"PG&E overlooked key seismic test at Diablo Canyon nuclear plant"

As reported by David R. Baker in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Pacific Gas and Electric Co. replaced $842 million of equipment at the heart of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant without first making sure the new gear could pass a vital seismic safety test required in the facility’s license, The Chronicle has learned." (See full text of article here.)

The systems, structures and components in question include new lids, as well as replacement steam generators, for the twin unit nuclear power plant. The revelation comes in the aftermath of the permanent shutdown of California's other operating nuclear power plant, San Onofre Units 2 and 3, due to widepsread damage from defective replacement steam generators. That fiasco has turned into a multi-billion dollar boondoggle. More.


Areva requests NRC to suspend US EPR design certification review

The French-owned AREVA nuclear corporation has requested that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission suspend indefinitely its design certification review of the US Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR). The February 25, 2015 letter to the NRC was followed by news of AREVA posting a $5.4 billion loss in 2014 due in large part to extensive delays, enormous cost overruns in its EPR construction projects in France and Finland. AREVA further acknowledged the move is prompted by the weakening global business climate for nuclear power. Standard & Poor's has downgraded AREVA's credit rating to non-investment grade junk.

AREVA orginally submitted its EPR design to the NRC for generic approval in 2007. Several US nuclear utilities have submitted applications for combined construction and operation licensing to the federal agency.

Constellation Energy and Electricite de France (EdF) had formed the UniStar Nuclear Energy Corporation to build and operate Calvert Cliffs 3  in Lusby, MD as the lead US pilot project and the Nine Mile Point 3 project in upstate New York. The Calvert Cliffs 3 project was to be a "reference reactor" application for several more EPRs to follow in a significantly streamlined generic licensing process.

Despite receiving roughly $8 billion in federal loan guarantees from the US Department of Energy, Constellation bailed out of the financially dubious project in 2012 leaving EdF, France's state-run nuclear corporation as the sole entity in UniStar and in clear violation of the US Atomic Energy Act which prohibits foreign ownership, control and domination of US nuclear projects. Not one US utility stepped in to fill the vacant partnership with EdF. Instead, the NRC and US nuclear industry have gone into discussions to take a "fresh look" at the foreign ownership prohibition.  

UniStar, in the meantime has withdrawn its application to build the Nine Mile Point-3 EPR in upstate New York. Ameren has suspended its NRC application to build an EPR in Missouri. PPL has likewise suspended its NRC application to build an EPR at Bell Bend, Pennsylvania.

The AREVA announcement  suspending the NRC design review process sows more doubt for French reactors in the US ever being constructed, given that a license cannot be issued without the agency approving design safety.

AREVA's EPR project at Olkiluoto-3 in Finland is 9 years behind schedule and construction cost overruns skyrocketing from Euros 3.2 billion to Euros 8 billion. AREVA's EPR project in Flamanville, France is similarly delayed with a significant cost overrun.


Fukushima 4 years on: Will it happen here?


For immediate release

Contact: Paul Gunter, 301.523.0201; Cindy Folkers, 240.354.4314; Kevin Kamps, 240.462.3216. 

Higher radiation doses could be ruled “acceptable” after nuclear power disaster

“Fukushima” in the U.S. an ever-present danger

TAKOMA PARK, MD, March 5, 2015 -- Four years after the March 11, 2011 nuclear catastrophe in Japan began, a Fukushima-style disaster could still happen in the U.S., say experts at Beyond Nuclear. And if it does, U.S. authorities could rule that affected populations be forced to accept higher “allowable” doses of radiation to make severe nuclear accidents appear tolerable.

All of Japan’s now 43 reactors remain closed since the disaster at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear site, while 22 reactors with the same controversial General Electric Mark I boiling water reactor design continue to operate in the U.S. out of a total of 99 units. An additional eight similarly controversial GE Mark II reactors also operate in the U.S.

Japanese authorities dramatically raised the allowable radiation dose limit for surrounding populations by twentyfold after the nuclear disaster struck, from 1 milliSievert/year to 20, the same dose considered permissible for nuclear plant workers in Germany. Beyond Nuclear is concerned that U.S. authorities could move similarly in the event of a nuclear disaster here.

“There is every reason to believe the Environmental Protection Agency could simply increase the ‘permissible’ dose of radiation as authorities did in Japan,” said Cindy Folkers, radiation and health specialist at Beyond Nuclear. "You just have to look at the EPA guidelines for state and local governments during a nuclear disaster to see that they are planning on allowing 5-20 times the radiation dose recommended internationally.

"The industry and government shouldn't be allowed to make a nuclear catastrophe appear more survivable than it is by inflating allowable radiation exposure levels, " Folkers continued.

“Exposing babies and pregnant women to the same radiation doses as those considered tolerable for nuclear workers would mean deliberately putting a huge percentage of the population in harm’s way simply to allow the nuclear industry to save face and money,” concluded Folkers. 

The potential for a U.S. nuclear power plant disaster on the scale of Fukushima remains ever-present.

“Fukushima was the convergence of a dangerous technology, a flawed design and a captured regulator whose luck ran out,” said Paul Gunter, Director of Reactor Oversight at Beyond Nuclear. Beyond Nuclear initiated an emergency petition in April 2011 signed by 10,000 co-petitioners, calling on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to suspend the operating licenses of the identical GE reactors here in the United States. 

“Unlike in Japan, where critical safety retrofits are now required before restart of any boiling water reactors, the NRC has dismissed increasing the identical safety margins and costs to keep financially fragile nuclear reactor operators in business,” he said.

Even permanently closed reactors still present a potentially catastrophic risk. “Highly radioactive irradiated fuel has to be stored in reactor pools for five years, even after a reactor ceases operations,” said Kevin Kamps, Radioactive Waste Specialist at Beyond Nuclear. “A pool fire could potentially release significantly more radioactivity than a reactor meltdown. A U.S. Fukushima is an ever-present danger until we shut all of our atomic reactors and transfer the irradiated nuclear fuel from vulnerable pools to Hardened On-Site Storage,” Kamps concluded.



"Maryland Attorney General opposes Exelon-Pepco merger, urges regulators to reject"

Logo courtesy of Public Citizen Energy ProgramAs reported by UtilityDIVE, the State of Maryland's Attorney General, Brian Frosh (Democrat), has filed a lengthy submission to the Maryland Public Service Commission on behalf of the State of Maryland and the Maryland Energy Administration, expressing strong opposition to the proposed merger of Exelon Nuclear and Pepco.

As reported by UtilityDIVE:

"This merger will harm Maryland customers, offers no tangible, incremental benefits of sufficiently meaningful value, and is not in the public interest," the document's conclusion reads. "Nothing in the filed testimony, or the evidence adduced during lengthy and comprehensive hearings, changes these facts."

Frosh's filing argues that the proposed merger would open Maryland ratepayers up to undue risk, expose them to anti-competitive harms not addressed by the merger application, and threaten the growth of renewables and distributed energy, among other consequences. Frosh also argues that the companies have not presented compelling plans to mitigate the possible harms:

"The proposed acquisition introduces substantial potential harms to Pepco and Delmarva customers and to the State as a whole, which are not subject to meaningful mitigation,” the brief reads.


Fairewinds: "Fukushima Meltdown 4 Years Later"

Fairewinds Energy Education has released a video featuring its Chief Engineer, Arnie Gundersen, and its Board of Directors members, Chiho Kaneko. (There is a 5-minute retrospective version, and a 25-minute in-depth version.)