On-Site Storage

Currently, all radioactive waste generated by U.S. reactors is stored at the reactor site - either in fuel pools or waste casks. However, the casks are currently security-vulnerable and should be "hardened" while a better solution continues to be sought.



States tell NRC to review storage of radioactive waste at reactors

The dry cask storage units outside of the Vermont Yankee plant. Photo by Laura Frohn, News21.orgFrom AP: Attorneys general in Vermont, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut announced Thursday they are petitioning the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a more thorough environmental review of storage of highly radioactive nuclear waste at plant sites.

"Federal law requires that the NRC analyze the environmental dangers of storing spent nuclear fuel at reactors that were not designed for long-term storage,’’ said Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell.

In a landmark ruling last year, a federal appeals court in Washington said the NRC needed to do a full environmental review of the risks of storing the waste — spent nuclear fuel — in storage pools and casks made of steel and concrete on the grounds of nuclear plants while the search continues for a disposal solution.

Activists in Vermont have come to mistrust the NRC "dog and pony" shows that show up in their state. Now four attorneys general are demanding some meaningful accountability from the agency on prolonged on-site storage of high-level radioactive waste. The position of Beyond Nuclear is that this waste must not be moved to so-called "interim" sites but properly stored in hardened, protected casks - a process known as Hardened On-Site Storage.

‘‘NRC staff is continuing to ignore serious public health, safety and environmental risks related to long-term, on-site storage,’’ New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a news release. ‘‘The communities that serve as de facto long-term radioactive waste repositories deserve a full and detailed accounting of the risks.’’ More.


Environmental coalition defends contentions against Fermi 3 proposed new reactor, challenges adequacy of NRC FEIS

Environmental coalition attorney Terry LodgeTerry Lodge (photo, left), Toledo-based attorney representing an environmental coalition opposing the proposed new Fermi 3 atomic reactor targeted at the Lake Erie shore in Monroe County, MI, has filed a reply to challenges from Detroit Edison (DTE) and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff.

The coalition's reply re-asserted "no confidence" in DTE's ability to safely stored Class B and C "low-level" radioactive wastes on-site at Fermi 3 into the indefinite future, due to the lack of sure access to a disposal facility. it also again emphasized the lack of documented need for the 1,550 Megawatts of electricity Fermi 3 would generate. And the coalition alleged that NRC has failed to fulfill its federal responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as by the illegal "segmentation" of the needed transmission line corridor from the rest of the Fermi 3 reactor construction and operation proposal.

This legal filing follows by a week upon the submission of public comments about NRC's Fermi 3 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The comments, commissioned by Don't Waste Michigan and prepared by Jessie Pauline Collins, were endorsed by a broad coalition of individuals and environmental groups, including Beyond Nuclear. The FEIS comments included satellite images of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie in 2012, and in 2011 to 2012, attributable in significant part to thermal electric power plants such as Detroit Edison's Monroe (coal burning) Power Plant, at 3,300 Megawatts-electric the second largest coal burner in the U.S. Fermi 3's thermal discharge into Lake Erie will worsen this already very serious ecological problem.

In the very near future, the environmental coalition intervening against the Fermi 3 combined Construction and Operating License Application (COLA) will submit additional filings on its contentions challenging the lack of adequate quality assurance (QA) on the project, as well as its defense of the threatened Eastern Fox Snake and its critical wetlands habitat. The State of Michigan has stated that Fermi 3's construction would represent the largest impact on Great Lakes coastal wetlands in the history of state wetlands preservation law. 


Risks to Pilgrim's high-level radioactive waste storage pool from major blizzard go unreported

While there has been some media coverage about the potential risks to the Pilgrim reactor near Boston from this past weekend's major blizzard,there has been little to no mention of the risks to Pilgrim's high-level radioactive waste storage pool.

For example, Reuters has reported that on Sunday, off-site electricity was fortunately restored to Pilgrim, after having been cut off on Friday night. The blizzard knocked out Pilgrim's three connections to the off-site electrical grid, but emergency diesel generators fortunately continued supplying the power needed to run safety and cooling systems on the reactor, the NRC has reported.

However, not mentioned by news media coverage, and little known, is the fact that NRC does not require emergency back up power on the high-level radioactive waste storage pools. Under NRC's lax regulations, pools can rely entirely, and exclusively, on the electrical grid for the running of cooling water circulation pumps. Thus, when the grid goes down, the pool begins to heat up. After enough hours or days without water circulation, the pool can begin to boil. If the evaporation goes on long enough, the pool water can boil away the water cover over the stored irradiated fuel. If the high-level radioactive waste is exposed to air, it can quickly catch fire. As pools are not required to be located within primary radiological containment structures, either (see graphic, above left), this means that catastrophic radioactivity releases into the environment could result from a pool fire, as Alvarez et al. warned in Jan. 2003, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Pilgrim's pool contains all the high-level radioactive waste ever generated there. None has yet been moved to dry cask storage, a very rare exception in the U.S. nuclear power industry. After more than four decades of exclusively pool storage, however, Entergy has applied to NRC for permission to begin moving some fraction of the pool's inventory into dry casks.


Entergy admits its faulty equipment caused 35 minute Super Bowl "lights out"

The darkened Superdome evoked memories of Hurricane Katrina, when thousands of displaced New Orleans residents took refuge in the stadium as the emergency shelter of last resort.First, Entergy denied any responsibility, instead pointing fingers at the Superdome. Then, Entergy agreed to the need for an investigation. And now, five days later, Entergy admits that its faulty equipment was the culprit that plunged the Super Bowl -- and 75,000 in-stadium fans -- into darkness for 35 long minutes. 108.4 million others watched the darkness on television.

It's not unlike that time in Vermont, when Entergy officials testified, under oath, to state officials, that no underground piping existed at Vermont Yankee which could possibly be conducting radioactive materials. Only to have to admit a short time later, that those very pipes which it had denied even existed, were leaking tritium and other radioactive contaminants into soil, groundwater, and the Connecticut River.

Or that time, when it took over at the Palisades atomic reactor in Michigan, when it promised it would replace the corroded reactor lid and degraded steam generators, as well as deal with the worst embrittled reactor pressure vessel in the U.S. -- but never did.

As shown by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe, a prolonged power outage -- no matter what the cause (earthquake and tsunami, other natural disaster, faulty equipment, terrorist attack) -- denying electricity to the safety and cooling systems at nuclear power plants could lead to reactor meltdowns, and high-level radioactive waste storage pool fires.

The Chicago Tribune has reported on Entergy's mea culpa for causing the Super Bowl lights out. CBS Sports has reported that documents revealed concerns about electrical failures in the months leading up to the game. More.


Entergy Watch: Pilgrim Coalition urges NRC to require Mark I atomic reactor to shutdown during historic winter storm

NRC file photo of Pilgrim, albeit on a calm, sunny day.As reported by Wicked Local Plymouth, in the lead up to what is being reported as an historic winter storm about to hit the Northeast, Pilgrim Coalition and Cape Cod Bay Watch are calling on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to order Entergy's Pilgrim atomic reactor shutdown, "arguing that a prolonged power outage, flooding, high winds, and snow and ice could cause several serious problems at Pilgrim."

However, as of 2:30 PM, NRC's "Current Power Reactor Status" report shows that Pilgrim is operating at 83% power. All other reactors in the Northeast are also operating, either at, or very close to, 100% power levels.

The Pilgrim Coalition mentioned concerns about the high-level radioactive waste storage pool's cooling systems ceasing to function.

In a press release, Pilgrim Coalition spokespeople stated:

“This is predicted to be a historic storm with severe consequences,” said Pine DuBois, Executive Director of Jones River Watershed Association. “Winds are supposed to pick up Friday night during high tide and continue through the even higher tide Saturday morning. Near hurricane gusts will be out of the east, hitting Pilgrim head-­‐on. At other times during high winds, Pilgrim’s water intake pumps have failed.”

“Entergy could not keep the lights on during the Super Bowl -­‐ can we be sure they’ll provide enough power to Pilgrim during the storm?” duBois added.

According to Karen Vale, Campaign Manager at Cape Cod Bay Watch, “This historic storm emphasizes that rising sea levels and frequent, more severe storms make Pilgrim’s continued operations increasing risky. We hope that the NRC will close Pilgrim until the threat of the storm passes.”

As Beyond Nuclear's Freeze Our Fukushimas campaign has warned, no matter the cause (earthquake and tsunami, or historic winter storm at high tide), any prolonged loss of power to atomic reactors can lead to meltdown and catastrophic radioactivity releases. Entergy's Pilgrim is an identical twin design to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4, a General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactor.

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