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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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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."

Friday
Aug222014

Will Entergy clean up its act at Palisades' security department?

Don't Waste Michigan board members Michael Keegan, Alice Hirt, and Kevin Kamps call for Palisades' permanent shutdown at the 2000 Nuclear-Free Great Lakes Action Camp, on the Lake Michigan beach at Van Buren State Park, with the atomic reactor's cooling tower steam visible in the backgroundJudging by Entergy's several years worth of security failures at Palisades, and breaches going back over a decade at other Entergy nuclear power plants such as Indian Point near New York City, the answer to that question is quite dubious.

Beyond Nuclear has published a backgrounder chronicling Entergy security problems at Palisades and Indian Point, and the lethal, and potentially catastrophic risks, at stake. See the PDF, as well as the Word version (containing live links to various documents cited).

The backgrounder was prompted by an NRC Confirmatory Order that went into effect on August 22nd.

 

Tuesday
Aug192014

Environmental groups oppose Fermi 2 license extension

NRC file photo of Fermi 2Multiple environmental groups have met an arbitrarily short, 11:59pm Eastern deadline, and officially intervened against the application by DTE (Detroit Edison) to extend the operating license at its Fermi 2 atomic reactor (photo, left) for an additional 20 years. Fermi 2's operating license is currently set to expire in 2025.

DTE's Fermi nuclear power plant, most infamous for the October 5, 1966 "We Almost Lost Detroit" partial meltdown of its Unit 1 experimental plutonium breeder reactor, is located on the Lake Erie shore of southeast Michigan, in Monroe County.

Beyond Nuclear has entered into coalition with Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, as well as Don't Waste Michigan, to file four contentions against Fermi 2's license extension.

Two of the contentions concern radioactive waste. The first is about the risk of catastrophic irradiated nuclear fuel storage pool fires. Fermi 2's storage pool holds around 600 tons of irradiated nuclear fuel, more than all four destroyed units at Fukushima Daiichi put together (419 tons). The second radioactive waste contention is about the lack of safety and environmental assurances, since the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) "Nuclear Waste Confidence" policy was declared null and void two years ago by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and NRC has not yet replaced it.

Another contention concerns the General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactor, and its containment's, long-known, fatal design flaws. Fermi 2 is largest GE Mark I BWR in the world, almost as big as the melted down Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 and 2 reactor cores put together. 

The final contention is about the interconnected risks between the age-degraded Fermi 2, and the untested, proposed new Fermi 3 atomic reactor, including the vulnerability of both sharing a common off-site electricity transmission corridor.

The three groups, joined by Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, as well as the Sierra Club, Michigan Chapter, have also been intervening against the Fermi 3 proposed new reactor since March, 2009.

Both coalitions challenging Fermi 2, and Fermi 3, are represented by Toledo-based attorney Terry Lodge.

Citizens Resistance at Fermi Two (CRAFT) separately filed 14 contentions of its own against the Fermi 2 license extension. CRAFT released a press release.