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Nuclear Reactors

The nuclear industry is more than 50 years old. Its history is replete with a colossal financial disaster and a multitude of near-misses and catastrophic accidents like Three Mile Island and Chornobyl. Beyond Nuclear works to expose the risks and dangers posed by an aging and deteriorating reactor industry and the unproven designs being proposed for new construction.

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Friday
Nov212014

Beyond Nuclear before ASLB to stop last Mark I "Fukushima" reactor relicensing

Beyond Nuclear, Don't Waste Michigan, Citizens' Resistance at Fermi 2 (CRAFT), and Citizens Environmental Alliance of Southwestern Ontario argued before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board in Monroe Michigan on November 20, that the aging Fermi 2 nuclear reactor should not receive a 20-year license extension. Fermi 2 is the last of the U.S. fleet of Mark I reactors to request a license extension. The U.S. Mark I is the same design as the GE Mark I Boiling Water Reactors that exploded and melted down at Fukushima Daiichi. The groups were there to defend their contentions against the relicensing of Fermi 2.

Paul Gunter of Beyond Nuclear (pictured at the table third from right) raised a concern that Fermi 2 should install a filter on a containment vent to remove any radioactive particles that may escape into the environment in the event of a severe accident, which he said wasn’t considered in DTE’s analysis. “Containment vents can fail early, and that may result in uncontrolled releases of radioactive particles,” Mr. Gunter said. “This can lead to land relocation and contamination that carries a health impact with it.”  Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps told NPR in an interview: "Fermi 2 presents a serious danger to life, property, and the environment.You've got a dangerous reactor design. You've got an inadequate containment on the shoreline of the Great Lakes which, of course, is itself the drinking water supply for tens of millions of people." First hand reports from the proceeding by Gunter and Kamps will follow soon. More.

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.

Saturday
Oct112014

Coalition presses case against containment cracking at Davis-Besse

An NRC inspector investigates cracking revealed in Davis-Besse's Shield Building wall shortly after it was discovered on 10/10/11.An environmental coalition, challenging the proposed 20-year license extension at FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company's (FENOC) Davis-Besse atomic reactor in Oak Harbor, OH on the Lake Erie shore, has filed a defense of its September 3rd and September 8th, 2014 contentions regarding worsening containment cracking.

This comes in response to October 3rd motions, by both FENOC and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff, calling for the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) panel overseeing the nearly four-year-old License Renewal Application (LRA) proceeding, to dismiss the contentions.

The coalition consists of Beyond Nuclear, Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don't Waste Michigan, and the Green Party of Ohio. It is represented by Toledo-based attorney, Terry Lodge.

The coalition's filing on October 10th marks the third anniversary, to the day, of when severe cracking was first discovered and publicly announced at Davis-Besse, on Oct. 10, 2011 (see photo, above). The environmental coalition filed its first cracking contention in the proceeding a few months later, and has filed many more -- throughout 2012, and on Earth Day this year. However, all have been dismissed by the ASLB, despite many of the coalition's assertions later being acknowledged as correct by FENOC.

Davis-Besse's original 40-year license will expire on Earth Day (April 22nd), 2017. FENOC is seeking a 20-year extension, till 2037. NRC has rubber-stamped 73 such extensions such the year 2000.

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.

Thursday
Aug282014

NRC whistleblower reveals agency covering up US reactors vulnerability to earthquakes: FOE petitioning NRC for closure of Diablo Canyon

Michael Peck was the chief safety inspector for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) at the California’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant for five years. The federal official made headlines when the Associated Press published internal NRC documents revealing Peck's warning that Diablo Canyon should be immediately shutdown pending an investigation into significant safety vulnerabilities to a large magnitude magnitude earthquake.  More to his credit, Peck has been blowing the whistle for more than a year on what amounts to NRC malpractice where he witnessed the federal agency not enforcing its own earthquake safety requirements for code violations at the nuke. According to Peck, NRC staff and management have circumvented their own prescribed safety review process with an “alternative” analysis to OK inadequate earthquake qualification for the vulnerable reactors. The two-unit nuke is located near four known major earthquake faults and just 45 miles away from the San Andreas Fault. Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PGE) Diablo Canyon has led this country’s nuclear-earthquake controversy since its construction permit was issued in 1968. These concerns are significantly magnified by Japan’s March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed safety systems and caused the meltdowns of three of units at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. 

But Michael Peck’s “Differing Professional Opinion” filed with the NRC in July 2013 carefully documents that Diablo Canyon’s earthquake safety concerns became much bigger much earlier in 2008 with the discovery of a previously unidentified fault line that runs as close as 300 meters from the reactors’ safety-significant cooling water intake structure. The new seismic data projected earthquake scenarios for the Shoreline Fault and later the San Luis Bay Fault and the Los Osos Fault that are each capable of producing ground shaking forces greater than what Diablo Canyon safe shutdown systems are designed for. The San Luis Bay Fault analysis indicated that the nuke could experience vibratory motion that is 75% greater than Diablo Canyon’s design basis. These identified design non-compliances covered important reactor systems, structures and components that are required to maintain and contain reactor coolant, systems to safely shutdown the reactors following an earthquake, then keep the shutdown reactors cool to prevent a meltdown and other vital systems necessary to recover the reactor from earthquake damage without massive uncontrolled releases of radioactivity into the environment. 

As described in his grievance on the dangerously inadequate action thus taken by the NRC, Inspector Peck’s findings led him to conclude, “The new seismic information resulted in a condition outside of the bounds of the existing Diablo Canyon design basis and safety analysis. Continued reactor operation outside the bounds of the NRC approved safety analyses challenges the presumption of nuclear safety.”

“The staff failed to enforce plant technical specification requirements to shut down the Diablo Canyon reactors,” said Peck.  As the NRC's on-site inspector, Peck repeatedly tried to get the agency to take enforcement action to hold PGE accountable for submitting “incomplete and inaccurate information” to the agency on the vulnerability and for failure to meet “operability” requirements (failure to meet quality technical specifications and comply with safety regulations, codes and standards) contained within its licensing agreement, the Current Licensing Basis.  NRC staff and management failed to follow the agency’s prescribed license amendment process for addressing licensee safety non-compliances and proposed fixes and changes.  Without doing that required review, NRC dismissed Peck’s findings and reassigned him from his duties at Diablo Canyon.  Peck is now pressing his grievances with NRC itself citing that the “NRC has failed to enforce quality requirements (Part 50, Appendix B) that required the licensee to take prompt action to correct the nonconforming safety analysis.”

The evidence now on record is sufficient enough to require the NRC to take enforcement action by ordering PGE to promptly make expensive retrofits at Diablo Canyon to bring the nuclear power plant up to the codes and standards contained within its operating license agreement.  However, Inspector Peck has revealed that his agency is more interested in protecting PGE's financial bottom line than taking up the public safety frontline on the off chance the next large earthquake won't be under Diablo Canyon.

The NRC's first and primary obligation is to assure the safe operation and reliable shutdown capability of the nation's reactors, not extending the industry's production agenda or protecting its finances. The DPO carefully details the agency's deliberate effort to avoid executing its safety mandate at the earthquake prone and vulnerable Diablo Canyon reactors in order to protect PGE from exorbidently expensive repairs that will economically force plant closure. 

Friends of the Earth (FOE) is circulating a sign-on petition to NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane requesting her to promptly shut Diablo Canyon.