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Environmental Impacts

The entire nuclear fuel chain involves the release of radioactivity that contaminates the environment. Radiation can affect the air, water, soil, plants, animals, places of residence and recreation and elsewhere.

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Tuesday
Aug192014

Environmental groups oppose Fermi 2 license extension

NRC file photo of Fermi 2Multiple environmental groups have met an arbitrarily short, 11:59pm Eastern deadline, and officially intervened against the application by DTE (Detroit Edison) to extend the operating license at its Fermi 2 atomic reactor (photo, left) for an additional 20 years. Fermi 2's operating license is currently set to expire in 2025.

DTE's Fermi nuclear power plant, most infamous for the October 5, 1966 "We Almost Lost Detroit" partial meltdown of its Unit 1 experimental plutonium breeder reactor, is located on the Lake Erie shore of southeast Michigan, in Monroe County.

Beyond Nuclear has entered into coalition with Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, as well as Don't Waste Michigan, to file four contentions against Fermi 2's license extension.

Two of the contentions concern radioactive waste. The first is about the risk of catastrophic irradiated nuclear fuel storage pool fires. Fermi 2's storage pool holds around 600 tons of irradiated nuclear fuel, more than all four destroyed units at Fukushima Daiichi put together (419 tons). The second radioactive waste contention is about the lack of safety and environmental assurances, since the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) "Nuclear Waste Confidence" policy was declared null and void two years ago by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and NRC has not yet replaced it.

Another contention concerns the General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactor, and its containment's, long-known, fatal design flaws. Fermi 2 is largest GE Mark I BWR in the world, almost as big as the melted down Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 and 2 reactor cores put together. 

The final contention is about the interconnected risks between the age-degraded Fermi 2, and the untested, proposed new Fermi 3 atomic reactor, including the vulnerability of both sharing a common off-site electricity transmission corridor.

The three groups, joined by Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, as well as the Sierra Club, Michigan Chapter, have also been intervening against the Fermi 3 proposed new reactor since March, 2009.

Both coalitions challenging Fermi 2, and Fermi 3, are represented by Toledo-based attorney Terry Lodge.

Citizens Resistance at Fermi Two (CRAFT) separately filed 14 contentions of its own against the Fermi 2 license extension. CRAFT released a press release.

Monday
Aug042014

What contribution do atomic reactors make to Lake Erie's toxic algae blooms?

Lake Erie's serious water quality decline -- including being clogged with toxic algae -- threatens drinking and irrigation water, fisheries, tourism, recreation, etc. Photo credit: Reuters.Half a million residents in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan have been warned not to drink their tap water -- nor even to boil it, which would make matters worse. The problem is a toxic, caused by a massive algae bloom just offshore in Lake Erie.

What's the cause? Certainly agricultural and yard run-off, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), human sewage and industrial pollution are major factors.

But what role do thermal-electric power plants play? Remarkably, two-thirds of the heat generated by burning coal or splitting atoms is waste heat.

Detroit Edison's Monroe Power Plant, at 3,000 Megawatts-electric one of North America's single-largest coal burners, is located on the Lake Erie shore in southeast Michigan. It lacks cooling towers. Thus, 6,000 MW-e of thermal pollution is discharged into the shallow (average depth, only 23 feet) Western Basin of Lake Erie.

There are a number of additional coal burners on the shoreline of Lake Erie's Western Basin, including ones lacking cooling towers.

What about atomic reactors? Detroit Edison's Fermi 2 atomic reactor, and FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company's Davis-Besse atomic reactor -- visible with the naked eye, one from the other, 30-miles across Lake Erie -- both have cooling towers.

Even though their usage of Lake Erie water is decreased by orders of magnitude, and their discharge of thermal pollution into the lake is also diminished, as compared to not having cooling towers, it is still large. And some of the water used in the cooling towers is lost as steam, which blows out of the Great Lakes watershed on the wind. Thus, some part of Lake Erie's volume is evaporated, compliments of atom splitting. The already shallow Lake Erie is made that much more shallow, concentrating heat and nutrients that help toxic algae flourish.

Five years ago, a coalition of environmental groups, including Beyond Nuclear, made just such a contention in their multi-faceted challenge to Detroit Edison's proposed new Fermi 3 atomic reactor. However, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) quickly dismissed the challenge.

Thus, the answer to the question "What contribution do atomic reactors make to Lake Erie's toxic algae blooms?" remains unaddressed, compliments of the deep disinterest of Detroit Edison, NRC staff, and the ASLB.

One good thing that did come of the environmental coalition's contention, however, was it forced Detroit Edison to address the phosphorus pollution into Lake Erie that would have resulted from its Fermi 3 cooling systems. Detroit Edison has supposedly made plans to curtail phoshorus discharges from the proposed new Fermi 3 reactor.

The environmental coalition, more than five years into the fight against Fermi 3, now faces the threat of a 20-year license extension at Fermi 2. Fermi 2 is the largest Fukushima Daiichi twin design in the world. Fermi 2's 1,122 MW-e General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactor is nearly as big in size as Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 and 2's GE Mark I BWRs put together. The coalition, including Beyond Nuclear, represented by Toledo-based attorney Terry Lodge, will file a petition to intervene, and contentions, opposing Fermi 2's bid for 20 additional years of operations by NRC's arbitrarily short August 18th deadline.

Monday
Jun092014

Two dozen groups urge State of MA to divest from Entergy due to safety and economic risks at Pilgrim

NRC file photo of Entergy's Pilgrim GE BWR Mark I on Cape Cod Bay in Plymouth, MABeyond Nuclear has signed onto an effort spearheaded by the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, and endorsed by two dozen local groups, to urge the State of Massachusetts to divest more than $8 million invested in Entergy. The signatory groups cited the economic and safety risks associated with the nuclear utility's problem-plagued Pilgrim atomic reactor. A June 4th letter was sent to Governor Patrick and Treasurer Grossman, as described in a June 9th press release.

The letter cites Pilgrim's harmful impacts on the fisheries of Cape Cod Bay.

NRC recently placed Pilgrim on its "degraded" performance short list. The only other reactor in the country with a worse performance designation is FitzPatrick in upstate New York. Both Pilgrim and FitzPatrick are General Electric Mark I boiling water reactors, identical in design to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4.

Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor in Michigan was similarly designated one of the worst performers in the U.S. a couple years ago, after not one but two near-misses in 2011, and yet another one in 2012, as documented by David Lochbaum at Union of Concerned Scientists.

A year ago, energy economist Mark Cooper of Vermont Law School identified Entergy's six merchant reactors (half its national fleet), including Pilgrim, as at risk of near-term shutdown. This is due to a variety of factors, including economic uncompetitiveness and needed, costly safety repairs. In August 2013, Cooper was proven right, when Entergy announced the permanent shutdown of Vermont Yankee (another Entergy GE BWR Mark I) by the end of 2014.

Friday
May092014

Entergy's Palisades spills 70 gallons of oil on the edge of Lake Michigan

NRC file photo of Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor, as well as the Great Lake and surrounding countryside it puts at riskDespite the industry's claim that nuclear power is "clean energy," Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor has just spilled "approximately 70 gallons" of oil onto the ground, adjacent to the waters of Lake Michigan. As a headwaters for the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan supplies drinking water to 40 million people in eight U.S. states, two Canadian provinces, and a large number of Native American First Nations.

The Kalamazoo Gazette has reported on this oil leak. This latest incident at Palisades was made public by an Event Notification posted at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's website.

The oil spill comes a year and two days after Palisades leaked 82.1 gallons of radioactive water directly into Lake Michigan. The radioactive spill prompted a protest vigil at Palisades' front entrace, organized by Beyond Nuclear and local concerned citizens' groups, after U.S. Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI), Chair of the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce (whose district "hosts" Palisades), as well as NRC Commissioner Svinicki, failed to even acknowledge requests for meetings after their hastily arranged emergency tour of the problem-plagued plant.

Palisades' oil spill also comes less than two months after British Petroleum spilled 1,638 gallons of Canadian tar sands crude oil into Lake Michigan at its refinery in Whiting, IN, and less than four years after the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, upstream of Lake Michigan: 1.4 million gallons of Canadian tar sands crude, from Enbridge's Line 6B oil pipeline, into the Kalamazoo River at Marshall, MI. To protect irreplacable surface waters like Lake Michigan, Beyond Nuclear stands in solidarity with anti-dirty energy allies against oil pipelines.

The very title of a May 7, 2014 U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General report shows there is much to be concerned about: PHMSA's State Pipeline Safety Program Lacks Effective Management and Oversight. Before becoming PHMSA's Administrator, Cynthia L. Quaterman, she had represented oil companies, including Enbridge, as a legal counsel.

There were widespread calls for PHMSA Administrator Quaterman to block a permit for Bruce Nuclear to ship, by boat, radioactive steam generators on the Great Lakes, but she did not do so. However, it took Mohawk First Nation pledges to block the boats on the Saint Lawrence River before Bruce Nuclear stopped pushing the proposal.

Sunday
May042014

"A Rhetorical Outburst: Canadian ‘Experts’ Comfy with Radioactive Pollution of Great Lakes"

John LaForge of Nukewatch in Luck, WIJohn LaForge of Nukewatch Wisconsin has published an article at CounterPunch entitled "A Rhetorical Outburst: Canadian ‘Experts’ Comfy with Radioactive Pollution of Great Lakes."

It is John's response to an "expert report" done in support of Ontario Power Generation's (OPG) proposal to bury all of the province's so-called "low" and "intermediate" level radioactive wastes, from 20 reactors, less than a mile from the waters of Lake Huron. The dump would be immediately adjacent to OPG's Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, with eight operable atomic reactors, one of the single biggest nuclear power plants in the world.

40 million American, Canadian, and Native American First Nations residents drink from Great Lakes waters, which comprise more than 20% of the entire world's surface fresh water, and more than 90% of North America's.

John writes: "The ‘expert’ group’s report says it’s possible that as much as 1,000 cubic meters a year of water contaminated with radiation might leach from the dump, but calls such pollution 'highly improbable.' (Emphasis on 'predicted' and 'improbably' here: The US government’s 650-meter-deep Waste Isolation Pilot Project in New Mexico was predicted to contain radiation for 10,000 years. It failed badly on Feb. 14, after only 15.)"

In September 2013, John testified before the Canadian federal Joint Review Panel tasked with overseeing OPG's environmental assessment on OPG's proposed "Deep Geologic Repository," or DGR. (Critics have dubbed it the Deep Underground Dump, or DUD). He cited a 2008 OPG promotional brochure, which rhetorically asked “Will the [dump] contaminate the water?” then answered: “…even if the entire waste volume were to be dissolved into Lake Huron, the corresponding drinking water dose would be a factor of 100 below the regulatory criteria initially, and decreasing with time.”

This fatuous assertion prompted John to ask in his testimony: “Why would the government spend $1 billion on a dump when it is safe to throw all the radioactive waste in the water?”

As John writes, "Now, what I thought of then as a rhetorical outburst has become 'expert' opinion."

John and Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps will co-present "Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer," their annual workshop at the Midwest Renewable Energy Association fair held on summer solstice weekend in central WI.