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Relicensing

The U.S. nuclear reactor fleet is aging but owners are applying to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for license extensions to operate reactors an additional 20 years beyond their licensed lifetimes. Beyond Nuclear is challenging and opposing relicensing efforts.

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Wednesday
Mar272013

Coalition of concerned citizens details concerns about Palisades with NRC Commissioner Magwood

NRC Commissioner William Magwood IVA coalition comprised of 20 concerned local residents and environmental group representatives, including from Beyond Nuclear, met with U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Commissioner William Magwood IV (photo, left) for three hours on Monday evening, March 25th, in South Haven, MI, detailing their many concerns about safety, security, public health, and environmental protection -- or lack thereof -- at Entergy Nuclear's Palisades atomic reactor on the Lake Michigan shoreline in Covert, MI (see the coalition's meeting agenda). NRC Commissioner Magwood toured the problem-plagued plant -- which received a 20-year license extension from NRC in 2007, despite widespread resistance -- the next morning.

The coalition issued a press release.

The St. Joe Herald-Palladium has reported on the meeting, as did Fox 17 television Grand Rapids. Michigan Radio's "Environment Report" quoted Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps.

NRC Commissioner Magwood's career has been devoted to the promotion of nuclear power, first as an industry insider (including as a consultant to Tokyo Electric Power Company, infamous owner of the ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant), and then as head of the promotional Office of Nuclear Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The Huffington Post has published exposés on Magwood's attempted coups against his bosses in order to take their jobs -- successfully at DOE, unsuccessfully at NRC. As also reported by HuffPost, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has vowed to block Magwood's aspirations for the NRC Chairmanship, due to Magwood breaking his promise to Reid to not advocate for the controversial Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste dump as an NRC Commissioner.

Due to his career promoting nuclear power, Beyond Nuclear led the environmental coalition effort to block President Obama's nomination of Magwood for the safety-regulatory NRC Commission in the first place, as well as the U.S. Senate's confirmation of Magwood for the position (the Project on Government Oversight launched a separate effort to block Magwood's confirmation). At the end of 2011, U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) cited Beyond Nuclear's coalition letter opposing Magwood's confirmation as she, too, criticized his broken promises to her about Yucca during his Feb. 2010 Senate confirmation hearing as an NRC Commissioner. Beyond Nuclear has also filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to NRC after receiving an anonymous tip that NRC Commissioner Magwood has been holding regular, secretive meetings with leaders of the industry's Nuclear Energy Institute, in violation of open meetings laws and regulations. However, despite filing the FOIA request on Dec. 3, 2011, NRC has not yet responded.

NRC has issued a notice and press release about its upcoming April 2nd "End of Cycle" annual performance review public meeting to be held in South Haven about Palisades. See more info. from NRC about the Apirl 2 meeting here, including its slideshow to be presented (note NRC has loaded its slides sideways).

On April 11th, Beyond Nuclear is co-sponsoring west Michigan presentations entitled "Preventing an American Fukushima" by David Lochbaum of Union of Concerned Scientists. He will present at 12 noon Eastern at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, and at 7 PM Eastern at the Beach Haven Event Center in South Haven, less than 5 miles north of Palisades. In his annual report of near-misses at U.S. atomic reactors, Lochbaum has included incidents at Palisades (two separate incidents in 2011 alone) for the past two years, making it one of the worst-run reactors in the country.

Wednesday
Feb202013

Latest "leak per week" at Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor

Entergy Nuclear's problem-plagued Palisades atomic reactor, and the inland "sweet water sea" (Lake Michigan) and countryside (southwest Michigan) which it threatens.We told 'em so. Despite widespread resistance, Palisades' 20-year license extension was rubberstamped in 2007.

As shown at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) "Current Power Reactor Status Report", Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor in Covert, Michigan on the Lake Michigan shoreline is at zero percent power. Why? Because, yet again, it has suffered a leak and breakdown -- but the latest of many in recent years.

As reported at the NRC Event Notification:

"TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION REQUIRED SHUTDOWN DUE TO COMPONENT COOLING WATER TRAIN OUT OF SERVICE 

'At 2030 hours [EST] on February 14, 2013, technical specification (TS) 3.7.7 condition A was entered due to the right train of the component cooling water (CCW) system being declared inoperable. The cause of the inoperable train was the identification of an approximate 40 gallon per hour CCW system to service water system leak inside the 'A' CCW heat exchanger. TS 3.7.7 condition A requires restoration of the inoperable train within 72 hours. If the restoration is not completed within 72 hours, the plant must be in Mode 3 within 6 hours and in Mode 5 within the subsequent 36 hours.' 

'Due to the inability to repair the leak within the required 72 hour time frame during power operation, a plant shutdown was initiated at approximately 1300 hours on February 15, 2013. Entry into Mode 3 is expected at approximately 1700 hours on February 15, 2013. The plant will enter Mode 5 to execute leak repair. Mode 5 entry is expected at approximately 0800 hours on February 16, 2013.'"

No explanation is given as to why this incident, dated Feb. 14, was not publicly reported until Feb. 19.

However, NRC Region 3 spokeswoman Viktoria Mytling told WSBT-TV in South Bend, IN that "NRC resident inspectors at Palisades have been aware of a leak from the cooling water system and followed the plant’s actions to find the location after the leakage increased from 2 to 35 gallons an hour in less than a week."

No explanation is given for the disparity between Mytling's 35 gallon per hour figure, and the NRC incident report's 40 gallon per hour figure, above.

The Kalamazoo Gazette quotes Mytling as admitting that the leakage began as early as Feb. 8. NRC has provided no explanation as to why the public was not informed about the problem for 11 days. 

(Last year, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) demanded an NRC investigation into Mytling's downplaying of a reactor leak at the troubled Davis-Besse atomic reactor near Toledo. In addition, Chicago watchdog group Nuclear Energy Information Service, via a Freedom of Information Act Request to the State of Illinois Dept. of Nuclear Safety, documented that Mytling's flip assurance -- that a radioactive steam leak at the Byron atomic reactor must have contained exceedingly low levels of hazardous radioactive tritium, as radiation monitors had not detected any -- was baseless and misleading, as no real-time tritium monitoring capability existed at the plant.)

However, an 11 day delay in informing the public is nothing new, in light of Entergy and NRC behavior at Palisades in recent years. For example, in June, 2012, courageous Palisades whistleblowers and their attorney, Billie Pirner Garde of Washington D.C., working with U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), made public a leak into Palisades' safety critical control room (where electrical circuitry and equipment cannot be allowed to get wet) that had been ongoing for more than a year, with leakage being caught in buckets near the central control panel. That leak had been kept not only from the public, but even from the NRC's Chairman, despite his tour of the problem-plagued plant on May 25, 2012. NRC internal investigations supposedly continue as to why the agency's own chairman was kept in the dark about the control room leak.  

WSBT has also posted an additional NRC statement about the latest "leak per week" (a phrase coined by watchdogs on Entergy's controversial and troubled Vermont Yankee atomic reactor) at Palisades:

"NRC STATEMENT: WHAT IS THIS LEAK ALL ABOUT?

The leak came from the component cooling water system whose function is to remove heat from pipes, pumps and other equipment running at high temperatures. Workers identified the source of the leak to be one of the plant’s two heat exchangers which are a part of this system. Heat exchangers, which consist of about 2,000 tubes each, are used to remove heat during normal operation but also during potential accident scenarios. Palisades has two heat exchangers, which cool equipment important to safety, and are required to be in working condition. According to NRC regulations, if there is a problem with one of the heat exchangers it would need to be fixed within in [sic] 72 hours.  If that’s not possible the plant would have to shut down to find and fix the leak. Palisades made the decision to shut down before reaching the established limit.  The plant has to repair the heat exchanger before returning online.

NRC resident inspectors, in consultation with our expert in the region, continue to monitor [sic] situation." (Emphasis added.)

Thus, this equipment breakdown does have safety significance.

The Holland Sentinel was perhaps the first news outlet to report on this story.

Monday
Feb112013

Entergy Watch: Vermont Yankee argues it is simply "above the law" in the State of Vermont

Entergy Nuclear's latest argument, in defense of its U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission rubberstamped 20-year license extension at its Vermont Yankee atomic reactor, before the State of Vermont Public Service Board beggars belief. Entergy argues it is above State of Vermont law, even though it agreed to abide by State of Vermont law a decade ago. As reported by the Associated Press, Entergy's lawyers and hired experts are now arguing that because radiological safety is exclusively U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission jurisdiction by settled law, the State of Vermont must simply get out of the way -- even though that same U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1983 in the Pacific Gas & Electric case recognized that states retained authority over most other aspects of nucelar power besides radiological safety.

The article reported: '...At Monday's hearing on Entergy's request for a new state permit, company lawyers sought to take that idea of federal pre-emption and run with it, telling the board that it should avoid considering not just the economic impact of a possible nuclear accident, but that the board also should not consider the impact that hosting a nuclear plant might be having on the state's tourism industry.

Burlington lawyer Robert Hemley told the three-member board the only reason the presence of a nuclear plant might harm tourism is if the public develops fears about nuclear safety — a subject Vermont is barred from considering.

"Discussion about tourism is a pre-empted area. ... We feel the entire area is off-limits for this board," Hemley said.

Entergy's push for pre-emption appeared to run counter to an agreement it entered with the state when it bought Vermont Yankee in 2002 from the group of New England utilities that had owned it previously.

Under that memorandum of understanding, Entergy and the state agreed "to waive any claim each may have that federal law pre-empts the jurisdiction of the board" to decide Vermont Yankee's post-2012 future.

Entergy lawyer Sanford Weisburst argued later that the board would be hard-pressed to find a plausible, non-safety reason to deny Vermont Yankee a new permit...'

Entergy Nuclear has named the three commissioners of Vermont's Public Service Board, as well as Governor Peter Shumlin and Attorney General William Sorrell -- by name -- in its lawsuits seeking to overturn Vermont state laws, to which it had previously committed to abide, which now call for Vermont Yankee's permanent shutdown.

The Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance and Citizens Awareness Network have called for grassroots comments to bolster the Vermont Public Service Board's resolve against issuing a renewed Certificate of Public Good to Entergy. Without it, Vermont Yankee's continued operation is illegal under State of Vermont law.

Vermont Digger has reported on this story. Frances Crowe, a nonagenarian member of the Shut It Down! Affinity Group, responded to the article by stating: "Every day that plant operates it is endangering the health and safety
of the people in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Shut it down and start the clean up and put the spent fuel rods in dry caskets and bury them deep underground." Shut It Down! has has organized some two-dozen civil resistance direct actions protesting against Vermont Yankee. When asked by AP on March 22, 2012 -- amidst 1,500 protestors gathered on the first day of VY's NRC-rubberstamped 20-year license extension -- how many times she had been arrested protesting VY, Frances Crowe answered "Not enough!"

Friday
Feb082013

Entergy Watch: Bill in Vermont State House seeks more stringent Vermont Yankee decommissioning 

Vermont State HouseAs reported by AP, a bill has been introduced in the State of Vermont legislature, opening yet another battlefront against Entergy's Vermont Yankee atomic reactor. The legislation seeks to establish more exacting decommissioning clean-up standards than are required by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), with an added price tag of $40 million.

‘‘They've had a history of backing away from agreements and promises, and we want to make sure we protect the residents of Vernon and, by extension, Vermont taxpayers from liability related to decommissioning the plant,’’ said Rep. Margaret Cheney, vice chair of the House committee and a lead sponsor of the bill.

Chief among the "rogue corporation" Entergy's "broken promises" to the Green Mountain State was a signed agreement to shutdown Vermont Yankee by March 22, 2012 if it failed to obtain a renewed Certificate of Public Good (CPG) from the Vermont Public Service Board. The Vermont State Senate voted 26 to 4 in Feb. 2010 to block the issuance of the CPG, due to reasons other than radiological safety (NRC's jurisdiction) recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as falling under state authority. Nearly a year later, Entergy still operates VY without the required CPG.

Friday
Feb082013

Entergy Watch: New CEO admits times are tough at Entergy's merchant reactors

Entergy's new CEO and Chairman of the Board, Leo P. DenaultAs reported by Reuters, Entergy Nuclear's new CEO and Chairman of the Board, Leo P. Denault (pictured left), has admitted "its merchant nuclear power plants are in 'challenging economic situations,'" and "'[n]ear-term power prices are challenging for some merchant nuclear generating units in certain competitive markets.'" The admission came during a fourth-quarter earnings call.

The article continues:

"He said some plants are in the more challenging economic situations for a variety of reasons, including 'the market for both energy and capacity, their size, their contracting positions and the investment required to maintain the safety and integrity of the plants.' (emphasis added)

He would not name the plants but said, 'There are years when certain plants' cash flows can be negative at today's forward price curve.'"

UBS has concluded that the financial pressures could force Entergy to close Vermont Yankee, FitzPatrick in New York, and even Pilgrim near Boston yet this year.

All three reactors are nearly, or even more than, 40 years old, and recipients, despite their age-degradation risks, of U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) rubberstamps for 20-year license extensions. They are also exact replicas of Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4 -- General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactors.

Additional Entergy reactors have received NRC 20-year license extensions as well: Arkansas Nuclear One, Units 1 & 2; Palisades in Michigan; and Cooper in Nebraska (another Mark I GE BWR, which Entergy operates on behalf of owner Nebraska Public Power District).

Entergy's reactors at Indian Point Units 1 & 2 near New York City, as well as Grand Gulf 1 in Mississippi, have applied for 20-year license extensions.

A Dominion spokesman admitted last October that the high cost of making needed safety repairs was a major factor in the nuclear utility's decision to close Kewaunee in Wisconsin by mid-2013. It was the first announced closure of an atomic reactor in the U.S. in 15 years.