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NRC chairwoman tours Michigan nuclear plants, downplays internal strife within agency

The head of the nation’s nuclear regulatory agency toured two nuclear plants in southwest Michigan Friday.

NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane wanted to see how the plants are doing in the wake of the disaster at a nuclear plant in Japan. Congressman Fred Upton joined Macfarlane for the visits to the Donald C. Cook Nuclear Plant and the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant, both of which are located in his district.

Nuclear regulators are requiring plants to upgrade equipment and emergency plans that take into account the meltdown of the Fukushima plant in 2011.

Cook Nuclear Plant spokesman Bill Schalk says plants have to prepare for worst-case scenarios, “because at Fukushima it was worse than the worst that they thought could happen.”

For example, Cook used to assume if it lost power at one of the plant’s two units, it could use the other unit to power generators to keep the reactor cool. Now it has a backup plan in case both units lose power at the same time. Plants also have to have ways to monitor water levels in pools where spent fuel rods are cooled during emergencies.

Cook officials expect the plant will meet the new requirements within one year.

Macfarlane downplayed the results of an internal report released this week that reviewed the processes for NRC employees to raise formal objections to agency decisions.

Seventy-five percent of respondents who raised objections said they got poor performance reviews. A majority felt they were excluded from work activities and a quarter believed they lost out on promotions.

“No (the results) don’t entirely surprise me. I’ve heard some folks talking about this and that’s why we wanted to confirm it with actual data,” Macfarlane said.

But Macfarlane noted that the survey was only sent to 39 people and only 24 actually responded. She said the NRC employs almost 4,000 people. She did not know why the survey was sent to so few workers or how the result may be incorporated into the agency’s processes.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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