Beyond Nuclear Petitions US NRC for Suspension of 21 Atomic Reactor Licenses in Wake of Japanese Nuclear CatastropheSubmitted by webEditor on Fri, 04/22/2011 - 10:54
Watchdog group alleges General Electric Boiling Water Reactor Mark 1 design’s weak containment, inadequate experimental venting back fit, and radioactive waste storage pool are accidents waiting to happen
TAKOMA PARK, MD - April 19 - Today the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) docketed an emergency enforcement petition filed by the environmental watchdog group Beyond Nuclear. Beyond Nuclear’s petition calls for the suspension of operating licenses at 21 General Electric Boiling Water Reactors of the Mark 1 design (GE BWR Mark 1s). Beyond Nuclear has filed the petition in the wake of catastrophic failure of just such containment systems at identical atomic reactors in Fukushima, Japan at the Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant. In addition, Beyond Nuclear has highlighted the extreme risk posed by GE BWR Mark 1 high-level radioactive waste storage pools, at a total of 24 such reactors in the U.S., which lack emergency backup power supplies for circulating cooling water in the event of a loss of electricity from the primary grid. Lack of cooling water circulation in high-level radioactive waste storage pools can result in boil off, subsequent irradiated nuclear fuel fire, and large-scale releases of hazardous radioactivity directly into the environment, as has occurred at Fukushima Dai-Ichi Unit 4.
Beyond Nuclear’s Reactor Oversight Project Director, Paul Gunter, has identified 21 GE Mark 1 BWRs in the United States that utilize the Fukushima Dai-Ichi style, free-standing primary containment structure composed of a carbon steel drywell, connected by large diameter piping to the carbon steel suppression chamber referred to as the wet well or torus, which altogether comprises the safety-credited pressure suppression containment system. The 21 GE BWR Mark 1 atomic reactors at risk of catastrophic containment failure in the U.S. are, in alphabetical order: Browns Ferry Units 1, 2, and 3 in Alabama; Cooper Unit 1 in Nebraska; Dresden Units 2 and 3 in Illinois; Duane Arnold Unit 1 in Iowa; Fermi Unit 2 in Michigan; Fitzpatrick Unit 1 in New York; Hatch Units 1 and 2 in Georgia; Hope Creek Unit 1 in New Jersey; Monticello Unit 1 in Minnesota; Nine Mile Point Unit 1 in New York; Oyster Creek Unit 1 in New Jersey; Peach Bottom Units 2 and 3 in Pennsylvania; Pilgrim Unit 1 in Massachusetts; Quad Cities Units 1 and 2 in Illinois; and Vermont Yankee Unit 1 in Vermont.
“The Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear catastrophe in Japan has dramatically illuminated the grave risks and unforgiving consequences of a severe accident combined with the fundamental failures of the GE BWR Mark 1 containment concept, design, construction, and subsequent experimental retrofit which unsuccessfully attempted to mitigate these significant flaws,” said Gunter. “Any loss of cooling to the reactor core could lead to pressure build up that could breach these old, small, weak, badly designed and built containment structures,” he added.
Gunter recounted that high-level U.S. nuclear power regulators have long identified the undue risks associated with GE BWR Mark 1 type containments. In 1972, Dr. Stephen Hanauer of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) warned about the buildup of explosive hydrogen gas during a reactor core accident in such relatively small containment structures, and urged that “the AEC adopt a policy of discouraging further use of pressure suppression containments…”.
At Fukushima Dai-Ichi Units 1, 3, and 4, such hydrogen explosions severely damaged or entirely destroyed the secondary containment buildings. This happened despite attempts, in the earliest days of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear catastrophe, to vent radioactive steam into the environment in an effort to prevent catastrophic rupture of the containment structures.
Also, at Fukushima Dai-Ichi Unit 2, failure of the containment venting system led to a large hydrogen explosion within the primary containment structure which has very likely severely damaged the wet well/torus, creating a direct pathway to the environment for hazardous radioactivity releases. This is made all the worse by the likelihood that the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Unit 2 nuclear fuel core has melted through the bottom of the reactor pressure vessel.
“It is unreasonable to back fit an identified severe design flaw with a venting system to deliberately defeat the purpose of a leak tight containment in order to save it from catastrophic failure based on the unlikelihood that the task will be required,” Gunter surmised.
In addition, safety concerns over the substandard Mark I pressure suppression containment system were again affirmed in 1986 by Dr. Harold Denton, Director of Nuclear Reactor Regulation at NRC. Denton told a nuclear industry conference that this flawed reactor containment type has as high as a 90% chance of failure if challenged by severe accident conditions.
Beyond Nuclear’s emergency enforcement petition, brought under Title 10, Part 2.206 of the Code of Federal Regulations, also calls for emergency diesel generators and backup batteries to be connected to 24 GE BWR Mark 1 reactor units’ storage pools for high-level radioactive waste. Currently, these elevated storage pools for irradiated nuclear fuel are located outside of credited primary containment structures and lack “Class E1” safety-related backup power supply systems in the event of a loss of electricity from the primary grid for running cooling water circulation pumps. These 24 pools include those at the permanently closed Millstone Unit 1 atomic reactor in Connecticut, as well as the Brunswick Units 1 and 2 atomic reactors in North Carolina.
“It is incredible that pools for storing high-level radioactive wastes in the U.S. are not connected to emergency backup power supplies,” said Kevin Kamps, Radioactive Waste Watchdog at Beyond Nuclear. “Any loss of the electrical grid – whether due to tornadoes, hurricanes, ice storms, or even wildlife or tree branches touching power lines – could begin pool boiling within hours, leading to complete boil off within a day or two, followed by a radioactive waste inferno within hours of the irradiated nuclear fuel losing its cooling water cover,” Kamps added.
“Whereas Fukushima Dai-Ichi Unit 4’s pool contained around 130 tons of high-level radioactive waste, pools in the U.S. are crammed with significantly more,” Kamps added. “For example, Fermi Unit 2 in Michigan – the largest GE BWR Mark 1 in the world – has well over 500 tons of high-level radioactive waste crammed into its pool. This means that without the primary electrical grid, the pool could begin boiling in just over four hours, could boil dry and catch fire all that much more quickly, and the consequences downwind would be multiple times worse than the still-unfolding catastrophe at Fukushima Dai-Ichi Unit 4’s pool,” Kamps concluded.
A 1997 study commissioned by the NRC estimated the median consequences of a high-level radioactive waste storage pool fire, which included: 54,000 to 143,000 latent cancer deaths downwind; 770 to 2,700 square miles of agricultural land condemned; and economic costs due to evacuation of $117 to 566 billion ($158 to 765 billion when adjusted for inflation to current dollar values).
Beyond Nuclear’s 2.206 emergency enforcement petition, and NRC’s docketing announcement, are posted at the top of Beyond Nuclear’s homepage,www.beyondnuclear.org, and can be provided upon request.
Beyond Nuclear aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic.
From the Press and Journal
If an earthquake shook Middletown, would Three Mile Island shut down safely?
Would the reactor lose power during a natural disaster, lose its cooling systems?
Would we have a crisis resembling the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi reactor in Japan?
The owner of TMI says no, no and no. To assure residents who live near the reactor, it has sent 24,000 letters to neighbors within a 5-mile radius, asserting that the catastrophe in Japan couldn’t happen here.
TMI would survive a severe earthquake and maintain electricity during a natural disaster, a problem that has plagued Japan’s damaged reactor, said the letter, signed by Bill Noll, TMI site vice president for Exelon Nuclear, the owner.
“Our generating station is able to withstand and safely shut down in very strong earthquakes, and the uranium fuel would remain protected,’’ Noll said in the letter, which went to residents in Dauphin, Lancaster and York counties.
Entergy Corporation announced that two of its subsidiaries, Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee, LLC and Entergy Nuclear Operations, have filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont seeking a judgment to prevent the state of Vermont from forcing the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to cease operation on March 21, 2012. Today's request for declaratory and injunctive relief follows the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission's March 21 renewal of Vermont Yankee's operating license authorizing the plant's operation through March 21, 2032. The NRC's action came after a thorough and exhaustive five-year safety and environmental review of the plant.
In the days after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident began, GlobalPost turned to Arnold Gundersen for an independent view of whether the reactors might melt down. A 39-year veteran of the nuclear industry, Gundersen has worked as a nuclear plant operator and served as an expert witness on the Three Mile Island accident. He is now chief engineer at Fairwinds Associates.
Back then, Gundersen said that the evidence suggested the accident was worse than authorities were revealing. This week, his assessment was shown to be accurate when Japan upgraded Fukushima to a 7, the worst possible rating for a nuclear accident.
So we contacted Gundersen again to get an update on Fukushima. In the following edited and condensed interview, Gundersen gives his expert view of what might happen, how authorities are handling the accident, and how Fukushima will affect health and the environment.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Giselle Barry 202-225-2836, Eben Burnham-Snyder 202-225-6065
Markey: NRC Directing Secrecy in the Wake of Fukushima Meltdown
Limits Placed on Time, Scope, Transparency of Inspections Designed to Assess U.S. Vulnerability
WASHINGTON (April 15, 2011) – In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) set out to inspect the U.S. fleet of nuclear reactors to ensure their safety and report publicly on its findings. Yet today, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) revealed that significant limits may be imposed on the inspections, and that inspectors also have been directed to keep many of the most serious vulnerabilities secret.
In a letter sent to Greg Jaczko, the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Rep. Markey notes that he has been informed that inspectors are limited to 40 hours to check a nuclear power plant with only one unit, and 50-60 hours to check a plant with multiple units. Inspectors were also initially instructed to limit their inspections only to the adequacy of safety measures needed to respond to “Design Basis Events.” These inspections were therefore looking at the vulnerabilities to events that have already been contemplated and analyzed by the NRC, but not to many of the events that occurred in Fukushima which were previously considered to be impossible and therefore not subject to regulation. When NRC's own inspectors complained about this limitation, it was removed, but inspectors were then directed not to record any observations or findings of vulnerabilities that went beyond design-basis events in any document that would eventually become public as part of the NRC's review.
“These limitations, if true, severely undermine my confidence in the Commission’s interests in conducting a full and transparent assessment of the ability of U.S. nuclear power plants to be kept safe in the event of an incident that exceeds the current design basis assumptions regarding earthquakes or electricity outages -- such as the ones that occurred in Japan,” wrote Rep. Markey, who is the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee and a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “This also seems entirely at odds with the Commission-approved direction to study the implications of the Fukushima meltdown on U.S. facilities and report publicly on the findings of the study. We should stand prepared to learn from the catastrophe in Japan and plan ahead to address what was unforeseen but occurred anyway, rather than attempting to hide our vulnerabilities from public view and, potentially, use the fact that the information will be kept secret to avoid taking all necessary regulatory action.”
“The fact that they plan to keep the most serious vulnerabilities secret raises questions about whether the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is more interested in public relations than public safety,” said Rep. Markey in additional comments.
In the letter, Rep. Markey asks Chairman Jaczko and the NRC to respond to these reports, and ensure that the decision to hide some of the results from public view is reversed. Rep. Markey also asks whether U.S. nuclear power plants' vulnerability to events that are known or thought to have occurred in Japan – such as more severe earthquakes and tsunamis than expected, the melting of core nuclear fuel rods through the reactor pressure vessel, hydrogen explosions in reactor cores and spent nuclear fuel areas, long electricity outages and losses of cooling to reactor cores and spent nuclear fuel storage areas, and the failure of multiple safety systems and diagnostic capabilities – will be both analyzed and reported on publicly as the Commission was supposed to do.
The full letter is available HERE.
The 2011 off the Pacific coast of Tohoku Pacific Earthquake and the seismic damage to the NPPs
by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) and Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization (JNES)
EMERGENCY PETITION TO SUSPEND ALL PENDING REACTOR LICENSING DECISIONS AND RELATED RULEMAKING DECISIONS PENDING INVESTIGATION OF LESSONS LEARNED FROM FUKUSHIMA DAIICHI NUCLEAR POWER STATION ACCIDENT
From The Commons:
Robert “Jake” Stewart, one of the charter members of the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution (NEC), believes that the economic impact of Vermont Yankee’s closure cannot outweigh the consequences of a disaster at the plant. He also reminds people that the decommissioning process will require skilled employees.
But he said that, ultimately, people need to conserve energy.
“We need to stop the increase of energy use,” said Stewart, who worked with solar power in the 1970s, and remembers the Arab oil embargo and the gasoline shortages that ensued.
Stewart said new technologies exist that can help with conservation. People should also develop more “energy efficient systems,” and governments could provide more incentives to people developing alternative energy and technologies.
Call for NRC Licensing Suspension In Keeping with Response to Less Severe TMI Accident in 1979
WASHINGTON, D.C.///NEWS ADVISORY///Organizations from across the U.S. will announce Thursday at 11 a.m. EDT that they are formally petitioning the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to suspend, on an emergency basis, all pending U.S. nuclear reactor licensing decisions.
The petitioners will contend that before acting on any applications for new reactor construction permits or operating licenses, early site permits, renewed licenses for existing reactors, or design certification rulemakings for new reactors, the NRC should complete a full-“Three Mile Island style” investigation into the safety and environmental implications of the ongoing catastrophic nuclear facility accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, Units 1-6 in Okumu, Japan.
The groups are concerned that the NRC’s “business as usual” approach to licensing, even going so far as to issue a renewed license for the Vermont Yankee reactor – which has the same boiling water reactor design as the Fukushima reactors – is completely inconsistent with the serious-minded review of U.S. nuclear power that took place after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, when the NRC Commissioners suspended all licensing decisions until it had investigated the regulatory implications of the accident.
· Diane Curran, attorney, Harmon, Curran, Spielberg & Eisenberg, LLP;
· Sara Barczak, high risk energy director , Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Savannah, GA;
· Jane Swanson, spokesperson, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, San Luis Obispo, CA;
· Mary Lampert, director, Pilgrim Watch, Duxbury, MA; and
· Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), Takoma Park, MD.
TO PARTICIPATE: You can join this live, phone-based news conference (with full, two-way Q&A) at 11 a.m. EDT/8 a.m. PDT on April 14, 2011 by dialing 1 (800) 860-2442 in the U.S. Ask for the “U.S. nuclear licensing suspension” telenews event.
CAN'T PARTICIPATE?: A streaming audio replay of the news event will be available on the Web at http://www.psr.org/nuclear-bailout/ as of 4 p.m. EDT on April 14, 2011.
MEDIA CONTACT: Ailis Aaron Wolf, (703) 276-3265 or email@example.com.