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.]]>
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]]>
This week TEPCO officials at a meeting with officials from the Nuclear Regulation Authority in Japan admitted that the ice wall they promoted as an impermeable barrier to prevent groundwater from entering the crippled reactor buildings and mixing with highly radioactive water has failed to work as billed and is technically incapable of blocking off groundwater.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant continues to be overwhelmed by enormous amounts of contaminated groundwater that is generated every day as it mixes and interacts with contaminated water in the basement of the reactor buildings. Currently 400 tons of groundwater flows into the damaged reactor buildings every day and mixes with the highly radioactive water in the basements.
TEPCO had developed the ice wall and installed subdrain wells around the reactor buildings to pump up the contaminated groundwater, treat it, and discharge it into the Pacific Ocean, in the hopes that it would reduce the amounts of contaminated water generated every day. The wall consists of a series of underground refrigeration pipes that freeze the soil around them.
Before installation of the wall, TEPCO described the project to the public, saying, “We will create an impermeable barrier by freezing the soil itself all the way down to the bedrock that exists below the plant. When groundwater flowing downhill reaches this frozen barrier it will flow around the reactor buildings, reaching the sea just as it always has, but without contacting the contaminated water within the reactor buildings.”
The ice wall began operating in March of this year, but has not yet made a meaningful impact on reducing the amount of groundwater that enters the reactor buildings.
Experts are concerned that the increasing levels of highly radioactive water in the reactor buildings could escape into the local environment in the event of heavy rainfall or a tsunami.]]>
Officials from the Palisades nuclear power plant in Michigan operated by Entergy have confirmed that 22 workers have been placed on paid leave after it was found that fire inspection records had been falsified.
One of the duties of security officers at some nuclear power plants is to conduct routine checks to ensure that there are no indications of fires. These fire inspections are part of a commitment made by licensees instead of upgrading or modifying nuclear power plants to remove the threat of fires affecting the performance of critical safety systems.
Val Gent, spokeswoman for the nuclear power plant said, “we cannot tolerate employees stating they completed a task when they didn’t, and we are obligated to fully investigate any such instances.”
Several of the security officers placed on leave have told reporters that they are being treated as scapegoats by plant management, and claim they were never trained to perform the fire inspections.
“Now the company [Entergy] lawyer is asking us questions, saying the NRC will be speaking with us…and that we could be criminally liable,” a suspended security officer told a reporter from WWMT News Channel 3.
The falsification of fire reports was discovered in June when physical documents indicating fire inspections had been performed were found to not match the digital records from security key cards tracking employee movements in the plant. Entergy began an internal investigation after finding the discrepancy.
In 2013 and 2014, employees at the Entergy-owned Waterford nuclear power plant in Louisiana were also found to have falsified nearly a year’s worth of fire watch logs.w
Source: Detroit Free Press
“Indian Point” is a film about the long problem-plagued Indian Point nuclear power plants that are “so, so risky—so close to New York City,” notes its director and producer Ivy Meeropol. “Times Square is 35 miles away.”
The plants constitute a disaster waiting to happen threatening especially the lives of the 22 million people who live within 50 miles from them. “There is no way to evacuate—what I’ve learned about an evacuation plan is that there is none,” says Meeropol. The plants are “on two earthquake fault lines,” she notes. “And there is a natural gas pipeline right there that an earthquake could rupture.”
Meanwhile, both plants, located in Buchanan, New York along the Hudson River, are now essentially running without licenses. The federal government’s 40-year operating license for Indian Point 2 expired in 2013 and Indian Point 3’s license expired last year. Their owner, Entergy, is seeking to have them run for another 20 years—although nuclear plants were never seen as running for more than 40 years because of radioactivity embrittling metal parts and otherwise causing safety problems. (Indian Point 1 was opened in 1962 and closed in 1974, its emergency core cooling system deemed impossible to fix.)
At Indian Point 2 and 3 there have been frequent accidents and issues involving releases of radioactivity through the years. The discharges of tritium or irradiated water, H30, which cannot be filtered out of good water, into the aquifer below the Westinghouse nuclear plants and also the Hudson River have been a major concern.
But it’s not just Indian Point that “Indian Point” is about. The film emphasizes: “With so much attention focused on Indian Point, the future of nuclear plants in the United States might depend on what happens here.”
“I would give the film an ‘A.’ I wholeheartedly recommend it for wide release throughout the United States,” says Priscilla Star, founder of the Coalition Against Nukes: “It is a stellar learning tool. It depicts the David-versus-Goliath struggle involving those trying to close these decrepit nuclear plants and the profit-hungry nuclear industry. It shows grassroots activists fighting the time bombs in their community.”
The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year. For the past two weeks it has been showing five-times-a-day at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, also in Manhattan. That run will go until Thursday, July 21. On Friday, July 22, it is to open in Los Angeles. After its theatrical release, it will air on the Epix cable TV channel.
Among those in the film are anti-Indian Point activist Marilyn Elie and long-time environmental journalist Roger Witherspoon who has written extensively about Indian Point. And also Entergy employees appear. Meeropol and her crew were given full access to the nuclear plants.
The documentary provides a special focus on Dr. Gregory Jaczko. He was chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) when the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan began in March 2011. As notes Meeropol, Jaczko sought to have “lessons learned” from the Fukushima catastrophe—which involved General Electric nuclear plants—applied to nuclear power plants in the U.S. And he was given “a really tough time.” Pressure by the nuclear industry caused Jaczko, with a doctorate in physics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, to be “pushed out” as NRC chairman and member. Meeropol tells of how “this guy, a decent person trying to do his job, was completely abused.”
Meeropol, in an interview, said the NRC “is too closely linked to the nuclear industry. It’s not going to do anything that the nuclear industry regards as too costly or onerous. I want that to be one of the biggest takeaways from the film—how a regulatory body cares more about the industry it is supposed to regulate than the public. And of all industries that should be regulated, it’s the nuclear power industry.” She said she found the nuclear industry and nuclear energy officials in the U.S. government “one and the same.”
Meeropol began the “Indian Point” film project in January 2011. She had moved from Brooklyn up to the Hudson Valley “a decade ago when our son was born. Commuting in and out of the city on the Metro-North train, I went right past the plants. They looked so foreboding and odd there in that beautiful landscape.”
Also, until she, her husband and son moved upstate, “having lived in New York City, I had no idea how close they were to the city.”
Further, in the community where they went to live, Cold Spring, 15 miles from the plants. “we could hear the [emergency] sirens” from the plants and she was unsettled receiving in the mail an “emergency preparedness booklet titled: ‘Are You Ready?’”
So the experienced filmmaker started doing research on the “dangerous endeavor of making nuclear energy.” With the Fukushima disaster beginning just a few months after she started on the film, that “broadened” its perspective.
She said the films she has made have always been “character-driven” and she was attracted to feature in “Indian Point” Marilyn Elie—“she knows her stuff”—and Roger Witherspoon. “I liked his dynamic. He is a journalist. She is an activist.” She stressed to Entergy officials that she would be even-handed “and quite amazingly was given access” to the plants. Her connecting with Jaczko was crucial. It “became my crusade to redeem Greg Jaczko before the world.”
She started making the film on a shoe string. “I ran out of money numerous times.” But she was able to get financial support from the Sundance Institute, the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Catapult Fund, and individual contributions. And “partnering” with Julie Goldman, founder of Motto Films, was extremely important. Goldman is also producer of “Indian Point.” A “very generous grant” was received from the MacArthur Foundation which also “opened up other doors.”
The avidly pro-nuclear New York Times (its pro-Indian Point editorials never cease and its last reporter who long covered the plants and the nuclear industry has now gone on to a job with the PR arm of the industry) said in its review: “’Indian Point’ is a good overview of the issues, with insights into the problems of regulating the industry.” It complained about Meeropol’s being “steadfast in providing both sides.”
Meanwhile, Indian Point sits there on the Hudson, continuing with accidents and in emitting what the NRC says are “permissible” levels of radioactivity. They are highly likely candidates for a Chernobyl or Fukushima-level catastrophe in the most highly populated area of the United States. And the NRC, steadfastly ignoring Jaczko’s warnings, in league with Entergy, seeks to let the decrepit time bombs run for another 20 years—just asking for disaster.
The good news is that New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has been endeavoring to have the Indian Point nuclear plants closed and safe-energy activists and an array of environmental and safe-energy organizations are working hard to shut them down—and the film “Indian Point” is out.]]>
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) admitted last week that they should have declared a meltdown within days of the March 11th earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, instead of delaying the public announcement for months.
“We apologize for the great inconvenience and worry the delay caused”, a representative for TEPCO said this week. The utility has also said it will investigate why the word “meltdown” was not used for months after the crisis began.
A meltdown is recognized by the public as severe damage to the core of a nuclear reactor with the potential for widespread radiation release. Once the core is damaged, radioactive materials escape from the fuel rods into the coolant, make their way outside of the reactor vessel into the reactor building. The reactor building is the last barrier between the radioactive materials and the environment. The consequences and clean-up of a full-core meltdown are obviously more complicated and dangerous than a partial-meltdown like Three Mile Island – where only a portion of the core debris was damaged and all the fuel remained in the containment structure.
The word “meltdown” was so explosive, that TEPCO, the nuclear industry, and the Japanese government were loath to apply it until it could no longer be ignored. The word has been so powerful, that it has crossed over into other fields – like personal meltdowns, financial meltdowns, political meltdowns, etc.
Within the first 24 hours, after the Unit 1 reactor building exploded on the morning of March 12th, TEPCO was aware that at least 50% of one of three cores at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was damaged within hours of the accident and notified the government of the ongoing meltdown – but did not acknowledge that a meltdown had occurred to the public until May 2011, long after the melted nuclear fuel escaped from the damaged reactors into the containment vessels.
Tokyo Electric’s internal regulations stated that the utility should declare a meltdown if more than 5% of the reactor core was damaged. TEPCO has since admitted that the reactor pressure vessel of the Unit 1 reactor was damaged within the first 12 hours of the accident. This means that a meltdown should’ve been declared within a few hours of the onset of the accident, around the time that water levels in the reactor were falling and TEPCO began hinting at the possibility of venting operations.
Any member of the nuclear industry knew the severity of the accident must be critical if the utility was considering the manual release of radioactive materials into the environment, but the utility, regulators, and elected officials paraded in front of the media and downplayed the consequences of the venting operations to the public – further complicating an already very fast-moving and complex accident.
For months operators were unable to control the temperature and pressure levels in the reactors. They were forced to feed the reactors with water to hinder the rising temperatures and simultaneously bleed the pressure from the reactors through venting operations, in order to prevent the reactor vessel from being compromised or exploding. Despite their efforts, they were unable to prevent full-meltdowns from occurring in the Unit 1, Unit 2, and Unit 3 reactors, and the hydrogen generated in the crippled reactors destroyed the reactor buildings for Unit 1, Unit 3, and Unit 4. Despite all of this, TEPCO chose not to publically acknowledge the full severity of the situation they were facing at Fukushima Daiichi.
When Masao Yoshida, the former plant chief of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, later talked about the hydrogen explosion that tore apart the Unit 1 reactor he said “I thought it was all over”. This is the man on the ground with first-hand experience of what was happening, knowing that there was a very serious situation – and still the message was not being communicated to the public.
Despite their knowledge, TEPCO did not confirm that the three reactors had actually suffered meltdowns for months, a situation which cannot be tolerated or allowed to be repeated. Though the embattled utility admitted in 2012 that it played down safety risks (fearing that additional safety measures would shut the plant down and turn public sentiment away from supporting nuclear power plants), the true consequences of these actions has as of yet to be fully investigated and analyzed.
|Fukushima Daiichi Units||Meltdown Postulated Start||Day Meltdown Announced|
|Unit 1||Within 6 hours||May 12th, 2011|
|Unit 2||Within 100 hours||May 23rd, 2011|
|Unit 3||Within 36 hours||May 23rd, 2011|
All of the blame cannot be placed solely on TEPCO. Within 24 hours of the accident – by the time radiation levels on-site were over 1,000 times the normal limits in the control rooms of the reactors, the nuclear industry, nuclear safety regulators, and the Japanese Government knew enough details of the severity of the accident to inform the public of the core damage and ongoing meltdowns, even while they were denying it in press conferences and interviews.
There were multiple indicators offsite that severe fuel damage was underway at multiple reactors within 48 hours of the earthquake and tsunami;
In the May 15th, 2011 press release from Tokyo Electric updating information about the meltdown in the Unit 1 reactor it reads “regarding the Unit 1, nuclear fuel pellets have melted, falling to the bottom of the reactor pressure vessel at a relatively early stage after the tsunami reached the station.” Are we really to believe that this catastrophic fuel damage, which occurred within hours of the tsunami, was not known by TEPCO, the nuclear industry, and the Japanese government? If we were unable to determine the status of a damaged nuclear core for months after the onset of fuel damage, even after all of the fuel has escaped the reactor core, what would that say about our collective ability to safely operate nuclear reactors?
But none of the indicators listed above would have communicated to lay members of the public the full severity of the amount of fuel damage by themselves the way that an official announcement that there was a meltdown of core materials in the reactor would have. The delay in announcing the meltdowns limited the public’s ability to determine the actual severity of the situation at the plant.
Instead of bringing these facts to light, the steady stream of spokespersons and officials speaking to the media would downplay the severity of the events to the public. The public was repeatedly told there was no cause for alarm even though the government had declared a nuclear emergency. There was seemingly nothing that would not be said to prevent the public from becoming too concerned about the disaster, it was even claimed that the radioactivity being released during the venting operations would not affect the environment or human health.
When seawater was added to the reactor cores, officials acted as if the operation would resolve the problems, when they really knew it was a last ditch effort to reduce the amount of damage that was already known to be happening to the nuclear fuel in the core.
In Japan, TEPCO, the nuclear industry, regulatory agencies, and government officials worked to provide a unified front to the public. No one had all of the information they felt they needed, but they had enough to make some very serious determinations.
To convince the public that the water inside of the Unit 5 and Unit 6 reactor buildings was not a serious health threat, a Japanese politician named Yasushiro Sonada drank a glass of what he claimed was decontaminated water from inside of the reactor buildings to prove it was safe to drink after decontamination. Whether or not it was an actual health threat to drink the processed water, it was an obvious publicity stunt that was carried out for effect (it also turned out to be the subject of quite a few satirical comments by the public on media coverage articles).
When Japan raised the level of the disaster from a five to the maximum seven on the international scale, the same rating as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Japanese government took special care to point out that “far less” radiation had been released then from the 1986 disaster.
A Japanese professor named Syunichi Yamashita, who held the title of “Fukushima Radiation Health Risk Advisor” in Japan, worked to convince the public that the risks from radiation were low – and is perhaps most notorious for claiming that radiation would not affect the public if they were “happy”.
In the span of two months, Nature published two articles, one claiming there was no meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi, and the next confirming there was a full-meltdown at the crippled Japanese plant.
On March 22nd, 2011, Nature blog published an article called “The meltdown that wasn’t”. The article claims that there “has never been a full meltdown in a boiling-water reactor”, a fact that already had been proven wrong three times over at Fukushima Daiichi.
A comment on that March article (see highlighted text in image above), published two years after the article was published, expressed confusion about whether or not a meltdown had actually occurred years after the disaster. A demonstration of the persistent confusion of the general public about the details of the accident.
By the time the meltdowns were announced to the public, it was passed off as mysterious old news. Another article published in Nature blog published on May 13th, 2011 titled “Understanding the complete meltdown at Fukushima Unit 1” told readers “Whatever happened inside unit 1, it happened weeks ago”, and quickly worked to quell any concern by noting that the temperature trends in the reactor were much lower than in March when the fuel had melted. There is little argument that the delaying of the announcement of the meltdowns likely led to far less questions and concern then if it had been announced when officials were first aware of the extent of the damage.
This collective front was organized, very public, and very necessary for TEPCO and Japanese authorities. On May 7th, 2015 at a closed-door briefing by a senior TEPCO official Kenji Tateiwa for select members of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Tateiwa highlighted that an “International consensus on (the) health impact of low-dose radiation” was critical to relieve the anxiety, general perception of, and lack of trust towards, TEPCO and the Japanese government – in order to make evacuees feel comfortable returning to the areas where they used to live before the disaster.
Most of the vital accurate information that was disclosed early on during the disaster was more or less drowned out by the overwhelming number of instances where government officials would contradict themselves or someone else when bringing information to the public.
For example, on Saturday, March 13th – two days after the onset of the disaster, the Japanese government was still unable to nail down their own analysis of the event.
One of the government officials who spoke out and was cut down in the first days of the disaster was Koichiro Nakamura, a senior official at the former Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency (NISA) at the time of the disaster. Immediately after Nakamura confirmed at a press conference that a meltdown could be taking place at Fukushima Daiichi, he was removed from his position at the agency.
The nuclear industry response was just as muddled as that of international governments.
On the morning of March 12th, experts from the nuclear industry made the following statements;
In the United States, Ed Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists was providing clear analysis to American news services warning that Japan would only have a few hours to prevent a meltdown.
Though the information they were receiving was very confusing, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission was also very worried about the events in Japan. In documents released through the Freedom of Information Act, the concern about the serious situation at Fukushima Daiichi is evident.
By the end of March 11th, 2011, the NRC was aware of and gravely concerned about the following facts:
The NRC workers in the Emergency Operations Center monitoring the event in Japan were aware of the dangers of an extended station black-out and that nuclear power plants get into trouble pretty quickly after they lose power for cooling. This led them to conclude that there was core damage by the afternoon of March 11th. Exelon had simulated the Fukushima event at a simulator designed for the Quad Cities reactors in Illinois with a similar design. According to the NRC estimates at the time based off of their information and the simulations, Unit 1 core damage would begin 12 hours after the onset of the disaster and “significant offsite releases” would begin 8 hours after the core damage.
Clearly what information that was getting out, was of enough use to those who knew how to interpret it, to allow them to make fairly accurate determinations about the situation in Japan. The NRC even knew that the situation at the plants was more precarious than the official reports suggested and could potentially get much worse. Why was that information not communicated to the public?
The average person who followed the situation at Fukushima Daiichi could tell that they were not receiving all of the story. How can a government quantify the erosion of public trust that occurred over the handling of nuclear disasters like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi? No one has been able to fully measure what the fallout of the betrayal of public trust will amount to, but it will undoubtedly affect the trust of future host communities for nuclear facilities and waste storage sites alike.
Did the delay prevent the public from believing the accident at Fukushima Daiichi wasn’t as serious as it was?
Another question that has to be asked is, would fewer people have been put in harm’s way if the meltdowns had been announced promptly? Would evacuees have had more time to gather their belongings, determine where to evacuate to, and take better routes?
The answers to these questions and more are important to consider and should be brought to the focus of public attention.
Source: CBS News
Source: CBS News
Source: CBS News
Source: USA TODAY
Humans have known of natural radioactivity since about the turn of the 20th century when Marie Curie carried around vials of radioactive substances in her pocket, admiring the glow-in-the-dark “fairy lights” they would give off. Long-term exposure to these “fairly lights” made Curie chronically ill, physically scarred, and nearly blind from cataracts. At the age of 66, she succumbed to a radiation-induced disease (either leukemia or aplastic anemia, sources differ), as did her daughter and son-in-law. Despite being deeply troubled by deaths of colleagues and radiation workers, the Curies never really admitted radioactivity played a role in their diseases; Marie even recommended sickened radium dial painters eat calf’s liver to combat anemia. Daughter Eva, who outlived her sister by 50 years, died at 102 and recognized the role radiation played in the shortened lives of her female kin.
This denial of the dangers of radioactivity has carried through to the present day. When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its first-ever radiation exposure standards in 1977, the US was only 20 years into the atomic energy age, barely long enough to see many of the health impacts radioactivity may have had. Man-made radioactivity had been around for about 40 years with the building of the bomb, well before EPA was established, but well after some very nasty health effects from larger doses were recognized. Now, in 2015, EPA is considering revising its radiation standards – the first major revision since 1977.
EPA is responsible for regulating radioactive emissions that migrate off of a site that releases such material. These off site releases can expose members of the public and their environment. Revision of these nearly 40-year old standards should be a good thing; adding protection for women who are 50 % more sensitive to radioactivity than men; and providing proper protection for pregnancy and childhood development —life stages that are particularly, in some cases uniquely, sensitive to exposure to radioactivity. But old habits, and nuclear industry interference, die hard.
PART I: WHY MEASURE WHEN YOU CAN ESTIMATE? WHY ESTIMATE WHEN YOU CAN IGNORE?
If you can’t get rid of the radioactivity, you should just ignore that it exists
Atomic energy produces and releases a number of radioactive isotopes during normal reactor operation. Two such isotopes are carbon-14 (radioactive carbon) released as carbon dioxide and methane; and tritium, which is radioactive hydrogen. These two isotopes are the focus of this piece, although there are many other isotopes of concern. The National Academy of Sciences states “carbon-14 may be a significant contributor to dose from nuclear plant releases, especially in recent years”. Tritium is leaking regularly in unknown amounts from most of the US nuclear power reactors in addition to being released “normally”. Of course, industry often downplays the health impact these isotopes may have; however, both tritium and radioactive carbon cross the placenta and can concentrate in fetal tissue at twice the level of maternal tissue. Releases of gaseous nuclides like tritium and carbon-14 have been posited as a factor in childhood leukemia increases around nuclear power facilities in Europe.
How unfortunate, then, that EPA’s 1977 radiation standards failed to require measurement of releases for either carbon-14 or tritium. Why?—because there was no economically and technologically feasible way to filter out radioactive carbon and radioactive hydrogen, a condition EPA says remains unchanged. To sum up: EPA has decided if the pollution can’t be filtered, society is better off not knowing how much the nuclear machine is pumping out. In the real world of choices based on facts and consequences, if a pollutant can’t be filtered, that is all the more reason the public should know how much is being released. Right now the public and policy makers are trying to decide what our energy future will look like. Withholding knowledge about nuclear pollution will prevent society from making an informed decision. Back then, rather than regulating to protect and inform the public, EPA was regulating when it was convenient and not too expensive. But for these two isotopes in particular, lazy regulation is no longer an option.
Why require measurement when you can pull an estimate out of your, um, hat?
Until 2010, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the regulatory agency in charge of on-site emissions, failed to even require estimates of carbon-14 releases. Now the industry is required to estimate, but they still don’t have to actually measure. Industry cannot even begin to get an idea of how much tritium has been/is being released or where it is going.
The industry promises (cross its heart and hope to die) that these radioactive belches from its ailing machines are far too small to cause any trouble to members of the public living around these facilities. Because of this unsubstantiated certainty, and claims that this information is proprietary, industry contends that they need only provide NRC with averaged release data. Maybe this averaged data would be adequate in a world without reproduction and pregnancy. But in a population with people of child-bearing age, timing matters. ALL radioactive effluent (not just tritium and carbon-14) must be measured at the point of release from the nuclear facility (stack and pipe) in real-time, and these data transmitted offsite to independent third parties, e.g. university health and science departments or emergency responders, where they can be stored for future reference. Why?
“…social science domains and even biology appear to be inherently more complex than physics… embrace complexity, and use as much data as well as we can to help define (or estimate) the complex models we need for these complex domains.” Peter Norvig
In biology, timing matters; and radioactivity is released in spikes, not averages
Half-hourly emissions data collected from the chimney stack of Gundremmingen C, a 1300 megawatt boiling water reactor in Germany, shows that when the reactor was shut down and the core opened for refueling and maintenance, the radioactive gas releases from the facility topped out at about 500 times higher than their normal release rate (see graph below). Even the “normal” release rate at this facility was hundreds of times higher than natural radioactivity in air from radon. These spike releases may have exposed people living near the facility to 20 to 100 times the amount of “normal” releases.
Further, these gases can collect in foodstuffs grown around the reactor. So, while industry keeps information about these releases hidden from public consumption, it doesn’t see a problem with making the public eat this radioactivity, literally. The industry is using the environment, the food supply, and the human body as dumping grounds with little challenge.
Reactors refuel every 18 months to two years on average, and evidence strongly suggests that spikes like those at Germany’s reactor could very well be found at US reactors. The Gundremmingen reactors were owned and operated by the regional government, giving officials there an incentive and ability to investigate the release data. In the US, the vast majority of nuclear reactors are privately held by companies with every incentive to keep profit-damaging data secret by advancing rationales of “cost” and the need to protect “proprietary” information. In Germany, large-scale publicly funded research showed elevated levels of leukemia in children who live near nuclear reactors. In the US, the industry – enabled by lax regulation – has been able to keep crucial data hidden from the public. Thus, increased childhood cancers (click on Dr. Joseph Sauer, MD flash video at link) around nuclear reactors still remain unexplained.
Of grave concern is how these radioactive spikes affect the uniquely sensitive developmental stages of pregnancy. Every organ in your and your child’s body develops from a single cell. For instance, the first eight weeks after conception, the heart, spinal cord and brain, major blood vessels and the beginning of bones and muscles, are in the process of forming. However, radiation standards afford this life stage no greater protection than early childhood, when most organs are past the stage of formation and are actively growing. What happens if during one of these crucial and delicate developmental phases a pregnant woman inhales gas from one of these radioactive belches? Or drinks milk from a locally exposed cow? Childhood leukemia, low birth weight, compromised neural development are all associated with exposure to radiation during pregnancy and early childhood.
Astonishingly, no official body in the United States is seriously investigating these impacts. In fact, the U. S. federal government appears not to conduct public health impact studies of populations around nuclear power reactor sites.]]>
The Columbia Generating Station, the only commercial nuclear reactor in the state of Washington, has agreed to hire an independent investigator to look into whistleblower allegations that the plant has ignored operational and safety problems in order to keep the nuclear power plant online.
An anonymous letter was sent to the local media and board members of Energy Northwest, the public corporation that owns and operates the plant. The letter alleged that according to industry performance scores used to grade operations the Columbia Generating Station has ranked among the worst in the United States in critical performance areas like electricity production relative to capacity, reliability, equipment health, and radiation protection.
Mike Paoli, spokesman for Energy Northwest, declined to release the performance grades stating that it was protected information.
The Columbia Generating Station is home to a General Electric BWR nuclear reactor similar to the Fukushima Daiichi reactors that began construction in 1975, but after construction delays the plant was over-budget and not brought online until 1984.
The plant has been under intense economic scrutiny in the last few years, with critics asserting that the plant cannot financially compete with low energy prices in the wholesale market and boom of natural gas.
Energy Northwest was recently forced to pay a fine to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after an official investigation found security officers inattentive and unavailable.
Source: Tri-City Herald
Source: Oregon Live]]>
In October 2014, I participated in a meeting with Dave Lochbaum of Union of Concerned Scientists, Lawrence Criscione (who works for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but was participating in the meeting as a private citizen), Tim Judson of Nuclear Information Research Service, Jim Riccio of Greenpeace, Paul Gunter of Beyond Nuclear and the NRC Staff. During that meeting each of the participants presented their concerns with how the NRC was interpreting certain FOIA rules. My particular concerns that I presented at that meeting pertained to documents released relating to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
After that meeting, a group of participants (Lochbaum (Chairman), Judson, Riccio, Gunter, and Hixson) determined to form an official committee to interface with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on FOIA-related activities. That is how in December of 2014 the Freedom of Information Team (FIT) came into being.
On July 31st, 2015, I emailed Dave Lochbaum about a FOIA request that I hoped he would submit for me.
I had come across some information from Kenji Tateiwa, who is the Nuclear Power Programs Manager at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the utility which operated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Tateiwa graduated from Kyoto University in 1996 with a BS/MS in Nuclear Engineering and was immediately hired by TEPCO.
Before the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Tateiwa worked at the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant, then was transferred to Tokyo to work at TEPCO’s severe accident analysis branch of the Nuclear Engineering Department. In 2010 Tateiwa was part of the TEPCO delegation that pursued investing in new nuclear reactors in Texas.
Tateiwa was in Tokyo in the early days of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, translating TEPCO press releases from Japanese to English, meeting with the EU delegation and the NRC. He was also present at a very important meeting on March 27th in Tokyo between NISA, INPO, and the NRC. He participated in the IAEA Preliminary Fact-Finding visit to the Fukushima Daiichi plant in April 2011 and May 2011. In June 2011 he was at the private residence of U.S. Ambassador Roos trying to reinforce ties, and in August he was aiding the INPO-led support team at Fukushima Daiichi. By September 2011, Tateiwa was transferred to the TEPCO office in Washington D.C.
I felt that there was much that the public could learn and benefit from a better understanding of what Tateiwa knew and when and what he relayed to the NRC and when, so I asked Mr. Lochbaum to FOIA for all communication and materials transmitted between Mr. Tateiwa and any member of the NRC.
Dave Lochbaum submitted a FOIA request on Wednesday, August 5th, 2015 at 10:36:17 A.M. for “All materials transmitted between Mr. Kenji Tateiwa and the NRC from March 1, 2011, to date. Also, all written communications (e.g., emails, memos, letters, reports) between Mr. Kenji Tateiwa and the NRC from March 1, 2011, to date. By letter dated April 23, 2015 (ML15113B323), the ACRS Chairman conveyed appreciation to TEPCO, Mr. Tateiwa’s employer, for his appearance before the ACRS on April 10, 2015. The ACRS chairman stated that Mr. Tateiwa had “unique insights” and had great “familiarity with the Fukushima Daiichi issues.” UCS is aware that Mr. Tateiwa has had extensive experience with the Fukushima response and cleanup and seeks more of his “unique insights.””
No response was ever received from the NRC. On December 8th, I emailed Dave and asked if he had ever gotten a response. He replied and told me that no, in fact the NRC had not acted on the FOIA request, potentially because of a defect with the FOIA request system at the agency.
On December 9th, Dave emailed the NRC and informed them of the oversight and requested that they follow up on the FOIA request. He received a reply from Karen Danoff, a Government Information Specialist at the NRC, acknowledging receipt of the FOIA request.
Dave received an email from Karen Danoff again in the afternoon of Monday, December 14th. In that communication Dave was notified that there could be “hundreds, or possibly thousands, of email” and they asked whether we could limit our scope to narrow down the number of documents that we would receive so they could save staff time and resources.
Dave was puzzled, after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, several individuals and organizations submitted FOIA requests for essentially any and all records related to the event. Seeing as Mr. Tateiwa served for a long time as TEPCO’s representative in Washington, as liaison to several post-Fukushima inquiries, and was such an important part of integrating with TEPCO, Dave had assumed that most (if not all) of the Tateiwa e-mails had already been released and our request would only bring a handful of new e-mails to light. In no way did Dave expect that “hundreds, or possible thousands” of records to/from Mr. Tateiwa could have avoided having been released during these many prior FOIA requests and releases.
Clearly, previous FOIA requests by other organizations and individuals encompassed emails and should’ve included Tateiwa’s records, but when Dave searched the NRC ADAMS database, he could only find ten records – six of them being FOIA responses.
Dave requested that the NRC not limit the scope of the FOIA request and to make all documents requested available. This morning he also sent an email to Hubert Bell, Inspector General of the NRC, asking him to look into potential NRC staff wrongdoing by not releasing some, if not all, of these records in response to prior FOIA requests.
Mr. Lochbaum’s concerns are that either the NRC program office is lying now about the inventory of unreleased records to/from Mr. Tateiwa in their possession, or that the NRC violated federal FOIA law by failing to release some or all of these records in response to numerous prior FOIA requests.
You can bet that we will be watching these events develop closely.]]>
Residents of Fukui Prefecture in Japan have announced that they will file a lawsuit with the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to permanently shutdown the Monju fast breeder reactor.
A breeder reactor generates more fuel than it consumes. The Monju reactor was not only supposed to process the nuclear waste generated at the operating nuclear reactors, but was also supposed to provide fuel for future reactors. The facility has never lived up to its lofty expectations. Japan has spent nearly 10 trillion Yen on the facility, and in return the Monju reactor has been kept offline for most of the past 19 years due to a massive leak, repeated failures, safety problems and organizational issues.
The resident lawsuit claims that the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), operator of the Monju facility, is not qualified to handle operating the facility.
In November, the NRA asked the minister of Science to replace the JAEA within the next 6 months. The regulating agency found that the JAEA should be replaced after it was discovered that the industry organization had been failing to properly address safety issues and was rubber-stamping safety inspections.
The Science Ministry is working to establish the requirements for hiring a new operator for the Monju facility, but the future of the fast breeder reactor program in Japan is very unstable if it is unable to find a new operator before the residents’ lawsuit gains traction.
The lawsuit by the citizens could also impact France’s Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration (ASTRID) fast-breeder reactor project. Japan and France have agreed to work together to research, develop, and promote fast breeder reactors. France was supposed to use the Monju reactor to test fuel for the ASTRID project, which uses the same concepts – but since the facility is banned from operations and testing with no established date for coming back online and the volatility around whether or not the facility should operate at all and who should operate it continues unabated – France may be forced to scrap its plans to incorporate the Monju facility.
Construction starts on Monju fast breeder reactor
Monju achieves criticality for the first time
On December 8th, 1995, sodium coolant leaked from the reactor piping at the Monju facility, causing a severe accident. The operator of the facility released video footage of the leak, that video was later found to have been doctored.
November 24th, 2000
JAEA announces intentions to work towards restarting operations at Monju.
Holes discovered in Monju reactor’s auxiliary building (link)
May 6th, 2010
Monju reactor restarted after being shutdown for 14 years and 5 months following 1995 severe accident
August 26th, 2010
Monju critically damaged after three-ton in-vessel transfer machine, fell on the 60-foot high reactor vessel and got stuck, hindering access to the fuel and requiring nearly a year to extract.
October 13th, 2010
Operators unsuccessfully try to retrieve in-vessel transfer machine from atop reactor vessel.
June 23rd, 2011
In-vessel transfer machine lifted off of reactor vessel.
Shiraki-Nyu active fault discovered under Monju facility. (link)
In 2012, after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the JAEA was found to have failed to inspect over 10,000 pieces of equipment at the plant since July 2010 and falsified their inspection records. JAEA President Atsuyuki Suzuki resigns on May 17th, 2013 after criticism from NRA over falsification of records. (link)
NRA orders JAEA to cease restart operations at Monju and to keep fast breeder reactor shutdown. NRA Chairman Tanaka says JAEA lacks “basic understanding of safety.” Many safety issues continued to be discovered at the plant after the shutdown. (link)
It is discovered JAEA skipped inspections of another 2,300 pieces of equipment at Monju. (link)
JAEA report admits to failing to inspect equipment in 14,000 cases. (link)
NRA blames JAEA for unprecedented levels of neglect at Monju, including failing to document ids of visitors to sensitive areas, failing to conduct background checks on visitors, failing to regularly inspect security equipment, and constructing fences around restricted areas that did not meet regulatory standards. (link)
Hackers access computers at Monju facility and steal private data, internal e-mails, training records, and more. (link)
NRA inspectors suspect JAEA of falsifying inspection reports. (link)
NRA discovers JAEA failed to inspect degradation assessments of sodium circulation cooling pipes between November 2007 and March 2015. (link)]]>
Kyushu Electric reported this week that it will restart the Unit 2 reactor at the Sendai nuclear power plant in Japan on Thursday. The Unit 2 reactor was taken offline in September 2011 and has remained shutdown for the last four years.
The reactors at the Sendai nuclear power plant were the first two to pass the new regulations put in place by the Nuclear Regulation Authority after the 2011 nuclear disaster. The Unit 1 reactor was restarted in August 2015.
On Thursday morning, the operators at the Unit 2 reactor will remove the control rods and bring the reactor back online, next Wednesday the plant plans to resume producing power and transmitting it to the grid.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and many of the senior officials in his government are pushing for the restart of more nuclear reactors, despite the public opposition to nuclear power after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.]]>
Updated October 13th, 2015: Entergy has announced that the Pilgrim nuclear power station will close down no later than June 2019.
Officials of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant have publicly announced that the financial costs stemming from mandated safety improvements and reforms required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission may prove too costly to keep the plant open.
At the beginning of September after inspections revealed significant unresolved safety issues, the NRC downgraded the safety rating of the Pilgrim plant, which has also combatted a reoccurring problem with unplanned shutdowns over the past few years. An investigation by the NRC found that Entergy had not corrected the underlying issues that had led to some of the unplanned shutdowns.
David Noyes, the Director of Regulatory and Performance Improvement told reporters, “If the corporation finds that the cost of making the improvements of the plant exceed the value of the plant, the corporation may decide to shut the plant down.”
As part of the downgraded rating, the NRC will increase the frequency and scope of inspections and require Entergy, the operator of the nuclear power plant, to present a performance improvement plan at a public meeting within six months.
Dave Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists has pointed out relevant data published by a nuclear industry consultant in 2008 which claims that the financial costs for returning a plant like the Pilgrim nuclear power plant from a degraded safety rating will likely cost at least $100-$300 million USD.
The Pilgrim nuclear power plant started generating electrical power to the grid in 1972, and received an additional 20 year operating license from the NRC which will allow it to continue operating until 2032. Entergy has seen its company stock price plummet by 30% in 2015 alone.]]>
The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) typically begins its narrative on the “lessons learned” from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe with Japan’s March 11, 2011accident. Not surprisingly, the agency has avoided addressing the most critical lesson recognized in the accident’s official investigative report by Japan’s National Diet. In their finding, the unfolding radiological catastrophe is “manmade” and the result of “willful negligence” of government, regulator and industry colluding to protect Tokyo Electric Power Company’s financial interests. Likewise, here in the US, addressing identical reactor vulnerabilities remain subject to a convoluted corporate-government strategy of “keep away” with public safety as the “monkey in the middle” going back more than four decades and, for now, three nuclear meltdowns later.
In the latest development, by a 3-1 vote issued on August 19, 2015, the majority of the four sitting Commissioners with NRC ruled not to proceed with their own proposed rulemaking and bar public comment and independent expert analyses on the installation of “enhanced” hardened containment vents on 30 U.S. reactors. In the event of a severe nuclear accident, roughly one-third of U.S. atomic power plants currently rely upon a flawed radiation protection barrier system at General Electric (GE) Mark I and Mark II boiling water reactors that are essentially identical to the destroyed and permanently closed units at Fukushima Daiichi. The nuclear catastrophe has resulted in widespread radioactive contamination, massive population relocation, severe economic dislocation and mounting costs projected into the hundreds of billions of dollars.
Fundamentally at fault, the GE Mark I and Mark II boiling water reactor “pressure suppression containment system” designed for internalizing such a nuclear accident is roughly one-sixth the volumetric size of pressurized water reactor containment designs like Three Mile Island. Under accident conditions, the reactor pressure vessel and the operation of the emergency core cooling system is depressurized into the “drywell” containment component which in turn routes steam, heat, combustible gases and radioactivity into the “wetwell” component where it is supposed to be quenched and scrubbed in a million gallons of water. The GE design was first identified as too small to contain potential accident conditions in 1972 by Atomic Energy Commission memos. The internal communications would eventually be released years later under the Freedom of Information Act after more GE reactors were granted operating licenses. The memos revealed that the undersized containment system is highly vulnerable to catastrophic failure from over-pressurization in the event of a severe accident. This long recognized chink in GE’s “defense-in-depth” armor was graphically confirmed with the global broadcast of the Fukushima explosions.
Fukushima further demonstrated that “voluntary” GE containment modifications requested by NRC in the early 1990’s are not reliable under real accident conditions. Most U.S. Mark I operators voluntarily installed a hardened vent on the “wetwell” or “torus” containment component. The same modification was installed in Japanese reactors including Fukushima Daiichi. The voluntary containment modifications in the U.S. were carried out under a NRC regulation (10 CFR 50.59) that avoids licensee disclosures in the public hearing process, claiming that the design changes did not raise significant safety issues. Other than the paper trail, even the NRC inspectors were not aware of the final as-built containment modifications.
Following a review by the NRC Fukushima Lessons Learned Task Force commenced in 2011, the Commission ultimately issued a revised two-phase Order (EA-13-109) on June 6, 2013 for the unreliable containment systems. The Order requires all U.S. GE Mark I and Mark II boiling water reactor operators in Phase 1 to re-install a more “reliable” severe accident capable hardened containment vent on the “wetwell” component by June 2018 to assist in preventing core damage and remain functional during a severe accident. In Phase 2, operators are to install a severe accident capable hardened vent on the “drywell” component by June 2019, or alternately, provide a severe accident management strategy that precludes the need to vent an accident from the drywell. However, the Commission Order also rejected the collective research and technical recommendation of its lessons learned task force advanced on November 26, 2012. The staff recommendation was to require severe accident capable hardened containment vents be equipped with high-efficiency external filters as added defense-in-depth to trap much of the radiation while releasing to the atmosphere the extreme heat, high pressure and non-compressible explosive gases generated by the nuclear accident. The nuclear industry’s lobby group, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) vehemently opposed the installation of external engineered filters arguing it was unnecessary to add any more assurances other than the original design calculations for a radiation scrubbing effect underwater in the “wetwell” component.
The Commission’s Order, while rejecting the staff’s recommendation to add the engineered filters in vent lines, instructed staff to pursue researching a proposed rulemaking to gather more expert stakeholder input on how radiation filtration strategies would improve public safety and reduce severe accident consequences and costs.
The nuclear industry, under the direction of NEI, began developing the alternate strategy to the Phase 2 installation of a “drywell” containment vent which they describe as Severe Accident Water Addition (SAWA) and Severe Accident Water Management (SAWM). Under the industry SAWA plan, in the event of a severe accident, water would be introduced into the reactor pressure vessel and/or the drywell containment control temperatures and cool core debris. If the drywell hardened containment is not installed, flooding up the “drywell” containment requires constant severe accident water management to prevent the simultaneous over-flooding of the “wetwell” that would preclude the use of “wetwell” hardened vent for containment protection as well as crediting the large volume of water’s scrubbing effect for radiation release reduction. Both SAWA and SAWM will require an unspecified number of operator manual actions performed in containment that require a range of apparatus (tools, respirators, keys, etc) as well as shielding from potentially high radiation fields.
The proposed NRC rulemaking to develop regulatory guidance for severe accidents and reconsider filtration strategies was renamed “Containment Protection and Release Reduction” (CPRR) and published as a draft informational document in May 2015. The proposed CPRR rulemaking introduced the staff analyses of four alternatives for consideration by the Commission, the public and industry stakeholders and the NRC’s own independent Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS).
Alternative 1 adopted the status quo, namely, making the established Order EA-13-109 generically applicable, drop the rulemaking activity and take no further regulatory action. It adopts the Order’s Phase I requirement to install a severe accident capable vent on the “wetwell” containment component without an external engineered filter and instead relying upon the containment water to scrub out radioactivity before a release to the atmosphere. It adopts the NEI approach under Phase 2 to develop alternative capability for severe accident water addition and management to cool reactor core debris should it burn through the reactor vessel and end up on the bottom of the drywell;
Alternative 2 would pursue the rulemaking to make Order EA-13-109 generically applicable for protection of BWR Mark I and II containments against over-pressurization;
Alternative 3 would proceed with a public rulemaking while making Order EA-13-109 generically applicable for improved protection of Mark I and Mark II containment systems with severe accident water addition to the drywell but dropped any further consideration, analysis and public comment for external engineered filters for severe accident capable hardened containment vents;
Alternative 4 would pursue the rulemaking to protect containment against multiple failure modes and release reduction measures with controlled releases through hardened containment venting systems. This alternative would include making Order EA-13-109 generically applicable and require external water addition in the reactor pressure vessel or the drywell containment component. In addition, licensees would be required to further reduce fission product releases by maximizing wetwell scrubbing capability or the installation of an engineered filter in severe accident capable containment vent pathway.
The NRC staff’s draft information paper recommended the adoption of Alternative 3 to pursue a rulemaking to make the Order generically applicable without external engineered filters.
What happened when the information paper for draft guidance was sent up to the Commission is alarming. NRC Commissioner Svinicki took the NRC staff information paper and turned it into a notation vote paper for the Commission to decide, leaving no further consultation, no independent expert input even from the NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, the public and their independent experts. Commission Chair Stephen Burns, Commissioner Kristine Svinicki and Commissioner William Ostendorf voted to approve Alternative 1.
Commissioner Jeff Barran’s comments submitted with his minority vote to go forward with the rulemaking are illuminating.
“Consistent with the Commission’s direction, the staff prepared a draft regulatory basis for a containment protection and release reduction (CPRR) rulemaking. The draft regulatory basis was provided to the Commission as an information paper. Prior to the conversion of the information paper to a notation vote paper, the staff planned to issue a Federal Register notice requesting public comment on the draft regulatory basis, ‘hold a public meeting to provide members of the public an opportunity to ask questions and have discussions about the draft CPRR regulatory basis,’ and present the draft regulatory basis to ACRS in order to obtain independent expert feedback on the document. After this public comment period and ACRS review, the staff was scheduled to provide the final regulatory basis to the Commission by September 19, 2015, the proposed rule by September 19, 2016, and the final rule by December 19, 2017.”
“In my view, it is premature for the Commission to consider the draft regulatory basis at this time without the benefit of public comment or ACRS review. I approve the staff’s established plan, based on clear Commission direction, to seek public comment and ACRS review of the draft regulatory basis prior to its submission to the Commission for a notation vote. “
“Furthermore, there is no reason for the Commission to vote on the draft regulatory basis before the ACRS (Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards) has reviewed and provided recommendations on the document. Under the staff’s original schedule, the ACRS planned to hold a subcommittee meeting and provide a letter to the Commission after the staff received and addressed public comments on the draft regulatory basis. The staff should resume this course. Though the staff previously presented the draft results of the rulemaking analysis to the ACRS, this will be the first time the ACRS will examine the draft regulatory basis as a whole and share its thoughts with the Commission. We should wait for the ACRS letter before making substantive decisions about the draft regulatory basis.”
“This is an important post-Fukushima rulemaking. A wide range of stakeholders will have a variety of perspectives on the four alternatives presented in the draft regulatory basis. We should hear their views and critiques of these alternatives and the staff’s regulatory analysis before taking any alternatives off of the table. Therefore, consistent with existing Commission direction, the staff should carry out its plan to seek public comment and the ACRS review of the draft regulatory basis prior to submission to the Commission in the next few months for a notation vote.”
The Commission’s August 19th majority vote is effectively a gag order on the American public’s opportunity for formal input to fortify the continued operation of GE Mark I and Mark II reactors against the next nuclear catastrophe. Ironically, the international nuclear industry is simultaneously cashing in on the effort to restart Japan’s nuclear power plants where their Nuclear Regulation Authority has ordered state-of-the-art engineered external filters on severe accident capable hardened containment vents as a prerequisite to resume operation. On August 17, 2015, AREVA issued a press release announcing that it had just delivered it fourteenth filtered containment vent system to the Hamaoka Unit 4 reactor operated by Chubu Electric Power Company where 70% of the Japanese public no longer trust the industry and its regulator and remain opposed to any further nuclear power operations.
August 19, 2015 Commission Notation Vote Sheet
AEC memo September 25, 1972
November 26, 2012, SECY 2012-0157
AREVA press release]]>
Two Sig Sauer 9 millimeter weapons were stolen from the armory at the LaSalle nuclear power plant located 65 miles southwest of the City of Chicago.
Exelon, the licensee who operates the nuclear facility, claims that the security of the site was not breached during the theft, which may imply that the person who stole the weapons is a worker at the nuclear power plant.
Exelon has notified the LaSalle County Sheriff’s Department and officials at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission who will launch an investigation into the matter. The NRC has dispatched a senior inspector to the plant to oversee the case.
Officials from the power plant told reporters that the weapons were primarily used for training purposes and could have been stolen nearly a month ago, on July 27th, and may reveal why the theft was not made public earlier.
Source: NBC 5 Chicago
Source: ABC 7 Chicago]]>
Source: NRC Event Notifications]]>