Consider the dilemma facing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Will that agency allow all 107 nuclear plants to remain on-line, even if some or all of them are noncompliant? Or will it do what it is mandated by law to do: close the noncompliant plants until they meet the safety requirements? I'm betting on the latter. At least 20% of America's electrical power will be turned off before January 1, 2000.
In her testimony to the House Subcommittee on Technology, Ann Couffou listed several key safety problems and then asked a series of questions.
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Software on nuclear sites is subject to stringent quality controls. However, experienced software industry professionals already grappling with the Year 2000 have expressed doubts about how reliable these design-based reassurances are. Hard and fast test data to back up these assurances has not been provided.
The first area of concern is the radiation exposure system.
The program for the control of radiation exposure is called ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable). Nuclear facility personnel wear dosimetry devices that measure the amount of whole body exposure that the employee receives while in the plant. These dosimetry devices are analyzed on a regular basis and the data (exposure amounts) are maintained on a computer system that control personnel access. To meet Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) regulations the exposure amounts are monitored on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis.
Second, a "Training Records Tracking System" computer controls access and actual work assignments to ensure that the Reactor Operators, Second Assistant/Auxiliary Operators, Maintenance Technicians, Radiation Protection Personnel, and Plant Management employees have completed the required initial and requalification training for their work assignments.
The third area of concern related to the Year 2000 is the computer system that tracks various plant commitments for hardware and operation procedure improvements.
When considering the impact of the Year 2000, the following questions arise.
Will all plant personnel risk exceeding radiation exposure limits because the ALARA computer system is inoperative?
Will unqualified employees be allowed access to the plant and work assignments because the Training Tracking computer system is inoperable?
Will plant personnel be at risk because of expired respiratory protection qualifications?
How will the Department of Energy (DOE) control, track and inventory uranium 235/238, plutonium, tritium, or americium with Year 2000 problems?
Will plant commitments be delayed or not completed on time because the commitment tracking computer system is inoperative?
Will unqualified operations personnel be operating the reactor in the control room without the required initial classroom training, on-the-job training, qualification card sign off or requalification training?
Will personnel be wearing respirators with expired qualifications (e.g. annual physical examination, medical screening, annual radiation protection requalification training, mask fit process)?
Will there be any clearance requirements for the computer professionals to correct the Year 2000 problems at DOE facilities? Is there enough time for the computer professionals to obtain the DOE (Top Secret "Q") security clearance and still have the time to fix the computer systems prior to January 1, 2000?
Will the maintenance schedules on plant hardware be carried out properly if computer based records fail?