Letter to the Editor, Tribune Review re: AP1000 Design


To: The Editor, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Regarding your story on Friday, September 30th, 2011 (“Westinghouse: Proposed nuclear reactor’s building safe”) in which you refer to a news release from environmental groups:  The news release from the environmental group provides links to my presentation and letters to the NRC, and that groups’ legal motion. Those documents linked to are correct, but the press release itself is misleading in a few places.  Unfortunately, your article furthers the error by putting quotation marks around them as though I made those statements.  I would appreciate it if you could correct them.

Your article reads as follows:  “They said “former design engineer” Susan Sterrett, who worked on an early version of Westinghouse’s reactor, claimed the sun’s rays on the shield building “could result in weakness and failure under external stresses, such as an earthquake.”  The words in quotes were never uttered by me, in writing or otherwise. I just did not say anything about the effects of an earthquake at all.  It is unfortunate that one or two paragraphs of the environmentalist groups’ press release are misleading, as most of the rest of the press release is correct.

I believe the issue I did raise — taking into account the effects of the heat of solar radiation — is of the utmost importance, and a matter of public safety, but I was very careful, factual, and unsensational in the statements that I made to the NRC in my presentation “Forgetting about the sun.”  The issue I raised is erroneous analysis and unanalyzed effects of the heat of solar radiation (sunshine).  The ACRS letter published last week about the AP1000 does discuss the issues I raised about solar radiation at length, and on the surface the ACRS letter appears to be very thorough.  However, I have looked at it more closely, and it is actually very evasive.  Hence the issue is still a live one, and it is very important.

It is well known that even the best of professionals is sometimes less thorough under political and economic pressure.  I note that the ACRS was under tight time constraints of a schedule that had already been announced by the NRC prior to the full ACRS committee meeting on September 8th at which they discussed the issue. The political and economic pressure I suspect they felt from the fact that construction at Vogtle was already well underway and the utility, Southern Company, was asking that the license be expedited even further, could hardly be ignored. Because construction had already been started, any changes required by a proper analysis would meet great resistance.  In my opinion,the NRC is to blame here for issuing the Limited Work Authorization for the Vogtle project that permitted such a situation to arise.

The news release from environmental groups provides links to my letters and presentation to the NRC, so you can see what I actually said to the NRC. You may quote whatever you like from the text of my presentation or letters there.  For convenience, here is a pdf of my presentation to the NRC’s ACRS subcommittee on the AP1000 at their meeting on August 16th, 2011, with the slides and text integrated into one pdf document:   https://mattersofproportion.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/sterrettacrspresentation16august2011talktextwithslideimages.pdf

This material, plus the two longer, more detailed letters I wrote to the NRC, are available either via the links provided on the environmentalist groups’ website (http://www.ncwarn.org/2011/09/ap1000-motion-and-dr-sterritt-documents/), or on the NRC’s website.  It is also available on my blogsite             http://www.mattersofproportion.wordpress.com

There is another point in the article I would like to clear up: the question as to when I worked for Westinghouse as a design engineer.  All the design work I did for Westinghouse was prior to 1998.  I worked as an employee for seven years prior to entering graduate school full time in the mid-1980’s, and I worked at various points part time as a consultant during some of the mid-1990’s.  At one point I was the system design engineer for a system on the AP600, and co-authored an ANS conference presentation on a design solution to a challenging feedwater control problem for the AP600 design that was collectively solved by design engineers at Westinghouse and Southern Company, to the satisfaction of all concerned. Certainly many people at Westinghouse will remember this work.  In the approximately 11 years that I did work for Westinghouse (some as an employee and some as a consultant), all prior to 1998, I authored many calculations, reports, and computer programs, including work in structural analysis, in fluid system design, and in computer simulations used on training simulators.

I would very much appreciate a correction to the article that removes the quotation marks around the statement that was misattributed to me, if that is possible.  I would also very much appreciate it if you would publish this letter from me.

Thank you,

S G Sterrett

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