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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.