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.



Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant Is Shutting Down

As reported by the New York Times.

See Beyond Nuclear's hopeful REACTORS ARE CLOSING website page, for more such good news.


What does PG&E bankruptcy mean for Diablo Canyon shut down agreement?

As reported by the Washington Post, Pacific Gas & Electric has announced it is seeking bankruptcy protection, after global warming-fueled wildfires sparked by its own poorly maintained electric lines killed scores of Californians, and incinerated thousands of homes and businesses.

As reported by the article:

The PG&E bankruptcy promises to be more complex and political than most bankruptcies, pitting fire victims, ratepayers, bankers, insurance companies and renewable-energy providers against one another. Homeowners with property insurance will collect from their insurers, and a person familiar with the bankruptcy planning said that hedge funds are already offering to buy settlement claims from insurance companies.

One casualty of a bankruptcy could be billions of dollars of funding for clean-energy initiatives designed to fight the effects of climate change, Ralph Cavanagh, a California-based energy expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said in an email. “PG&E is the state’s largest investor in energy efficiency and electric vehicle infrastructure alone, with annual commitments well in excess of $1 billion,” he said. “Other threatened initiatives involve grid upgrades, small-scale ‘distributed’ resources and technology innovation.”

Solar and wind-energy providers are among those who could suffer. In its drive to make the state electricity grid free from carbon dioxide emissions, California has pushed utilities to buy renewable energy. Gabe Grosberg, a utilities analyst at S&P Global, said Monday that “many of the power contracts are above market price” and that a renegotiation of those contracts “is something the bankruptcy judge will take a look at.”

Not directly addressed by the article is the fate of the Diablo Canyon Units 1 & 2 shutdown agreement. PG&E struck a deal with Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, trade unions working at the reactors, and others, to not seek a 20-year license extension, and instead shutdown the reactors at the end of their 40-year operating licenses in 2024 and 2025. Thus Diablo Canyon would probably be the very first operating nuclear power plant in the U.S. to not seek a 20-year license extension rubber-stamp from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

As the proverb goes, "anything is possible," so technically speaking, the spectrum of what could now happen at Diablo Canyon extends from an even earlier permanent shutdown of the two reactors (as demanded by San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace), to the specter of Diablo being seen as a potential asset that could boost PG&E's currently dismal financial prospects. For instance, keeping the reactors running past their 40-year license shutdown dates, in order to continue generating revenue, or even Diablo's sale to another nuclear power utility, such as Exelon Nuclear.

The latter scenario (license extension and/or sale) is highly speculative, the former scenario (earlier shutdown) is very hopeful.

But any attempt to extend Diablo Canyon's operating license would be highly risky. In addition to the extraordinary earthquake risks at the site, Diablo Canyon Unit 1 is also one of the most highly embrittled reactor pressure vessels in the country. This names but two risks (pressurized thermal shock rupture of the highly embrittled reactor pressure vessel; earthquakes) at the nuclear power plant, of many.

These paragraphs from the Washington Post article are sobering:

The [PG&E bankrupty] filing comes a day after the company announced the resignation of its chief executive, Geisha Williams. Williams, three other top executives who resigned last week and the company have come under harsh criticism in recent weeks over the utility’s corporate culture. The president of the California Public Utilities Commission had in November widened his investigation of PG&E to include its “safety culture” more generally.

“In our opinion, [PG&E] has significant organizational and leadership problems that have eroded the utility’s trust capital in Sacramento,” the investment advisory firm Height Securities said in a note at the time.

The safety culture investigation comes in light of not only the deadly wildfires of 2017-2018, but also a deadly natural gas explosion in San Bruno, CA in 2010. 

An electric utility company with fatal safety culture problems should not be operating atomic reactors, plain and simple. Likewise, it should not be allowed to sell Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant to another company, such as Exelon -- nor should it be allowed itself to run the reactors into the ground -- as desperate money-making ploys, amidst its bankruptcy crisis. The two reactors at Diablo Canyon should be permanently shut down, ASAP.


Brunswick nuclear plant remains shut down following Hurricane Florence 

The two-unit coastal Brunswick nuclear power station in South Port, NC was powered down to zero power shortly in advance of  the  September 14th arrival Hurricane Florence with Category 1 winds (sustained < 75 mph), storm surge and torrential rainfall. Operators maintained the Brunswick units in “hot standby” (reactor cooling water at 212O F and capable of steam powering onsite turbines for emergency electricity) to provide an added measure of power supply for reactor safety and cooling systems in the event of loss of offsite power and backup emergency diesel generators.  However, throughout the storm, Duke Energy reported that the nuclear power station was in “stable” condition and never lost offsite electricity power from the grid providing primary power to safety systems and cooling.  A low-level emergency was declared September 15th when the reactor site was completely surrounded by rising flood waters making it inaccessible by road. Two shifts of workers were already housed onsite and supplied in advance for the storm’s duration.   Offsite access by road to the Brunswick units was restored on September 18th and the “Unusual event” emergency was terminated.

The continued flooding has damaged many of the bridges and roads within the ten-mile radius that encompasses the radiological evacuation planning zone for the Brunswick nuclear power station. As the flooding recedes, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will assess the damage to the infrastructure and will provide its recommendation to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) before Brunswick is allowed to restart.

In advance of Florence’s arrival, a press release from the Union of Concerned Scientists identified that, “There is not a clear picture of either plant’s [flooding] vulnerabilities because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has withheld key flood protection preparedness reports it required in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, where flooding caused three reactor core meltdowns. However, both Brunswick and Surry have had potentially serious problems that their owners may or may not have fixed.” The Brunswick units are both GE Mark I boiling water reactors like Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi units that exploded and melted down following the loss of all power from primary, backup emergency diesel generators and battery power to all reactor safety and cooling systems as a result of an extreme earthquake and tsunami.

As already precedent setting flood levels continue to rise, dams on the Cape Fear River only become more a concern. 


Oyster Creek closure should mark the end of an “error”; prompt more GE shutdowns

The nation’s oldest atomic power plant at Oyster Creek in Lacey Township, New Jersey permanently shut down on September 17, 2018 due to its poor economics and costly post-Fukushima safety retrofits. The 49-year old nuclear plant was the first General Electric Mark I boiling water reactor to go critical in the United States and the world in October 1969. GE globally marketed this reactor design and its lighter “pressure-suppression containment system” as cheaper and quicker to build than its competitors at Westinghouse, Combustion Engineering and Babcock & Wilcox. Japan was one of those countries to buy the GE design and construct its first units at Fukushima Daiichi---where multiple units would later explode and meltdown following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.  For the sake of public safety, Oyster Creek’s closure would well mark the beginning of the end of an “error” first identified in a 1972 controversial memo by a top reactor safety official at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Dr. Stephen Hanuaer. Hanauer pointed out a design flaw to colleagues, the GE containment design is volumetrically too small to contain the force of a severe accident. He warned, “I recommend that AEC adopt a policy of discouraging further use of pressure-suppression containments, and that such designs not be accepted for construction permits.” There are now 21 GE Mark I reactors still operating in the United States.

Exelon Generation’s termination of Oyster Creek’s “operating license” starts the decommissioning process. The Chicago-based nuclear utility giant has submitted an application for approval by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to sell and transfer the Oyster Creek “possession only” license to Holtec International, headquartered in Camden, NJ to take over the decommissioning of this facility. Holtec has merged with a Canadian energy corporation, SNC Lavalin, to form Comprehensive Decommissioning Incorporated (CDI) in a bid to corner a growing market to decommission more closing reactors.  The Holtec/Lavalin merger is offering a “proto-prompt” decommissioning strategy to rapidly dismantle the reactors within eight years and containerize the dangerous high-level nuclear waste in dry storage casks onsite.   

However, controversy is already stalking the corporate merger and potentially the reliability of accelerated decommissioning and nuclear waste storage. Holtec International CEO, Krishna Singh, is quoted talking down the ramping up of his Camden headquarters workforce. “‘They don’t show up to work,’ he said. ‘They can’t stand getting up in the morning and coming to work every single day. They haven’t done it, and they didn’t see their parents do it. Of course, some of them get into drugs and things. So, it’s difficult,’” said Singh. In fact, Singh’s disparaging remarks about the workforce sparked public protest at the Camden headquarters.

As reported earlier, SNC Lavalin, headquartered in Montreal, Quebec, is embroiled in a global corruption scandal and criminal charges.  SNC Lavalin and 100 of its subsidiaries have been debarred from contract work with the World Bank for ten years. Former-Lavalin executive are scheduled to go to trial in Canada later this year on fraud and bribery charges.

Exelon Generation has declined to disclose the amount for the proposed sale of Oyster Creek to Holtec International. The transaction will be decided by NRC by the end of 2019. Nearly $1 billion in the reactor's decommissioning trust fund would then be transferred to Holtec.


Links to news coverage of the Oyster Creek, NJ permanent shutdown

The oldest operating atomic reactor in the U.S., Oyster Creek, NJ, has finally, at long last, shut down, for good, after 49 years. The good news? No more risk of reactor meltdown at this Fukushima Daiichi twin design (a GE BWR Mark I); no more radioactive watse generation; and no more cooking of Barnegat Bay (once every six weeks, during operations, the entire water volume of the Bay was passed through Oyster Creek's cooling system, inflicting a half-century of untold ecological harm).

See links to news coverage, below:

Press of Atlantic City