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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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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.)

Wednesday
Dec162015

Even on "highly important" systems, structures, and components, Davis-Besse barely gets a passing grade!

David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Program at Union of Concerned Scientists, is one of the nation's top independent nuclear power safety experts.In preparatory research for a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff-FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company (FENOC) meeting on Dec. 17, 2015, regarding Emergency Diesel Generator (EDG) concerns at the problem-plagued Davis-Besse atomic reactor on the Lake Erie shore in Oak Harbor, OH, Michael Keegan of Don't Waste MI uncovered an April 10, 2015 NRC staff Component Design Basis Inspection Report.

Upon reviewing the inspection report, David Lochbaum (photo, left), director of the Union of Concerned Scientists Nuclear Safety Program, and a long time watchdog on Davis-Besse, had this to say:

"I typically review the inspection reports on the NRC's component design basis inspections (CDBIs) because I think they are the best inspection the NRC conducts. Evidence of their goodness is that they used to be conducted at each site every two years. For the past few years, that frequency has been reduced to once every three years. A lot of resources go into the CDBIs. Best of all, the CDBIs use consultants instead of NRC staff (in other words, they are conducted by people who don't have to give a damn about not irking NRC senior managers who control bonuses and promotions).

Oddly enough, even though the CDBI team wrote that it looked at the battery charger and load calculations to check whether there was sufficient voltage to close the EDG output breaker, they didn't notice that there's insufficient voltage to close the output breaker. FirstEnergy's April 1, 2015, license amendment request seeks to provide sufficient voltage.

[Background: The output breakers connect the emergency diesel generator to their respective 4,160 volt electrical buses. In the schematic [see "Davis-Besse Electrical Distribution System," linked here], AC101 is the output breaker for emergency diesel generator 1 while AD101 is the output breaker for emergency diesel generator 2. These output breakers are open when the EDGs are in standby. The electrical buses are supplied from the 13,800 volt buses via the bus tie transformers. When electrical power is lost or degraded, the EDGs automatically start. When they are running and developing proper voltage <at the heart of the license amendment request issue> the output breakers close to re-power the 4160 volt buses. The output breakers are opened and closed automatically using electricity. The license amendment request seeks to increase the minimum voltage for the EDGs from 4031 volts to 4070 volts. The torque required to move the output breaker from its open position to the closed position may require more force than can be provided by 4031 volts. The station blackout events at Vogtle Unit 1 [in Georgia, U.S.A.] in the early 1990s and at Forsmark [in Sweden] a decade later were caused when offsite power was lost and the onsite EDGs started but their output breakers failed to close. Those causes were different from Davis-Besse's insufficient voltage cause, but the consequences are the same -- the EDGs are transformed from sources of electricity into expensive room heaters.]

Check out the first line on page 6 [page 9 of 41 on PDF counter]: "The [CDBI] constituted 19 samples...".

What 19 samples? Selected alphabetically or drawn out of a hat? Nope.

Per the middle of page 5 [page 8 of 41 on PDF counter], "...the selection was based upon the components and operator actions having a risk achievement worth of greater than 1.3 and/or a risk reduction worth greater than 1.005...".

In other words, the samples are highly important stuff and not little bitty stuff.

Turning back to page 2 [page 5 of 41 on PDF counter]: "Five Green findings were identified by the inspectors...".

[Green findings are defined as a finding, or safety violation, of so-called "very-low safety significance." The NRC has also stated (see Inputs to the Assessment Process): "Green inspection findings indicate a deficiency in licensee performance that has very low risk significance and therefore has little or no impact on safety."]

So, looking at 19 highly important things from a safety standpoint revealed 5 safety violations.

It's safe to assume that even Davis-Besse tries harder on the highly important stuff than it does on the only high importance stuff. Their best effort yields a 73.7% grade (14 okay out of 19 tries).

If so, looking at 19 high importance things would likely have identified more than 5 safety violations.

And looking at 19 moderately important things would have likely identified even more safety violations."

Monday
Dec142015

Beyond Nuclear sets the record straight on Davis-Besse concrete containment Shield Building cracking risks

A photo of the Davis-Besse Shield Building, and its severely cracked, and worsening, "flute shoulders," as well as safety-significant systems, structures, and components below (including the Auxiliary Building, borated water storage tanks, electrical manhole covers, and Containment air lock enclosure), at risk of falling chunks of concrete.FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company (FENOC) can’t seem to get its story straight, regarding severe and worsening cracking in its Davis-Besse atomic reactor’s concrete containment Shield Building (see photo, left).

In documents submitted to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and its Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel (ASLBP), as well as in oral testimony before the agency’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS), the company and its officials admit certain things. For example, that every time it freezes at the site, the cracking grows by a half-inch. Or that a large enough force, such as an earthquake or tornado, could cause chunks of concrete to fall off the Shield Building exterior, with safety-related systems, structures, and components located below.

But in an interview for a trade press news article, FENOC’s spokeswoman then denied those very admissions (despite having personally attended at least one of those ACRS meetings at which the critical admissions were made by FENOC officials). FirstEnergy can’t have it both ways.

In a new backgrounder, Beyond Nuclear sets the record straight. (See the Word version, for live URLs to relevant documents.)

For additional photos, and more background information, related to Davis-Besse's Shield Building cracking, see Beyond Nuclear's web post announcing the related recent ACRS meetings.

Also see web posts regarding FirstEnergy's proposed, multi-billion dollar bailout, at ratepayer expense, intended to prop up the failing Davis-Besse atomic reactor, at Beyond Nuclear's "Subsidies" website section.

Monday
Dec142015

UCS files official allegation with NRC re: years-long dysfunction with Davis-Besse EDGs

On Mon., Dec. 14, 2015, David Lochbaum, director, Nuclear Safety Program, at Union of Concerned Scientists, filed an official allegation with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission regarding the apparently years-long dysfunction of FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company's emergency diesel generators at the Davis-Besse atomic reactor in Oak Harbor, OH. See the allegation email Lochbaum sent NRC, posted here.

Monday
Dec142015

NRC-FirstEnergy meeting on 12/17/15 re: concerns with Davis-Besse's emergency diesel generators

On Mon., Dec. 14th, NRC staff publicly announced that a meeting originally scheduled for Tuesday morning, Dec. 15th, has been rescheduled for Thursday morning, Dec. 17th, beginning at 10:30am Eastern. The meeting will take place by teleconference, re: a License Amendment Request (LAR) by FirstEnergy, to revise  required safety standards regarding Emergency Diesel Generators (EDGs) at Davis-Besse.

Here are the toll-free call-in numbers:

Phone: 888-950-6757

Passcode: 12158

Concerned local residents, environmental group representatives, and news media reporters are encouraged to call-in. 

The postponement of the meeting was announced just a few hours after the filing of an official allegation concerning Davis-Besse's EDGs by David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Program at Union of Concerned Scientists. 

Lochbaum has documented that concerns with the EDGs at Davis-Besse date back not months, but years -- to 2012. (See "Additional Relevant Documents" linked at the bottom of this web post.)

The application was submitted 4/1/15 and is available under ADAMS Accession No. ML15091A143. (Beyond Nuclear received this doc as a PDF from Blake Purnell, and posted it at the Beyond Nuclear website at the following link: http://static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/f/356082/26729948/1449862061550/4+1+15+ML15091A143+-+Davis-Besse+-+License+Amendment+Request+to+Revise+Emergenc....pdf?token=IBYEWgfqTzERpW5%2BZirIXFajX2U%3D )

By letter dated Sept. 21, 2015 (ML15222A179), the NRC requested additional information to complete its review of the License Amendment Request (LAR). FENOC response, dated 10/14/15, is immediately below.

A supplement to the application was submitted on 10/14/15 and is available under ADAMS Accession No. ML15287A251. (It is viewable online at the NRC's website, posted here: http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1528/ML15287A251.pdf )]

On Dec. 7, 2015, NRC's Mr. Purnell emailed more detailed "Questions for Meeting" to Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps. (Please note, as mentioned above, the meeting will now take place on Thursday, December 17th at 10:30am Eastern.)

However, Lochbaum's allegation email cited above documents that concerns regarding Davis-Besse's EDGs date back not to April 2015, but rather to 2012. (See "Additional Relevant Documents," listed at the bottom of this web post.)

Shockingly, and frighteningly, it appears that 45 years after NRC's predecessor agency, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) established basic EDG safety standards, and nearly 40 years after Davis-Besse began operating, they still don't have assurance that the EDGs will work correctly, or at all, if called upon!

Here is NRC's basic agenda for the meeting, including NRC points of contact:

[Title: Meeting with FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company

Date(s) and Time(s): December 17, 2015, 10:30 AM to 11:00 AM

Location: Teleconference

Category: This is a Category 1 meeting. The public is invited to observe this meeting and will have one or more opportunities to communicate with the NRC after the business portion of the meeting but before the meeting is adjourned.

Purpose: Discuss April 1, 2015, license amendment request to revise emergency diesel generator minimum voltage and frequency surveillance requirements at Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station.

Contact: Blake Purnell, 301-415-1380

Blake.Purnell@nrc.gov

[Blake Purnell, Project Manager, Plant Licensing Branch III-2 and Planning and Analysis Branch, Division of Operating Reactor Licensing, Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission]

and

Jennifer Hauser, 301-415-1687

Jennifer.Hauser@nrc.gov ]

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON SAFETY SIGNIFICANCE OF EDGs

As so tragically shown at Fukushima Daiichi, the emergency diesel generators (EDGs) are the last line of defense against reactor core meltdown and catastrophic radioactivity release.

In June 1998, after a tornado scored a direct hit at Davis-Besse, passing between the Shield Building and cooling tower, destroying the electric grid (and thus the primary source of electricity to run safety and cooling systems), the emergency diesels nearly failed. The second and last EDG broke down a number of times over the course of the ensuing day after the tornado struck. The headline in the Kalamazoo Gazette, a day or two after the smoke cleared, was "Nuclear Disaster Averted" at Davis-Besse. "Narrowly" went without saying.

Dave Lochbaum at UCS said at the time that but for the extraordinary efforts by Davis-Besse personnel, such as to revive the repeatedly failing second and last EDG, that nuclear disaster may not have been narrowly averted.

As Fukushima has shown, hot reactor cores have to be cooled for days after the nuclear reaction is stopped, or else they'll still melt down due to the decay heat. Dr. Gordon Edwards of Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility recently made this point at the Port Huron, MI day-long event opposing the Canadian Great Lakes shore nuke waste dump on Nov. 9th. He pointed out that the radioactive decay, alone, still generates around 10% of the thermal heat of an operating reactor core, more than enough to melt down the core without active cooling. That's how very radioactive (as well as thermally hot) irradiated nuclear fuel is. It's why, nearly five years after the meltdowns at Fukushima, Tokyo Electric still pumps hundreds of tons of cooling water per day into the ruined reactors (even though they don't know exactly WHERE the melted cores are located!), to prevent another overheating, re-meltdown, and renewed "China syndrome." It's also why irradiated nuclear fuel must be cooled for at least five years in high-level radioactive waste storage pools, before transfer to air-cooled dry cask storage (it's too thermally hot, not to mention too radioactive, before that, for storage in dry casks).

By the skin of its teeth, Davis-Besse avoided a core meltdown in June 1998. My understanding is the second and last EDG gave up the ghost for good, shortly after the grid was restored, to provide electricity to the safety and cooling systems. I assume that while Davis-Besse workers were performing repeated "CPR" on the second, and last, EDG, other FirstEnergy work crews were racing to restore the grid in time.

It's incredible that our society is willing to play such high-stakes games of "radioactive Russian roulette," when electricity could be provided safely with renewables and efficiency (not to mention securely, cleanly, affordably, reliably, etc.). In fact, Dr. Al Compaan, emeritus professor of physics at UT, served as our environmental coalition's expert witness in our intervention against the 20-year license extension at Davis-Besse, testifying that solar photovoltaics (PV) alone, or wind power alone, could readily replace Davis-Besse's 908 Megawatts-electric. (Of course, solar PV and wind power in combination could all the more readily replace Davis-Besse!) The NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel was interested to hear more, and granted us a hearing on the technical merits of our renewable alternatives to 20 more years of Davis-Besse's risks. But FirstEnergy appealed that ruling. The NRC Commissioners sided with FirstEnergy, and overruled the licensing board. Thus, our hearing denied.

Just below is pasted in the section, re: the June 1998 tornado strike "near miss," from Beyond Nuclear's 2010 backgrounder on Davis-Besse's many close calls with catastrophe [the full backgrounder is posted online at: http://static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/f/356082/9994732/1293650246863/Davis+Besse+20+More+Years+of+Radioactive+Russian+Roulette+Nov+2010+corrected+Dec+28+2010.pdf?token=ttX228310Ed3CI9ZXWzCw%2FYRzFk%3D]
Direct hit by tornado, June 24, 1998

An F2 tornado, with wind speeds of 113 to 157 miles per hour, scored a direct hit on Davis-Besse, with the funnel cloud passing between the cooling tower and the containment building. The control room operators, running the reactor at 99% power, had little to no advance warning of the twister, until alerted by the guard shack, which had spotted it approaching the plant. Although the reactor was then immediately scrammed, a large amount of radioactive decay heat in the core would need to be actively cooled for many hours, even days. As a safety precaution, operators immediately attempted to initiate the plant’s two emergency diesel generators (EDGs). However, the first EDG initially failed to start, and was forced more than once over the course of the next day to be declared inoperable due to overheating of the room housing it. In addition, the second EDG was later declared inoperable “due to an apparent problem with the governor control.” This “uncertainty of the operability of the EDGs” was a very serious concern, as the tornado had caused extensive damage to Davis-Besse’s electrical switchyard, as well as to the region’s electrical transmission lines, leading to a complete loss of offsite power that lasted for nearly 27 hours. Thus, the EDGs were needed to cool the thermally hot core, as well as to cool the irradiated nuclear fuel storage pool, for over a day. Complete failure of both the offsite power supply, as well as the EDGs, could lead to core damage and even a meltdown in a short period of time, as well as boil off of the radioactive waste storage pool’s cooling water supply [after many days], which could cause spontaneous combustion of the irradiated nuclear fuel within [a short period of time after irradiated nuclear fuel rods were exposed to air]. Such a reactor meltdown and/or pool fire could result in catastrophic radioactivity releases.24 In addition to the dicey electricity supply to run vital safety and cooling systems, Davis-Besse’s emergency alert system and communications were largely destroyed or inoperable. For example, most of the emergency sirens across Ottawa County no longer worked after the electrical distribution system was so severely damaged. Ironically, when needed most, the emergency sirens did not work. Thus, the public would have been “in the dark” had there been radiological releases, and Davis-Besse could not even communicate with the State of Ohio or neighboring counties to coordinate emergency response.25

Footnote 24: See, for example, Technical Study of Spent Fuel Pool Accident Risk at Decommissioning Nuclear Power Plants (NRC, NUREG-1738, 2001), as well as the 1982 NRC/Sandia National Lab report, “Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences” (CRAC-2).

Footnote 25: See: NRC news releases, both dated June 25, 1998, “NRC TEAM DISPATCHED TO DAVIS-BESSE NUCLEAR PLANT,” (http://permanent.access.gpo.gov/lps11598/www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/news/1998/98-40iii.html), and “NRC INSPECTION TEAM MONITORING DAVIS-BESSE PLANT  RESPONSE TO TORNADO DAMAGE AND LOSS OF OFFSITE POWER,” (http://permanent.access.gpo.gov/lps11598/www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/news/1998/98-40aiii.html); see also LICENSEE EVENT REPORT (LER) 1998-006-00, “Tornado Damage to Switchyard Causing Loss of Offsite Power,” EVENT DATE 6/24/98, REPORT DATE 08/21/1998.
Additional Relevant Documents
2.) NRC email dated June 21, 2012, to FENOC, indicating that the LAR could not be accepted for review until some additional information was provided. That email is in ADAMS under ML14324A823.
3.) A FENOC letter dated July 16, 2012, to NRC, withdrawing the LAR. This letter is in ADAMS under ML12199A056. The letter indicated FENOC did not want to provide the additional information requested by NRC.
4.) July 30, 2012 letter from NRC to FENOC, acknowledging that the LAR had been withdrawn. This letter is in ADAMS at ML12200A387.

In an April 10, 2015 NRC "Component Design Bases Inspection Report" at Davis-Besse, NRC listed a "finding" re: "Vulnerability of Emergency Diesel Generator Crosstie to a Non-Essential Bus" (Page 10 to 12, or 13 to 15 on PDF counter)