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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
Apr012015

From Midwest to Mid-Atlantic, ratepayer resistance to nuclear bailouts intensifies!

"Burning money" graphic art by Gene Case and Avening Angels appeared on the cover of Nation Magazine, accompanying an article by Christian Parenti about the nuclear power relapseNuclear utilities, like Exelon of Chicago and FirstEnergy of Ohio, are seeking multi-billion (yes, billion with a B!) dollar bailouts for their dirty, dangerous, and uncompetitive atomic reactors. Exelon is also trying to take over the Mid-Atlantic utility Pepco, in a thinly veiled attempt to gouge ratepayers to prop up its failing nukes, while gutting clean energy competition: efficiency, renewables, and distributed energy. But a growing coalition of residential and business ratepayers, nuclear watchdogs, and even state agencies, are pushing back, with creative street theater, community educational forums, and legal interventions before Public Service Commissions. More.
Monday
Mar302015

Op-eds urge PUCO to reject FirstEnergy's requested $3 billion bailout for Davis-Besse & coal plant

Two op-eds published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer advocate that FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company (FENOC) should not be allowed to saddle Ohio ratepayers with a $3 billion surcharge over the next 15 years. FENOC seeks the subsidy to keep two dirty, dangerous, and uncompetitive power plants on life support (the Davis-Besse atomic reactor near Toledo, and the Sammis coal plant on the Ohio River).

The first op-ed was written by Connie Kline, a long-time nuclear power watchdog in northeast Ohio. She focused on safety risks at FENOC's problem-plagued Davis-Besse reactor.

A second op-ed opposing the bailout was co-written by three Cuyahoga County elected officials (a state senator, a Cuyahoga County council member, and a Cleveland city council member). It described burdening hard-working Ohio ratepayers with this subsidy for FirstEnergy as "unconscionable and unacceptable," and urged the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to reject the plan.

Readers are encouraged to join in the debate by submitting comments in the section under the op-eds.

Saturday
Mar282015

"36 Years of Three Mile Island’s Lethal Lies…and Still Counting"

Photo by Robert Del Tredichi, from his 1980 book "The People of Three Mile Island."Harvey Wasserman has written in commeration of the meltdown at Three Mile Island (TMI) Unit 2 on March 28, 1979. He writes:

"The lies that killed people at Three Mile Island 36 years ago tomorrow are still being told at Chernobyl, Fukushima, Diablo Canyon, Davis-Besse … and at TMI itself.

As the first major reactor accident that was made known to the public is sadly commemorated, and as the global nuclear industry collapses, let’s count just 36 tip-of-the iceberg ways the nuclear industry’s radioactive legacy continues to fester:

For the full article, go to: http://ecowatch.com/2015/03/27/three-mile-island-36-anniversary/."

Wasserman reported directly on TMI’s death toll from central Pennsylvania. He co-wrote KILLING OUR OWN:  THE DISASTER OF AMERICA’S EXPERIENCE WITH ATOMIC RADIATION. Wasserman has invited Beyond Nuclear to Columbus, Ohio on April 11 and 12 to speak out at events in opposition to the crumbling Davis-Besse atomic reactor's proposed multi-billion dollar ratepayer bailout.

Fairewinds Energy Education has also posted reflections, including a presentation by its Chief Engineer, Arnie Gundersen, a year ago in Harrisburg, PA for TMI+35, and his expert witness reports from the TMI Litigation.

Nukewatch's Arianne Peterson has published an article in their Spring 2015 quarterly newsletter entitled "Spring Melt: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl & Fukushima Taint the Season."

(See continuation of Nukewatch article here).

A year ago, Beyond Nuclear also published a newsletter and website section devoted to telling the truth about TMI.

And a quarter century ago, Beyond Nuclear board member, and investigative journalist, Karl Grossman narrated EnviroVideo's first documentary, "Three Mile Island Revisited."

Thursday
Mar262015

"Feds probe PG&E report on California nuclear plant safety"

NRC file photo of PG&E's Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, on the Pacific Coast near San Luis Obispo, CAAs reported by David R. Baker in the San Francisco Chronicle, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Office of Inspector General (OIG) has launched an investigation into the appearance of collusion between NRC and Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) to circumvent seismic safety at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant on the faultline-riddled coastline of California.

The independent investigation by the Japanese Diet (Parliament) into the root cause of the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe concluded it was collusion between safety regulators, the nuclear utility, and elected officials that left the nuclear power plant so very vulnerable to the natural disaster (the massive earthquake, and the tsunami it spawned) on 3/11/11.

David Lochbaum of Union of Concerned Scientists, Damon Moglen of Friends of the Earth, and Rochelle Becker of Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, are quoted in the article. So too is Michael Peck, the NRC inspector who has consistently warned that Diablo Canyon is operating in violation of its licensing basis and NRC seismic safety regulations, and has called for its shutdown until this is rectified.

Wednesday
Mar252015

40th Anniversary of Browns Ferry fire signals US reactors still vulnerable

On March 22, 1975, Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Browns Ferry nuclear power station, at full power, experienced a near catastrophic fire near Athens, Alabama.  Workers were using a candle flame to check for airflow leaks and plug  holes along an extensive network of electrical conduits and cable trays under the Unit 1 control room. The  flame was instead sucked into a cable tray accidentally setting fire to the combustible polyurethane foam insulation wrapping the electrical circuits inside a cable tray. The ensuing fire quickly spread inside the cable spreading room like a blow torch and through wall penetrations into the reactor building. More than 1,600 electrical cables routed in 117 conduits and 26 cable trays were destroyed within the first hour including 628 “safety-related” cables vital to safely shutting down the reactors. The fire knocked out more than a dozen reactor control systems including all of the emergency core cooling systems for Unit 1 and most of the cooling systems for Unit 2. Like most equipment, the automated fire suppression systems failed when the fire destroyed power cables. Smoke and fumes entered the control room. The fire burned out of control for seven and a half hours with temperatures reaching 1500 degrees Fahrenheit before it was finally extinguished by the local fire department.  A catastrophic nuclear meltdown was narrowly averted only by “sheer luck” according to one official.

The harrowing experience prompted a major regulatory overhaul of fire protection at US nuclear power stations. After five years of wrangling with a nuclear power industry, in 1980, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission passed a compromised version of new safety requirements of the nuclear industry to comply with an upgraded federal fire code.  The new regulations were made law to assure that no single fire can ever again simultaneously knock out both the primary and the backup equipment and associated electrical circuits needed to achieve safe shutdown and maintain cooling of the reactor.  

In specific, where both the primary and backup electrical circuits are routed into the same fire zone; 1) one set of associated circuits must be wrapped in a three hour protective fire barrier system; 2) alternately, one train wrapped in a one hour rated fire resistant barrier with no intervening combustible material and seperated from the backup associated circuits by automated fire detection and suppression systems or; 3) a minimum of 20 feet separating the two associated circuit systems. 

US nuclear power plant operators including TVA were to comply with the required federal fire safety upgrades. Meanwhile, TVA had to shut down five nuclear power plants, including Browns Ferry Unit 1, 2 and 3, in 1985 and place them on “administrative hold” after discovering that the plants' construction did not match the approved design blueprints.  Beginning in 1992, there was an industry-wide scandal involving widely deployed but fraudulently tested fire barrier materials that turned out to be combustible and drastically failed to meet time requirements for protecting the electric cables.  

Browns Ferry Unit 1 remained at zero power for more  than two decades while TVA spent $1.9 billion to bring the reactor’s as-built configuration into compliance with design specifications; all except for the NRC fire protection code requirements. In May 2007, the NRC allowed Browns Ferry Unit 1 to restart the reactor exempted from the very fire code its 1975 fire promulgated. Instead, unable to enforce compliance with the 1980 fire code, NRC  provided TVA, along with almost half of the remaining US reactor fleet, with a still unapproved, complex  alternative safe shutdown fire protection plan through computer modeling basically arguing that fires of duration similar to the 1975 fire are too remote to worry about any longer. Industry complains today that the alternative "fire modelling" plan is too expensive to implement. The other half of the fleet is essentially operating on nearly one thousand exemptions granted by NRC from the 1980 fire code. 

As a result, US nuclear reactors remain in a nether world dangerously straddled between two fire protection regulations and not fully compliant with either.

The Browns Ferry Unit 1, 2 and 3 are GE Mark I boiling water reactors identical to Japan's Fukushima Daiichi units that melted down on March 11, 2011.

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