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.



State of NY denies Entergy coastal management permit, blow to Indian Point's license extension prospects

Entergy's Indian Point reactors on the Hudson River near New York CityAs reported by the Associated Press, the State of New York Secretary of State has denied a coastal management certificate to Entergy Nuclear, for its twin reactor Indian Point nuclear power plant near New York City. The Secretary of State, Cesar Perales's, decision is the latest blow to Entergy's application for 20-year license extensions.

As reported: "For over 40 years, Entergy's Indian Point nuclear facilities have been damaging the coastal resources of the Hudson River estuary," the state agency wrote. That includes 2.5 [billion gallons] of water withdrawn daily from the Hudson for cooling that kills an estimated 1 billion larvae, small fish and other organisms annually.

Beyond Nuclear has reported on Indian Point's impacts on the Hudson, in its Licensed to Kill report.

Entergy could build cooling towers to mitigate such impacts on the Hudson, but refuses to make the investment, despite Indian Point's nearly $1.5 million per day in net profits from electricity sales.

Indian Point 2's initial 40-year operating license expired in 2013. Indian Point 3's license expires next month. But NRC's loose rules allow both units to continue operating, until NRC's final decision on the license extension is made. Already, the Indian Point license extension proceeding, begun in 2007, is the longest lasting in U.S. history. Hearings will resume this week, including intervenor Riverkeeper.


Reactors are closing: Entergy Nuclear's FitzPatrick in upstate NY

NRC file photo of the FitzPatrick atomic reactor in Oswego, NY, with Lake Ontario in the backgroundOn Monday morning, November 2, 2015 Entergy Nuclear announced it would permanently shut down its age-degraded, uncompetitive FitzPatrick atomic reactor in Scriba, NY, six miles northeast of Oswego, on the Lake Ontario shore (photo, left) by late 2016 or early 2017.

As with Entergy's Pilgrim atomic reactor in Plymouth, MA (now planned to permanently close by mid-2019, if not two years earlier), as well as Entergy's Vermont Yankee reactor (permanently shut late last year), FitzPatrick is a Fukushima Daiichi twin design and vintage: an over 40-year old, General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactor.

As Beyond Nuclear's "Freeze Our Fukushimas" pamphlet shows, the closure of these three Entergy GE BWR Mark Is still leaves 20 Mark Is operating in the U.S., including Cooper in NE (owned by Nebraska Public Power District, but operated by Entergy), as well as Nine Mile Point Unit 1 (owned by Constellation -- Exelon & Electricite de France -- and located immediately adjacent to FitzPatrick in Scriba, NY).

Constellation's Nine Mile Point Unit 2, also co-located with FitzPatrick, is a very similarly designed GE BWR Mark II. As described in the "Freeze Our Fukushimas" pamphlet, seven additional Mark IIs still operate across the U.S.

As with Entergy's October 13th announcement of Pilgrim's planned closure, Beyond Nuclear welcomes this news about FitzPatrick, but must hasten to add that the next year or more of continued operations at FitzPatrick will now represent a period of significantly increased safety risk. After all, experienced workers with job prospects elsewhere will likely hastily move on. And Entergy can now be expected to neglect basic maintenance repairs even worse than before, and outright cancel any needed major repairs.

As Beyond Nuclear documented right after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe began, and has warned about ever since, FitzPatrick can be regarded as the single most dangerous Mark I in the country: it is the only one that refused to install a hardened vent, to relieve pressure build up in its too small and too weak containment vessel. In this sense, FitzPatrick is even less prepared than Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 3 were for preventing catastrophic containment failures -- they did have hardened vents, although they failed, and those containments were either damaged or destroyed. FitzPatrick's plan since 1989, when it refused to install a hardened vent, even though all other Mark Is and IIs in the U.S. did do so, has simply been to allow the doors to be blown off its turbine building during an explosive hydrogen gas build up during a meltdown, as an ad hoc pressure release valve.

As with Oyster Creek in NJ, FitzPatrick also raises the specter that an announced shutdown will be used as an excuse to blow off U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) deadlines for "Fukushima lessons learned" safety upgrades, and perhaps -- incredibly enough -- with the agency's complicity. Oyster Creek, another Mark I (owned by Exelon, and the oldest operating reactor in the U.S.), has already announced its closure by December 31, 2019 at the latest. But NRC's order, that "new and improved" hardened vents (albeit ones lacking radiological filters) be installed, as a required post-Fukushima safety upgrade, should apply at Oyster Creek by mid-2016. Oyster Creek has applied to postpone that deadline till after it has permanently closed, in effect evading it. NRC appears open to that exemption.

Likewise, FitzPatrick should have to install a "new and improved" hardened vent (albeit lacking radiological filters), prior to its just announced shutdown. Such exemptions from post-Fukushima safety orders would make a mockery of rule of law and regulation, and are entirely unacceptable. If Oyster Creek and FitzPatrick are unwilling to invest in such safety upgrades, they should be forced to permanently shut down by those deadlines, at the latest, not granted exemptions by a complicit NRC.

It must be remembered that the Japanese Parliament, in its independent investigation published in 2012, concluded that the root cause of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe was collusion between regulator, industry, and elected officials.

Oddly, as reported by the Democrat & Chronicle, NY Governor Cuomo has vowed to fight FitzPatrick's closure:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state would fight the closure.

"The closing of the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant will devastate the lives of the more than 600 employees and their families. Good corporate citizenship must appreciate that there are many factors that count as the 'bottom line,'" Cuomo said in a statement. "The state of New York will pursue every legal and regulatory avenue in an attempt to stop Entergy’s actions and its callous disregard for their skilled and loyal workforce.”

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has made similar public pronouncements. 

Gov. Cuomo's advocacy to keep FitzPatrick from closing contradicts his long-time advocacy (dating back many years, to his service as State of NY Attorney General) for closure of Entergy Nuclear's Indian Point reactors near New York City.

As reported by PoliticoNewYork:

Cuomo said he wants Indian Point closed because it would be impossible to evacuate the New York City area in the event of a severe accident.

“Their best answer if there's a nuclear accident is, everybody should take an iodine pill,” he said. “You know? And they're supposed to have an evacuation plan for the surrounding area — when the surrounding area is New York City, you cannot evacuate New York City. You know, what's the plan, jump in the river and swim to Jersey? Right? So, I've had that problem with Indian Point for a long time.”

While taking a potassium iodide pill would protect the human thyroid gland during a nuclear emergency evacuation, Cuomo's observation -- that it would be impossible to evacuate the more than 20 million people who live or work within 50 miles of Indian Point during a radiological emergency -- is absolutely correct, and has long been established. 

But it must be pointed out that, despite being much less densely populated than metro New York City, evacuating communities in upstate NY during a radiological emergency at FitzPatrick, and/or the adjacent Nine Mile Point reactors, and/or Exelon's Ginna nuclear power plant (the second oldest operating reactor in the U.S., just 50 miles or so to the southwest of FitzPatrick, and also located on the Lake Ontario shore in Ontario, NY), would also be very difficult. After all, the urban centers of Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo are very nearby; evacuation to the north is blocked by Lake Ontario; and evacuation to the west is significantly complicated -- or likely blocked, truth be told -- by the Canadian border.

Given their stated concern about job loss at FitzPatrick, Gov. Cuomo and Sen. Schumer should read the white paper published by Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE) on October 22, 2015, "REPLACING FITZPATRICK: How the Closure of a Nuclear Reactor can Reduce Greenhouse Gasses and Radioactive Waste, while Creating Jobs and Supporting the Local Economy."

As summarized by the NIRS/AGREE press release, the $40-60 million per year public subsidy Entergy has been seeking could be invested in much more beneficial ways, such as completely replacing FitzPatrick's electricity supply with energy efficiency upgrades and wind power installations, with enough money left over to also replace hundreds more megawatts of dirty fossil fuel generation in upstate NY, and/or decrease ratepayers' electricity bills.

The NIRS/AGREE just transition plan would also secure half of FitzPatrick's current workforce, by utilizing the $738 million, state-controlled decommissioning fund to begin immediate dismantlement of the facilities and radiological site clean up, tapping the institutional knowledge and expertise embodied in Entergy's current employees at the site. At the same time, the efficieny upgrades and wind power expansion in the service area would provide twice as many jobs as FitzPatrick currently provides. All this could be accomplished, while still meeting NY's greenhouse gas reduction commitments, as well as helping local municipalities -- long overly dependent on FitzPatrick's tax revenues -- manage the transition into a more diversified and sustainable energy economy. 

Tellingly, it has been reported that Entergy's stock price has rebounded somewhat, upon rumors of FitzPatrick's closure, after its stock price had decreased significantly over the past many months. Entergy is looking to save $275 million in revenue losses over the next five years, by closing FitzPatrick. 

Basing his predictions on analyses by UBS and other investment firms, in July 2013, Dr. Mark Cooper of Vermont Law School identified Entergy's entire merchant fleet or reactors as at risk of near-term shutdown. Palisades in MI, and Indian Point Units 2 & 3 in NY, are the last remaining Entergy merchant fleet reactors. 

Please see Beyond Nuclear's "Reactors Are Closing" website section for the big picture on the six reactor closures in North America just since December 2012, and the numerous announced closures to come in the next few years.


Where is America’s cyberdefense plan?

The Empire State Building towers over the skyline of a blackout-darkened New York City just before dawn. (George Widman/Associated Press)That is the online title of an op-ed by Ted Koppel appearing in the Washington Post (the hardcopy headline reads "Before the cyber-blackout"). Koppel, best known for hosting the ABC news program “Nightline” from 1980 to 2005, is the author of the new book, Lights Out: A Cyberattack, a Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath.

The op-ed raises the specter of a power outage lasting not hours, or days, but weeks, or months, due to a coordinated cyber-attack on the vulnerable U.S. electricity grid.

But the op-ed does not address what this would mean at the 100 still operating atomic reactors across the country, and even at the numerous atomic reactors permanently shutdown. Even if operating atomic reactors were able to power down and shutdown safely during a power outage, their thermally hot cores would still have to be cooled for several days, or longer, before cold shutdown was reached, or else risk melting down. Although high-level radioactive waste storage pools would have a longer fuse -- days or even weeks before boiling would expose irradiated nuclear fuel to air, and risk a catastrophic fire -- the pools are not even required to be connected to emergency diesel generators, as reactors are. More.


Edison Never Told Federal Regulators Of San Onofre Equipment Design Flaw

Surfers pass in front of the San Onofre nuclear power plant, June 7, 2013. Credit: Associated Press.As reported by KPBS, a watchdog has called for a federal invetigation into Southern CA Edison's having hidden from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), at a 2006 meeting, its knowledge of flaws in the San Onofre Unit 2 & 3 replacement steam generators. A radioactive steam leak from a failed steam generator tube in January 2012 ultimately led to the permanent shutdown of the two reactors in June 2013. Incredibly, Southern California Edison is seeking to charge ratepayers billions of dollars extra for its "lost profits" and other costs related the permanent shutdown, even though it already charged them for the replacement steam generators, that it knew were defective nine years ago!


NRC grants TVA Watts Bar Unit 2 a 40-year operating license 43-years later

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced the issuance of a 40-year operating license 43 years after the Tennessee Valley Authority first made application for the federal license in January 1973.  The Westinghouse Pressurized Water Reactor and Ice Condenser Containment is another 1960’s vintage technology originally conceptualized but abandoned as floating nuclear power plants in the coastal waters off New Jersey and the Gulf of Mexico. The concept required such a thin concrete containment structure to reduce weight on the floating platform that the controversial system was nicknamed “the eggshell containment.” Watts Bar 2 becomes the 10th PWR to operate on land with the controversial ice condenser design licensed to operate in the United States; Catawba 1 & 2 (NC), Cook 1 & 2 (MI), McGuire 1 & 2 (NC), Sequoyah 1 & 2 (TN) and Watts Bar 1 (TN).

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy authors Sarah Barzack and Don Safer have illuminated the Watts Bar 2 licensing fiasco in a revealing issue of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.