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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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Wednesday
Aug272014

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.

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.

Tuesday
Aug192014

Environmental groups oppose Fermi 2 license extension

NRC file photo of Fermi 2Multiple environmental groups have met an arbitrarily short, 11:59pm Eastern deadline, and officially intervened against the application by DTE (Detroit Edison) to extend the operating license at its Fermi 2 atomic reactor (photo, left) for an additional 20 years. Fermi 2's operating license is currently set to expire in 2025.

DTE's Fermi nuclear power plant, most infamous for the October 5, 1966 "We Almost Lost Detroit" partial meltdown of its Unit 1 experimental plutonium breeder reactor, is located on the Lake Erie shore of southeast Michigan, in Monroe County.

Beyond Nuclear has entered into coalition with Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, as well as Don't Waste Michigan, to file four contentions against Fermi 2's license extension.

Two of the contentions concern radioactive waste. The first is about the risk of catastrophic irradiated nuclear fuel storage pool fires. Fermi 2's storage pool holds around 600 tons of irradiated nuclear fuel, more than all four destroyed units at Fukushima Daiichi put together (419 tons). The second radioactive waste contention is about the lack of safety and environmental assurances, since the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) "Nuclear Waste Confidence" policy was declared null and void two years ago by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and NRC has not yet replaced it.

Another contention concerns the General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactor, and its containment's, long-known, fatal design flaws. Fermi 2 is largest GE Mark I BWR in the world, almost as big as the melted down Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 and 2 reactor cores put together. 

The final contention is about the interconnected risks between the age-degraded Fermi 2, and the untested, proposed new Fermi 3 atomic reactor, including the vulnerability of both sharing a common off-site electricity transmission corridor.

The three groups, joined by Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, as well as the Sierra Club, Michigan Chapter, have also been intervening against the Fermi 3 proposed new reactor since March, 2009.

Both coalitions challenging Fermi 2, and Fermi 3, are represented by Toledo-based attorney Terry Lodge.

Citizens Resistance at Fermi Two (CRAFT) separately filed 14 contentions of its own against the Fermi 2 license extension. CRAFT released a press release.

Monday
Jun092014

Two dozen groups urge State of MA to divest from Entergy due to safety and economic risks at Pilgrim

NRC file photo of Entergy's Pilgrim GE BWR Mark I on Cape Cod Bay in Plymouth, MABeyond Nuclear has signed onto an effort spearheaded by the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, and endorsed by two dozen local groups, to urge the State of Massachusetts to divest more than $8 million invested in Entergy. The signatory groups cited the economic and safety risks associated with the nuclear utility's problem-plagued Pilgrim atomic reactor. A June 4th letter was sent to Governor Patrick and Treasurer Grossman, as described in a June 9th press release.

NRC recently placed Pilgrim on its "degraded" performance short list. The only other reactor in the country with a worse performance designation is FitzPatrick in upstate New York. Both Pilgrim and FitzPatrick are General Electric Mark I boiling water reactors, identical in design to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4.

Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor in Michigan was similarly designated one of the worst performers in the U.S. a couple years ago, after not one but two near-misses in 2011, and yet another one in 2012, as documented by David Lochbaum at Union of Concerned Scientists.

A year ago, energy economist Mark Cooper of Vermont Law School identified Entergy's six merchant reactors (half its national fleet), including Pilgrim, as at risk of near-term shutdown. This is due to a variety of factors, including economic uncompetitiveness and needed, costly safety repairs. In August 2013, Cooper was proven right, when Entergy announced the permanent shutdown of Vermont Yankee (another Entergy GE BWR Mark I) by the end of 2014.

Wednesday
May282014

Fukushima lessons learned? None! NRC ends consideration of expedited unloading of radioactive waste pools

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission snuck out a major decision on the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend. Its generic study of whether or not to require the expedited transfer of "spent nuclear fuel" (irradiated nuclear fuel rods, highly radioactive waste) out of vulnerable storage pools will be unceremoniusly ended, with no requirement to unload pools into dry cask storage. The study was undertaken as part of NRC's Fukushima "lessons learned" process, created by former NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko in the immediate aftermath of the Japanese nuclear catastrophe.

The decision came in the form of a memo, sent from the NRC Secretary to the NRC EDO (Executive Director for Operations). The memo simply states: "The Commission has approved the staff's recommendation that this Tier 3 Japan lessons-learned activity be closed and that no further generic assessments be pursued related to possible regulatory actions to require the expedited transfer of spent fuel to dry cask storage."

Four of the five NRC Commissioners (Svinicki, Apostalakis, Magwood, and Ostendorff) voted to support NRC Staff's recommendation, made late last year, that irradiated nuclear fuel currently stored in densely-packed pools, need not be transferred to dry casks on an expedited basis.

The sole dissenting vote on the NRC Commission came from its Chairwoman, Allison Macfarlane. Chairwoman Macfarlane criticized the NRC staff's analysis, including that the only risk initiator considered was an earthquake. She called for a “more thorough analysis,” including consideration “of all natural and human-induced events (e.g., accidental, malevolent).”

Chairwoman Macfarlane provided a more than 10-page analysis explaining her dissent. Three of the other Commissioners who blessed the staff's recommendation for inaction provided a page, or less, of explanation for their own votes. More.

Friday
May232014

Coalition defends its challenge against Davis-Besse Shield Building cracks, gaps, and rebar damage

Environmental coalition attorney Terry LodgeAn environmental coalition, represented by attorney Terry Lodge of Toledo (photo, left), has filed a defense of its contention alleging that FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company's (FENOC) Davis-Besse atomic reactor on the Lake Erie shore should be denied a 20-year license extension by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Most recently, Davis-Besse's concrete containment Shield Building has exhibited ever more severe cracking, steel reinforcement damage, as well as wall gap 80% of the way through its 2.5 foot thickness (an air space, or void, through 24 of 30 inches of the wall). The filing rebuts challenges against the contention by FENOC and NRC Staff.

As official intervenors in the NRC Atomic Safety (sic) and Licensing Board (ASLB) proceeding, the coalition, comprised of Beyond Nuclear, Citizens Environment Coalition of Southwestern Ontario, Don't Waste Michigan, and the Ohio Green Party, has resisted Davis-Besse's 20-year license extension since the end of 2010. Davis-Besse's 40-year operating license expires on Earth Day (April 22), 2017. This is the coalition's sixth contention filed.