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.



"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 the flooding in summer 2011. 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."



Fairewinds' nuclear engineer Arnie GundersenIn the most recent Fairewinds Energy Education weekly podcast, "REPAIRS AT FOUR NUCLEAR REACTORS ARE SO EXPENSIVE THAT THEY SHOULD NOT BE RESTARTED," Fairewinds' nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen (photo, left) lays out the case as to why the atomic reactors at Fort Calhoun, Nebraska on the Missouri River, Crystal River in Florida, and San Onofre Units 2 & 3 in southern California should all be permanently shutdown.

Of these, Fort Calhoun had already gotten a 20-year license extension rubberstamp by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, while Crystal River was deep into the application process for one.

In the second half of the program, Arnie also discusses a recent letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and an accompanying press release, from U.S. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), which expressed strong opposition to U.S. Department of Energy plans to "recycle" radioactive metals and other materials from its nuclear facilities (such as nuclear weapons complex sites, uranium enrichment facilities, national labs, etc.) into consumer products.



Entergy Watch: Palisades, Pilgrim, Vermont Yankee

Entergy Nuclear's dirty dozen atomic reactorsEntergy's Palisades, Pilgrim, and Vermont Yankee atomic reactors are each among the 73 two decade license extensions rubberstamped by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in recent years. But resistance to their ongoing operations is intensifying nonetheless!

Last Saturday, critics grilled NRC with questions regarding "recent through-wall leaks" at Entergy's problem-plagued Palisades pressurized water reactor on the Lake Michigan shore in Covert, Michigan. In Plymouth, Massachusetts and on Cape Cod, watchdogs continue to hound Pilgrim, Entergy's General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactor -- a twin design and vintage to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4 -- near Boston. And Entergy's Vermont Yankee had its day(s) in court(s) -- another risky, age-degraded Mark I, which has very much worn out its welcome in the Green Mountain State!

Palisades, Pilgrim, and Vermont Yankee are each also relatively small sized, single reactor, "merchant" nuclear power plants. As such, they are currently very vulnerable to permanent shutdown due to crushing economics -- such as the expense of badly needed major safety repairs.


Watchdogs continue to hound Entergy Pilgrim

Mother endangered Right Whale near PNPS on 1/15/13, calf is out-of-view. Images acquired under authorization of NOAA/NMFS. Credit: Rachel Karasik.Watchdog groups such as Pilgrim WatchCape DownwindersPilgrim Coalition and Cape Cod Bay Watch keep up the good fight against Entergy's Pilgrim atomic reactor in Plymouth, MA. Pilgrim is a four decade old General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactor, the same age, or older, and design as the Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4 reactors. 

Pilgrim Watch spearheaded a six year long intervention against the reactor's 20-year license extension, a record of resistance. But, just as it has done 72 other times across the U.S. since 2000, NRC rubberstamped the license extension in the end.

Member of Cape Downwinders, who have carried out non-violent civil disobedience actions in opposition to Pilgrim's ongoing risks, networked with Beyond Nuclear staff at a Clamshell Alliance reunion in New Hampshire last July. A key risk is that there is "No Escape from the Cap" should the worst happen at Pilgrim, as recently affirmed by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency itself. 

Wicked Local Plymouth reported: “There are no plans to evacuate us from danger,” Pilgrim Coalition wrote in a release quoting Falmouth resident and Cape Downwinders member Bill Maurer, “but there are plans to control us during that danger, which essentially insures that we will be exposed to that danger.”

Pilgrim Coalition is plugging Pilgrim's shutdown:

"Plug-In to Unplug Pilgrim: this is an opportunity to find your place in a growing movement to remove the risk from Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in your community.

Join us on February 6, 2013 in the Otto Fehlow Room of the Plymouth Public Library and kick off the new year by learning about the issue and ways you can help. Snacks and refreshments will be served.

For more information, contact Karen Vale at or (508) 951-4723."

And Cape Cod Bay Watch points out that "Plymouth Is Where NO NUKES Meets SAVE THE WHALES" (see photo, above left). It has just today published a piece in the Wicked Local Plymouth about Pilgrim's harmful tritium and nitrogen pollution into the underlying Plymouth-Carver Sole Source Aquifer, recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protetion Agency as “the principal source of drinking water for the residents of the area."

As reported by the Patriot Ledger, Pilgrim just resumed operations after a one week shutdown, caused by an electrical relay failure at the 41 year old reactor which blocked the operation of two water recirculation pumps.


Entergy Palisades' critics grill NRC about "recent through-wall leaks"

At a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) webinar on Sat., Jan. 12, another large turnout of local residents and environmental group representatives critical of the problem-plagued Palisades atomic reactor grilled agency staff with questions regarding "recent through-wall leaks" (NRC's title for the webinar). Early in the meeting, NRC staff admitted that critics' questions were "overloading the system."

Palisades suffered a through-wall leak on safety-critical control rod drive mechanism (CRDM) housing, revealed on Aug. 12. Palisades had experienced an earlier CRDM through-wall leak in 2001, as well as a uniquely bad 40 years worth of CRDM seal leaks, as documented by David Lochbaum of Union of Concerned Scientists. Lochbaum also explained that the Aug. 12 leak had been ongoing for over a month, even though NRC regulations require that reactor pressure boundary leakage lead to reactor shutdown within 6 hours. Lochbaum calculated that, at $130,000 per day, Entergy should have been fined $3 to $4 million for the violation. Instead, NRC did not fine Entergy one penny.

Most recently, Palisades suffered a through-wall leak on a valve in the service water system, also safety-significant. The service water system had also experienced previous breakdowns in recent years, which played a part in NRC designating Palisades one of the four worst run reactors in the country in Feb., 2012.

NRC's "recent through-wall leaks" webinar slide show has been posted online. Photos reveal cracks and severe rust on various safety-significant systems, structures, and componets at Palisades. One slide shows a steam leak likely drenchning electrical cords and plugs in condensation, as well as the adjacent wall and floor, begging the question whether this was not a short circuit, fire, and even electrocution hazard.

Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps fired a litany of questions at NRC staff, only some of which were addressed during the short one hour long webinar.

Due to intense public concern about Palisades, NRC announced that such webinars will continue every other month. March's webinar will address the risks of pressurized thermal shock (PTS) due to reactor pressure vessel (RPV) embrittlement. On Feb. 29, 2012, NRC staff, under intense grilling by concerned citizens, admitted that Palisades has the worsed embrittled RPV in the U.S. PTS risks were the single most significant safety concern raised by environmental coalition interveners opposed to the 20-year license extension at Palisades, but NRC rubberstamped it anyways. Michael Keegan of Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes reported in 1993 thatPalisades had first violated NRC's PTS safety regulations in 1981, ten short years into operation. But NRC continued to weaken PTS safety regulations, again and again, in order to accommodate Palisades. Jeff Donn of the Associated Press reported in June 2011, in the first installment of his four part series entitled "Aging Nukes," that"US Nuke Regulators Weaken Safety Rules." His top example was PTS.

May's webinar will be about radiological effluents into the environment. Besides "routine" radiological releases into air, soil, and Lake Michigan that are "allowed" by lax federal or state government "permits," Palisades has also suffered radiological leaks, such as tritium into groundwater. In fact, in his April 2010 report "Leak First, Fix Later," Beyond Nuclear's Paul Gunter devoted an entire chapter to Palisades.