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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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Saturday
May212016

NRC lets Entergy get away with murder at Palisades atomic reactor

NRC file photo, showing Entergy Nuclear's Palisades atomic reactor, located on the Lake Michigan shore in Covert, MichiganBeyond Nuclear’s Radioactive Waste Watchdog, Kevin Kamps, has issued the following statement in response to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) years-late and meaningless Confirmatory Order, dated May 16, 2016, regarding Entergy employees’ “willful violation” of safety regulations at the Palisades atomic reactor in Covert, Michigan on the Lake Michigan shore (see photo, left):

“NRC’s Office of Investigations’ (OI) conclusion – although it took three and a half years too long to arrive at – that Entergy employees’ violations of safety regulations at Palisades, vis-à-vis the Safety Injection Refueling Water Tank, were willful, is most significant. The cover-up of the crisis in the control room – the leakage of radioactive and acidic water from the ceiling – took place at the very same time as a very serious close call with catastrophe at Palisades.

NRC has, however, yet again betrayed its mission, to protect public health, safety, and the environment, by disregarding its own OI’s conclusions. Having ‘agreed to disagree on the issue of willfulness,’ NRC has let Entergy off the hook. These willful violations were only brought to light in the first place thanks to courageous Palisades whistleblowers, who turned to U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) for help. U.S. Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), whose job as U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman is to oversee NRC, is entirely derelict in his duty at Palisades, putting his own constituents at increasing risk of a radioactive catastrophe. Not only Entergy, but the rest of the nuclear power industry, can thus learn the dangerous lesson that even willful violations of safety regulations, as at Palisades, will be tolerated by NRC, with no meaningful enforcement actions taken.

Despite gouging ratepayers via an exorbitantly expensive Power Purchase Agreement, with the blessing of the Michigan Public Service Commission; and despite cancelling long overdue, astronomically expensive, major safety repairs, with the complicity of NRC; Entergy is nonetheless losing money at Palisades.

As investment advisors at UBS pointed out a month ago, Entergy would do its own shareholders, Consumers Energy’s shareholders, and especially ratepayers, a huge favor, by closing Palisades.

Three years ago, Dr. Mark Cooper, an energy economist at Vermont Law School, predicted that Palisades was at high, near-term risk of permanent closure, due to: economic costs; age-degradation; its “merchant” status, that is, having to compete in a deregulated market; less than 25 years left on its operating license, even with an NRC-approved extension; numerous long-term outages (as due to unplanned shutdowns and breakdowns); and ‘multiple safety issues.’ Dr. Cooper’s similar shutdown predictions have proven correct, as at Entergy’s Vermont Yankee, FitzPatrick New York, and Pilgrim Massachusetts atomic reactors, as well as at a number of others owned by other nuclear utilities across the country.

Let’s hope Entergy does shut down Palisades, before it melts down. For NRC’s Confirmatory Order has shown, worse than ever, that ‘Nobody Really Cares’ about public health, safety, and the environment at the agency. In its collusion with Entergy to avoid any added costs, no matter how serious the resulting risks, the agency is now ‘Notoriously Rotten to the Core,’ with 'No Remaining Credibility.'

George Orwell and Adam Smith are spinning so fast in their graves, they should be connected to turbo-generators and hooked up to the electric grid. The residents of west Michigan, downwind and downstream from the dangerously age-degraded and non-competitive Palisades atomic reactor, are being gouged in order to perpetuate this worsening ‘game’ of radioactive Russian roulette on the Lake Michigan shore.”

Kamps has prepared a backgrounder, responding to the NRC Confirmatory Order, in the context of Palisades’ problem-plagued history, which has worsened significantly in recent years, as the 45-year-old atomic reactor descends ever more deeply into its “breakdown phase.”

Beyond Nuclear, a national watchdog group on the nuclear power industry, is based in Takoma Park, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. NRC's Region 3 headquarters, which issued the Confirmatory Order, is located in Lisle, Illinois, near Chicago. NRC's national headquaters, in Rockville, Maryland, is also just outside Washington, D.C.

Wednesday
May042016

Concerns spread over "Baffling Reactor Vessel Bolts" in aging U.S. PWRs

This image, used by Lochbaum at UCS in his "All Things Nuclear" blog post, as well as his NIRS-hosted Webinar, shows the location of former plates and baffle plates at the heart of PWR reactor pressure vessels. The baffle-former bolts play a critical safety role in directly cooling water flow through the reactor core.As reported by Aaron Larson at POWER, degraded baffle-former bolts at the core of U.S. pressurized water reactors (PWRs) has raised the specter of an industry-wide safety problem. As the article reports, Salem Unit 1 in NJ has at least 18 bolts exhibiting degradation, upon visual inspection. Indian Point Unit 2 in NY, however, exhibited 227 degraded bolts, upon more rigorous Ultrasonic inspection -- a whopping 27% of the bolts there.

Such problems with bolts, the article reports, date back to the 1980s in France. However, it stands to reason that age-related degradation -- specifically, irradiation-assisted stress corrosion cracking -- contributes significantly to the bolt problems.

Both inspections -- at Salem 1 and Indian Point 2 -- resulted from 20-year license extension aging management plans. In the case of Indian Point, this was forced by the State of New York Attorney General's office, leading the state's intervention against Indian Point's license extension.

Despite the problems found at Indian Point 2, Entergy Nuclear has refused to inspect Indian Point Unit 3 to determine how bad the degradation is there. Nor does it plan to until 2019.

As reported by POWER above, PSEG has moved up its Ultrasonic inspections from 2019 to now, given the disconcerting bolt degradation revealed upon visual inspection.

As explained on April 28th by Dave Lochbaum at Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), on a Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) sponsored Webinar (entitled "Indian Point's Baffling Reactor Vessel Bolts"), baffles and formers play a critical safety role, in directing coolant flow through PWR reactor cores:

April 28, 2016. NIRS webinar on investigation of reactor pressure vessel bolts at New York's Indian Point reactors, which revealed numerous deficiencies and failures. The webinar examines those failures and explores the implications for reactors across the U.S. and world. Full video/audio of webinar. Slides only from presentation by David Lochbaum of Union of Concerned Scientists.

In an April 7 blog post at All Things Nuclear, Lochbaum praised NY Governor Cuomo and NY Attorney General Schneiderman for thier leadership in the Indian Point license extension interventions, that forced the baffle-former bolt inspections, that revealed the widespread degradation.

Tuesday
Apr262016

ATHF3 and Swords Into Plowshares Present "Chernobyl + 30: Half-Lives, Half-Truths," Detroit, Fri., May 27, 6-9pm

April 26, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

CONTACTS:

Keith Gunter, Co-Chair, Alliance To Halt Fermi-3 (ATHF3)

Carol Izant, Co-Chair, Alliance To Halt Fermi-3 (ATHF3)

On this 30th anniversary of the onset of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe, the Alliance To Halt Fermi-3 (ATHF3), in association with the Swords Into Plowshares Peace Center and Gallery (33 East Adams, Detroit, MI) is proud to announce the opening of "Chernobyl + 30:  Half-Lives, Half-Truths" by photojournalist Gabriela Bulisova. The display will begin on Friday, May 27th, 2016 from 6 PM until 9 PM and extend into Summer 2016.

Ms. Bulisova traveled to the region in the 2000's and captured startling images of Chernobyl landscapes and the affected population.  Her artist statement and captions, coupled with the photos, reflect the story not only of an environmental and human health disaster, but also of a monstrous event resulting in an enormous psychological toll on millions of people.

"Alliance To Halt Fermi-3 is profoundly grateful to the Swords Into Plowshares Peace Center and Gallery for giving us the opportunity to display Gabriela Bulisova's extremely powerful work," said Keith Gunter, Co-Chair of ATHF3.  "This will be a tremendous opportunity for Detroiters to have a long look at what the after effects of a nuclear meltdown look like."

Carol Izant, the Alliance's other Co-Chair, added "This exhibit should give residents of this area reason to pause and think, since a partial meltdown occurred at Detroit Edison's Fermi-1 reactor on October 5, 1966.  We've already had our own close call."

Admission to the exhibit will be free, and will include a display addressing the situation at Chernobyl as it stands three decades later.  "Chernobyl + 30" will open simultaneously at the Gallery with another exhibit addressing the compelling issues surrounding drones.

                                        --- 30 ---
Friday
Apr222016

UBS: Despite ratepayer subsidies, closing Palisades early "could save money for Entergy and also for CMS consumers"

UBS AG is a Swiss global financial services company, incorporated in the Canton of Zurich, and co-headquartered in Zurich and Basel.As reported by ElectricityPolicy.com:

UBS reported to clients last week on its latest conference call with the Nuclear Energy Institute to discuss the latest industry plan to bring costs back down to the 2002 level of $28/MWh by 2020, leveraging reductions on capital expenditures (capex), O&M, and nuclear fuel. UBS characterized the goals as aggressive, which many investors view with “justifiable skepticism.”  It noted that capex of almost ~$11B in 2012 could be high, as many plants were transitioning from 40- to 60-year timeframes and upgrading pricy steam generators and reactor vessel heads. O&M, it said, remains an area for significant improvement. It opined that declining nuclear costs will be a key upside driver for the likes of Exelon, PSEG, Entergy, NRG, and Talen, among others. A declining cost trend would benefit regulated portfolios as well, including Dominion, Duke Energy, NextEra, Southern, and SCANA. The bank analysts also focused on Michigan, where Palisades, Entergy’s remaining—and costly—single-unit plant, “continues to run with an above-market contract (in the 40's/MWh) with Consumers Energy. It said closing the unit early could save money for Entergy and also for CMS consumers.” With power prices across much of the country “now trending below $30/MWh—and capacity contributing an additional $5-10/MWh,” it said the implicit value of carbon “remains the key ‘discrepancy’ in justifying the economics of these plants.”  April 15, 2016 (emphasis added)

See the full UBS report, linked here.

It should be noted that, although the previous owner of the Palisades atomic reactor, Consumers Energy, had testified to the Michigan Public Service Commission in spring 2006 that reactor pressure vessel embrittlement concerns needed to be addressed at Palisades, and the reactor lid and steam generators needed to be replaced, none of these have happened since Entergy took ownership in 2007. (CMS is the parent company for Consumers Energy.) Thus, Palisades' woeful uncompetitiveness, and inability to turn a profit, has nothing to do with "upgrading pricy steam generators and reactor vessel heads," as reported above.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is complicit, in not requiring Entergy to make these previously promised major repairs and replacements at Palisades.

A year after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe began, the Japanese Parliament's independent investigation into the root cause determined that collusion between regulator, nuclear utility, and government officials was the reason why the reactors were so vulnerable to the natural disasters that melted them down. Such collusion exists in spades at Palisades, between NRC, Entergy, and such government officials as Fred Upton, Chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee. Palisades -- as well as American Electric Power's Cook nuclear power plant, with two reactors -- is located in Rep. Upton's (R-MI) congressional district. Entergy has been a significant campaign contributor.

Tim Judson, Executive Director at Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), upon reviewing the UBS analysis, as well as the relevant 2007 Michigan Public Service Commission documents, commented:

“Looks to me like the prices in the contract are structured like those for Ginna and Nine Mile Point [nuclear plants in Upstate New York]. There is a base price that is adjusted by monthly and time-of-day factors. The adjustment factors average out to about 1.10 over the whole year. So the average price Entergy will be paid for Palisades’ power this year is 1.10 x $52.50/MWh [Megawatt-hour] = $57.75/MWh. That is by far the highest price PPA [Power Purchase Agreement] I've seen (I guess we knew that much). But if Palisades is losing money at that price that means to break-even, the operating cost has to be at least $60/MWh. Entergy cuts so many costs at their reactors, that means something is seriously out of whack (which we knew).” (emphasis added)

Thus, despite a sweetheart deal blessed by the Michigan Public Service Commission in 2007, locking in above-market prices for Palisades' electricity for 15 years, till 2022, Entergy's problem-plagued atomic reactor is nonetheless losing money, and starkly uncompetitive compared to market rates.

Such "public service" is akin to the MI PSC "serving the public," up for dinner, to Entergy and Consumers Energy.

Regional ratepayers have been forced to pay significantly higher electric rates than the free market would require, in order to fund ever increasing safety risks at the age-degraded Palisades atomic reactor. Apparently, the overriding priority for "the powers that be," including Entergy and Consumers Energy, as well as the Michigan Public Service Commission, is to pad the pockets of nuclear utility shareholders and executives, at ratepayer expense, and public risk. In this sense, the public is being asked to fund, at exorbitant rates, many more years of "radioactive Russian roulette" at Palisades.

Dr. Mark Cooper, energy economist at Vermont Law SchoolIn July 2013, Dr. Mark Cooper of Vermont Law School -- based in part of UBS, and other investment firms' analyses -- included Palisades in his short list of a dozen atomic reactors across the U.S. at highest risk of near-term, permanent shutdown, due to a variety of reasons: economic factors such as cost, its old age, its merchant plant status, and that is has less than 25 years of operations left, despite its license extension; operational factors, such as long term outages; and multiple safety issues.

UBS's and Cooper's previous predictions have proved correct, as with the permanent shutdown at Entergy's Vermont Yankee reator in Dec. 2014, as well as the impending shutdowns at Entergy's FitzPatrick reactor in NY in Jan. 2017, and Entergy's Pilgrim reactor near Boston in May 2019 (or hopefully sooner).

Friday
Apr222016

Celebrating Earth Day & John Muir's birthday by seeking to prevent a Chernobyl-like catastrophe on Lake Michigan at Entergy's Palisades

As reported by WWMT (Kalamazoo, MI's CBS t.v. affiliate), on April 21st, an environmental coalition marked the eve of Earth Day, and the birthday of Sierra Club founder John Muir, with a forum calling for the "shutdown before meltdown" of Entergy Nuclear's problem-plagued Palisades atomic reactor.

The event was held at First Congregational UCC Church in downtown Kalamazoo, less than 40 miles (as the radioactive Iodine-131 flies) straight downwind from Palisades, well within the 50-mile radiological emergency planning zone (EPZ, see image below).

50-mile radiological ingestion pathway zone surrounding Entergy Nuclear's Palisades atomic reactor, on the Lake Michigan shore in Covert, Michigan.Beyond Nuclear, in coalition with Michigan Safe Energy Future-Kalamazoo Chapter (MSEF) and Sierra Club Southwest Michigan Group (SWMG) sponsored the event.

Beyond Nuclear's Radioactive Waste Watchdog, Kevin Kamps -- a board member of Don't Waste Michigan, representing his native Kalamazoo chapter -- presented a power point entitled Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island…Where Next?!

Beyond Nuclear congratulates the local organizers for a great event. Their press work garnered advance media coverage, which helped generate a good turn out. Folks came from as far away as metro Detroit (see the "Got KI?" campaign below), as well as from the shoreline (including MSEF-Shoreline Chairman Bette Pierman and other chapter members; Palisades Park residents, the atomic reactor's immediately adjacent neighbors); and Saugatuck's Dayle Harrison, long-time director of the Kalamazoo River Protection Association).

The program was creative and powerful.

Michael Keegan, Alice Hirt, and Kevin Kamps of Don't Waste Michigan speak out against Palisades in August 2000 at the Nuclear-Free Great Lakes Action Camp. Palisades' cooling tower steam rises in the background (Lake Michigan is also visible). The crosses in the foreground bear the names of villages, towns, cities, and counties within the nearby region that could be turned into radioactive Dead Zones, if Palisades has a catastrophic radioactivity release. Photo by Gabriela Bulisova at Van Buren State Park.Tom Duffield welcomed arriving attendees with piano music, accompanied by vocals from Michael Hoag. Both are core organizing team members with MSEF-Kalamazoo Chapter (Tom also made sure the sound system worked for all the speakers).

Catherine Sugas, a long time anti-Palisades activist, then sang Earth Day-themed songs, to begin the program.

Roger Taylor, active with the Sierra Club SWMG, emceed the event (as well as providing essential technical assistance to make the power point presentations possible, as did Hoag).

Bruce Brown, coordinator of the Sierra Club SWMG and its webmaster, said a few words about the chapter and its activities, as did Iris Potter, a core team member with MSEF-Kalamazoo Chapter.

Michael Hoag read aloud a powerful letter sent by Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Steven Burns, not only expressing support for hearings won from NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) by a coalition of environmental groups (including Beyond Nuclear, Don't Waste MI, MSEF, and Nuclear Energy Information Service of Chicago), but adding "the requested regulatory relief should be denied to ENTERGY."

Hopewell sent the letter on November 6, 2015. Shockingly, a mere three days later, the NRC Commissioners ruled in favor of Entergy's appeal nonetheless, overruling their own ASLB, and denying the environmental coalition its hard won hearing.

Then, a mere two weeks after that, the NRC staff added insult to injury, granting Palisades the regulatory relief (rubber-stamping the regulatory retreat, or rollbacks on safety standards) that Mayor Hopewell had protested. In short, NRC had granted Palisades permission to operate for an additional 16 years (2015-2031), despite having the worst embrittled reactor pressure vessel in the U.S., at risk of catastrophic radioactivity release due to a pressurized thermal shock fracture, Loss-of-Coolant-Accident, and core meltdown.

Kalamazoo's Vice Mayor, Don Cooney, attended the 4/21 event, as did the campaign manager for Democratic candidate for U.S. Representative, Paul Clements.

A delegation of co-chairs from the Alliance to Halt Fermi 3 (ATHF3) in metro Detroit came all the way across the state to take part in the event. Ethyl Rivera gave an enlightening presentation about ATHF3's "Got KI?" campaign, launched last year in partnership with Beyond Nuclear. The idea is to expand the "Got KI?" efforts to the Palisades region, in order to help protect residents' thyroid glands, in the event of a catastrophic release of radioactive Iodine-131 from the troubled, age-degraded reactor.

Bruce Brown and Roger Taylor with Sierra Club SWMG also prepared KI-related informational materials for the event. Brown related their experience paying a visit to the Palisades nuclear power plant, only to find that Entergy officials had no emergency preparedness materials handy -- including regarding protecting human thyroid glands from radioactive I-131 -- to share with them. This, despite the epidemic of thyroid pathology -- especially in children -- the took place in the aftermath of Chernobyl, and now appears to be happening in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear catatsrophe.

An extended question and answer period led to in depth discussions.

Brown from Sierra Club SWMG and Potter from MSEF-Kalamazoo Chapter wrapped up the event with "next steps" and "what you can do" announcements, including plans for a follow up organzing meeting in Kalamazoo in early May.