Atom industry body urges cost-effective safety

From Reuters:

Steps to boost atomic safety after Japan's Fukushima accident must be "cost-effective," an industry body said on Tuesday, a day after the UN nuclear chief suggested power firms could help pay for expanded safety checks.

John Ritch, director general of the World Nuclear Association, said the industry had been struggling in the last decade to limit capital costs while building a new generation of reactors.

In this context, it is crucially important that regulatory actions taken in response to Fukushima have demonstrable benefit arising from any increased costs," he told a major international safety conference, according to a copy of his speech.

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Markey, Welch from GAO: No Way to Assess Integrity of Buried Pipes at Nuclear Reactors


Lawmakers release nuclear safety investigation in wake of media report that 75% of nuclear reactor sites have leaky pipes
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressmen Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and Ranking Member on the Natural Resources Committee, and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Chief Deputy Democratic Whip and member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform,  released a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report entitled “Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Oversight of Underground Piping Systems Commensurate with Risk, but Proactive Measures Could Help Address Future Leaks”.  The report concludes that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and licensees “cannot be assured that underground safety-related pipes remain structurally sound without having information about degradation that has occurred. Without such assurance, the likelihood of future pipe failures cannot be as accurately assessed, and this increases the uncertainty surrounding the safety of the plants.” Buried pipes at nuclear power plants carry water necessary to cool nuclear reactors. Other buried pipes carry diesel to fuel the emergency generators that power cooling systems in case of a blackout.
A story published today by the Associated Press found that tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, has leaked from at least 48 of 65 nuclear sites, according to NRC records. Leaks from at least 37 of those facilities contained concentrations exceeding the federal drinking water standard, up to hundreds of times the limit.
“Just as a power outage was the root cause of the core meltdowns at Fukushima, a failure of buried pipes that carry cooling water to the reactor cores could lead to a similar emergency here in the U.S.,” said Rep. Markey. “There would be no warning because no one ever checks the integrity of these underground pipes. These pipes have more leaks than the Vancouver Canucks goaltending. The NRC must require inspections of these pipes before they deteriorate instead of its current policy of crossing fingers and hoping for the best.”
In a May 2009 letter to the NRC, Rep. Markey and then-Rep. John Hall questioned the NRC’s process for inspecting buried pipes and asked what assurance the NRC could give the public that underground pipes would withstand an earthquake, terrorist attack or other event. On February 16, 2009, a 1.5-inch hole that had already leaked more than 100,000 gallons of water was discovered in a buried cooling water pipe at the Indian Point nuclear power plant near New York City. According to media reports, the broken pipe had not been inspected since 1973, when the reactor was built. The broken pipe was part of the primary cooling system, which must cool the reactor during any unexpected shutdown.
The GAO report Representatives Markey and Welch released today includes the following findings:

  • The occurrence of leaks at nuclear power plants from underground piping systems is expected to continue as nuclear power plants age and their piping systems corrode.
  • The pressure and flow tests NRC currently requires do not provide information about the structural integrity of an underground pipe, such as whether the pipe has degraded to the point that the thickness of its wall could hinder the pipe’s future performance.
  • Limitations in the industry’s ability to measure the wall thickness of an underground pipe without excavation prevent licensees from determining the structural integrity of underground piping systems. Without being able to identify that an underground piping system’s structural integrity has not been compromised by corrosion, the risk to public health and safety is increased. In this context, licensees at nuclear power plants cannot assure that a safety-related pipe will continue to function properly between inspection intervals, thereby protecting the public’s health and safety.

The GAO also recommended that the NRC should:

  • Determine whether the agency should expand its groundwater monitoring requirements.
  • Determine whether it should expand licensees’ inspection requirements to include structural integrity tests for safety-related underground piping.

A copy of the GAO report, “Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Oversight of Underground Piping Systems Commensurate with Risk, but Proactive Measures Could Help Address Future Leaks” can be found HERE and HERE.
Michal Ilana Freedhoff, Ph.D.
Policy Director
Office of Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-MA)
2108 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Aging Reactors Survive Through Rule Changes

Nuclear Dead End: It's the Economics, Stupid

From The Nation:

For about a decade now, nuclear boosters have been telling us that a “nuclear renaissance” is underway thanks to the advent of cheaper, safer and faster-built “third-” and “fourth-generation” reactors. Their ranks have been swelled lately by green champions of nuclear power like George Monbiot, who has recently embraced nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels in the quest to mitigate climate change. Anti-nuke activists like Helen Caldicott have responded with dire warnings of nuclear apocalypse and radiation-induced cancer (see their exchange on a recent episode of Democracy Now!).

But for all its moral urgency, this debate usually ignores the economics of nuclear power. It is economic factors like costs, supply chains, financing and profitability that will determine our future energy mix. And so far, the dollars and cents calculations for nuclear power just do not add up.

The argument for nukes gets even weaker when one considers the compressed time frame of climate change: carbon emissions must drop sooner and faster than the long, slow, costly process of building new nuclear plants would allow. The boosters of nuclear power, including greens like Monbiot, seem to forget the reactors don’t build themselves. They are built and operated by specific institutions under concrete economic circumstances like the price of capital, special metals, insurance and the availability of skilled labor. Once the economic arguments get to that level of specificity, the viability of atomic power falls apart.

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Fixing America's Nuclear Waste Storage Problem

From The Nation:

In March 1992 George Galatis, a nuclear engineer at the Millstone nuclear power station in Waterford, Connecticut, became alarmed during a refueling. The reactor had to be shut down and the full radioactive core of the Unit 1 reactor, which held thousands of rods, was removed and then dumped into the spent fuel pool—a blatant violation of Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) safety requirements.

The pool was already quite full. It wasn’t designed to suddenly hold those very radioactive and thermally hot fuel rods, which give off so much radiation that an unshielded person nearby would receive a lethal dose in seconds. In a previous incident around that time, a worker’s boots melted during this procedure. Because the pool could overheat, and possibly cause the pumps and cooling equipment to fail, the NRC had required reactor operators to wait for sixty-five hours before performing this task—with good reason. NRC studies over the past thirty years have consistently shown that even partial drainage of a spent fuel pool that exposed highly radioactive rods could release an enormous amount of radioactivity into the environment. Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with many years of experience at US nuclear reactors, describes this kind of accident as “Chernobyl on steroids.”

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Map makes US 10 mile plume exposure pathway look a little silly

From Global Research:

Radiation limits begin to be exceeded at just above 0.1 microsieverts/ hour blue. Red is about fifty times the civilian radiation limit at 5.0 microsieverts/hour. Because children are much more sensitive than adults, these results are a great concern for parents of young children in potentially affected areas.

Congressional Committee With Oversight on Nuke Safety Takes in Big Dollars From Nuclear Power Industry

From MapLight:

March 18, 2011 - Capitol Hill has looked to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to give assurances about the safety of nuclear energy following the continued crisis in Japan at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. On March 16, the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, testified before the House Energy and Commerce and Senate Environment and Public Works committees. has done an analysis of contributions to lawmakers sitting on the above committees based on figures connected to Nuclear plant construction, equipment & svcs and Nuclear energy provided by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Lawmakers currently serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee received on average $9,024 from contributions connected to nuclear energy while their non-committee counterparts received an average of just $3,314, a difference of about 63%.

On the Senate side, the gap is closer but still apparent. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee members received an average of $11,229 while their non-committee counterparts took in $9,605, a difference of about 15%.

Based on contributions from Jan. 1, 2001 to Dec. 31, 2010, the industry has given over $4.6 million to lawmakers that have served since the 109th Congress. Current lawmakers have taken in more than $2.7 million in contributions in that same time frame.

Total Contributions from the Nuclear Energy Industry (Jan. 1, 2001 - Dec. 31, 2010)
Total to current and former lawmakers (109th-112th) $4,624,007
Total to current lawmakers $2,747,334
Total to current Senators $989,709
Total to current House members $1,757,625
Average to current Senators $9,897
Average to current House members $4,004
Average to current Senate Environment & Public Works Committee members $11,229
Average to current non-committee members (Senate) $9,605
Average to current House Energy & Commerce Committee members $9,024
Average to current non-committee members (House) $3,314

NRC hearing raises questions about safety at nuclear plants

From the Christian Science Monitor:

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing offered fresh findings in the runup to a final 90-day safety review report on the US nuclear fleet due next month.

A safety task force staff told the five-member commission that America's nuclear plants were safe, but noted that:

• In many cases, older "vintage" plants that undergo relicensing examinations to operate an added 20 years are not required to bring those plants fully up to current safety standards

• NRC regulations have never formally recognized the possibility of an extreme event – like an earthquake or tornado – simultaneously knocking out both on-site and off-site power at a nuclear plant, as happened at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.

• The nation's nuclear plants have "different licensing bases and associated safety margins," with variations among the plants depending upon their age.

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Confessions of a Nuclear Power Safety Expert

From Miller-McCune:

When Italy decided in the mid-’70s to add nuclear power to its power portfolio, young mechanical and nuclear engineer Cesare Silvi was among those attracted to the opportunities it presented. His work centered on nuclear safety issues — in particular, what might happen if something unexpected struck a power plant.

Corners he saw cut there eventually soured Silvi on that endeavor. His next position — at the Italian Commission on Nuclear and Alternative Energy Sources, which included work on nuclear disarmament — eventually soured him on nuclear energy itself.

“[If we] continue with nuclear power, there will definitely be worse accidents,” he argued in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Over the weekend, Italian voters agreed and overwhelming rejected restarting nuclear power in their country.

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Mass. joins Vermont in opposition to Entergy injunction

From the Brattleboro Reformer:

It may be full house later this month when Entergy's request for a preliminary injunction against the state is heard in federal court.

Late on Monday, the state of Massachusetts got involved when Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Vermont.

In her filing, Coakley wrote that the Commonwealth has a significant interest in the case because of its state laws regarding regulation of power generating facilities within its borders, including nuclear power plants and "... preserving its ability to enact, implement and enforce its own laws, to address the numerous concerns inherent in construction and operation of nuclear power plants within its border, now or in the future. The preemption questions presented in this proceeding, while specifically focused on Vermont laws, implicate the same type of constitutional analysis to a preemption challenge."

Coakley wrote that this case could have a tremendous impact on how the Commonwealth is able to regulate its nuclear power plant, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, in Plymouth, Mass.

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