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.



Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners reject Fermi 2 reactor license extension hearing: Environmental opponents vow appeal to federal court  

Fermi 2 is located on the Lake Erie shore in Monroe County, MIThe U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's four presiding Commissioners have ruled in favor of a Detroit Edison appeal, overruling their own Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel, and cancelling evidentiary hearings requested by environmental groups opposed to the proposed 20-year license extension at Fermi 2 (photo, left). Beyond Nuclear and Don't Waste MI issued a press release, which begins:

Rockville, MD and Monroe County, MI—At a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners (NRC) meeting this morning at the agency's Rockville, MD headquarters that lasted but a few short minutes, an environmental intervention against the 20-year license extension sought by Detroit Edison at its Fermi Unit 2 atomic reactor in Monroe County, MI was rejected. The NRC Commissioners sided with an appeal by Detroit Edison, and overruled an NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel’s (ASLBP) granting of a hearing on a contention brought by a bi-national coalition of environmental groups including Beyond Nuclear, Citizen Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, and Don’t Waste Michigan.

The coalition plans to appeal a significant aspect of the now-terminated proceeding to the federal courts in the near future. Along with its intervention against the proposed new Fermi 3 reactor construction and operations license, Beyond Nuclear as lead plaintiff will appeal NRC’s “Nuclear Waste Confidence” policy at the existing Fermi 2 reactor to the federal D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. A favorable court ruling would represent a big blow against Detroit Edison’s NRC permit to build Fermi 3, as well as the Fermi 2 license extension.

“This is further proof that NRC stands for ‘Nuclear Rogues, Consistently,” said Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear, a national watchdog group based in Takoma Park, MD. “NRC’s mandate is to protect public health, safety and the environment, but instead, they prioritize industry profits.” (See the full press release here.)

To add insult to injury, at the very same time, the NRC cancelled a years-underway National Academy of Science study on cancer incidence risks near nuclear power plants.


"Protests greet FirstEnergy rate request hearings"

Photo compliments of Ohio Sierra Club Nuclear-Free CommitteeJim Provance, Columbus Bureau Chief for the Toledo Blade, has reported on "Protests greet FirstEnergy rate request hearings."

The protest took place at the HQ of PUCO, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, in the state capital, Columbus. It marked the beginning of weeks of formal hearings, where PUCO will consider FirstEnergy's requested ratepayer bailout, including to prop up its dirty, dangerous, expensive, age-degraded, and uncompetitive Davis-Besse atomic reactor near Toledo on the Lake Erie shoreline.

Speakers included Harvey Wasserman of Solartopia fame, Bob Fitrakis of Columbus Free Press, Neil Waggoner of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, and Pat Marida of Ohio Sierra Club Nuclear-Free Committee (who posted photos, including the one to the left).

Beyond Nuclear, with environmental allies represented by Toledo attorney Terry Lodge, has officially intervened against Davis-Besse's 2017-2037 license extension for five years now.



Another Fukushima lesson U.S. reactors should learn: License extensions may lead to catastrophic meltdowns

A Reuters article about the steep decline of Japan's nuclear power industry since the beginning of the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe nonetheless concludes:

But offering some hope to nuclear operators, some aging units may be given a new lease of life as the NRA considers applications for operation beyond the standard 40 years.

Two Kansai units, both around 40 years old, are being vetted for extensions. The regulator has said it would be very strict on granting permission, but Kansai is pushing for acceptance of less costly measures on fireproofing thousands of kilometers of wiring.

But the article neglects to mention that Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1, the first to melt down, beginning on 3/11/11, had only recently recieved its permit to extend operations beyond 40 years. That is, had it retired, as planned, it would not have been operating on 3/11/11, and likely would not have melted down.

(Some, including the Japanese Parliament's indendepent investigators, say the Unit 1 meltdown may have begun before the tsunami struck, due to damage from the earthquake alone.

And that first domino to fall, may have made the Unit 2 and 3 meltdowns, and the Unit 4 explosion, an inevitability, given the spiralling chaos on site.)

Despite the risks, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has rubber-stamped 77 license extensions in the U.S., with more pending.


"Rickety & risky": Applying RPV embrittlement lessons learned at Palisades to Diablo Canyon

Diablo Boys Cartoon by Mark Bryan – ArtOfMarkBryan.comIn a post entitled NRC: ‘Diablo Canyon among ‘most embrittled plants in the U.S.,’ Mary Beth Brangan and James Heddle have posted an article at applying the lessons learned about reactor pressure vessel (RPV) embrittlement at Diablo Canyon.

In a document dated March/April 2013 (see point #4, on p. 5 of 15 of PDF counter), the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission listed Diablo Canyon Unit 1 as having one of the worst neutron radiation embrittled RPVs in the country, surpassing safety screening criteria by 2033. However, given that Palisades' own End-of-Life dates have been predicted as early as the mid-1990s, or even the early 1980s, only to be postponed to 2017, with applications for regulatory relief out to 2031, Diablo Canyon's "good to go" till 2033 NRC seal of approval must be subjected to critical scrutiny.

Pacific Gas & Electric has applied to NRC for 20-year license extensions at Diablo Canyon 1 & 2. Friends of the Earth recently won a hearing from the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board for a hearing on earthquake risks. A similar legal victory in 2013 led to the permanent closure of San Onofre 2 & 3 in southern CA.


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?