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ARTICLE ARCHIVE


 

Monday
Apr082013

Former NRC Chairman Jaczko calls for all U.S. atomic reactors to be shut down

Gregory Jaczko, who served as U.S. NRC Chairman from 2009-2012As reported by the New York Times, former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko recently came to the realization that all U.S. atomic reactors have unfixable safety flaws, and should be shut down. He added, however, that "new and improved" so-called small modular reactors could take their place.

Jaczko thinks that perhaps none of the reactors that have received NRC rubber-stamps for 20-year license extensions will ever last that long, in reality, let alone an additional 20-year extension NRC is currently flirting with the idea of allowing (40 years of initial operation, plus two 20-year license extensions, adding up to 80 years of operations!).

Oyster Creek, NJ (a Mark I) is the oldest still-running reactor in the U.S., although it is already planned to close by 2019, ten years short of its 20-year extension. Dominion Nuclear has also announced the permanent shutdown of Kewaunee in WI next month, although it still have decades of permitted operations on its license.

Ironically, Jaczko himself approved many 20-year license extensions, including at Palisades in MI (opposed by NIRS and a state-wide environmental coalition) and Vermont Yankee (opposed by the vast majority of Green Mountain State residents and elected officials). Jaczko even voted to not hearing Beyond Nuclear's contentions at the Seabrook, NH and Davis-Besse, OH license extension proceedings regarding renewable alternatives, such as wind power, to the 20-year extensions at the dangerously degraded old reactors.

Jaczko reached out to Beyond Nuclear in May 2012 to set up a meeting between his entourage from NRC and concerned local residents and environmental group representatives near Palisades after he toured the problem-plagued reactor. During the closed-door meeting, concerned locals pressed Jaczko on why the 42-year-old, dangerously age-degraded reactor was allowed to operate. He responded, ironically enough, given his yes vote on Palisades' license extension in 2007, that once NRC grants an atomic reactor a license to operate, there is little that can then be done about it.

Jaczko did, however, earn the enmity of the nuclear power industry and his fellow NRC Commissioners, as by his past work against the proposed Yucca Mountain dumpsite, his invocation of emergency powers during the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, and his votes against proposed new reactors in GA and SC because Fukushima "lessons learned" had not yet been applied or required. Although Jaczko often voted the industry's way, as above, he didn't always (often the sole dissenting vote), making him "insufficiently pro-nuclear" for the nuclear establishment, as Beyond Nuclear board member and investigative journalist Karl Grossman put it.

Jaczko was first appointed to the NRC Commission in 2005. In 2009, President Obama appointed him the chair the agency, which he did till 2012. He had previously worked on Capitol Hill, as a staffer for U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), and as a science fellow for U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), working on the Yucca Mountain and other nuclear power and radioactive waste issues.

Monday
Apr012013

1 killed, 8 injured, offsite electricity lost, due to drop of 600-ton load at Entergy's Arkansas Nuclear One plant

NRC file photo of Entergy's twin reactor Arkansas Nuclear One stationAs reported by Dow Jones Business News, a 24-year-old worker named Wade Walters of Russellville, Arkansas was killed when a crane dropped a 600-ton piece of equipment called a generator stator at Entergy's twin reactor Arkansas Nuclear One station (see photo, left), located six miles west-northwest of Russellville in London, Arkansas. Eight other workers were injured, one of whom remains hospitalized.

Platts also reported on the fatal accident.

In 2001, NRC rubber-stamped a 20-year license extension on top of Unit 1's 1974 to 2014 original operating permit, blessing its operation till 2034. In 2005, NRC followed suit at Unit 2, enabling it to run not from 1978 till 2018, but till 2038.

As the article reports: "When the generator stator fell, it damaged other equipment and a water pipeline used for extinguishing fires. Water spilled from the pipeline into the building that contains the power turbine, the NRC said. The water seeped into an electrical component, causing a short-circuit that cut off power to the plant from the electric grid, according to Entergy and the NRC."

Unit 1 was reportedly shut down for maintenance at the time of the accident, but Unit 2 was operating at full power. For a yet to be explained reason, Unit 2 "automatically" shut down after the accident. Emergency diesel generators are reportedly supplying electricity to emergency, safety, cooling, and other systems at both reactors.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) "Current Reactor Status Report" shows that both Arkansas Nuclear One reactors are at zero power levels. An Event Notification Report has been posted at the NRC's website. Note that the Event Notification Report filed by Entergy reports only four injuries, while media reports describe eight injured workers. The extent of damage to Unit 1 facilities has yet to be determined. NRC and U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigations are underway.

Saturday
Mar302013

Entergy Watch: River Bend Station, St. Francisville, Louisana

NRC's file photo of Entergy's River Bend Station, Unit 1, located in St. Francisville, LADavid Lochbaum, the Union of Concerned Scientists' Nuclear Safety Project Director, listed a "near-miss" at Entergy's River Bend atomic reactor, a General Electric Mark III Boiling Water Reactor, amongst his list of the 14 near-misses of 2012 in the U.S. nuclear power industry. He summarized the near-miss this way:

"The operators manually shut down the reactor on May 24 after an electrical fault on the motor of a feedwater pump caused it to stop running. A failed relay prevented the electrical breaker for the motor from opening to isolate the electrical fault. The fault propagated through the electrical distribution system, causing the breaker supplying power to the 13,800 volt electrical bus to open. Due to another electrical cable problem on May 21, all of the plant’s circulating water pumps and non-emergency cooling water pumps were being powered from this single electrical bus. Its loss caused the plant’s normal heat sink to be lost and stopped the supply of cooling water to equipment in the turbine building and to some emergency equipment."

Lochbaum explained that the incident prompted an NRC AIT, a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Augmented Inspection Team, signifying a one hundred fold increase in risk of reactor core damage, thus amongst the very most serious near-misses of 2012.

Lochbaum's summary is contained in his current annual report on U.S. atomic reactor near-misses, and NRC's safety regulatory performance (or lack thereof), entitled "Tolerating the Intolerable."

Friday
Mar292013

Beyond Nuclear and others take action to lower radioactivity allowed in food

Is there radiation in the food? Ami is 10 and lives in Yanaizu, Fukushima prefecture. Artwork is from the Strong Children Project, portrait by Geoff ReadBeyond Nuclear, in coalition with other groups and individuals from Fukushima Fallout Awareness Network or FFAN, filed a petition with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to drastically reduce the amount of radioactive cesium permitted in food, from a ridiculous 1200 Bq/kg, to 5 Bq/kg (see why here, read why here). The Bq  (Becquerel) is a measure of radioactivity. This week the FDA officially accepted the petition into its process, which means they are now accepting comments.

Our petition asks for a binding limit of 5 Bq/kg of cesium 134 & 137 combined, in food, nutritional supplements and pharmaceuticals. This is necessary because of continuing exposure to radiation from atomic bomb testing and routine releases from nuclear power, and in the wake of the ongoing catastrophe at Fukushima, where the reactors are still releasing radioactivity. We also ask that testing be widespread and, when technologically feasible, measurements below 5 Bq/kg be taken. Through this effort, we would like a database of contamination levels to be established and maintained, with information relevant to researchers, so that movement of the cesium radionuclide in our environment can be tracked since it tends to biomagnify once released.

The current US FDA recommendation, which is not binding, is twelve times higher than the limit in Japan. Before the Fukushima nuclear disaster, any material at or above Japan’s now accepted limit of 100 Bq/kg would have meant handling the contaminated material like nuclear waste is handled. But after Fukushima, up to 100 Bq/kg is considered all right to eat it. Anything above that 100 Bq/kg could be placed in the markets of other countries, like the US, who have higher cesium limits.

Studies indicate that, in post-Chernobyl Belarus, at just 11 Bq/kg of internal cesium contamination children can be susceptible to heart problems.  At 50 Bq/kg, children can start to have permanent tissue damage.

Additionally, in a 2011 report, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), Germany, has determined that the European Union cesium limit of 370 Bq/kg for babies and 600 for adults is woefully unprotective. Such high limits for cesium could be responsible, in combination with other man-made radioactivity, like strontium-90, plutonium-239 and iodine-131 (cesium-137 is a sentinel-indicator for the presence of these other isotopes and often does not exist without them), for roughly 150,000 additional cancer deaths in Germany alone if people consume only products contaminated to the maximum permissible limit. This number does not account for incidence of cancer nor any other wide-ranging diseases or genetic disorders radiation could cause.

The highest limit in Europe is half of the 1200 Bq/kg of cesium the US FDA recommends as its action limit. We should note, however, that the US recommendation comports very closely with the 1250 Bq/kg limit for most foodstuffs proposed by EURATOM (European Atomic Energy Community), the body of the EU that promotes nuclear power.

The IPPNW report recommends a 4 Bq/kg of cesium 137 and a 4 Bq/kg limit of cesium 134 for children, limits very similar to the 5 Bq/kg we are asking the FDA to implement for everyone. Beyond Nuclear believes it is impractical for the US to have one standard for adults and one for children.  It would be difficult to regulate, and add to the cost of implementation, so protection for the most vulnerable, those up to age 17 at least, should be the guiding principle used to set the standard. In fact, the IPPNW report recognizes this fact as well.

Beyond Nuclear and other FFAN coalition partners will be spearheading public participation initiatives in support of this FDA petition, in addition to adding more supporting materials and amendments through the petition process as we help educate the public, the FDA and Congress on this issue. Stay tuned for upcoming actions!

Artwork is from the Strong Children Project.

Wednesday
Mar272013

Coalition of concerned citizens details concerns about Palisades with NRC Commissioner Magwood

NRC Commissioner William Magwood IVA coalition comprised of 20 concerned local residents and environmental group representatives, including from Beyond Nuclear, met with U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Commissioner William Magwood IV (photo, left) for three hours on Monday evening, March 25th, in South Haven, MI, detailing their many concerns about safety, security, public health, and environmental protection -- or lack thereof -- at Entergy Nuclear's Palisades atomic reactor on the Lake Michigan shoreline in Covert, MI (see the coalition's meeting agenda). NRC Commissioner Magwood toured the problem-plagued plant the next morning.

The coalition issued a press release.

The St. Joe Herald-Palladium has reported on the meeting, as did Fox 17 television Grand Rapids. Michigan Radio's "Environment Report" quoted Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps.

NRC Commissioner Magwood's career has been devoted to the promotion of nuclear power, first as an industry insider (including as a consultant to Tokyo Electric Power Company, infamous owner of the ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant), and then as head of the promotional Office of Nuclear Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The Huffington Post has published exposés on Magwood's attempted coups against his bosses in order to take their jobs -- successfully at DOE, unsuccessfully at NRC. As also reported by HuffPost, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has vowed to block Magwood's aspirations for the NRC Chairmanship, due to Magwood breaking his promise to Reid to not advocate for the controversial Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste dump as an NRC Commissioner.

Due to his career promoting nuclear power, Beyond Nuclear led the environmental coalition effort to block President Obama's nomination of Magwood for the safety-regulatory NRC Commission in the first place, as well as the U.S. Senate's confirmation of Magwood for the position (the Project on Government Oversight launched a separate effort to block Magwood's confirmation). At the end of 2011, U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) cited Beyond Nuclear's coalition letter opposing Magwood's confirmation as she, too, criticized his broken promises to her about Yucca during his Feb. 2010 Senate confirmation hearing as an NRC Commissioner. Beyond Nuclear has also filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to NRC after receiving an anonymous tip that NRC Commissioner Magwood has been holding regular, secretive meetings with leaders of the industry's Nuclear Energy Institute, in violation of open meetings laws and regulations. However, despite filing the FOIA request on Dec. 3, 2011, NRC has not yet responded.

NRC has issued a notice and press release about its upcoming April 2nd "End of Cycle" annual performance review public meeting to be held in South Haven about Palisades. See more info. from NRC about the Apirl 2 meeting here, including its slideshow to be presented (note NRC has loaded its slides sideways).

On April 11th, Beyond Nuclear is co-sponsoring west Michigan presentations entitled "Preventing an American Fukushima" by David Lochbaum of Union of Concerned Scientists. He will present at 12 noon Eastern at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, and at 7 PM Eastern at the Beach Haven Event Center in South Haven, less than 5 miles north of Palisades. In his annual report of near-misses at U.S. atomic reactors, Lochbaum has included incidents at Palisades (two separate incidents in 2011 alone) for the past two years, making it one of the worst-run reactors in the country.