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.



"Vermont Yankee: Vermont asks for hearing in EPZ reductions"

NRC file photo of VY, located across the Connecticut River from New Hampshire, in Vernon, VT, just 8 miles upstream of the Massachusetts state line.As reported by Robert Audette of the Associated Press, the State of Vermont Department of Public Service has petitioned to intervene, and for full adjudicatory public hearings, regarding an Entergy Nuclear's License Amendment Request (LAR) that would significantly reduce, or completely eliminate, emergency preparedness at the permanently closed Vermont Yankee atomic reactor in Vernon, VT (photo, left).

As reported in the article:

'Entergy's requested amendment would reduce the 10-mile emergency preparedness zone around the plant to its actual footprint as well as its financial contributions to emergency management organizations in the EPZ [Emergency Planning Zone]. Entergy is also asking for a reduction in its offsite emergency notification system, elimination of hostile-action scenario planning and remove the state from participating in emergency response exercises. The change in the notification system would increase notification time from 15 to 60 minutes, states the filing presented to the NRC on Feb. 9."

In the filing, Recchia wrote that if approved the amendment request would "increase the threat to public health and safety in the event of a credible accident scenario...

Lack of funding from Entergy would also hinder the state's ability "to implement the Vermont Radiological Emergency Response Programs, and any additional off-site response to an emergency," wrote Recchia.'

Significantly, many hundreds of tons of irradiated nuclear fuel will likely remain in VY's storage pool until at least 2020. Loss of the cooling water supply, as by sudden drain down or slower motion boil down, whether due to accident, attack, or natural disaster, could cause an irradiated nuclear fuel fire, and unleash a catastrophic radioactivity release. The storage pool is not located within a radiological containment structure.


"Thousands more cracks found in Belgian nuclear reactors: Belgian regulatory head warns of global implications"

Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor, on the Lake Michigan shore in Covert, MI, has the worst embrittled RPV in the U.S., vulnerable to catastrophic failure due to PTS.As revealed in a new report from Greenpeace Belgium, micro-cracking in Belgian atomic reactor pressure vessels (RPV) due to hydrogen flaking could be a global problem going undiagnosed, simply because nuclear utilities and government regulators haven't done the needed testing. Belgium's nuclear regulatory agency has issued "a statement confirming that the additional tests conducted in 2014 revealed 13,047 cracks in Doel 3 and 3,149 in Tihange 2," as reported in Greenpeace Belgium's press release.

Embrittlement can lead to RPV failure due to pressurized thermal shock (PTS) in pressurized water reactors (PWRs). Beyond Nuclear, in coalition with Don't Waste MI, MI Safe Energy Future, and Nuclear Energy Information Service, has challenged the continued operation of Entergy Nuclear's Palisades atomic reactor in s.w. MI on the Lake Michigan shore (photo, above left), due to its worst embrittled RPV in the U.S. As reported by Greenpeace Belgium, a RPV breach due to PTS could cause a Loss-of-Coolant-Accident (LOCA), core meltdown, containment failure, and catastrophic radioactivity release.

However, Greenpeace Belgium's report warns that hydrogen flaking micro-cracking also impacts boiling water reactors (BWRs). Greenpeace Belgium's experts call for comprehensive testing of all atomic reactors worldwide, a position echoed by Belgium's top nuclear regulator. Belgium's two suspect reactors are shut; Greenpeace demands they remain so till the concern is addressed. Meanwhile, Palisades operates at full power.


Beyond Nuclear presses its case against Fermi 2 license extension and Fermi 3 new reactor!

NRC file photo of Fermi 2 on the Lake Erie shore. Fermi 3 would be built immediately adjacent to Fermi 2 -- ironically enough, on the very spot where Fermi 1 had a partial core meltdown in 1966!U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) rulings regarding the proposed Fermi 2 license extension, and the proposed Fermi 3 new reactor combined construction and operation license application (COLA), have been coming fast and furious in recent days. And Beyond Nuclear, along with its environmental coalition allies, stands ready to press its case in both proceedings. The Fermi nuclear power plant is located on the Lake Erie shore near Monroe in southeast Michigan (see photo, left).

Fermi 2 proposed 20-year license extension

On Feb. 6th, the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel (ASLBP) overseeing the Fermi 2 license extension proceeding issued its ruling on environmental coalition contentions against DTE's premature application. (Fermi 2's current 40 year license doesn't even expire until 2025!)

The ASLBP only admitted a small fraction of the numerous contentions filed last August.

Fermi 2 is the last of 22 operating U.S. General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactors in the U.S. to have not yet had its 20-year license extension rubber-stamped by NRC. Fermi 2 is identical in design to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4, only super-sized: Fermi 2 is nearly as large as Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 and 2 put together!

A coalition consisting of Beyond Nuclear, Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, and Don't Waste Michigan, represented by Toledo-based attorney Terry Lodge, had filed four contentions. Only a part of one was admitted for a hearing. The admitted contention has to do with the risks of Fermi 2's and Fermi 3's (see below) connections to the off-site electrical grid (essentional for running the reactors' and high-level radioactive waste storage pools' safety and cooling systems) all sharing a single, narrow transmission line corridor. This puts both units at risk of common mode failures due to the vulnerability of the transmission lines.

The ASLBP, however, dismissed another of Beyond Nuclear et al.'s contentions -- this one on the need for radiological filters on "new and improved" hardened vents, to be required as a post-Fukushima nuclear catastrophe "lesson learned." Several weeks ago, despite NRC Fukushima Near-Term Task Force recommendations in July 2012, that such radiological filters be installed at GE BWR Mark Is, as well as at Mark IIs (very similar in design; there are 8 in the U.S.), the NRC Commissioners last year voted, 4 to 1, to not require such filters. (NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane cast the sole dissent, calling for filters.) The NRC staff has now cut off any further consideration of its own previously recommended safety upgrade.

The ASLBP also dismissed two Beyond Nuclear et al.'s radioactive waste contentions, including concerns about NRC's current Nuclear Waste Confidence policy disregarding the risks of irradiated nuclear fuel storage pool fires and leaks, as well as the risk that a permanent repository for high-level radioactive waste disposal will never open. In doing so, NRC has flagrantly flouted orders from June 2012 issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in New York v. NRC.

A second environmental group, Citizens' Resistance at Fermi Two (CRAFT), had also filed 14 contentions against Fermi 2's license extension last August. The ASLBP admitted only portions of two: "...the Board admits portions of two contentions—one alleging negative impacts on tribal hunting and fishing near Fermi 2 (Contention 2) and the other asserting that Canadians living within 50 miles of the facility were excluded from the SAMA analysis (Contention 8).

The Walpole Island First Nation lives on an island in the St. Clair River, on unceded territory between the U.S. and Canada. It was not contacted by NRC about its right to take part in the Fermi 2 license extension proceeding.

Similarly, even though Fermi 2 is only 8 miles across Lake Erie from Amherstburg, Ontario, DTE has not included impacts on Canadians in its Severe Accident Mitigation Alternaties (SAMA) analyses, as if catastrophic radioactivity releases from Fermi 2 would magically stop at the Canadian border!

The ASLBP will schedule evidentiary hearings in the near future, likely to be held in Monroe, MI -- as were the oral argument pre-hearings last November 20th.

The Toledo Blade has reported on the environmental coalition's winning a hearing against the Fermi 2 license extension. The Blade article was in response to CRAFT's Feb. 8th press release.

Fermi 3 proposed new reactor combined Construction and Operating License

On Feb. 4th, the four U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners (there is currently an open seat on the five member Commission) held its "Mandatory, Uncontested Hearing" on DTE's (formerly Detroit Edison) combined Construction and Operating License Application (COLA) for the proposed Fermi 3 ESBWR (General Electric-Hitachi, so-called "Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor"). Required by the Atomic Energy Act, the day-long session was token, perfunctory, self-congratulatory, and a rubber-stamp formality, making short shrift of the countless risks that Fermi 3 would create. The hearing was one of the very last steps remaining before NRC grants COLA approval.

The environmental coalition (Beyond Nuclear, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don't Waste Michigan, and Sierra Club Michigan Chapter) that has been intervening against Fermi 3 for six and a half years issued a press release, vowing to appeal NRC's rubberstamp of the Fermi 3 COLA to the federal courts. The legal challenges will focus on "Nuclear Waste Confidence," quality assurance (QA), and NRC's violation of NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) by excluding Fermi 3's transmission corridor from the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement). All told, the coalition -- also represented by Toledo-based attorney Terry Lodge, as well as expert witness Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer of Fairewinds Associates (on the QA contention) -- filed some three-dozen contentions in this proceeding.

Lodge said: “Once all administrative remedies are exhausted at NRC, we plan to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, on multiple environmental and safety-related fronts.”

Gundersen, at the time of Halloween, 2013 ASLBP hearings in southeast Michigan, said: “Given Detroit Edison’s violations of quality assurance requirements, the geological borings and soil samples are suspect. Fermi 3’s building structures would be very heavy, so the geotechnical data has to be verifiable, so that the atomic reactor’s foundations are rock solid, and seismically qualified.”

And coalition coordinator, Michael Keegan of Don't Waste MI in Monroe, said: “In addition to ducking a transmission corridor EIS, DTE and NRC are attempting to duck the laws of physics. The corridor as currently configured will not meet NRC recommended design vulnerability protections, including its susceptibility to many single failure events that could remove all three lines from service. This is made significantly worse by being part of the same transmission corridor as Fermi 2, a Fukushima Daiichi twin-design.”

On Feb. 12th, Lodge filed a "place-holder" contention, on behalf of Beyond Nuclear, with the Fermi 3 ASLBP regarding Nuclear Waste Confidence concerns. It will seek to apply any U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit environmental coalition legal victory against NRC's current, bogus reincarnation of Nuclear Waste Confidence (now renamed Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel by the agency) in the Fermi 3 proceeding. That is, Beyond Nuclear et al. will call for the blocking of Fermi 3's license, or its revocation if already granted, until the Nuclear Waste Confidence concerns have been addressed. Beyond Nuclear member Michael Keegan, a longtime watchdog on the Fermi nuclear power plant, who resides within the 10-mile radius Emergency Planning Zone, has provided standing for Beyond Nuclear.

In addition to the coalition's legal appeal, opponents to Fermi 3 are gearing up to resist any attempts by DTE to secure public subsidies for the construction of Fermi 3. DTE could request the Michigan Public Service Commission to approve ratepayer-funded "Construction Work in Progress" subsidies for building Fermi 3. And DTE could apply to the U.S. Department of Energy for $12.5 billion in federal taxpayer-funded loans and loan guarantees, to finance construction.

Thom Hartmann hosted Beyond Nuclear on his television program "The Big Picture" on Feb. 9th to discuss Fermi 2 and 3 -- as well as the "We Almost Lost Detroit" Fermi 1 partial core meltdown of 1966. Fermi 3 would be built immediately adjacent to Fermi 2 -- ironically enough, on the exact spot where the Fermi 1 experimental plutonium breeder reactor meltdown occurred!


Entergy threatens to walk away from VY decommissioning after 60 years!

An aerial view of the known extent of the tritium contamination in soil and groundwater at the VY site, on the banks of the Connecticut River in southeastern Vermont.Entergy Nuclear is infamous for its arrogance. Now, reports the Associated Press, the country's second biggest nuclear utility, with one less than a dirty dozen atomic reactors in its fleet (Vermont Yankee -- VY -- was forced into permanent shutdown on Dec. 29th under intense public pressure), is threatening the State of Vermont to simply walk away from the radioactively contaminated site after 60 years, if the decommissioning is not yet completed.

The threat was made by Entergy Vice President Michael Twomey, to State of Vermont legislative committees. Under the Orwellian policy "SAFSTOR," the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) allows nuclear utilities to simply sit on permanently shutdown reactors, without doing radiological clean up or facility dismantlement.

Entergy only has about $666 million in the VY decommissioning fund -- only about half what is projected to be needed. The agreement to not require Entergy to put a single penny into the decommissioning fund, from when it took over VY in 2002 till now, was approved by Gov. Howard Dean's (D-VT) administration, well over a decade ago.

Entergy's plan is to keep the $666 million invested in the stock market, so its value can grow to the needed $1.25 billion. What happens if the money is lost in another stock market crash, Entergy is not saying. More.


Beyond Nuclear on Thom Hartmann's "The Big Picture" regarding Fermi 1, 2, and 3

Thom Hartmann, host of "The Big Picture"Thom Hartmann (photo, left) invited Beyond Nuclear onto his television program "The Big Picture" to discuss the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) impending decision to rubberstamp the proposed new Fermi 3 atomic reactor's license in southeast Michigan -- to be constructed on the very spot where the "We Almost Lost Detroit" Fermi 1 reactor had a partial core meltdown in 1966. The environmental coalition that has been intervening against Fermi 3's license for six and a half years, represented by Toledo attorney Terry Lodge, has vowed to appeal NRC's decision to federal court, if need be.

Thom also asked about the risks at Fermi 2 -- identical in design to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4 -- and the liabilities associated with U.S., Japanese, and other nuclear firms building dangerous new reactors in places like India and China.

NRC's approval of the Fermi 3 combined Construction and Operations License Application (COLA) for a General Electric-Hitachi ESBWR (so-called "Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor") in Newport, Michigan could pave the way for another to be built as North Anna Unit 3 in Mineral, Virginia, and for numerous others in India and China.