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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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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.

Wednesday
Aug272014

Will Diablo Canyon survive the next big earthquake?

Karl GrossmanKarl Grossman (photo, left) has published an article at Enformable about a "Differing Professional Opinion" filed by Dr. Michael Peck, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) top on-site inspector at Pacific Gas & Electric's twin reactor Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in Avila Beach, CA, just 12 miles from San Luis Obispo on the Pacific coast.

Dr. Peck expressed strong concerns that Diablo Canyon's systems, structures, and components, including those significant to safety, are not proven robust enough to survive the magnitude of earthquakes emanating from multiple faultlines in the immediate vicinity, including the Shoreline Fault discovered in 2008, just 650 yards away.

The NRC concealed the report from the public for a year, but the AP broke the story of its existence this week. Friends of the Earth has launched a petition drive addressed to NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane, herself a PhD geologist, demanding transparent public hearings to examine the earthquake risks at Diablo Canyon.

Karl Grossman is the professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury. Karl is also the author of Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power and other books on nuclear technology, as well as hosting numerous TV programs on the subject including "Chernobyl: A Million Casualties," "Three Mile Island Revisited" and "The Push to Revive Nuclear Power." Karl serves as a Beyond Nuclear board member.

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.

A total of 19 old reactor license extensions are pending at NRC.

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."