Nuclear Safety

Reactor Design, Management, and Emergency Preparedness at Fort St. Vrain Gao ID: RCED-88-8 November 13, 1987

In response to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the: (1) design, risk, and safety similarities between the Fort St. Vrain nuclear power plant near Denver, Colorado, and the Soviet Union's Chernobyl plant; (2) basis for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) conclusion that an accident similar to the one at Chernobyl could not occur at the Fort St. Vrain plant; and (3) management problems and emergency preparedness program deficiencies at the plant.

GAO found that: (1) although both reactors have graphite cores and utilize the same basic reactor systems, their specific designs and operating characteristics are significantly different; (2) since Fort St. Vrain's design provides a wider time margin to correct problems, NRC has concluded that the probability of a Chernobyl-like accident is beyond the credible range; (3) because of limited NRC regulatory attention, management deficiences and employee morale problems resulted in poor plant performance from 1982 through 1986; (4) in April 1986, NRC found the plant deficient in maintenance, management, security, and emergency preparedness; (5) after a shutdown to upgrade the plant's electrical system, NRC refused to allow management to restart the reactor until it demonstrated sufficient improvement in the deficient areas; and (6) plant management has implemented a program to improve the plant's management and performance.

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