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.



"Flaw Indications Found In RPV At Switzerland’s Beznau"

The Beznau 1 & 2 atomic reactors in SwitzerlandAs reported by NucNet, flaw indications -- or micro-cracks -- not unlike those found at two Belgian reactors in 2012, have now been discovered at the Beznau-1 reactor in Switzerland, revealed by ultrasonic tests.

The Western European Nuclear Regulators’ Association has communicated the findings throughout the nuclear power industry, given the potential safety implications for reactor pressure vessels.

The Belgian nuclear regulatory chief, as well as materials scientists cited by Greenpeace International, have warned that the Belgian micro-cracking could implicate RPVs worldwide, and have consequently called for global ultrasonic testing as a safety precaution.

Beyond Nuclear et al. have called upon the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to require such ultrasonic testing in the U.S., beginning with the severely age-degraded Palisades atomic reactor in Michigan.

The Swiss nuclear regulator, ENSI, is requiring Beznau-1's owner/operator, Axpo, to do additional tests, to determine the size and location of the flaw indications, and to assess their safety significance. Beznau-1 is 46 years old.

Beznau-2 will be similarly examined, beginning in August.


"Downstream," by Arnie Gundersen, Fairewinds Energy Education

The Great Lakes -- around 85% of North America's surface fresh water, and over 20% of the world's -- provide drinking water for 40 million people in 8 U.S. states, 2 Canadian provinces, and a large number of Native American First Nations.Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer at Fairewinds Energy Education, has posted a blog entitled "Downstream," about the radioactive risks to the Great Lakes from dozens of atomic reactors located on their shorelines, in both the U.S. and Canada.

Gundersen has served as expert witness for Beyond Nuclear et al. in numerous challenges to continued operations at risky reactors on the Great Lakes, including Palisades and Fermi 3 in Michigan, as well as Davis-Besse in Ohio.

(Beyond Nuclear's pamphlet, "Routine Radioactive Releases from U.S. Nuclear Power Plants," also shows it doesn't take an accident to cause contamination of surface fresh water supplies, nor coastal oceanic fisheries for that matter. A map is included, indicating which watersheds are impacted by each operating reactor in the U.S.)


"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.


"Nuclear Autopsies," by Dave Lochbaum

David Lochbaum, UCSIn his blog entitled "Nuclear Autopsies," David Lochbaum, Director of the Nuclear Safety Project at Union of Concerned Scientists, cites radiation impacts on reactor metal as his first example of the value of performing destructive testing on permanently shutdown nuclear power plant structures and components.

Regarding the baffle plate and core barrel materials "harvested" from the defunct Zorita reactor in Spain, he writes:

Metal specimens attached to the core barrel and other internal components are periodically removed during refueling outages over the reactor’s lifetime for laboratory analysis of radiation effects. The Zorita samples supplement those insights.

Radiation impacts on reactor metal are a grave concern for reactor pressure vessel (RPV) safety. Beyond Nuclear has intervened against any further regulatory weakening at the worst neutron embrittled RPV in the U.S., at Palisades in MI. Neutron bombardment of RPV walls and welds increases the risk of a pressurized thermal shock (PTS) RPV fracture (like a hot glass under cold water -- and 2,200 pounds per square inch of pressure!), which would lead to Loss-of-Coolant-Accident (LOCA), core meltdown, and a high likelihood of catastrophic radioactivity release (see Fairewinds Energy Education's short, humorous educational video about PTS risks, "Nuclear Crack Down?").

Of deep concern is the industry and NRC practice of over-reliance on computer modeling, probabilistic risk assessment, and extrapolation from "sister plant" data, rather than requiring actual hard physical data from Palisades' own RPV itself. NRC is allowing Palisades to go 16 years (from 2003 to 2019) without doing a single capsule pull/test, even though Palisades has four capsules available to extract and analyze.

Lochbaum's "Nuclear Autopsies" blog concludes:

The nuclear industry and the NRC seek to expand those insights by harvesting materials from previously un-examined plant areas. These collections permit real data to replace positions established by extrapolating from other real data and/or by computer analyses. Hopefully, the real data reinforces previous positions. Either way, the real data supports better decision-making in the future.

Nuclear autopsies yield insights that cannot be obtained by other means.

This makes U.S. decisions to not do nuclear autopsies in the past all the more objectionable. For example, the Yankee Rowe RPV was not autopsied, but was instead simply buried in a leaking ditch in Barnwell, SC, even though neutron embrittlement of the RPV forced the reactor's shutdown in the early 1990s. An autopsy on Yankee Rowe could have shed tremendous light on the RPV embrittlement concerns at Palisades. For, as Lochbaum himself recently observed:

"Embrittlement is the issue that compelled the owners of the Yankee Rowe nuclear plant to permanently shut it down in September 1991.

Palisades has the least embrittlement margin of any U.S. nuclear power reactor vessel. And it would not be allowed to operate if the standards applied to Yankee Rowe were applied to Palisades."

This photo shows the initial leg of the shipment of Big Rock Point's radioactive RPV, by heavy haul truck, before being loaded onto a train. The 25 foot by 13 foot cylindrical shell, Type B, transport container used to ship the Big Rock Point RPV from northern MI to Barnwell, SC for burial in Oct. 2003. The shipment was protested with a non-violent civil disobedience action in a Walbridge, OH railyard, resulting in two arrests. The 290-ton load damaged the rails in southeast MI, as well as in the Carolinas, resulting in the later derailments of other trains following on its wake.(Citizens Awareness Network protested the environmental injustice of burying Yankee Rowe's radioactive RPV in a leaking ditch in the predominantly African American community of Barnwell, SC. Citizens Awareness Network hauled a mock nuclear waste container from western Massachusetts, through numerous states, to SC, holding press conferences along the way to educate "transport route" communities of the risks.

Yankee Atomic, owner of Yankee Rowe, followed them. Yankee Rowe's PR head attempted to rebut Citizen Awareness Network with follow on interactions with the news media along the route.

The RPV from Palisades' sister plant, Big Rock Point in Charlevoix, MI was similarly buried in a leaking ditch at Barnwell -- but not without being protested! See photo, left.

So too was Connecticut Yankee's RPV.)


UCS's Lochbaum's insights on RPV embrittlement risks at Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor

David Lochbaum, UCSDavid Lochbaum, Director of the Nuclear Safety Project at Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS, photo left), recently shared the following insights about reactor pressure vessel (RPV) embrittlement risks at Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor located in Covert, MI. And he gave us permission to share them:

"Embrittlement is the issue that compelled the owners of the Yankee Rowe nuclear plant to permanently shut it down in September 1991.

Palisades has the least embrittlement margin of any U.S. nuclear power reactor vessel. And it would not be allowed to operate if the standards applied to Yankee Rowe were applied to Palisades. The NRC worked behind the scenes with the nuclear industry to revise the standards and now - magically - Palisades has ample margin.

So, the NRC colludes with industry to move the goal posts and then does not allow the coalition to contest the new location of the goal posts. Welcome to the Soviet Union of Michigan.

The NRC encourages public participation -- until the public seeks to participate.

To be fair (or less unfair) to the NRC, they don't have a clue where the embrittlement line is drawn. They are conducting an experiment in Michigan hoping that the redrawn line doesn't kill anyone. If no one gets killed in the experiment, the NRC might allow other reactors in other states to give it a try. Or maybe even redraw the line again.

Even if moving the goal posts was technically sound, doing it after conspiring with the industry while barring the public  moves the sleaze meter to 11. Someone really needs to take the NRC to the wood shed for antics like these. 

If no one gets killed in Michigan, it'll be due more to luck than the NRC working even-handedly with all its stakeholders to do the greatest good for the greatest number.


Dave Lochbaum


P.S. - I wonder which NRC senior manager will soon retire and find employment by Entergy at a very healthy salary?".

Beyond Nuclear hosted a MI and OH speaking tour featuring Lochbaum in April 2013, including southwest MI events focused on Palisades. Palisades had suffered three near-misses in just a two year time period, vying for worst such record in the entire country, as documented in Lochbaum's annual nuclear safety report that year, that year entitled Tolerating the Intolerable.

Lochbaum just published an "All Things Nuclear"/"Fission Stories" blog about yet another example of the abnormally high risks at Palisades.