NRC may allow more powerful guns to guard spent fuel

File photo. Casks like this storing spent nuclear fuel at the Limerick nuclear plant may soon be guarded with more powerful guns.


LIMERICK — Machine guns may be coming to a nuclear plant near you.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has proposed a rule that would allow security guards to wield machine guns and “enhanced weapons” to guard spent fuel rods being stored at nuclear power plants.

The cost of the weapons upgrade, training and background checks envisioned in the NRC rule could cost the industry between $26.5 million and $34.7 million, according to NRC estimates.

The new rule, if made final, could be used by Exelon Nuclear’s Limerick Generating Station to upgrade weaponry if needed, according to NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.

Any upgrades, and subsequent costs, would be voluntary but in making industry costs estimates “NRC staff assumed that all licensees and certificate holds who fall within the proposed designated classes of facilities would take advantage of making us of enhanced weapons protection,” according to the announced of the proposed rule in the Jan. 10 edition of the Federal Register.

“We can’t provide specific details on the types of weapons our security officers carry or the extent of Exelon’s background investigations (for safeguard reasons),” Dana Melia, communications manager for the nuclear plant, wrote in an e-mail response to a Mercury inquiry.

“But Limerick already receives the highest level of security and protection as mandated by the Nuclear Regulation Commission,” Melia wrote.

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Markey: Maintain Construction Ban at Hanford Nuclear Site to Avoid Hydrogen Explosions, Dangerous Nuclear Accidents


Contact: Eben Burnham-Snyder, Rep. Ed Markey

Markey: Maintain Construction Ban at Hanford Nuclear Site to Avoid Hydrogen Explosions, Dangerous Nuclear Accidents

Release of GAO report, leak of internal DOE memo raise questions about DOE decision to ‘ramp up’ construction at troubled site

WASHINGTON (January 18, 2013) -- Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a senior Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, today sent a letter  to Energy Secretary Steven Chu urging him to implement the recommendations made in a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the troubled Hanford nuclear site that was requested by Reps. Upton, Waxman, DeGette, Markey and former Rep. Stearns.  That report, along with a leaked memo written by the nuclear project’s former director of engineering, found that the technical problems associated with the project were so severe that all construction on the troubled facilities should cease until they are suitably resolved.

“The Department of Energy’s recent announcement that it may ramp up construction at Hanford flies in the face of the reasoned recommendations to suspend it that are made in this report and by the project’s own top staff,” said Rep. Markey.  “From hydrogen explosions to dangerous nuclear chain reactions, the potential consequences of continuing with these misguided plans prematurely could be devastating to the project, the workers, the environment and maybe even the public.”

The Hanford Waste Treatment Project is a Washington State facility that is supposed to treat millions of gallons of high level nuclear waste left over from Cold War nuclear weapons production that is being stored in 177 aging underground tanks, 70 of which have already leaked about 1 million gallons of waste into the groundwater, which feeds the Columbia River about 12 miles away.

The challenges identified in the GAO report released today, as well as by other experts, include the stunning possibility that the nature of the waste as well as the engineering of the facility could result in both nuclear criticalities (which are the chain reactions that are exploited during the detonation of a nuclear weapon) and hydrogen explosions (which occurred during the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns) if the project proceeds as it is currently designed.

The report also notes that the costs of the project have ballooned from $4.3 billion in 2000 to a staggering $13.4 billion today, and that additional cost increases and delays are likely to occur because the underlying technical challenges have yet to be resolved.  Yet despite these glaring deficiencies, the report also found that DOE has prematurely provided financial performance awards to Bechtel, its contractor, for resolving technical issues associated with the project that later turned out to be unresolved.

But instead of maintaining the suspension on construction recommended by GAO and the project’s former director of engineering, earlier this week, the Department of Energy announced that it is ready to ramp up construction and that it may do so by bypassing the most problematic so-called “Pretreatment facility,” entirely, and instead feed waste directly to the high and low-level waste treatment facilities without first separating the types of waste.

Rep. Markey first wrote DOE about the problems at the Hanford site in November 2011 following reports that several senior scientists and safety officials had repeatedly raised concerns about the potential for catastrophic failures of the technologies to be used for the handling of high-level nuclear waste at the Hanford site, as well as about the potential for hydrogen explosions and radioactive releases in the event of a serious accident. For their efforts, staff were demoted, reprimanded or ignored.

In the letter sent today, Rep. Markey reiterated his requests for additional materials related to these alleged acts of retaliation, and requested numerous additional materials related to the budget projections for the WTP, the justification for ignoring the recommendations to solve the serious technical challenges associated with the project before resuming construction, and for information on how DOE planned to recoup the payments it made to Bechtel, its contractor, for work that turned out to be incomplete.

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NRC Seeks Public Comment on Possible Changes to Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage and Transportation Regulatory Framework

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is asking the public for input as the agency considers changes to the regulatory framework for spent nuclear fuel storage and transportation. The request for comment, published in the Jan. 17 Federal Register, is the first in a series and will inform the NRC’s effort to improve how it regulates after more than 20 years of experience approving dry casks for spent fuel storage and transportation.

The NRC is specifically looking at how it could better integrate the requirements for spent fuel storage under 10 CFR Part 72 with those for spent fuel transportation under 10 CFR Part 71. As part of this evaluation, the NRC is looking at the potential need for changes to policy, guidance, or regulatory requirements for retrievability, cladding integrity, and safe handling of spent fuel. The public will have another opportunity to comment on any proposed changes, should the NRC decide to revise its guidance or regulations on these issues. More information is available in the Federal Register notice and on the NRC website.

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Duck Hunters Cause of Security Incident at Pilgrim ...Pilgrim is a "sitting Duck" after all!

Duck Hunters Cause of Security Incident at Pilgrim

Duck hunters set off an alarm at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station Saturday morning. The event lasted a little more than an hour.

January 12,2013

Release from Entergy

The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station declared an unusual event Saturday morning at 9:50 for security considerations until suspicious activity near the plant was determined to be duck hunters.

Pilgrim Station implemented its Integrated Security Response Plan. State and local public safety agencies were notified and assisted in the response. The plant has remained secure during the investigation. The unusual event was terminated at 11:05 a.m.

An Unusual Event is the lowest of four emergency classifications of events that apply to nuclear power plants as defined by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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Markey Questions DOE's Radioactive Recycling Proposal


Markey Questions DOE’s Radioactive Recycling Proposal

Radioactive Scrap Metal Could be Turned into Consumer Products

WASHINGTON (January 11, 2013) – A Department of Energy proposal to allow up to 14,000 metric tons of its radioactive scrap metal to be recycled into consumer products was called into question today by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) due to concerns over public health. In a letter sent to DOE head Steven Chu, Rep. Markey expressed “grave concerns” over the potential of these metals becoming jewelry, cutlery, or other consumer products that could exceed healthy doses of radiation without any knowledge by the consumer. DOE made the proposal to rescind its earlier moratorium on radioactive scrap metal recycling in December, 2012.

The proposal follows an incident from 2012 involving Bed, Bath & Beyond stores in America recalling tissue holders made in India that were contaminated with the radio-isotope cobalt-60. Those products were shipped to 200 stores in 20 states. In response to that incident, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesperson advised members of the public to return the products even though the amount of contamination was not considered to be a health risk.

“The public concerns associated with such a proposal cannot be understated,” writes Rep. Markey to Secretary Chu. “If these metals are being released to companies who will subsequently manufacture new consumer products from them, DOE simply has no way to ensure that different samples are not aggregated into more highly radioactive products.”

The full letter can be found HERE.

The letter notes that in 2000, then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson first suspended DOE’s radioactive recycling efforts in response to concerns raised by Rep. Markey and others that DOE would not be able to assure public safety as radioactively contaminated metals could have been turned into everything from baby spoons to jewelry to medical devices that are implanted into the human body. In December 2012, however, DOE proposed to do away with the ban on radioactive recycling.

In the letter from Rep. Markey, DOE is asked how it could assure consumers that they will not be affected by higher doses of radiation from products using aggregated radioactive scrap metal, among other concerns.

NRC to Discuss Implementing Orders for Post-Fukushima Improvements Jan. 16 in Rockville, MD

Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff will meet with industry representatives Jan. 16 to continue discussions on schedules and guidance for actions stemming from recommendations of the NRC’s Japan Near-Term Task Force, which examined issues raised by the Fukushima nuclear accident in March 2011.

The meeting will be held from 9-11:30 a.m. in the Commission Hearing Room on the first floor of the White Flint North complex at 11555 Rockville Pike in Rockville, Md.

NRC management and industry executives will discuss topics including:
U.S. nuclear power plants’ integrated plans for complying with three specific post-Fukushima actions the NRC ordered the plants to take in March 2012; Efforts to better understand and analyze flooding and earthquake hazards; Strategies to respond to extreme natural events resulting in the loss of power at plants, and;
Longer-term activities to resolve other recommendations.

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Waste Confidence Monthly Public Teleconferences

Greetings and Happy New Year!

In an effort to promote transparency and share information, the Waste Confidence Directorate is planning to hold monthly Status Update Teleconferences on the third Wednesday of every month from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. EST (10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. PST).  The NRC staff will discuss the status of its development efforts related to the Waste Confidence generic environmental impact statement and rule, and provide additional background information (e.g., documents to be released, public meeting schedules) as warranted.  Interested parties are invited to participate and ask questions; however, please note that discussion in this forum will not be considered as formal comments and will not be considered in the EIS development.

The first public teleconference will be held on Wednesday, January 16, and will provide an overview of the recently completed scoping period and next steps in the Waste Confidence environmental review.  With the exception of the agenda, which is included as the last page in the meeting notice (linked below), there are no slides or handouts associated with this teleconference.

January 16, 2013
1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. EST

Monthly Public Teleconference Status Meeting
Prior to the start of the meeting, please dial 1-800-857-2553 and provide the operator with passcode 3682386.

Meeting Notice

Tentative Future Dates of Teleconferences
February 20, 2013
March 20, 2013
April 17, 2013
May 15, 2013
June 19, 2013
July 17, 2013
August 21, 2013


Staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Waste Confidence Directorate

PA DEP News Release : DEP Reminds Pennsylvanians that January is Radon Action Month

Dept. of Environmental Protection
Commonwealth News Bureau
Room 308, Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg PA., 17120


Amanda Witman, Department of Environmental Protection


DEP Reminds Pennsylvanians that January is Radon Action Month
Free Webinar on Jan. 16 to Offer Q&A with Experts, Home Testing Tips


As part of National Radon Action Month, the Department of Environmental Protection will present an episode on the subject as part of its quarterly webinar series, DEP at Home, on Wednesday, Jan. 16, from 7 to 8 p.m.

“Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and affects almost half of all Pennsylvania homes,” DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said. “Everyone needs to test their homes for radon.

“The good news is that a radon problem is easily and inexpensively fixed. The webinar will teach people more about this health risk and how they can protect their families.”

The webinar will feature a presentation and live question-and-answer session with Robert Lewis and Matthew Shields of DEP’s Bureau of Radiation Protection and Kevin Stewart of the American Lung Association.

Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that occurs naturally through the breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks. It can seep into homes through cracks in basements and foundations, and can build up inside to concentrations many times the recommended level.

Radon is responsible for an estimated 20,000 lung-cancer deaths in the United States every year, and about 40 percent of Pennsylvania homes have radon levels above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s action level of four picocuries per liter. While radon problems may be more common in some regions, the potential exists for any home to have high radon levels.

Pennsylvania is particularly prone to elevated radon levels, and the only way to know if there is a radon problem is to test the home. DEP recommends testing all homes and public and private buildings. The best time to test is during the cold-weather months, when homes and buildings are closed and radon is most likely to build up to unhealthy levels.

Residents may hire a certified radon testing company, though it is easy to perform a radon test by using a kit that can be purchased at a home improvement store or a Pennsylvania-certified radon laboratory. Completed test kits are to be sent to a Pennsylvania-certified lab, where the samples are analyzed and the results are then sent to the resident. If results reveal radon levels above the action level, a radon mitigation system may be necessary.

Radon mitigation systems cost between $700 and $1,200 and require minimal maintenance. Most home or building owners choose to hire a radon mitigation professional to install the system.

For more information about radon, including information about interpreting test results or to find a Pennsylvania-certified radon contractor, visit, keyword: Radon, or call 1-800-23-RADON.

To participate in the webinar, visit and click the “DEP at Home” button on the homepage. Space is limited and participation is based on a first-come, first-served basis.

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ECONOMICS VY Yankee's financial prospects seen grim

By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | January 06,2013

BRATTLEBORO — A financial analyst who follows the nuclear industry said that while financial information on the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant indicates it is not making money for owner Entergy Nuclear, the company may be leery of shutting the 41-year-old reactor down because it would set a dangerous political precedent.

Julien Dumoulin-Smith of UBS Securities LLC said likewise that Entergy may have calculated that shutting it down would cost more than keeping it running.

“The issue is what’s the alternative and what is the liability to retire it? Is it better to run it as a loss?” he said Friday.

Dumoulin-Smith said that Entergy, and the nuclear industry as a whole, were closely watching the Vermont regulatory fight, but that the bigger issue was the future of the Indian Point nuclear plant, which is located on the Hudson River about 40 miles north of New York City. Indian Point is also owned by Entergy Nuclear.

“It’s really all about Indian Point; Indian Point is what matters more,” he said.

The nuclear industry is being adversely affected by the “revolution” in shale gas, and the growth in the natural gas industry, he said.

Entergy spokesman Robert Williams issued a statement in response to the UBS report, and declined further comment.

“Our nuclear units are important sources of clean, reliable power, and we remain fully focused on the safe operation of the plants,” he said. “As a matter of policy, Entergy does not comment on the financial performance of individual plants.”

Dumoulin-Smith issued a report last week that raised serious questions about the future operation of Vermont Yankee, given its low cash flow, and he said that Entergy’s wholesale nuclear fleet showed “modest to negative cash flows” until 2016. Vermont Yankee is a member of Entergy’s wholesale fleet.

In a recommendation to potential Entergy investors, Dumoulin-Smith wrote: “We believe both its New York Fitzpatrick and Vermont Yankee plants are at risk of retirement given their small size.”

Dumoulin-Smith’s report remained officially “neutral” on a recommendation to buy Entergy stock.

Vermont Yankee’s legal future will be debated next week at two court hearings: first Jan. 14 at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City, and two days later at the Vermont Supreme Court. Vermont’s high court will take up a motion by the New England Coalition, an anti-nuclear group, to shut down Yankee because it is operating without a current state certificate of public good.

Yankee’s financial health has recently posed a big question mark, as Entergy Corp. chief executive officer Wayne Leonard said in 2011 during a quarterly earnings call with analysts that Yankee wasn’t even covering its capital costs.

And Entergy is known to be facing a major investment in the future when it comes to Yankee in the form of its aging condenser, a large piece of equipment estimated to cost about $100 million to replace.

Dumoulin-Smith said his report didn’t take into account the condenser issue in its financial calculations.

He did take into consideration about $80 million to be spent at the Pilgrim nuclear plant in Massachusetts for dry cask storage and re-licensing, and $130 million for wedge wire screens at Indian Point.

New York environmental officials have been battling with Entergy over the environmental effects of Indian Point’s water withdrawals from the Hudson River, with state officials saying cooling towers were needed to mitigate the environmental impacts of such large water withdrawals.

Dumoulin-Smith said the continuing low price for natural gas and the explosion of the shale gas industry was spelling financial doom for the nuclear industry, particularly the smaller, marginally profitable nuclear plants such as Vermont Yankee.

And while Dumoulin-Smith put Entergy’s other small nuclear plant, the Fitzpatrick plant in upstate New York, in the same financial category as Vermont Yankee, politics could keep Fitzpatrick online if push comes to shove.

Dumoulin-Smith said that property taxes in New York are much higher — and thus more important — to their host communities, and those communities would fight harder to keep the plants online.

He said the new generation tax, adopted by the 2012 Vermont Legislature and being fought by Entergy, could push Yankee over the financial edge.

Entergy lost the first round in its court battle over the new $12 million tax, but has appealed a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss.

“We’re looking for what creates value for Entergy shareholders,” said Dumoulin-Smith.

“The question of viability of nuclear is in doubt for small units like Vermont. Vermont Yankee is one of the smallest operating nukes in the country,” he said. “Natural gas is clearly overtaking coal, and nuclear is the next wave of potential victims.”

He added: “Nuclear is under attack.”

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