Earlier this week the North Anna nuclear plant lost offsite power and an emergency generator when a 5.8 earthquake hit the region. Our research team has uncovered the disturbing past of North Anna that creates a potential danger to the region even today.
North Anna is 70 miles (112 km) from the US capitol, Washington DC. The North Anna nuclear plant also sits directly on top of a fault line. The nuclear plant includes a man made dam and a 13,000 acre lake to provide cooling water to the reactors. The extent of the faulting under the lake and dam was not known in the 1970’s.
VEPCO hired Stone & Webster in 1966 to construct the plant. In 1967 Westinghouse was contracted to design the reactors. In 1967 VEPCO hired environmental consulting firm Dames & Moore. By 1968 Dames & Moore had informed VEPCO of the seismic faults on site, VEPCO ignored the warning and hid the Dames & Moore report. In 1969 the USGS did a walk through the fields, no excavation had started yet. They accepted the VEPCO geological report without any analysis by their office or a third party. VEPCO claimed the closest fault line was five to six miles away in this report.
In February 1970 the excavation wall for unit 1 collapsed. A month later a team of geologists from local colleges visited the site. Records show an AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) inspector also visited the site in 1970 and reported the unstable stratum in the rock bed allowed the lip of the excavation to slide in the hole. The AEC never sent a geologist out, just the inspector. What happened to that report up the chain inside the AEC is not quite clear but no action was taken by the AEC. Meanwhile VEPCO had more consultants flying into look at the site. The AEC reports in 1970 and 1972 both stated this: “Details regarding either local or regional (geological) structures are very poorly known.”
The team of local geologists went on site with permission from VEPCO’s resident engineer. The geologists found a textbook example of a fault. They informed VEPCO’s resident engineer of their findings at that time in 1970. The team was called to testify in front of the AEC in 1973.
The AEC didn’t hold hearings on licensing of North Anna until November 1970 with construction already well underway and millions of dollars into the project. At the time of the hearings VEPCO had already installed steel barrier walls that hid the evidence of the fault line. During these hearings neither VEPCO nor the AEC brought up the issue of foundation conditions or these fault lines.
A Washington Post article said this about the AEC/NRC licensing at North Anna:
“On June 21, 1973 an Atomic Energy Commission memo confirmed faults beneath all four reactor sites. Inexplicably, in 1974 the Atomic Energy Commission deemed the site acceptable. On April 1, 1978 the agency granted an operating license to Vepco for North Anna Units 1 and 2, the only nuclear plants in the nation located on top of a geologic fault.”
This systemic failure included the 1973 AEC hearings to approve reactors 3 and 4. Again neither VEPCO nor the AEC brought up the issues of site stability or foundation conditions. Sadly, this failure repeated itself yet again in 2003 when the NRC (used to be the AEC) issued a license extension to allow VEPCO, now known as Dominion Energy to operate North Anna beyond its design life. The issue of seismic evidence, current geology findings or even the functionality of any on site seismic equipment was never discussed. The NRC has given North Anna another 20 years of operation past the design life for a pair of reactors the NRC now knows sits on a fault line.
The USGS was brought in to study the fault line later in the 1970’s, and clearly criticized the situation. One USGS employee made this comment “I would keep my fingers crossed and would not want to live near North Anna.”
The USGS admitted by the late 1970’s that they did not know enough about the eastern region geology to make the assumptions that reactors there are safe. But during the licensing periods for North Anna the AEC, USGS and their consultants all relied on information provided by VEPCO.
VEPCO was given a license for these reactors and was fined $32,000 in 1975 for making materially false statements. Dominion Energy continued to try to suppress information about the fault line and aggressively pursued permission to build two more reactors on the same site. That plan was eventually abandoned but Dominion is now, in 2011, trying to add a third reactor to the site.
The fault lines and the cover up were all well known before the first reactor was allowed to start up in 1978. VEPCO was fined in 1975 but allowed to operate the reactors. No criminal charges were brought against VEPCO/Dominion because the AEC/NRC actions tainted the case by condoning VEPCO’s actions through the repeated approvals from their office. Records from the Department of Justice showed that NRC staff knew and discussed the issues at North Anna but never informed the NRC board that had the ability to stop construction.
Even now VEPCO/Dominion is trying to pull the same scam. In 2003 they submitted the early paperwork to attempt to build a new 3rd reactor at North Anna. They included the doctored studies from the 1970’s as seismological data for the new plant.
Bredl Investigative report on North Anna Nuclear Reactor
Congressional Hearing on North Anna
http://www.archive.org/stream/informationmanag01unit/informationmanag01unit_djvu.txtSenate Subcommittee Hearings on North Anna
Additional Senate Hearings
North Anna Lawsuit
Page 16 licensing information
NRC on N. Anna licensing
Nuclear plants ranked by risk
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