The State of Vermont may not shut down a federally-approved nuclear power plant, the federal appeals court for the Second Circuit in New York ruled last week. Vermont has sought to prevent the Vermont Yankee reactor, whose original 40-year license expired in March 2012, from being re-licensed, but the court ruled that federal regulation of nuclear power safety preempts state authority over safety completely. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already re-licensed the plant for another 20 years.
The wrinkle in the case, Entergy v. Shumlin, is that neither of the two laws struck down by the Court—known as Act 74 and Act 160—attempted to regulate safety. Passed in 2003 in response to Entergy’s request to expand its on-site waste storage facilities, Act 74 allowed the expansion, but barred the storage of waste generated after the plant’s license expiration in March 2012 without state legislative approval.
Act 160, which became law in 2006, states that “a nuclear energy generating plant may be operated in Vermont only with the explicit approval of the General Assembly.” It further provides that in deciding whether to allow a nuclear plant, the legislature is to consider “the state’s need for power, the economics and environmental impacts of long-term storage of nuclear waste, and choice of power sources among various alternatives.” The courts have long ruled that although states may not regulate nuclear power plant safety, it is up to the states to decide whether nuclear power is needed or economical.
Nevertheless, the appeals court unanimously held that despite the stated reasons for the two laws, statements made by legislators while the bills were on the floor indicated that their real purpose was to kill the Vermont Yankee reactor because of safety concerns.
“The nuclear power industry has just been delivered a tremendous victory against the attempt by any state to shut down federally regulated nuclear power plants,” crowed Kathleen Sullivan, a lawyer for Entergy, which owns Vermont Yankee.
In the only legally arguable portion of the opinion, however, the court also held that Vermont may not close the reactor for being too expensive because it operates in a competitive market for electricity, implying that the state may not pursue policies based on alternative economic theories.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) reiterated his opposition to the plant, saying it is “not in the best interest of Vermont,” and suggesting the fight was not over: “While I disagree with the result the 2nd Circuit reached in preempting Vermont’s Legislature, the process does not end today.”
The appeals court also struck down a lower court ruling that could have allowed Entergy to force Vermont to pay its legal bills.
To Learn More:
Appeals Court Blocks Attempt by Vermont to Close a Nuclear Plant (by Matthew L. Wald, New York Times)
Entergy Wins Key Appeals Court Ruling on Vermont Nuclear Plant (by Nate Raymond, Reuters)
Entergy v. Shumlin (2nd Circuit Court of Appeals) (pdf)
Federal Judge Says States Not Allowed to Regulate Nuclear Safety (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
All 104 nuclear reactors currently operational in the US have irreparable safety issues and should be taken out of commission and replaced, former chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory B. Jaczko said.
The comments, made during the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, are “highly unusual” for a current or former member of the safety commission, according to The New York Times. Asked why he had suddenly decided to make the remarks, Jaczko implied that he had only recently arrived at these conclusions following the serious aftermath of Japan’s tsunami-stricken Fukushima Daichii nuclear facility.
“I was just thinking about the issues more, and watching as the industry and the regulators and the whole nuclear safety community continues to try to figure out how to address these very, very difficult problems,” which were made more evident by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, he said. “Continuing to put Band-Aid on Band-Aid is not going to fix the problem.”
According to the former chairman, US reactors that received permission from the nuclear commission to operate for an additional 20 years past their initial 40-year licenses would not likely last long. He further rejected the commission’s proposal for a second 20-year extension, which would leave some American nuclear reactors operating for some 80 years.
Jaczko’s comments are quite significant as the US faces a mass retirement of its reactors and nuclear policy largely revolves around maintaining existing facilities, rather than attempting to go through the politically hazardous process of financing and breaking ground on new plants.
Though the US maintains a massive naval nuclear program, all of the country’s current civilian reactors began construction in 1974 or earlier, and a serious incident at Three Mile Island in 1979, along with an economic recession, essentially caused new projects to be scrapped.
A modest revival of enthusiasm for nuclear power emerged in the early part of the last decade, leading to the construction of four reactors at existing facilities within the last three years, slated to be completed by 2020. Despite the lack of new projects, the US is still the world’s biggest producer of nuclear power, which represents 19% of its total electrical output.
Fittingly, Jaczko’s comments came during a panel discussion of the Fukushima incident, which has brought greater attention to aging US reactors – some of which were quite similar to the General Electric-designed models overwhelmed by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011.
In response to those comments, Marvin S. Fertel, president and chief executive of the Nuclear Energy Institute, told the Times that the country’s nuclear power grid has, is, and will operate safely.
“US nuclear energy facilities are operating safely,” said Fertel. “That was the case prior to Greg Jaczko’s tenure as Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman. It was the case during his tenure as NRC chairman, as acknowledged by the NRC’s special Fukushima response task force and evidenced by a multitude of safety and performance indicators. It is still the case today.”
Since the first nuclear reactor went operational in the US, there have been very few fatal incidents at nuclear power facilities, though there were a number of high profile stories written over the inherent dangers of large nuclear reactors during the mid-1970s. One of the most recent incidents at a US reactor was in April of 2013, when an employee was killed at the Arkansas Nuclear One plant while moving part of a generator.
Jaczko served as chairman of the nuclear regulatory agency since 2009, and according to the Times resigned in 2012 following conflicts with colleagues. He was seen as an outlying vote on a number of safety issues, and had advocated for more stringent safety improvements during his tenure.
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 email@example.com
- 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.
San Onofre Nuclear (Waste) Generating Station has been shut down for nearly six months, ever since one of the heat transfer tubes inside their new steam generators in Reactor Unit 3 ruptured suddenly and unexpectedly.
The normal pressure difference from one side of the tube to the other is enormous: About 1,000 pounds per square inch, so even a tiny leak spews many gallons of “primary coolant” (which is highly radioactive) into the “secondary coolant loop” (which, ideally, is not radioactive at all). When a leak occurs, the primary coolant flashes to steam as it exits the broken tube, and the steam is so hot it can cut through the tube like a welder’s torch, eventually cutting a complete circle around the tube, releasing it to fling around and damage other tubes.
There are nearly 10,000 U-shaped heat transfer tubes inside each steam generator. They are about the thickness of a credit card and the diameter of your thumb.
Reactor Unit 2 was already shut down for massive repairs and refueling when Unit 3 sprang a leak. Neither unit has operated since then (and the lights have remained on. We do not need San Onofre). An older reactor, Reactor Unit 1, was retired 20 years ago for basically the same reason, and has since been dismantled. It’s time to dismantle Units 2 and 3, too.
SanO’s majority owner and operator, Southern California Edison, recently claimed to have identified the cause of Unit 3′s current problem as “fluid elastic instability”. And although Unit 2 is of identical design and also has two new steam generators which are also experiencing excessive wear, SCE claims Unit 2 will not suffer the same problem if they restart it at reduced power. SCE wants to do that next month, probably at half power, which does NOT mean the pressure differences and flow rates are half as much, because efficiency drops off substantially when the plant is not run at its maximum practical output (and so do profits for SCE!).
If Unit 2 runs without problems, they’ll bump the power up to 60%, then 70% and then 80%. (So far that’s as high as they’ve said they’ll dare to go.) Then they’ll start talking about restarting Unit 3 at reduced power as well.
If nothing ruptures, they’ll shut the reactor down periodically to check for wear, since they can’t tell what’s happening inside the steam generators while the reactor is operating. The extra shutdowns are costly and hold additional dangers. (The Nuclear Regulatory Commission keeps carefully track of how many times a reactor is cycled on and off.)
Restarting either SanO unit should be opposed by everyone in Southern California. It’s not worth the risk.
Fluid elastic instability was first identified around 1970 and occurs when a fluid — usually a steam/water mixture (in this case mostly steam) flows across a bundle of tubes. In the case of San Onofre, the steam/water mixture traverses the tubes at the U-portion of the tubes at their top.
A cascade of tube failures is substantially more likely under fluid elastic instability conditions than most other tube-rupture scenarios. If a cascading tube failure occurs, the fact that SanO’s design has only two steam generators (whereas most Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs) have three or four) becomes an additional serious liability: The second (only remaining) steam generator has to remove ALL the heat from the reactor. Debris from the first steam generator failure may further complicate matters.
SCE was very reluctant to admit they’ve got a fluid elastic instability problem, and when they made a presentation to the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) last week, they didn’t try to explain what fluid elastic instability is. They just said that it was apparently the problem.
However, the phenomenon is described in a 2001 ASME handbook on flow induced vibrations by M. K. Au-Yang: Upon crossing the “critical velocity” the tube vibrations “suddenly rapidly increase without bound, until tube-to-tube impacting or other non-linear effects limit the tube motions.” The vibrations: “become correlated and bear definite phase relationship to one another…”
In other words, the tubes rock back and forth together like people doing “the wave” or some other motion in a stadium.
Fluid elastic instability is difficult to model using computer simulations and SCE did not do full-scale modeling of the new steam generator design. They also skipped full-scale hot testing after installing the new steam generators in 2010 and 2011.
When a tube started to leak in January 2012, the reactor operators did NOT suspect fluid elastic instability, and did NOT do the immediate prudent thing: Shut down the reactor.
Instead, they kept running at full power until it was determined that the leak was growing — always a bad sign. Permitted leakage rates, and total amounts, would have both soon been exceeded. Normally, when the reactor is shut down for routine maintenance, faulty tubes are plugged. This process continues for the life of the plant or until so many tubes are plugged that the steam generators have to be replaced. When the plant was built, it was believed that the steam generators would last the full life expectancy of the plant. But throughout the nuclear industry, replacing steam generators has become a huge business.
Fluid elastic instability is relatively rare but is much more frightening than a typical steam generator tube leak. Some leaks are left to spew, because rather than grow, they clog up with crud and stop spreading. But growing leaks cannot be ignored.
Of the nearly 40,000 tubes inside the four new steam generators in the two operating reactors at San Onofre, more than 1,300 were found to have excessive wear to such a degree that they needed to be plugged. About 10% of those were pressure-tested before being plugged, and eight failed the pressure tests — some failed at pressures BELOW standard operating pressure!
SCE officials are very reluctant to say how many tubes have failed in Unit 2, stressing that “only two” tubes indicated tube-to-tube wear, which, they feel, was probably caused by turbulence, not fluid elastic instability. They aren’t certain, though, and just because fluid elastic instability hasn’t been experienced in Unit 2 yet, doesn’t mean it can’t happen there, either under normal operating conditions or during an emergency.
SCE has no idea when fluid elastic instability might occur. Their computer models are known to have been off by 300 to 400 percent. Flow rates are known to be way too high, and there is way too much steam and not nearly enough water at the top of the tubes (a mixture with more water would have been much better at dampening vibration).
Maybe SCE is right that lowering the power output will ensure safe operation. But what if they’re wrong? SCE wants to experiment with all our lives.
And let’s say they succeed. Let’s say they get the reactors operating again. Then, they will just go back to producing more spent fuel nuclear waste, a growing problem for which there is still no solution. It will mean the next time there is an earthquake or a tsunami, San Onofre will threaten our farmlands, our cities, and our lives once again. It will mean San Onofre will continue to threaten SoCal at least until the NRC relicenses the plant in 2022/2023, and then for 20 more years after that (and so on ad infinitum). The NRC has never denied a nuclear power plant a license renewal in its history, and is especially unlikely to do so in California where new nuclear power plants are forbidden by state law.
San Onofre is shut down today because it was poorly designed, poorly constructed, and poorly operated. Let’s keep it shut down. It’s not going to get any better.
Russell D. Hoffman can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Design flaws cloud San Onofre’s future (sciencedude.ocregister.com)
- San Onofre: No restart plan submitted – No root cause identified (enformable.com)
Zealots of the Atom
Nuclear scientists and engineers embrace nuclear power like a religion. The term “nuclear priesthood” was coined by Dr. Alvin Weinberg, long director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the laboratory’s website proudly notes this. It’s not unusual for scientists at Oak Ridge and other U.S. national nuclear laboratories to refer to themselves as “nukies.” The Oak Ridge website describes Weinberg as a “prophet” of “nuclear energy.”
This religious, cultish element is integral to a report done for the U.S. Department of Energy in 1984 by Battelle Memorial Institute about how the location of nuclear waste sites can be communicated over the ages. An “atomic priesthood,” it recommends, could impart the locations in a “legend-and-ritual…retold year-by-year.” Titled “Communications Measures to Bridge Ten Millennia,” the taxpayer-funded report says: “Membership in this ‘priesthood’ would be self-selective over time.”
Currently, Allison Macfarlane, nominated to be the new head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, says she is an “agnostic” on nuclear power—as if support or opposition to atomic energy falls on a religious spectrum. Meanwhile, Gregory Jaczko, the outgoing NRC chairman, with a Ph.D. in physics, was politically crucified because he repeatedly raised safety concerns, thus not revering nuclear power enough.
Years ago, while I was working on a book about toxic chemicals, the publisher asked that I find someone who worked for a chemical company and get his or her rationale. I found someone who had been at American Cyanamid, the pesticide manufacturer, who said he worked there to better support his growing family financially.
But when it comes to nuclear power, it’s more than that—it’s a religious adherence. Why? Does it have to do with nuclear scientists and engineers being in such close proximity to power, literally? Is it about the process through which they are trained—in the U.S., many in the nuclear navy and/or in the insular culture of the government’s national nuclear laboratories? These laboratories, originally under the Atomic Energy Commission and now the Department of Energy and managed by corporations, universities and scientific entities including Battelle Memorial Institute, grew out of the World War II Manhattan Project crash program to build atomic bombs. After the war, the laboratories expanded to pursue the development of all things nuclear. And is it about nuclear physics programs at universities serving as echo chambers?
Whatever the causes, the outcome is nuclear worship.
And this is despite the Chernobyl or Fukushima Daiichi catastrophes. It’s despite the radioactive messes exposed at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production facility and at Los Alamos and other national nuclear laboratories most of which have been declared high-pollution Superfund sites where cancer on-site and in adjoining areas is widespread. It’s despite the continuing threat of nuclear war and the horrific loss of life it would bring and nuclear proliferation spreading the potential for atomic weapons globally. Still, they press on with religious fervor.
“Most of them are not educated about radiation biology or genetics, so they are fundamentally ignorant,” says Dr. Helen Caldicott, a founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility whose books include Nuclear Madness. “They are ‘brought up’ in an environment where they are conditioned to support the concept of all things nuclear.” Further, “nuclear power evokes enormous forces of the universe, and as Henry Kissinger said, ‘Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” And “they practice denial because I think many of them in their heart really know that what they are doing is evil but they will defend it assiduously, unless they themselves or their child is diagnosed with cancer. Then many of them recant.”
Linking the “nuclear priesthood” to the Manhattan Project is Michael Mariotte, executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “The scientists involved weren’t really sure what they were unleashing, and had to have a certain amount of faith that it would work and it would not destroy the world in the process. After they saw the destructive power of the bomb, they were both proud and horrified at what they had done, and believed they had to use this technology for ‘good.’ Thus nuclear power was born,” says Mariotte. “The problem is when you have this messianic vision that you are creating good out of evil, it is very difficult to turn around and realize that the ‘good’ you have created is, in fact, also evil.”
Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste watchdog at Beyond Nuclear, says ever since the first test of an atomic device, “the diabolically-named ‘Trinity’ atomic blast, when Manhattan Project scientists placed bets on whether or not it would ignite the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s been clear something pathological afflicts many in the ‘nuclear priesthood.’ Perhaps it’s a form of ‘Faustian fission’—splitting the atom gave the U.S. superpower status with the Bomb and then over a 100 commercial atomic reactors, so the ‘downsides’ have been entirely downplayed to the point of downright denial. Perhaps the power, prestige and greed swirling around the ‘nuclear enterprise’ explains why so many in industry, government, the military, and even apologists in academia and mainstream media, engage in Orwellian ‘Nukespeak’ and monumental cover ups….The ‘cult of the atom’ has caused untold numbers of deaths and disease downstream, downwind, up the food chain, and down the generations from ‘our friend the atom’ gone bad.”
A parallel situation exists in Russia, the other nuclear superpower. Dr. Alexey Yablokov, a biologist, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and environmental advisor to Presidents Yeltsin and Gorbachev, says the nuclear scientists there refer to themselves as “atomschiky” or “nuclearists” and “think and act as a separate, isolated caste.” From the beginning of nuclear technology in the Soviet Union, they “were enthusiastic about the great, the fantastic discoveries of splitting the atom and developing enormous power. This ‘secret knowledge’ was magnified by state secrecy and a deep belief—in the Soviet Union as in the United States—of atomic energy ‘saving the globe’… There is a remarkable similarity in the argumentation of these groups here and in the United States. Step-by-step, they turned to an atomic religion, closed societies, a ‘state inside a state.’”
Dr. Heidi Huttner, who teaches sustainability at Stony Brook University, explains:
“As in so many parts of our industrialized and mechanized culture, there is no thought of consequences, or connections to the larger web of science, health, and human and nonhuman life… The nuclear culture becomes absolutely caught up in its own language and story. This self-enclosure feeds, validates and perpetuates itself. Without an outside critique or ‘objective’ third eye, any such culture loses the ability to self-regulate and self-monitor. This is where things become dangerous.”
Russell Ace Hoffman, author of The Code Killers, Why DNA and Ionizing Radiation Are a Dangerous Mix, says: “It is a cult. It fits all the classic definitions of a cult. It’s an elitist, war-mongering, closed society of inbred, inwardly-thinking, aggressively xenophobic, arrogant pseudo-nerds stuck in ideas that are at least half a century out of date… Another cult-like behavior is they don’t care about the suffering of their victims. Not one bit.”
Dr. Barbara Rose Johnston, an anthropologist and senior research fellow at the Center for Political Ecology in Santa Cruz, recounts spending three days at a U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored conference for people involved in the atmospheric monitoring program at the nuclear weapons test site in Nevada. “Many of the scientists and technicians in attendance were from southern Utah and St. Georges County area where the heaviest atomic fallout from the Nevada test site occurred… I did not find a single man who saw a connection between fallout and cancer rates, despite the fact that most had suffered. My initial reaction was that these folks truly ‘drank the Kool-Aid’—true believers through and through.”
“The nuclear industry requires buying into an orthodoxy,” explains nuclear engineer Arnie Gunderson. “I know, as I was in it as a senior VP.” He tells of how, after he voiced concerns and criticism, an industry lawyer “told me, ‘Arnie, in this industry, you are either for us or against us, and you just crossed the line.’ The same thing happened to [outgoing NRC Chairman] Jaczko I know of one nuclear engineer with 40 years of experience who committed suicide five days after Fukushima because he simply could not accept that his life’s work was based on erroneous assumptions. He had worked on the Mark 1 design [the GE design of the Fukushima Daicchi plants].”
Alice Slater, New York representative of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, says the “nuclear scientists are out of touch with reality. They talk about ‘risk assessment’—as though the dreadful, disastrous events at Chernobyl and Fukushima are capable of being weighed on a scale of ‘risks and benefits.’ They’re constantly refining their nuclear weapons—Congress has budgeted $84 billion for over the next 10 years to maintain the … ’reliability of the nuclear arsenal,’ and $100 billion for new ‘delivery systems’—missiles, submarines and airplanes. After the horrendous effects on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, everyone knows these catastrophic weapons are unusable and yet we’re pouring all this money into perpetuating the national nuclear weapons laboratories. They’re not including the Earth in their calculations and the enormous damage they are doing. They’re involved in the worst possible inventions with lethal consequences that last for eternity. Still, they continue on. They’re holding our planet hostage while they tinker in their labs without regard to the risks they are creating for the very future of life on Earth.”
Dr. Chris Busby of the Health and Life Sciences faculty at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland and author of Wings of Death, Nuclear Pollution and Human Health, says:
“What we are seeing with nuclear scientists is a desperate need to control their environment and their lives and the forces that may affect their lives by creating a virtual universe which they can deal with by mathematics and by drawing straight lines on paper.”
It’s the “cult of the nuclearists,” says Busby. And this construct of the nuclear scientists seeking to “control nature with mathematical equations that make them feel safe” sets up a “collision with reality”—and a “way we are going to destroy ourselves.” The belief in nuclear power is “far beyond anything scientific or rational,” says Busby, who has a Ph.D. in chemical physics.
Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, says the “religious passion for nuclear technology” started with the “guilt” of those in the Manhattan Project. “Those in the ‘nuclear priesthood’ knew that these horrible bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives and they wanted to make up for that… They developed atomic energy for warfare and then thought it had other uses—and they would do anything to make that work.” But the civilian nuclear technology they devised was also deadly, and this realization was too “devastating to be accepted” by the “nuclear originators” or those who followed who “spend their days with their buddies, their colleagues, all thinking the same way.”
Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, scientific director of the Manhattan Project, in his 1955 book The Open Mind, wrote: “The physicists felt a peculiarly intimate responsibility for suggesting, for supporting, and in the end, in large measure, for achieving the realization of atomic weapons…. In some sort of crude sense…the physicists have known sin.”
Whether out of indoctrination, misguided belief, an obsession to “control nature,” the lure of the cult, closeness to power, job security, or their seeking to perpetuate a vested interest, the “nuclearists” have a religious allegiance to their technology. On a moral level, they have indeed sinned—and continue to do so. On a political level, they have corrupted and distorted energy policy in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. On an economic level, they are wasting a gargantuan portion of our tax dollars.
Choices of energy technology should be based on the technology being safe, clean, economic and in harmony with life. Instead, we are up against nuclear scientists and engineers pushing their deadly technology in the manner of religious zealots.
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.
- Nukes in the Sky (alethonews.wordpress.com)
“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)