If you wanted a loaded term, that’s it. It’s general enough to allow the person hearing it to conjure up whatever “near miss” scenario their imagination allows: two jumbo jets; two vehicles; maybe almost falling off a tall ladder. You get the point. What has been avoided is potentially catastrophic.
So why then would an organization that supposedly prides itself as an authority on nuclear energy ascribe such a term to a federal agency that doesn’t even have it in its lexicon of regulation?
The Union of Concerned Scientists issues a report every year documenting which nuclear energy facilities receive special inspections from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But rather than calling them special inspections, the UCS chooses to call them “near misses.”
Why? Here’s what the UCS says: “When an event or discovery at a reactor results in the NRC sending out a team for a reactive inspection, UCS refers to it as a ‘near-miss.’ Over the years, using this label has proven to be more controversial than expected. UCS continues to use this term because it indicates a clear nexus to accidents involving core damage: the NRC inspection teams are dispatched only when something is believed to have increased the chances of such an accident by at least a factor of 10.” (Italics added)
Except that regarding Columbia Generating Station, that wasn’t the case.
UCS wrote that Columbia had three “near misses” in 2013 because it had three special inspections. Contrary to UCS belief, special inspections do not equate to “near misses.” Two of the special inspections involved security-related issues in which no findings were identified and would not have affected core damage probabilities at all, certainly not by a factor of 10. Both of these issues were initially brought to the attention of the NRC by Energy Northwest, owner and operator of Columbia.
The determination to conduct the third inspection was based on a calculated core damage probability. However, the assumption used in the calculation was later proven to be wrong and thus, the actual core damage probability did not change at all for the third event.
In that light, these three incidents don’t even seem to reach the flawed threshold of UCS. Interesting.
When asked about the use of the term “near miss,” the NRC has said that it is a “mischaracterization” of their regulatory regimen.
However, if one has an agenda, such as UCS, then you use whatever information you can, in any way you can, even if it means misleading the public you are trying to sway.
Enter the Oregon and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Piggy-backing on their anti-nuclear energy brethren, they also take the made-up UCS term “near miss” and wrongly liken to it an actual NRC term “accident sequence precursor” (a term, presumably, UCS does not find sufficiently inflammatory).
Dr. John Pearson, Oregon PSR board member and someone who advocates closing Columbia permanently, recently said in reference to the UCS report, “My colleagues and I are concerned by what appears to be a pattern of behavior at the CGS nuclear reactor.”
Remember, he doesn’t know what he is talking about. Literally, in this case, as security-related issues are rightly not divulged to the public.
It is akin to your doctor advocating euthanasia simply because he heard you went to the emergency room a couple of times last year.
Too harsh? Yes, any rational person would call that malpractice. Unfortunately, anti-nuclear energy activists cannot be sued for their negligent actions. But they can, and should be, ignored.