Controversy in the U.S. over the use of silicone foam as "firestops" in nuclear stations has escalated, and is spreading across the border into Canada. U.S. Congressman Edward Markey has requested that the NRC (the Nuclear Regulatory Commission -- the U.S. equivalent of the Canadian Atomic Energy Control Board) explain its "negligence" on the silicone foam issue. Representative Markey stated:
The notion of using flammable materials as fire barriers in nuclear power plants is as laughable as it is dangerous. It makes as much sense as using chicken wire to hold back a flood. It only works as long as it isn't needed. The NRC's negligence in allowing this to happen poses an inexcusable risk to public health and safety.
The NRC identified silicone foam as combustible in 1979, then identified installation problems in 1988, and labelled the use of silicone foam a "generic" issue in 1990. However, the NRC has not produced regulations requiring nuclear station operators to address the issue.
Nuclear Awareness Project has confirmed, through a Freedom of Information request, that silicone foam is used as a firestop in CANDU reactors in Ontario to plug pipe and cable openings (in order to stop the spread of fire between rooms). A fire test at Underwriter's Laboratories of Canada in October 1996 confirmed concerns about the combustibility of silicone foam. Silicone foam firestops are made by Down Corning. Nuclear Awareness Project spokesperson Irene Kock stated:
The same company that brought us silicone breast implants also makes flammable silicone 'firestops'. There must be a full scale investigation of fire protection measures in Canadian nuclear stations, including the use of silicone foam and other fire protection products.
In Canada, nuclear station operators are responsible for their own fire inspections. The 1996 Peer Review of the Pickering "A" Nuclear station noted:
no overall responsibility for fire risk assessment has been assigned for the station and as a result no ongoing fire risk assessments are being performed.
Similarly, in its reply to the Freedom of Information request, Ontario Hydro stated:
no record exists of inspections carried out at nuclear stations [in Ontario] to verify the effective installation of silicone foam as firestops for fire barrier penetration.
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For further information:Ms. Michal Freedhoff (Rep. Markey's office, Washington, D.C.)
202-225-2836 -- media release and letter to NRC available
Irene Kock, Nuclear Awareness Project (Uxbridge, ON)
905-852-0571 -- fire test results and other background available
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