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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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Wednesday
Aug152012

Kucinich demands OIG investigation of NRC's two-faced "snow job" on Davis-Besse's cracked containment

U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) is a long time watchdog on the problem-plagued Davis-Besse atomic reactorU.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH, photo at left) has written to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) Office of Inspector General (OIG), demanding an investigation of NRC wrongdoing in regards to its Region 3 safety engineers telling him and his staff one thing months ago about Davis-Besse's shield building cracking, and another thing last Thursday night. Rep. Kucinich's office has issued a press release about his demand as well.

Kucinich referenced Beyond Nuclear's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to NRC, which has revealed, among many other things, that NRC staff worked evenings, weekends, and even through the Thanksgiving holiday, in order to rush approval for FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company (FENOC) to restart Davis-Besse on December 2, 2011 -- despite not knowing the "root cause," extent, and safety and environmental risk significance of the cracking in the concrete shield building, nor what corrective actions needed to be made.

Kucinich joined with environmental coalition allies seeking to block Davis-Besse's proposed 20 year license extension at a press conference in the reactor's hometown of Oak Harbor, OH, 21 miles from Toledo on the Lake Erie shore, prior to a special NRC public meeting about the cracking scandal. Beyond Nuclear unveiled a new report, "What Humpty Dumpty Doesn't Want You to Know: Davis-Besse's Cracked Containment Snow Job," which summarizes NRC's FOIA revelations. The environmental coalition's Toledo-based attorney, Terry Lodge, will file a motion this week to introduce into the record of the NRC Atomic Safety (sic) and Licensing Board operations extension proceeding these FOIA revelations.

Wednesday
Aug152012

"Crisis du jour" at Entergy Nuclear's Palisades atomic reactor

Anti-nuclear watchdogs have long called for Palisades' shutdown. Here, Don't Waste Michigan board members Michael Keegan of Monroe, Alice Hirt of Holland, and Kevin Kamps of Kalamazoo, speak out at the 2000 Nuclear-Free Great Lakes Action Camp, with Palisades' cooling tower steam, and Lake Michigan, visible in the backgroundOn Sunday, Palisades shut down due to a leak of radioactive and acidic primary coolant, escaping from safety-critical control rod drive mechanisms attached to its degraded lid, atop its "worst embrittled reactor pressure vessel in the U.S." Two years ago, in a report entitled "Headaches at Palisades: Broken Seals & Failed Heals," David Lochbaum, Director of the Nuclear Safety Project at Union of Concerned Scientists, warned about closely related problems extending back 40 years at Palisades. The CRDM leaks are so chronic at Palisades, as reflected in 20072009, and 2010 NRC PNOs (Preliminary Notifications of Occurrence), that NRC cut and paste verbage from one incident to the next, and even admitted: "While limited CRD seal leakage is not unusual for the CRD seal design at Palisades, elevated CRD seal leakage rates and increasing leak-rate trends are indicators of CRD seal degradation. The site has experienced elevated CRD seal leakage rates and increasing leak-rate trends in the past which required similar plant shutdowns."

Arnie Gundersen, nuclear engineer at Fairewinds Associates, points out that boric acid leakage inside containment has led to containment liner degradation at a number of U.S. reactors, including Turkey Point, increasing the risk that containments will fail to prevent radioactivity releases during reactor accidents. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) just announced the deployment of a special inspection team to Palisades to investigate this latest leak.

Today, HuffPost Hill has broken the story that NRC's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has launched an investigation into the behavior of NRC Commissioner William C. Ostendorff, for allegedly yelling at a female NRC staffer regarding an investigation ordered by former NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko. Ironically enough, Ostendorff joined three other NRC Commissioners in late 2011, writing the White House that Jaczko's alleged bullying of female NRC staffers had chilled the agency work environment. Pro-nuclear Hill Republicans jumped on the opportunity, carrying out "witch hunt" hearings, which eventually forced the (as investigative journalist and Beyond Nuclear board member Karl Grossman has put it) "insufficiently pro-nuclear" Jaczko's ouster from the agency.

Jaczko had met with an environmental coalition in South Haven, Michigan a short time after having toured the problem-plagued Palisades atomic reactor on May 25th. Jaczko's office had reached out to Beyond Nuclear a month earlier, asking for assistance in setting up the meeting, which included key environmental group representatives from across Michigan, as well as local anti-nuclear watchdogs and concerned residents. However, during the meeting, not a peep was shared with the concerned public about the Safety Injection Refueling Water (SIRW) storage tank leak, into buckets in the control room. Courageous Palisades whistleblowers, their attorney Billie Pirner Garde, and U.S. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) brought this to light in mid-June.

The coalition immediately wrote Jaczko, asking why he had not informed them about the SIRW storage tank leak at the May 25th meeting. Jaczko never wrote back before leaving office. However, as reported by the HuffPost Hill, he did order an investigation into why his own staff had not informed him of the SIRW storage tank leak --he was as in the dark as the public! Jaczko had been accompanied on his Palisades tour, and at his press conference and meeting with the public afterwards, by NRC Region 3 Administrator Chuck Casto, NRC Office of Public Affairs director Elliot Brenner, several NRC HQ and Region 3 staff persons, as well as NRC's Palisades resident inspectors. It is inconceivable that none of them knew about the SIRW storage tank leak, as it had been ongoing for over a year.

Friday
Aug102012

What Humpty Dumpty doesn't want you to know: Davis-Besse's cracked concrete containment snow job

U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps has prepared a comprehensive backgrounder about an environmental coalition's efforts to win a hearing against the Davis-Besse atomic reactor's proposed 20-year license extension based on the safety risks presented by its severely cracked shield building. FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company (FENOC) claims the cracking was caused by the Blizzard of 1978, is not aging related, and will be easily solved by the application of a weather sealant (albeit 40 years late). The backgrounder, prepared for a special NRC meeting about the shield building cracking to be held on Nagasaki Day (Thursday, August 9) in Oak Harbor, Ohio, reports on NRC's response documents to a Beyond Nuclear Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, as well as recent revisions to FENOC's root cause reports and aging management plan. Also contained in the backgrounder are citations to the environmental coalition's four supplements to its original cracking contention, over the course of many months. (See links to FOIA documents here.)

Kevin will speak, along with Don't Waste Michigan's Michael Keegan and Terry Lodge, Toledo based attorney who represents the coalition, at a press conference before the NRC meeting, at 5:30 PM at the Oak Harbor High School. U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH, photo at left), a long-time Davis-Besse watchdog, who has outed much of the truth about the severity of the cracking over the past 10 months, will also take part in the press conference.

Thursday
Aug022012

General Electric's Immelt down on nukes

The latest confession of the nuclear retreat comes in the interview by Financial Times with none other than General Electric’s Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt. “It’s hard to justify nuclear, really hard,” said Immelt. He joins John “I’m the nuclear guy” Rowe, CEO of Chicago-based electricity giant Exelon Nuclear, who admitted this year that new nuclear power plants were “utterly uneconomical.”  

These latest remarks come as no surprise given the atomic industry’s decades’ old penchant for economic failure going back to what Forbes Magazine described in 1985 as “the largest managerial disaster in business history.”  More egregious is how power executives can ignore the constant and many warning signs. Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s Investment and Fitch Financial Services have been saying for years that risky new reactor construction likely turns to financially toxic assets. Where were Immelt and Rowe when CitiBank called nuclear power the “corporate killer”?  In fact, they were among the corporate heads vying for tens of billions dollars in federal taxpayer “loans” approved by Congress for ludicrously expensive new reactor construction.  

Thursday
Jul192012

Resisting "Rust Belt" reactors' radioactive risks!

The Great Lakes, drinking water supply for 40 million people, "hosts" 20 atomic reactors on its Canadian shores, and 13 on its U.S. shoresAs if the closing steel mills and automobile manufacturing plants weren't bad enough, some of the oldest, most risky atomic reactors in the U.S. are located in the Midwest. Worse still, they are on the shores of the Great Lakes, putting at risk the drinking water supply for 40 million people downstream in the U.S., Canada, and a large number of Native American First Nations.Altogether, 33 atomic reactors are located on the shorelines of the Great Lakes.

Two of the most infamous of these radiologically risky "Rust Belt reactors" are Entergy Nuclear's Palisades in southwest Michigan, and FirstEnergy's Davis-Besse in northwest Ohio.

Last month, U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), a long-time watchdog on the nuclear industry, wrote the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) about an acidic, radioactive leak representing a "crisis in the control room at the Palisades nuclear power plant." The leakage had been ongoing for a year, and was being "contained" in glorified buckets referred to by Entergy PR spokesman Mark Savage as "catch basins." Although the leak came to light when Palisades was forced to shutdown after its rate reached more than 30 gallons per day, it had been ongoing for months at a rate of 15 gallons per day. The tritiated and borated water is leaking from a 300,000 gallon Safety Injection Refueling Water storage tank, which is safety critical for both reactor core and radiological containment cooling. Whistleblowers contacted Washington, D.C. attorney Billie Pirner Garde, who alerted Rep. Markey, who wrote NRC. The NRC Office of Investigations has launched a probe into potential Entergy wrongdoing. On July 17th, NRC issued a "Confirmatory Action Letter" which enables Palisades to keep operating into 2013, even if the leak increases to nearly 38 gallons per day!

Markey demanded a copy of an internal Entergy report surveying its own workers on "safety culture" at Palisades. Michigan Radio obtained a copy, which reveals "a lack of accountability at all levels," and a workforce deeply distrustful of management, fearful that they will be harassed and punished if they dare to raise safety concerns.

Last February, NRC lowered Palisades' safety status to one of the four worst atomic reactors in the U.S., after a near electrocution of an electrician last September cut power to half the control room, instantly throwing 22 plant systems into chaos, and bringing multiple Palisades' age-degraded structures and components (the reactor has operated since 1971 on the Lake Michigan shore) -- including the most embrittled reactor pressure vessel in the U.S., and steam generators that have needed to be replaced (for the second time in the plant's history) over six years ago -- to the breaking point. More than one pathway to a Loss of Coolant Accident came precariously close to happening, which could have led to meltdown and catastrophic radioactivity release.

Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps will represent Palisades watchdogs at an "Occupy Entergy" gathering at the World Fellowship Center in Conway, New Hampshire this weekend. Watchdogs from numerous Entergy Nuclear reactors across the U.S. will come together to advance shutdown campaigns at Entergy reactors, from Vermont Yankee, FitzPatrick NY, and Pilgrim MA (all General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactors, identical twins to Fukushima Daiichi), to pressurized water reactors like Indian Point, NY and Palisades. Beyond Nuclear's Paul and Linda Gunter will help lead the strategic retreat.

At the 35-year-old Davis-Besse atomic reactor near Toledo on the Lake Erie shore, Beyond Nuclear and its environmental coalition allies have pressed their case against a 20 year license extension at one of the most problem-plagued plants in U.S. history. The coalition, represented by attorney Terry Lodge, contends that Davis-Besse's severely cracked and degraded shield building represents a potentially catastrophic radiological risk, which should preclude the 2017 to 2037 license extension.

U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), whose Cleveland area district is immediately downwind, has been a long-time critic of Davis-Besse. He just wrote an op-ed, "If You Lived Downwind of this Power Plant, Would You Be Concerned?," which first appeared in the Elyria Chronicle Telegram, and has been reprinted at the Huffington Post. Rep. Kucinich has also expressed his solidarity with the 170,000 protestors in Tokyo calling for an end to nuclear power in Japan after the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe.

Referring to Davis-Besse, Rep. Kucinich said: “The people of Japan, and indeed every country, deserve better than being condemned to repeat such disasters, especially when they demand a sustainable path forward.  I stand with them not only because they have a right to be free of the catastrophic health and financial risks that nuclear power clearly brings, but because we share the same risks in my own backyard...We must support the Japanese people, if for no other reason that their nuclear explosions could easily become ours.”

FirstEnergy also owns and operates the Perry nuclear power plant to the northeast of Cleveland, which, along with Palisades, is regarded by NRC as one of the four worst run reactors in the U.S.