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The entire nuclear fuel chain involves the release of radioactivity, contamination of the environment and damage to human health. Most often, communities of color, indigenous peoples or those of low-income are targeted to bear the brunt of these impacts, particularly the damaging health and environmental effects of uranium mining. The nuclear power industry inevitably violates human rights.
Yesterday, to meet the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) arbitrarily short 30-day deadline for public comments on its "Draft Consequence Study of a Beyond-Design-Basis Earthquake Affecting the Spent Fuel Pool for a US Mark I Boiling Water Reactor" (NRC-2013-013), attorney Diane Curran and expert witness Dr. Gordon Thompson filed a blistering response on behalf of an environmental coalition of 26 groups, including Beyond Nuclear.
In her cover letter to NRC, Curran wrote: "...the Draft Consequence Study is not a credible scientific document. While the study purports to be a broad scientific inquiry into pool fire phenomena, in fact it is a very narrow study that ignores basic pool fire phenomena and important pool fire accident contributors. It misleadingly implies that a severe earthquake causing complete draining of a fuel pool is the primary source of risk to a spent fuel pool, and assumes that open-rack low-density pool storage is not advantageous without even examining it. In short, the Consequence Study appears designed to advance the authors’ pre-determined and unsupported conclusion that high-density pool storage is safe."
Thompson makes clear that a partial drain down of a high-level radioactive waste (HLRW) storage pool is an even worse-case scenario than a complete drain down, for air cooling provided by convection currents -- which might otherwise prevent ignition of the irradiated nuclear fuel's combustible zirconium cladding -- is blocked by the layer of water in the bottom of the pool. Thompson points out that any technically-competent analyst who has been paying attention to pool-fire risks since 1979 would have known that, and charges NRC with being deliberately misleading. He also points out the potentially catastrophic consequences of pool fires -- over 4 million people could be displaced, long-term, from their homes, as even NRC acknowledges.
Curran concluded: "We are appalled that after decades of avoiding and obfuscating this urgent safety issue, the NRC now proposes to rely on this biased and unscientific document to justify continued high-density
pool storage of spent fuel, both in its post-Fukushima safety review and in the Draft Waste Confidence Environmental Impact Statement. We join Dr. Thompson in urging you to withdraw the Draft Consequence Study and begin anew with a study of spent fuel pool fire risks that finally complies with basic principles of sound scientific inquiry."
Curran represented a coalition of environmental groups which, along with a coalition of state attorneys general, prevailed against NRC's Nuclear Waste Confidence at the second highest court in the land. The U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that NRC must complete an environmental impact statement on the risks of on-site storage of HLRW at reactors, including in pools. NRC did not appeal the ruling, and quickly acknowledged that the completion of the EIS would prevent finalization of proposed new reactor license approvals, as well as old reactor license extension approvals, for at least two years (NRC had previously admitted that a Nuclear Waste Confidence EIS would take seven years to complete!).
Robert Alvarez, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, has heralded Dr. Thompson's work as a "devastating critique." Alvarez adds, "Gordon's comments systematically reveal the kinds of scientific malpractice the NRC is resorting to at a time when one of the nation's largest and oldest high-hazard enterprises faces a deepening economic crisis."
Alvarez, formerly a senior advisor to the Energy Secretary during the Clintion administration, knows what he's talking about. Along with Dr. Thompson, now-NRC Chairwoman, Ph.D. geologist Allison Macfarlane, and five more experts, Alvarez published "Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power-Reactor Fuel in the United States," in Jan., 2003. This groundbreaking warning about the potentially catastrophic risks of HLRW pool fires was largely affirmed by a congressionally-ordered National Academy of Science study in 2005; NRC unsuccessfully attempted to block the security-redacted public release of NAS's findings. Alvarez also published a May 2011 report on the hazards of high-density pool storage across the U.S., in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe. And in June, in a report commissioned by Friends of the Earth, Alvarez focused on the risks of HLRW pool storage at the now permanently shutdown San Onofre nuclear power plant.
As reported by the Sarnia Observer, the Mayor of Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, Mike Bradley (photo, left), has declared victory in a years-long campaign to block the shipment of radioactive steam generators, by boat on the Great Lakes, from Bruce Nuclear Generating Station in Kincardine, Ontario, across the Pacific, to Sweden.
“It's a real testament to citizen power,” said Bradley, who has been a vocal critic of the move, along with a growing list of Ontario mayors, coalition groups, environmental activists, and U.S. Senators. “We're fighting a very large and powerful organization.”
First Nations, including the Mohawks, as well as hundreds of municipalities in Quebec representing millions of citizens along the targeted shipment route, made the difference for the resistance.
Kay Cumbow, the nuclear power watchdog in Michigan who first discovered the risky shipping scheme through her research, then warned and activated others, has said "Thanks to everyone who wrote letters, signed petitions and helped get the word out about the dangers of this scheme that would have put the Great Lakes at risk, endangered workers as well as communities enroute, and would have put radioactive materials into the global recycled metal supply."
Maude Barlow, national chairwoman of the Council of Canadians, was quoted by the Ottawa Citizen: "This is a huge victory for communities around the Great Lakes...The Great Lakes belong to everyone and communities have a right to say 'no' to any projects that will harm them."
As indicated by Mayor Bradley in a separate Sarnia Observer article, the next big fight against "nuclear madness" brewing at Bruce involves proposals by Ontario Power Generation, the Canadian Nuclear Waste Management Organization, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to bury all of Ontario's so-called "low" and "intermediate" level radioactive wastes -- from 20 atomic reactors across the province -- within a mile of the Lake Huron shoreline. Several communities near Bruce, largely populated by Bruce nuclear workers and in effect company towns, have also volunteered to be considered for a national Canadian high-level radioactive waste dump (for 22 reactors). Ojibwe First Nations, whose land the Bruce Nuclear site is built upon, have expressed grave concerns about the proposed DUDs.
As a reminder once again that the possession of nuclear resources can trigger violence, a suicide bomber struck at the Areva-owned Arlit uranium mine in Niger on May 23rd, killing one person and injuring more than a dozen others. The attack was perpetrated by an Al Qaeda jihadist simultaneously with an attack on a military base in Agadez, Niger. The attacker drove inside the Arlit complex in a vehicle loaded with 400 kilograms of explosives. The incident exposed once again the security vulnerabilities at the site, already the source of controversy given the extreme water depletion caused by the operation and the pervasive high level of radioactive contamination of air, water, soils and rocks. Niger is one of the biggest sources of uranium in the world. French industrial giant, Areva, an arm of the French government, also mines uranium in Canada and Kazakhstan. Niger is rated as one of the poorest countries in the world and the locals see little benefit from the exploitation of uranium which has also destroyed the pastoral traditions of the indigenous Tuareg peoples. (Pictured, a typical house of a uranium miner in Arlit.) The independent laboratory, CRIIRAD, has done extensive investigations and analysis in Niger.Read more.
As reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, the Private Fuel Storage (PFS) Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) has given up on itsplans to turn the tiny Skull Valley Goshutes Inidan Reservation in Utah into a parking lot dump (or "centralized interim storage facility") for commercial high-level radioactive waste. At one time, PFS was comprised of more than a dozen nuclear utilities, led by Xcel Energy of Minnesota, with Dairyland Power Co-Op as a front group.
In 2005-2006, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) granted PFS a construction and operating license, despite objections by traditionals with the Skull Valley band, nearly 500 environmental and environmental justice organizations, as well as the State of Utah. The plan was for 40,000 metric tons of irradiated nuclear fuel to be "temporarily stored" (for 20 to 40 years) in 4,000 dry casks on the reservation. However, as the ultimate plan was to transfer the wastes to the Yucca Mountain dump, when that proposal was cancelled in 2009, this would have meant the wastes would have been stuck indefinitely at Skull Valley.
In 2006 a very unlikely coalition, involving the likes of Mormon political leaders and wilderness advocates, succeeded in creating the first federal wilderness area in Utah in a generation. This created a "moat" around the Skull Valley reservation, blocking the railway needed to directly deliver the waste. And, after lobbying efforts at the top echelons of Republican Party decision making circles by U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) as well as Utah Governor Huntsman, the George W. Bush administration's Department of the Interior refused to approve the lease agreement between PFS and the Skull Valley band, as well as the intermodal transfer facility on Bureau of Land Management property which could have allowed heavy haul trucks to ship the waste containers the final leg of the journey to the reservation.
The Skull Valley Goshutes were first targeted by the nuclear power establishment more than 20 years ago.Altogether, 60-some tribes have been actively targeted for high-level radioactive waste parking lot dumps. All the proposals have been stopped, as through the work of Native American grassroots environmental activists like Grace Thorpe, working in alliance with environmental and environmental justice organizations.
On Jan. 7, the Salt Lake Tribune published a follow-on article about PFS's cancellation, entitled "Money, politics bury plans for Utah fuel-rod cemetery." The article quotes a leader of the broad coalition which opposed the "parking lot dump":
"...Chip Ward remembers an 'amazing' coalition swelled up around the goal of defeating the storage site.
Co-founder of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, he grasped the wariness of Utahns who already had allowed a slew of toxic industries to be established in western Utah — including chemical weapons destruction, bio-weapons testing, a low-level nuclear waste site, a hazardous waste site, a toxic waste incinerator and what was then the nation’s biggest air polluter...
'When you have a really powerful political movement,' Ward said, 'you can look past whatever divides you and what is important is the cause that unites you.'"
NIRS, for one, spearheaded a coalition of nearly 450 organizations nation-wide, which objected to the environmental, or radioactive, racism of the PFS proposal.