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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
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.

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.

Friday
Feb082013

Entergy admits its faulty equipment caused 35 minute Super Bowl "lights out"

The darkened Superdome evoked memories of Hurricane Katrina, when the stadium served as the emergency shelter of last resort for thousands of displaced New Orleans residentsFirst, Entergy denied any responsibility, instead pointing fingers at the Superdome. Then, Entergy agreed to the need for an investigation. And now, five days later, Entergy admits that its faulty equipment was the culprit that plunged the Super Bowl -- and 75,000 in-stadium fans -- into darkness for 35 long minutes. 108.4 million others watched the darkness on television.

It's not unlike that time in Vermont, when Entergy officials testified, under oath, to state officials, that no underground piping existed at Vermont Yankee which could possibly be conducting radioactive materials. Only to have to admit a short time later, that those very pipes which it had denied even existed, were leaking tritium and other radioactive contaminants into soil, groundwater, and the Connecticut River.

Or that time, when it took over at the Palisades atomic reactor in Michigan, when it promised it would replace the corroded reactor lid and degraded steam generators, as well as deal with the worst embrittled reactor pressure vessel in the U.S. -- but never did.

The Chicago Tribune has reported on Entergy's mea culpa for causing the Super Bowl lights out. CBS Sports has reported that documents revealed concerns about electrical failures in the months leading up to the game. More.

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.

Thursday
Feb072013

Markey letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on hydrogen explosions/vents

U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources CommitteeThe Office of U.S. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA, pictured left), Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee, has circulated the following statement:

"Today, Rep. Markey sent a letter to NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane urging NRC to follow the recommendations of its technical staff and require filtered vents on some nuclear reactors in order to facilitate the prevention of the sort of hydrogen explosions that occurred during the Fukushima meltdowns. The letter also conveyed Rep. Markey’s concerns about ongoing potentially misleading statements made by some NRC personnel concerning the ability of U.S. nuclear reactors to prevent a dangerous buildup of hydrogen gas in nuclear containment structures in the event of a nuclear accident."