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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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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.

Friday
Feb082013

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

NRC's 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.

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.

NRC recently approved Pilgrim's 20-year license extension, despite six years of resistance by Pilgrim Watch -- a national record. Pilgrim thus joins the list of 73 NRC rubberstamped license extensions. Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 had only recently won approval for its license extension, before the March 11, 2011 magnitude 9.0 earthquake, and 45-foot-tall tsunami, struck.

Thursday
Feb072013

"Retired Duke reactor may signal more U.S. nuclear shutdowns"

As Reuters reports, yesterday's announcement by Duke that it has decided to permanently shutdown its crippled Crystal River atomic reactor with a severely cracked containment in Florida, and Dominion's decision last October to permanently shutdown its Kewaunee reactor on the shore of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin (despite a 20-year license extension rubberstamp by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission), may be but the first dominoes to fall.

The article quotes UBS energy analyst Julien Dumoulin-Smith, who concluded "It's getting tougher for nuclear to compete." The UBS short list for reactors on the brink of permanent shutdown includes "Entergy Corp's Vermont Yankee in Vermont and FitzPatrick in New York, Exelon Corp's Clinton in Illinois and Constellation Energy Nuclear Group LLC's Ginna in New York," according to the article.

This, despite the fact that NRC has also already rubberstamped 20-year license extensions at Vermont Yankee, FitzPatrick, and Ginna.

The article ends by questioning if Southern California Edison's San Onofre 2 & 3 in San Clemente will ever restart, given their severe steam generator tube damage. Both units have now been shut down for over a year for safety reasons.