Beyond Nuclear, along with The Green Party of Ohio (ohiogreens.org), the Ohio Sierra Club (ohiosierraclub.org ), Don't Waste Michigan and the Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes held a people's hearing in Toledo on Sat., Dec. 18th to oppose the 20 year license extension recently sought by the trouble-plagued Davis-Besse atomic reactor. The event was held at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Toledo, Ohio. Concerned citizens' comments and testimony were videorecorded, and will be submitted to NRC as official public comment for its environmental scoping on the proposal. Alvin D. Compaan, Distinguished University Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at the University of Toledo, presented on "The case for replacing Davis-Besse with efficiency improvements and renewable energy sources." Kathryn Hoepfl, a University of Toledo undergraduate student of physics, also showed how wind power and solar power can readily replace Davis-Besse's atomic electricity. Other speakers included event organizers Joseph DeMare and Anita Rios of the Green Party of Ohio, Tony Szilagye of the Ohio Sierra Club, Ed McArdle of the Southeast Michigan Group of the Sierra Club, Phyllis Oster (who intervened against Davis-Besse's initial licensing over 30 years ago), David Ellison (a Cleveland architect and Green Party member), Ralph Semrock of SOLTERRA, and Michael Leonardi (a Toledo native who now resides in Italy). Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear presented on his backgrounder, "Davis-Besse: 20 MORE Years of Radioactive Russian Roulette?!", which summarizes the numerous near-disasters there since operations began in 1977. Environmental groups plan to intervene against the license extension by the Dec. 27th deadline. A flyer announced the people's hearing. The Toledo Free Press has editorialized against the Davis-Besse license extension, and Tom Henry of the Toledo Blade attended and wrote an article about the people's hearing.
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.
On Wednesday, Dec. 1st, the Fermi 2 nuclear power plant in Monroe, Michigan experienced radioactive floodwaters pouring through walls and ceilings and standing one to two inches deep in plant buildings. This happened when a waste water holding tank valve stuck open, causing the tank to overflow. A half dozen workers' shoes and clothes were saturated by the radioactive water. Although Detroit Edison officials were quick to say "no radiation dose" was suffered by any workers, this simply cannot be the truth, as tritium (radioactive hydrogen), almost certain to have been in the radioactive water, can pass through human skin. Thus, the workers' radiation dose was more than zero. And although NRC, as is its habit, downplayed any radiological risk to the public, the fact that at least 100 gallons of the radioactive water did reach the Monroe County sewer system and water treatment plant means that at least some radioactivity was discharged into Lake Erie. Again, the radiation release to the environment, and potential for radiation doses to members of the public, although diluted and perhaps small, is greater than zero. As Dr. Rosalie Bertell has said, "Dilution is not the solution to radioactive pollution!" She led the International Joint Commission Nuclear Task Force's research into the "radioactive inventory" of the Great Lakes, and the phenomenon of bioaccumulation or biomagnification, where the ecosystem naturally re-concentrates "dilute" artificial radioactivity up food chains, delivering significant doses to such predators as humans. The Monroe Evening News covered the incident on Dec. 3rd and Dec. 11th, as did the Toledo Blade on Dec. 4th.
Rather than be sued by the State of New Jersey to save the Barnegat Bay by building less destructive cooling towers for the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant, Exelon Nuclear Corporation and Republican Governor Chris Christie announced a negotiated agreement to close the nation’s oldest operating nuclear power plant early by December 31, 2019. The 40-year old reactor had just received its 20-year license extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in April 2009 to operate until 2029.
The agreement to operate the atomic reactor for only 9 more years comes amidst a much broader and growing controversy over the antiquated, deteriorating and destructive operation of the reactor. The deal was announced in context of New Jersey’s overall plan to restore the health to an endangered and dying Barnegat Bay. Oyster Creek will continue to take 1.5 billion gallons of water per day to cool the 650 megawatt boiling water reactor and then discharge the super heated water back into the Bay until 2019. The routine operations of the reactor will continue to literally strain marine life out of the Bay into the plant cooling water intake system until closure.
Many reasons remain why Oyster Creek should be shutdown overnight, not least of which includes the continued generation of unmanaged nuclear waste and its vulnerable onsite storage with the equivalent radiation from the Hiroshima nuclear weapon blast many, many times over. But clearly the agreement represents a concession by Exelon that the twenty year license extensions can be more mirage than reality for the nuclear industry.
Aside from establishing an actual early shutdown date, albeit a distant 9 years, the one palatable measure the shutdown agreement affords is the establishment of a three member panel for the outside, independent oversight and review of the operations of a nuclear power plant in its latter days. The fact that Oyster Creek was once already slated by Jersey Central Power and Light for closure in 2006 and subsequently abandoned costly maintenance activities only to be sold to Exelon, documents the ongoing safety and environmental concerns. The review group will publicly report on its findings as well as hold annual public meetings in the countdown to shutdown. While the members of this review group are not yet known, a demonstrable measure of independence from industry will be critical to gaining the public’s confidence.
It remains to be seen if and when Exelon will submit an amendment to its 20-year operating license extension already granted by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to inside shutdown in 2019. Aside from the public handshake between Exelon and the Governor, the NRC has the authority and control over the federal operating license. To the best of our knowledge, the NRC has not received a license amendment request from Exelon to change the operating license from 2029 to 2019. Without an amendment in the federal license, federal preemption will be a lingering question and potential test. And without such a change it is difficult to place complete confidence in an agreement that doesn’t take effect for 9 more years.
The Associated Press has reported that Oyster Creek nuclear power plant owner, Exelon of Chicago, has reached an agreement with the State of New Jersey to permanently shutdown its 41 year old reactor, in exchange for not having to install cooling towers. Oyster Creek's withdrawal of 1.4 billion gallons of water per day from Barnegat Bay kills billions of aquatic creatures each year. Oyster Creek entered its Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved 20 year license extension in April 2009, after a prolonged challenge co-led by Beyond Nuclear's Paul Gunter, who had initially pinpointed a key technical issue -- the corrosion of the dry well liner radiological barrier. This agreement would mean the reactor, first fired up in 1969, can now continue to "strain the Bay," passing the entire volume of Barnegat Bay through its innards for cooling purposes once every six weeks, a "license to kill" billions of marine organisms annually for another decade. Jeff Tittel, director of New Jersey's Sierra Club chapter, summed it up, scoffing that Exelon "gets to operate the plant for 10 years, then walk away with a pile of cash at the expense of the bay."
Beyond Nuclear and a coalition of environmental groups (including Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizens Environmental Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don't Waste Michigan, and the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter), represented by attorney Terry Lodge of Toledo, has just filed our defense in opposition to DTE/Detroit Edison's motion to dispose of "Contention 8" against the Fermi 3 new reactor proposal in Monroe, Michigan. Contention 8 alleges that the nuclear utility has not properly mitigated the effects from construction and operation of Fermi 3 on the state-endangered Eastern Fox Snake. This also has implications for protection of the fragile wetlands habitat along the Lake Erie shoreline favored as habitat by the snake, threatened by the 1,560 megawatt-electric GE-Hitachi "Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor" (ESBWR).