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Wednesday
Aug152012

"Crisis du jour" at Entergy Nuclear's Palisades atomic reactor

Anti-nuclear watchdogs have long called for Palisades' shutdown. Here, Don't Waste MI board members Michael Keegan, Alice Hirt, and Kevin Kamps speak out at the 2000 Nuclear-Free Great Lakes Action Camp, with Palisades' cooling tower steam and Lake Michigan visible in the background.On Sunday, Palisades shut down due to a leak of radioactive and acidic primary coolant, escaping from safety-critical control rod drive mechanisms attached to its degraded lid, atop its "worst embrittled reactor pressure vessel in the U.S." Two years ago, in a report entitled "Headaches at Palisades: Broken Seals & Failed Heals," David Lochbaum, Director of the Nuclear Safety Project at Union of Concerned Scientists, warned about closely related problems extending back 40 years at Palisades. The CRDM leaks are so chronic at Palisades, as reflected in 2007, 2009, and 2010 NRC PNOs (Preliminary Notifications of Occurrence), that NRC cut and paste verbage from one incident to the next, and even admitted: "While limited CRD seal leakage is not unusual for the CRD seal design at Palisades, elevated CRD seal leakage rates and increasing leak-rate trends are indicators of CRD seal degradation. The site has experienced elevated CRD seal leakage rates and increasing leak-rate trends in the past which required similar plant shutdowns." 

Arnie Gundersen, nuclear engineer at Fairewinds Associates, points out that boric acid leakage inside containment has led to containment liner degradation at a number of U.S. reactors, including Turkey Point, increasing the risk that containments will fail to prevent radioactivity releases during reactor accidents. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) just announced the deployment of a special inspection team to Palisades to investigate this latest leak.

Today, HuffPost Hill has broken the story that NRC's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has launched an investigation into the behavior of NRC Commissioner William C. Ostendorff, for allegedly yelling at a female NRC staffer regarding an investigation ordered by former NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko. Ironically enough, Ostendorff joined three other NRC Commissioners in late 2011, writing the White House that Jaczko's alleged bullying of female NRC staffers had chilled the agency work environment. Pro-nuclear Hill Republicans jumped on the opportunity, carrying out "witch hunt" hearings, which eventually forced the (as investigative journalist and Beyond Nuclear board member Karl Grossman has put it) "insufficiently pro-nuclear" Jaczko's ouster from the agency.

Jaczko had met with an environmental coalition in South Haven, Michigan a short time after having toured the problem-plagued Palisades atomic reactor on May 25th. Jaczko's office had reached out to Beyond Nuclear a month earlier, asking for assistance in setting up the meeting, which included key environmental group representatives from across Michigan, as well as local anti-nuclear watchdogs and concerned residents. However, during the meeting, not a peep was shared with the concerned public about the Safety Injection Refueling Water (SIRW) storage tank leak, into buckets in the control room. Courageous Palisades whistleblowers, their attorney Billie Pirner Garde, and U.S. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) brought this to light in mid-June.

The coalition immediately wrote Jaczko, asking why he had not informed them about the SIRW storage tank leak at the May 25th meeting. Jaczko never wrote back before leaving office. However, as reported by the HuffPost Hill, he did order an investigation into why his own staff had not informed him of the SIRW storage tank leak -- he was as in the dark as the public! Jaczko had been accompanied on his Palisades tour, and at his press conference and meeting with the public afterwards, by NRC Region 3 Administrator Chuck Casto, NRC Office of Public Affairs director Elliot Brenner, several NRC HQ and Region 3 staff persons, as well as NRC's Palisades resident inspectors. It is inconceivable that none of them knew about the SIRW storage tank leak, as it had been ongoing for over a year.