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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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Tuesday
May072013

Entergy Wach: Environmental coalition challenges Entergy's financial qualifications to continue operating FitzPatrick, Pilgrim, and Vermont Yankee

"Burning money" graphic by Gene Case, Avenging AngelsAs reported by E&E's Hannah Northey at Greenwire, an environmental coalition including such groups as Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE), Beyond Nuclear, Citizens Awareness Network (CAN), and Pilgrim Watch, has launched an emergency enforcement petition at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, challenging the financial qualifications of Entergy Nuclear to safely operate and decommission such reactors at FitzPatrick in New York, Pilgrim in Massachusetts, and Vermont Yankee. All three reactors happen to be twin designs to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4, that is, General Electric Mark I boiling water reactors. The coalition's petition cited financial analyses by UBS on Entergy's dire economic straits. Representatives from coalition groups, including Beyond Nuclear's Paul Gunter, testified today before an NRC Petition Review Board at the agency's headquarters in Rockville, MD. 

FitzPatrick, Pilgrim, and Vermont Yankee have each already recieved 20-year license extension rubber-stamps from NRC. FitzPatrick, even though it never installed a hardened vent in the early 1990s, to deal with its too small, too weak containment -- the only one, of 23 Mark I in the U.S., to not do so. Pilgrim became the longest contested license extension -- a proceeding lasting over 6 years -- thanks to the efforts of Mary Lampert at Pilgrim Watch. And the Vermont Yankee license extension was actually blocked by the State of Vermont -- this court battle between and involving the state, Entergy, and NRC rages on in multiple federal and state venues.

 

Monday
Apr082013

Former NRC Chairman Jaczko calls for all U.S. atomic reactors to be shut down

Gregory Jaczko, who served as U.S. NRC Chairman from 2009-2012As reported by the New York Times, former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko recently came to the realization that all U.S. atomic reactors have unfixable safety flaws, and should be shut down. He added, however, that "new and improved" so-called small modular reactors could take their place.

Jaczko thinks that perhaps none of the reactors that have received NRC rubber-stamps for 20-year license extensions will ever last that long, in reality, let alone an additional 20-year extension NRC is currently flirting with the idea of allowing (40 years of initial operation, plus two 20-year license extensions, adding up to 80 years of operations!).

Oyster Creek, NJ (a Mark I) is the oldest still-running reactor in the U.S., although it is already planned to close by 2019, ten years short of its 20-year extension. Dominion Nuclear has also announced the permanent shutdown of Kewaunee in WI next month, although it still have decades of permitted operations on its license.

Ironically, Jaczko himself approved many 20-year license extensions, including at Palisades in MI (opposed by NIRS and a state-wide environmental coalition) and Vermont Yankee (opposed by the vast majority of Green Mountain State residents and elected officials). Jaczko even voted to not hearing Beyond Nuclear's contentions at the Seabrook, NH and Davis-Besse, OH license extension proceedings regarding renewable alternatives, such as wind power, to the 20-year extensions at the dangerously degraded old reactors.

Jaczko reached out to Beyond Nuclear in May 2012 to set up a meeting between his entourage from NRC and concerned local residents and environmental group representatives near Palisades after he toured the problem-plagued reactor. During the closed-door meeting, concerned locals pressed Jaczko on why the 42-year-old, dangerously age-degraded reactor was allowed to operate. He responded, ironically enough, given his yes vote on Palisades' license extension in 2007, that once NRC grants an atomic reactor a license to operate, there is little that can then be done about it.

Jaczko did, however, earn the enmity of the nuclear power industry and his fellow NRC Commissioners, as by his past work against the proposed Yucca Mountain dumpsite, his invocation of emergency powers during the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, and his votes against proposed new reactors in GA and SC because Fukushima "lessons learned" had not yet been applied or required. Although Jaczko often voted the industry's way, as above, he didn't always (often the sole dissenting vote), making him "insufficiently pro-nuclear" for the nuclear establishment, as Beyond Nuclear board member and investigative journalist Karl Grossman put it.

Jaczko was first appointed to the NRC Commission in 2005. In 2009, President Obama appointed him the chair the agency, which he did till 2012. He had previously worked on Capitol Hill, as a staffer for U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), and as a science fellow for U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), working on the Yucca Mountain and other nuclear power and radioactive waste issues.

Monday
Apr012013

1 killed, 4-8 injured, offsite electricity lost due to drop of 500 ton load at Entergy's Arkansas Nuclear One plant

NRC's file photo of Entergy's Arkansas Nuclear One twin reactor stationAs reported by Dow Jones Business News, a 24-year-old worker named Wade Walters of Russellville, Arkansas was killed when a crane dropped a 500-ton piece of equipment called a generator stator at Entergy's twin reactor Arkansas Nuclear One station (see photo, left), located six miles west-northwest of Russellville in London, Arkansas. Eight other workers were injured, one of whom remains hospitalized.

In 2001, NRC rubber-stamped a 20-year license extension on top of Unit 1's 1974 to 2014 original operating permit, blessing its operation till 2034. In 2005, NRC followed suit at Unit 2, enabling it to run not from 1978 till 2018, but till 2038.

As the article reports: "When the generator stator fell, it damaged other equipment and a water pipeline used for extinguishing fires. Water spilled from the pipeline into the building that contains the power turbine, the NRC said. The water seeped into an electrical component, causing a short-circuit that cut off power to the plant from the electric grid, according to Entergy and the NRC."

Unit 1 was reportedly shut down for maintenance at the time of the accident, but Unit 2 was operating at full power. For a yet to be explained reason, Unit 2 "automatically" shut down after the accident. Emergency diesel generators are reportedly supplying electricity to emergency, safety, cooling, and other systems at both reactors.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) "Current Reactor Status Report" shows that both Arkansas Nuclear One reactors are at zero power levels. An Event Notification Report has been posted at the NRC's website. Note that the Event Notification Report filed by Entergy reports only four injuries. The extent of damage to Unit 1 facilities has yet to be determined.

Wednesday
Mar272013

Coalition of concerned citizens details concerns about Palisades with NRC Commissioner Magwood

NRC Commissioner William Magwood IVA coalition comprised of 20 concerned local residents and environmental group representatives, including from Beyond Nuclear, met with U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Commissioner William Magwood IV (photo, left) for three hours on Monday evening, March 25th, in South Haven, MI, detailing their many concerns about safety, security, public health, and environmental protection -- or lack thereof -- at Entergy Nuclear's Palisades atomic reactor on the Lake Michigan shoreline in Covert, MI (see the coalition's meeting agenda). NRC Commissioner Magwood toured the problem-plagued plant -- which received a 20-year license extension from NRC in 2007, despite widespread resistance -- the next morning.

The coalition issued a press release.

The St. Joe Herald-Palladium has reported on the meeting, as did Fox 17 television Grand Rapids. Michigan Radio's "Environment Report" quoted Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps.

NRC Commissioner Magwood's career has been devoted to the promotion of nuclear power, first as an industry insider (including as a consultant to Tokyo Electric Power Company, infamous owner of the ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant), and then as head of the promotional Office of Nuclear Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The Huffington Post has published exposés on Magwood's attempted coups against his bosses in order to take their jobs -- successfully at DOE, unsuccessfully at NRC. As also reported by HuffPost, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has vowed to block Magwood's aspirations for the NRC Chairmanship, due to Magwood breaking his promise to Reid to not advocate for the controversial Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste dump as an NRC Commissioner.

Due to his career promoting nuclear power, Beyond Nuclear led the environmental coalition effort to block President Obama's nomination of Magwood for the safety-regulatory NRC Commission in the first place, as well as the U.S. Senate's confirmation of Magwood for the position (the Project on Government Oversight launched a separate effort to block Magwood's confirmation). At the end of 2011, U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) cited Beyond Nuclear's coalition letter opposing Magwood's confirmation as she, too, criticized his broken promises to her about Yucca during his Feb. 2010 Senate confirmation hearing as an NRC Commissioner. Beyond Nuclear has also filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to NRC after receiving an anonymous tip that NRC Commissioner Magwood has been holding regular, secretive meetings with leaders of the industry's Nuclear Energy Institute, in violation of open meetings laws and regulations. However, despite filing the FOIA request on Dec. 3, 2011, NRC has not yet responded.

NRC has issued a notice and press release about its upcoming April 2nd "End of Cycle" annual performance review public meeting to be held in South Haven about Palisades. See more info. from NRC about the Apirl 2 meeting here, including its slideshow to be presented (note NRC has loaded its slides sideways).

On April 11th, Beyond Nuclear is co-sponsoring west Michigan presentations entitled "Preventing an American Fukushima" by David Lochbaum of Union of Concerned Scientists. He will present at 12 noon Eastern at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, and at 7 PM Eastern at the Beach Haven Event Center in South Haven, less than 5 miles north of Palisades. In his annual report of near-misses at U.S. atomic reactors, Lochbaum has included incidents at Palisades (two separate incidents in 2011 alone) for the past two years, making it one of the worst-run reactors in the country.

Wednesday
Feb202013

Latest "leak per week" at Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor

Entergy Nuclear's problem-plagued Palisades atomic reactor, and the inland "sweet water sea" (Lake Michigan) and countryside (southwest Michigan) which it threatens.We told 'em so. Despite widespread resistance, Palisades' 20-year license extension was rubberstamped in 2007.

As shown at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) "Current Power Reactor Status Report", Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor in Covert, Michigan on the Lake Michigan shoreline is at zero percent power. Why? Because, yet again, it has suffered a leak and breakdown -- but the latest of many in recent years.

As reported at the NRC Event Notification:

"TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION REQUIRED SHUTDOWN DUE TO COMPONENT COOLING WATER TRAIN OUT OF SERVICE 

'At 2030 hours [EST] on February 14, 2013, technical specification (TS) 3.7.7 condition A was entered due to the right train of the component cooling water (CCW) system being declared inoperable. The cause of the inoperable train was the identification of an approximate 40 gallon per hour CCW system to service water system leak inside the 'A' CCW heat exchanger. TS 3.7.7 condition A requires restoration of the inoperable train within 72 hours. If the restoration is not completed within 72 hours, the plant must be in Mode 3 within 6 hours and in Mode 5 within the subsequent 36 hours.' 

'Due to the inability to repair the leak within the required 72 hour time frame during power operation, a plant shutdown was initiated at approximately 1300 hours on February 15, 2013. Entry into Mode 3 is expected at approximately 1700 hours on February 15, 2013. The plant will enter Mode 5 to execute leak repair. Mode 5 entry is expected at approximately 0800 hours on February 16, 2013.'"

No explanation is given as to why this incident, dated Feb. 14, was not publicly reported until Feb. 19.

However, NRC Region 3 spokeswoman Viktoria Mytling told WSBT-TV in South Bend, IN that "NRC resident inspectors at Palisades have been aware of a leak from the cooling water system and followed the plant’s actions to find the location after the leakage increased from 2 to 35 gallons an hour in less than a week."

No explanation is given for the disparity between Mytling's 35 gallon per hour figure, and the NRC incident report's 40 gallon per hour figure, above.

The Kalamazoo Gazette quotes Mytling as admitting that the leakage began as early as Feb. 8. NRC has provided no explanation as to why the public was not informed about the problem for 11 days. 

(Last year, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) demanded an NRC investigation into Mytling's downplaying of a reactor leak at the troubled Davis-Besse atomic reactor near Toledo. In addition, Chicago watchdog group Nuclear Energy Information Service, via a Freedom of Information Act Request to the State of Illinois Dept. of Nuclear Safety, documented that Mytling's flip assurance -- that a radioactive steam leak at the Byron atomic reactor must have contained exceedingly low levels of hazardous radioactive tritium, as radiation monitors had not detected any -- was baseless and misleading, as no real-time tritium monitoring capability existed at the plant.)

However, an 11 day delay in informing the public is nothing new, in light of Entergy and NRC behavior at Palisades in recent years. For example, in June, 2012, courageous Palisades whistleblowers and their attorney, Billie Pirner Garde of Washington D.C., working with U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), made public a leak into Palisades' safety critical control room (where electrical circuitry and equipment cannot be allowed to get wet) that had been ongoing for more than a year, with leakage being caught in buckets near the central control panel. That leak had been kept not only from the public, but even from the NRC's Chairman, despite his tour of the problem-plagued plant on May 25, 2012. NRC internal investigations supposedly continue as to why the agency's own chairman was kept in the dark about the control room leak.  

WSBT has also posted an additional NRC statement about the latest "leak per week" (a phrase coined by watchdogs on Entergy's controversial and troubled Vermont Yankee atomic reactor) at Palisades:

"NRC STATEMENT: WHAT IS THIS LEAK ALL ABOUT?

The leak came from the component cooling water system whose function is to remove heat from pipes, pumps and other equipment running at high temperatures. Workers identified the source of the leak to be one of the plant’s two heat exchangers which are a part of this system. Heat exchangers, which consist of about 2,000 tubes each, are used to remove heat during normal operation but also during potential accident scenarios. Palisades has two heat exchangers, which cool equipment important to safety, and are required to be in working condition. According to NRC regulations, if there is a problem with one of the heat exchangers it would need to be fixed within in [sic] 72 hours.  If that’s not possible the plant would have to shut down to find and fix the leak. Palisades made the decision to shut down before reaching the established limit.  The plant has to repair the heat exchanger before returning online.

NRC resident inspectors, in consultation with our expert in the region, continue to monitor [sic] situation." (Emphasis added.)

Thus, this equipment breakdown does have safety significance.

The Holland Sentinel was perhaps the first news outlet to report on this story.