Despite Billion-Dollar Budget, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Cancels Project Studying Cancer near Nuclear Facilities
A five-year federal pilot program to determine levels of contamination around eight nuclear facilities in the United States was cancelled this week because, apparently, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is already doing such a fine job of oversight.
“The NRC continues to find U.S. nuclear power plants comply with strict requirements that limit radiation releases from routine operations,” agency spokesman Scott Burnell wrote in defense of the decision. “The NRC and state agencies regularly analyze environmental samples from near the plants. These analyses show the releases, when they occur, are too small to cause observable increases in cancer risk near the facilities.”
There is nothing to see, so why waste the time and money. “The NRC determined that continuing the work was impractical, given the significant amount of time and resources needed and the agency’s current budget constraints.”
The cost was $8 million, $1.5 million of which has already been spent. The NRC has a budget of more than $1 billion. Results from the testing were not expected until at least the end of the decade. The study, led by National Academy of Sciences (NAS) researchers, was meant to update a 1990 National Cancer Institute (NCI) report that focused on cancer mortality, with limited occurrence of the disease in two states.
The NRC decided in 2007 to update the report and contacted the NAS to commence a two-phase study of cancer risks in populations living near NRC-licensed facilities. Phase 1 was to determine if doing the study was feasible. The conclusion reached in 2012 was “Yes.”
Phase 2 was to be broken into two parts: planning and execution. The commission killed it on Tuesday. Nuclear sites to be studied included active and decommissioned plants in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey. A nuclear fuel fabrication plant in Tennessee was also on the list.
Supporters of the program are not happy. “Study after study in Europe has shown a clear rise in childhood leukemia around operating nuclear power facilities, yet the NRC has decided to hide this vital information from the American public,” said Cindy Folkers, radiation and health specialist at Beyond Nuclear.
Folkers blamed nuclear industry manipulation. Beyond Nuclear points to the NRC staff recommendation (pdf) that the commission drop the program. The policy issue document mentions a cheaper, crummier project pitched by the president of the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP), but the staff concludes that no study is worth doing.
U.S. Senator Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), who pushed for the cancer study in 2009, also did not sound happy. He said,
“We need a thorough, accurate accounting of the health risks associated with living near nuclear facilities so residents can know if there are any adverse health impacts. But the NRC has decided to take a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ approach to this public health concern by ceasing work on what could be a lifesaving cancer risk research study.”
To Learn More:
Cancer Risk Study Canceled at San Onofre (by Morgan Lee, San Diego Union-Tribune )
Regulators Halt Study of Cancer Risks at 7 Nuclear Plants (by Stephen Singer, Associated Press )
NRC Pulls Plug on Cancer Study near Nuclear Plants (by Christine Legere, Cape Cod Times )
Memo on Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations near Nuclear Facilities Study (Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff) (pdf)
NRC Rejects Recommendation to Require Nuclear Plant Owners to Establish Plans to Address a Core-Melt Accident
Commissioners Ignore Lessons of Fukushima
Washington (August 28, 2015)—The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has rejected the recommendation of the high-level task force it convened after the March 2011 Fukushima disaster to require nuclear plant owners to develop and maintain plans for coping with a core-melt accident. This decision will allow nuclear plants to continue to maintain those plans voluntarily and deny the agency the authority to review those plans or issue citations if they are deficient.
“Once again, the NRC is ignoring a key lesson of the Fukushima accident: Emergency plans are not worth the paper they are printed on unless they are rigorously developed, maintained and periodically exercised,” said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “When it comes to these critical safety measures, the NRC is allowing the industry to regulate itself.”
In a decision posted on the NRC’s ADAMS website on August 27, NRC commissioners instructed agency staff to remove a provision of a proposed draft rule aimed at protecting plants from Fukushima-type accidents that would require nuclear plants to establish Severe Accident Management Guidelines, or SAMGs. The staff’s proposal was in response to Recommendation 8 of the NRC’s post-Fukushima staff recommendations, which questioned the effectiveness of NRC’s current practice of allowing plant owners to develop and maintain the SAMGs on a voluntary basis.
“The NRC has concluded that SAMGs are an essential part of the regulatory framework for the mitigation of the consequences of accidents,” the NRC staff wrote in its proposed draft rule. “Imposition of SAMGs requirements (versus a continuation of the voluntary initiative) would ensure that SAMGs are maintained as an effective guideline set through time.”
The nuclear industry—led by its premier trade organization, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI)—opposed the proposal to require SAMGs, arguing that the proposal did not meet a strict cost-benefit standard. Rejecting its own staff’s recommendation, the commissioners voted in favor of the industry and against the public interest.
“The NRC’s process for cost-benefit analysis is defective and is being misused to make bad decisions,” Lyman said. “The American public is not going to be adequately protected unless this process is fixed by taking into account the true costs should a Fukushima-type accident take place in the United States.”
Yesterday’s decision also removes a provision from the proposed draft rule that would require new reactors to have additional design features to protect against Fukushima-type accidents. By eliminating this requirement, Lyman said, the NRC is relinquishing the opportunity to ensure that new reactors built in the United States will have stronger protection measures than the current reactor fleet.
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.
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)
By KEVIN KAMPS and LINDA GUNTER | August 23, 2012
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.
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: email@example.com
- Design flaws cloud San Onofre’s future (sciencedude.ocregister.com)
- San Onofre: No restart plan submitted – No root cause identified (enformable.com)