Sixteen months after state tests found historic atomic waste material in flood water runoff from the West Lake and Bridgeton landfills, heavy rain has prompted a new round of tests.
Samples of storm water from the northeast corner of the landfill area near St. Charles Rock Road will be analyzed for radionuclides, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources announced recently.
Concern has mounted for residents of Bridgeton, a suburb northwest of St. Louis, where the West Lake Landfill is located. The radioactive wastes at West Lake were generated from 1942 to 1958 in St. Louis during the processing of uranium for the world’s first atomic bombs. The radioactive material was illegally dumped in the landfill in 1973.
Scientists have warned that the radioactive wastes are contaminating the groundwater, which flows into the Missouri River, which many people drink. In fact, state and federal officials have known for decades about the threat to human health posed by the radioactive material at West Lake. Yet nothing has been done that has stopped the runoff or led to the cleanup and removal of the material.
The recent severe weather comes nearly a year and a half after the same areas were inundated by rain and flooding in December 2015. Both then and recently residents of Bridgeton were able to capture photographs of stormwater carrying sediment off of the landfill and off-site into a drainage ditch. These images were sent to state and federal officials, and residents and elected officials demanded tests to determine if radioactive materials had been disturbed by the runoff. Sampling conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency verified that contamination had migrated from the landfill into the ditches.
For decades federal officials have warned of the dangers of storing radioactive material near the Missouri River, the source of much of the area’s drinking water, and the dangers of radioactive contamination to people who work in and near the West Lake site.
In 1993 an EPA Administrative Order on Consent said: “Direct contact with, and air transport of, radiological contamination would primarily affect persons working in and around the Site. Surface water runoff from the landfill primarily flows to a drainage ditch along the north side of the Landfill and the south side of St. Charles Rock Road. This ditch may occasionally be recharged by groundwater. This surface water either recharges the groundwater or discharges through a drainage ditch to the Missouri River…Groundwater contamination could affect persons using groundwater downgradient of the Landfill before it discharges to the Missouri River.”
The recent rain and stormwater runoff has been observed to be cascading off of the landfill in the same locations as the flooding in 2015 and in the same area as described in the 1993 EPA Order.
The EPA continues to monitor the site, and has been shown evidence of off-site migration, but has failed to take action to prevent recurrence. The repeated runoff event at the West Lake Landfill causes people to look at the EPA and wonder: “Why monitor a problem, if you don’t fix it?”]]>
Despite protests around the world, the Cassini space probe—containing more deadly plutonium than had ever been used on a space device—was launched 20 years ago. And this past weekend—on Earth Day—the probe and its plutonium were sent crashing into Saturn.
The $3.27 billion mission constituted a huge risk. Cassini with its 72.3 pounds of Plutonium-238 fuel was launched on a Titan IV rocket on October 17, 1997 despite several Titan IV rockets having earlier blown up on launch.
At a demonstration two weeks before in front of the fence surrounding the pad at Cape Canaveral from which Cassini was to be launched, Dr. Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York, warned of widespread regional damage if this Titan IV lofting Cassini exploded on launch. Winds could carry the plutonium “into Disney World, University City, into the citrus industry and destroy the economy of central Florida,” he declared.
Four months before, at an earlier demonstration at the same site, Allan Kohn, a NASA career official from 1964 to 1994 who had been the emergency preparedness officer at the Kennedy Space Center, noted that “we were told by NASA that the odds against the Cassini blowing up and releasing radiation [are] 1,500 to one. These are pretty poor odds. You bet the lottery and the odds against you are one in 14 million.” As to NASA’s claim that the plutonium system was “indestructible,” he said it is “indestructible just like the Titanic was unsinkable….It’s time to put a stop to their freedom to threaten the lives of people here on Earth.”
And, indeed, on an Earth “flyby” by Cassini , done on August 18, 1999, it wouldn’t have been a regional disaster but a global catastrophe if an accident happened.
Cassini didn’t have the propulsion power to get directly from Earth to its final destination of Saturn, so NASA figured on having it hurtle back to Earth in a “sling shot maneuver” or “flyby”—to use Earth’s gravity to increase its velocity so it could reach Saturn. The plutonium was only used to generate electricity—745 watts—to run the probe’s instruments. It had nothing to do with propulsion.
So NASA had Cassini come hurtling back at Earth at 42,300 miles per hour and skim over the Earth’s atmosphere at 727 miles high. If there were a rocket misfire or miscalculation and the probe made what NASA in its “Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission” called an “inadvertent reentry,” it could have fallen into Earth’s atmosphere, disintegrating, and releasing plutonium. Then, said NASA in its statement, “Approximately 7 to 8 billion world population at a time … could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure.”
The worst accident involving space nuclear power occurred in 1964 when a satellite powered by a SNAP-9A plutonium system failed to achieve orbit and fell to Earth, breaking apart and releasing its 2.1 pounds of Plutonium-238 fuel, which dispersed all over the planet. According to the late Dr. John Gofman, professor of medical physics at the University of California at Berkeley, that accident contributed substantially to global lung cancer rates.
In her book, Nuclear Madness, Dr. Helen Caldicott, president emeritus of Physicians for Social Responsibility, writes about plutonium: “Named after the god of the underworld, it is so toxic that less than one-millionth of a gram, an invisible particle, is a carcinogenic dose. One pound, if uniformly distributed, could hypothetically induce lung cancer in every person on Earth.”
Moreover, the Plutonium-238 used in space devices is 280 times more radioactive than the Plutonium-239 used in nuclear weapons.
Cassini finally reached Saturn and took excellent pictures and provided scientific information about Saturn, its rings, and moons including Enceladus and Titan.
NASA sent it crashing into Saturn on April 22, 2017 “to make sure Cassini is incinerated at the end of its journey to ensure that any of its earthborn microbes do not contaminate the biotic or prebiotic worlds out there,” wrote Dennis Overbye in his front-page story in The New York Times on April 22. (The article didn’t mention plutonium at all.)
“When I heard that NASA would be dive-bombing Cassini into Saturn with 72 pounds of deadly plutonium-238 on-board, I thought of the Army handing out smallpox laden blankets to Indians on the reservations,” comments Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, which has been in the lead in protesting NASA nuclear space missions. “NASA readily admits that ‘biotic or prebiotic’ life very possibly exists on Saturn—are they trying to kill it?”
Said Gagnon: “We are told that NASA is out searching for the origins of life in the universe but they seem to have forgotten the prime directive from Captain Kirk on Star Trek to ‘do no harm.’”
Felton Davis, an activist with the Catholic Worker movement in New York City, who participated in anti-Cassini protests through the years, said NASA “should face the environmental reality that other celestial bodies are not garbage dumps.”
After the 1964 accident involving the SNAP-9A plutonium system, NASA moved to develop solar photovoltaic panels to energize satellites, and now all are powered by solar panels—as is the International Space Station.
But NASA has insisted that it needs nuclear power for missions into space—claiming for years that it could not use anything but atomic energy beyond the orbit of Mars. However, that has been proven incorrect by NASA itself. On July 4th, Independence Day, 2016, NASA’s solar-energized space probe Juno arrived at Jupiter. Launched from Cape Canaveral on August 5, 2011, it flew nearly two billion miles to reach Jupiter, and although sunlight at Jupiter is just four percent of what it is on Earth, Juno’s solar panels were able to harvest energy.
Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Energy working with NASA has started up a new production facility at its Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to produce Plutonium-238 for space use. Other DOE labs are also to participate.
Says Gagnon of the Maine-based Global Network: “Various DOE labs are rushing back into the plutonium processing business likely to make it possible for the nuclear industry to move their deadly product off-planet in order to ensure that the mining operations envisioned on asteroids, Mars, and the Moon will be fully nuclear-powered. Not only do the DOE labs have a long history of contaminating us on Earth but imagine a series of rocket launches with toxic plutonium on board that blow up from time to time at the Kennedy Space Center. They are playing with fire and the lives of us Earthlings. The space and the nuke guys are in bed together and that is a bad combination—surely terrible news for all of us.”
“The Global Network,” said Gagnon, “remains adamantly opposed to the use of nuclear power in space.”]]>
It has been reported that Suzuki received transportation, accommodations, meals and entertainment at fancy restaurants and seedy nightclubs, racking up a bill of several hundred thousand yen.
The federal funding for decontamination in Fukushima Prefecture has turned into a good way for companies to cash in on the nuclear disaster. Mikio Kosugi, the former president of the Toyama Prefecture construction company hoped that the bribe would help him win more contracts and funding from the government.
The Japanese Ministry of the Environment has admitted that the scandal could corrode public trust in the decontamination efforts, but that the agency will try to win back the trust of the nation.
A judge in Oklahoma has issued a temporary restraining order halts Sequoyah Fuels plans to bury radioactive waste at its plant in Gore, Oklahoma. The ruling is a victory for the Cherokee Nation and the State of Oklahoma who have argued that the waste should be removed off-site.
The Sequoyah Fuels processing facility was one of two privately-owned factories that converted yellowcake into nuclear fuel rods which were used in commercial nuclear power plants but shut down operations in 1993. The facility was constructed by Kerr-McGee in 1968 and started operations in 1970. The facility was repeatedly cited for violations by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission while it was operating, including an accident that killed a worker and contaminated the Arkansas River and groundwater in 1986.
In 2004 Sequoyah Fuels agreed to spend up to $3.5 million dollars to remove the wastes and dispose of them elsewhere, but Sequoyah Fuels notified the Cherokee Nation in January that instead it was planning to bury the uranium-contaminated waste that had collected in various basins, lagoons and ditches on-site instead of transporting them off-site as had previously been agreed upon. According to Sara Hill, the Cherokee Nation Secretary for Natural Resources, the 11,000 tons of material that Sequoyah Fuels wanted to bury on-site was “the most heavily contaminated material on the site.”]]>
There is a climate crisis upon us. Polar ice is melting. Sea level rise is happening. Time is running out. Emergency solutions are the only option — energy supplies that can come on fast and sustainably.
Sadly, some in the U.S. Congress would rather bury their heads in radioactive quicksand, sinking our money into nuclear energy research at national laboratories that have sought but failed to find illusory atomic answers for decades.
The House and Senate are re-introducing near identical versions of the “Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act of 2017,” which promises to throw our money down the nuclear rabbit hole rather than direct major funding to renewable energy solutions that are already addressing climate change quickly and effectively but should be supported and accelerated before it’s too late.
The Act states as its purpose “To enable civilian research and development of advanced nuclear energy technologies by private and public institutions, to expand theoretical and practical knowledge of nuclear physics, chemistry, and materials science, and for other purposes.” It passed the House last year but stalled in the Senate.
In reality, it is another futile tilt at the so-called “advanced reactor” windmill, when real windmills would actually do the job far faster, more safely and cheaply and without all the attendant risks of tinkering with radioactive materials and perpetuating a deadly waste problem into eternity.
The bill states it would authorize research, modeling and simulation of “advanced nuclear reactor concepts” that are “inherently safe.” This chimera has been chased for decades and inherent safety won’t be found in the designs the national laboratories are pushing, such as the sodium-cooled reactor, proven to be literally explosive.
So-called new generation “fast reactors” are another old idea from an old research establishment, the Argonne National Laboratory, which would be delighted to be on the receiving end of this latest transfusion. Argonne’s first attempt at a fast neutron reactor was canceled by the U.S. Congress in 1994.
A new documentary, The New Fire, (a singularly odd choice of title given the subject), celebrates the excitement of eager young scientists determined to invent the better nuclear mousetrap. But back in 1996 the National Academy of Sciences already acknowledged that the development of a reactor that could recycle its own waste would have very high costs and marginal benefits and would take hundreds of years — time we definitely do not have.
The thrill of theoretical experimentation in the laboratory may be exciting for young engineers. But they shouldn’t get our money. Nor should we hand these aspiring atomic alchemists the mandate to cure climate change. That race is already being won by renewable energy research and implementation. It is in this field where the real “innovation” lies and where Congress should be directing their mandate and funding dollars.]]>
The good—the very good—energy news is that the Indian Point nuclear power plants 26 miles north of New York City will be closed in the next few years under an agreement reached between New York State and the plants’ owner, Entergy.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has long been calling for the plants to be shut down because, as the New York Times related in its story on the pact, they pose “too great a risk to New York City.” Environmental and safe-energy organizations have been highly active for decades in working for the shutdown of the plants. Under the agreement, one Indian Point plant will shut down by April 2020, the second by April 2021.
They would be among the many nuclear power plants in the U.S. which their owners have in recent years decided to close or have announced will be shut down in a few years.
This comes in the face of nuclear power plant accidents—the most recent the ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan—and competitive power being less expensive including renewable and safe solar and wind energy.
Last year the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant in Nebraska closed following the shutdowns of Kewanee in Wisconsin, Vermont Yankee in Vermont, Crystal River 3 in Florida and both San Onofre 2 and 3 in California. Nuclear plant operators say they will close Palisades in Michigan next year and then Oyster Creek in New Jersey and Pilgrim in Massachusetts in 2019 and California’s Diablo Canyon 1 in 2024 and Diablo Canyon 3 in 2025.
This brings the number of nuclear plants down to a few more than 90—a far cry from President Richard Nixon’s scheme to have 1,000 nuclear plants in the U.S. by the year 2000.
But the bad—the very bad—energy news is that there are still many promoters of nuclear power in industry and government still pushing and, most importantly, the transition team of incoming President Donald Trump has been “asking for ways to keep nuclear power alive,” as Bloomberg news reported last month.
As I was reading last week the first reports on the Indian Point agreement, I received a phone call from an engineer who has been in the nuclear industry for more than 30 years—with his view of the situation.
The engineer, employed at nuclear plants and for a major nuclear plant manufacturer, wanted to relate that even with the Indian Point news—“and I’d keep my fingers crossed that there is no disaster involving those aged Indian Point plants in those next three or four years”—nuclear power remains a “ticking time bomb.” Concerned about retaliation, he asked his name not be published.
Here is some of the information he passed on—a story of experiences of an engineer in the nuclear power industry for more than three decades and his warnings and expectations.
THE SECRETIVE INPO REPORT SYSTEM
Several months after the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania in March 1979, the nuclear industry set up the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) based in Atlanta, Georgia. The idea was to have a nuclear industry group that “would share information” on problems and incidents at nuclear power plants, he said.
If there is a problem at one nuclear power plant, through an INPO report it is communicated to other nuclear plant operators. Thus the various plant operators could “cross-reference” happenings at other plants and determine if they might apply to them.
The reports are “coded by color,” explained the engineer. Those which are “green” involve an incident or condition that might or might not indicate a wider problem. A “yellow” report is on an occurrence “that could cause significant problems down the road.” A “red” report is the most serious and represents “a problem that could have led to a core meltdown”—and could be present widely among nuclear plants and for which action needs to be taken immediately.
The engineer said he has read more than 100 “Code Red” reports. What they reflect, he said, is that “we’ve been very, very lucky so far!”
If the general public would see these “red” reports, its view on nuclear power would turn strongly negative, said the engineer.
But this is prevented by INPO, “created and solely funded by the nuclear industry,” thus its reports “are not covered by the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and are regarded as highly secretive.” The reports should be required to be made public, said the engineer. “It’s high time the country wakes up to the dangers we undergo with nuclear power plants.”
THE NRC INSPECTION FARCE
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is supposed to be the federal agency that is the watchdog over nuclear power plants and it frequently boasts of how it has “two resident inspectors” at each nuclear power plant in the nation, he noted.
However, explained the engineer, “the NRC inspectors are not allowed to go into the plant on their own. They have to be escorted. There can be no surprise inspections. Indeed, the only inspections that can be made are those that come after the NRC inspectors “get permission from upper management at the plant.”
The inspectors “have to contact upper management and say they want to inspect an area. The word is then passed down from management that inspectors are coming—so ‘clean up’ whatever is the situation is.”
“The inspectors hands are tied,” said the engineer.
THE 60- AND NOW 80-YEAR OPERATING DELUSION
When nuclear power plants were first designed decades ago, explained the engineer, the extent of their mechanical life was established at 40 years. The engineer is highly familiar with these calculations having worked for a leading manufacturer of nuclear plants, General Electric.
The components in nuclear plants, particularly their steel parts, “have an inherent working shelf life,” said the engineer.
In determining the 40-year total operating time, the engineer said that calculated were elements that included the wear and tear of refueling cycles, emergency shutdowns and the “nuclear embrittlement from radioactivity that impacts on the nuclear reactor vessel itself including the head bolts and other related piping, and what the entire system can handle. Further, the reactor vessel is the one component in a nuclear plant that can never be replaced because it becomes so hot with radioactivity. If a reactor vessel cracks, there is no way of repairing it and any certainty of containment of radioactivity is not guaranteed.”
Thus the U.S. government limited the operating licenses it issued for all nuclear power plants to 40 years. However, in recent times the NRC has “rubber-stamped license extensions” of an additional 20 years now to more than 85 of the nuclear plants in the country—permitting them to run for 60 years. Moreover, a push is now on, led by nuclear plant owners Exelon and Dominion, to have the NRC grant license extensions of 20 additional years—to let nuclear plants run for 80 years.
Exelon, the owner of the largest number of nuclear plants in the U.S., last year announced it would ask the NRC to extend the operating licenses of its two Peach Bottom plants in Pennsylvania to 80 years. Dominion declared earlier that it would seek NRC approval to run its two Surry nuclear power plants in Virginia for 80 years.
“That a nuclear plant can run for 60 years or 80 years is wishful thinking,” said the engineer. “The industry has thrown out the window all the data developed about the lifetime of a nuclear plant. It would ignore the standards to benefit their wallets, for greed, with total disregard for the country’s safety.”
The engineer went on that since “Day One” of nuclear power, because of the danger of the technology, “they’ve been playing Russian roulette—putting one bullet in the chamber and hoping that it would not fire. By going to 60 years and now possibly to 80 years, “they’re putting all the bullets in every chamber—and taking out only one and pulling the trigger.”
Further, what the NRC has also been doing is not only letting nuclear plants operate longer but “uprating” them—allowing them to run “hotter and harder” to generate more electricity and ostensibly more profit. “Catastrophe is being invited,” said the engineer.
THE CARBON-FREE MYTH
A big argument of nuclear promoters in a period of global warming and climate change is that “reactors aren’t putting greenhouse gases out into the atmosphere,” noted the engineer.
But this “completely ignores” the “nuclear chain”—the cycle of the nuclear power process that begins with the mining of uranium and continues with milling, enrichment and fabrication of nuclear fuel “and all of this is carbon intensive.” There are the greenhouse gasses discharged during the construction of the steel and formation of the concrete used in nuclear plants, transportation that is required, and in the construction of the plants themselves.
“It comes back to a net gain of zero,” said the engineer.
Meanwhile, “we have so many ways of generating electric power that are far more truly carbon-free.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
“The bottom line,” said the engineer, “is that radioactivity is the deadliest material which exists on the face of this planet—and we have no way of controlling it once it is out. With radioactivity, you can’t see it, smell it, touch it or hear it—and you can’t clean it up. There is nothing with which we can suck up radiation.”
Once in the atmosphere—once having been emitted from a nuclear plant through routine operation or in an accident—“that radiation is out there killing living tissue whether it be plant, animal or human life and causing illness and death.”
What about the claim by the nuclear industry and promoters of nuclear power within the federal government of a “new generation” of nuclear power plants that would be safer? The only difference, said the engineer, is that it might be a “different kind of gun—but it will have the same bullets: radioactivity that kills.”
The engineer said “I’d like to see every nuclear plant shut down—yesterday.”
In announcing the agreement on the closing of Indian Point, Governor Cuomo described it as a “ticking time bomb.” There are more of them. Nuclear power overall remains, as the experienced engineer from the nuclear industry said, a “ticking time bomb.”
And every nuclear power plant needs to be shut down.]]>
I am focusing this brief article on our visit to the central hall of the Unit 2 reactor and would like to share this video that I captured during our visit that has been narrated by my friend Carl Willis, a nuclear engineer from New Mexico.
The video begins as we are walking through the deaerator corridor, also known as the golden corridor, which is used by workers to access the control rooms, dosimetry, etc, and includes an interesting experience we had riding an old elevator.
The Unit 2 reactor is an RBMK reactor, very similar to the Unit 4 reactor that was destroyed in 1986. The Unit 2 reactor continued operating until a fire in the turbine building damaged critical safety equipment in 1991.
The reactor hall looms above the operating floor and contains a massive fuel handling machine that is used to transport fuel assemblies.
The RBMK reactor was designed to allow operators to swap out three to five fuel assemblies per day, while the reactor was operating, unlike US reactor designs which requires the reactor to be shut down for refueling. This also means that the Central Hall is a sort of radioactive hot cell during these refueling operations.
The RBMK reactor design incorporates over 1,700 fuel channels, each is individually pressurized, meaning each channel is its own kind of reactor.
In the spent fuel pools the power plant is storing stringers which were used to raise and lower components in and out of the reactor. Some of the stringers had localized surface contamination on them from being in the reactor during operation. The exposure rates near the surface of one of the stringers was around 2 roentgen per hour, but were barely detectable from more than a few feet away.
To put the measurements in perspective, normal background radiation rates in most of Ukraine are between 6-12 uR/hr (microroentgen). There are 1,000,000 microroentgen in a roentgen, but this is a localized surface contamination, not ambient exposure levels in the general area.
One of my favorite photos from Unit 2 is through the portal where operators could view fuel handling operations.
All of the reactor fuel has been removed from the reactor and the spent fuel pools and placed in the ISF-1 common storage facility until the ISF-2 facility is constructed and the assemblies can be placed in dry casks for storage.
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine is entering a new period in the decommissioning and mitigation stage of the response to the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Unit 4 reactor.
During the last week of November, 2016, just before a fresh blanket of snow covered the plant, workers moved the new confinement structure in place over the sarcophagus that was erected in 1986 to stem the release of radioactive materials into the environment.
I spent the majority of the last month in Ukraine, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, as a member of the last international delegation allowed on-site before the arch was moved. I am currently working on reviewing my notes and data and will write a new series of editorials soon. It was incredible to witness how much progress had been made on-site in just the last year. The experience showed me that the workers at Chernobyl are willing, and able, to do the work – they just need the resources and assistance.
The majority of the time we were at the Chernobyl plant, the entire facility was closed down to international delegations in preparation for the movement of the New Confinement Structure. We were very fortunate to have official status which allowed us to remain on-site even after it was restricted. In the worker town of Slavutych I ran into Simon Evans – Hans Blix’s right hand man and Associate Director at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the international financier of the new confinement structure). Evans first response to my salutation was “What are you doing here?”.
Those last days at the plant before the New Confinement Structure was moved in place were full of activity and anticipation, everyone was on edge, would everything go as planned? It was incredible to witness the resolve and efforts of the Chernobyl workers, despite the pressures that were being placed upon them.
The new confinement structure, or “The Arch” as it is called, is the biggest movable object ever constructed, and there were many problems along the way that had to be dealt with. Even up until the last week before the arch was moved, there were serious concerns about the ventilation system and the overall weight of the new confinement structure. But now the arch has moved, and the workers can begin to focus on the next stages of the decommissioning plan – as soon as they locate the funds to acquire the necessary equipment and to perform the work.
It will still take a few years of close monitoring before experts are able to determine how stable the new confinement structure is, and whether any additional works will have to be completed to increase the integrity of the structure and improve its fit over the original sarcophagus.
There is still a great deal of concern at Chernobyl these days, now that the new confinement structure is in place, the international community will be content to walk away and forget about Chernobyl – little does the world realize that now is when the REAL work begins. Now is when the workers of Chernobyl need us and our support the most!]]>
It was nearly 40 years ago that as a journalist I began concentrating on nuclear power. I hosted a TV program—“Long Island World”—in the 1970s on WLIW/21, Long Island’s PBS station, and was asked to do one on nuclear power. With my crew I visited Brookhaven National Laboratory set up on Long Island in 1947 by the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission to conduct research into atomic science and develop civilian uses of nuclear technology. The labs such as Los Alamos built during World War II as part of the atomic bomb-making program, Manhattan Project, which the AEC succeeded, would continue working on military uses of atomic technology. And here on Long Island this new lab would focus on developing and promoting civilian uses—extending what was done during the war.
The scientists at Brookhaven Lab I interviewed downplayed the dangers of nuclear power. They said to the camera that there might be a minor accident over many years but nuclear power plants were extremely safe because of having redundant systems.
Then in 1979 the Three Mile Island accident—no minor accident—happened. And hearing the news, I thought of those scientists and how they tried to bamboozle me and TV viewers.
I committed myself that day to writing a book, based on investigative reporting, presenting the realities of nuclear power.
A description used in the Investigative Reporting class I’ve taught and in many other classes in Investigative Reporting is that it’s an effort through journalism to tell “how things really work.”
It took a year to write the book. Those who assisted me included atomic physicist Dr. Richard Webb. He read every word of the manuscript. Dr. Webb served under Admiral Hyman Rickover in the construction of the first U.S. nuclear power plant, Shippingport, in Pennsylvania, and authored the book The Accident Hazards of Nuclear Power Plants. Other journalists reviewed what I found including John Rather who for many years reported for The New York Times.
The book was titled Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power. The latest edition, issued after the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe began, is available for free, courtesy of the publisher, on my website, www.karlgrossman.com
Cover Up was the first of several books I’ve written on nuclear technology. I’ve written thousands of articles, too, and hosted and written many TV programs on nuclear power broadcast on the nationally-aired TV program I’ve hosted for 27 years, Enviro Close-Up.
Since Cover Up’s publication in 1980, I’ve also been on the lecture circuit—including being paired by my lecture agency with a leading advocate of nuclear power, John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor. I’ve spoken at colleges and universities across the U.S. and also overseas, including making presentations in six trips to Russia in the 1990s and early 2000s as Russia sought to create a new energy program—before Vladimir Putin’s iron fist came down. My last presentation in Russia, a keynote address at a conference in Siberia on nuclear power, in Tomsk, a so-called “atomic city,” a center of Russian nuclear activity, was supported by the U.S. State Department.
I start Cover Up declaring: “You have not been informed about nuclear power. You have not been told. And that has been done on purpose. Keeping the public in the dark was deemed necessary by the promoters of nuclear power if it was to succeed. Those in government, science and private industry who have been pushing nuclear power realized that if people were give the facts, if they knew the consequences of nuclear power, they would not stand for it.”
“Equal to that of the State of Pennsylvania”
For example, although those Brookhaven Lab scientists downplayed the dangers of nuclear power, studies I obtained from BNL itself projected huge and dire consequences of an accident. For example, over and over again in BNL’s report, WASH-740 Update, is the line that “the possible size of the area of such a disaster might be equal to that of the State of Pennyslvania.” This was written a decade before the Three Mile Island accident almost turned that BNL projection into fact.
I reprint in Cover Up this line and many other passages from government documents on the dangers of nuclear power as facsimiles—reprinting the actual documents themselves—so nuclear promoter could not deny them.
Covering up, deception, continue today.
The push for nuclear power has been—and is—a huge con job, one of the biggest the world has ever seen. From the claim of Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Lewis Strauss that nuclear power would be “too cheap to meter,” to the insistence of nuclear promoters through the years that nuclear plants are safe, to what the some nuclear scientists have advanced as the “hormesis” theory—that radioactivity is good for you; it exercises the immune system—the falsehoods run deep. It almost makes the tobacco industry look like pikers.
$7.6 Billion Bail-out Plan
And now we have in New York State a $7.6 billion plan advanced by Governor Andrew Cuomo and supported by the state’s Public Service Commission, the members of which the governor appoints, to bail out four aged upstate nuclear power plants.
The bail-out would be part of a program that includes a “Clean Energy Standard” under which 50 percent of electricity used in New York by 2030 would come from “clean and renewable energy sources”
To subsidize the upstate nuclear plants, there would be a surcharge for 12 years on electric bills paid by the state’s residential and industrial customers. Business owners, because of their larger use of electricity, would be particularly hard hit.
Nuclear power is dirty, dangerous and expensive—very expensive. And these days, nuclear power cannot compete economically.
As Jessica Azulay, program director of the state’s Alliance for a Green Economy, explains about the bailout: “Without these subsidies, nuclear plants cannot compete with renewable energy and will close. But under the guise of ‘clean energy,’ the nuclear industry is about to get its hands on our money in order to save its own profits, at the expense of public health and safety.”
What are the arguments made by the bail-out plan’s promoters?
The four nuclear plants are needed to offset climate change. A nuclear plant doesn’t emit carbon or greenhouse gasses, they say, a key nuclear industry argument in a time of great concern over climate change for nuclear plants nationally and worldwide. What is never mentioned by these nuclear promoters, however, is that the “nuclear cycle” or “nuclear chain”—the full nuclear system—is a major contributor of carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses.
“Nuclear is NOT emission-free!”
As Manna Jo Greene, environmental director of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, wrote to the state Public Service Commission on this: “Nuclear is NOT emission-free! The claim of nuclear power having ‘zero-emission attributes’ ignores emissions generated in mining, milling, enriching, transporting and storing nuclear fuel.”
Or as Michel Lee, head of the Council on Intelligent Energy & Conservation Policy, told the PSC: “Nuclear power is not carbon-free. If one stage,” reactor operation itself, “produces minimal carbon…every other stage produces prodigious amounts.” Thus the nuclear “industry is a big climate change polluter…Nuclear power is actually a chain of highly energy-intensive industrial processes which—combined—consume large amounts of fossil fuels and generate potent warming gasses. These include: uranium mining, milling enrichment, fuel fabrication, transport” and her list went on.
To combat climate change what’s needed is really green energy led by solar and wind.
Then there is the argument that the 2,000 jobs in the four upstate plants must be saved.
But as Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University, wrote in an op-ed in Albany Times Union, “allowing the upstate nuclear plants to close now and replacing them with equal energy output from…wind and solar power would be cheaper and would create more jobs.” The closure of the upstate plants “would jeopardize fewer than 2,000 jobs, approximately half of which would remain for years because of the required decommissioning and decontamination of the facilities and the securing and monitoring of the nuclear waste.” A “peer-reviewed study” he has done “about converting New York State to 100 percent clean, renewable energy—which is entirely possible now—would create a net of approximately 82,000 good, long-term jobs above the number lost,” he said.
Dr. Jacobson also stated that “I was among many who were shocked by the Public Service Commission’s proposal that the lion’s share of the Clean Energy Standard funding would be a nuclear bailout.”
And there’s the claim the power the upstate nuclear plants provide is needed for continuity of supply. Not true, says as Michel Lee, head of the Council on Intelligent Energy & Conservation Policy, “Upstate New York is flush with energy,” she notes.
Renewable Energy Revolution
And, moreover, there is a renewable energy revolution now well underway.
Just last month, for example, a new firm, Insolight, announced development of solar photovoltaic panels with 36% efficiency. The most advanced solar panels NASA uses in space have 25% efficiency. When I wrote Cover Up, the efficiency of solar panels was in the single digits. Now most are 18% to 20%, and the SunPower company last year began manufacturing panels with 24% “world record” efficiency. With such jumps in efficiency, less space for panels is needed. More panels can be deployed harvesting more sunlight and converting it to electricity. Meanwhile, the price of solar panels has gone down dramatically.
Wind has become the world’s fastest growing energy resource.
Deepwater Wind is now completing America’s first offshore windfarm east of Long Island. It seeks to follow that up with a 200-turbine windfarm south of Long Island—the turbines placed beyond the horizon so there’s no aesthetic issue as there has been in early offshore windfarm plans. Then Deepwater Wind seeks to build a 200-windfarm south of New York City off New Jersey.
Here on Long Island the Town of East Hampton is moving ahead to have 100% of its electricity come from safe, clean, green, renewable energy by 2020. That’s just four years away!
East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell says: “Making the switch to clean energy is just the right thing to do, both for the environment and for keeping more money in the local economy and creating jobs here.”
“We’re doing it!,” he told me recently:
East Hampton is to meet its 100% renewable energy goal through solar energy, from panels on town-owned land and rooftops, and from wind energy from Deepwater Wind’s off-shore wind turbines.
East Hampton has become the first municipality on the East Coast to adopt a 100% renewable energy goal but other governments in the U.S.—including cities such as San Francisco—have done the same, as have nations around the world.
Every town on Long Island and through New York State could do it, too. There’d be different mixes—like there needs to be different mixes globally depending on energy resources, although solar power runs through all.
“The World Can Transition…”
“The World Can Transition to 100% Clean, Renewable Energy,” declares the website of The Solutions Project headquartered in California. “Together ,” it continues, “we can build a stronger economy, healthier families, and a more secure future. 100% clean is 100% possible. Join us.” The website—http://the solutionsproject.org—is full of information on 100% renewable energy programs happening.
Among the articles: “139 Countries Could Be 100% Renewable by 2050.” The Solutions Project, supported by leading U.S. foundations including the Park Foundation, last month launched “The Fighter Fund, a new grant-making program for community-based groups on the front lines of the fight for clean energy and climate justice.”
And a fight is occurring. “Holding Clean Energy Hostage,” was the title of a recent article by Cathy Kunkel of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and M.V. Ramana of the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University in the journal Reason in Revolt. Companies tied to “traditional” energy—nuclear, coal, oil, gas—seek to block “renewable energy every step of the way.”
The sun does not send bills.
Neither does the wind.
Once the infrastructure for renewable energy is built, energy flows—freely. And this threatens the old power order.
But there are new companies—like Insolight and Deepwater Wind—making huge advances in renewable energy technologies that the old order can’t put a lid on.
Regarding wind, the United Kingdom has just given the go-ahead for what’s to be the world’s largest offshore wind farm. An this August 7, Scottish wind turbines generated “the total amount of electricity used by every home and business” in Scotland, reported the U.K. newspaper The Independent.
There are big advances in energy storage—to end criticism of renewable energy being intermittent. “Holy Grail of Energy Policy in Sight as Battery Technology Smashes the Old Order,” was the recent headline of the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph. Storage is a component of the Deepwater Wind bringing electricity to Long Island.
Said Bill Nye, the “Science Guy,” on CNN recently: “There’s enough wind and solar to power the world.”
And there are other renewable sources including those involving water—tidal power and wave power as we see daily on Long Island, now being tapped around the world, biomass, geothermal and on and on.
East Hampton by “setting these bold renewable energy goals,” says Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, is “a visionary leader in the fight against climate change and an example of how we can all become part of the solution.”
“Imagine what New York could do if Cuomo…”
Says Jessica Azulay of Alliance for a Green Economy: “Imagine what New York could do if Cuomo would go all-in on the thriving renewable energy sector instead of dumping more money into the nuclear industry. We could put more funding into wind and solar…and make tens of thousands of homes more energy efficient, creating jobs and saving people money. We could put real dollars into the geothermal industry and get ourselves off fracked gas and other fossil fuels…We’d save money to help with worker retraining and transitioning communities into the green economy. In short, we could accelerate our transition to 100 percent renewable energy, getting there faster, cheaper and safer.”
The Cuomo $7.6 billion nuclear bail-out plan, as Blair Horner, legislator director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, says “is like subsidizing the horse-and-buggy industry while Henry Ford is rolling cars off the assembly line.”
Beyond Dollars—It’s About Life
And this, most importantly, is beyond dollars—it’s about life.
The most comprehensive study of the consequences of a nuclear plant meltdown with loss of containment was done for the U.S. Nuclear Regulation Commission, which succeeded the Atomic Energy Commission, by Sandia National Laboratories in 1982. It’s title: Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences or CRAC2.
The study projected “peak early fatalities,” “peak early injuries,” peak cancer deaths” and “scaled costs” in the billions of dollars for such a meltdown at every nuclear plant in the United States. In “scaled costs” the study itemizes “lost wages, relocation expenses, decontamination costs, lost property” but it is noted that “the cost of providing health care for the affected population” is not included. The nuclear industry and nuclear promoters in government were so upset with the release of this analysis that I doubt there will ever be anything like it again. I’ve distributed a breakdown of the CRAC2 numbers done by the House Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations for your review.
The figures—and we’re speaking here of lives not mere numbers—for the four nuclear plants that would be bailed out under the Cuomo plan are:
Ginna — 2,000 fatalities, 28,000 injuries, 14,000 cancer deaths and $63 billion in costs—based on the value of the 1980 dollar. It would be three times that now.
FitzPatrick – 1,000 fatalities, 16,000 injuries, 17,000 cancer deaths and $103 billion in costs.
Nine Mile Point which consists of two nuclear power plants.
Unit 1 — 700 fatalities, 11,000 injuries, 14,000 cancer deaths, $66 billion in costs.
And Nine Mile Point 2 – 1,400 fatalities, 2,600 injuries, 20 000 cancer deaths, $134 billion in costs.
Also, as we have seen from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukishima, nuclear accidents are not rare events, like the BNL scientists told me, and not minor. With a little more than 400 nuclear power plants in the world, 100 in the U.S., disaster has occurred nearly every decade.
And if the next nuclear disaster is to strike anywhere, it could easily happen at these four old nuclear plants. Nuclear plants were only seen as operating for 40 years. After that, the metals would become embrittled from radioactivity creating unsafe conditions. So they were given 40-year operating licenses. But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has gone ahead in recent times and given 20-year license extensions to now more than 80 of the nuclear plants in the U.S.—including the four upstate plants. This would allow them to run for 60 years. And the NRC is considering having an additional license extension program to allow nuclear plants to run for 80 years. It’s just asking for disaster. Considering taking a 60-year car on to the LIE or an Interstate and driving it at full speed—and that’s also part of the NRC program, allowing the nuclear plants given extensions to “uprate”—run hotter and harder to produce more electricity.
In terms of age, Nine Mile Point Unit 1 went online in 1969 and is one of the two oldest nuclear plants in the U.S., tied with Oyster Creek in New Jersey. Ginna started operating in 1970. FitzPatrick in 1975. These are from-the-past machines prone to mishap.
Excelon: 800 Pound Nuclear Gorilla
But there’s an 800 pound nuclear gorilla heavily involved in the bail-out plan—a company called Excelon. It’s the major owner of three of the plants—Ginna and the two Nine Mile Point plants—and Excelon has made a $110 million deal to buy FitzPatrick from Entergy with the bail-out deal in mind.
I’ve written articles on Excelon and notably its role in President Barack Obama’s flip on nuclear power. Running for his first term as president Obama declared: “I start off with the premise that nuclear energy is not optimal and so I am not a nuclear proponent. My general view is that until we can make certain that nuclear power plants are safe, that they have solved the storage problem…and the whole industry can show that they can produce clean, safe energy without enormous subsidies from the U.S. government, I don’t think that’s the best option. I am much more interested in solar and wind…”
Or as he told the editorial board of the Keene Sentinel in 2007: “I don’t think that there’s anything that we inevitably dislike about nuclear power. We just dislike the fact that it might blow up…and irradiate us…and kill us.”
Then, after his election, he began talking about “building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this county.”
What happened in between? Key influences on Obama on nuclear power were Rahm Emanuel, who became his chief of staff, and as an investment banker was in the middle in 1999 of the $8.2 billion merger of Commonwealth Edison of Chicago and Peco Energy to put together Excelon, and there was David Axelrod, who became Obama’s senior advisor, who had been an Excelon PR consultant. Obama also received sizeable campaign contributions from Excelon executives. Indeed, Forbes magazine in 2010 ran a piece on Excelon and Obama headlined: “The President’s Utility.”
Excelon is now the biggest nuclear utility in the U.S.
Its fingerprints are on the $7.6 billion nuclear bail-out deal. As a filing with the PSC by a coalition of groups including Physicians for Social Responsibility, Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, the Council on Intelligent Energy & Conservation Policy, Sierra Club-Lower Hudson Valley, and public officials, states: “There have been constant ongoing closed door negotiations with Entergy and Excelon nuclear reactor owners, discussing ways to protect and subsidize New York State’s nuclear industry….Some sort of deal for Excelon to purchase the FitzPatrick reactor from Entergy was worked out.” The “deal was predicated on the [Public Service] Commission approving the ratepayer subsidies…to bolster Fitzpatrick and the other financially failing nuclear plants in upstate New York.”
The two Indian Point nuclear power plants 26 miles north of New York City—45 miles west of us here today—are not now included in the bail-out plan. Governor Cuomo says he wants to those plants closed citing their danger. But, notes Jessica Azulay of Alliance for a Green Economy, the plan “leaves the door open to subsidies” for them and this would mean “the costs [of the bail-out] will rise to over $10 billion.”
Rickover: “Outlaw Nuclear Reactors”
The bottom line when it comes to nuclear power comes from Admiral Rickover, considered the “father” of the U.S. nuclear navy as well as being in charge of building Shippingport. When he retired from the Navy in 1982 he addressed a Congressional committee and said—his remarks are included in Cover Up—that until several billion years ago “it was impossible to have any life on Earth; that is, there was so much radiation on Earth you couldn’t have any life—fish or anything. “ Then, “gradually, “the amount of radiation on this planet and probably in the entire system reduced and made it possible for some form of life to begin.”
“Now,” he went on, by utilizing nuclear power “we are creating something which nature tried to destroy to make life possible…every time you produce radiation,” a “horrible force” is unleashed, “in some cases for billions of years.” In other words, nuclear power plants recreate the very radioactive poisons that precluded life from existing. “And,” said Rickover, “I think there the human race is going to wreck itself.”
We must, for the sake of life, Rickover told the Congressional committee, “outlaw nuclear reactors.”
Rickover, deeply involved in nuclear technology, finally saw—as we all must—the light.
The hot word in the uranium mining market is “staying power”, as in who will have the staying power to survive the collapse of the uranium mining industry.
The uranium mining industry is in an awful state while trying to recover from the effect that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan had on the global nuclear industry. The simple fact is that there is a glut of uranium available and no real need to explore new deposits or mine existing ones.
The shutdown of nuclear power plants in the wake of the disaster generated a large surplus of uranium – combined with the rise of fracking and natural gas, drove uranium prices to record lows, and forced most of the few mining companies to shut down mines, lay off workers and reduce debt in a struggle just to survive. This could have long-term implications because it is expensive to shut down a uranium mining operation, and difficult to reverse.
Uranium prices before the 2008 global financial meltdown had peaked around $140 a pound in the summer of 2007. Before 2011, market prices had dropped to $70 a pound. Uranium prices continued to fall after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster and in September market prices plummeted to $23.50 a pound, the lowest in over a decade (or earlier if you adjust for inflation). One of the factors in uranium price is the pace of development of the nuclear industry, namely the construction of new nuclear power plants, which has slowed dramatically. The impacts of the rise of natural gas have forced utilities operating nuclear power plants to tighten belts and cut budgets to keep reactors online. When these efforts fail, the plant either shuts down or the state steps in and provides a bailout.
Fuel for nuclear reactors generally takes 18-24 months to process from the time it is mined before it is ready to use to generate power. Nuclear power plants usually purchase enough fuel to provide an inventory capable of supplying a reactor for 5-7 years. When reactors around the world shut down as the disaster in Japan unfurled, utilities saw the market was being flooded with excess fuel, that these surplus reserves would persist for years, and reduced their purchasing arrangements accordingly. This was a critical blow to the uranium mining industry, because it reduced the demand for uranium mining while utilities lived off of accumulating stockpiles.
In April, 2016, the Canadian uranium mining company Cameco shut down mining operations at the Rabbit Lake Mine, the longest-operating uranium mine in North America, after acknowledging that they couldn’t cover operating and capital costs required to keep the mine open. At an industry conference, head of Cameco marketing Tim Gabruch pointed out “desperate times call for desperate measures.”
In an interview with Reuters, Alexander Molyneuz, chief executive of an Australian uranium mining company named Paladin Energy, said, “It has never been a worse time for uranium miners…At the moment, nobody feels the need to buy and the price is lower every day”.
Uranium mining companies are hoping that the demand for uranium and the uranium market recovers in the next 5 to 10 years. Many market traders are looking towards new nuclear construction in China to promote uranium stocks, but China has made its own plans to supply its own uranium from mines in Africa.
Larry Cantwell, the supervisor of East Hampton on Long Island, N.Y., sat back the other day with satisfaction about the town’s plan to have 100% of its electricity come from renewable energy—safe, clean, green power—by 2020.
That’s just four years away!
In 2014, East Hampton became the first municipality on the East Coast to adopt a 100% renewable energy goal. Other governments in the U.S.—among them cities such as San Francisco—have done the same, as have nations around the globe. And, it’s something that can be done all over the world.
On Long Island, going to green energy is especially meaningful because seven to eleven nuclear power plants were planned for it in the 1960s and 70s. In the parlance of nuclear promoters at the time, Long Island was to become a “nuclear park.”
One nuclear plant was completed, Shoreham Nuclear Power Station 1, but it was stopped from going into commercial operation and subsequently abandoned in the face of grassroots public opposition and actions by local and New York State governments.
When his town board in 2014 adopted—unanimously—a resolution to have all the town’s electricity come from renewable sources, Mr. Cantwell said: “Making the switch to clean energy is just the right thing to do, both for the environment and for keeping more money in the local economy and creating jobs here.”
At East Hampton Town Hall recently he commented: “We’re doing it!”
East Hampton is to meet its 100% renewable energy goal through solar energy, from panels on town-owned land and rooftops, and from wind energy from off-shore wind turbines like those Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind is now completing east of the town in the ocean near Block Island.
In areas around the nation and world, there would be different mixes for implementing 100% renewable energy. The mix depends on energy resources, although solar power runs through all green-energy menus.
An energy revolution is underway.
“The World Can Transition to 100% Clean, Renewable Energy,” declares the website of The Solutions Project headquartered California. “Together ,” it continues, “we can build a stronger economy, healthier families, and a more secure future. 100% clean is 100% possible. Join us.” The website is full of information on 100% renewable energy programs happening. Among the articles: “139 Countries Could Be 100% Renewable by 2050.” The Solutions Project, supported by leading U.S. foundations including the Park Foundation, last month launched “The Fighter Fund, a new grant-making program for community-based groups on the front lines of the fight for clean energy and climate justice.”
And a fight is occurring. “Holding Clean Energy Hostage,” was the title of an article last month by Cathy Kunkel of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and M.V. Ramana of the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University in the journal Reason in Revolt. Companies tied to “traditional” energy—coal, oil, gas and nuclear—seek to block “renewable energy every step of the way.”
The sun does not send a bill. Neither does the wind. Once the infrastructure for renewable energy is built, energy flows—freely. And this threatens the old power order.
But there are new companies—like Deepwater Wind—making huge advances in renewable energy technologies that the old order can’t put a lid on.
For example, a new firm, Insolight, has just announced development of solar photovoltaic panels with 36% efficiency. The most advanced solar panels for use in space have 25% efficiency. Several years ago the efficiency of solar panels was measured in single digits. Now most are 18% to 20%, and the SunPower company last year began producing panels with 24% “world record” efficiency. With 36% efficiency, less space for panels is needed. Meanwhile, the price of solar panels has gone down dramatically.
Regarding wind, the United Kingdom recently gave the go-ahead for what’s to be the world’s largest offshore wind farm. This August 7, Scottish wind turbines generated “the total amount of electricity used by every home and business” in Scotland, reported the U.K. newspaper The Independent.
There are big advances in energy storage—to end criticism of renewable energy being intermittent. “Holy Grail of Energy Policy in Sight as Battery Technology Smashes the Old Order,” was the headline last month in another U.K. newspaper The Telegraph.
“There’s enough wind and solar to power the world,” said Bill Nye, the “Science Guy,” on CNN last month. And there are other renewable sources including those involving water—tidal power and wave power as we see daily on Long Island, both now being tapped around the world.
East Hampton by “setting these bold renewable energy goals,” says Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, is “a visionary leader in the fight against climate change and an example of how we can all become part of the solution.”
The round-the-world flight of the solar-powered airplane Solar Impulse, completed in July, and, back to Long Island, the boat Novela skippered by Long Island solar power pioneer Gary Minnick, arriving in Riverhead a week earlier, powered by the sun in a journey from Florida, are symbols of a the potentially bright new energy future.]]>
Panorama, the BBC investigative journalism program, released a new documentary this week on the Sellafield nuclear power plant (formerly called Windscale) in England warning that areas of the complex are dangerously rundown. The film titled “Sellafield’s Nuclear Safety Failings” was first broadcast on BBC One on September 5th.
The Sellafield facility is one of the world’s most dangerous radioactive wastes sites and is widely known as being home to some of the first nuclear reactors of the atomic age, enormous pools of mysterious radioactive sludge, leaking silos storing nuclear waste, and the potential risk of fire and explosions from gases generated by corrosion, but it also has a long secret history of safety failures, accidents, leaks, spills, scandals and cover-ups dating back to the 1950s.
Sellafield is home to four decommissioned nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities, and vast amounts of nuclear waste. The Sellafield site is also the location of “the most hazardous industrial building in western Europe” (Building B30) and the second-most hazardous building (Building B38), which hold a variety of leftovers from the first Magnox plants in ageing ponds. Many of the facilities were constructed with sole consideration given to the technical challenges faced by designers, with no thought given to how they would ultimately be decommissioned.
The BBC investigation highlights safety problem after safety problem, but largely centers around claims of dangerous handling of radioactive materials, the aging and degradation of critical safety equipment, and inadequate staffing levels.
While Sellafield no longer generates electricity or reprocesses nuclear waste, it still stores nearly all of Great Britain’s nuclear waste. The facility has been described as the “most hazardous” site in all of Britain by the United Kingdom’s National Audit Office, and poses significant risks to people or the environment.
The BBC documentary investigation was initiated after testimony of a whistleblower who used to be a senior manager of the Sellafield facility. One of the greatest concerns listed by the whistleblower is that if a critical fire were to break out and reach the silos of nuclear waste stored on-site that it could generate a plume of radioactive materials that would be spread across Western Europe. Some of these silos contain pyrophoric (will ignite if exposed to air) and highly radioactive nuclear wastes including cladding and fuel elements.
The whistleblower featured in the BBC documentary says that many of the problems it identified over the course of its investigation were indeed simple and not very complex, like staffing issues. In the one year span between July 2012 and July 2013, there were 97 recorded incidents where some facilities at the side did not have adequate minimum staffing levels on shift. Staffing levels are one of the key performance indicators for Sellafield and any deviation from safe minimum staffing levels is not acceptable according to Sellafield documents.
BBC was able to acquire a report from 2013 which documents in photographs how physically rundown and degraded certain areas of the plant have become. Documents clearly illustrated how years of neglect ultimately lead to intolerable conditions in some areas of the site.
The documentary also exposed how radioactive materials were not handled or stored appropriately, because of a lack of investment of Sellafield managers in equipment that would more safely store the hazardous radioactive materials at the site. The film uncovered how thousands of plastic bottles, designed for temporary storage use, are being used for the storage of liquids containing plutonium and uranium, and the storage containers are now degrading.
Rex Strong, head of nuclear safety at Sellafield, was interviewed for the documentary. Strong commented on the storage of uranium and plutonium in plastic bottles, “The organization is now focusing on putting right some underinvestment of the past in order to support the hazard and waste reduction mission that the site has.”
David Pethick, Director of Nuclear Management Partners – a company formerly contracted to own and operate the Sellafield facility, says that the infrastructure that was in place at Sellafield when they arrived to manage the facility was “very poor”.
In the film, Jack Devine, former Chief Decommissioning Officer at Sellafield cautions the viewer that at Sellafield we are in a race against a ticking clock, and at some time that clock will run out and be a problem.
The documentary has been criticized by current operators of the Sellafield complex who claim they have made investments over recent years to make the facility safer in response to pressure applied on them by nuclear safety regulators.
According to recent estimates, it will take over $216.4 billion USD and at least a 100 years to decontaminate and decommission the Sellafield complex.]]>
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has announced that the “ice wall” (formally known as the “Land-Side Impermeable Wall”) under construction at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan has been critically affected by rainfall from recent typhoons that have melted parts of the ice structure, allowing new pathways for highly contaminated water to leak from the basements of the reactor buildings.
The “ice wall” is an underground wall of frozen dirt 100 feet deep and nearly a mile long designed by the utility to divert groundwater from entering the reactor buildings and mixing with the contaminated water therein. The ice wall was built by installing 100 foot-long pipes into the ground at three-foot intervals and filling them with a supercooled brine solution. The Japanese utility has had to admit that the $335 million wall of frozen soil and water is not working as designed.
TEPCO announced that contaminated water was able to escape from the reactor buildings through the gaps in the ice wall that had melted from the rainfall and likely reached the Pacific Ocean.
Tokyo Electric will attempt to repair the melted portions of the ice wall by adding additional refrigerant into the underground pipes.
TEPCO has had to repeatedly address issues with the ice wall project, including an announcement in the spring of 2016 that one of the sections had not yet fully frozen.
Experts have warned that the ice wall, being electrically powered, is just as susceptible to damage from natural disasters as the nuclear power plant itself.
“The plan to block groundwater with a frozen wall of earth is failing. They need to come up with another solution, even if they keep going forward with the plant,” said Yoshinori Kitsutaka, a professor of engineering at Tokyo Metropolitan University.]]>
Talen Energy, the company that owns the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station in Pennsylvania, has informed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that it sees no “viable path” forward and is abandoning its application to construct a new nuclear power plant next to the Susquehanna facility.
On October 10th, 2008, the NRC received an application that proposed to construct a new facility called the Bell Bend Nuclear Power Plant. The application was submitted in time to qualify for $8 billion in federal loan guarantees and special production tax credits under the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005.
The planned reactor was an AREVA design called the European Pressurized Reactor (EPR). In 2008, when the application was submitted, the EPR reactor at Bell Bend was expected to cost at least $10 billion to develop and come online in 2016 or 2017. By 2011, the estimated costs had ballooned to $13 to $15 billion and the date of operation had been bumped back to between 2018 and 2020.
AREVA asked the NRC to suspend its safety review of the reactor design on February 25th, 2015.
In June, 2016, Talen Energy was purchased by Riverstone Holdings. Shortly after the private investment firm purchased the company, the announcement was made that the Bell Bend project would be shelved.
“Talen Energy sees no viable path to obtaining a license for Bell Bend,” spokesman Todd L. Martin wrote.
It is estimated that Talen Energy has invested more than $200 million in the project.
Source: World Nuclear News
Source: The Morning Call]]>