From the Wall Street Journal:

Investors who want to participate in a nuclear-power revival, take note: It's not for the faint of heart.

That's because the nuclear industry is subject to greater risks than other parts of the power sector. Nuclear plants are extremely costly and take years to build. Most new reactor designs are still awaiting certification by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and no utility in the U.S. has received the commission's permission to build and operate a new plant.

On top of that, the entire power sector is suffering because of depressed demand for electricity caused by the global recession and growing energy-conservation efforts. Low natural-gas prices also mean that nuclear plants look more expensive when compared with plants powered by fossil fuels.

Nevertheless, many investors believe nuclear power will make a comeback because reactors can produce huge amounts of electricity and could substitute for coal-powered plants, cutting pollution. Dozens of new plants are planned for South Korea, China, India, the U.K. and other nations. In the U.S., the Obama administration has proposed up to $54 billion in loan guarantees to jump-start new construction, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is processing applications for nearly two dozen proposed reactors.

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From the New York Times:

On a wooded island more than a hundred miles northwest of Helsinki, in the town of Eurajoki, Finnish engineers are digging a tunnel. When it is done 10 years from now, it will corkscrew three miles in and 1,600 feet down into crystalline gneiss bedrock that has been the foundation of Finland for 1.8 billion years.

And there, in a darkness that is still being created, the used fuel rods from Finland’s nuclear reactors — full of radioactive elements from the periodic table as dreamed up by Lord Voldemort, spitting neutrons and gamma rays — are to be sealed away forever, or at least 100,000 years.

The place is called Onkalo (Finnish for “hidden”) and it is the subject of “Into Eternity,” a new documentary by Mr. Madsen.

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From MSNBC:

Radioactive water that leaked from the nation's oldest nuclear power plant has now reached a major underground aquifer that supplies drinking water to much of southern New Jersey, the state's environmental chief said Friday.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has ordered the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station to halt the spread of contaminated water underground, even as it said there was no imminent threat to drinking water supplies.

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From the Brattleboro Reformer:

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has failed the public, said a pair of anti-nuclear activists during a teleconference with the NRC's petition review board (PRB) Wednesday morning.

The review board heard arguments from Thomas Saporito, of endangeredplanetearth.blogspot.com, and Ray Shadis, of the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution, who have been contending that Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon should be shut down until a number of maintenance issues are resolved, including the remediation of tritium-contaminated groundwater.

Saporito said the NRC's resident inspectors at Vermont Yankee are "too cozy" with plant personnel and because of that, violations and unsafe conditions are not being detected in a timely manner.

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From the New York Times:

But perhaps we ought to be concerned a bit less with Mr. Shahzad, a failed terrorist now in custody, and significantly more with Sharif Mobley — a New Jersey native, a former high school wrestler and, until shortly before he moved to Yemen to allegedly join Al Qaeda, a maintenance worker at five nuclear power plants along the East Coast.

Since his arrest by Yemeni security forces in March, American law enforcement officials have taken pains to emphasize that Mr. Mobley’s low security clearance makes it unlikely that he passed crucial details about American nuclear-plant security to Al Qaeda.

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The Union of Concerned Scientists,
Beyond Nuclear,
NC WARN

 

Public officials, watchdogs seek investigation after NRC ignores fire experts’ warnings about risks at operating plants; modeling failure impacts new reactors too

DURHAM, NC – Officials from five local governments near the Shearon Harris nuclear plant, and three watchdog groups, asked for a federal investigation into possible wrongdoing by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission involving the top safety issue at the nation’s reactors.  They say the NRC is ignoring its own safety regulations – and criticisms by numerous fire science experts – while attempting to bring scores of nuclear plants into compliance after over two decades of regulatory failure.

Beyond Nuclear, NC WARN and The Union of Concerned Scientists today filed a legal motion with the NRC’s Office of Inspector General.  They urged the OIG to issue an expedited “show cause” order directing NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko to explain why his agency has allowed pilot programs by Progress Energy and Duke Energy to use risk calculations that failed, under required testing, to predict the ignition and spread of electrical fires.  The NRC is scheduled to grant license amendments to the Harris and Oconee nuclear plants very soon, which would bless them as finally achieving compliance.

The risk calculations, or fire “modeling,” are the scientific basis for a new regulatory plan intended to end years of controversy over the NRC's lack of enforcement.  The watchdog groups today sent the OIG extensive evidence that two international fire science panels, an industry trade association, a national testing lab and the NRC itself have found serious limitations that essentially render the models unreliable for safety decision-making.

"It looks more like smoke and mirrors than real fire safety," said David Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, during a press teleconference today.  He said the NRC seems so focused on scheduling that they’re willing to ignore key safety issues. "The NRC received very critical comments from independent fire scientists, but rather than fixing those serious problems, the agency essentially ignored them in order to approve the pilot projects and move ahead with new plants. The NRC is letting the U.S. public down."

Fire is ranked by the NRC as the leading safety factor – 50 percent of overall risk – for a U.S. reactor meltdown.  Current regulations were developed in 1980 following a near-disaster caused by fire at the Browns Ferry plant in Alabama.  But most plant owners have never met those regulations, so the NRC recently allowed them to attempt compliance with the fire modeling scheme.

The watchdogs say the NRC is ignoring the modeling problems apparently in order to provide the illusion that fire safety problems are resolved.  The new “risk-informed” regulatory plan is optional for all existing plants and for new ones that might be built.  Electric cables are of particular concern because they, themselves, are leading fire hazards, and because they are essential so operators can shut down and cool the reactor following an accident or sabotage.  The groups also say the new risk-based fire strategy is fundamentally flawed because it explicitly ignores security threats.
 
“No one can accurately predict the level of fire risk derived from an attack on a nuclear power plant,” said Paul Gunter, Director of Reactor Oversight Project for the Takoma Park, Maryland based anti-nuclear group, Beyond Nuclear.  “There is no reliable way to evaluate fire risks from sabotage because of the lack of data, the limited range of scenarios considered, and large uncertainties about human performance,” he said. “This is why we continue to call for stringent enforcement of physical fire protection features as included in the long-standing regulations.”

Gunter and NC WARN director Jim Warren met privately with NRC Chairman Jaczko in March.  But the agency head dismissed the firmly worded concerns of the fire science experts.  He also would not explain why NRC has directed the pilot plants to use fire models that have not been “verified and validated” as required by regulations.  Nor would he explain why the agency intends to grant license amendments even though the NRC has begun a three-year retesting of fire models that failed in earlier laboratory experiments.

Mayor Randy Voller of Pittsboro, a Harris plant neighbor, explained why he wants the OIG investigation:  “Local officials must speak out for public protection by looking forward – instead of reacting after disasters.  The Gulf oil tragedy shows how catastrophe can strike even after assurances that industrial operations are perfectly safe – and it’s showing the intensity of consequences when such assurances prove wrong.”

The mayor, along with representatives from governing bodies in Chatham County, Orange County and the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, sent a letter requesting the OIG investigation.  They also have asked U.S. Rep. David Price to urge NRC Chairman Jaczko to resolve the controversy before issuing any license amendments.

Price, whose district includes the Harris plant, was instrumental in gaining earlier investigations of the fire protection saga by the OIG and the U.S. Government Accountability Office.  In 2008 both agencies confirmed the complaints by these same nuclear watchdogs, reporting extensive shortcomings with NRC enforcement stretching back two decades.  The OIG and Congress have authority to seek prosecution if any individual causes the neglect of regulations designed to protect public safety.  The watchdog groups also plan to ask an NRC science panel, the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, to directly investigate the fire modeling issue.

Progress Energy reports having spent over $10 million on upgrades and studies for the new regulatory program.  The groups said the Raleigh-based power giant delayed compliance with the existing regulations year after year because that would have cost much more.

Jim Warren, director of NC WARN, pointed to President Obama’s recent admonishment that coal mine safety regulations “are riddled with loopholes.”  Warren called on Obama to apply the same standard to the NRC: “The nuclear industry has been gaming the NRC for decades because of persistent pressure to cut costs.  If the Obama NRC allows this travesty to continue, the U.S. could see more catastrophes that should have been prevented.”  

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From WKSU:

Akron-based FirstEnergy hopes it has identified the last of its nozzle troubles at its Davis Besse nuclear power plant. But WKSU's M.L. Schultze says it's still trying to figure out how those problems arose so soon.

The head of the reactor at FirstEnergy’s Davis Besse nuclear power plant has been operating for only about six years. Which is FirstEnergy was surprised in March when it discovered cracks in some of the nozzles that penetrate that the reactor head , and through which control rods are fed.

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The Nuclear Resister, Nukewatch and the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA) invite you to join us for a national gathering, culminating with nonviolent anti-nuclear direct action, July 3-5, 2010, to declare our independence from nuclear weapons and nuclear power. The gathering will be held at Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee (tentative), with protest and action at the Y-12 nuclear weapons complex in nearby Oak Ridge, where OREPA has sustained a nonviolent campaign for over 20 years.

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From EarthTimes:

It was front-page news across America this February when the Vermont Senate voted to shut down the troubled Vermont Yankee reactor in 2012.  But what most Americans don't know is that the nuclear industry also lost all of its seven other major state legislative pushes this year  going 0-8 and putting yet another nail in the coffin of the myth of the "nuclear renaissance" in the United States, according to an analysis by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS).

Even as some in Congress would lavish tens of billions of dollars ? and even unlimited ? loan guarantees on the embattled nuclear power industry, state lawmakers in Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Vermont and West Virginia and Wisconsin said a firm "no" this year to more nuclear power.  The legislative issues ranged from attempts by nuclear industry lobbyists to overturn bans on new reactors to "construction work in progress" (CWIP) assessments to pay for new reactors to reclassifying nuclear power as a "renewable resource."    

How bad is the nuclear power industry doing in state legislatures?  In 2009, the industry went 0-5 with reactor moratorium overturn efforts in Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, and West Virginia. Even after stepping up its on-the-ground efforts in 2010 with paid lobbyists and extensive public relations efforts in states like Wisconsin, the industry again came up with nothing.

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