Nuclear industry "comingling" reactor decommissioning funds possibly inflating actual funds on hand for radioactive cleanup


It could be the beginning of the revelation of a giant shell game involving limited liability corporations and the accounting for billions of dollars in decommissioning “trust” fund shortfalls. The nuclear industry is required to adequately accrue and set aside money for the environmental clean up of shuttered nuclear power plants. But when the bottom fell out of Wall Street market many of the invested decommissioning funds experienced steep losses and have yet to recover. Meanwhile, the final cost of deconstructing and cleaning up after a nuclear power plant is determined to be about as reliable as the cost to build a new one.

Paul Gunter, Director of Beyond Nuclear's Reactor Oversight Project  participated in a meeting with the Commissioners of the NRC on February 23, 2010 along with two representatives from the nuclear industry, a state regulator and an industry consultant on the issue concerning decommissioning fund shortfalls for the massive and costly radioactive cleanup of shuttered nuclear power plants.  The meeting was covered in the Brattleboro Reformer where the embattled Vermont Yankee nuclear power station, now scheduled for closure on March 12, 2012 is presently more than $500,000,000 short in its decommissioning trust fund.  The Beyond Nuclear testimony focused on the uncertain and escalating costs of decommissioning caused by uncontrolled radioactive leaks from buried pipe beneath the reactors.


Cesium-137, additional radionuclides, discovered in Vermont Yankee soil

Vermont's Times Argus reports that Ce-137, a radioisotope with a hazardous persistence of 300 to 600 years and that lodges in human muscle tissue (and has been blamed by Belarussian scientist Bandashevsky for the condition in children known as "Chernobyl Heart," the focus of a short documentary by the same name, which won an Oscar in 2003), has been discovered in the soil beneath Vermont Yankee atomic reactor during the course of Entergy Nuclear's search for the origin of underground tritium leaks. While Entergy was quick to blame atmospheric bomb tests and the Chernobyl cloud's fallout itself as the origin of the Ce-137, nuclear engineers such as Arnie Gundersen of the Vermont Legislature's Public Oversight Panel, and radiological health chief for the Vermont Department of Health William Irwin, said it's too soon to tell where the Ce-137 has come from, but it could very well be from the same leak releasing tritium into groundwater at the site. The Vermont Digger has reported that, in addition to Ce-137, radioactive isotopes of manganese and zinc have also been discovered in Vermont Yankee's soil. The Digger also reports that a visible crack in the "advanced off gas" (AOG) system pipe may account for some -- although perhaps not all -- of the tritium and other radioactivity leaks into site groundwater. Such a growing list of radionuclides in the soil and groundwater is reminiscent of the Big Rock Point reactor -- even post-decommissioning, two dozen hazardous radionuclides, including those now being found at Vermont Yankee, were still present in the Michigan nuclear power plant site. Despite this, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has declared it a "green field," available for "unrestricted re-use."


Uranium power: the antithesis of energy independence 

Given breaking developments in Kazakhstan and Niger, leading uranium exporting countries, it's increasingly clear that nuclear power represents the antithesis of energy independence for the U.S. and Europe. On the heels of President Obama’s announcement to increase the United States’ reliance upon nuclear energy as part of his plan for energy independence, the Washington Post published its story on the growing political instability and corruption mushrooming in Kazakhstan, already ravaged by Soviet atom bomb testing, and one of the world’s largest known uranium reserves, where the United States, China, Russia, Japan and Canada are among those jockeying for control of this valued and dangerous uranium ore. Meanwhile, the February 18, 2010 military coup in the sub-Saharan nation of Niger raises more questions than answers about the West African country’s future. While uranium mining makes up the bulk of Niger’s foreign income, 80% of its population lives on subsistence farming, with 60% below the poverty level amidst recurring famines. Coup leaders have made a pledge to bring democracy to the resource rich but impoverished country. (Sidi-Amar Taoua, pictured at left, a Touareg from Niger, spoke out against uranium mining in his homeland at a Beyond Nuclear sponsored appearance at the National Press Club, as well as a standing room only session at the Energy Action Coalition's 2009 PowerShift). However, international intrigue and conflicts continue to brew in Niger as Areva of France's monopoly control of uranium mining is being challenged by China. In our view, nuclear power is the antithesis of “energy independence” as claimed by the industry and its backers, including President Obama. The worsening conflicts in Kazakhstan and Niger illuminate how continued and expanded reliance on uranium power comes at the expense of future resource conflicts, environmental ruination, and economic injustice. In fact, the keys to real energy independence are found in substantially expanding energy efficiency, conservation and expanded renewable energy programs.


"Democracy in action": Vermont State Senate blocks license extension at Vermont Yankee!

As the still fruitless search for the source of leaking tritium entered its seventh week, and despite last minute announcements by Entergy Nuclear -- that five top Vermont Yankee managers had been placed on vaguely defined "administrative leave" and another six "reprimanded," that a non-public internal report supposedly found no intention to mislead state officials (despite false testimony under oath), and an "offer," described by Entergy as a "gift" but by others as a thinly veiled bribe -- the State of Vermont Senate, by a resounding vote of 26 to 4, has blocked the request to extend the Vermont Yankee atomic reactor's operating license for 20 additional years, forcing it to shutdown in 2012 as previously planned. Despite this, Entergy Nuclear has vowed to fight on. Beyond Nuclear issued a media release regarding the Vermont State Senate's unprecedented "no confidence" vote against Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee, as did Public Citizen. Beyond Nuclear congratulates the grassroots anti-nuclear movement of New England, including the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance, as well as Citizens Awareness Network and its Vermont chapter, without whose tireless efforts, this tremendous victory could not have been won. CAN issued a statement calling on supporters to remain vigilant, and to work to protect this victory by focusing grassroots pressure on the Vermont State House of Representatives. New Hampshire Public Radio quoted Cort Richardson, a Clamshell Alliance member who has fought against Vermont Yankee for 35 years, as saying: "I think it’s a proud day for Vermont. It’s a day when everyone can really feel proud of their legislature. They took the testimony. They listened. They studied and they came up with the right conclusion. To me that’s democracy in action. It worked...The plant’s continuation is rejected totally and unequivocally." Extensive additional news coverage, much of which pointed out the Vermont decision "bucks" President Obama's call for an expansion of nuclear power, included: AP; Burlington Free Press; CBS News; Rutland Herald (including activists' response to the victory); Vermont Public Radio; WCAX TV; and WPTZ TV.


Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee covered up tritium leak for five years

The Brattleboro Reformer reports that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has confirmed that a 2005 radioactive, carcinogenic leak of tritium at the Vermont Yankee atomic reactor was not reported to them until now. The Reformer also reports that 45-year-veteran of the industry, and nuclear whistleblower Paul Blanch, has leveled blistering criticism against both the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Entergy Nuclear (which he calls "the worst of the worst") regarding the "run it to failure and fix it when it breaks" philosophy at Vermont Yankee. "I wouldn't accept that program for my car," Blanch said. The State of Vermont legislature has scheduled a vote on Wednesday morning to decide whether or not it will allow for a 20 year license extension at Vermont Yankee, currently due to shut down in March 2012.