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.



How wise is it to extend operating licenses at atomic reactors?

As reported by WNISR published on July 15, 2015:

"As a result of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, more pressing questions have been raised about the wisdom of operating older reactors. The Fukushima Daiichi Units (1 to 4) were connected to the grid between 1971 and 1974. The license for unit 1 had been extended for another 10 years in February 2011, a month before the catastrophe began. Four days after the accidents in Japan, the German government ordered the shutdown of seven reactors that had started up before 1981. These reactors, together with another unit that was closed at the time, never restarted. The sole selection criterion was operational age. Other countries did not adopt the same approach, but it is clear that the 3/11 events had an impact on previously assumed extended lifetimes in other countries as well, including in Belgium, Switzerland, and Taiwan." (p.38-39)

Thus, had the operating license at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 not been extended, just weeks earlier, Unit 1 would not have been operating on 3/11/11. Especially if its irradiated nuclear fuel had then been removed from the reactor core, a meltdown could not have occurred (by definition) -- as was the case at Fukushima Daiichi Units 4, 5, and 6 (which were not operating, and had cores off-loaded of nuclear fuel).

(Granted, off-loading a reactor core of its irradiated fuel, into the storage pool, simply transfers the risk another location. This was the dire situation at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 4, until the irradiated nuclear fuel was finally completely removed from the storage pool by Dec. 2014. Now, that irradiated nuclear fuel risk has been transferred to Fukushima Daiichi's ground level "common pool" -- not a risk-free location, but significantly less risky than the near-collapse Unit 4 reactor building, of which the storage pool is an integral part.)

It is also important to point out that some sources allege that the meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 was well under way even before the tsunami hit the site, about 50 minutes after the 9.0 earthquake had struck. That is, certain sources (citing the testimony of on-site workers' eye-witness experience) allege that the earthquake itself had so badly damaged Unit 1, that it was already in process of melting down, even before the tsunami struck the site (that is, tsunami or no tsunami, Unit 1 was likely doomed to melt down, due to earthquake damage).

This begs the question, how vulerable to earthquakes, or other shocks, are the oldest reactors still operating in the U.S., and around the world?


Letter to the Editor: NRC's rules too weak at Davis-Besse

Davis-Besse's weather sealant "White Wash" of 2012, applied 40 years too late, ended up locking water in the walls. The ice-wedging crack propagation thus generated worsens Shield Building cracking by a half-inch, every time it freezes!Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps wrote a letter to the editor of the Port Clinton, OH News Herald on June 26, 2015, warning about safety significant systems, structures, and components that are too age-degraded to keep operating safely during FirstEnergy Nuclear's proposed 2017-2037 license extension at its problem-plagued Davis-Besse atomic reactor on the Lake Erie shore in Oak Harbor, OH.

Despite a severely cracked, and ever worsening, concrete containment Shield Building, and questions about how long its reactor lid will last this time, and how its experimental steam generator replacements will go, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is poised to rubber-stamp Davis-Besse's license extension.


Entergy's Palisades but the canary in the coal mine for age-degraded RPV risks

NRC file photo of Entergy Nuclear's Palisades atomic reactor, located on the Lake Michigan shoreline in Covert, MIA U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel (ASLBP) has granted an evidentiary hearing on the merits of concerns regarding the risks of a ductile tear, or fracture, of Entergy Nuclear's severely embrittled Palisades atomic reactor pressure vessel (RPV), located in Covert, MI on the Lake Michigan shore (see photo, left). Toledo-based attorney, Terry Lodge, filed the petition on behalf of an environmental coalition (Beyond Nuclear, Don't Waste MI, Michigan Safe Energy Future, and Nuclear Energy Information Service). Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer at Fairewinds Associates, Inc. in Burlington, Vermont, serves as the coalition's expert witness.

Although Entergy's Palisades has the worst embrittled RPV in the U.S., it is but the canary in the coal mine. As revealed in an April 2013 NRC document (see point #4, on page 5 of 15 on PDF counter), Next Era's (Florida Power & Light's) Point Beach Unit 2, also located on the Lake Michigan shore in Wisconsin, is nearly as bad. Following not very far behind in terms of RPV fracture risk are Entergy's Indian Point Unit 3 near New York City, Pacific Gas & Electric's Diablo Canyon on the California coast, and FirstEnergy's Beaver Valley Unit 1 in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. FirstEnergy has also been required to have an Aging Management Plan for RPV embrittlement at its Davis-Besse atomic reactor on the Lake Erie shore near Toledo, an indication that this is a serious concern there as well.

RPV age-related degradation was the top safety concern of a broad environmental and public interest coalition's efforts, from 2005 to 2007, to block Palisades' 20-year license extension. However, the NRC ASLBP overseeing that proceeding simply rubber-stamped Palisades' license extension application, as did the full NRC Commission. Intervenors' concerns were dismissed, based on mere legalistic technicalities. The ASLBP at the time chastised the intervening coalition, scolding them that NRC's intervention rules are "strict by design."



Nuclear Licensing Board Examines Brittle Vessel Risks at Entergy’s Palisades Atomic Reactor; Critics Call for Permanent Shutdown

NRC file photo of Entergy Nuclear's Palisades atomic reactor on the Lake Michigan shore in Covert, MIAs reported by a press release, a coalition of environmental groups, including Beyond Nuclear, today testified before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), at the agency's HQ in Rockville, Maryland, just outside D.C.

The coalition, represented by Toledo attorney Terry Lodge, defended its intervention against an Entergy License Amendment Request (LAR) to further weaken reactor pressure vessel (RPV) embrittlement/pressurized thermal shock (PTS) safety regulations.

Palisades has the worst-embrittled RPV in the U.S., at risk of a PTS fracture, Loss-of-Coolant-Accident, core meltdown, and catastrophic release of hazardous radioactivity. A bad precedent at Palisades will then be applied by NRC to approve operations at other dangerously brittle pressurized water reactor (PWR) RPVs across the U.S.

The coalition intervened on Dec. 1, 2014. Entergy Nuclear and NRC staff counter-attacked on Jan. 12, 2015. The coalition rebutted the attacks on Jan. 20.

Today's "oral argument pre-hearing" was essentially an ASLB exercise to determine whether the coalition's intervenion is worthy of an evidentiary hearing on the merits of the contention. The ASLB is scheduled to rule on the admissibility of the intervenors' contention within 45 days.

On March 9, the coalition filed a parallel intervention regarding loss of Charpy V-Notch Upper-Shelf Energy in Palisades RPV, another form of age-related degradation.

From 2005 to 2007, a broad environmental coalition sought to block Palisades' 20-year license extension. The coalition's main safety objection was PTS risks. NRC rubber-stamped the extension anyway.


"Relicensing Limerick nuke plant ignores safety risks"

NRC file photo of Exelon's twin GE Mark II BWR Limerick nuclear power plant. While NRC claims everything is coming up flowers, critics beg to differ.Dr. Lewis Cuthbert, President of the Alliance for a Clean Environment, has written an op-ed to the Pottstown (PA) Mercury, opposing the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's rubberstamp of a 20-year license extension at Exelon Nuclear's twin reactor Limerick nuclear power plant, near Philadelphia.

Limerick Units 1 and 2 are General Electric Mark II Boiling Water Reactors, very similar in design to the Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4 Mark Is.

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) intervened against the license extension before an NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board panel. NRDC raised Severe Accident Mitigation Alternatives (SAMA) analyses contentions. But their contentions fell on deaf ears, and NRC rubberstamped the license extension anyway.

As revealed in the 1982 NRC-commissioned CRAC-2 report ("Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences"), Limerick's proximity to the densely populated Philadelphia metro area means a catastrophic radioactivity release there would inflict some of the worst casualties and property damages in the entire country downwind of atomic reactors.