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NRC

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is mandated by Congress to ensure that the nuclear industry is safe. Instead, the NRC routinely puts the nuclear industry's financial needs ahead of public safety. Beyond Nuclear has called for Congressional investigation of this ineffective lapdog agency that needlessly gambles with American lives to protect nuclear industry profits.

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Wednesday
Feb202013

Latest "leak per week" at Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor

Entergy Nuclear's problem-plagued Palisades atomic reactor, and the inland "sweet water sea" (Lake Michigan) and countryside (southwest Michigan) which it threatens.We told 'em so. Despite widespread resistance, NRC rubberstamped Palisades' 20-year license extension in 2007.

As shown at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) "Current Power Reactor Status Report", Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor in Covert, Michigan on the Lake Michigan shoreline is at zero percent power. Why? Because, yet again, it has suffered a leak and breakdown -- but the latest of many in recent years.

As reported at the NRC Event Notification:

"TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION REQUIRED SHUTDOWN DUE TO COMPONENT COOLING WATER TRAIN OUT OF SERVICE 

'At 2030 hours [EST] on February 14, 2013, technical specification (TS) 3.7.7 condition A was entered due to the right train of the component cooling water (CCW) system being declared inoperable. The cause of the inoperable train was the identification of an approximate 40 gallon per hour CCW system to service water system leak inside the 'A' CCW heat exchanger. TS 3.7.7 condition A requires restoration of the inoperable train within 72 hours. If the restoration is not completed within 72 hours, the plant must be in Mode 3 within 6 hours and in Mode 5 within the subsequent 36 hours.' 

'Due to the inability to repair the leak within the required 72 hour time frame during power operation, a plant shutdown was initiated at approximately 1300 hours on February 15, 2013. Entry into Mode 3 is expected at approximately 1700 hours on February 15, 2013. The plant will enter Mode 5 to execute leak repair. Mode 5 entry is expected at approximately 0800 hours on February 16, 2013.'"

No explanation is given as to why this incident, dated Feb. 14, was not publicly reported until Feb. 19.

However, NRC Region 3 spokeswoman Viktoria Mytling told WSBT-TV in South Bend, IN that "NRC resident inspectors at Palisades have been aware of a leak from the cooling water system and followed the plant’s actions to find the location after the leakage increased from 2 to 35 gallons an hour in less than a week."

No explanation is given for the disparity between Mytling's 35 gallon per hour figure, and the NRC incident report's 40 gallon per hour figure, above.

The Kalamazoo Gazette quotes Mytling as admitting that the leakage began as early as Feb. 8. NRC has provided no explanation as to why the public was not informed about the problem for 11 days. 

(Last year, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) demanded an NRC investigation into Mytling's downplaying of a reactor leak at the troubled Davis-Besse atomic reactor near Toledo. In addition, Chicago watchdog group Nuclear Energy Information Service, via a Freedom of Information Act Request to the State of Illinois Dept. of Nuclear Safety, documented that Mytling's flip assurance -- that a radioactive steam leak at the Byron atomic reactor must have contained exceedingly low levels of hazardous radioactive tritium, as radiation monitors had not detected any -- was baseless and misleading, as no real-time tritium monitoring capability existed at the plant.)

However, an 11 day delay in informing the public is nothing new, in light of Entergy and NRC behavior at Palisades in recent years. For example, in June, 2012, courageous Palisades whistleblowers and their attorney, Billie Pirner Garde of Washington D.C., working with U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), made public a leak into Palisades' safety critical control room (where electrical circuitry and equipment cannot be allowed to get wet) that had been ongoing for more than a year, with leakage being caught in buckets near the central control panel. That leak had been kept not only from the public, but even from the NRC's Chairman, despite his tour of the problem-plagued plant on May 25, 2012. NRC internal investigations supposedly continue as to why the agency's own chairman was kept in the dark about the control room leak.  

WSBT has also posted an additional NRC statement about the latest "leak per week" (a phrase coined by watchdogs on Entergy's controversial and troubled Vermont Yankee atomic reactor) at Palisades:

"NRC STATEMENT: WHAT IS THIS LEAK ALL ABOUT?

The leak came from the component cooling water system whose function is to remove heat from pipes, pumps and other equipment running at high temperatures. Workers identified the source of the leak to be one of the plant’s two heat exchangers which are a part of this system. Heat exchangers, which consist of about 2,000 tubes each, are used to remove heat during normal operation but also during potential accident scenarios. Palisades has two heat exchangers, which cool equipment important to safety, and are required to be in working condition. According to NRC regulations, if there is a problem with one of the heat exchangers it would need to be fixed within in [sic] 72 hours.  If that’s not possible the plant would have to shut down to find and fix the leak. Palisades made the decision to shut down before reaching the established limit.  The plant has to repair the heat exchanger before returning online.

NRC resident inspectors, in consultation with our expert in the region, continue to monitor [sic] situation." (Emphasis added.)

Thus, this equipment breakdown does have safety significance.

The Holland Sentinel was perhaps the first news outlet to report on this story.

Monday
Feb112013

Entergy Watch: Vermont Yankee argues it is simply "above the law" in the State of Vermont

Entergy Nuclear's latest argument before the State of Vermont Public Service Board -- regarding Vermont Yankee atomic reactor's ongoing operation -- beggars belief. Entergy argues it is above State of Vermont law, even though it agreed to abide by State of Vermont law a decade ago. As reported by the Associated Press, Entergy's lawyers and hired experts are now arguing that because radiological safety is exclusively U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission jurisdiction by settled law, the State of Vermont must simply get out of the way -- even though that same U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1983 in the Pacific Gas & Electric case recognized that states retained authority over most other aspects of nucelar power besides radiological safety.

The article reported: '...At Monday's hearing on Entergy's request for a new state permit, company lawyers sought to take that idea of federal pre-emption and run with it, telling the board that it should avoid considering not just the economic impact of a possible nuclear accident, but that the board also should not consider the impact that hosting a nuclear plant might be having on the state's tourism industry.

Burlington lawyer Robert Hemley told the three-member board the only reason the presence of a nuclear plant might harm tourism is if the public develops fears about nuclear safety — a subject Vermont is barred from considering.

"Discussion about tourism is a pre-empted area. ... We feel the entire area is off-limits for this board," Hemley said.

Entergy's push for pre-emption appeared to run counter to an agreement it entered with the state when it bought Vermont Yankee in 2002 from the group of New England utilities that had owned it previously.

Under that memorandum of understanding, Entergy and the state agreed "to waive any claim each may have that federal law pre-empts the jurisdiction of the board" to decide Vermont Yankee's post-2012 future.

Entergy lawyer Sanford Weisburst argued later that the board would be hard-pressed to find a plausible, non-safety reason to deny Vermont Yankee a new permit...'

Entergy Nuclear has named the three commissioners of Vermont's Public Service Board, as well as Governor Peter Shumlin and Attorney General William Sorrell -- by name -- in its lawsuits seeking to overturn Vermont state laws, to which it had previously committed to abide, which now call for Vermont Yankee's permanent shutdown.

The Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance and Citizens Awareness Network have called for grassroots comments to bolster the Vermont Public Service Board's resolve against issuing a renewed Certificate of Public Good to Entergy. Without it, Vermont Yankee's continued operation is illegal under State of Vermont law.

Vermont Digger has reported on this story. Frances Crowe, a nonagenarian member of the Shut It Down! Affinity Group, responded to the article by stating: "Every day that plant operates it is endangering the health and safety
of the people in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Shut it down and start the clean up and put the spent fuel rods in dry caskets and bury them deep underground." Shut It Down! has has organized some two-dozen civil resistance direct actions protesting against Vermont Yankee. When asked by AP on March 22, 2012 -- amidst 1,500 protestors gathered on the first day of VY's NRC-rubberstamped 20-year license extension -- how many times she had been arrested protesting VY, Frances Crowe answered "Not enough!"

Friday
Feb082013

Entergy Watch: Bill in Vermont State House seeks more stringent decommissioning at Vermont Yankee

The Vermont State HouseAs reported by AP, a bill has been introduced in the State of Vermont legislature, opening yet another battlefront against Entergy's Vermont Yankee atomic reactor. The legislation seeks to establish more exacting decommissioning clean-up standards than are required by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), with an added price tag of $40 million.

‘‘They've had a history of backing away from agreements and promises, and we want to make sure we protect the residents of Vernon and, by extension, Vermont taxpayers from liability related to decommissioning the plant,’’ said Rep. Margaret Cheney, vice chair of the House committee and a lead sponsor of the bill.

Chief among the "rogue corporation" Entergy's "broken promises" to the Green Mountain State was a signed agreement to shutdown Vermont Yankee by March 22, 2012 if it failed to obtain a renewed Certificate of Public Good (CPG) from the Vermont Public Service Board. The Vermont State Senate voted 26 to 4 in Feb. 2010 to block the issuance of the CPG, due to reasons other than radiological safety (NRC's jurisdiction) recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as falling under state authority. Nearly a year later, Entergy still operates VY without the required CPG.

Friday
Feb082013

Entergy Watch: New CEO admits times are tough at Entergy's merchant reactors

Leo P. Denault, Entergy's new CEO and Chairman of the BoardAs reported by Reuters, Entergy Nuclear's new CEO and Chairman of the Board, Leo P. Denault (pictured left), has admitted "its merchant nuclear power plants are in 'challenging economic situations,'" and "'[n]ear-term power prices are challenging for some merchant nuclear generating units in certain competitive markets.'" The admission came during a fourth-quarter earnings call.

The article continues:

"He said some plants are in the more challenging economic situations for a variety of reasons, including 'the market for both energy and capacity, their size, their contracting positions and the investment required to maintain the safety and integrity of the plants.' (emphasis added)

He would not name the plants but said, 'There are years when certain plants' cash flows can be negative at today's forward price curve.'"

UBS has concluded that the financial pressures could force Entergy to close Vermont Yankee, FitzPatrick in New York, and even Pilgrim near Boston yet this year.

All three reactors are nearly, or even more than, 40 years old, and recipients, despite their age-degradation risks, of U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) rubberstamps for 20-year license extensions. They are also exact replicas of Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4 -- General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactors.

Additional Entergy reactors have received NRC 20-year license extensions as well: Arkansas Nuclear One, Units 1 & 2; Palisades in Michigan; and Cooper in Nebraska (another Mark I GE BWR, which Entergy operates on behalf of owner Nebraska Public Power District).

Entergy's reactors at Indian Point Units 1 & 2 near New York City, as well as Grand Gulf 1 in Mississippi, have applied for 20-year license extensions.

A Dominion spokesman admitted last October that the high cost of making needed safety repairs was a major factor in the nuclear utility's decision to close Kewaunee in Wisconsin by mid-2013. It was the first announced closure of an atomic reactor in the U.S. in 15 years.

Friday
Feb082013

Entergy Watch: Pilgrim Coalition urges NRC to require Mark I atomic reactor to shutdown during historic winter storm

NRC file photo of Pilgrim, albeit on a calm, sunny day.As reported by Wicked Local Plymouth, in the lead up to what is being reported as an historic winter storm about to hit the Northeast, Pilgrim Coalition and Cape Cod Bay Watch are calling on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to order Entergy's Pilgrim atomic reactor shutdown, "arguing that a prolonged power outage, flooding, high winds, and snow and ice could cause several serious problems at Pilgrim."

However, as of 2:30 PM, NRC's "Current Power Reactor Status" report shows that Pilgrim is operating at 83% power. All other reactors in the Northeast are also operating, either at, or very close to, 100% power levels.

In a press release, Pilgrim Coalition spokespeople stated:

“This is predicted to be a historic storm with severe consequences,” said Pine DuBois, Executive Director of Jones River Watershed Association. “Winds are supposed to pick up Friday night during high tide and continue through the even higher tide Saturday morning. Near hurricane gusts will be out of the east, hitting Pilgrim head-­‐on. At other times during high winds, Pilgrim’s water intake pumps have failed.”

“Entergy could not keep the lights on during the Super Bowl -­‐ can we be sure they’ll provide enough power to Pilgrim during the storm?” duBois added.

According to Karen Vale, Campaign Manager at Cape Cod Bay Watch, “This historic storm emphasizes that rising sea levels and frequent, more severe storms make Pilgrim’s continued operations increasing risky. We hope that the NRC will close Pilgrim until the threat of the storm passes.”

As Beyond Nuclear's Freeze Our Fukushimas campaign has warned, no matter the cause (earthquake and tsunami, or historic winter storm at high tide), any prolonged loss of power to atomic reactors can lead to meltdown and catastrophic radioactivity releases. Entergy's Pilgrim is an identical twin design to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4, a General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactor.