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Engineers Urge Review of Nuclear Plant Design

October 2, 1993

ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) _ Two utility engineers are asking federal regulators to review an alleged nuclear power plant design flaw they say could leave a third of the nation’s reactors susceptible to catastrophe.

Donald Prevatte and David Lochbaum, former contract engineers for the Pennsylvania Power & Light Co., also accused the company of failing to disclose their findings in documents submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

A PP&L spokesman said the company had met all reporting requirements and maintained its nuclear Susquehanna Steam Electric Station, southeast of Scranton, Pa., operates safely.

Appearing before the NRC on Friday, the engineers said that while working as consultants at Susquehanna they discovered the plant had ″serious design defects″ in cooling systems that, if needed, feed into a pool where spent nuclear fuel is housed.

In the case of a major accident in which coolant is lost, water in the spent-fuel pool would boil, triggering a chain of events that could lead to a meltdown of the reactor core and the release of high levels of radiation into the environment, they said.

″Basically, all they can do is stand back and watch it happen″ because high radiation levels would prevent operators from reaching controls and heat and humidity would damage equipment, Prevatte said.

The engineers said the chances of such an event happening at Susquehanna’s boiling-water reactor are extremely remote, but emphasized the consequences would be dire.

They asked the NRC to determine the impact of their findings on other boiling-water and pressurized-water reactors, as well as fuel storage facilities. They also said the NRC should review Susquehanna’s condition against regulatory requirements.

About one-third of the 109 nuclear plants in the nation use boiling-water reactors similar to the Susquehanna plant.

They also asked the commission to review their allegation that PP&L failed to report their findings to the NRC.

In a statement, the company said that the consultants’ concerns were evaluated and that if such an accident situation were to occur, ″a combination of actions by plant operators and engineered systems would protect public safety.″

The company has revised operating procedures and training since the concerns were first raised by the engineers in 1992.

When asked about the charge that the company had masked the engineers’ findings, company spokesman Herb Woodeshick said: ″We feel we’ve met all reporting requirements″ with the NRC.

Ashok Thadani, the NRC’s director of systems safety and analysis, said the engineers had brought up some new issues involving piping in the plant. He said the information would be reviewed.

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