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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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Friday
Nov222013

11 Democratic U.S. Senators protest NRC's restrictions on transparency and accountability to Congress

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA)U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)On Nov. 21st, a group of ten Democratic U.S. Senators wrote U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane regarding their concerns about new agency policies restricting transparency, even to Members of Congress. (Actually, to set the record straight, Bernie Sanders is an Independent -- a Socialist, to be exact -- from Vermont. He caucuses with the Democrats.)

One of signatories, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA, photo left), a press release, stating, that the new NRC policy restricts congressional oversight and undermines transparency.

“This change in policy is clearly inconsistent with your stated commitment, is contrary to principles of government accountability, and in conflict with Congress’s constitutionally-authorized oversight authorities,” the Senators wrote in the letter to NRC Chief Macfarlane.

The other nine signatories on the letter are: Senators Menendez (NJ), Leahy (VT), Wyden (OR), Sanders (VT), Warren (MA), Gillibrand (NY), Blumenthal (CT), Baldwin (WI) and Whitehouse (RI).

Separately, a tenth U.S. Senate Democrat, Barbara Boxer of California (photo, above left), the Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, also wrote NRC Chairwoman Macfarlane. Boxer stated that "Any effort to obstruct or impede my oversight activities is unacceptable," and demanded NRC explain why certain documents concerning safety concerns at the San Onofre nuclear power plant were evidently removed prior to delivery of boxes to Chairwoman Boxer's committee staff. Boxer also issued a press release.

Reporting on an EPW oversight hearing on NRC that took place this week, a blog in The Hill entitled "Boxer slams nuke regulator's 'intimidation,'" reported:

Boxer said the policy was evidenced earlier this week when NRC personnel sought to restrict her staff’s review of records related to an ongoing probe of safety issues at the San Onofre plant in Southern California. Boxer’s staffers were told that they could be physically searched for stolen documents after they had finished reviewing them, she said.

“Let me be clear — no form of agency intimidation or obstruction will be tolerated in this committee’s investigation or its Constitutional oversight responsibilities,” Boxer said. “Action will be taken if you do not reverse your policy.”

The EPW website has information about the hearing of the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, including a link to the archived webcast. However, the hearing included only opening statements by the full Committee, as well as the Subcommittee, Chairs and Ranking Members. After about a half hour, the Subcommittee hearing was interrupted by the Senate floor vote -- dubbed "the Nuclear Option," ironically enough -- on ending filibusters on confirmations of presidential judicial and agency appointments. The hearing has yet to be re-scheduled.

Tuesday
Sep172013

Environmental coalition challenges NRC on risk of HLRW pool fires yet again

IPS senior scholar Robert AlvarezIt's déjà vu all over again! After announcing a public meeting on August 22nd -- supposedly intended for technical dialogue -- the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) attemped to change the rules, and unabashedly refused to respond to watchdogs' challenges to its biased analysis regarding high-level radioactive waste (HLRW) storage pool fire risks. The strong backlash by representatives of an environmental coalition, inlcuding Beyond Nuclear, has forced NRC to try again. NRC has issued a public notice, as well as slides, for its Sept. 18th public meeting.

The coalition's attorney, Diane Curran, has re-issued talking points first developed for public use in the lead up to the previous meeting. They are more relevant than ever. Curran urges concerned members of the public to register to speak by emailing kevin.witt@nrc.gov. You can phone into the meeting at (888) 324-8193 [enter passcode 4345562], and can watch the webcast at http://video.nrc.gov or https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/984626536.

On August 1st, Curran, and one of the environmental coalition's expert witnesses, Dr. Gordon Thompson of the Institute for Resource and Security Studies (IRSS), submitted a "devastating critique" regarding NRC's "Draft Consequence Study" on the risks of fire in HLRW storage pools. Curran and Thompson called for the study to be withdraw, due to its lack of basic scientific integrity and credibility.

Now Robert Alvarez (photo, above left), senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), has weighed in on the coalition's behalf. Alvarez previously served as a senior advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Energy during the Clintion administration. After the 3/11/11 nuclear catastrophe began in Japan, he published a report on the potentially catastrophic risks in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant HLRW storage pools--the largest concentrations of hazardous artificial radioactivity in the entire country.

As U.S. Senator Ed Markey has pointed out in a letter to NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane, a 2003 study written by none other than Macfarlane herself (along with co-authors Alvarez, Thompson, and several others) starkly contradicts NRC's current "Draft Consequence Study" regarding pool fire risks. Astoundingly, and at catastrophic risk, NRC staff is relying on the "Draft Consequence Study" as the basis to recommend that no expedited transfer of irradiated nuclear fuel should be required as a "lesson learned" in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe. Beyond Nuclear and hundreds of environmental groups representing all 50 states have called for pools to be emptied into "Hardened On-Site Storage" (HOSS) for well over a decade, but their calls have fallen on deaf ears at NRC.

Tuesday
Sep172013

U.S. Sen. Markey slams NRC for biased study of HLRW storage pool risks

U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA)On the eve of a public meeting at the agency's HQ in Rockville, Maryland, U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA, photo left), a long-time congressional watchdog on the nuclear power industry and its supposed regulators at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has written a blistering letter to NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane regarding NRC staff's "Draft Consequence Study" of the radiological risks of high-level radioactive waste (HLRW) storage pool fires.

Markey's letter references a "devastating critique" of NRC's "Draft Consequence Study" submitted on August 1st by Dr. Gordon Thompson, expert witness on behalf of an environmental coalition including Beyond Nuclear.

Markey points out the irony of NRC's current flip disregard of pool fire risks, given NRC Chairwoman Macfarlane's co-authorship of a 2003 study, along with several others, including Thompson, as well as IPS Senior scholar Bob Alvarez, that clearly exposed the potentially catastrophic fire risks of pool storage.

Thursday
Sep052013

Grassroots activism laid the groundwork for Vermont Yankee's announced demise

This infamous photo of Vermont Yankee's 2007 cooling tower collapse was sent to media reporters by whistleblowersBob Bady, a founding member of the Safe and Green Campaign, has penned an op-ed at the Vermont Digger entitled "What Killed the Beast?"

The beast to which he refers is Vermont Yankee, a GE Mark I boiling water reactor, identical in design to the wrecked, leaking Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4 in northeastern Japan.

He writes: "...The ultimate goal of a large corporation such as Entergy is to make money. Its growth or demise is about profit. The backstory is actually what prevented Vermont Yankee from making enough profit to continue to operate for decades to come.

Certainly cheaper natural gas was a signficant factor, as was an old plant that would require significant maintenance in the coming years. Pending costly federally mandated safety improvements, precipitated by the Fukushima disaster, also loomed.

The tipping point, however, the thing that might have really sealed Vermont Yankee's fate, was grassroots activism...".

He concludes that "because the anti nuke environmental community in Vermont, southwestern New Hampshire and western Massachusetts worked hard, long and intelligently to rally public opinion, and educate the Vermont Legislature," state laws signed by Vermont's former, pro-nuclear Republican governor became a "big expensive problem" for Entergy.

Bady adds "Entergy's income was first impacted when, by late 2010 and early 2011, its reputation had become so damaged by its own misdeeds, brought to the spotlight by activists, that Vermont electric utilities played hardball in contract negotiations. As a result, no deal emerged between Vermont Yankee and Vermont utilities, and Entergy was left to sell its product on the "spot" market, where prices had dropped because of cheaper natural gas."

Author Richard Watts asked the same question: how could Vermont Yankee go from being seen as a good neighbor and mainstay of the Green Mountain State's economy by some, to being almost universally disdained, even by former supporters, as a pariah, with top elected officials referring to Entergy publicly as a "rogue corporation"? Watts' book, Public Meltdown: The Story of Vermont Yankee, shows that Entergy's cover ups and lies under oath to state officials -- such as the 2007 cooling tower collapse brought to light by whistleblowers (photo, above left), and Entergy executives' perjury regarding radioactivity leaks into groundwater -- combined with widespread grassroots activism, turned the tide.

Monday
Aug192013

Joseph Mangano/RPHP report on radioactivity releases from Palisades and increased death rates in the surrounding area

Entergy's problem-plagued Palisades atomic reactor in Covert, MI, on the Lake Michigan shorelineJoseph Mangano, Executive Director of Radiation and Public Health Project, has published a report, commissioned and endorsed by Beyond Nuclear, Don't Waste Michigan, Michigan Safe Energy Future, and Nuclear Energy Information Service. Based on government data and documentation on radioactivity releases from Palisades, as well as area health statistics, the report's major findings raise serious questions about the connections between radioactivity releases and increased overall death and cancer mortality rates.

Palisades received a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) rubber-stamp for 20 extended years of operations -- out to 2031 -- back in 2007, despite hard-fought resistance that sought to block it.

Press release

Full report: NUCLEAR CONTAMINATION AND HEALTH RISKS FROM THE ENTERGY PALISADES NUCLEAR REACTOR.

Beyond Nuclear pamphlet "Routine Radiation Releases from U.S. Atomic Reators: What Are The Dangers?" Note that the water discharge pathway photo was taken (by Gabriela Bulisova) at the Palisades atomic reactor, discharging into Lake Michigan. Although the atmospheric discharge pathway was photographed at the Callaway atomic reactor in Missouri, Palisades has a very similar vent attached to its containment building for aerial discharges of radioactive gases and vapors).

Beyond Nuclear report (published April 2010) by Reactor Oversight Project Director Paul Gunter, "Leak First, Fix Later," with a chapter on Palisades' tritium leaks into groundwater, first reported by Entergy Nuclear in 2007.