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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
Mar172015

Coalition to press its case against Palisades' RPV safety rollbacks at March 25th NRC licensing board hearing

Entergy's problem-plagued Palisades atomic reactor in Covert, MI, on the Lake Michigan shoreline.A U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) will hold an oral argument pre-hearing on Wednesday, March 25th beginning at 10am Eastern, regarding an environmental coalition's intervention against further regulatory rollbacks regarding Entergy Palisades' reactor pressure vessel (RPV), the worst embrittled in the U.S. The hearing will be held at ASLB chambers at NRC's HQ in Rockville, Maryland, but a listen-in phone line is being provided. The hearing is scheduled to last two hours, till noon Eastern, but there is some chance it will run longer than that.

Palisades is located in southwest Michigan, on the shoreline of the Great Lakes, drinking water supply for 40 million people in 8 U.S. states, 2 Canadian provinces, and a large number of Native American First Nations (see photo, left).

We encourage environmental allies and the media to listen-in to the ASLB hearing, in order to watchdog this vital safety issue. RPV neutron radiation embrittlement, and consequent pressurized thermal shock (PTS) risks, are serious at many pressurized water reactors (PWRs) across the U.S. Any regulatory rollbacks rubber-stamped by NRC at Palisades would set bad precedents that could then be applied at other embrittled PWRs in the future.

According to Mr. Sachin Desai, ASLB law clerk: "The phone number for the oral argument is 800-857-9645. The passcode is 9568305. This will be a listen-only line."

Mr. Desai has also communicated that "Members of the public interested in attending or listening to the March 25, 2015 oral argument must reach out to me, the Board’s law clerk, beforehand either by phone or e-mail.  My phone number is 301-415-6523...[and] e-mail (Sachin.Desai@nrc.gov)." Mr. Desai asks that you RSVP with him by Monday, March 23rd, two days ahead of the hearing.

The hearing will allow the ASLB's three administrative law judges (a.k.a. hearing examiners) to question the contending parties, in order to determine if the coalition's intervention is worthy of an actual hearing on the merits. Both Entergy Nuclear and the NRC staff oppose the coalition's intervention. 

The coalition's legal counsel, Terry Lodge of Toledo, filed the intervention petition on December 1, 2014, by NRC's deadline. The filing included an extensive technical declaration by the coalition's expert witness, Arnie Gundersen, who serves as Chief Engineer of Fairewinds Associates, Inc. in Burlington, Vermont.

Fairewinds Energy Education has published a humorous 6.5 minute video, "Nuclear Crack Down?", shedding light on this serious subject matter.

On January 20, the coalition's attorney, Lodge, rebutted Entergy's and NRC staff's January 12 filings in opposition to the coalition's intervention.

On March 9, the coalition opened a second front in the safety regulation battle, filing an intervention petition and hearing request regarding the parallel issues of Entergy Palisades' "Equivalent Margins Analysis." This attempt by Entergy at yet another weakening of regulations is due to the "Charpy V-Notch Upper-Shelf Energy" of RPV plates and welds at Palisades falling below NRC's 50 ft.-lb. safety screening criteria. In addition to refiling Gundersen's December 1, 2014 expert witness declaration, Lodge also cited a recent Greenpeace International report, warning that extensive cracking of RPVs in Belgium raises a red flag for similar cracking occurring worldwide. Greenpeace Belgium also issued a press release.

This revelation from Belgium is a particular concern at such an already badly embrittled and degraded RPV as Palisades. Beyond Nuclear joins Greenpeace Belgium's call for global testing for RPV cracks, starting with Palisades!

Entergy and NRC staff will almost certainly oppose this most recent intervention filing as well. It is not clear whether the ASLB panel will address this second intervention during the March 25th hearing.

The environmental coalition includes Beyond Nuclear, Don't Waste Michigan, Michigan Safe Energy Future--Shoreline Chapter, and Nuclear Energy Information Service of Chicago.

Note that, in light of the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe, the worst embrittled reactor in Japan -- Genkai Unit 1 -- is to be permanently shutdown. Writing in Citizens' Nuclear Information Center-Tokyo's newsletters No. 148 and No. 149 in 2012, Hiromitsu Ino identified Genkai Unit 1 as Japan's atomic reactor most at risk of PTS.

NRC annual performance review, Thursday, April 9, Beach Haven Event Center, South Haven Twp., MI

In related Palisades news, NRC has announced it will hold its annual performance review on Thursday, April 9, beginning at 6pm Eastern, at the Beach Haven Event Center, 10420 M-140, South Haven Township, Michigan 49090. (Note that in a meeting announcement released on March 18, NRC announced that an open house, beginning at 5pm Eastern, will take place before the formal meeting begins at 6pm). Local concerned citizens and environmental watchdogs are urged to attend. A bone of contention will be the over-exposure of 192 workers to an average radiation dose of 2.8 Rem during a short, month-long project a year ago -- the replacement of Control Rod Drive Mechanisms. Gundersen of Fairewinds charged Entergy with rushing the job, and thus knowingly exposing workers to such high doses, in order to return the reactor to operations, and profit-making, ASAP, despite the long-term risk to workers' health. NRC has recently downgraded Palisades' performance status because of the incident, and will increase its oversight of the problem-plagued reactor for the second time in the past few years.

"Pull the Plug on Palisades for Earth Day!", Sunday, April 19, 2:30 to 5pm Eastern, Old Dog Tavern, downtown Kalamazoo, MI

On Sunday, April 19, a "Pull the Plug on Palisades for Earth Day!" fund-raiser will be held at the Old Dog Tavern in downtown Kalamazoo (402 E. Kalamazoo Ave.), Michigan, to support the interventions against Palisades. The free-will donation event will go from 2:30 to 5pm Eastern. Musical entertainment will be provided by The Duffield Caron Project with Friends. There will be a Silent Auction, and a Seed Exchange Table (so bring any seeds!). A panel of speakers from the local, state and national coalition behind the interventions will provide updates, and will available for Q&A and discussion at the info. tables afterwards. Speakers will include Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear; attorney Terry Lodge; embrittlement researcher Michael Keegan of Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes; Don't Waste Michigan board member Alice Hirt; Michigan Safe Energy Future--Shoreline Chapter chairman Bette Pierman; and Nuclear Energy Information Service board chairman Gail Snyder. Michigan Safe Energy Future--Kalamazoo Chapter Team Coordinator Iris Potter is co-hosting the event. See the event announcement on MSEF--Kalamazoo Chapter's "Palisades Shutdown Campaign" Facebook page.

Jim Hayden of the Holland Sentinel has reported on the March 25 ASLB hearing, the April 9 NRC performance review public meeting, as well as an ongoing lawsuit launched by a large number of Palisades security guards, seeking a significant amount of back overtime pay long owed to them by Entergy. The article quotes Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps: "It all boils down to the safety of the reactor vessel."

In addition to that issue, a number of security guards that have been harassed and even fired at Palisades for simply doing their jobs (calling attention to problems) continue to press their wrongful termination lawsuit against Entergy, despite the company's and NRC's claims that the "safety culture" in the security department at Palisades has been restored to health. As documented by Beyond Nuclear and other groups, Entergy Nuclear is infamous for security breaches and harassment of security guard whistleblowers, not only at Palisades, but at other reactors in its fleet as well.

Sunday
Mar082015

"PG&E overlooked key seismic test at Diablo Canyon nuclear plant"

As reported by David R. Baker in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Pacific Gas and Electric Co. replaced $842 million of equipment at the heart of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant without first making sure the new gear could pass a vital seismic safety test required in the facility’s license, The Chronicle has learned." (See full text of article here.)

The systems, structures and components in question include new lids, as well as replacement steam generators, for the twin unit nuclear power plant. The revelation comes in the aftermath of the permanent shutdown of California's other operating nuclear power plant, San Onofre Units 2 and 3, due to widepsread damage from defective replacement steam generators. That fiasco has turned into a multi-billion dollar boondoggle.

The Chronicle article quotes Dan Hirsch:

“I’m frightened that they’re making almost the exact same mistake we saw at Fukushima,” said Daniel Hirsch, a lecturer in nuclear policy at UC Santa Cruz...

“There was a too-cozy relationship between the nuclear industry and regulators in Japan, and that led to the fiction that it was very unlikely that you’d have an earthquake and a tsunami and a loss-of-coolant accident at the same time,” said Hirsch, who also serves as president of Committee to Bridge the Gap, a grassroots nuclear safety group.

The article also quotes Damon Moglen:

“If key safety equipment has been installed using the wrong data, (Diablo Canyon) needs to be shut down, and we need a public, transparent investigation into the adequacy of the license and the safety of this plant,” said Damon Moglen, senior adviser to the Friends of the Earth environmental group...

Friends of the Earth last year filed a lawsuit claiming the Nuclear Regulatory Commission illegally allowed PG&E to amend the seismic safety portion of its license without public hearings. The move came after one of the commission’s own former inspectors at Diablo Canyon argued that the plant was no longer operating within the terms of its license and should be shut down until PG&E demonstrated it could withstand earthquakes from several recently discovered fault lines, including the Shoreline. The commission rejected that idea.

“This is a regulator who’s not prepared to regulate and didn’t come down on a key safety issue,” Moglen said. “It’s a regulator who’s looking the other way.”

In related subject matter, the 1986 book The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology (University of Chicago Press), by Langdon Winner, warned about the risks presented by nuclear power to life on Earth. The author happened to see whales migrating past the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, just out to sea to the west. The realization struck him that this new technology, nuclear power, puts at risk even ancient forms of life, such as whale species tens of millions of years old.

Monday
Feb232015

"Appeals Court will hear case on cover-up of Diablo Canyon quake risks"

PG&E's Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, near San Luis Obispo, CAAs reported by a Friends of the Earth news release, subtitled "Friends of the Earth [FOE] petition says NRC illegally let PG&E alter nuclear plant's license," a 9th Circuit federal appeals court panel has rejected motions by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, allowing FOE's lawsuit to proceed to a hearing on the merits.

FOE alleges that NRC and PG&E colluded to secretly alter the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant (photo, left) operating license regarding the capability of the twin reactors to survive earthquake magnitudes greater than the facility was ever designed to withstand. In recent years, the lengths and interconnections of earthquake fault lines, and their proximity to Diablo Canyon, were revealed to be significantly greater than previously understood.

FOE is demanding a public adjudicatory hearing on the increased seismic risks, something that should have happened in the first place. In the meantime, FOE is calling for both units to be shutdown, until its concerns are fully addressed.

Harvey Wasserman has blogged about FOE's preliminary legal victory at EcoWatch.

Wednesday
Feb182015

"Thousands more cracks found in Belgian nuclear reactors: Belgian regulatory head warns of global implications"

Entergy's Palisades atomic reactor, on the Lake Michigan shore in Covert, MI, has the worst embrittled RPV in the U.S., vulnerable to catastrophic failure due to PTS.As revealed in a new report from Greenpeace Belgium, micro-cracking in Belgian atomic reactor pressure vessels (RPV) due to hydrogen flaking could be a global problem going undiagnosed, simply because nuclear utilities and government regulators haven't done the needed testing. Belgium's nuclear regulatory agency has issued "a statement confirming that the additional tests conducted in 2014 revealed 13,047 cracks in Doel 3 and 3,149 in Tihange 2," as reported in Greenpeace Belgium's press release.

Embrittlement can lead to RPV failure due to pressurized thermal shock (PTS) in pressurized water reactors (PWRs). Beyond Nuclear, in coalition with Don't Waste MI, MI Safe Energy Future, and Nuclear Energy Information Service, has challenged the continued operation of Entergy Nuclear's Palisades atomic reactor in s.w. MI on the Lake Michigan shore (photo, above left), due to its worst embrittled RPV in the U.S. As reported by Greenpeace Belgium, a RPV breach due to PTS could cause a Loss-of-Coolant-Accident (LOCA), core meltdown, containment failure, and catastrophic radioactivity release.

However, Greenpeace Belgium's report warns that hydrogen flaking micro-cracking also impacts boiling water reactors (BWRs). Greenpeace Belgium's experts call for comprehensive testing of all atomic reactors worldwide, a position echoed by Belgium's top nuclear regulator. Belgium's two suspect reactors are shut; Greenpeace demands they remain so till the concern is addressed. Meanwhile, Palisades operates at full power.

Tuesday
Feb032015

Photos released from 2013 Entergy ANO fatal drop of a very heavy load

The 500+ ton stator crashed through the floor, on top of its heavy haul vehicle, causing extensive damage, killing one worker, and injuring several others.David Lochbaum, director, Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, writes:

"On March 31, 2013, workers were removing a large, heavy part of the main generator at Arkansas Nuclear One when this load dropped. It killed one worker and injured others.

Pictures of the dropped part being removed from the plant and of the damage it did to the floor and walls of the turbine building were released via the Freedom of Information Act. Some of those pictures along with captions explaining what the images are showing are in a file posted to the UCS blog this morning at: http://allthingsnuclear.org/arkansas-nuclear-one-pictures-of-an-accident/"

Lochbaum stands by his takeaway, published not long after the fatal accident in 2013:

"Our Takeaway

The NRC reviewed U.S. nuclear plant experience with lifting loads with cranes between 1968 and 2002. The NRC reported that about two load drops per year happened during this period with ten incidents causing deaths. The NRC’s review concluded that there had been only three very heavy load drops (defined as a load weighing more than 30 tons). ANO-1 makes four.

Gravity never takes a minute off. Neither can vigilance to safety or tragedy can occur." (emphasis added)

When, during an NRC public meeting in Michigan, Entergy Palisades' site vice president, Anthony Vitale, bragged about his atomic reactor's spotless industrial safety record, just a few days after this Easter Sunday, 2013, fatal accident at Palisades' sister plant in Arkansas, Beyond Nuclear corrected the record, by sharing the tragic news from Arkansas. As Beyond Nuclear reported at the time, the worker killed at ANO was named Wade Walters of Russellville, AR. He was 24 years old.