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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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Sunday
Dec062015

Entergy's Indian Point 2 shut down after electricity loss to control rods

Entergy's Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, on the Hudson River in Westchester County, NY, near New York CityAs reported by ZeroHedge, Entergy Nuclear has announced that a power loss to control rods led to the shutdown of its Unit 2 atomic reactor at the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant on the Hudson River in Westchester County, NY, near New York City. Entergy stated "The cause of the loss of power to the control rods is being investigated."

In a statement, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said "The company reports that there was no radioactivity released to the environment. I have directed the Department of Public Service to investigate and monitor the situation and a team is currently en route to Indian Point to begin its work."

Last May, after a transformer fire at Indian Point led to a large oil spill into the river, Gov. Cuomo travelled to the scene, and held a press conference at the nuclear plant within hours of the accident. His administration is taking many actions in opposition to a 20-year license extension at Indian Point, including: challenging Entergy's application before a Nuclear Regulatory Commission Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel for the past eight years (the record for the longest contested such proceeding); challenging irradiated nuclear fuel generation at Indian Point, as a lead plaintiff in the New York v. NRC II legal appeal against NRC's "Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel" policies (formerly called "Nuclear Waste Confidence," a lawsuit to which Beyond Nuclear is also a party); and requiring Indian Point to install cooling towers, at a cost of hundreds of millions or billions of dollars, in order to protect the Hudson River ecosystem from massive thermal pollution, and other harm upon the aquatic life.

Ironically enough, just as the May transformer fire took place just days after an anti-nuclear event held a few miles from Indian Point at the Stony Point Center, last night's incident occurred on the eve of the "Building our Energy Future Activist Training," sponsored by Hudson Sloop Clearwater and Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, at Stony Point Center.

Friday
Dec042015

Decreasing economies of scale put pressure on remaining Entergy Nuclear merchant reactors

Entergy's Indian Point nuclear power plant, on the Hudson River near New York City.As reported by Syracuse.com, Entergy Nuclear's top executive in charge of its fleet of merchant nuclear power plants, William Mohl, has admitted that its remaining atomic reactors are under increasing pressure, due to loss of economies of scale:

"We don't have any immediate plans (to change direction) on Indian Point, but you start to have to think about what will you do down the road if you have a single asset in the Northeast,'' he said. "You just have less economies of scale. We're looking at that and what we need to do in that regard.''

Although his context was Entergy's two unit Indian Point nuclear power plant near New York City, in light of Entergy's recent rapid-fire decisions to close FitzPatrick in upstate NY (as early as a year from now, but hopefully sooner), and Pilgrim in MA (in mid-2019, but hopefully sooner), the same logic applies at Entergy's age-degraded, problem-plagued Palisades atomic reactor in MI as well. More.

Wednesday
Dec022015

Beyond Nuclear blasts billion dollar Davis-Besse bailout as "Faustian fission" due to cracked containment risks

"Burning money" graphic by Gene Case of Avenging Angels.Beyond Nuclear has published a media release in response to FirstEnergy and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Staff announcing a settlement agreement for an eight-year, nearly $4 billion ratepayer bailout to prop up the utility's uncompetitive Davis-Besse atomic reactor, as well as a number of coal burning power plants. (See the Word version of Beyond Nuclear's media release, for live links.)

Beyond Nuclear's Radioactive Waste Watchdog also submitted a letter to the editor to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, opposing the bailout, and calling for Davis-Bess'e permanent shutdown. More.

Thursday
Nov122015

State of NY denies Entergy coastal management permit, blow to Indian Point's license extension prospects

Entergy's Indian Point reactors on the Hudson River near New York CityAs reported by the Associated Press, the State of New York Secretary of State has denied a coastal management certificate to Entergy Nuclear, for its twin reactor Indian Point nuclear power plant near New York City. The Secretary of State, Cesar Perales's, decision is the latest blow to Entergy's application for 20-year license extensions.

As reported: "For over 40 years, Entergy's Indian Point nuclear facilities have been damaging the coastal resources of the Hudson River estuary," the state agency wrote. That includes 2.5 [billion gallons] of water withdrawn daily from the Hudson for cooling that kills an estimated 1 billion larvae, small fish and other organisms annually.

Beyond Nuclear has reported on Indian Point's impacts on the Hudson, in its Licensed to Kill report.

Entergy could build cooling towers to mitigate such impacts on the Hudson, but refuses to make the investment, despite Indian Point's nearly $1.5 million per day in net profits from electricity sales.

Indian Point 2's initial 40-year operating license expired in 2013. Indian Point 3's license expires next month. But NRC's loose rules allow both units to continue operating, until NRC's final decision on the license extension is made. Already, the Indian Point license extension proceeding, begun in 2007, is the longest lasting in U.S. history. Hearings will resume this week, including intervenor Riverkeeper.

Monday
Nov022015

Reactors are closing: Entergy Nuclear's FitzPatrick in upstate NY

NRC file photo of the FitzPatrick atomic reactor in Oswego, NY, with Lake Ontario in the backgroundOn Monday morning, November 2, 2015 Entergy Nuclear announced it would permanently shut down its age-degraded, uncompetitive FitzPatrick atomic reactor in Scriba, NY, six miles northeast of Oswego, on the Lake Ontario shore (photo, left) by late 2016 or early 2017.

As with Entergy's Pilgrim atomic reactor in Plymouth, MA (now planned to permanently close by mid-2019, if not two years earlier), as well as Entergy's Vermont Yankee reactor (permanently shut late last year), FitzPatrick is a Fukushima Daiichi twin design and vintage: an over 40-year old, General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactor.

As Beyond Nuclear's "Freeze Our Fukushimas" pamphlet shows, the closure of these three Entergy GE BWR Mark Is still leaves 20 Mark Is operating in the U.S., including Cooper in NE (owned by Nebraska Public Power District, but operated by Entergy), as well as Nine Mile Point Unit 1 (owned by Constellation -- Exelon & Electricite de France -- and located immediately adjacent to FitzPatrick in Scriba, NY).

Constellation's Nine Mile Point Unit 2, also co-located with FitzPatrick, is a very similarly designed GE BWR Mark II. As described in the "Freeze Our Fukushimas" pamphlet, seven additional Mark IIs still operate across the U.S.

As with Entergy's October 13th announcement of Pilgrim's planned closure, Beyond Nuclear welcomes this news about FitzPatrick, but must hasten to add that the next year or more of continued operations at FitzPatrick will now represent a period of significantly increased safety risk. After all, experienced workers with job prospects elsewhere will likely hastily move on. And Entergy can now be expected to neglect basic maintenance repairs even worse than before, and outright cancel any needed major repairs.

As Beyond Nuclear documented right after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe began, and has warned about ever since, FitzPatrick can be regarded as the single most dangerous Mark I in the country: it is the only one that refused to install a hardened vent, to relieve pressure build up in its too small and too weak containment vessel. In this sense, FitzPatrick is even less prepared than Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 3 were for preventing catastrophic containment failures -- they did have hardened vents, although they failed, and those containments were either damaged or destroyed. FitzPatrick's plan since 1989, when it refused to install a hardened vent, even though all other Mark Is and IIs in the U.S. did do so, has simply been to allow the doors to be blown off its turbine building during an explosive hydrogen gas build up during a meltdown, as an ad hoc pressure release valve.

As with Oyster Creek in NJ, FitzPatrick also raises the specter that an announced shutdown will be used as an excuse to blow off U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) deadlines for "Fukushima lessons learned" safety upgrades, and perhaps -- incredibly enough -- with the agency's complicity. Oyster Creek, another Mark I (owned by Exelon, and the oldest operating reactor in the U.S.), has already announced its closure by December 31, 2019 at the latest. But NRC's order, that "new and improved" hardened vents (albeit ones lacking radiological filters) be installed, as a required post-Fukushima safety upgrade, should apply at Oyster Creek by mid-2016. Oyster Creek has applied to postpone that deadline till after it has permanently closed, in effect evading it. NRC appears open to that exemption.

Likewise, FitzPatrick should have to install a "new and improved" hardened vent (albeit lacking radiological filters), prior to its just announced shutdown. Such exemptions from post-Fukushima safety orders would make a mockery of rule of law and regulation, and are entirely unacceptable. If Oyster Creek and FitzPatrick are unwilling to invest in such safety upgrades, they should be forced to permanently shut down by those deadlines, at the latest, not granted exemptions by a complicit NRC.

It must be remembered that the Japanese Parliament, in its independent investigation published in 2012, concluded that the root cause of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe was collusion between regulator, industry, and elected officials.

Oddly, as reported by the Democrat & Chronicle, NY Governor Cuomo has vowed to fight FitzPatrick's closure:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state would fight the closure.

"The closing of the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant will devastate the lives of the more than 600 employees and their families. Good corporate citizenship must appreciate that there are many factors that count as the 'bottom line,'" Cuomo said in a statement. "The state of New York will pursue every legal and regulatory avenue in an attempt to stop Entergy’s actions and its callous disregard for their skilled and loyal workforce.”

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has made similar public pronouncements. 

Gov. Cuomo's advocacy to keep FitzPatrick from closing contradicts his long-time advocacy (dating back many years, to his service as State of NY Attorney General) for closure of Entergy Nuclear's Indian Point reactors near New York City.

As reported by PoliticoNewYork:

Cuomo said he wants Indian Point closed because it would be impossible to evacuate the New York City area in the event of a severe accident.

“Their best answer if there's a nuclear accident is, everybody should take an iodine pill,” he said. “You know? And they're supposed to have an evacuation plan for the surrounding area — when the surrounding area is New York City, you cannot evacuate New York City. You know, what's the plan, jump in the river and swim to Jersey? Right? So, I've had that problem with Indian Point for a long time.”

While taking a potassium iodide pill would protect the human thyroid gland during a nuclear emergency evacuation, Cuomo's observation -- that it would be impossible to evacuate the more than 20 million people who live or work within 50 miles of Indian Point during a radiological emergency -- is absolutely correct, and has long been established. 

But it must be pointed out that, despite being much less densely populated than metro New York City, evacuating communities in upstate NY during a radiological emergency at FitzPatrick, and/or the adjacent Nine Mile Point reactors, and/or Exelon's Ginna nuclear power plant (the second oldest operating reactor in the U.S., just 50 miles or so to the southwest of FitzPatrick, and also located on the Lake Ontario shore in Ontario, NY), would also be very difficult. After all, the urban centers of Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo are very nearby; evacuation to the north is blocked by Lake Ontario; and evacuation to the west is significantly complicated -- or likely blocked, truth be told -- by the Canadian border.

Given their stated concern about job loss at FitzPatrick, Gov. Cuomo and Sen. Schumer should read the white paper published by Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE) on October 22, 2015, "REPLACING FITZPATRICK: How the Closure of a Nuclear Reactor can Reduce Greenhouse Gasses and Radioactive Waste, while Creating Jobs and Supporting the Local Economy."

As summarized by the NIRS/AGREE press release, the $40-60 million per year public subsidy Entergy has been seeking could be invested in much more beneficial ways, such as completely replacing FitzPatrick's electricity supply with energy efficiency upgrades and wind power installations, with enough money left over to also replace hundreds more megawatts of dirty fossil fuel generation in upstate NY, and/or decrease ratepayers' electricity bills.

The NIRS/AGREE just transition plan would also secure half of FitzPatrick's current workforce, by utilizing the $738 million, state-controlled decommissioning fund to begin immediate dismantlement of the facilities and radiological site clean up, tapping the institutional knowledge and expertise embodied in Entergy's current employees at the site. At the same time, the efficieny upgrades and wind power expansion in the service area would provide twice as many jobs as FitzPatrick currently provides. All this could be accomplished, while still meeting NY's greenhouse gas reduction commitments, as well as helping local municipalities -- long overly dependent on FitzPatrick's tax revenues -- manage the transition into a more diversified and sustainable energy economy. 

Tellingly, it has been reported that Entergy's stock price has rebounded somewhat, upon rumors of FitzPatrick's closure, after its stock price had decreased significantly over the past many months. Entergy is looking to save $275 million in revenue losses over the next five years, by closing FitzPatrick. 

Basing his predictions on analyses by UBS and other investment firms, in July 2013, Dr. Mark Cooper of Vermont Law School identified Entergy's entire merchant fleet or reactors as at risk of near-term shutdown. Palisades in MI, and Indian Point Units 2 & 3 in NY, are the last remaining Entergy merchant fleet reactors. 

Please see Beyond Nuclear's "Reactors Are Closing" website section for the big picture on the six reactor closures in North America just since December 2012, and the numerous announced closures to come in the next few years.