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New Reactors

The U.S. nuclear industry is trumpeting a comeback - but only if U.S. taxpayers will foot the bill. Beyond Nuclear is watchdogging nuclear industry efforts to embark on new reactor construction which is too expensive, too dangerous and not needed.

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Tuesday
Dec162014

NRC Commissioners deny appeal on QA at Fermi 3, but environmental intervenors vow to fight on

An artist's rendition of the GEH ESBWR, proposed by DTE to be built as "Fermi 3" at its nuclear power plant in Monroe Co., MIOn Dec. 16th, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) five Commissioners, in a unanimous ruling, denied an environmental coalition's appeal in the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) proceeding on Detroit Edison's (DTE) proposed new Fermi 3 reactor in southeast MI on the Lake Erie shore. The coalition requested reconsideration of the ASLB's June 2014 ruling that DTE's Fermi 3 quality assurance (QA) program was adequate, reasserting its preponderence of evidence -- including the testimony of Fairewinds Associates, Inc.'s Chief Engineer, Arnie Gundersen -- that DTE's QA program was at best in disarray, and at times non-existent.

The coalition became aware of DTE's QA chaos through an NRC staff Notice of Violation in 2009. But DTE argued it need not have had a QA program in place before September 2008, as it had not yet filed its COLA (combined Construction and Operating License Application), so it was not yet an "applicant" under NRC regulations. NRC staff then reversed itself, and likewise opposed the coalition's QA contention.

Fortunately, the ASLB didn't fall for DTE's and NRC staff's Orwellian "definition of the word 'applicant'" switcheroo. But the ASLB nonetheless ruled, in June 2014, that what little QA oversight DTE had in place was sufficient to fulfill NRC requirements. The coalition contended that geological borings, as but one example, with little to no QA authentication, mean that Fermi 3 could be a "house of cards," vulnerable to poorly understood seismic risks.

The coalition intends to appeal these NRC rulings to the federal courts, if need be.

One last coalition contention is still in play before the NRC Commission. In a very rare move, the ASLB panel itself has requested sua sponte permission from the NRC Commissioners to review NRC staff's stubborn refusal, despite repeated warnings, to not include the new transmission line corridor in the Fermi 3 Environmental Impact Statement. The environmental coalition objected in Jan. 2012 that its exclusion appears to be a violation of NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act) on its face. NEPA requires NRC to take a "hard look" at all environmental impacts caused by a major federal action, such as NRC's allowing DTE to construct and operate Fermi 3 (and its inextricably interlinked transmission corridor). The NRC Commission indicated in its Dec. 16th denial of the QA appeal that it would rule on the transmission corridor contention in a separate order.

If the NRC Commissioners deny the ASLB's request for permission to review the apparent NRC staff NEPA violation, the environmental coalition intends to appeal that issue to the federal courts, as well.

As announced in the Federal Register on Dec. 5th, the NRC Commission has scheduled its "mandatory hearing" on Fermi 3 for Feb. 4th. As described by a Feb. 16, 2011 NRC press release (less than a month before the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe began), and as shown in a flow chart in a May 22, 2014 internal NRC email, this means that the NRC is moving ever closer to final approval of the Fermi 3 COLA.

This would be the first proposed new reactor license approval by NRC since Vogtle 3 & 4 in GA, and Summer 2 & 3 in SC, were approved by split decisions at the NRC Commission in early 2012. NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko was the sole dissenting "no" vote, stating the new reactor license approvals were taking place "as if Fukushima hadn't even happened." The last order for a new reactor in the U.S., that actually got built and operated, was placed in October 1973.

All this comes as the U.S. Department of Energy announced another round of solicitations for the $12.5 billion of federal taxpayer-funded nuclear loan guarantees available. An $8.3 billion nuclear loan guarantee was finalized for Vogtle 3 and 4 some time ago. Intervenors are concerned that DTE may well apply for a high-risk federal loan guarantee, putting American taxpayers on the hook if Fermi 3 defaults on its loan repayment. Being a different design than was awarded at Vogtle 3 and 4 -- an ESBWR instead of an AP1000 -- only increases the risk that DOE will award DTE the loan guarantee, given the "diversity" sought by the loan guarantee program. (In an egregious example of the revolving door between government and industry, a primary author of the nuclear loan guarantee program, Alex Flint, a senior staffer for Energy Policy Act of 2005 sponsor U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), shortly after the bill's enactment went to work as top lobbyist for the Nuclear Energy Institute. In a very real sense, Flint wrote his own paycheck.)

However, the environmental coalition opposing Fermi 3 also has a Nuclear Waste Confidence contention pending in the proceeding. If, and when, NRC moves to finalize COLA approval, the intervenors -- part of a larger coalition of three dozen groups nationwide, challenging NRC's Nuclear Waste Confidence policy -- will very likely move for a federal court injunction to block NRC's Fermi 3 COLA approval, until the Nuclear Waste Confidence dispute is resolved.

The environmental coalition opposing Fermi 3's COLA includes Beyond Nuclear, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination (CACC), Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario (CEA), Don't Waste Michigan, and the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, as well as numerous concerned local residents. Terry Lodge of Toledo serves as their legal counsel. The coalition first intervened against the COLA on March 9, 2009, after DTE made application to construct and operate Fermi 3 in September 2008. The largely volunteer coalition has filed around three dozen contentions over the past six years, more than in any other proposed new reactor ASLB proceeding.

Fermi 3 would be a General Electric-Hitachi (GEH) so-called "Economic, Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR)." DTE's Fermi 3 ESBWR is the "Reference COLA," or flagship, in the U.S. In late 2008 and early 2009, several proposed new ESBWRs were canceled, as in Texas, as well as at North Anna, VA. However, more recently, Dominion Nuclear returned to the ESBWR design for its proposed new North Anna Unit 3 reactor. Another dozen or more ESBWRs are proposed to be built overseas, as in India and China.

The ESBWR DCD (design control document) recently won final "design certification," or approval, by NRC. This, after NRC staff asked an astounding 6,000 (yes, six thousand) RAIs (requests for additional information) on the half-baked design. NRC also approved the ESBWR design despite a lingering concern about the design of the massive steam dryer system. The U.S. Department of Justice made an out of court settlement with General Electric-Hitachi (GEH), fining the company a mere $2.7 million, for apparent false and fraudulent statements made by GEH to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). GEH has been a beneficiary of taxpayer-funded "Nuclear Power 2010" support from DOE, a 50/50 cost-share between nuclear reactor vendors and the Energy Dept. for proposed new reactor R&D. The ESBWR is one of only two proposed new reactor designs so funded. The other is the Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000, currently under problem-plagued construction at Vogtle 3 & 4 in GA, and Summer 2 & 3 in SC.

NRC has made the troubled steam dryer design a licensing condition at Fermi 3. A mere ten days prior to start up, DTE supposedly will be required to show that any lingering concerns have been resolved.

Beyond Nuclear, CEA, and Don't Waste MI, again represented by Terry Lodge, have also intervened against the license extension sought by DTE at its adjacent Fermi 2 reactor, a twin design to the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan that melted down and exploded in March 2011. In an independent, parallel intervention, the Citizens Resistance at Fermi Two (CRAFT) has also challenged the 20-year license extension.

Fermi 2 is a scaled-up version of the GE BWR Mark I, with the fatally-flawed containment (too small, too weak). At 1,122 Megawatts-electric (MWe), Fermi 2 is nearly as big as Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 and 2 put together (460 + 784 = 1,244 MWe). In addition, Fermi 2's high-level radioactive waste storage pool contains significantly more irradiated nuclear fuel than all four destroyed units at Fukushima Daiichi put together (around 600 metric tons).

The co-location of Fermi 2 and Fermi 3 represents the worst of both worlds in terms of risk. As depicted by "The Bathtub Curve" of David Lochbaum, Director, Nuclear Safety Project at Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the "breakdown phase" risks at the age-degraded Fermi 2 reactor would be compounded by the "break-in phase" risks at the untested Fermi 3 reactor. As demonstrated so tragically at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan, a reactor and/or high-level radioactive waste storage pool disaster at one unit can lead to, or exacerbate, a reactor and/or storage pool disaster at adjacent units.

Ominously, DTE intends to build Fermi 3 on the very same spot that its Fermi 1 experimental plutonium breeder reactor had a partial core meltdown on Oct. 5, 1966. The Fermi 1 disaster was documented in John G. Fuller's iconic book We Almost Lost Detroit (Reader's Digest Press, 1975), and in the song by Gil Scott-Heron of the same title.

Thursday
Nov132014

Coalition presses case against reactors on Great Lakes

Lake Erie's shores are dotted with numerous large-scale atomic reactors and coal burners. These thermal-electric power plants dump 2/3rds of the heat they generate as waste into the environment, contributing to recent toxic algae blooms visible in this satellite photo.An environmental coalition, including Beyond Nuclear, is working at fever pitch against degraded old, and proposed new, reactors on the Great Lakes shoreline in southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio.

Davis-Besse, OH

At U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, the groups Beyond Nuclear, Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario (CEA), Don't Waste Michigan, and the Green Party of Ohio pressed their case against a 20-year license extension at FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company's problem-plagued Davis-Besse atomic reactor east of Toledo. An oral argument pre-hearing was ordered to take place on Nov. 12th by the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel (ASLBP) overseeing the License Renewal Application (LRA) proceeding. The coalition first intervented against the license extension nearly four years ago.

Attorney Terry Lodge, Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps, and Don't Waste MI's Michael Keegan represented the coalition before NRC ASLBP. The coalition was joined by expert witness Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer of Fairewinds Associates, Inc. The focus of the day-long hearing was the severe, and worsening, cracking of Davis-Besse's concrete containment Shield Building. The dangerously deteriorating Shield Building is the last line of defense against a catastrophic release of hazardous radioactivity, as from a reactor core meltdown and Inner Steel Containment Vessel failure due to a reactor disaster, earthquake, tornado missile, etc. The coalition has filed numerous contentions about the cracking since it was first revealed on October 10, 2011.

The coalition issued a press advisory about the Nov. 12th oral hearing. The Toledo Blade has reported on this story.

Fermi 2, MI

Beyond Nuclear, CEA, and Don't Waste MI, again represented by Toledo-attorney Terry Lodge, will appear at oral argument pre-hearings before an NRC ASLB on November 20th in Monroe, Michigan. The coalition is opposing the 20-year license extension proposed at Detroit Edison's Fermi 2 atomic reactor in nearby Frenchtown Township, on the Lake Erie shore. Fermi 2 is the single biggest G.E. Mark I Boiling Water Reactor in the world -- the same design as melted down and exploded, times three, at Fukushima Daiichi, Japan.

Beyond Nuclear's Reactor Oversight Director, Paul Gunter, will argue a contention calling for radiological filters on hardened vents, an obviously needed safety upgrade actively ignored by a majority of the NRC Commissioners, despite the lessons that should have been learned from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe. Beyond Nuclear's Freeze Our Fukushimas campaign calls for the shutdown of all U.S. Mark I and II reactors. (See Beyond Nuclear's Freeze Our Fukushimas pamphlet.)

Beyond Nuclear's Radioactive Waste Watchdog, Kevin Kamps, will argue a contention regarding serious safety risks associated with the Fermi nuclear power plant's off-site transmission line corridor, as well as radioactive waste contentions.

Another group, Citizens Resistance at Fermi Two (CRAFT), has launched another 15 contentions against the license extension.

Fermi 3, MI

The coalition comprised of Beyond Nuclear, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination (CACC), CEA, Don't Waste MI, and the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter -- again represented by attorney Terry Lodge -- continues to press its case against the proposed new Fermi 3 reactor, to be built on the very site that the Fermi 1 "We Almost Lost Detroit"  reactor partially melted down on October 5, 1966.

The coalition intervened against Fermi 3 on March 9, 2009, and has since filed dozens of contentions against the proposal.

Its transmission line corridor NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) contention is still before the NRC Commissioners, thanks to a sua sponte motion by the NRC ASLBP itself. On behalf of the coalition, Lodge just filed a motion with the NRC Commissioners, supporting the ASLBP's request to the Commissioners for permission to carry out its own independent review of what appears to be NRC staff violations of NEPA, for not including the required "hard look" at the environmental impacts of Fermi 3's transmission line corridor in the FEIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement).

In addition, the coalition has appealed the ASLBP's rejection of its quality assurance (QA) contention to the full NRC Commission. Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds serves as the coalition's Fermi 3 QA expert witness. The NRC Commissioners will likely rule on the QA and transmission corridor contentions in the near future.

Friday
Nov072014

Environmental coalition cites lack of Nuclear Waste Confidence, calls for suspension of reactor licensing proceedings

An environmental coalition embroiled in numerous old, degraded reactor license extension -- as well as proposed new reactor construction and operation license -- proceedings has filed its "CONSOLIDATED REPLY TO ANSWERS TO PETITIONS TO SUSPEND FINAL REACTOR LICENSING DECISIONS, MOTIONS TO ADMIT A NEW CONTENTION, AND MOTIONS TO REOPEN THE RECORD" before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The filing is a response to "Answers" filed a week ago by NRC staff and the nuclear utilities, as well as to an amicus curiae filing made by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's lobbying arm in Washington, D.C. The environmental coalition's "Consolidated Reply" was prepared by Diane Curran of the Washington, D.C. law firm Harmon, Curran, Spielberg + Eisenberg, LLP, as well as Mindy Goldstein, Director of the Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta.

Terry Lodge, a Toledo-based attorney who represents Beyond Nuclear and other environmental groups in their interventions against the Davis-Besse, OH and Fermi 2, MI license extensions, and the Fermi 3, MI Construction and Operating Licence Application (COLA), filed the "Consolidated Reply" in these proceedings.

Tuesday
Oct072014

Coalition asserts Fermi 3 transmission corridor violates NEPA

Atomic reactors and their electrical transmission lines are inextricably interlinked, yet NRC staff has failed to undertake a NEPA review of the proposed new Fermi 3 transmission line corridor's environmental impacts.The environmental coalition intervening against the proposed new Fermi 3 reactor has re-asserted its nearly three-year old challenge, directly to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's five Commissioners themselves, that the inextricably interlinked transmission line corridor needed to export the electricity to the grid is still in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The coalition's Toledo-based attorney, Terry Lodge, filed a Petition for Review with the NRC Commissioners by their ordered deadline. The petition defends not only the contention's merit, but also its separation from the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) panel's request to the Commissioners for permission to undertake a sua sponte review.

That is, the ASLB panel has requested permission to review, on its own initiative, the NRC staff's apparent violation of NEPA, by failing to undertake an Environmental Impact Statement review of the proposed new transmission corridor, which will past through forested wetlands, likely habitat to endangered and threatened species.

Detroit Edison (DTE) proposes to construct and operate a General Electric-Hitachi (GEH) so-called Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) -- "Unit 3" -- at the Fermi nuclear power plant in Frenchtown Township, on the Lake Erie shore in southeast Michigan. It would be located immediately adjacent to Fermi Unit 2, the world's single largest Fukushima Daiichi twin design (a GE Mark I BWR). Ironically enough, Fermi 3 would be build on the exact same spot where Fermi Unit 1, an experimental plutonium breeder reactor, suffered a partial core meltdown on Oct. 5, 1966, a near-catastrophe documented in John G. Fuller's book We Almost Lost Detroit (Reader's Digest Press, 1975).

The binational coalition intervening against Fermi 3's license includes Beyond Nuclear, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination (CACC), Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario (CEA), Don't Waste Michigan, and the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. The coalition initially filed its intervention in March 2009, and has submitted dozens of contentions since.

Monday
Sep292014

Chris Williams to speak against Davis-Besse & Fermi

Chris Williams speaking at Nuclear-Free, Carbon-Free Contingent of the People's Climate March in New York City on Sept. 21stChris Williams (photo, left), the chairman of the board of directors of Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), and a lead organizer with Vermont Citizen Action Network (VCAN) and Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance (VYDA), will speak out against the Davis-Besse, Ohio and Fermi, Michigan nuclear power plants during a Great Lakes tour in mid-October.

Chris will speak in Port Clinton, Ohio on Monday, October 13th (7 to 8:30pm at Ida Rupp Public Library, 310 Madison Street; see flier here), and in Bowling Green, Ohio on Tuesday, October 14th (7:30 to 8:30pm at BGSU Business Administration Building, Room 103; see flier here). Please see the linked flier, print it up, post it, hand it out, and otherwise spread the word!

Chris will also speak in downtown Monroe, Michigan on Thursday, October 16th (Hospitality at 4pm; Teach In at 6pm; Slide Show at 7pm; at Loranger Square Pavilion, E. 1st St. & Washington St., 48161; see flier here).

During a quarter-century of service at Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, including 18 years as executive director, Chris helped lead the effort that successfully blocked the proposed new nuclear power plant at Bailly in the Gary, IN/Indiana Dunes area on the Lake Michigan shore, as well as the proposed new nuclear plant at Marble Hill, on the banks of the Ohio River in Madison, IN. To this day, there are no atomic reactors located within the Hoosier State.

And since "retiring" to Vermont over a decade ago, Chris has helped achieve the tremendous grassroots victory of forcing Entergy Nuclear to permanently shut its Vermont Yankee reactor by the end of this year.

Chris's Lake Erie shoreline speaking tour is sponsored by Beyond Nuclear, Don't Waste Michigan, the Green Party of Ohio, and the Toledo Safe Energy Coalition, united in coalition to block old reactor license extensions at Fermi 2, MI and Davis-Besse, OH, and the proposed new reactor at Fermi 3, MI. The Fermi and Davis-Besse nuclear power plants are visible with the naked eye, one from the other, 30 miles apart as the crow flies, across Lake Erie.