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Safety

Nuclear safety is, of course, an oxymoron. Nuclear reactors are inherently dangerous, vulnerable to accident with the potential for catastrophic consequences to health and the environment if enough radioactivity escapes. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Congressionally-mandated to protect public safety, is a blatant lapdog bowing to the financial priorities of the nuclear industry.

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Monday
Dec222014

Nuclear Crack Down?

Did you know that embrittled nuclear reactors could shatter like glass? Watch Fairewinds Energy Education's Nuclear Science Guy Arnie Gundersen (photo, left) demonstrate reactor embrittlement and imagine the shattering glass as a shattering nuclear reactor vessel. Learn more.

Arnie, Chief Engineer at Fairewinds Associates, Inc., serves as expert witness for an environmental coalition, including Beyond Nuclear, challenging Entergy Nuclear's application to weaken reactor pressure vessel (RPV) embrittlement safety standards, yet again, at its Palisades atomic reactor in s.w. MI on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Palisades has the worst embrittled RPV in the U.S., at risk of pressurized thermal shock (PTS), fracture, Loss-of-Coolant-Accident, core meltdown, containment failure, and catastrophic release of hazardous radioactivity.

NRC rubber-stamped Palisades' 20-year license extension in 2007, steamrolling an environmental coalition's intervention in opposition. The primary technical safety focus of the coalition was RPV embrittlement and PTS risk. See the chronicle of this 2005-2007 intervenion, posted online at the NIRS website.

Tuesday
Dec162014

NRC Commissioners deny appeal on QA at Fermi 3, but environmental intervenors vow to fight on

An artist's rendition of the GEH ESBWR, proposed by DTE to be built as "Fermi 3" at its nuclear power plant in Monroe Co., MIOn Dec. 16th, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) five Commissioners, in a unanimous ruling, denied an environmental coalition's appeal in the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) proceeding on Detroit Edison's (DTE) proposed new Fermi 3 reactor in southeast MI on the Lake Erie shore. DTE proposes to construct and operate an untested General Electric-Hitachi (GEH), so-called "Economic, Simplified Boiling Water Reactor" (ESBWR) on the very spot where Fermi 1 had a partial meltdown in 1966, immediately adjacent to the Fukushima Daiichi twin-design Fermi 2, a GE Mark I BWR.

The coalition requested reconsideration of the ASLB's June 2014 ruling that DTE's Fermi 3 quality assurance (QA) program was adequate, reasserting its preponderence of evidence -- including the testimony of Fairewinds Associates, Inc.'s Chief Engineer, Arnie Gundersen -- that DTE's QA program was in fact in disarray, or even non-existent. The coalition intends to appeal this NRC ruling, and other pending matters, to the federal courts, if need be. More.

Friday
Dec122014

Nuclear Hotseat features Beyond Nuclear on Palisades' PTS risks

The host of the Nuclear Hotseat podcast, Libbe HaLevy, has honored Beyond Nuclear by interviewing Kevin Kamps about the environmental coalition intervention against Entergy Nuclear's Palisades atomic reactor in Michigan. Palisades has the worst embrittled reactor pressure vessel in the U.S., at risk of a pressurized thermal shock fracture, Loss-of-Coolant-Accident, core meltdown, containment failure, and catastrophic release of hazardous radioactivity.

Beyond Nuclear, along with Don't Waste Michigan and Michigan Safe Energy Future-Shoreline Chapter, have been joined in the intervention by Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS) of Chicago. The problem-plagued Palisades reactor is located on the Lake Michigan shore of southwest Michigan, just 70 miles from Chicago. Lake Michigan is the drinking water supply for Chicago's many millions, and for a total of 40-million people in eight U.S. states, two Canadian provinces, and a large number of Native American First Nations downstream. Gail Snyder, NEIS board chair, helped make this interview happen.

Listen to the interview online at Nuclear Hotseat's website. Kevin's interview begins about a third of the way, and ends about two-thirds of the way, through the program.

But the entire program is well worth the listen, with nuclear news from around the world at the beginning, and at the end, an interview with Leslie Sullivan Sachs of Vermont's Safe and Green Campaign, about the hard-won, permanent shutdown of Entergy's Vermont Yankee reactor to take place on December 29th.

Thursday
Dec112014

NRC cites Palisades for worker radiological safety violations, record number of failures during Component Design Basis Inspections

NRC file photo of Palisades, on the Lake Michigan shore in Covert, MIAs reported by both the St. Joe-Benton Harbor Herald-Palladium and the Kalamazoo Gazette, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has cited Entergy Nuclear's Palisades atomic reactor (photo, left) for violations of its own workers' radiological safety protections. The violations took place in February and March 2014, during the replacement of the safety-critical Control Rod Drive Mechanisms (CRDMs), which have been plagued with problems since 1972. NRC has preliminarily designated this violation as a White Finding, "of low to moderate safety significance," which could well lead to NRC lowering Palisades' performance designation as "degraded" (NRC's findings increase in severity from Green, to White, Yellow, and Red).

Ironically enough, as during a June tour of Palisades for concerned local residents and environmental group representatives (including from Beyond Nuclear), Entergy had previously showcased the CRDM replacement as an indication of its commitment to safety.

Kay Drey, a Beyond Nuclear board member, penned a pamphlet entitled "Your Nuclear Workplace: Know Your Risks, Know Your Rights." It is posted at the NIRS website.

In summer 2010, David Lochbaum, Director of the Nuclear Safety Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), chronicled Palisades' four decades of CRDM seal and through-wall leaks, uniquely bad in industry.

He later explained the significance of yet another through-wall leak from Palisades' CRDMs, which Entergy and NRC had allowed to go on for more than a month in summer 2012!

In addition, just today, in an email entitled "Palisades' passing grade of 50%?", Lochbaum has revealed that Palisades had more CDBI (Component Design Bases Inspection) violations than any other reactor in the country this year. Of 20 components inspected by NRC, 10 were found to be in violation at Palisades.

Lochbaum prepared a chart of documented CDBI violations nationwide in 2014. It shows that Palisades had nearly three times the rate of CDBI violations, as compared to the national average.

The chart also shows that Entergy's Pilgrim reactor (near Boston) had no such violations, and Entergy's Vermont Yankee had but one. Thus, something is clearly amiss at Palisades, even when compared to other Entergy reactors.

Regarding the CDBI violations at Palisades, Lochbaum wrote:

"Attached is a recent NRC inspection report for Palisades that was placed in their online ADAMS library yesterday. It bothers me. Part of the reason it bothers me is that it seems not to bother the NRC much, or as much as it should.

The NRC performed what it calls a Component Design Bases Inspection (see the highlighted text on page 7 of the enclosure to the NRC's transmittal letter for a description of this inspection and its purpose.)

The highlighted text at the bottom of this page indicates that the NRC's inspectors examined 20 samples. There are literally thousands of samples the inspectors could have chosen from. They selected 20 samples from among this universe.

The highlighted text at the top of page 2 of the NRC's enclosure reports that their examination of 20 samples yielded 10 violations of federal safety regulations. As bad as a 50 percent failure rate suggests, it is even worse than it seems. The NRC did not pick its 20 samples at random. The NRC did not pick its 20 samples by alphabetical order or chronological order. The NRC used risk insights to select 20 samples that would provide the best return on their resource investment as indicated by the highlighted text in the middle portion of page 7 of the enclosure. The 20 components the NRC selected to examine are among the highest risk components at the plant.

This means that these 20 components receive the greater care and attention from plant workers than the thousands of other components at the site. These 20 components receive more testing and more inspections than components like the automatic door openers in the warehouse.

Given all that care and attention by plant workers, one should expect that the NRC's inspectors would fine zero violations -- after all, finding and fixing violations is the reason workers are performing all those tests and inspections (it's not for exercise).

So, if the best effort results in half of the components having safety violations, what does that say about the quality of the rest of the components? If their quality is better, it speaks volumes about the effectiveness of the onsite testing and inspection efforts.

So, 10 safety violations from 20 components suggests that if the NRC had examined 1,000 other components, they'd have identified 500 or more additional safety violations.

The silver lining in this mess is that none of the 10 safety violations was classified by the NRC as being more serious than Green, the least serious of the NRC's four color-coded findings.

But there's no guarantee that the hundreds of other apparent safety violations undetected at Palisades will not contain more significant problems.

While the 20 components selected by the NRC have high risk, there are more than 20 high-risk components at Palisades.

What bothers me about the NRC finding 10 safety violations among only 20 high-risk components examined is that the testing and inspections conducted by plant workers should have identified these problems before the NRC found them. The clear failure of those testing and inspection efforts strongly suggests that other safety violations impairing or disabling other components at Palisades also exist and also are not being found.

The NRC must do more than ask Entergy to fix these ten safety violations. Entergy is required by federal law (specifically, 10 CFR 50 Appendix B at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/cfr/part050/part050-appb.html) to find and fix safety problems in a timely and effective manner. The 10 safety violations documented in this NRC inspection report clearly show that Entergy is violating this federal law. Thus, the NRC must also require Entergy to fix this 11th violation. For only by fixing this violation can Entergy avoid future safety violations."

Regarding the chart of CDBI violations he prepared, Lochbaum said:

"I found a total of 16 CDBI reports in ADAMS during 2014, including the one at Palisades. The 'average' CDBI examined 18 components and identified 3.6 violations. Palisades was #1 in terms of the number and percentage of violations.

The old Hertz commercial stated they were #2 but tried harder.

I guess being #1 in these areas implies not trying very hard at all."

Beyond Nuclear hosted Lochbaum in southwest Michigan in April 2013. He spoke about his annual report on nuclear utility and NRC safety performance, or lack thereof. As revealed by Lochbaum's report, Palisades had one of the single worst safety performance records of any reactor in the country, in terms of the number of "near misses."

Monday
Dec012014

Coalition alleges safety rollbacks at Entergy Palisades, cites risk of vessel fracture, calls for permanent shutdown

NRC file photo of Entergy's Palisdes atomic reactor on the Lake Michigan shoreline in southwest MichiganA coalition of environmental groups and concerned local residents has intervened against Entergy Nuclear's License Amendment Application (LAR) to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) at its Palisades atomic reactor on the Lake Michigan shore in southwest Michigan (see photo, left). The LAR seeks to apply an alternate reactor pressure vessel (RPV) fracture toughness rule (10CFR50.61a, instead of the current 10CFR50.61). If successful, the intervention could force the permanent shutdown of the 44-year-old nuclear power plant.

The coalition cites the risk of catastrophic release of hazardous radioactivity to the environment due to Pressurized Thermal Shock (PTS) fracturing the embrittled RPV, causing a Loss-of-Coolant-Accident (LOCA), core meltdown, and containment failure.

See the coalition's intervention filing here, including legal and technical arguments, as well as numerous examples of PTS regulatory rollbacks over the decades. See expert witness Arnie Gundersen's declaration and CV here. See eyewitness affidavits re: NRC's refusal to require metal samples to be analyzed here. See an extensive (yet still far from complete) compilation of Palisades' PTS-related documents here. See the coalition's press release here. See also a statement by Gail Snyder, President of the Board of Nuclear Energy Information Service of IL, and a local landowner near Palisades who has intervened against the LAR.

The coalition includes Beyond Nuclear, Don't Waste Michigan, Michigan Safe Energy Future, and Nuclear Energy Information Service (Chicago, IL). Arnie Gunderden, Chief Engineer of Fairewinds Associates, Inc., serves as the coalition's expert witness. Terry Lodge, Toledo-based attorney, serves as the coalition's legal counsel.