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.



NRC muddies public hearing process on restart of crippled CA nuke

On May 13, 2013, an Atomic Safety Licensing Board (ASLB) of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)  ruled in favor of Friends of the Earth (FoE) that the Southern California Edison's bid to restart its damaged Unit 2 at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) limited to 70% of its power rating is an “experiment.”

The Board determined that such tests and experiments with public safety require a public hearing and an opportunity to intervene before the operator is allowed to start up the atomic reactor. In response to its own licensing board Order and Memorandum, NRC Office of Public Affairs spokesman Scott Burnell put their own spin on the practical effect of the Order by saying that the staff's current restart review is its own independent process.

The press office interpretation is that the staff could green light the restart of the nuke despite the Order.

The Licensing Board can appeal to the Commission.  But, it would not be unprecedented for the five politically appointed Commissioners to overrule the judgment of its licensing board. SONGS Units 2 and 3 have been closed since January 2012 because of severe damage to $600 million in new steam generator replacements after just 10 months of operation following the installation of a botched power uprate design. 

Hundreds of millions of dollars in the loss of company stockholder dividends and additional ratepayer charges are at stake.


Coalition of local residents and environmental groups confronts Congress, NRC, and Entergy at Palisades' front entrance

When Rep. Upton and NRC Commissioner Svinicki refused to meet with the coalition, Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps helped organize a vigil at Palisades' front entrance. He dressed as the Little Dutch Boy. His sign reads "Have Finger--Will Plug Radioactive Leak," and "Wooden Shoe Rather Use Wind Power?!" Palisades' latest leak happened amidst west Michigan's Dutch American annual tulip time festivals. Photo credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio.While U.S. Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Commissioner Kristine Svinicki, toured Entergy's problem-plagued Palisades atomic reactor, a coalition of concerned local residents and environmental groups, including Beyond Nuclear, vigiled and protested at the front entrance.

Upton and Svinicki were visiting the atomic reactor in the aftermath of a 82.1-gallon spill of radioactive water into Lake Michigan. The leak came from the Safety Injection Refueling Water (SIRW) storage tank, which has been leaking for over two years. Although the investigation continues, it appears that a crack in a weld on a tank floor nozzle is at least partly to blame this time around. For the first year, the leak had been kept quiet by Entergy and NRC staff. Even the Chairman of NRC, Greg Jaczko, was not told about it, even during his tour of the troubled plant on May 25, 2012. A few weeks later, based on whistleblower revelations, U.S. Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) made public that the leakage was into the control room, and that safety culture among the workforce had collapsed at Palisades: 74% of the workforce,including management, felt that reporting safety problems would solve nothing, while inviting intimidation and harassment -- and so do not report safety problems!

Beyond Nuclear has posted extensive media coverage from the vigil at its Nuclear Reactor Safety website page.


"Worst Week Since Fukushima: 4 Major Setbacks in 3 Days Are Latest Stumbles for U.S. Nuclear Power Industry"

Former NRC Commissioner Peter Bradford, and energy economist Mark Cooper, both of the Vermont Law School, as well as Dan Hirsch of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, held a telephone press conference yesterday on the subject of "WORST WEEK SINCE FUKUSHIMA: 4 MAJOR SETBACKS IN 3 DAYS ARE LATEST STUMBLES FOR U.S. NUCLEAR POWER INDUSTRY." An audio recording of the news conference has been posted online.

The four setbacks in three days include: 1) the cancellation of two proposed new reactors at South Texas Project, because they violate U.S. law against foreign ownership of nuclear power plants; 2) Southern California Edison's threat that if NRC does not allow it to restart operations at its crippled San Onofre nuclear power plant, it will permanently shutdown both reactors there; 3) Duke Energy's cancellation of two proposed new atomic reactors at its Shearon Harris nuclear power plant in North Carolina; and 4) Florida's amendment to its previously highly permissive "advance cost recovery" or "Construction Work in Progress" law, via which ratepayers have been gouged to pay for proposed new reactors, when there is no guarantee the proposed new reactors will ever actually get built or generate electricity.

Peter Bradford also added the May 7th shutdown of Dominion's Kewaunee atomic reactor in WI -- despite the 20 years of operating license still left to it -- as another example of the "worst week since Fukushima" for the U.S. nuclear power industry.


Groups to oppose restart of crippled California reactors 


Southern California Edison (SCE) is so desperate to get one of its two idled San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station reactor units near San Diego back on line by June 2013 that the company is threatening to permanently shut the nuke if it doesn't get the restart approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A 14-month shutdown of SONGS Units 2 and 3 has put both shareholders and ratepayers on the hook for almost $600 million to date. SCE now wants to hasten the restart of Unit 2 limited to a maximum power level of 70% of its thermal rating. Friends of the Earth and Committee to Bridge the Gap are two of the groups working to keep these dangerous reactors shut down.

The two crippled nukes, located between Los Angeles and San Diego, California, have been idled since January 2012 because of significant damage to safety-related reactor power systems.

The problem stems from a botched $675 million equipment deal between SCE and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to squeeze more power out of SONGS Units 2 and 3 with the installation of new steam generators in 2010 and 2011, respectively. A design change to cram more steam tube into the generators resulted in severe damage to hundreds of thin walled nickel-alloy heat exchanger tubes leading to radioactive leaks after only ten months of operation. The steam generators each containing thousands of tubes are a major portion of a pressurized water reactor’s extremely high-pressure boundary (approximately 2000 pounds per square inch) and recycling system for the reactor coolant essential for safe operations. 

The steam generator tube damage sustained in San Onofre Unit 3 is universally recognized, including by the NRC, as so severe that short of extensive repairs or replacement, restart introduces an unacceptable level of risk from tube rupture and a nuclear accident even at reduced power level.

However, SCE wants the NRC to approve a hastened restart of SONGS Unit 2 after plugging the tubes known to be damaged and a company commitment not to power the reactor above 70% maximum power level with periodic shutdown inspections to see how the component is holding up. The power company seeks this restart approval first, while proceeding through an NRC License Amendment  process,which would include the opportunity for full public hearings afterwards. The hearings would allow public interest groups to present independent expert testimony on the risks to public health and safety presented by amending the operating license for a flawed design even at limited power. 

Dan Hirsch, President of Committee to Bridge the Gap has called the process of permitting the reactor restart first and holding the public hearing later akin to frontier justice for public safety; “Hang ‘em first and give 'em the trial later.”

You can go to the Friends of the Earth nuke-free site for Alerts on San Onofre. Stay tuned for updates.


NRC "looking at the potential implications" of radioactive goldfish found deep in the heart of FirstEnergy's Perry atomic reactor in Ohio

As reported by the Associated Press, two radioactive goldfish, swimming in radioactive reactor coolant water in a lemonade pitcher, were discovered by workers in a steam tunnel deep in the heart of FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company's (FENOC) problem-plagued Perry atomic reactor on the shore of Lake Erie northeast of Cleveland.

As reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

'...The fishy tale has prompted federal regulators to ask a lot of new questions about morale at Perry and whether plant operators can control access to radioactive areas as required by regulation...

Because of a life-threatening incident during refueling two years ago at Perry in which three contractors were briefly exposed to hard radiation, the NRC has put the plant under a microscope on the issue of worker safety. The agency was already preparing to send squads of inspectors to the plant in June in an effort to determine whether Perry has corrected past shortcomings. Extra inspectors were at the plant earlier during this shutdown.

The company and the NRC said this latest incident is no laughing matter, as in the cartoon TV series "The Simpsons" in which Blinky, an orange fish, supposedly had three eyes from radiation exposure. Whoever was involved in the Perry incident will not get off as easily as nuclear worker Homer Simpson usually does...

"This is not something that happens every day. We want to know why it happened and how it happened," said Viktoria Mitlyng, NRC spokeswoman for the agency's Midwest region. "We are looking at the potential implications." '

Add that one to the "Fission Stories"!