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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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Tuesday
Mar222016

Belgium 'beefs up security' at nuclear plants

As reported by Agence France-Presse:

Brussels (AFP) - Belgium security forces tightened security at nuclear plants across the country after deadly attacks in the capital city of Brussels, the Belga news agency said.

"Surveillance is stepped up with added security measures at nuclear plants," the agency reported.

"Vehicles are being checked with police and army on site," the agency added.

In February, investigators probing the Paris attacks found video footage of a senior Belgian nuclear official at the property of a key suspect. (emphasis added)

Wednesday
Mar162016

UCS's Lochbaum: "2,000+ words on open phase condition at Oconee"

If a picture is worth a thousand words...

The Union of Concerned Scientists' Nuclear Safety Project Director, David Lochbaum, writes:

Last December, a worker discovered an open phase condition on a backup power source for the Unit 3 reactor at Oconee. The NRC dispatched a special team to the site to investigate. UCS described the near miss in commentary posted to our blog at http://allthingsnuclear.org/dlochbaum/special-inspection-oconee-unplugged

[Beyond Nuclear has also posted Lochbaum's previous analysis, with his permission, at the entry below.]

Since then, I found two pictures of the open phase condition at Oconee. This picture clearly shows the open phase condition [see photo, top left].

The open phase condition resulted from the broken connection flapping in the breeze in the center of the photograph. The wire is a seven strand cable (six aluminum conducting wires around a central steel wire).

This photograph shows the broken wires on the right and where they were supposed to be connected on the left [see photo, bottom left].

The seven strand cable is connected via four bolts, shown on the left. Oconee's owner theorized that movement of the cable back and forth over years broke all seven wires, similar to how bending a paper clip back and forth eventually breaks it.

This cable was one of three cables carrying the three-phase electrical current from the 230 kilovolt switchyard to a transformer that reduced its voltage level for use inside the plant.

Conveniently, workers found a similarly damaged cable on Oconee Unit 1 a week later. It was convenient in that if the severed wires had been found the same day that the problem on Unit 3 was found, at least one of the reactors would have had to be shut down. But by waiting to find the problem on Unit 1 until after the problem on Unit 3 was fixed, the reactors could continue operating. Very, very convenient. Suspiciously convenient.

The open phase condition problem that the seven NRC engineers seek to resolve is that existing monitoring of three-phase electrical systems does not always detect problems. For example, it's not known how long this broken cable floated free at Oconee before a worker noticed it. The systems that are supposed to continuously monitor the three phases have a design defect that essentially blinds them to certain single-phase failures. That's the problem the seven NRC engineers petitioned the NRC to fix.

The original photographs are in the NRC's ADAMS thing under ML16027A069.

Thanks,

Dave Lochbaum

Friday
Mar042016

UCS's Lochbaum: "The NRC Seven: Petitioning the NRC over Safety"

Project Mercury Astronauts (Source: Wikipedia)The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has posted commentary by its Nuclear Safety Project Director, David Lochbaum, on the 2.206 (emergency enforcement) petition submitted to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) by seven private citizens who happen to work for the NRC.

Lochbaum's "All Things Nuclear" blog begins:

Roy Mathew, Sheila Way, Swagata Som, Gurcharan Singh Matharu, Tania Martinez Navedo, Thomas Koshy, and Kenneth Miller—the NRC Seven— are not names as well known as Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton—the Mercury Seven astronauts—but their courage and service to the country are comparable.

The NRC Seven filed a petition with their employee seeking to resolve a safety problem affecting every operating nuclear plant in the United States, and the handful of new reactors currently under construction.

The Mercury Seven wore special gear to protect them from the harsh environment they could encounter during their journeys.

Hopefully, the NRC Seven will not encounter a harsh environment in response to their efforts to protect millions of Americans from a longstanding nuclear safety problem.

Lochbaum's blog then summarizes the key milestones leading to the NRC Seven submitting their petition, beginning with the reverlation of the problem on January 30, 2012 with an "open phase event" at Exelon's Byron nuclear power plant in Illinois.

An "open phase event," in short, involves dysfunction in a nuclear power plant's electrical systems, structures, and components essential for running vital safety and cooling systems, such as the Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS). In certain circumstances, the ECCS is the last line of defense against reactor core meltdown, and catastrophic radioactivity release.

Reuters, Syracuse.com, EcoWatch, and Utility Dive have reported on this story.

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.

Thursday
Dec172015

Davis-Besse atomic reactor’s emergency diesel generator voltage too low to connect to safety and cooling systems

Beyond Nuclear and Don't Waste Michigan issued a press release after a December 17, 2015 meeting between U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff and FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company (FENOC) officials revealed that the last line of defense against core meltdown at the problem-plagued nuclear power plant would not work if called upon. (See the Word version for live URL links to relevant documents.)