, others had been labeled top priority by the NRC and given deadlines that are now eight or nine years old in the case of some control-room and instrument improvements.
NRC officials defend their performance, saying reactors have met 97.5 percent of the post-TMI changes.
Thomas Murley, director of nuclear reactor regulation, said part of the problem was putting too many requirements on the nuclear industry in the wake of Three Mile Island and then not giving utilities enough time to implement the changes. The changes mandated by the Three Mile Island report cost each plant an average of $50 million, he said.
Murley said no plants have ever been fined or shut down for not meeting the requirements.
Nevertheless, Mr. Murley said he believes a half-dozen requirements pointed out by Mr. Markey are important, and he vowed to pressure the industry to complete those changes.
Highlights of the NRC documents showed that:
Twenty-three reactors, including the Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts, Millstone I and III in Connecticut, and Vermont Yankee, have failed to install display consoles to help reactor operators more quickly determine a plant's safety status.
Thirteen reactors, including Pilgrim and Millstone II, have not installed instruments specifically to detect core cooling, a requirement that was given a top priority by the agency.
Nine reactors, including Haddam Neck in Connecticut, have failed to install instruments to tell operators about the conditions inside the containment vessels.
Markey said 25 reactors were licensed and permitted to operate following the Pennsylvania accident without meeting all the post-TMI requirements, and nine others have restarted or may soon restart without meeting all the standards.