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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
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.

Tuesday
May132014

"Senators Markey, Boxer and Sanders Introduce Legislation to Increase Safety at Nuclear Plants"

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works CommitteeU.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA, photo at left), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) introduced three bills today aimed at improving the safety and security of decommissioning reactors and the storage of spent nuclear fuel at nuclear plants across the nation. 

The three bills address safety of spent fuel storage and decommissioning plans. They are entitled: Safe and Secure Decommissioning Act of 2014; Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Act of 2014 (see the bill, Sen. Sanders' press release, and a one-page summary); Dry Cask Storage Act of 2014. To learn more, see the press release at Sen. Markey's website.

The EPW Committee will hold and webcast a hearing entitled “Nuclear Reactor Decommissioning: Stakeholder Views” on Wed., May 14th, at 10 AM Eastern. Witnesses include CA and VT officials, and spokespeople from NRDC and NEI.

Please urge your two U.S. Senators to support these three bills. You can contact your Senators via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

Friday
May092014

NRC grants years-long delays on urgent "Fukushima lessons learned" earthquake risk safety upgrades

In a press release entitled "NRC Prioritizes Detailed Earthquake Risk Analysis For Central and Eastern U.S. Reactors," the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has given nuclear utilities an extraordinarily long period of time to upgrade safety in light of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe.

NRC speaks of having "set a priority list for 21 of 59 nuclear power plant sites in the central and eastern United States to conduct in-depth analyses of the plants’ updated earthquake risk," in recognition that seismic hazards could well be greater than the atomic reactors were originally designed and built to withstand.

And what are NRC's deadlines for the nuclear utilities to take "Fukushima lessons learned" urgent action by? Preliminary analysis, to determine if reinforcements to systems, structures, or components may be needed, is not due till Dec. 31, 2014 -- nearly four years after the Fukushima catastrophe began. If any such upgrades are needed, they need not be installed until Dec. 31, 2016 -- nearly six years post-Fukushima.

Perhaps more astounding, the "detailed," "in-depth risk" analyses described in the press release headline are not due until June 30, 2017 (over six years post-Fukushima) for 10 "priority" sites, and not till June 30, 2019 (more than eight years post-Fukushima) for another 11 "priority" sites.

At another 23 sites, NRC is still yet to decide whether or not they need to do the "in-depth risk analysis." If NRC decides they do, they have until Dec. 31, 2020 (almost a decade post-Fukushima) to get it done.

Apparently, we must simply hope earthquakes stronger than originally designed and constructed against many decades ago won't strike before NRC requires these actions to be taken.