On August 23, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake shut down both reactors at the North Anna nuclear power plant in Virginia. Both units are still out of service pending safety reviews.
Apparently, Dominion, owners of North Anna, knew more about the seismic risk at the plant than they let on. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported today:
Dominion Virginia Power and federal nuclear regulatory staff members covered up knowledge of geologic faulting at the North Anna Power Station site in 1973, according to a U.S. Justice Department memo.
The company, then operating as Virginia Electric and Power Co., or Vepco, told the former Atomic Energy Commission in June 1973 that “faulting of rock at the site is neither known nor suspected,” even though the company knew about the existence of faulting at North Anna, the 1977 memo said.
The Times-Dispatch has specifics of the cover up:
According to the memo, written by U.S. Department of Justice attorney Bradford F. Whitman, his investigation determined that Vepco had a “consistent policy” of not filing “any formal document” that would have informed the Atomic Energy Commission’s licensing board and the public about the fault.
At the same time, “virtually the entire Office of Regulation of the (Nuclear Regulator Commission was) …well aware of the fault and determined not to take any immediate action” to stop the plant’s construction or reopen the licensing hearings, Whitman wrote in the 1977 memo, which the Richmond Times-Dispatch recently obtained.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission replaced the Atomic Energy Commission in 1975.
For some reason, lying in nuclear safety documents was not considered serious:
Though making false statements to a federal agency is a felony, Whitman recommended against prosecuting Vepco for its alleged failure to disclose the fault because the company’s federal regulators participated in the effort to keep the fault quiet.
“It was a really difficult thing for us to do anything as prosecutors because our client agency … was involved,” Whitman said Friday. The government “wasn’t deceived, it was part of it.”
Federal nuclear regulators eventually fined the company for making material false statements in the North Anna plant’s licensing.
“The events of almost four decades ago are well known and in the public record,” said Dominion Virginia Power spokesman Jim Norvelle.
“While all parties to the North Anna geologic fault case agreed the company never had any intent to deceive the NRC and that it believed the statements were true at the time they were made, the company was fined $32,500,” Norvelle said.