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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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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.

Thursday
Feb072013

"Exelon cuts dividend by 41%," as NRC investigates "deliberate" deception regarding decommissioning funds

As reported by the Chicago Tribune, "Exelon's stock has dropped by nearly two-thirds since its high in 2008." The company partly blames "higher nuclear fuel costs" for its "diminished earnings."

Ironically, the biggest nuclear utility in the U.S. is looking to expanding its renewables portfolio to expand its earnings:

'...It would also seek customers interested in contracting with Exelon for wind and solar power. Such power purchase agreements would guarantee steady and predictable returns.

..."When the balance sheet is tight like it is right now, you would want to make investments that have a short investment period," [Exelon CEO] Crane said. "Wind and other smaller assets really do fit that profile. Within a year, you're getting a return."'

Gouging its ratepayers at the earliest opportunity also seems to be in the Exelon business plan:

'...At Exelon, all eyes are looking forward to 2015 when approximately 19,000 megawatts of coal-fired electricity plants will have retired. Coal plant retirements are expected to increase electricity prices Exelon's nuclear power plants take and help to counteract stubbornly low natural gas prices have been driving down the company's earnings.' (emphasis added)

The article also lists "significant headwinds" ahead, and "several legal and regulatory matters that could add to its woes," including "an investigation by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission," and "still unknown costs associated with NRC-mandated upgrades that came out of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan."

NRC appears to have just busted Exelon for "deliberate" deception -- the company appears to have intentionally low-balled the price tag for eventual nuclear power plant decommissioning, in order to mask the woeful inadequacy -- amounting to around a billion dollars -- of its dedicated decommissioning funds. Bloomberg reportedthat "[t]he shortfall totaled $1 billion in 2009." (emphasis added) Crain's Chicago Business has reported on this story.

U.S. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), currently serving as Ranking Member on the House Natural Resources Committee, has long shined a spotlight on the inadequacy of nuclear power plant decommissioning funds, as by requesting Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigations of NRC's oversight, or lack thereof.

The long term "deliberate" deception is reminiscent of Exelon's decade long cover up of massive tritium leaks into ground and surface waters at the Braidwood nuclear power plant. These were brought to light thanks to freedom of information act requests made by Cynthia Sauer, whose daughter Sarah contracted a rare form of childhood brain cancer at age 7. The family lived close to Exelon's Dresden nuclear power plant, not far from Braidwood.

The decommissioning of the twin reactor Zion nuclear power plant, 30 miles north of Chicago, is the biggest decommissioning project in U.S. history, with a projected price tag of around a billion dollars. EnergySolutions of Salt Lake City is in charge, itself embroiled in serious financial troubles.

British Nuclear Fuels, Ltd. (BNFL), absorbed into the EnergySolutions empire several years ago, carried out the decommissioning of the Big Rock Point atomic reactor in Charlevoix, Michigan, on the Lake Michigan shore, from 1997 to 2006. Despite being paid $366 million for the "clean-up," BNFL left radioactive contamination -- including plutonium -- in the soil and groundwater. It didn't even bother to check the contamination level in the sediments of Lake Michigan, not even in the canal into which Big Rock Point had "routinely" discharged radioactivity (with federal and state permission) for 35 years (1962-1997). Remarkably, NRC blessed the Big Rock Point decommissioning with a permit for "unrestricted re-use," meaning the contaminated land can be used for any purpose, ignoring the lingering radiation hazard.