Coalition of local residents and environmental groups confronts Congress, NRC, and Entergy at Palisades' front entrance
While U.S. Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Commissioner Kristine Svinicki, toured Entergy's problem-plagued Palisades atomic reactor, a coalition of concerned local residents and environmental groups, including Beyond Nuclear, vigiled and protested at the front entrance.
Upton and Svinicki were visiting the atomic reactor in the aftermath of a 82.1-gallon spill of radioactive water into Lake Michigan. The leak came from the Safety Injection Refueling Water (SIRW) storage tank, which has been leaking for over two years. Although the investigation continues, it appears that a crack in a weld on a tank floor nozzle is at least partly to blame this time around. For the first year, the leak had been kept quiet by Entergy and NRC staff. Even the Chairman of NRC, Greg Jaczko, was not told about it, even during his tour of the troubled plant on May 25, 2012. A few weeks later, based on whistleblower revelations, U.S. Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) made public that the leakage was into the control room, and that safety culture among the workforce had collapsed at Palisades: 74% of the workforce, including management, felt that reporting safety problems would solve nothing, while inviting intimidation and harassment -- and so do not report safety problems!
WNDU TV NBC Channel 16 South Bend quoted Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps on its 11 PM coverage, that replacing the leaking Safety Injection Refueling Water (SIRW) storage tank would not make sense, if a number of other vital safety systems are not also either repaired, replaced, or upgraded.
As Kevin had conveyed on Western Michigan University's NPR station, WMUK, the list long-overdue repairs, replacements, and upgrades includes: the worst embrittled reactor pressure vessel in the U.S., steam generators in need of replacement for the second time in the reactor's history, a badly corroded reactor lid, and extensive fire safety upgrades, not to mention component cooling water and service water systems that have failed repeatedly in recent years.
ABC57 TV News South Bend also quoted Kevin about Palisades' Control Rod Drive Mechanisms (CRDMs), that have been leaking through seals for 41 years, and through-wall in 2001 and 2012. David Lochbaum of Union of Concerned Scientists documented this chronic problem, uniquely bad in industry, in his July 2010 report "Headaches at Palisades: Broken Seals & Failed Heals." Lochbaum also addressed the 2012 through-wall CRDM housing leak during Beyond Nuclear-sponsored events in west Michigan, noting that -- under NRC regulations -- Palisades should have been shut down within 6 hours, but instead operated for an entire month with primary coolant leakage through the pressure boundary, an unacceptable safety risk. Lochbaum reported that NRC could have fined Palisades $140,000 per day for the violation, but, over a half-year on now, has fined Entergy not one penny.
WSBT TV South Bend quoted concerned local resident, Barbara Pellegrini, who said “There’s no use in patching and fixing anymore. It just isn’t working.” Barbara knows what she's talking about: she has a PhD. and specializes in materials science education.
On May 25, 2012, after touring the problem-plagued Palisades reactor and meeting with an environmental coalition, including Beyond Nuclear, NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko personally asked Barb to write the agency about her concerns regarding age-related degradation at Palisades. A major agenda item at the coalition meeting with Jaczko had been neutron embrittlement of the reactor pressure vessel (RPV), which makes it vulnerable to pressurized thermal shock, a risk of RPV breach, loss of coolant accident, meltdown, and catastrophic radioactivity release.
NRC took 11 months to respond to Dr. Pellegrini. The agency essentially implied that it does not perform independent analysis of materials degradation at Palisades, but rather relies on Entergy's analyses -- essentially taking the company's word for it.
WOOD TV 8 NBC Grand Rapids reported that the press conference, which was supposed to feature Rep. Upton and NRC Commissioner Svinicki, was largely taken over by Entergy's Chief Operating Officer. TV 8 also provided links to its coverage of numerous past leaks over the last year (a third of them involving the SIRW storage tank), as well as a map of the 50-mile radiological ingestion emergency planning zone around Palisades (which extends to within close proximity to Chicago, which draws its drinking water, for many millions of people, from Lake Michigan).
WZZM TV 13 quoted Kevin as saying that any exposure to radioactivity carries a health risk for cancer, and that these risks accumulate over a lifetime. The higher the dose, the higher the risk, but even so-called "diluted" radioactivity or "low-doses" of exposure to radiation cannot be called "safe," despite repeated Entergy and NRC statements to the contrary. In fact, Kevin pointed out, Palisades has been releasing radioactivity into the air and water "routinely" for 42 years now, sometimes intentionally, with a permit from the government, but other times un-intentionally, due to "accidental" (although chronic and repeated) spills or leaks. Another "little problem" with the "dilution is the solution to radioactive pollution" delusion is bio-concentration: the food chain re-concentrates radioactivity in the environment. Humans are at the top of the radioactively contaminated food chain.
Michigan Radio reported on the effort by a coalition of concerned local residents and environmental groups to request a meeting with Rep. Upton and NRC Commissioner Svinicki. As soon as the government officials' emergency tour of Palisades was announced in the news media, Michigan Safe Energy Future-Shoreline Chapter's Bette Pierman emailed a request to Congressman Upton, and followed up with a hardcopy of the letter delivered to his local St. Joe, MI office. A hardcopy was also delivered to his Capitol Hill office. The letter was emailed to NRC Commissioner Svinicki. Follow up phone calls were made to Rep. Upton's local St. Joe and Kalamazoo offices, as well as to NRC Commissioner Svinicki's HQ office in Rockville, MD. Despite this, Michigan Radio reports, Upton claimed to have been "unaware of any attempts to meet with him."
Michigan Radio reported: “We thought we had some common ground,” Kamps said of Upton, “We certainly follow these issues closely and I think that Upton needs to hear from us and I hope that he will sit down with us.”
Given the apparent rejection of their meeting request, the coalition decided to hold an all day vigil at Palisades' front entrance.
Michigan Radio reported that Upton "was dismissive of the protesters, saying they were mostly from out of town." Quite to the contrary, every single protestor was from west Michigan. The majority were from within the 10-mile EPZ (Emergency Planning Zone) surrounding Palisades, from such communities as South Haven, less than 5 miles north, and Bangor, about 10 miles to the northeast. Others were from Benton Harbor, about 15 miles south, and Kalamazoo, about 35 miles, downwind, to the east "as the crow flies," or as the radioactivity blows.
Michigan Radio reported: “We demand the tank be replaced and a dozen other systems be replaced,” Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear said. “I hate to be harsh but talk is cheap and actions speak a lot louder than words,” Kamps said, “[Upton, the Chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, with direct oversight on NRC] could pressure them to shut this plant until all dozen of those safety critical systems are repaired, replaced, upgraded. He’s not doing that.”
But, Michigan Radio reported: “(The NRC) is entrusted to do the right thing and certainly I’m not going to be looking over their shoulder,” Upton said.
Of course, "looking over [NRC's] shoulder," also known as congressional oversight, is Upton's job as Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman!
'Kamps said, "Upton has long been one of the nuclear power industry's best friends in Congress."
According to Federal Election Commission data, individuals and PACs representing the New Orleans-based company gave the congressman $24,600 during the 2012 election cycle, making Entergy the third-largest donor.'
Since 2008, Beyond Nuclear has published exposés on Upton's favors in return to the nuclear power industry for its campaign contributions: a 2-page summary; 22-page full report; list of nuclear industry PAC campaign contributions to Upton; and list of campaign contributions from nuclear industry-related individuals.
For her part, NRC Commissioner Svinicki almost always votes in the nuclear power industry's interests, often against the public interest. Most recently, she cast the single worst of the four bad votes against requiring radiological filters on the "new and improved" hardened vents to be installed on the 31 Fukushima twin GE Mark I and II boiling water reactors in the U.S. While only NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane voted for immediate installation of filters, and NRC Commissioners Ostendorff, Magwood, and Apostalakis voted to study the issue for years on end, Commissioner Svinicki simply voted to never require installation of filters. While NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko in May 2012, and Commissioner Magwood in March 2013, reached out to Beyond Nuclear to set up meetings with concerned locals while they toured Palisades, Commissioner Svinicki's office didn't even respond to the coalition's request for a meeting in May 2013.
WWMT's Tom Howe has aired the following commentary expressing his concerns about Palisades' risks, which begins:
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant on the lakeshore just south of South Haven is drawing national scrutiny now that it's been shut down for the eighth time in two years.
Tonight in Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says the aging facility is a poster child for our nation's lack of a comprehensive long-term energy policy.
I don't know about you, but I don't take much comfort in the fact that the 80-or-so gallons of radioactive waste that leaked into Lake Michigan two weeks ago was, as the Palisades people described it, "highly diluted."
After all, that plant has been shut down a lot over the years—not just recently. And the people at Palisades have had tons of practice at projecting peaceful, easy feelings in the face of one unsettling problem after another.
But what can we really expect from a plant that was built more than 40 years ago at a cost of $180-million dollars—and now holds the dubious distinction of being one of the NRC's four worst nuclear plants in the United States.
It has entered the patch, patch, patch phase of its life span and the NRC is now making rumblings about giving it just four more years before pulling the plug. And whatever happens, its not to be taken lightly.
The Palisades reactor provides 18 to 30 percent of the electricity used in West Michigan. Some 600 people work there.
The lives of thousands of people hang in the balance..."
The St. Joe-Benton Harbor Herald Palladiium newspaper, for which Palisades could do no wrong for decades, has just published a strongly worded editorial, "Palisades -- Is it safe?", which concludes: "Should Palisades continue to stumble along in the next months and years, then we hope the NRC takes a much harder look at Palisades’ license. Energy production and commerce are important, but not nearly as important as the safety and well-being of an entire region."