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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
Aug262014

By another name, NRC Commission blesses Nuclear Waste Confidence

Environmental coalition members from the Crabshell Alliance, Sierra Club Nuclear-Free Campaign, NIRS, PSR, NEIS, and Public Citizen "just say NO!" at the NRC HQ nuke waste con game public comment meeting on 11/14/13 in Rockville, MD. Photo credit David Martin and Erica Grey.Today, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) four Commissioners blessed the NRC staff's "Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel" Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) and Rule, previously called the NRC's "Nuclear Waste Confidence" policy.

The vote went ahead, despite widespread calls for Commissioner William Magwood to resign, or recuse himself, due to conflict of interest, and despite a call for NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane to postpone the vote until after Commissioner Magwood's departure from the agency on Aug. 31st.

The Commissioners' explanations for their votes included a partial objection by NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane, that NRC staff had not adequately considered the "catastrophe" that would unfold over time, if institutional control were to be lost over irradiated nuclear fuel storage. However, even she joined NRC Commissioners Kristine Svinicki, William Ostendorff, and Magwood, in approving finalization of the GEIS and Rule, pending a few, very minor corrections.

She also joined their unanimous Memorandum and Order, that stays on final NRC approvals for some two dozen operating license proceedings -- both at pending old reactor license extensions, as well as in proposed new reactor combined Construction and Operating License Application (COLA) proceedings -- be ended. Thus, licenses can now be approved by NRC licensing boards, 30 days after publication of these decisions in the Federal Register, which is set for next month.

These include the proposed new Fermi 3, MI and Grand Gulf 2, MS COLA proceedings, and several old reactor license extension proceedings (Seabrook, NH; Davis-Besse, OH; Grand Gulf Unit 1, MS; Fermi 2, MI), in which Beyond Nuclear has intervened, opposing NRC's approval of the operating licenses.

Thus, the NRC has ignored many tens of thousands of public comments, including in-depth comments made by Beyond Nuclear, a coalition of three dozen environmental groups, and a coalition of state governments and Native American tribes. The NRC has blessed the continued generation of forever deadly high-level radioactive waste, attempting to take the issue off the table in pending, and future, reactor licensing proceedings. But the big question remains: will NRC's flagrant flouting of federal court orders be allowed to stand?

Explaining how the NRC could, yet again, bless the "nuke waste con game," despite the inherent environmental and safety risks, Mother Jones quoted Beyond Nuclear's Radioactive Waste Watchdog, Kevin Kamps: "The industry crawls all over that place in terms of lobbying. They own that place."

Thursday
Aug212014

Groups urge NRC to postpone key votes in order to avoid “taint” of Magwood conflict of interest

NRC Commissioner William Magwood IV34 groups, including Beyond Nuclear, have written a letter to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Chairman, Allison Macfarlane, as well as NRC Commissioners Christine Svinicki and William Ostendorff, urging them to postpone key Commission votes until after the departure of Commissioner William Magwood IV (photo, left) for his new job as Director-General of the Nuclear Energy Agency in Paris on September 1st.

The NEA's mission statement is to promote nuclear power, while NRC's is supposed to be public health, safety, and environmental protection. The 34 groups allege a glaring conflict of interest on Magwood's part, and have previously called for his resignation, as well as retroactive recusal on all nuclear safety votes dating back to his solicitation of the NEA directorship.

The key votes, now set for August 26th, are on NRC Commission approval of NRC staff's "Continued Storage" (formerly called Nuclear Waste Confidence) Generic Environmental Impact Statement (and very likely its closely associated Rule). The Continued Storage GEIS and Rule hold that irradiated nuclear fuel can be safely, securely, and soundly stored on-site at nuclear power plants, as well as at away-from-reactor consolidated "interim" storage sites, for many decades to come, and effectively, indefinitely.

The Commissioners could also vote to lift a stay on old reactor license extensions, and new reactor construction and operating licenses, in place since the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nullified NRC's indefensible Nuclear Waste Confidence policy in June, 2012. Via their standing as official intervenors, Beyond Nuclear and its environmental allies have helped secure stays against final approval of the Fermi 3, MI proposed new reactor construction and operating license, as well as the Davis-Besse, OH 20-year license extension, until the court-ordered revison of the Nuclear Waste Confidence policy has been finalized.

The 34-group environmental coalition, represented by attorneys Diane Curran of Harmon, Curran, Spielberg + Eisenberg LLP of Washington, D.C., and Mindy Goldstein of the Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory University in Atlanta, has also issued a press release.

The Hill, the Washington Post, and E&E/Greenwire, have reported on this story. The latter article, which requires a subscription to view, mentions Beyond Nuclear et al.'s request to Commissioner Magwood, filed two months ago, that he recuse himself from the Fermi 3 licensing proceeding. Magwood refused to do so.

Katherine Fuchs at FOE has posted a blog about Magwood, "Revolving doors at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission."

Tuesday
Aug192014

Environmental groups oppose old and new reactors at Fermi nuclear power plant

NRC file photo of Fermi 2Multiple environmental groups have met an arbitrarily short, 11:59pm Eastern deadline, and officially intervened against the application by DTE (Detroit Edison) to extend the operating license at its Fermi 2 atomic reactor (photo, left) for an additional 20 years. Fermi 2's operating license is currently set to expire in 2025.

DTE's Fermi nuclear power plant, most infamous for the October 5, 1966 "We Almost Lost Detroit" partial meltdown of its Unit 1 experimental plutonium breeder reactor, is located on the Lake Erie shore of southeast Michigan, in Monroe County.

Beyond Nuclear has entered into coalition with Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, as well as Don't Waste Michigan, to file four contentions against Fermi 2's license extension.

Two of the contentions concern radioactive waste. The first is about the risk of catastrophic irradiated nuclear fuel storage pool fires. Fermi 2's storage pool holds around 600 tons of irradiated nuclear fuel, more than all four destroyed units at Fukushima Daiichi put together (419 tons). The second radioactive waste contention is about the lack of safety and environmental assurances, since the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) "Nuclear Waste Confidence" policy was declared null and void two years ago by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and NRC has not yet replaced it.

Another contention concerns the General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactor, and its containment's, long-known, fatal design flaws. Fermi 2 is largest GE Mark I BWR in the world, almost as big as the melted down Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 and 2 reactor cores put together. 

The final contention is about the interconnected risks between the age-degraded Fermi 2, and the untested, proposed new Fermi 3 atomic reactor, including the vulnerability of both sharing a common off-site electricity transmission corridor.

The three groups, joined by Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, as well as the Sierra Club, Michigan Chapter, have also been intervening against the Fermi 3 proposed new reactor since March, 2009.

Both coalitions challenging Fermi 2, and Fermi 3, are represented by Toledo-based attorney Terry Lodge.

Citizens Resistance at Fermi Two (CRAFT) separately filed 14 contentions of its own against the Fermi 2 license extension. CRAFT released a press release.

Thursday
Aug142014

Cost overruns and schedule delays at proposed new reactors in GA, SC, and TN

Aerial image of Vogtle nuclear power plant in GA, showing the operational Units 1 and 2, as well as the construction site for the proposed Units 3 and 4. Photo credit: High Flyer.We told them so. As the environmental movement warned 14 years ago, when the nuclear relapse was hatched by the Bush/Cheney administration, proposed new reactors at Vogtle 3 & 4 in Georgia, Summer 2 & 3 in South Carolina, and Watts Bar 2 in Tennessee are suffering major cost overruns and construction schedule delays.

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) has published an update on Vogtle 3 & 4, which currently are suffering a 21-month schedule delay, and $1.4 billion cost overrun. The delays could well get worse, at a staggering cost increase of $2 million per day of delay!

Similarly, as reported by SRS Watch, delays of up to three years, and cost overruns topping $500 million, are afflicting the Summer 2 & 3 proposed new reactors in SC.

Note that those April 1st projected opening dates for the new reactors at Voglte and Summer, listed in the updates above, are no April Fool's joke. GA and SC ratepayers are already being gouged for the new reactors' troubled contstruction, on their electricity bills.

Vogtle 3 & 4's financial risks also now implicate federal taxpayers, in the form of a $6.5 billion loan guarantee, likely to soon grow to an $8.3 billion loan guarantee. This is compliments of the Obama administration. So, if Vogtle 3 & 4 default on their loan repayment, federal taxpayers will be left holding the bag. This is 15 times more taxpayer money at risk than was lost in the Solyndra solar loan guarantee scandal. And that risk, of Vogtle 3 & 4 defaulting on its loan repayment, was judged, years ago, by the likes of the Congressional Budget Office and Government Accountability Office, as a much greater risk than Solyndra defaulting on its loan repayment.

Vogtle 3 & 4, as well as Summer 2 & 3, are Toshiba-Westinghouse AP-1000 reactors. They are experimental, never having been built before anywhere in the world, although AP-1000s are also under construction in China.

The proposed new reactor in Tennessee, that is also suffering cost overruns and schedule delays, is the Tennessee Valley Authority's long-mothballed Watts Bar Unit 2.

To add to the irony, the existing reactors at Vogtle, Units 1 & 2, were the poster child for cost overruns in the last generation of reactor construction, coming in at 1,300% their originally estimated cost!

And the operational Watts Bar Unit 1 took 23 years to build, from 1973 to 1996!

Monday
Jul282014

Environmental coalition urges NRC Commissioners to approve ASLB review of agency staff's NEPA violations at Fermi 3

Although atomic reactors and their transmission lines are inextricably interconnected, NRC failed to include them in its Fermi 3 FEISThe National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) demands that major federal actions require the lead agency to take a "hard look" at the impacts of the proposal, alternatives to it, as well as mitigative actions, and communicate all that to the public for its response, in order to arrive at a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), and "preferred action."

But, as an environmental coalition, including Beyond Nuclear, has warned for two and a half years, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff has been derelict in its NEPA duty at Fermi 3, a proposed new ESBWR (General Electric-Hitachi so-called "Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor") atomic reactor on the Great Lakes shore in Monroe Co., MI. NRC has failed to analyze the environmental impacts of Fermi 3's nearly 30-mile long transmission line corridor, which would pass through various ecosystems, including forested wetlands, likely home to endangered and threatened plant and animal species.

On July 7th, the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) panel, overseeing the Fermi 3 Construction and Operating License Application (COLA) proceeding, essentially agreed with the coalition, sending a 60-page memo to the NRC Commissioners requesting permission to review the matter. The ASLB cited U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), concurrence that NRC has not done its NEPA duty.

A short four days later, the four remaining NRC Commissioners (Commissioner Apostalakis left the agency on June 30th) ordered briefs from the parties engaged in this proceeding by July 28th.

The coalition's attorney, Terry Lodge of Toledo, met the challenge of that very short deadline, filing a motion supporting the ASLB's review of the NEPA violations.

The nuclear utility, DTE (formerly Detroit Edison), as well as the NRC staff, filed motions opposing the ASLB's requested NEPA review. The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the nuclear power industry's lobbying arm, also filed an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief, urging the NRC Commissioners to block the ASLB's NEPA review.

The environmental interveners, DTE, and NRC staff now have an August 7th deadline by which to respond to one another's July 28th briefs to the NRC Commissioners.

The coalition (which also includes Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizen Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don't Waste Michigan, and Sierra Club Michigan Chapter) has officially resisted the Fermi 3 COLA since March, 2009. It has filed dozens of contentions against the proposed new reactor, all of which have been opposed by DTE and NRC staff, and ultimately were rejected by the ASLB.