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.



Beyond Nuclear on Thom Hartmann's "The Big Picture" regarding Fermi 1, 2, and 3

Thom Hartmann, host of "The Big Picture"Thom Hartmann (photo, left) invited Beyond Nuclear onto his television program "The Big Picture" to discuss the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) impending decision to rubberstamp the proposed new Fermi 3 atomic reactor's license in southeast Michigan -- to be constructed on the very spot where the "We Almost Lost Detroit" Fermi 1 reactor had a partial core meltdown in 1966. The environmental coalition that has been intervening against Fermi 3's license for six and a half years, represented by Toledo attorney Terry Lodge, has vowed to appeal NRC's decision to federal court, if need be.

Thom also asked about the risks at Fermi 2 -- identical in design to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4 -- and the liabilities associated with U.S., Japanese, and other nuclear firms building dangerous new reactors in places like India and China.


Environmental intervenors vow to appeal NRC approval of Fermi 3 to federal courts

NRC file photo showing Fermi 2. Fermi 3 would be built immediately adjacent to it.On Feb. 4, the four U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners (there is currently an empty seat on the five-member Commission) held a "mandatory, uncontested hearing" on DTE's proposed new Fermi 3 atomic reactor.

The day-long hearing -- a self-congratulatory, rubberstamp formality -- marks one of the very final hurdles DTE (formerly Detroit Edison) must clear before NRC approves Fermi 3's combined Construction and Operating License Application (COLA).

Over 200 NRC staff and nuclear industry represenatives (including from reactor vendor, General Electric-Hitachi, as well as Dominion Nuclear, which wants to build an identical reactor at its North Anna nuclear power plant in Virginia) were in attendance. Beyond Nuclear attended the hearing in person, while many concerned citizens from Michigan and beyond observed the live Webcast.

An archived Webcast of the NRC Commissioners' hearing is available, as are the hearing agenda and presentations.

DTE proposes to build the world's first 1,550 Megawatt-electric General Electric-Hitachi so-called "Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor" (ESBWR) at its Fermi nuclear power plant in Frenchtown Township, Michigan, on the Lake Erie shoreline. Fermi is 25 miles south of Detroit, near Monroe.

Beyond Nuclear and allies (Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizens Environment Alliance of S.W. Ontario, Don't Waste MI, and Sierra Club Michigan Chapter) have vowed to appeal NRC's license approval to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on multiple fronts: violations of NRC's quality assurance (QA) regulations, and the NRC's exclusion of both the proposed new transmission corridor, as well as high-level radioactive waste that would be generated and stored, from NRC's Environmental Impact Statement. The coalition, represented by Toledo attorney Terry Lodge, first intervened against Fermi 3 on March 9, 2009. In the past six years, the coalition has filed around three-dozen separate contentions.

The coalition has also pledged to resist any attempts by DTE to exploit public subsidies to build Fermi 3. Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the availability of $12.5 billion in federal loan guarantees (and likely loans), backed by taxpayers, for new reactor construction. And the precedent has recently been set by the Michigan Public Service Commission for ratepayer-funded "Construction Work in Progress" (CWIP)-like bailouts for nuclear construction as well.

The two proposed new reactors in Georgia, Vogtle 3 & 4, are being financed with both federal loan guarantees and loans -- to the tune of $8.3 billion worth -- as well as via gouging ratepayers on their electricity bills (CWIP surcharges).

As quoted in the coalition's press release, its attorney, Terry Lodge, said: “Once all administrative remedies are exhausted at NRC, we plan to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, on multiple environmental and safety-related fronts.”

Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer of Fairewinds Associates in Burlington, Vermont, and the coalition's expert witness on quality assurance (QA), said at the time of Halloween, 2013 NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board hearings in southeast Michigan: “Given Detroit Edison’s violations of quality assurance requirements, the geological borings and soil samples are suspect. Fermi 3’s building structures would be very heavy, so the geotechnical data has to be verifiable, so that the atomic reactor’s foundations are rock solid, and seismically qualified.”

And coalition coordinator, Michael Keegan of Don't Waste MI in Monroe, said: “In addition to ducking a transmission corridor EIS, DTE and NRC are attempting to duck the laws of physics. The corridor as currently configured will not meet NRC recommended design vulnerability protections, including its susceptibility to many single failure events that could remove all three lines from service. This is made significantly worse by being part of the same transmission corridor as Fermi 2, a Fukushima Daiichi twin-design.”

Farouk D. Baxter, PE, an expert/specialist on nuclear power plant electrical systems, testified to the ASLB on this very topic during a public comment period regarding Fermi 3.

Fermi 2 is a super-sized version of the General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactor, as big as Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 and 2 put together. Beyond Nuclear, Citizens Environment Alliance of S.W. Ontario, and Don't Waste MI, again represented by Lodge, are currently intervening against DTE's proposed 20-year license extension at Fermi 2, as well.

Citizens Resistance at Fermi Two (CRAFT) has independently filed numerous contentions against the Fermi 2 license extension, as well.

The proposed co-location of Fermi Units 2 and 3 raises the specter of a multi-reactor catastrophe, like the one still unfolding at Fukushima Daiichi after four years, with no end in sight. In fact, Fermi 2 and 3 would represent the worst of both worlds, located side-by-side: an age-degraded reactor, at risk of a breakdown phase disaster; and an untested, brand new reactor design never built before anywhere in the world, at risk of unforeseen design flaws and other break-in phase risks. David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project at Union of Concerned Scientists, refers to such elevated risks as the "Bathtub Curve" (due to the graph's shape).

A meltdown at either reactor, or fire in either reactor's high-level radioactive waste storage pool, could drag the neighboring reactor and pool into the radioactive catastrophe, as happened at Fukushima Daiichi.

Ironically enough, Fermi 3 would be built on the exact spot where the Fermi 1 experimental plutonium breeder reactor had its "We Almost Lost Detroit" partial core meltdown on October 5, 1966.


Environmental coalition demands NEPA & AEA compliance re: Nuclear Waste Confidence in reactor licensing proceedings

In a legal filing today, a coalition of environmental groups, including Beyond Nuclear, has demanded that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) fulfill its legally required obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Atomic Energy Act (AEA), regarding its Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) and Rule in various atomic reactor licensing proceedings around the country. The coalition is represented by attorneys Diane Curran of Washington, D.C., and Mindy Goldstein of Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory University in Atlanta.

In several reactor licensing proceedings where Final EISs came out prior to court victories negating NRC's Nuclear Waste Confidence policy (or "Nuke Waste Con Game," for short!) for violating NEPA and AEA in 2012, NRC has neither included the full 2014 Continued Storage GEIS and Rule in new reactor combined Construction and Operating License Application (COLA) proceeding FEISs, nor old reactor license extension proceeding FEISs. To not do so violates NEPA, and portions of AEA, and their implementing regulations at NRC, as well as the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

On Dec. 8, 2014, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, represented by Curran (as well as Henry Robertson of Great Rivers Environmental Law Center in St. Louis), filed a Nuclear Waste Confidence-related, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) "placeholder" contention in the Callaway atomic reactor license extension proceeding. That contention has, thus far, succeeded in staving off NRC's imminent rubberstamp of Callaway's 20-year extension.

Attorney Terry Lodge of Toledo represents Beyond Nuclear in the intervention against NRC approval of the proposed new Fermi Unit 3 reactor COLA in southeast Michigan, on the Great Lakes shoreline. Today's filing by Lodge  in that proceeding seeks to preserve Beyond Nuclear's opportunity to file a Nuclear Waste Confidence contention against Fermi 3, like was done at Callaway several weeks ago.


NRC Commissioners bless NRC staff's violation of NEPA!

On Jan. 13th, the NRC Commission, by a unanimous 4-0 vote, rejected a request from the ASLBP overseeing the Fermi 3 COLA proceeding. The ASLBP had requested permission to review NRC staff's apparent violation of NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act), for not having included Fermi 3's proposed new transmission lines in its Environmental Impact Statement. The environmental coalition called this NEPA violation to the attention of the ASLBP in Jan., 2012. The coalition plans to appeal this NEPA violation, and perhaps other violations of law and regulation (such as the gutting of QA, Quality Assurance, requirements), to the federal courts at the earliest opportunity. The coalition also has submitted a Nuclear Waste Confidence contention, which is growing ever more ripe for judicial review.

On October 7, 2014, the environmental coalition had asserted that Fermi 3's transmission corridor violated NEPA.

On November 10, 2014, the coalition's legal counsel, Terry Lodge, also filed support for the ASLBP's review of the obvious NRC NEPA violations.


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.