Emails obtained by journalists at NBC News reveal that officials at the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission — the government agency that oversees reactor safety and security — purposely misled the media after the Fukushima, Japan disaster in 2011.
On Monday this week — one day shy of the third anniversary of the Fukushima meltdown — NBC published emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act that for the first time exposes on a major scale the efforts that NRC officials undertook in order to diminish the severity of the event in the hours and days after it began to unfold.
“In the tense days after a powerful earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan on March 11, 2011, staff at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission made a concerted effort to play down the risk of earthquakes and tsunamis to America’s aging nuclear plants,” Bill Dedman wrote for NBC.
Through the course of analyzing thousands of internal NRC emails, Dedman and company unearthed evidence that proves nuclear regulators went to great lengths to keep the scary facts about the Fukushima meltdown from being brought into the public eye.
Even when the international media was eager to learn the facts about the Fukushima tragedy while the matter was still developing, emails suggest that the NRC’s public relations wing worked hard to have employees stick to talking points that ignored the actual severity of the meltdown.
“While we know more than these say,” a PR manager wrote in one email to his colleagues, “we’re sticking to this story for now.”
That story, Dedman wrote, was filled with “numerous examples…of apparent misdirection or concealment” waged by the NRC in an attempt to keep the true nature of the meltdown hidden, especially as concerns grew that a similar event could occur on American soil.
“The talking points written during the emergency for NRC commissioners and other officials were divided into two sections: ‘public answer’ and ‘additional technical, non-public information,’” Dedman wrote. “Often the two parts didn’t quite match.”
According to NBC, emails indicate that the NRC insisted on sticking to talking points that painted a much different picture than what was really happening three years ago this week. Japanese engineers employed by the NRC at American facilities were effectively barred from making any comments to the media, some emails suggest, and at other times those regulators rallied employees at the NRC to keep from making any comment that could be used to disclose the detrimental safety standards in place at American facilities.
In one instance cited by Dedman, spokespeople for the NRC were told not to disclose the fact that American scientists were uncertain if any US facilities could sustain an earthquake like the one that ravaged Fukushima .
“We’re not so sure about, but again we are not talking about that,” reads one email cited by NBC.
At other times, the report added, NRC officials were left in the dark about what was actually unfolding on the other side of the Pacific because access to social media sites had been blocked on their work computers, causing some regulators to only hear about information pertaining to Fukushima once it trickled down to a point where they could access it.
In one email, for example, NRC public affairs official David McIntrye wrote in apparent disbelief to his colleagues that scientist and actor Bill Nye was participating in “an incoherent discussion on CNN” about a potential hydrogen explosion at Fukushima.
“I’m not buying it,” McIntyre wrote.
Five minutes after that email was sent, a colleague responded by writing, “There is a good chance it was a hydrogen explosion that took the roof off that building, though we are not saying that publicly.”
Days later, McIntyre blasted his supervisor for hesitating during a CNN interview in which he was asked if US plants could withstand an earthquake on par with the one suffered by residents of Fukushima.
“He should just say ‘Yes, it can.’” McIntyre wrote, instead of hesitating. “Worry about being wrong when it doesn’t. Sorry if I sound cynical.”
The NRC did not respond specifically to emails published in Dedman’s report, but the agency’s public affairs director emails a statement ensuring that “The NRC Office of Public Affairs strives to be as open and transparent as possible, providing the public accurate information in the proper context.”
“We take our communication mission seriously. We did then and we do now. The frustration displayed in the chosen emails reflects more on the extreme stress our team was under at the time to assure accuracy in a context in which information from Japan was scarce to non-existent. These emails fall well short of an accurate picture of our communications with the American public immediately after the event and during the past three years,” NRC Public Affairs Director Eliot Brenner wrote in the email.
Arguably more disheartening than the NRC officials’ attempt to whitewash the disaster, however, are the facts of the matter addressed in secret by the agency but not disclosed publically. More than 30 of the nuclear power reactors in the US are of the same brand used in Fukushima, NBC reported, and some of the oldest facilities in operation have been in use since the 1970s. Despite this, though, the NRC instructed employees to not mention how any of those structures would be able to stand up against a hypothetical disaster.
On Monday, Fukushima expert and author Susan Q. Stranhan published an op-ed carried by the Philadelphia Inquirer which called into question the safety of the several nuclear facilities within the state of Pennsylvania, where a disaster in 1979 at Three Mile Island refocused national attention on the issue of nuclear safety.
“During Fukushima, the NRC recommended that Americans living within 50 miles of the plant evacuate, a wise call based on a dangerous radiation plume that spread about 30 miles northwest of the reactors. Despite that experience, the NRC today remains steadfast in its belief that the existing 10-mile emergency evacuation zone around US nuclear plants is adequate and that there would be plenty of time to expand that zone if conditions warranted,” Stranahan wrote.
“Three years after Fukushima Daiichi, the NRC and the nuclear industry continue to repeat a familiar mantra: The likelihood of a severe accident is so low there is no need to plan for it. That was what the Japanese said, too.”
Meanwhile, RT reported last month that a new lawsuit has been filed by crew members who sailed on the USS Ronald Reagan three years ago to assist with relief efforts off of the coast of Fukushima but now say they were poisoned by nuclear fallout. When filed, Attorneys said that “up to 70,000 US citizens [were] potentially affected by the radiation” and might be able to join in their suit.
Comments on Dec. 12, 2012 NRC meeting with the Army in Maryland from 10AM-1PM Hawaii time. The public could listen in and make comments/ask questions at the end of the meeting:
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will be issuing a license for the mongoose to guard the hen house in Hawaii. The Army will be issued an NRC license to possess Depleted uranium (DU) in Hawaii at Schofield Barracks and the Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA). In effect, the NRC is licensing Hawaii nuclear waste dumps and allowing those dumps to be bombed, spreading the nuclear dump debris wherever the wind takes it.
The State Dept. of Health made no comment, nor did it ask any questions following the meeting.
It is a fact that DU exists at Schofield Barracks and PTA, and perhaps other present and former military sites in Hawaii, including Kaho’olawe and Makua Valley. How much is not known. A minimum of 700, perhaps more than 2000, DU Davy Crockett spotting rounds have been fired at Pohakuloa. Less than 1% of PTA’s 133,000-acres have been surveyed. DU cluster bombs, and more than a dozen DU penetrating rounds, DU bunker busters, etc. may also have been fired at PTA and elsewhere. All branches of the US military use DU weapons today.
It’s clear to me that we cannot rely on so called regulators to fix the problem. Nuclear regulators are just as much part of the problem as bank regulators. The DOH is also part of the problem.
Where have our health officials been all these years on the issue. The military in Hawaii has lied and uses deception repeatedly. The US military mission goes before concern for the health and safety of its own troops and Hawaii’s people and land. Uranium is now showing up in Big Island residents’ urine.
Is it related to PTA, Fukushima or what?
The people have a right to know.
Is the military above the law?
What’s needed is a peoples’ movement of non-violent resistance to stop the bombing to protect the people and land of Hawaii against attacks by the U.S. military.
- US military chiefs planned to blow up the moon with nuclear bomb as show of Cold War muscle, physicist claims (independent.co.uk)
- US to supply Israel with weapons worth $650 million (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
It was always a terrible name – The Nuclear Waste Confidence Decision. Ever since the first cupful of deadly nuclear waste was generated at Chicago’s Fermi reactor, on December 2, 1942, no one has ever had the slightest ounce of confidence about what to do with it. It was the ultimate kick-the-can-down-the-road decision. Make radioactive waste now. Worry about the disposal problem later.
Now it’s later and no permanent, safe location or technology has ever been found – and may never be found – to isolate even that first cupful of radioactive waste from the biosphere. Instead, we have a mountain of radioactive waste 70 years high.
Yet the Nuclear Waste Confidence Decision (NWCD), first established in 1984 and last updated in 2010, held that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) – the agency responsible for licensing reactors – had “confidence” that an acceptable plan would someday be found.
Even after the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste dump plan was abandoned, the NRC still maintained that a suitable repository would be found “when necessary.”
This, despite the fact that all of the high-level commercial radioactive waste generated by US reactors sits at the reactor sites, either in indoor pools while it waits at least five years to cool, or in what are known as outdoor “dry casks,” stored on site, effectively in parking lots.
On June 8, the US Court of Appeals in DC put an end to such bullish “confidence.” In vacating the NWCD, the Court ruled that the NRC has to re-evaluate the environmental impacts of the storage and disposal of nuclear waste, effectively forcing the agency to examine the environmental consequences of producing highly radioactive nuclear waste without a long-term disposal solution. The Court’s decision also questioned whether irradiated fuel can safely be stored on site at nuclear plants for an additional 60 years after the expiration of a plant’s 60-year license.
The ruling opens several important doors. It allows the public to challenge the environmental integrity of storing radioactive waste at reactor sites. It puts a freeze on the final issuance of extended or new reactor licenses – for those still operating and for those not yet built. And it presents an opportunity to once again push for securing radioactive waste on site, at least temporarily, but in a more protective and robust manner.
Reactor fuel pools are so tightly packed with fuel rods that extraordinary precautions must be taken to prevent an inadvertent chain reaction. US reactor fuel pools still contain at least 75% of all the irradiated fuel generated since 1957, the year of the first commercial reactor at Shippingport, in Pa. The Fermi-One reactor in Michigan, that produced weapons-grade material from 1966-1972, still contains more than 10,000 tons of waste with permanent disposal solution.
As fuel pools filled up, fuel rods at some of the nation’s commercial nuclear power plants were transferred to concrete and/or metal casks, stored outdoors. But the casks are of questionable quality. Some have experienced hydrogen explosions and fires. The NRC does not require the casks to be directly monitored for over-heating, radiological releases and other safety issues. During the August 2011 5.8 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter near the North Anna reactors in Virginia, 115-ton outdoor casks there shifted precariously and suffered damage.
Close to 200 environmental groups have urged for years that fuel pools at US reactors be emptied and the waste stored in casks that are hardened and bunkered behind security fortifications. The technology is known as Hardened On-Site Storage (HOSS), but the federal government has never required such modifications, even after 9/11 and now, Fukushima.
Instead, while the NRC seeks to fulfill the orders of the court, the US Department of Energy and its allies in Congress, are embarked on a different path to move radioactive waste from reactor sites. The concept – an old idea that has already been debunked and rejected multiple times – is “Centralized Interim Storage (CIS).” An effort to dump radioactive waste “temporarily” on the Skull Valley Goshute Indian reservation in Utah was defeated in 2006 by an alliance of Goshute tribe members, environmental advocates and political allies.
If a CIS facility were to be sited, it would mean transporting the country’s radioactive waste hundreds, even thousands of miles on roads, railway lines and waterways, past the homes, schools, and businesses of at least 50 million Americans – to be deposited at a parking lot site “temporarily.” The most likely targets would be low-income communities with the weakest economic, political, or social resistance, or Native American reservations.
Severe transport accidents – such as high-speed crashes, long-duration, high-temperature fires, or underwater submersions – or even intentional attacks, could unleash disastrous quantities of hazardous radioactivity as these shipments pass through major metro areas.
With no suitable permanent repository location in sight, these “temporary” dumps could easily become permanent. In addition, stacking un-hardened radioactive waste casks outside, like bowling pins, represents an obvious security threat. Finally, if CIS sites were, in fact, temporary, transportation risks would be doubled, by moving the waste first to a CIS site and then, again, to the nation’s illusory, final dump site.
Many silver linings have a dark cloud encircling them. The DC Circuit’s decision in June, to stay the issuance of new or extended reactor licenses, is a major, hard-won victory. But we must remain ever-vigilant to prevent the development of scientifically unsound, environmentally racist,”interim” radioactive waste storage options that could endanger millions. Instead of perpetuating the unsustainable habit of continued waste generation, we should stop making it in the first place. That is the most essential step toward managing our ever-mounting radioactive waste disaster.
Kevin Kamps specializes in nuclear waste issues at Beyond Nuclear, in Takoma Park, MD. Tel: 240.462.3216.
Linda Gunter serves as Beyond Nuclear’s international specialist. Tel: 301.455.5655.
- Illegally Dumped Radioactive Waste Found on Somalia’s Coast (insomniacanonymous.wordpress.com)
- Radioactive waste disposal outside Fukushima a vague vow (japantimes.co.jp)
- Mayors defiant over proposed plans for storing radioactive waste (fukushimaupdate.com)
- Us: NRC Halts Nuclear Reactor Licensing Decisions (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Decision Follows 24 Groups’ June Petition in Wake of Major Waste Confidence Rule Decision; Most Reactor Projects Already Stymied by Bad Economics and Cheaper Fuel Alternatives
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) acted today to put a hold on at least 19 final reactor licensing decisions – nine construction & operating licenses (COLS), eight license renewals, one operating license, and one early site permit – in response to the landmark Waste Confidence Rule decision of June 8th by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
The NRC action was sought in a June 18, 2012 petition filed by 24 groups urging the NRC to respond to the court ruling by freezing final licensing decisions until it has completed a rulemaking action on the environmental impacts of highly radioactive nuclear waste in the form of spent, or ‘used’, reactor fuel storage and disposal.
In hailing the NRC action, the groups also noted that most of the U.S. reactor projects were already essentially sidetracked by the huge problems facing the nuclear industry, including an inability to control runaway costs, and the availability of far less expensive energy alternatives.
Diane Curran, an attorney representing some of the groups in the Court of Appeals case, said:
“This Commission decision halts all final licensing decisions — but not the licensing proceedings themselves — until NRC completes a thorough study of the environmental impacts of storing and disposing of spent nuclear fuel. That study should have been done years ago, but NRC just kept kicking the can down the road. When the Federal Appeals Court ordered NRC to stop and consider the impacts of generating spent nuclear fuel for which it has found no safe means of disposal, the agency could choose to appeal the decision by August 22nd or choose to do the serious work of analyzing the environmental impacts over the next few years. With today’s Commission decision, we are hopeful that the agency will undertake the serious work.”
Stephen Smith, executive director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, petitioner to the Court, said:
“We’re pleased with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s ruling; it is long overdue. Nuclear power is not a clean generating source when it creates long-lived radioactive and toxic waste that has no long-term safe disposal technology in place. We believe it is appropriate to halt nuclear licensing decisions and stop creating an inter-generational debt of nuclear waste that will burden our children and grandchildren for centuries to come.”
Lou Zeller, executive director of Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, another petitioner to the Court, said:
“It appears that the Commissioners have, at least initially, grasped the magnitude of the Court’s ruling and we are optimistic that it will set up a fundamentally transparent, fair process under the National Environmental Policy Act to examine the serious environmental impacts of spent nuclear fuel storage and disposal prior to licensing or relicensing nuclear reactors.”
Former NRC Commissioner Peter Bradford said:
“It is important to recognize that the reactors awaiting construction licenses weren’t going to be built anytime soon even without the Court decision or today’s NRC action. Falling demand, cheaper alternatives and runaway nuclear costs had doomed their near term prospects well before the recent Court decision. Important though the Court decision is in modifying the NRC’s historic push-the-power-plants-but-postpone-the-problems approach to generic safety and environmental issues, it cannot be blamed for ongoing descent into fiasco of the bubble once known as ‘the nuclear renaissance’.”
In June, the following groups filed the petition with the NRC:
• Beyond Nuclear, Inc. (intervenor in Fermi COL proceeding, Calvert Cliffs COL proceeding, and Davis-Besse license renewal proceeding; potential intervenor in Grand Gulf COL and Grand Gulf license renewal proceedings);
• Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Inc. and chapters (“BREDL”) (intervenor in Bellefonte COL proceeding and North Anna COL proceeding; previously sought intervention in W.S. Lee COL proceeding);
• Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, Inc. (former intervenor in Turkey Point COL proceeding);
• Citizens Environmental Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Inc. (intervenor in Fermi COL proceeding and Davis-Besse license renewal proceeding);
• Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination (intervenor in Fermi COL proceeding);
• Don’t Waste Michigan, Inc. (intervenor in Fermi COL proceeding and Davis-Besse license renewal proceeding);
• Ecology Party of Florida (intervenor in Levy COL proceeding);
• Eric Epstein (potential intervenor in Bell Bend COL proceeding);
• Friends of the Earth, Inc. (potential intervenor in reactor licensing proceedings throughout U.S.);
• Friends of the Coast, Inc. (intervenor in Seabrook license renewal proceeding);
• Green Party of Ohio (intervenor in Davis-Besse license renewal proceeding);
• Dan Kipnis (intervenor in Turkey Point proceeding);
• National Parks Conservation Association, Inc. (intervenor in Turkey Point COL proceeding);
• Mark Oncavage (intervenor in Turkey Point COL proceeding);
• Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Inc. (Petitioner in Callaway license renewal proceeding; intervenor in suspended Callaway COL proceeding)
• New England Coalition, Inc. (intervenor in Seabrook license renewal proceeding);
• North Carolina Waste Reduction and Awareness Network, Inc. (admitted as an Intervenor in now-closed Shearon Harris COL proceeding);
• Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Inc. (intervenor in Calvert Cliffs COL proceeding and Levy COL proceeding);
• Public Citizen, Inc. (intervenor in South Texas COL proceeding; admitted as intervenor in now-closed Comanche Peak COL proceeding; potential intervenor in South Texas license renewal proceeding);
• San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, Inc. (intervenor in Diablo Canyon license renewal proceeding);
• Sierra Club, Inc. (Michigan Chapter) (intervenor in Fermi COL proceeding);
• Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Inc. (intervenor in Watts Bar Unit 2 OL proceeding, Turkey Point COL proceeding, Bellefonte COL proceeding; former intervenor in Bellefonte CP proceeding);
• Southern Maryland CARES, Inc. (Citizens Alliance for Renewable Energy Solutions) (intervenor in Calvert Cliffs COL proceeding);
• Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (“SEED”) Coalition, Inc. (intervenor in South Texas COL proceeding; admitted as intervenor in now-closed Comanche Peak COL proceeding; potential intervenor in South Texas license renewal proceeding).
The 24 groups that sponsored the June 18th petition will strategize in September regarding next steps.
On June 8th, the Court threw out the NRC rule that permitted licensing and re-licensing of nuclear reactors based on the supposition that (a) the NRC will find a way to dispose of spent reactor fuel to be generated by reactors at some time in the future when it becomes “necessary” and (b) in the mean time, spent fuel can be stored safely at reactor sites.
The Court noted that, after decades of failure to site a repository, including twenty years of working on the now-abandoned Yucca Mountain repository, the NRC “has no long-term plan other than hoping for a geologic repository.” Therefore it is possible that spent fuel will be stored at reactor sites “on a permanent basis.” Under the circumstances, the NRC must examine the environmental consequences of failing to establish a repository when one is needed.
The Court also rejected NRC’s decision minimizing the risks of leaks or fires from spent fuel stored in reactor pools during future storage, because the NRC had not demonstrated that these future impacts would be insignificant. The Court found that past experience with pool leaks was not an adequate predictor of future experience. It also concluded that the NRC had not shown that catastrophic fires in spent fuel pools were so unlikely that their risks could be ignored.
Alex Frank, (703) 276-3264 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- NRC Petitioned To Stop Final Licensing Decisions For Nearly Three Dozen Nuclear Reactors In Wake Of Waste Confidence Ruling (prnewswire.com)
- NRC puts nuclear licensing decisions on hold (miamiherald.com)
- Nuclear Regulatory Commission Puts Callaway Licensing Decisions On Hold (stlouis.cbslocal.com)
- *Just In* U.S. Freezes All Nuclear Reactor Construction & Operating Licenses (enenews.com)
- Waste Issue Halts U.S. Nuclear Reactor Licensing (ipsnews.net)
The conclusion of a report of a Japanese parliamentary panel issued last week that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster was rooted in government-industry “collusion” and thus was “man-made” is mirrored throughout the world. The “regulatory capture” cited by the panel is the pattern among nuclear agencies right up to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and Tepco [Tokyo Electric Power Company, the owner of the six Fukushima plants] and the lack of governance by said parties,” said the 641-page report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission released on July 5.
“They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly ‘man-made,’” said the report of the panel established by the National Diet or parliament of Japan.
“We believe the root causes were the organizational and regulatory system that supported faulty rationales for decisions and actions,” it went on. “Across the board, the commission found ignorance and arrogance unforgivable for anyone or any organization that deals with nuclear power.” It said nuclear regulators in Japan and Tepco “all failed to correctly develop the most basic safety requirements.”
The chairman of the 10-member panel, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a medical doctor, declared in the report’s introduction: “It was a profoundly man-made disaster—that could and should have been foreseen and prevented.”
He also placed blame on cultural traits in Japan. “What must be admitted—very painfully,” wrote Dr. Kurokawa, “is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture; our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the programme’; our groupism; and our insularity.”
In fact, the nuclear regulatory situation in Japan is the rule globally.
In the United States, for example, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its predecessor agency, the Atomic Energy Commission, never denied a construction or operating license for a nuclear power plant anywhere, anytime. The NRC has been busy in recent times not only giving the go-ahead to new nuclear power plant construction in the U.S. but extending the operating licenses of most of the 104 existing plants from 40 to 60 years—although they were only designed to run for 40 years. That’s because radioactivity embrittles their metal components and degrades other parts after 40 years making the plants unsafe to operate. And the NRC is now considering extending their licenses for 80 years.
Moreover, the NRC’s chairman, Gregory Jaczko, recently resigned in the face of an assault on him by the nuclear industry and his four fellow NRC members led by William D. Magwood, IV. Magwood is typical of most NRC and AEC commissioners through the decades—a zealous promoter of nuclear power. He came to the NRC after running Advanced Energy Strategies through which he served as a consultant to various companies involved with nuclear power including many in Japan—among them Tepco.
Before that, Magwood served as director of nuclear energy for the U.S. Department of Energy. He “led the creation,” according to his NRC biography, of DOE programs pushing nuclear power, “Nuclear Power 2010” and “Generation IV.” Prior to that, he worked for the Edison Electric Institute and Westinghouse, a major nuclear power plant manufacturer.
Jaczko, although a supporter of nuclear power, with a Ph.D. in physics, repeatedly called for the NRC to apply “lessons learned” from the Fukushima disaster to its rules and actions—upsetting the industry and the other four NRC commissioners. As Jaczko declared in February as the other four NRC commissioners first approved the construction of new nuclear plants since Fukushima, giving the go-ahead to two plants in Georgia: “I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima had never happened.”
The NRC was set up to be an independent regulator of nuclear power to replace the AEC which was established by Congress under the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. The AEC was given the dual missions of promoting and regulating nuclear power—a conflict of interest, Congress realized in 1974, so it eliminated the AEC and created the NRC as regulator and, later, the Department of Energy as promoter of nuclear power. But both the NRC and DOE have ended up pushing nuclear power with revolving doors between them and the government’s national nuclear laboratories—and the nuclear industry.
The International Atomic Energy Agency was established as an international version of the AEC by the United Nations after a speech made at it by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953 in which he espoused “Atoms for Peace.” Its dual missions are serving as a monitor of nuclear technology globally while also seeking “to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world.”
Its first director general was Sterling Cole who as a U.S. congressman was a big booster of nuclear power. Later came Hans Blix after he led a move in his native Sweden against an effort to close nuclear plants there. Blix was outspoken in seeking to spread nuclear power internationally calling for “resolute response by government, acting individually or together as in the [IAE] Agency.”
Blix’s long-time IAEA second-in command was Morris Rosen—formerly of the AEC and before that the nuclear division of General Electric (which manufactured the Fukushima plants)—who said after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster: “There is very little doubt that nuclear power is a rather benign industrial enterprise and we may have to expect catastrophic accidents from time to time.”
Mohamed ElBaradei of Egypt followed Blix, and as he told an “International Conference on Nuclear Power for the 21st Century” organized by the IAEA in 2005: “There is clearly a sense of rising expectations for nuclear power.”
The current IAEA director general is Yukiya Amano of Japan. In Vienna at the heaquarters of the IAEA, marking the first anniversary of the Fukushima disaster in March, Amano said: “Nuclear power is now safer than it was a year ago.”
Shuya Nomura, a member of the Japanese investigation commission and a professor at the Chuo Law School, was quoted in the New York Times as saying that the panel’s report tried to “shed light on Japan’s wider structural problems, on the pus that pervades Japanese society.” And, noted the Times, he added, “This report contains hints on how Japanese society needs to change.”
Those “wider structural problems” are far wider than Japan—they are global. The “regulatory capture” cited in the Japanese panel’s report has occurred all over the world—with the nuclear industry and those promoting nuclear power in governments making sure that the nuclear foxes are in charge of the nuclear hen houses. The “pus that pervades Japanese society” is international. With some very important exceptions, people have not adequately taken on the nuclear authorities. And we all must. The nuclear promoters have set up a corrupt system to enable them to get their way with their deadly technology. They have lied, they have connived, they have distorted governments. The nuclear industry is thus allowed to do whatever it wants. The nuclear pushers must be firmly challenged and they and nuclear power must be stopped.
Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.
“Shut it down! Shut it down! Shut it down!” rang through the cavernous grand ballroom of the Doubletree Hotel in Tarrytown, NY, last week when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staged an Orwellian charade promoted as an “open house” held to reassure the public that the Indian Point nuclear power plant was, as the New York Post headlined the following day, “Still Safe!”
The NRC’s annual “safety assessment” of the plant, which sits on the Hudson River 30 miles north of New York City, was based on 11,000 hours of ”inspection activities.” It found that Indian Point performed “within expected regulatory bounds” and the 25 matters that do require attention but “no additional NRC oversight,” are ‘low risk’, or have “very low safety significance.”
“So,” the Post mused, “will this finally silence the ‘shut it down’ crowd? … Don’t hold your breath.”
But do keep your fingers crossed…if you’re one of the 17.5 million people living within 50 miles of the plant…
“The NRC’s annual assessment completely fails to address the public’s primary concerns about Indian Point — evacuation planning, earthquake risk and nuclear waste storage post-Fukushima,” said Phillip Musegaas, a lawyer with Riverkeeper, an environmental group based in Ossining, NY.
Those concerns were addressed in Riverkeeper’s briefing held in the rear of the ballroom prior to the NRC’s hearing that night. Some highlights:
Manna Jo Green, a member of the town council of Rosendale and Environmental Director of Clearwater, who recently toured the plant with the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board: “We are calling for expansion of the evacuation plan from 10 miles to 50 miles and hardening of the fuel pools. There is no protection for those fuel pools…You couldn’t see the fuel rods in fuel pool 2 because the water was so murky… it is so densely crowded with fuel rods, you can’t even get equipment in to fully inspect it …”
Like Riverkeeper, Clearwater in Beacon, NY has filed multiple contentions with the NRC in the legal fight to deny Entergy Corporation a 20-year license extension for Indian Point. Current licenses for the two operating reactors expire in 2013 and 2015. Relicensing hearings are expected to begin in October.
John Armbruster, a seismologist with Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, cited the study, published in 2008, that revealed there was a second fault line passing near Indian Point in addition to the Ramapo fault line.
“We believe this is a significant new development in what might happen to Indian point. We have been asking since 2008 for our new results to be incorporated into the hearings for the relicensing of Indian Point – and that has been rejected as ‘outside of scope’. What was done when Indian Point was designed 40 years ago is obsolete and Fukushima tells us we have to prepare for the things that are very unlikely.”
Peter Rugh of Occupy Wall Street’s Environmental Solidarity Work Group: “The NRC has issued untold numbers of exemptions to Indian point – untold because they don’t keep track of the safety exemptions they grant to this corporation and to other nuclear operators. Entergy took in 11 billion in 2011 so they can afford to take every possible safety measure here, including shutting down…We want the workers at these plants to be retrained in the green energy sector. We must offer them better employment opportunities than being the gravediggers for New York City, for Westchester County, and for New Jersey.”
Paul Gallay, Executive Director of Riverkeeper, countered claims that shutting down Indian Point would cause an energy shortage and lead to blackouts. Results of a study commissioned by Riverkeeper and the National Resources Defense Council published earlier this year concluded otherwise.
“There’s enough surplus power in this region to turn off Indian Point tomorrow and we won’t have any kind of shortage if we don’t do another thing until 2020,” Gallay said. “In the meantime, you can build two Indian Point’s worth of replacement power. You can save 30 percent of our power needs just by energy efficiency… We do not need the power — they want to fool you into believing we do.”
During the open session, an NRC panel sat at the front of the room but no presentation was made to the public and no explanation of the safety “assessment” was given. NRC posters were on display in the hallway outside the ballroom, and Indian Point inspectors were available for questions. But not for answers.
Stepping up to the mike, Mark Jacobson, a co-founder of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC), asked, “Where is Entergy? Why isn’t Entergy in the room? We want to ask them questions.”
Getting no reply, Jacobson told the panel that he had questioned inspectors about the status of the radioactive leak under Unit 2’s transformer yard. “They said they didn’t know. It’s a leak that’s been likened to the size of the Central Park reservoir… and we can’t find out about it at this annual meeting. Who are we supposed to ask?”
Indian Point’s leaks are contaminating groundwater and the nearby Hudson River with radioactive carcinogens including strontium-90, cesium 137, and iodine 131.
The impossibility of evacuation in the event of an accident at Indian Point stirred the loudest protest of the night.
Citing the recent news report from the Associated Press that revised – and watered down – emergency planning and evacuation procedures had been adopted late last year without broad public input, Marilyn Elie, also of IPSEC, said, “Nobody has known about this and you dare, in post-Fukushima, you dare to weaken and have fewer evacuation drills.
“Region 1 could not even tell the commissioners this is not a good idea to secretly pass a new evacuation plan, to not let the stakeholders know…We need to call right now for a whole new NRC – all the commissioners need to be withdrawn – and it needs to go right down the line until it gets to Region 1.”
John Raymond is a freelance writer in New York City.
- Emergency Evacuation, Drill Requirements Quietly Cut While Nuclear Regulators Consider Doubling Length of License Extensions (my.firedoglake.com)
- Meltdown at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (counterpunch.org)
- Energy Issues: Entergy Has Demonstrators Arrested By ABBY LUBY (yonkerstribune.typepad.com)
- As Reactors Age, the Money to Close Them Lags (nytimes.com)
NRC asked to investigate recent pattern of failures
The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is operating at reduced power due to problems with the condenser tubes, which are reported to be leaking. Most nuclear power plants replace their condenser at between 20 and 30 years of continued operation, while Vermont Yankee’s condenser has been in operation over 39-years.
Condenser leaks adversely affect reliability and the water quality of the water that is used inside the nuclear plant as the primary reactor coolant. Cooling for the plant’s steam condenser is provided from the adjacent Connecticut river. At the beginning of February, nuclear engineers at the plant discovered that the condenser was not operating efficiently. There have been a string of outages in recent months that Yankee has had to reduce power because of problems with the condenser.
Condensers have been known to fail catastrophically, as occurred at Entergy’s Grand Gulf Plant, shutting down the plant for several months. Thus failure of the Condenser would have a tremendous impact upon Vermont Yankee’s ability to operate within cost-effective margins. The condenser has thousands of small tubes, that are made out of admiralty metal, copper, stainless steel, or titanium. The Condenser has two major functions:
- Condense and recover the steam that passes through the turbine (Condensers are used in all power plants that use steam as the driving force)
- Maintain a vacuum to optimize the efficiency of the turbine.
A regional spokesman for the NRC said the plastic coating Entergy used on the condenser tubes has caused the system to run less efficiently. If the epoxy is the source of the issue, the plant will have to run at 50 percent power levels while workers strip epoxy off of the tubing in each of the sections of the condenser. Vermont Yankee spokesman said the condenser has been upgraded over time and the tubes were “re-sleeved” several years ago.
The cause of the “reduced performance” of the condenser isn’t clear at this point. Last week the back pressure level went up to 4.5 pounds per square inch. The maximum level for the plant is 5 psi, according to Sarah Hofmann, deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Service. At 7 psi, the plant is designed to SCRAM.
The state says Yankee technicians made a mistake and left a metal plate inside the component as they were trying to troubleshoot the issue last week. The plate was a piece of metal large enough for workers to stand on. Neil Sheehan is a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the agency is aware of the incident, adding, “ It’s an issue that’s affected not only Vermont Yankee but numerous other plants over the years where there’s foreign material that’s left behind when a job is completed. We don’t think that’s acceptable and we certainly had that discussion with them and our inspectors will certainly be addressing that in an upcoming inspection report.”
Entergy is unlikely to replace the condenser until a decision is made in its favor to extend the plants current operating license in Vermont, which expires on March 21st, 2012, but the NRC issued a new operating license last year allowing the plant to continue operating until 2032.
In testimony, Fairewinds Associates noted that rather than invest $200,000,000 (in 2016 dollars) in a new condenser, Entergy may choose instead to shut down the plant as it would be difficult to recoup such a large investment during the final years of the plants life. Especially if Entergy is losing more than it is profiting for extended periods, which may then cause the licensee to make drastic economic decisions in the face of mounting pressure to block the extension of the plants operating license. Entergy has admitted Vermont Yankee is a minimal profit producer and additional costs may prove too expensive, especially with the added costs of post-Fukushima upgrades, and conditions imposed after the NRC issued its 20-year extended license.
The NRC recently released an annual report on Yankee that cited a number of what it called non-safety issues at the plant. Since Louisiana-based Entergy Corporation purchased Vermont Yankee from state utility companies in 2002, the plant has had a string of physical plant problems including a water tower collapse in 2007 and a transformer fire. In January 2010, the company revealed that underground pipes at the plant were leaking tritium into soil on the compound, which is located on the banks of the Connecticut River.
The recent incident prompted the Shumlin Administration to ask federal regulators about a recent series of human errors at the plant. Public Service Commissioner Elizabeth Miller wrote Thursday to the head of the NRC’s Northeast region to say she’s concerned about what she called a pattern of human errors at the Vernon reactor during the past 15 months.
Commissioner Miller says the most recent incident of the metal plate left inside the condenser raised questions about whether Yankee was experiencing a pattern of human errors. “In looking at the reports I had a concern that there had been a number of incidents and felt it was appropriate to ask the NRC to explain why that pattern of incidents didn’t deserve further attention or further action by the NRC and so that’s why we sent the letter.”
Miller lists five errors, ranging from failure to remove a plastic cover from a pump before it was installed to inaccurately measuring the dose rate from a shipment of radioactive waste. Miller’s letter to the NRC cites other mistakes, including a case last fall when Yankee technicians misread a work order and shut down a breaker which resulted in a brief loss of the shutdown cooling system, and another case in December when workers mistakenly tripped the wrong diesel back-up generator.
The NRC labeled all five incidents as minor, but Miller is questioning why they aren’t being considered as part of a pattern. Yankee spokesman Larry Smith said he could not comment on Miller’s letter. The NRC said it would review it. In addition to conducting two reviews in 2012 — at mid-cycle and end-of-cycle — the NRC will also review Yankee’s implementation of an industry initiative meant to control degradation of underground piping.
In 2009, the Vermont Senate voted to deny permission for Entergy to obtain a certificate of public good from the Public Service Board for re-licensure of the plant. In February 2010, the Vermont Senate voted 26 to 4 against re-licensing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant after 2012, citing radioactive tritium leaks, misstatements in testimony by plant officials, and other documented on-site events. Entergy sued the state over several statutes, including one that gives Vermont jurisdiction over the continued operation of the plant past the 40-year deadline and a say in the long-term storage of nuclear waste on site.
A state law that prevents the plant from storing spent fuel at Vermont Yankee after that date without approval from the Public Service Board. Last week the board questioned whether it had the ability to let Vermont Yankee keep producing spent fuel and pushed Entergy attorneys on why they hadn’t addressed the impending issue earlier. Federal district court Judge J. Garvan Murtha ruled the Atomic Energy Act pre-empted the two state laws, but his decision left the Public Service Board’s discretion intact. The Public Service Board held a status conference March 9 at which they would not guarantee that the plant would keep operating, and briefs are due Friday.
When the board reopened the proceeding and asked whether the plant could continue to operate, Entergy fired off an immediate request to the court asking it to let the plant operate after March 21, implying it might continue operating, even if the board says it should not.
“[O]n March 9, 2012, the PSB made clear that it does not necessarily agree with the AG’s and the DPS’s view. In the event that the PSB ultimately disagrees, Plaintiffs will be forced either to cease operating or, if they defy the PSB by continuing to operate, to face the prospect of a diminished credit rating, a loss of crucial employees, and a demerit in the PSB’s consideration of Plaintiffs’ petition for a new CPG.”
Entergy has a track record of deferring maintenance, exampled by the 2007 collapse of the cooling towers, was found to be caused by corrosion in steel bolts and rotting of lumber. Some still think that a corporation that buys an aged nuclear plant fully aware of the pending decommissioning agreement with the state, ought to be bound to decommission it. However, right in the middle of the Fukushima disaster the NRC grants another 20 years to an old, trouble ridden plant, doesn’t that just beat all…
- Vermont Appeals Vermont Yankee Decision (jeceblog.com)
- Court to Vermont: “Drop Dead” (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- NRC finds Entergy Safety Commitment Track Record Lacking (enformable.com)
- Vermont Yankee Power Reduced Due to Lubrication Issues With B Turbine Pilot Valve (enformable.com)
- Former Vermont Governor Rips NRC and Vermont Yankee Safety Record (enformable.com)
- Entergy must change the way they do business (enformable.com)
Is the nuclear drought over?
When the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently approved two new nuclear reactors near Augusta, Georgia, the first such decision in 32 years, there was plenty of hoopla.
It marked a “clarion call to the world,” declared Marvin S. Fertel, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute. “Nuclear energy is a critical part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy,” declared Energy Secretary Chu, who traveled in February to the Vogtle site where Westinghouse plans to build two new reactors.
But it’s too soon for nuclear boosters to pop their champagne corks. Japan’s Fukushima disaster continues to unfold nearly a year after the deadly earthquake and tsunami unleashed what’s shaping up to be the worst nuclear disaster ever. Meanwhile, a raft of worldwide reactor closures, cancellations, and postponements is still playing out. The global investment bank UBS estimates that some 30 reactors in several countries are at risk of closure, including at least two in highly pro-nuclear France.
And Siemens AG, one of the world’s largest builders of nuclear power plants, has already dumped its nuclear business.
Recently, Standard and Poor’s (S&P) credit rating agency announced that without blanket financing from consumers and taxpayers, the prospects of an American nuclear renaissance are “faint.” It doesn’t help that the nuclear price tag has nearly doubled in the past five years. Currently reactors are estimated to cost about $6 to $10 billion to build. The glut of cheap natural gas makes it even less attractive for us to nuke out.
How expensive is the bill that S&P thinks private lenders will shun?
Replacing the nation’s existing fleet of 104 reactors, which are all slated for closure by 2056, could cost about $1.4 trillion. Oh, and add another $500 billion to boost the generating capacity by 50 percent to make a meaningful impact on reducing carbon emissions. (Nuclear power advocates are touting it as a means of slowing climate change.) We’d need to fire up at least one new reactor every month, or even more often, for the next several decades.
Meanwhile, Japan — which has the world’s third-largest nuclear reactor fleet — has cancelled all new nuclear reactor projects. All but two of its 54 plants are shut down. Plus the risk of yet another highly destructive earthquake occurring even closer to the Fukushima reactors has increased, according to the European Geosciences Union.
This is particularly worrisome for Daiichi’s structurally damaged spent fuel pool at Reactor No. 4, which sits 100 feet above ground, exposed to the elements. Drainage of water from this pool resulting from another quake could trigger a catastrophic radiological fire involving about eight times more radioactive cesium than was released at Chernobyl.
Ironically, the NRC’s decision to license those two reactors has thrown a lifeline to Japan’s flagging nuclear power industry (along with an $8.3-billion U.S. taxpayer loan guarantee). Toshiba Corp. owns 87 percent of Westinghouse, which is slated to build the new reactors. Since U.S.-based nuclear power vendors disappeared years ago, all of the proposed reactors in this country are to be made by Japanese firms — Toshiba, Mitsubishi, and Hitachi — or Areva, which is mostly owned by the French government. According to the Energy Department, “major equipment would not be manufactured by U.S. facilities.”
For Southern Co., which would operate the Vogtle reactors, the NRC’s approval is just the beginning of a financial and political gauntlet it must run through. Over the strenuous objections of consumers and businesses, energy customers will shoulder the costs of financing and constructing this $17-billion project, even if the reactors are abandoned before completion. If things don’t turn out, U.S. taxpayers will also be on the hook for an $8.3-billion loan guarantee that the Energy Department has approved.
The Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office estimate that nuclear loan guarantees have a 50/50 chance of default.
Nearly four decades after the Three Mile Island accident, nuclear power remains expensive, dangerous, and too radioactive for Wall Street. The industry won’t grow unless the U.S. government props it up and the public bears the risks.
ROBERT ALVAREZ, an Institute for Policy Studies senior scholar, served as senior policy adviser to the Energy Department’s secretary from 1993 to 1999. www.ips-dc.org
And the Absurdity of the NRC
In the days following the March 11, 2011 beginning of the Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe, chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano repeatedly reassured the Japanese public, news media, and world community that there was “no immediate health risk” from mounting radioactive releases from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. His choice of words was very similar to the U.S. nuclear power establishment’s during the Three Mile Island melt down of 1979, as captured by Rosalie Bertell’s classic anti-nuclear primer No Immediate Danger? Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth.
However, as the New York Times revealed Monday, Edano and his colleagues at the highest levels of the Japanese federal government were actually worried about a worst-case scenario, a “demonic chain reaction” of atomic reactor meltdowns spreading catastrophic amounts of deadly radioactivity from the three operating units at Fukushima Daiichi (as well as multiple high-level radioactive waste storage pools there), to the four operating reactors and pools at Fukushima Daini (just 7 miles south, which itself avoided catastrophe thanks to a single surviving offsite power line; several offsite power lines were lost to the earthquake, and all diesel generators were lost to the tsunami), to the operating reactor and pool at Tokai (much closer to Tokyo). Regarding such a nightmare scenario, eerily similar to what Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa depicted in Dreams, the New York Times reported:
“We would lose Fukushima Daini, then we would lose Tokai,” Mr. Edano is quoted as saying, naming two other nuclear plants. “If that happened, it was only logical to conclude that we would also lose Tokyo itself.”
On March 13, 2011, even as Fukushima Daiichi’s reactors were melting down and exploding, and its storage pools at risk of boiling or draining dry and the high-level radioactive waste catching fire, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) provided false assurance to the U.S. public and news media, that no harmful levels of radioactive fallout would reach U.S. territories. However, at the very same time, NRC was itself worried about potentially hazardous levels of radioactive Iodine-131 reaching Alaska.
Just last week, NRC held public meetings about its newly unveiled, so-called “State of the Art Reactor Consequence Analysis” (SOARCA). One meeting took place near the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, nor far from Philadelphia or Washington D.C., where two General Electric Boiling Water Reactors of the Mark I design (GE BWR Mark I) operate. Paul Gunter, Beyond Nuclear’s Reactor Oversight Project Director, attended and testified.
SOARCA is meant to replace a 1982 study, “Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences” (CRAC-2). CRAC-2 made shocking projections of casualties and property damage that would result downwind of a catastrophic radioactivity release from an accident at either Peach Bottom Unit 2 or 3: 72,000 “peak early fatalities”; 45,000 “peak early injuries”; 37,000 “peak cancer deaths”; and $119 billion in property damages. But CRAC-2 was based on 1970 U.S. Census data. Populations have grown significantly in the past 42 years, so casualty figures would now be much worse. And when adjusted for inflation, property damages would now top $265 billion, in 2010 dollars. Such shocking figures may explain why NRC, which commissioned the study, tried to conceal its results from the public. But U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) made the information public in congressional hearings.
Of course, as shown by Fukushima Daiichi, a major accident at either Peach Bottom reactor could very easily spread to the second reactor. And, as Yukio Edano — who now serves as Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), with direct oversight of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) — warned about Fukushima Daini and Tokai, a catastrophic radioactivity release from Peach Bottom could spread to other nearby nuclear power plants, such as Limerick Units 1 and 2, Three Mile Island Unit 1, and Salem Units 1 and 2/Hope Creek, forcing workers to evacuate and putting many additional reactors’ and high-level radioactive waste storage pools’ safety at risk.
Despite all this, NRC’s SOARCA — by assuming almost all radioactivity will be contained during an accident, any releases will happen slowly and in a predictable fashion, that emergency evacuation will come off without a hitch, etc. — claims that casualties will be low, or even non-existent. Such false assurances fall flat on their face in light of the lessons learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe, including the new revelations described above.
In fact, Peach Bottom 2 and 3 are bigger in size than Fukushima’s Units 1 to 4. Peach Bottom 2 and 3 are both 1,112 Megawatt-electric (MW-e) reactors, 2,224 MW-e altogether. Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 was 460 MW-e. Units 2 and 3 were each 784 MW-e. Altogether, they were “only” 2,028 MW-e, smaller in size than Peach Bottom 2 and 3. The same is true regarding high-level radioactive wastes. The Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4 storage pools contained a total of 354 tons of irradiated nuclear fuel. Peach Bottom nuclear power plant, however, stores well over 1,500 tons of irradiated nuclear fuel on-site. Although Peach Bottom has installed dry cask storage, the vast majority of irradiated fuel is still stored in the Mark I elevated, and vulnerable, pools. Beyond Nuclear recently published a backgrounder on the risk of Mark I high-level radioactive waste storage pools.
NRC should immediately withdraw its absurd SOARCA report, and get about the business of protecting public health, safety, and the environment — its mandate — rather than doing the nuclear power industry’s bidding by downplaying risks as at Peach Bottom 2 and 3. A good place to start would be immediately and permanently shutting down all 23 operating Mark Is in the U.S., including Peach Bottom 2 and 3, as Beyond Nuclear’s “Freeze Our Fukushimas” campaign calls for.
Cindy Folkers is a Radiation and Health Specialist at Beyond Nuclear.
- Nuclear Agency Squabbling Throws Smokescreen Over Safety Lapses (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Japan may have no nuclear reactors by summer (mnn.com)