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.



Coalition reveals that FirstEnergy concealed damaging water saturation of cracked Shield Building walls for two years

The Davis-Besse Shield Building exterior whitewashing of August to October, 2012, applied 40 years too lateOn September 8, 2014, environmental coalition attorney Terry Lodge filed a supplement/amendment to a contention regarding FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company's (FENOC) severely cracked Shield Building at its problem-plagued Davis-Besse atomic reactor.

To the ice-wedging crack propagation contention filed a week earlier (see entry immediately below), the coalition has added evidence that FENOC knew about damaging water saturation of the Shield Building walls in 2012, but did not divulge the information until July 8, 2014.

Remarkably, the whitewash applied (40 years too late) to the Shield Building's exterior face has blocked the water in the walls from exiting. Damaging water has built up behind it, as if behind a dam. FENOC has admitted that the exterior wall, to a depth of 10 inches, is saturated at 90 to 100% relative humidity.

FENOC has now acknowledged that this water causes ice-wedging crack propagation. Every time it freezes (some tens of times per year at Davis-Besse's Lake Erie shoreline location, in northern Ohio), the sub-surface, laminar cracking at the outer rebar mat grows by 0.4 to 0.7 inches! FENOC admits that in just a two year period, one crack grew by more than 10 inches altogether!

The contention supplement focuses on an 80 page document prepared by contractor Performance Improvement International (PII), entitled Enclosure 2: Full Apparent Cause Evaluation (FACE, see page 18 to 98).

Ironically enough, PII also figured prominently in the "Snow Job of 2012" -- the root cause theory that the Blizzard of 1978 caused the Shield Building wall cracking discovered in October, 2011. At that time, both PII and FENOC claimed that the cracking had occurred over a few days period of time, some 34 years earlier, but hadn't gotten worse since. Both NRC and its licensing board bought the "Snow Job," thereby blocking environmental intervenors' multiple cracking-related contentions as out of scope in the License Renewal Application (LRA) proceeding, as not aging-related.

PII's and FENOC's "Snow Job" also blinded them to the risks of the August-October 2012 "whitewash" of the Shield Building exterior -- the application of a weather sealant, 40 years too late. Ironically enough, as intervenors warned in 2012, the whitewash has locked the water in the walls, where it has caused ice-wedging crack propagation ever since.

In August-September, 2013, FENOC discovered previously undetected cracks, as well as unexpected crack propagation. This led to PII's September 11, 2013 FACE -- a document FENOC, inexplicably, did not release until a full ten months later, on July 8, 2014.

Thus, the Shield Building cracking propagation is clearly aging-related. The environmental coalition's contention deserves a hearing on the merits.

The coalition includes Beyond Nuclear, Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don't Waste Michigan, and the Green Party of Ohio. The coalition launched an intervention against FENOC's LRA on Dec. 27, 2010.


Coalition challenges Davis-Besse AMPs re: propagating cracks in severely degraded Shield Building

An NRC inspector examines severe cracking in the Davis-Besse Shield Building shortly after they were first revealed on Oct. 11, 2011. NRC file photo.Terry Lodge, Toledo-based attorney for an environmental coalition resisting FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company's (FENOC) proposed 20-year license extension at its problem-plagued Davis-Besse atomic reactor, has filed the 7th contention in the coalition's nearly 4-year long intervention. The coalition has issued a press release.

In addition to Beyond Nuclear, the coalition includes Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don't Waste Michigan, and the Ohio Green Party.

The contention focuses on FENOC's admission that the cracking propagation, or worsening, is in fact aging-related, making it within the scope of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) proceeding, and worthy of a hearing on the merits.

FENOC's admissions are to be found in a July 3rd document, containing modifications to its Shield Building Management Program Aging Management Plans (AMPs). The modifications represent amendments to its Davis-Besse License Renewal Application (LRA).

FENOC blames the new cracking, and worsening cracking, on "ice-wedging" ("freezing water at a pre-existing crack leading edge"), driven by regular freeze/thaw cycles that penetrate deeply into the Shield Building walls at the Lake Erie shoreline location. (See, for example, the second paragraph on page 13 of 14 on the PDF counter of the July 3rd document). The environmental coalition has previously documented the substandard concrete that allows such deeply penetrating freezing within the Shield Building walls.

The coalition warned that the summer 2012 "whitewash" (or weather sealant of the exterior, 40 years late) of the Shield Building would lock damaging water within the walls. FENOC has now admitted this is indeed the case. At page 13 of 14 on the PDF counter in the July 3rd FENOC document, FENOC admits that the cracking growth could be a startlingly high 0.4 to 0.7 inches per freezing cycle, due to the ice-wedging on the leading edge of the cracking.

The Lake Erie shoreline location is subjected to multiple freeze/thaw cycles per year, a number of which likely penetrate deeply into the Shield Building side walls, thus significantly worsening cracking each and every time. Although massive, the Shield Building is only so big: only 30 inches thick, 279 feet 6 inches tall, and with only a 436.5 foot inner circumference/452 foot outer circumference.

How long has such "ice-wedging" been worsening cracking? How much more cracking growth can the Shield Building withstand, before it ceases to fulfill its vital safety and environmental protection roles?!

FENOC's admission also proves that the coalition's objections to the "Snow Job of '78" were on target. FENOC concluded the Blizzard of 1978 was the root cause of the Shield Building's severe sub-laminar cracking, a theory NRC later endorsed, despite strongly questioning it at first. Intervenors have long maintained the Blizzard of 1978 is likely but one of numerous root causes of Shield Building cracking, which likely persist, and worsen, over time.

The contention challenges the inadequacy of FENOC's Shield Building Monitoring Program's Aging Management Plans (AMPs). Specifically, the intervenors have called for significantly more tests, utilizing a diversity of methods to avoid blind spots, carried out at a much greater frequency than FENOC plans during the 2017 to 2037 license extension period. If FENOC cannot reasonably assure adequate protection of public health, safety, and the environment, then Davis-Besse must be permanently closed, not granted a license extension, intervenors have long asserted.

The contention was prompted by a window of opportunity pointed out by the ASLB panel overseeing the Davis-Besse License Renewal Application (LRA) proceeding. In a July 25th ruling, rejecting a previous coalition cracking contention filed on Earth Day, the ASLB pointed out that FENOC's latest modifications to its Shield Building AMPs provide intervenors another contention opportunity, provided they file it within the arbitrarily short 60-day deadline allotted by the ASLB. The coalition has met that challenge.

Given the NRC Commissioners' unanimous vote on August 26th to approve the agency staff's "Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel" Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) and Rule, as well as its 4 to 0 vote to end the associated holds on final granting of license extensions, the Davis-Besse ASLB panel could be poised to approve FENOC's LRA. (In summer 2012, the NRC Commissioners placed final license extension decisions on hold, till resolution of the court-ordered "Nuclear Waste Confidence" policy re-write.) Once the "Continued Storage" (formerly called "Nuclear Waste Confidence") decision is published in the Federal Register later this month, then 30 days later, the Davis-Besse proceeding stay will end. The coalition's contention thus seeks to keep the intervention proceeding alive, and block the license extension. Davis-Besse's original 40-year license will expire on Earth Day (April 22), 2017.


Will Diablo Canyon survive the next big earthquake?

Karl GrossmanKarl Grossman (photo, left) has published an article at Enformable about a "Differing Professional Opinion" filed by Dr. Michael Peck, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) top on-site inspector at Pacific Gas & Electric's twin reactor Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in Avila Beach, CA, just 12 miles from San Luis Obispo on the Pacific coast.

PG&E is seeking a 20-year license extension at both of its Diablo Canyon reactors.

Dr. Peck expressed strong concerns that Diablo Canyon's systems, structures, and components, including those significant to safety, are not proven robust enough to survive the magnitude of earthquakes emanating from multiple faultlines in the immediate vicinity, including the Shoreline Fault discovered in 2008, just 650 yards away.

The NRC concealed the report from the public for a year, but the AP broke the story of its existence this week. Friends of the Earth has launched a petition drive addressed to NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane, herself a PhD geologist, demanding transparent public hearings to examine the earthquake risks at Diablo Canyon.

Karl Grossman is the professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury. Karl is also the author of Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power and other books on nuclear technology, as well as hosting numerous TV programs on the subject including "Chernobyl: A Million Casualties," "Three Mile Island Revisited" and "The Push to Revive Nuclear Power." Karl serves as a Beyond Nuclear board member.


By another name, NRC Commission blesses Nuclear Waste Confidence

Environmental coalition members from the Crabshell Alliance, Sierra Club Nuclear-Free Campaign, NIRS, PSR, NEIS, and Public Citizen "just say NO!" at the NRC HQ nuke waste con game public comment meeting on 11/14/13 in Rockville, MD. Photo credit David Martin and Erica Grey.Today, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) four Commissioners blessed the NRC staff's "Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel" Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) and Rule, previously called the NRC's "Nuclear Waste Confidence" policy.

The vote went ahead, despite widespread calls for Commissioner William Magwood to resign, or recuse himself, due to conflict of interest, and despite a call for NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane to postpone the vote until after Commissioner Magwood's departure from the agency on Aug. 31st.

The Commissioners' explanations for their votes included a partial objection by NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane, that NRC staff had not adequately considered the "catastrophe" that would unfold over time, if institutional control were to be lost over irradiated nuclear fuel storage. However, even she joined NRC Commissioners Kristine Svinicki, William Ostendorff, and Magwood, in approving finalization of the GEIS and Rule, pending a few, very minor corrections.

She also joined their unanimous Memorandum and Order, that stays on final NRC approvals for some two dozen operating license proceedings -- both at pending old reactor license extensions, as well as in proposed new reactor combined Construction and Operating License Application (COLA) proceedings -- be ended. Thus, licenses can now be approved by NRC licensing boards, 30 days after publication of these decisions in the Federal Register, which is set for next month.

These include the proposed new Fermi 3, MI and Grand Gulf 2, MS COLA proceedings, and several old reactor license extension proceedings (Seabrook, NH; Davis-Besse, OH; Grand Gulf Unit 1, MS; Fermi 2, MI), in which Beyond Nuclear has intervened, opposing NRC's approval of the operating licenses.

A total of 19 old reactor license extensions are pending at NRC.

Thus, the NRC has ignored many tens of thousands of public comments, including in-depth comments made by Beyond Nuclear, a coalition of three dozen environmental groups, and a coalition of state governments and Native American tribes. The NRC has blessed the continued generation of forever deadly high-level radioactive waste, attempting to take the issue off the table in pending, and future, reactor licensing proceedings. But the big question remains: will NRC's flagrant flouting of federal court orders be allowed to stand?

Explaining how the NRC could, yet again, bless the "nuke waste con game," despite the inherent environmental and safety risks, Mother Jones quoted Beyond Nuclear's Radioactive Waste Watchdog, Kevin Kamps: "The industry crawls all over that place in terms of lobbying. They own that place."


Groups urge NRC to postpone key votes in order to avoid “taint” of Magwood conflict of interest

NRC Commissioner William Magwood IV34 groups, including Beyond Nuclear, have written a letter to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Chairman, Allison Macfarlane, as well as NRC Commissioners Christine Svinicki and William Ostendorff, urging them to postpone key Commission votes until after the departure of Commissioner William Magwood IV (photo, left) for his new job as Director-General of the Nuclear Energy Agency in Paris on September 1st.

The NEA's mission statement is to promote nuclear power, while NRC's is supposed to be public health, safety, and environmental protection. The 34 groups allege a glaring conflict of interest on Magwood's part, and have previously called for his resignation, as well as retroactive recusal on all nuclear safety votes dating back to his solicitation of the NEA directorship.

The key votes, now set for August 26th, are on NRC Commission approval of NRC staff's "Continued Storage" (formerly called Nuclear Waste Confidence) Generic Environmental Impact Statement (and very likely its closely associated Rule). The Continued Storage GEIS and Rule hold that irradiated nuclear fuel can be safely, securely, and soundly stored on-site at nuclear power plants, as well as at away-from-reactor consolidated "interim" storage sites, for many decades to come, and effectively, indefinitely.

The Commissioners could also vote to lift a stay on old reactor license extensions, and new reactor construction and operating licenses, in place since the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nullified NRC's indefensible Nuclear Waste Confidence policy in June, 2012. Via their standing as official intervenors, Beyond Nuclear and its environmental allies have helped secure stays against final approval of the Fermi 3, MI proposed new reactor construction and operating license, as well as the Davis-Besse, OH 20-year license extension, until the court-ordered revison of the Nuclear Waste Confidence policy has been finalized.

The 34-group environmental coalition, represented by attorneys Diane Curran of Harmon, Curran, Spielberg + Eisenberg LLP of Washington, D.C., and Mindy Goldstein of the Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory University in Atlanta, has also issued a press release.

The Hill, the Washington Post, and E&E/Greenwire, have reported on this story. The latter article, which requires a subscription to view, mentions Beyond Nuclear et al.'s request to Commissioner Magwood, filed two months ago, that he recuse himself from the Fermi 3 licensing proceeding. Magwood refused to do so.

Katherine Fuchs at FOE has posted a blog about Magwood, "Revolving doors at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission."