NRC rubber-stamps Entergy Palisades' operation till 2031, despite increasing risks of U.S.'s worst age-degraded reactor pressure vessel
The Kalamazoo Gazette/MLive reported on this story, quoting the environmental coalition's attorney, Terry Lodge of Toledo:
"Once again, the NRC commissioners, and now staff, demonstrate that there is no way to thread the needle; the public remains excluded," said Terry Lodge, a Toledo attorney and legal counsel for the environmental coalition. "This is likely the public's last opportunity ever to question the absurdly embrittled and dangerous pressure vessel at Palisades. We can only hope the NRC's incurious facade and implacable public-be-damned attitude does not give rise to a spectacular radioactive catastrophe."
Reaction from the anti-nuclear activist camp has been critical. Groups such as Beyond Nuclear have been pushing the NRC to force Palisades to shut down over safety concerns.
Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear says the NRC keeps diluting the safety regulations for Palisades to keep allowing it to operate.
"They keep weakening the rules," Kamps said. "The NRC is a rogue agency and Entergy is a rogue corporation. The NRC has abandoned its conservative models. Palisades can't meet the old regulations, so magically there's a new regulation they can meet. They are shaving the safety margins. They're going right up to the cliff edge of risk."
Anti-nuclear organizations have been critical of the NRC for allowing Entergy to use data from metal samples from other nuclear plants' reactor vessels in its Palisades analysis.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to issue two license amendments involving the Palisades plant near Covert is coming under fire from anti-nuclear activist groups who continue to demand the closure of the 44-year-old facility. The NRC says that plant’s reactor vessel should remain safe for operation through 2031, when the Palisades’ license expires, and that staffers at the facility “successfully demonstrated the safety of the pressure vessel under current operating conditions.” Beyond Nuclear officials dispute these findings, claim that the NRC’s decision is based on greed, and vow to continue their high-visibility fight to close this plant.
A four-group coalition disputes these findings and claim that the NRC's decision is based solely on greed. U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton of St. Joseph disagrees, however.
"There's no political arm-twisting," Upton said. "It's the science that determines the outcome."
Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear accuses Upton of collusion with the NRC and Palisades' operator Entergy in a way that is "similar to the root cause of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan."
The Detroit News also covered this story, reporting:
Longtime Palisades critic Kevin Kamps of the group Beyond Nuclear argues federal officials are putting the public at greater risk of an accident.
“NRC has custom-tailored weakened regulations to accommodate the severely age-degraded Palisades atomic reactor and to allow Entergy to run it into the ground until 2031,” Kamps said in a statement. “The collusion ... to keep Palisades operating is frighteningly similar to the root cause of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe in Japan. ...”
Beyond Nuclear is one of several groups involved in the Shutdown Before Meltdown campaign aimed at ending Palisades’ run as an active reactor.
NRC's approvals are but the latest instance of the agency ignoring warnings by environmental watchdogs and concerned local residents. For example, from 2012 to 2014, the coalition brought warnings from Japan to the attention of two NRC chairmen and another NRC Commissioner (Dr. Greg Jaczko, Dr. Allison Macfarlane, and William Magwood IV), at face to face meetings near Palisades after the officials had toured the problem-plagued reactor. The coalition shared articles, published by Hiromitsu Ino in the Citizens Nuclear Information Center-Tokyo newsletter (#148 and #149) in 2012, showing that Japanese nuclear power industry and nuclear regulatory agency models, regarding RPV embrittlement, were significantly non-conservative, as revealed when actual physical tests were finally performed at Genkai Unit 1. (See Figure 1 in newsletter #148, and Figue 2 in #149; also see illustration, above left).
The following email, sent by NRC Region 3 in Lisle, IL to news media, but not to concerned local residents or environmental groups, which have been officially intervening on reactor pressure vessel risks at Palisades for over a decade, was how Beyond Nuclear learned of NRC's approvals, when a reporter shared it:
"From: "Mitlyng, Viktoria" <Viktoria.Mitlyng@nrc.gov>
Date: November 23, 2015 3:38:50 PM GMT-05:00
Subject: NRC approves two Palisades license amendments
NOTE TO MEDIA: NRC APPROVES TWO LICENSE AMENDMENT REQUESTS RELATE TO REACTOR VESSEL SAFETY
The NRC completed the review of and issued two license amendments which pertain to reactor vessel embrittlement under certain conditions for Palisades. The NRC granted these license amendment requests because they were found to maintain public health and safety The Pressurized Thermal Shock (PTS) amendment addresses the material behavior during a postulated accident event (PTS) and the Appendix G amendment addresses material behavior during normal operations. While both are affected by embrittlement, they require examination and assessment of different data points.
After 16 months and over 700 hours of independent review and verification, the NRC concluded that the probability of vessel fracture that could result from a PTS event at Palisades is so exceedingly low that it isn’t likely to present a danger to public health and safety.
The NRC granted Entergy permission to use an updated rule to assess the reactor vessel’s ability to withstand a certain type of accident. The original PTS Rule was published in 1985 while the Alternate PTS Rule was published in 2010. In the 25 years between the publishing of the two PTS rules, we acquired more data and a better understanding of embrittlement, as well as greater accuracy in computer modeling capabilities. Thus we are able to capture the details of a PTS event more accurately than was possible when the original PTS rule was adopted.
Both rules hold plants to the highest safety standards.
APPENDIX G LAR
After two years and over 800 hours of independent review, the NRC concluded that Palisades successfully demonstrated through fracture mechanics analysis the continued safety of the pressure vessel under current operating conditions.
Appendix G deals with NRC’s requirements for fracture toughness of the reactor vessel or the material’s resistance to fracture during normal operation. The Appendix G regulations require that the reactor vessel maintain a minimum fracture toughness of 50 ft-lbs when measured by the Charpy test. The Charpy test is performed in a laboratory and measures metal fracture toughness. If the tests shows that minimum fracture toughness will fall below the established value (50 ft-lbs), NRC regulations require the plant to perform fracture mechanics analysis to demonstrate that the reactor vessel will not develop significant flaws under normal conditions. This analysis is often referred to as an equivalent margins analysis (EMA). The NRC has reviewed this type of amendment and analysis for numerous reactors.
The NRC staff has completed its review of the licensee’s EMA and determined that at the lower fracture toughness levels that have been predicted for the Palisades vessel, the likelihood of reactor vessel fracture remains extremely low under the conditions for which the reactor was designed through the end of the current license (March 24, 2031).
The NRC staff notes that the Palisades capsules contain test specimens from the reactor vessel, but not from the specific plates and welds which are the subject of the Palisades Appendix G submittal. Therefore, when the next capsule withdrawal and test occurs, the capsules will provide embrittlement information for only certain reactor pressure vessel materials. They will not provide any additional information on the materials discussed in Entergy’s Appendix G submittal."