Supplemental View by Bruce Babbitt
It is with some misgiving
that I feel compelled to add separate views to the report, for I find it
to be a strong and lucid piece of work in almost every respect. Yet there
are two areas where I feel the Commission stopped short of providing
most serious unresolved issue, in my opinion, of the entire inquiry is:
Who should be allowed to run nuclear power plants?
careful review of the the Commission findings and conclusions, along with
the technical and legal staff reports upon which these are based, readily
demonstrate that the utility in charge at Three Mile Island was not
qualified to do and was not doing an adequate job. The record includes a
listing of failures and inadequacies from maintenance to management, from
operator's training to a lack of nuclear expertise at higher management
levels. Our own findings state that "Met Ed did not have sufficient
knowledge, expertise, and personnel to operate the plant or maintain it
adequately," and that "as a result of these deficiencies, the safe
operation of the TMI-2 plant was impaired."
is a far reaching indictment of the utility in charge, the entity given
the responsibility for controlling 15 billion curies of radioactivity. By
the nature of its charge, the Commission explored in depth the operation
capability and performance of just one nuclear utility and found it
seriously wanting. But there are many indications that Met-Ed is not an
aberration, and that there are other nuclear utilities that do not measure
up to even minimal standards. Inevitably, this raises serious questions
about who should be licensed and entrusted to run our nuclear power
plants. In my view, nuclear power is far too complex and dangerous to be
left to any utility that wants it -- which has been the case until now.
Nor can we allow utilities to go through a learning process at the expense
of the public.
Commission, we had a real problem coming to grips with this issue because
of the time constraints on examining the characteristics of other
utilities operating nuclear power plants. I can, therefore, understand the
difficulties in formulating a specific recommendation at this time.
I must believe that our findings do support more than what we have said
here by way of recommendations. We cannot simply urge the utility,
industry, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to pay more attention to
safety and to establish higher standards.
While this Commission has clearly addressed the institutional shortcomings
of the NRC in its recommendations, it has not addressed the institutional
problems of the industry.
Ed's operating license stems from an unquestioned assumption by the NRC,
until now, that any utility that wanted to produce nuclear power could do
so -- a policy that no matter how small or unsophisticated the utility, it
was eventually entitled to wrap its arms around a nuclear reactor. Nuclear
technology continues to proliferate throughout the industry with some 40
utilities now operating reactors and with many more waiting in the wings.
There is no question that the management quality of utilities varies much
more -~ from very good to very mediocre " than other major industrial
sectors, such as large chemical companies or computer manufacturers. And
because utilities are necessarily monopolistic in nature, normal laws of
competition do not apply; badly managed utilities suffer financial
problems but somehow survive.
is now time to assess this situation and determine which companies are
qualified to handle such a technology and which companies are not. It is
remarkable that this issue has not been previously confronted, but it is
again a product of the "accidents can't happen" syndrome. Discriminating
the good from the mediocre, the nuclear goats from the nuclear sheep,
however unpalatable to the industry, must be done. One well known nuclear
expert, Dr. Alvin Weinberg, has argued persuasively that the generation of
nuclear power should be completely separated from the distribution of
electricity and entrusted to just a few sophisticated entities with both
the resources and the organizational depth to provide safe nuclear energy
as their only task.
believe that this is one area where fewer entities with more depth and
expertise might be justified for the sake of public health and safety.
Precisely how to control this proliferation of nuclear power management
should receive a lot more study, and I strongly urge the appropriate
over-sight committees to place this issue near the top of their agenda.
Second, the Commission with its limited time and resources did not pursue
in detail the issue of whether facts, known by Met-Ed on the first day of
the accident, were not communicated to NRC and state officials
now appears that there is evidence to indicate that Met Ed technicians
understood, within a few hours of the accident, that the nuclear core had
been uncovered and that this specific information was transmitted to
supervisory personnel at the plant early Wednesday. There seems to be
little question that the technicians who took the temperature readings
that morning understood what they found. The real question is what
happened to this information and whether it was transmitted to the
appropriate management personnel. It certainly did not get transmitted to
responsible public officials, including Lieutenant Governor Scranton
during a meeting with Met Ed that afternoon.
incident again demonstrates the total inadequacy of the utility' internal
communication system and raises serious questions about crisis management.
As a Governor, it seems to me beyond question that a responsible public
official must have immediate access to all available information about the
status of a nuclear accident.
There is no question that this information might have influenced state and
federal concerns over the need for evacuation then and subsequently.
Whether or not an evacuation should have been ordered on the basis of the
evidence known at the time is not particularly relevant now, but the fact
of the matter is that key decision-makers — those responsible for the
public health and safety of the citizens — did not have access to the
information that was known to the utility.
issue should be intensely scrutinized by other investigatory bodies
continuing the inquiry into nuclear power and this accident.
There are still unresolved questions about what happened at Three Mile
Island; the answers to these may well lead to other recommendations about
the responsibilities of utilities operating nuclear reactors.
October 25, 1979