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Feds: Indian Point owner Holtec had laid-off workers agree not to testify against company

Thomas C. Zambito  New York State Team
published 3 a.m. ET May 29, 2024

Indian Point’s owners had workers sign agreements saying they would not say discuss safety concerns with outsiders after they stopped working at the shuttered nuclear power plant, an investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has found.

The NRC last week cited Holtec International, the plant’s New Jersey-based owners, for including language in the severance agreements of employees who left the company in 2022 and 2023 that would restrict or discourage them from testifying as a witness in a proceeding that could damage Holtec.

Additionally, the NRC said, Holtec required the employees to tell Holtec if they received “subpoenas, correspondence, telephone calls, requests for information, inquiries or other contacts” from government agencies or other third parties.

“This language restricts the employee from voluntarily testifying on behalf of the NRC in a matter adverse to Holtec (for example, in a matter involving a potential violation) and restricts the ability of the employee to engage in back-and-forth communications with the NRC without informing Holtec,” the NRC writes.

At least seven union employees affiliated with the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) signed the agreements between July 2022 and December 2023.

NRC relies on plant workers to speak freely

The NRC conducts regular reviews of activities at the plant, which shut down in 2021 after nearly six decades producing power for Westchester County and New York City.

“It is essential that current and former plant workers feel free to raise safety concerns with the NRC,” spokesman Neil Sheehan said. “They are (or were) at the plant on a daily basis and can have knowledge of issues that are not available to us.”

Barges:By barge, rail or truck? Feds propose travel routes for Indian Point's nuclear fuel

Sheehan would not say how the NRC learned of the agreements. A spokesperson for the UWUA said no one was available to comment.

The NRC investigation did not turn up evidence the agreements prevented employees from acting as so-called whistleblowers or accusing the company of jeopardizing the safety of workers or the public.

But the commission said there was a possibility the use of such agreements could be more widespread, noting that “the language appears to be in ingrained in corporate documents” used at other Holtec facilities regulated by the NRC.

A loaded HI-STORM canister being readied for its journey to the ISFSI Pad (Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation) at the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan.

Holtec owns shuttered nuclear power plants in Massachusetts, Michigan and New Jersey.

Holtec spokesman Patrick O’Brien said the company has corrected language in future separation agreements, which “ensures that all employees understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to reporting issues adverse to safety.”

“We take this, and all violations seriously,” O’Brien said. “Our number one focus is on safety, especially nuclear safety, and encourage all of our employees and contractors to report issues through the proper channels, up to and including the NRC, as soon as they are identified.”

Funds:Indian Point owner Holtec used $63K in ratepayer funds for sports teams, fashion show

Holtec reverses course...again

This is the second time in recent months Holtec has reversed course after the NRC caught the company violating federal regulations.

In February, the NRC cited Holtec for spending $63,000 of ratepayer funds meant for the demolition of Indian Point to sponsor a high school fashion show, sports teams and a golf outing. Holtec had to reimburse the money, which it took out of some $2 billion in decommissioning trust funds it inherited after buying the plant from Louisiana-based Entergy.

Holtec sued the state of New York last month over a law signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul that bans the discharge of treated radiological water into the Hudson River.

Lawsuit:Indian Point owner sues NY to overturn law banning radiological water in Hudson River

The company had plans to discharge a million gallons of treated radioactive water from reactor cooling pools into the river, prompting an outcry from environmental groups and state lawmakers.

In the spring of 2023, Holtec vice president Richard Burroni said the teardown would be stalled and the company would be forced to lay off workers if the state interfered with its discharge plans.

The move prompted Thomas Carey, the president of the AFL-CIO affiliate at the plant, to accuse Holtec of stoking worker fears.

https://seekingalpha.com/news/4110769-nuscale-power-surges-as-doosan-reportedly-to-supply-nuclear-equipment

NuScale Power surges as Korea's Doosan reportedly to supply nuclear equipment

May 28, 2024 10:43 AM ETNuScale Power Corporation (SMR) StockBy: Carl Surran, SA News Editor

NuScale Power (NYSE:SMR) +13.8% in Tuesday's trading to its highest in more than two months following reports that South Korean heavy equipment manufacturer Doosan Enerbility secured orders totaling 2T won ($1.46B) for NuScale's small modular reactor project in the U.S.

NuScale (SMR) reportedly is in the final stages of a multi-billion-dollar deal to supply 24 SMRs to Standard Power, a U.S. information technology infrastructure firm, starting in 2029.

NuScale (SMR) is said to be working on details of the deal with Standard Power, with an announcement expected over the next few weeks.

As part of the deal, Doosan reportedly has agreed to supply reactors, steam generator tubes and other key components for NuScale's (SMR) construction project.

Doosan invested $104M in NuScale (SMR) during 2019-21 and agreed to supply key components for its projects, and the Korean company has since established the world's first dedicated SMR production line.

https://www.columbian.com/news/2024/may/25/nuclear-sites-feeling-the-heat-as-climate-change-stokes-wildfires-drought/

Nuclear sites, including Hanford, feeling the heat as climate change stokes wildfires drought

Officials scramble to up security at facilities with radioactive materials

By TAMMY WEBBER, Associated Press
Published: May 25, 2024, 5:45am
 

As Texas wildfires burned toward the nation’s primary nuclear weapons facility, workers hurried to ensure nothing flammable was around buildings and storage areas.

When the fires showed no sign of slowing, Pantex Plant officials urgently called on local contractors, who arrived within minutes with bulldozers to dig trenches and enlarge fire breaks for the sprawling complex where nuclear weapons are assembled and disassembled and dangerous plutonium pits — hollow spheres that trigger nuclear warheads and bombs — are stored.

“The winds can pick up really (quickly) here and can move really fast,” said Jason Armstrong, the federal field office manager at Pantex, outside Amarillo, who was awake 40 hours straight monitoring the risks. Workers were sent home and the plant shut down when smoke began blanketing the site.

Those fires in February — including the largest in Texas history — didn’t reach Pantex, though flames came within 3 miles (5 kilometers). And Armstrong says it’s highly unlikely that plutonium pits, stored in fire-resistant drums and shelters, would have been affected by wildfire.

But the size and speed of the grassland fires, and Pantex’s urgent response, underscore how much is at stake as climate change stokes extreme heat and drought, longer fire seasons with larger, more intense blazes and supercharged rainstorms that can lead to catastrophic flooding. The Texas fire season often starts in February, but farther west it has yet to ramp up, and is usually worst in summer and fall.

Dozens of active and idle laboratories and manufacturing and military facilities across the nation that use, store or are contaminated with radioactive material are increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather. Many also perform critical energy and defense research and manufacturing that could be disrupted or crippled by fires, floods and other disasters.

There’s the 40-square-mile Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where a 2000 wildfire burned to within a half mile (0.8 kilometers) of a radioactive waste site. The heavily polluted Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Southern California, where a 2018 wildfire burned 80% of the site, narrowly missing an area contaminated by a 1959 partial nuclear meltdown. And the plutonium-contaminated Hanford nuclear site in Washington, where the U.S. manufactured atomic bombs.

“I think we’re still early in recognizing climate change and … how to deal with these extreme weather events,” said Paul Walker, program director at the environmental organization Green Cross International and a former staff member of the House Armed Services Committee. “I think it’s too early to assume that we’ve got all the worst-case scenarios resolved … (because) what might have been safe 25 years ago probably is no longer safe.”

That realization has begun to change how the government addresses threats at some of the nation’s most sensitive sites.

The Department of Energy in 2022 required its existing sites to assess climate change risks to “mission-critical functions and operations,” including waste storage, and to develop plans to address them. It cited wildfires at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories and a 2021 deep freeze that damaged “critical facilities” at Pantex.

Yet the agency does not specifically consider future climate risks when issuing permits or licenses for new sites or projects, or in environmental assessments that are reviewed every five years though rarely updated. Instead, it only considers how sites themselves might affect climate change — a paradox critics call short-sighted and potentially dangerous.

Likewise, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission considers only historical climate data rather than future projections in licensing decisions and oversight of nuclear power plants, according to a General Accounting Office study in April that recommended the NRC “fully consider potential climate change effects.” The GAO found that 60 of 75 U.S. plants were in areas with high flood hazard and 16 were in areas with high wildfire potential.

“We’re acting like … (what’s) happening now is what we can expect to happen in 50 years,” said Caroline Reiser, a climate and energy attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The reality of what our climate is doing has shifted dramatically, and we need to shift our planning … before we experience more and more of the extreme weather events.”

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s environmental safety and health division, which oversees active DOE sites, will conduct an internal review and convene a work group to develop “crucial” methodologies to address climate risks in permitting, licensing and site-wide assessments, John Weckerle, the division’s director of environmental regulatory affairs, told The Associated Press.

The agency said last year that climate change could “jeopardize the NNSA mission and pose a threat to national security.”

“We all know the climate is changing. Everybody’s thinking about, what effect are we having on the climate?” Weckerle said. “Now we need to flip that on its head and say, ‘OK … but what do we think is going to happen as a result of climate on a particular site?’”

 

Assessments before and after projects are built are critical to protecting infrastructure and waste materials, said Dylan Spaulding, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“We know that climate change makes it likely that these events will happen with increased frequency, and that brings the likelihood for unprecedented consequences,” Spaulding said. Sites “can be better protected if you are anticipating these problems ahead of time.”

One of the most dangerous radioactive materials is plutonium, said Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists. It can cause cancer, is most dangerous when inhaled, and just a few hundred grams dispersed widely could pose a significant hazard, he said.

Experts say risks vary by site. Most plutonium and other radioactive material is contained in concrete and steel structures or underground storage designed to withstand fire. And many sites are on large tracts in remote areas where risk to the public from a radiation release would be minimal.

Even so, potential threats have arisen.

In 2000, a wildfire burned one-third of the 580-square-mile (1,502-square-kilometer) Hanford site, which produced plutonium for the U.S. atomic weapons program and is considered the nation’s most radioactive place.

Air monitoring detected plutonium in nearby populated areas at levels higher than background, but only for one day and at levels not considered hazardous, according to a Washington State Department of Health report.

The agency said the plutonium likely was from surface soil blown by the wind during and after the fire, though site officials said radioactive waste is buried several feet deep or stored in concrete structures.

Because the Hanford site is fire-prone — with 130 wildfires between 2012 and 2023 — officials say they’re diligent about cutting fire breaks and removing flammable vegetation.

The 2018 Woolsey Fire in California was another wakeup call.

About 150,000 people live within 5 miles (8 kilometers) of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, a former nuclear power research and rocket-engine testing site.

The fire burned within several hundred feet of contaminated buildings and soil, and about 600 feet (183 meters) from where a nuclear reactor core partially melted down 65 years ago.

The state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control said sampling by multiple agencies found no off-site radiation or other hazardous material attributable to the fire. But another study, using hundreds of samples collected by volunteers, found radioactive microparticles in ash just outside of the lab boundary and at three sites farther away that researchers say were from the fire.

The state ordered demolition of 18 buildings, citing “imminent and substantial endangerment to people and the environment because unanticipated and increasingly likely fires could result in the release of radioactive and hazardous substances.”

 

It also ordered cleanup of old burn pits contaminated with radioactive materials. Though the area was covered with permeable tarps and did not burn in 2018, the state feared it could be damaged by “far more severe” wildfire, high winds or flooding.

“It’s like these places we think, it’ll never happen,” said Melissa Bumstead, founder and co-director of Parents Against Santa Susana Field Laboratory. “But … things are changing very quickly.”

Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said he and others successfully urged federal nuclear security officials to include a wildfire plan in a 1999 final environmental impact statement for the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The next year, the 48,000-acre (19,000-hectare) Cerro Grande Fire burned 7,500 acres (3,035 hectares) at the laboratory, including structures, and came within a half-mile (0.8 kilometers) of an area with more than 24,000 above-ground containers of mostly plutonium-contaminated waste.

The plan’s hypothetical fire “eerily matched the real fire,” Coghlan said, adding that it “could have been catastrophic,” if containers had been compromised and plutonium become airborne. But the lab had cut fire breaks around the area — and since then, most containers have been shipped to a permanent storage site in southern New Mexico.

Remaining radioactive material — including from the World War II Manhattan Project — now is underground with barriers to prevent leaching, or in containers stored under fire-retardant fabric-and-steel domes with paved floors until it can be processed for disposal.

The amount of radioactive material in each container is kept low to prevent a significant release if it were compromised, said Nichole Lundgard, engineering and nuclear safety program manager at DOE contractor N3B.

The lab also emphasizes fire preparedness, including thinning forests to reduce the intensity of future fires, said Rich Nieto, manager of the site’s wildland fire program.

 

“What used to be a three-month (fire) season, sometimes will be a six-month season,” he said.

Wildfires aren’t the only climate-related risk. Flooding from increasingly intense rainstorms can wash away sediment — especially in areas that have burned. Floods and extreme cold also can affect operations and have forced the shutdown of several DOE sites in recent years.

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Northern California was evacuated during a 2020 wildfire, and last year the lab was forced to shut down for three weeks because of heavy flooding.

The 2000 fire at Los Alamos was followed by heavy rainstorms that washed away sediment with plutonium and other radioactive material.

In 2010, Pantex was inundated with 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain that forced the plant to shut down, affecting operations for almost a month. The plutonium storage area flooded and corrosion later was found on some containers that’s since “been addressed,” said Armstrong, the field office manager.

In 2017, storms flooded facilities that processed nuclear material and led to power outages that affected a fire alarm control panel.

Then in 2021, Pantex was shut down for a week because of extreme cold that officials said led to “freeze-related failures” at 10 nuclear facilities and other plants. That included failure of a sprinkler head in a radiation safety storage area’s fire suppression system.

Pantex has since adopted freeze-protection measures and a cold weather response plan. And Armstrong says there have been upgrades, including to its fire protection and electrical systems and installation of backup generators.


Other DOE sites also are investing in infrastructure, the nuclear security agency’s Weckerle said, because what once was considered safe now may be vulnerable.

“We live in a time of increased risk,” he said. “That’s just the heart of it (and) … a lot of that does have to do with climate change.”

Deficiencies in Former Nuclear Plant License Termination Plan Delays Submission

May 22, 2024
By Gina G. Scala

TICK, TOCK: Decommissioning of the Oyster Creek Generation Station site is expected to finish in 2025. (Photo by Ryan Morrill)

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s preapplication readiness assessment of the Oyster Creek Generation Station’s license termination plan turned up areas that require additional information, although overall it aligned with federal regulations.  

“Based on this, Holtec (Holtec Decommissioning International) has decided to postpone submitting the Oyster Creek License Termination Plan,” said Neil Sheehan, public information officer for NRC’s Region 1.  

It’s unclear what the new timeline for submitting the license termination plan will be. Decommissioning of the Oyster Creek plant is expected to be completed by 2025. Holtec officials will ask for a partial site release, with the only exception being the onsite dry cask storage pad. In 2021, the last multipurpose canister of Oyster Creek irradiated fuel was placed in dry storage, leaving its reactor building bare of all fissile material. HDI moved used fuel from its place in the spent nuclear pool to an onsite dry storage facility after the nuclear waste had cooled for 2½ years. 

NRC staff completed its review last month. HDI, the decommissioning operator for Oyster Creek, requested the assessment, which was limited to “the content associated with the design and planning for the final status survey” of the former nuclear power plant site in Lacey Township as well as addressing how to approach compliance with the radiological criteria for termination, according to the NRC.  

“HDI should consider the entirety of the NRC staff observations provided during the preapplication,” Marlayna Doell, project manager, reactor division branch, division of decommissioning, uranium and waste programs, Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguard, said in a letter to HDI leadership. “If necessary, reevaluate the application submission date based on your elevation of the time needed to address the readiness assessment observations. The NRC staff remains committed to working with HDI in ongoing and future engagement activities.” 

Doell’s missive also noted that due to the nature of the readiness assessment, additional items not previously identified could come up during the formal review of Oyster Creek’s license termination plan. 

Among the NRC’s observations are the approach and criteria to assess dose from subsurface residual radioactivity, groundwater elimination and the development of derived concentration guideline levels, including compliance and alternative exposure scenarios.  

Oyster Creek was once the nation’s oldest operating nuclear power plant. In February 2018, the former owner, Exelon Generation, announced plans to permanently shut down Oyster Creek more than 14 months before a December 2019 deadline agreed to with the state. Doing so negated the state’s calls for retrofitting the plant with cooling towers at the Route 9 site. It ceased permanent operations in September 2018.  —G.G.S.

Subject: Supplemental Information in Support of Request for Alternative Schedule to
Complete Decommissioning Beyond 60 Years of Permanent Cessation of
Operations
 
Nuclear Regulatory Commission - News Release
No: 24-039 May 23, 2024
CONTACT: David McIntyre, 301-415-8200

NRC Issues Confirmatory Order to Mistras Group

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a Confirmatory Order to Mistras Group documenting mutually agreed-upon actions to address an apparent violation of NRC requirements at the company’s Trainer, Pennsylvania, facility. Mistras performs activities such as testing heavy lifting equipment at nuclear power plants licensed by the NRC.
 
December letter to the company cited one apparent violation of NRC requirements for falsification of calibration records for instruments used to examine the structural integrity of cranes at nuclear power plants. The violation was identified by the NRC’s Office of Investigations.
 
Before making a final enforcement decision, the NRC provided the company with an opportunity to request a predecisional enforcement conference or seek alternative dispute resolution. Mistras requested ADR mediation and met with NRC officials in March to discuss corrective actions. A preliminary settlement agreement was reached at the session, and the issues agreed upon were incorporated into the Confirmatory Order.
 
Two former Mistras employees pleaded guilty in federal court to falsifying documents and were banned in January from participating in NRC-licensed activities for periods of five and two years, respectively.
 
Subject: Summary of April 11, 2024, Public Meeting with Constellation Energy Generation, LLC Regarding Proposed Alternative to Implement American Society of Mechanical Engineers Operation and Maintenance Code Case OMN-32 (EPID L-2024-LRM-0050)
 
ADAMS Accession No.: ML24128A251
 
 
Using Web-based ADAMS, select “Advanced Search”
Under “Property,” select “Accession Number”
Under “Value,” enter the Accession Number
Click Search 
The GAO report - NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS: NRC Should Take Actions to Fully Consider the Potential Effects of Climate Change  -- asserts that,  “NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] doesn't fully consider potential increases in risk from climate change.” 
 
 

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Use:  Friday, April 5, 2024

Contact:  David Kraft,  (773)342-7650 (o); (630)506-2864 (c);  neis@neis.org

GAO Report: NRC Inadequately Addresses Climate Disruption Threat to Reactors

CHICAGO—A Government Accountability Office Report draws conclusions about nuclear reactor operation that should make public officials, agencies and policy makers from the most nuclear-reliant state in the U.S. take notice – and action.

The GAO report - NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS: NRC Should Take Actions to Fully Consider the Potential Effects of Climate Change  -- asserts that,  “NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] doesn't fully consider potential increases in risk from climate change.”

“Illinois has the most operating nuclear reactors (11), has recently repealed a moratorium on constructing new ones, and is keen on opening the doors for new experimental reactors.  This report should be a warning shot that more preparation and attention to ongoing nuclear safety in an increasingly  climate disrupted world is in order,” observes David Kraft, director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service, a 42-year old nuclear power watchdog organization, based in Chicago.

The Report indicates seven likely climate-related effects that could have safety implications for operating nuclear reactors, both present-day designs and future, experimental reactor types like “small modular nuclear reactors.” (SMNRs)

“…nuclear power plants can be affected by natural hazards—including heat, drought, wildfires, flooding, hurricanes, sea level rise, and extreme cold weather events—some of which are expected to be exacerbated by climate change, with effects varying by region….”

“Risks to nuclear power plants from these [climate disruption] hazards include loss of offsite power, damage to systems and equipment, and diminished cooling capacity, potentially resulting in reduced operations or plant shutdowns.”

“Some of these climate-related effects have already occurred in Illinois and elsewhere,” Kraft notes. “The severe Illinois drought in 1988 resulted in 100 reactor-days of operation being curtailed or completely shut down.  That drought was ‘climate disruption lite,’” he reports.

Illinois has already experienced heightened levels of heat (p.15) and area drought, and periodic regional flooding – which the GAO reports as being high probability (p.20).  Illinois has also shown a dramatic increase in tornado frequency, leading the nation in 2023 with 136.

In its defense the NRC claims that its current regimen of reactor safety review provides “adequate assurance” that reactors are operating safely and the public is protected.

“We wonder how many NRC officials book flights on airlines that provide only ‘adequate’ fuel levels and maintenance to their aircraft?” Kraft asks.

NEIS also notes that the Report highlights that there is a significant difference between claiming assurances and proving them:

“The GAO notes that, “NRC primarily uses historical data in its licensing and oversight processes rather than climate projections data. NRC officials GAO interviewed said they believe their current processes provide an adequate margin of safety to address climate risks. However, NRC has not conducted an assessment to demonstrate that this is the case.” (emphasis ours)

“Talk is cheap,” states NEIS’ Kraft.  “When one bad day at the office can turn Illinois into the Belarus of North America, Illinois officials at all levels should insist that NRC actually conduct reassessments of their reactor standards, anticipating climate changes,” he asserts.

The GAO makes three recommendations to begin to address this NRC failing:

·The Chair of the NRC should direct NRC staff to assess whether its licensing and oversight processes adequately address the potential for increased risks to nuclear power plants from climate change. (Recommendation 1)
·The Chair of the NRC should direct NRC staff to develop, finalize, and implement a plan to address any gaps identified in its assessment of existing processes. (Recommendation 2)

·The Chair of the NRC should direct NRC staff to develop and finalize guidance on incorporating climate projections data into relevant processes, including what sources of climate projections data to use and when and how to use climate projections data. (Recommendation 3).

“While we welcome any and all efforts to improve reactor safety, we also must point out how pathetic and profoundly worrisome it is that a $1+ billion Agency demonstrates such a lack of foresight, initiative and perhaps even competence to understand that the climate crisis is profoundly affecting their core mission,” Kraft laments.  “It is this seeming indifference to its task that has led many over the years to complain that “NRC” stands for ‘Not Really Concerned.’”

“Our Governor and the Illinois Delegation to Congress need to light a much needed fire under this Agency to protect Illinois,” Kraft concludes.

--30--

Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS) was formed in 1981 to watchdog the nuclear power industry, and to promote a renewable, non-nuclear energy future.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission - News Release
No: 24-038 May 16, 2024
CONTACT: Scott Burnell, 301-415-8200

NRC to Issue Revised Generic Environmental Impact Statement for Renewing Reactor Licenses

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has directed the staff to issue a final rule and corresponding update to the Generic Environmental Impact Statement the agency uses when considering applications to renew operating reactor licenses.
 
The rule, to be issued once the staff incorporates Commission direction, will become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
 
The revisions to the NRC’s environmental regulations, updated GEIS, and accompanying guidance documents fully address license renewal (40 to 60 years of operation) and subsequent license renewal (60 to 80 years of operation).
 
The GEIS covers environmental topics relevant to all nuclear power plant licensees seeking renewed licenses. The revised document accounts for new or revised environmental impacts, reflects changes in regulations or guidance, and applies what the agency has learned during previous license renewals. The NRC will notify the public when the final rule is published.
 

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