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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
Jan042016

SNL: "Palisades plant critics vow to continue fight over 'thermal shock' issue" (risks extend to Pt. Beach, Indian Pt., Diablo, & Beaver Valley)

Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor, located on the Lake Michigan shoreline in southwest Michigan.SNL Financial has published an in-depth investigative article by Matthew Bandyk, "Palisades nuclear plant critics vow to continue fight over 'thermal shock' issue."

The article revealed that Palisades' previous owner, Consumers Energy, had planned to attempt to repair the severely neutron radiation embrittled reactor pressure vessel (RPV), by undertaking experimental, expensive annealing (super-heating the metal in an attempt to restore ductility) in the late 1990s, but decided not to, for fear of public backlash and/or legal intervention against the needed License Amendment Request.

The environmental coalition challenging Palisades' continued operation in the face of such extreme pressurized thermal shock (PTS) risks of a reactor core meltdown includes Beyond Nuclear, Don't Waste Michigan, Michigan Safe Energy Future, and Nuclear Energy Information Service of Chicago. The coalition's expert witness, Arnold Gundersen, Chief Engineer at Fairewinds Associates, Inc. in Burlington, Vermont, unearthed the Palisades annealing revelation during research of technical documents. (See slide #29 of 47.)

Palisades' previous owner, Consumers Power, as well as U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokespeople, had floated public trial balloons, and false assurances, for many years and even decades, saying annealing could be applied at Palisades to address PTS risks. But they would quickly backpedal, pointing out it wasn't needed yet. Little did concerned citizens living in the shadow of Palisades know that Consumers Power was actually making plans to anneal, only to cancel them, and instead downplay the risks.
The risks include: through-wall fracture of the RPV; Loss-of-Coolant Accident (LOCA); reactor core meltdown; containment failure; and catastrophic release of hazardous radioactivity.
NRC's 1982 study CRAC-2 (short for Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences), officially titled NUREG/CR-2239, Technical Guidance for Siting Criteria Development (NRC ADAMS Accession No. ML072320420) reported that a catastrophic radioactivity release at Palisades would result in: 1,000 peak early fatalities (acute radiation poisoning deaths); 7,000 peak early injuries; 10,000 peak cancer deaths (latent cancer fatalities); and $52.6 billion in property damage.
However, as reported by investigative reporter Jeff Donn's June 2011 Associated Press four-part exposé "Aging Nukes" article "Populations around U.S. nuke plants soar," casualties today would be significantly worse, as CRAC-2 was based on 1970 U.S. Census data!
And, when adjusted for inflation to 2014 dollar figures, property damage would now top $127 billion.
These casualty and property damage figures largely to entirely exclude the harmful impacts on the drinking water supply for 40 million people in eight U.S. states, two Canadian provinces, and a large number of Native American First Nations: the Great Lakes, on the shores of which Palisades is located (see photo, above left).
As an industry spokesman and annealing expert put it in this SNL article, Consumers (and now, current Palisades owner Entergy) have chosen instead to "sharpen their pencils." Alternative embrittlement risk assessment methodologies would be applied, et voilà, everything was magically fine again, on paper at least.

Although Palisades has done this numerous times since it first exceeded embrittlement safety limits in 1981, just ten years into operations, none was worse so than the November 2015 rubber-stamps by the NRC Commissioners and NRC staff, granting Palisades another 16 years (till 2031) of embrittlement good-to-go/get-out-of-jail-free-card status.

Ironically enough, in the lead article of his June 2011 Associated Press four-part exposé "Aging Nukes," investigative reporter Jeff Donn cited that very phrase of "sharpening the pencil," as a euphemism for regulatory rollbacks (some refer to it as "pencil whipping," or "pencil engineering"). And Donn's top example of "pencil sharpening" and regulatory rollback was RPV embrittlement/PTS risk.

Based on numerous admissions by NRC staff, it is fair to say that Palisades has the worst embrittled RPV in the U.S.

The SNL article also mentions other Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs) across the U.S. at the top of the list for worst embrittled. They include: Point Beach Unit 2 in WI (also on the Lake Michigan shore, like Palisades); Indian Point Unit 3 in NY near NYC (also owned by Entergy, like Palisades); Diablo Canyon Unit 1 on the Pacific Coast in CA; and Beaver Valley Unit 1 in N.W. PA near the OH border (owned by FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company, which also owns Davis-Besse in OH, which also has a significant RPV embrittlement problem). This list of worst embrittled reactors in the U.S. was provided by the NRC, during a Palisades-related NRC Webinar that concerned citizen pressure forced the agency to hold in March 2013 (as summarized by NRC a month later; see Page 5 of 15 on the PDF counter (point #4) for the list of most embrittled reactors).

Given the Palisades' precedent, these other nuclear utilities, with dangerously embrittled RPVs, can be expected to pursue similar "regulatory relief" from NRC, in order to continue operating their age-degraded reactors, at increasing peril to those living downwind and downstream.

NRC Region 3 Administrator Chuck Casto (who had been NRC's eyes and ears on the ground in Japan, beginning just days after the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe began, and continuing for nine months), during a meeting in South Haven, Michigan (a few miles from Palisades) with NRC Commissioner William Magwood IV at the end of March 2013, revealed his astonishment that 120 concerned local residents and environmental group representatives had taken part in the Webinar, and asked questions, such as "What are the worst embrittled RPVs in the U.S.?," leading to NRC's admissions cited above.

Thursday
Dec172015

Davis-Besse atomic reactor’s emergency diesel generator voltage too low to connect to safety and cooling systems

Beyond Nuclear and Don't Waste Michigan issued a press release after a December 17, 2015 meeting between U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff and FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company (FENOC) officials revealed that the last line of defense against core meltdown at the problem-plagued nuclear power plant would not work if called upon. (See the Word version for live URL links to relevant documents.)

Wednesday
Dec162015

Even on "highly important" systems, structures, and components, Davis-Besse barely gets a passing grade!

David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Program at Union of Concerned Scientists, is one of the nation's top independent nuclear power safety experts.In preparatory research for a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff-FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company (FENOC) meeting on Dec. 17, 2015, regarding Emergency Diesel Generator (EDG) concerns at the problem-plagued Davis-Besse atomic reactor on the Lake Erie shore in Oak Harbor, OH, Michael Keegan of Don't Waste MI uncovered an April 10, 2015 NRC staff Component Design Basis Inspection Report.

Upon reviewing the inspection report, David Lochbaum (photo, left), director of the Union of Concerned Scientists Nuclear Safety Program, and a long time watchdog on Davis-Besse, had this to say:

"I typically review the inspection reports on the NRC's component design basis inspections (CDBIs) because I think they are the best inspection the NRC conducts. Evidence of their goodness is that they used to be conducted at each site every two years. For the past few years, that frequency has been reduced to once every three years. A lot of resources go into the CDBIs. Best of all, the CDBIs use consultants instead of NRC staff (in other words, they are conducted by people who don't have to give a damn about not irking NRC senior managers who control bonuses and promotions).

Oddly enough, even though the CDBI team wrote that it looked at the battery charger and load calculations to check whether there was sufficient voltage to close the EDG output breaker, they didn't notice that there's insufficient voltage to close the output breaker. FirstEnergy's April 1, 2015, license amendment request seeks to provide sufficient voltage.

[Background: The output breakers connect the emergency diesel generator to their respective 4,160 volt electrical buses. In the schematic [see "Davis-Besse Electrical Distribution System," linked here], AC101 is the output breaker for emergency diesel generator 1 while AD101 is the output breaker for emergency diesel generator 2. These output breakers are open when the EDGs are in standby. The electrical buses are supplied from the 13,800 volt buses via the bus tie transformers. When electrical power is lost or degraded, the EDGs automatically start. When they are running and developing proper voltage <at the heart of the license amendment request issue> the output breakers close to re-power the 4160 volt buses. The output breakers are opened and closed automatically using electricity. The license amendment request seeks to increase the minimum voltage for the EDGs from 4031 volts to 4070 volts. The torque required to move the output breaker from its open position to the closed position may require more force than can be provided by 4031 volts. The station blackout events at Vogtle Unit 1 [in Georgia, U.S.A.] in the early 1990s and at Forsmark [in Sweden] a decade later were caused when offsite power was lost and the onsite EDGs started but their output breakers failed to close. Those causes were different from Davis-Besse's insufficient voltage cause, but the consequences are the same -- the EDGs are transformed from sources of electricity into expensive room heaters.]

Check out the first line on page 6 [page 9 of 41 on PDF counter]: "The [CDBI] constituted 19 samples...".

What 19 samples? Selected alphabetically or drawn out of a hat? Nope.

Per the middle of page 5 [page 8 of 41 on PDF counter], "...the selection was based upon the components and operator actions having a risk achievement worth of greater than 1.3 and/or a risk reduction worth greater than 1.005...".

In other words, the samples are highly important stuff and not little bitty stuff.

Turning back to page 2 [page 5 of 41 on PDF counter]: "Five Green findings were identified by the inspectors...".

[Green findings are defined as a finding, or safety violation, of so-called "very-low safety significance." The NRC has also stated (see Inputs to the Assessment Process): "Green inspection findings indicate a deficiency in licensee performance that has very low risk significance and therefore has little or no impact on safety."]

So, looking at 19 highly important things from a safety standpoint revealed 5 safety violations.

It's safe to assume that even Davis-Besse tries harder on the highly important stuff than it does on the only high importance stuff. Their best effort yields a 73.7% grade (14 okay out of 19 tries).

If so, looking at 19 high importance things would likely have identified more than 5 safety violations.

And looking at 19 moderately important things would have likely identified even more safety violations."

Monday
Dec142015

Beyond Nuclear sets the record straight on Davis-Besse concrete containment Shield Building cracking risks

A photo of the Davis-Besse Shield Building, and its severely cracked, and worsening, "flute shoulders," as well as safety-significant systems, structures, and components below (including the Auxiliary Building, borated water storage tanks, electrical manhole covers, and Containment air lock enclosure), at risk of falling chunks of concrete.FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company (FENOC) can’t seem to get its story straight, regarding severe and worsening cracking in its Davis-Besse atomic reactor’s concrete containment Shield Building (see photo, left).

In documents submitted to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and its Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel (ASLBP), as well as in oral testimony before the agency’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS), the company and its officials admit certain things. For example, that every time it freezes at the site, the cracking grows by a half-inch. Or that a large enough force, such as an earthquake or tornado, could cause chunks of concrete to fall off the Shield Building exterior, with safety-related systems, structures, and components located below.

But in an interview for a trade press news article, FENOC’s spokeswoman then denied those very admissions (despite having personally attended at least one of those ACRS meetings at which the critical admissions were made by FENOC officials). FirstEnergy can’t have it both ways.

In a new backgrounder, Beyond Nuclear sets the record straight. (See the Word version, for live URLs to relevant documents.)

For additional photos, and more background information, related to Davis-Besse's Shield Building cracking, see Beyond Nuclear's web post announcing the related recent ACRS meetings.

Also see web posts regarding FirstEnergy's proposed, multi-billion dollar bailout, at ratepayer expense, intended to prop up the failing Davis-Besse atomic reactor, at Beyond Nuclear's "Subsidies" website section.

Monday
Dec142015

UCS files official allegation with NRC re: years-long dysfunction with Davis-Besse EDGs

On Mon., Dec. 14, 2015, David Lochbaum, director, Nuclear Safety Program, at Union of Concerned Scientists, filed an official allegation with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission regarding the apparently years-long dysfunction of FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company's emergency diesel generators at the Davis-Besse atomic reactor in Oak Harbor, OH. See the allegation email Lochbaum sent NRC, posted here.