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.



The nuclear relapse has derailed -- literally!

Photo by Tom Clements, Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA)Tom Clements of Alliance for Nuclear Accountability in South Carolina has documented, in photo and blog, a most remarkable development: the AP1000 nuclear reactor vessel targeted at Vogtle, Georgia has been discovered unprotected, stranded in Savannah Port since a December 15 shipment failure. Tom's remarkable blog is posted at the Aiken Leader. Connect Savannah has also reported on the "Nuclear Train Wreck."

As Tom has described it: the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) for the chronically delayed Vogtle AP1000 reactor construction project near Waynesboro, Georgia sits stranded and seemingly unprotected in the port of Savannah. The special railroad car carrying the 300-ton vessel had unknown mechanical problems on December 15 on exiting the port.  The NRC has said that the vessel only got one-quarter mile before a sound was heard and the car stopped.  Plans by Westinghouse and Southern Company to move the vessel are unknown. It is also unknown if the railroad car can be repaired and used or if the railroad company which owns the line is concerned that the rail car might break down again on its line in an in accessible place.  Meanwhile, the apparently unguarded reactor might be subject to sabotage and sits in apparent violation of NRC quality assurance and "administrative control" regulations.


"Bad math" dating back 40 years adds to long list of problems at idled Fort Calhoun, NE atomic reactor

Ft. Calhoun during the worst of summer 2011 flooding. Photo credit: AP.As reported by the Associated Press, a design flaw dating back to the early 1970s raises concerns about heavy equipment support structures at the Omaha Public Power District-owned/Exelon-operated Fort Calhoun atomic reactor in Nebraska. Both the utility, and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), missed the flaw, both during initial licensing four decades ago, as well as during the rubberstamp of a 20-year license extension in 2003.

The article lists the many woes which have kept the reactor shutdown since before historic floods on the Missouri River in summer 2011, which inundated the Fort Calhoun site, doing untold damage to underground structures, systems, and components, including safety-significant electrical cables, as well as pipes which carry radioactive materials (see photo, left):

"...Among the violations cited by regulators was the failure of a key electrical part during a 2010 test, a small electrical fire in June 2011, several security issues and deficiencies in flood planning that were discovered a year before the river spilled its banks.

Still to be addressed: the repair of flood damage at the facility; the replacement of fire-damaged equipment; strengthening the management of the plant; improving the safety culture among workers; the removal of the Teflon insulation; and the strengthening of heavy equipment supports...".

As Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds is quoted, "If Fort Calhoun were being run by a business, it would have been shut down a year ago."



Fairewinds' nuclear engineer Arnie GundersenIn the most recent Fairewinds Energy Education weekly podcast, "REPAIRS AT FOUR NUCLEAR REACTORS ARE SO EXPENSIVE THAT THEY SHOULD NOT BE RESTARTED," Fairewinds' nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen (photo, left) lays out the case as to why the atomic reactors at Fort Calhoun, Nebraska on the Missouri River, Crystal River in Florida, and San Onofre Units 2 & 3 in southern California should all be permanently shutdown.

In the second half of the program, Arnie also discusses a recent letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and an accompanying press release, from U.S. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), which expressed strong opposition to U.S. Department of Energy plans to "recycle" radioactive metals and other materials from its nuclear facilities (such as nuclear weapons complex sites, uranium enrichment facilities, national labs, etc.) into consumer products.


Rating agencies: cracked Crystal River 3 may be down for the count

The magnitude of Crystal River's concrete containment cracksAs reported by SNL, Fitch and UBS have indepenently cast doubt on the likelihood, given the cost (into the billions of dollars), that Duke/Progress Energy's Crystal River Unit 3 in Citrus County, Florida will ever be repaired and returned to operations. Crystal River has been shutdown ever since severe cracking (see photo, left) was discovered in its concrete containment shell, nearly three and a half years ago. The utility accidentally cracked the containment itself, while attempting an in-house steam generator replacement.

The article reports that ratepayers will not be charged $388 million for replacement power, but "a settlement agreement with the Florida Office of Public Counsel and several interest groups...stipulates the parties will not oppose Duke's full recovery of all plant investment should it decide to retire the plant," meaning that the public could still get stuck with the bill for a disastrous engineering mistake the nuclear utility itself made.

Duke/Progress Energy has variously attempted to foist repair or cost recovery bills on its insurance provider, its ratepayers via the Florida Public Service Commission, and even the rest of the nuclear power industry.

Beyond Nuclear has helped lead environmental coalition efforts to block Davis-Besse's 20-year license extension, due to severe cracking in its concrete Shield Building.


Forbes: "the nuclear renaissance may be largely over before it started,"

"Burning Money" image by Gene Case, Avenging AngelsPeter Kelly-Detwiler, Contributor to Forbes, has published an op-ed entitled "New Centralized Nuclear Plants: Still an Investment Worth Making?" 

The Forbes contributor concludes that "the nuclear renaissance may be largely over before it started," with not only the vast majority of proposed new reactors in the U.S. being cancelled, but even paid-off old reactors like Kewaunee in Wisconsin being permanently shutdown due to crushing economics -- such as the expense of major, vitally needed safety repairs at the 40-year old reactor.

Kelly-Detwiler cites the "takes too long," "costs too much," and "bet-the-farm" nature of nuclear power for the "failure to launch" of the nuclear relapse.

If the op-ed's title is meant to imply that so-called small modular reactors might still save the day for the retreating nuclear power industry, it must be pointed out that the supposed justification for giant-sized proposed new reactors (such as the AP1000, at 1,100 MWe; the ESBWR at 1,500 MWe; the EPR at 1,600 MWe; etc.) was "economies of scale." Since small modular reactors represent the opposite end of the spectrum, it stands to reason these would be even more expensive than their super-sized, failed siblings.

In a classic February 14, 1985 piece entitled “Nuclear Follies,” Forbes wrote: 

"The failure of the U.S. nuclear power program ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business history, a disaster on a monumental scale. The utility industry has already invested $125 billion in nuclear power, with an additional $140 billion to come before the decade is out, and only the blind, or the biased, can now think that the money has been well spent. It is a defeat for the U.S. consumer and for the competitiveness of U.S. industry, for the utilities that undertook the program and for the private enterprise system that made it possible.” More.