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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's Palisades leaks 79 gallons of radioactive water into Lake Michigan, forced to shut down

Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor on the Lake Michigan shoreline in southwest Michigan.As reported by the Holland Sentinel, Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor has yet again sprung a leak, this time spilling 79 gallons of supposedly "very slightly radioactive water" into Lake Michigan, the headwaters of 20% of the world's surface fresh water, and drinking water for 40 million people downstream. 

Palisades 20-year license extension was rubberstamped by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in 2007.

Entergy and NRC spokespersons' repeated claims of no safety significance to the public flies in the face of decades of findings, as by the National Academy of Science (most recently in 2005), that any exposure to radioactivity, no matter how small, carries a health risk of cancer, and that these health risks accumulate over a lifetime.

U.S. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) made public the serious nature of this particular leaking tank in June 2012. His information came from very courageous Palisades whistleblowers, and their attorney, Billie Pirner Garde. The leak, from the 300,000 gallon Safety Injection Refueling Water (SIRW) storage tank located directly above the control, began in mid-2011, and was flowing through the ceiling, and being captured in buckets in the safety critical control room, full of electrical circuitry and equipment that cannot get wet. The leak was concealed not only from the public and media, but even from the NRC's own Chairman, Greg Jaczko, as he toured Palisades on May 25, 2012. NRC later granted Entergy an exemption in 2012 to allow continued operations despite the degraded condition of the SIRW storage tank. 

In recent weeks, Beyond Nuclear learned from NRC officials that the now two-year-old leak has continued at a 0.5 to 1 gallon per day rate. But Saturday's leakage rate, which forced the reactor to shut down, was at 90 gallons per day, as documented in NRC's event notification report. Palisades' SIRW storage tank, just like the rest of the plant, is 46 years old, and obviously showing severe signs of "breakdown phase" age-degration, of increasing risk. 

The Detroit Free PressEnformable Nuclear NewsKalamazoo GazetteMichigan RadioWSJM RadioWKZO Radio,WWMT TV-3 KalamazooDetroit News,  and WOOD TV-8 Grand Rapids have reported on this story.

Beyond Nuclear issued a media statement, challenging flippant Entergy and NRC claims that this leak carries "absolutely" no risk to human health and safety. NRC's Region 3 spokeswoman has been exposed making false claims regarding radioactivity leaks more than once at Midwestern reactors in just the past year, prompting the demand for an investigation by a member of Congress. 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, in Jan. 2012, 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. Similar questions must now be asked of Mytling's questionable assurances that radioactivity levels in the water leaked into Lake Michigan were below detectable levels. Are there radiation monitors in place to verify such flip assurances?

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.