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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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Thursday
Sep052013

Grassroots activism laid the groundwork for Vermont Yankee's announced demise

This infamous photo of Vermont Yankee's 2007 cooling tower collapse was sent to media reporters by whistleblowersBob Bady, a founding member of the Safe and Green Campaign, has penned an op-ed at the Vermont Digger entitled "What Killed the Beast?"

The beast to which he refers is Vermont Yankee (VY), a GE Mark I boiling water reactor, identical in design to the wrecked, leaking Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4 in northeastern Japan. The day before the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe began on 3/11/11, the 5 member NRC Commission voted unanimously to rubber-stamped VY's proposed 20-year license extension, despite widespread opposition, including a Vermont State Senate vote of 26 to 4 of disapproval. Later that month, despite the clearly revealed radiological catastrophe at Fukushima, the NRC staff finalized the paperwork for VY's 20-year extension. NRC's dirty deed didn't deter the resistance to VY, however. To the contrary, the opposition re-doubled its efforts.

Bady writes: "...The ultimate goal of a large corporation such as Entergy is to make money. Its growth or demise is about profit. The backstory is actually what prevented Vermont Yankee from making enough profit to continue to operate for decades to come.

Certainly cheaper natural gas was a signficant factor, as was an old plant that would require significant maintenance in the coming years. Pending costly federally mandated safety improvements, precipitated by the Fukushima disaster, also loomed.

The tipping point, however, the thing that might have really sealed Vermont Yankee's fate, was grassroots activism...".

He concludes that "because the anti nuke environmental community in Vermont, southwestern New Hampshire and western Massachusetts worked hard, long and intelligently to rally public opinion, and educate the Vermont Legislature," state laws signed by Vermont's former, pro-nuclear Republican governor became a "big expensive problem" for Entergy.

Bady adds "Entergy's income was first impacted when, by late 2010 and early 2011, its reputation had become so damaged by its own misdeeds, brought to the spotlight by activists, that Vermont electric utilities played hardball in contract negotiations. As a result, no deal emerged between Vermont Yankee and Vermont utilities, and Entergy was left to sell its product on the "spot" market, where prices had dropped because of cheaper natural gas."

Author Richard Watts asked the same question: how could Vermont Yankee go from being seen as a good neighbor and mainstay of the Green Mountain State's economy by some, to being almost universally disdained, even by former supporters, as a pariah, with top elected officials referring to Entergy publicly as a "rogue corporation"? Watts' book, Public Meltdown: The Story of Vermont Yankee, shows that Entergy's cover ups and lies under oath to state officials -- such as the 2007 cooling tower collapse brought to light by whistleblowers (photo, above left), and Entergy executives' perjury regarding radioactivity leaks into groundwater -- combined with widespread grassroots activism, turned the tide.

Wednesday
Aug282013

With VY shutdown announcement, will Entergy "circle the wagons" at Indian Point?

NRC file photo of Indian Point nuclear power plant on the Hudson RiverAs reported by Reuters, now that Entergy has announced it will permanently shutdown its Vermont Yankee atomic reactor by the end of next year, the focus is shifting to the struggle between the nuclear utility and the State of New York, and a broad coalition of environmental groups and area residents concerned about the safety, health, and security risks for 21 million people within 50 miles of the twin Indian Point Unit 2 and 3 reactors in Westchester County near New York City (photo, left).

Monday
Aug192013

Joseph Mangano/RPHP report on radioactivity releases from Palisades and increased death rates in the surrounding area

Entergy's problem-plagued Palisades atomic reactor in Covert, MI, on the Lake Michigan shorelineJoseph Mangano, Executive Director of Radiation and Public Health Project, has published a report, commissioned and endorsed by Beyond Nuclear, Don't Waste Michigan, Michigan Safe Energy Future, and Nuclear Energy Information Service. Based on government data and documentation on radioactivity releases from Palisades, as well as area health statistics, the report's major findings raise serious questions about the connections between radioactivity releases and increased overall death and cancer mortality rates.

Palisades received a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) rubber-stamp for 20 extended years of operations -- out to 2031 -- back in 2007, despite hard-fought resistance that sought to block it.

Press release

Full report: NUCLEAR CONTAMINATION AND HEALTH RISKS FROM THE ENTERGY PALISADES NUCLEAR REACTOR.

Beyond Nuclear pamphlet "Routine Radiation Releases from U.S. Atomic Reators: What Are The Dangers?" Note that the water discharge pathway photo was taken (by Gabriela Bulisova) at the Palisades atomic reactor, discharging into Lake Michigan. Although the atmospheric discharge pathway was photographed at the Callaway atomic reactor in Missouri, Palisades has a very similar vent attached to its containment building for aerial discharges of radioactive gases and vapors).

Beyond Nuclear report (published April 2010) by Reactor Oversight Project Director Paul Gunter, "Leak First, Fix Later," with a chapter on Palisades' tritium leaks into groundwater, first reported by Entergy Nuclear in 2007.

Saturday
Aug032013

"Attorney Generals Fight for Public Access in Nuclear Issues"

Environmental coalition attorney Terry Lodge of Toledo speaks out against Davis-Besse's 20-year license extension at a press conference in Oak Harbor, OH in August 2012An article written by Roger Witherspoon, "Attorney Generals Fight for Public Access in Nuclear Issues," begins:

"The Attorney Generals of New York and Vermont have joined the fight against California’s San Onofre Nuclear power plant in an effort to stop federal regulators from erasing all record of a judicial ruling that the public has a right to intervene before major amendments are granted to an operating license.

If the five-member Nuclear Regulatory Commission grants the request of their staff to vacate the ruling of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board and expunge the record, it will eliminate a precedent that affects power plant operations and regulatory practices around the country. In particular, it will affect the six-year fight in New York to shut the Indian Point power plants 25 miles north of New York City; and Vermont’s ongoing effort to shut the Vermont Yankee power plant.

The cross country battle now being waged by NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell is an uphill fight against one of the most powerful professional staffs in the US government and an agency that has a unique view of its own independence.

“The Commission has stated that it is not bound by judicial practice, including that of the United States Supreme Court,” stated Schneiderman and Sorrell in a brief filed June 24 with the NRC challenging the staff request...". Continue reading Roger Witherspoon's article here.

The next proceeding most likely to be immediately and directly impacted by the survival or demise of Friends of the Earths' (FOE) San Onofre precedent involves the replacement of steam generators at FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company's (FENOC) problem-plagued Davis-Besse atomic reactor, located on the Lake Erie shoreline in Oak Harbor, Ohio just east of Toledo. A coalition of environmental groups -- Beyond Nuclear, Citizen Environment Coalition of Southwestern Ontario (CEA), Don't Waste Michigan (DWM), and the Sierra Club -- have challenged FENOC's attempt to avoid transparent, open, and publicly accessible license amendment proceedings, by arguing the new steam generators are "like-for-like" replacements of the old ones.

But the coalition's expert witness, Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer at Fairewinds Associates, Inc., has documented numerous major changes from the degraded old to the new replacement steam generators. Gundersen also serves as FOE's expert witness at San Onofre. Toledo-based attorney Terry Lodge (photo, above left) serves as the coalition's legal counsel.

An Atomic Safety (sic) and Licensing Board (ASLB) panel heard pre-hearing oral arguments regarding the environmental interveners' standing, as well as the merits of its arguments, on July 24th. The ASLB indicated it would rule on the admissibility of the coalition's intervention petition this month.

Lodge also represents the environmental coalition (Beyond Nuclear, CEA, DWM, and the Green Party of Ohio) intervening against FENOC's proposed 20-year license extension at Davis-Besse. The ASLB (and/or NRC Commission) overseeing that proceeding has rejected all of the interveners' contentions but one: a successful lawsuit brought against NRC's Nuclear Waste Confidence policy has resulted in a court-ordered requirement for an environmental impact statement by NRC regarding the risks of long-term, on-site storage of high-level radioactive wastes. The EIS will take two years to complete (NRC had previously admitted it would take seven years to complete, but is racing through the process), during which time the Davis-Besse license extension cannot be finalized. Davis-Besse's original 40-year license expires on Earth Day (April 22), 2017.

Wednesday
Jul312013

State of Vermont objects to NRC over faulty radiation monitoring equipment at Entergy's Vermont Yankee atomic reactor

VY's infamous 2007 cooling tower collapse. The photo was distributed by a whistleblower.As reported by the Vermont Digger, State of Vermont Department of Public Service officials have written the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), objecting to and demanding answers about the repeated malfunction of vital radiation monitors at the age-degraded, problem-plagued Entergy Vermont Yankee (VY) atomic reactor. VY is identical in design to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4, a General Electric Mark I boiling water reactor.

Despite this, NRC rubberstamped a 20-year license extension at VY, the same month Fukushima's reactors melted down and exploded. It is unclear to the State of Vermont whether or not NRC even inspected the defective radiation monitoring equipment before rubberstamping the license extension. Entergy has announced it will replace the faulty equipment.

The article also mentioned previous age-related degradation accidents at VY, such as the infamous 2007 cooling tower collapse (photo above left); it also reported that VY's fair market value has declined 69% in the past year alone, calling into question its viability.