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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
Feb062013

Boxer and Markey urge NRC launch investigation re: San Onofre steam generator installation despite known flawswer

The Honorable U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)The Honorable Barbara Boxer (Democrat from California, Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, photo at left) and Ed Markey (Democrat from Massachusetts, Ranking Member of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee) today sent a letter to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairwoman Allison Macfarlance, demanding an investigation into new revelations that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Southern California Edison knew that replacement steam generators were significantly flawed, before they were installed at the San Onofre Units 2 & 3 reactors in San Clemente, CA, at a cost to California ratepayers of $671 million. Additional costs approaching $1 billion have accrued over the past year, since San Onofre 2 & 3 were forced to shut down due to the replacement steam generator tube degradation.

Sen. Boxer and Rep. Markey's letter begins:

"We have become aware of new information contained in a 2012 Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) document entitled "Root Cause Analysis Report for tube wear identified in the Unit 2 and Unit 3 Steam Generators of San Onofre Generating Station" (Report).

We strongly urge the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to promptly initiate an investigation concerning the troubling information contained in this Report.

The Report indicates that Southern California Edison (SCE) and MHI were aware of serious problems with the design of San Onofre nuclear power plant's replacement steam generators before they were installed. Further, the Report asserts that SCE and MHI rejected enhanced safety modifications and avoided triggering a more rigorous license amendment and safety review process..."

Friends of the Earth (FOE) has petitioned NRC for a license amendment proceeding to address the un-analyzed safety risks associated with the major -- and faulty -- design changes carried out by MHI and SCE. FOE recently launched a t.v. ad, "No Way Out," about the impossibility of evacuating the 8.5 million Californians living within 50 miles of San Onofre if a radiological disaster occurs.

While San Onofre Unit 3 appears destined for permanent shutdown, due to its severe steam generator tube damage, SCE is seeking permission from NRC to restart San Onofre Unit 2, and run it at 70% power, despite its own severe steam generator tube damage.

Wednesday
Feb062013

Entergy Watch: UBS predicts "real retirement risk for units such as Vermont Yankee and FitzPatrick in '13"

Dominion's Kewaunee reactor in WI, and Duke/Progress's Crystal River in FL, may be but the first "nuclear dominoes" to fall, UBS reports In a report for shareholders, dated Feb. 4th by UBS Securities LLC, UBS "reiterate[s] expectations for nuclear retirements" in the Entergy Nuclear merchant fleet, due to low to negative free cash flow. UBS highlights that "We see Vermont Yankee as the most tenuously positioned," but adds "Fitzpatrick (sic) in upstate NY increasingly appears at risk as well," and "Pilgrim could be at risk too, depending on market development in New England." The report is based on a Feb. 2nd meeting between UBS analysts and Entergy Nuclear's new CEO, Leo Denault, and the rest of the Entergy management team. 

A large part of the UBS report then goes on to discuss the critical importance of decommissioning costs to Entergy shareholders, if/when Vermont Yankee (VY), FitzPatrick, and/or Pilgrim (near Boston) permanently shutdown.

UBS fails to mention that VY, FitzPatrick, and Pilgrim are General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactors, identical in design to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4. VY (nearly 41 years old), FitzPatrick (almost 39), and Pilgrim (around 41) are also age-degraded reactors, deep into their break-down phase, the same vintage as Fukushima Daiichi.

UBS did mention, however, in its "Statement of Risk," that "As a nuclear operator, Entergy is also subject to headline risk. We believe a nuclear accident (even in a non-Entergy nuclear plant) or a change in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission/Environment (sic) Protection Agency regulations could have a negative impact on our estimates."

NRC post-Fukushima "lessons learned" safety upgrades, such as the requirement for "hardened vents" at U.S. Mark Is like VY, FitzPatrick, and Pilgrim, could easily cost Entergy tens of millions of dollars per reactor to implement.

UBS does also mention the fact that VY (at 605 Megawatts-electric), FitzPatrick (838 MW-e), and Pilgrim (688 MW-e) are relatively small-sized, single reactor nuclear power plants, which several analysts have pointed out makes them most vulnerable to "early retirement." But this is a misnomer, given the fact that their initial 40-year operating licenses have already expired, and they are now operating thanks only to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) 20-year license extension rubberstamps. Dominion's 556 MW-e Kewaunee atomic reactor in WI serves as the "canary in the coal mine," showing the vulnerability of small, single reactor nuclear power plants to permanent shutdown due to "economic reasons" (such as the inability to make a profit while making hugely expensive, major safety repairs, for example). Dominion Nuclear announced last October that Kewaunee would permanently close in mid-2013.

The UBS report also discusses the future, or lack thereof, for Entergy's Indian Point (IP) Unit 2 (nearly 40 years old) & 3 (almost 38 years old) reactors near New York City. UBS highlights that "Building the case for IP remains centered on economic case," but concludes "we perceive limited ability to do so currently with NY gov't officials." New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, has long called for IP's closure. UBS also highlights that "Relicensing remains bottom line on IP future," specifically the NRC Atomic Safety (sic) and Licensing Board 20-year license extension proceeding, and the New York Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) water permit. The former is being contested not only by NY AG Eric Schneiderman's office, but also by such environmental groups as Riverkeeper and Clearwater (a member group of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC)). The latter could result in Entergy being required to build cooling towers, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, to prevent large-scale, ecologically destructive thermal pollution of the Hudson River (a full two-thirds of the 6,432 Megawatts-thermal heat generated at the Indian Point nuclear power plant has, for decades, simply been dumped into the Hudson River).

UBS also concludes that Entergy's underlying nuclear business is "fundamentally un-financeable on a stand alone basis." UBS highlights that despite it being "the second largest nuclear power generator in the United States," Entergy's "[n]uclear business is sub-scale," and that "eventual spin-merge or JV [joint venture]" is "certainly a possibility." UBS reports "CEO Denault, in his first day on the job, suggested that in 5 years time the EWC [Entergy Wholesale Commodities] business would belong [as] part of a bigger portfolio -- either under Entergy ownership or otherwise." UBS summarizes that Entergy's "[g]oal is to gain greater scale in [nuclear] generation," and "ETR [Entergy] will either acquire or divest the [nuclear] generation subsidiary over Denault's tenure." UBS does not speculate as to which other atomic reactors Entergy might acquire, nor which other nuclear utilities might acquire Entergy in the next several years.

Hopefully, Entergy's VY, FitzPatrick, Pilgrim, and Indian Point atomic reactors will permanently shutdown long before then, along with the rest of its dirty dozen atomic reactors across the U.S.

Tuesday
Feb052013

"Endangered Snakes Prompt Hearing Over Fermi 3 Nuclear Plant"

An Eastern Fox Snake, an endangered constrictor species indigenous to southeast MichiganThe Monroe Evening News has reported on an environmental coalition's successful bid for hearing before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) in opposition to Detroit Edison's proposed new Fermi 3 atomic reactor on the Lake Erie shore of southeast Michigan.

The coalition is comprised of Beyond Nuclear, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don't Waste Michigan, and Sierra Club Michigan Chapter.

It contends that the nuclear utility, federal government, and State of Michigan are failing to protect the endangered Eastern Fox Snake species (see photo, left) from extinction due to habitat destruction caused by the construction and operation of a 1,550 Megawatt-electric General Electric Hiticahi so-called "Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor" (ESBWR), as well as an associated 11-mile long, 300-foot wide transmission line corridor.

The State of Michigan has admitted the reactor construction will involve the largest impact on Great Lakes coastal wetlands in the history of state environmental protection law. Combined with the transmission line's destruction of more than 1,000 acres of undeveloped land, including forests and wetlands, the coalition contends the habitat loss could extirpate the endangered Eastern Fox Snake species in the region. More. 

Thursday
Jan242013

U.S. Rep. Markey actively exercises oversight on nuclear power and nuclear weapons

U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA)U.S. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA, pictured left), a 37-year nuclear watchdog in Congress, has been busy this year. Rep. Markey serves as Ranking Member of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, and as a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

On Jan. 11th, Markey wrote to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu -- and his office issued a press release -- expressing deep concerns and asking pointed questions about the U.S. Department of Energy's proposals to "recycle" large quantities of radioactive scrap metal into consumer products.

On Jan. 14th, Rep. Markey again wrote Secretary Chu, questioning the wisdom of DOE's dirty, dangerous, and expensive proposal to "recycle" surplus weapons plutonium into MOX (Mixed-Oxide, uranium-plutonium) reactor fuel.

And on Jan. 18th, Rep. Markey urged Secretary Chu to maintain the construction ban at the Hanford nuclear weapons complex in Washington State, in order to avoid hydrogen explosions and dangerous nuclear accidents.

Rep. Markey has announced his campaign for U.S. Senate, to fill the seat vacated by U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who has been nominated by President Obama for Secretary of State.

Tuesday
Jan222013

The nuclear relapse has derailed -- literally!

Photo by Tom Clements, Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA)Tom Clements of Alliance for Nuclear Accountability in South Carolina has documented, in photo and blog, a most remarkable development: the AP1000 nuclear reactor vessel targeted at Vogtle, Georgia has been discovered unprotected, stranded in Savannah Port since a December 15 shipment failure. Tom's remarkable blog is posted at the Aiken Leader. Connect Savannah has also reported on the "Nuclear Train Wreck."

As Tom has described it: the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) for the chronically delayed Vogtle AP1000 reactor construction project near Waynesboro, Georgia sits stranded and seemingly unprotected in the port of Savannah. The special railroad car carrying the 300-ton vessel had unknown mechanical problems on December 15 on exiting the port.  The NRC has said that the vessel only got one-quarter mile before a sound was heard and the car stopped.  Plans by Westinghouse and Southern Company to move the vessel are unknown. It is also unknown if the railroad car can be repaired and used or if the railroad company which owns the line is concerned that the rail car might break down again on its line in an in accessible place.  Meanwhile, the apparently unguarded reactor might be subject to sabotage and sits in apparent violation of NRC quality assurance and "administrative control" regulations.