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« Don't Waste Michigan pleads with U.S. Senators Levin & Stabenow to address Palisades' embrittlement risks | Main | "Living on Borrowed Time" & "U.S. Nuclear Power Safety One Year After Fukushima": UCS shines spotlight on 15 near-misses at U.S. reactors in 2011, examines Japan "lessons learned," or not, at NRC »
Wednesday
Mar072012

Update on defending Great Lakes against risky atomic reactors

Satellite photo of the Great Lakes: 20% of the planet's surface fresh water; drinking water supply for 40 million people in the U.S., Canada, and numerous Native American/First Nations; and lifeblood of one of the world's biggest regional economies.Three weeks ago, we reported on Beyond Nuclear's efforts, in conjunction with environmental coalitions and concerned citizens, to shut down two especially risky atomic reactors on the Great Lakes shorelines that have been generating a lot of controversy recently: Palisades in southwest Michigan, and Davis-Besse in northwest Ohio.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) held a meeting on Feb. 29th in South Haven, on the Lake Michigan shoreline, in an attempt to calm public concern about a rash of accidents at Palisades in 2011 alone. It didn't work.Beyond Nuclear had spread the word about the meeting to its network in west Michigan, and provided background information. Before a large turn out of up to 200 people, in the room and on the phone, the NRC was forced to admit that Palisades has the most embrittled reactor pressure vessel in the U.S. NRC has repeatedly weakened its "Pressurized Thermal Shock" safety regulations in order to accomodate Palisades, to enable this dangerously degraded reactor to operate for over 40 years now. The most serious incident discussed, of "substantial significance to safety," was a Sept. 25, 2011 loss of electricity to half the control room during a light bulb changing operation. It activated the Emergency Core Cooling System, but fortunately the ECCS did not inject cooling water into the hot core. This would have tested NRC's risky regulatory rollbacks, and risked a fracture of the RPV like a hot glass under cold water. This would lead to a Loss of Coolant Accident and potential meltdown. The same incident also came precariously close to completely filling the pressurizer and one of the steam generators with water, which would have meant loss of control over core temperature and pressure, and could have broken pipes. Palisades' steam generators have long been in need of "major organ transplant" replacement, for the second time in the plant's history. A cascading rupture of steam generator tubes is another pathway to LOCA and meltdown. Beyond Nuclear prepared a summary of the meeting, including a compilation of media coverage and some of the statements delivered by concerned citizens.

At Davis-Besse, Beyond Nuclear and its environmental allies (Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don't Waste Michigan, and the Green Party of Ohio) filed a supplement on Feb. 27th to their Jan. 10th cracked containment contention. It was based on a Feb. 8th revelation by U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) that NRC considered the outer layer of steel reinforcement rebar to be no longer functional, due to severe cracking over an extensive area of the concrete shield building, an integral part of Davis-Besse's radiological containment.On Feb. 28, FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company (FENOC) published its long-awaited "root cause analysis" on the cracking. Incredibly, FENOC claims the Blizzard of 1978 is to blame, combined with the fact that they forgot to apply weather sealant to the exterior of the shield building for the past 42 years. When asked by media reporters why no sealant had been applied, FENOC responded that it hadn't been required to. When asked why sealant had been applied to other concrete buildings at the plant that are less safety significant, FENOC responded that they had a splotchy appearance, so sealant had been applied for aesthetic reasons only. The environmental coalition, which has been opposing Davis-Besse's 20 year license extension since Dec. 2010, replied that this amounts to a "snow job of convenience." FENOC is saying the damage was done over a three day blizzard in 1978, and has not gotten worse since. This would undermine the environmental coalition's claim that the cracking is aging related, and will grow worse over time, a serious challenge to Davis-Besse's coveted 2017 to 2037 extension permit from NRC.

Congressman Kucinich has long watchdogged Davis-Besse. He has been especially active on this cracked containment issue, releasing information to the public on the severity of the cracking which FENOC and NRC had kept concealed for weeks or even months. With the backing of NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko, Kucinich won a Jan. 5th NRC public meeting Davis-Besse, which drew 300 attendees and lots of media coverage. The environmental coalition joined with Congressman Kucinich on March 3rd for a media release to challenge FENOC's "snow job of convenience." Unfortunately, Congressman Kucinich lost his primary bid to return to Congress on March 6th.John Nichols of the Nation has written a tribute to Kucinich's stellar progressive career in Congress, advocating against war, for justice, and in defense of workers' rights and environmental protection. To Nichol's list should be added Kucinich's deep commitmet to protecting his constituents and the Great Lakes against one of the most risky reactors in the country. Beyond Nuclear was honored in December 2011, when Congressman Kucinich submitted for the congressional record at a hearing of the Government Oversight and Reform Committee, where he serves as a Subcommittee Ranking Member, a backgrounder written by Beyond Nuclear on Davis-Besse's problem-plagued history.