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.



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.


"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. 


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.


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.


"Bad math" dating back 40 years adds to long list of problems at idled Fort Calhoun, NE atomic reactor

Ft. Calhoun during the worst of summer 2011 flooding. Photo credit: AP.As reported by the Associated Press, a design flaw dating back to the early 1970s raises concerns about heavy equipment support structures at the Omaha Public Power District-owned/Exelon-operated Fort Calhoun atomic reactor in Nebraska. Both the utility, and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), missed the flaw, both during initial licensing four decades ago, as well as during the rubberstamp of a 20-year license extension in 2003.

The article lists the many woes which have kept the reactor shutdown since before historic floods on the Missouri River in summer 2011, which inundated the Fort Calhoun site, doing untold damage to underground structures, systems, and components, including safety-significant electrical cables, as well as pipes which carry radioactive materials (see photo, left):

"...Among the violations cited by regulators was the failure of a key electrical part during a 2010 test, a small electrical fire in June 2011, several security issues and deficiencies in flood planning that were discovered a year before the river spilled its banks.

Still to be addressed: the repair of flood damage at the facility; the replacement of fire-damaged equipment; strengthening the management of the plant; improving the safety culture among workers; the removal of the Teflon insulation; and the strengthening of heavy equipment supports...".

As Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds is quoted, "If Fort Calhoun were being run by a business, it would have been shut down a year ago."