Tag Archives: Physicians for Social Responsibility

On the endangered reactors list: Pilgrim and Columbia?

Massachusetts Governor Patrick Deval told a group of anti-nuclear protestors yesterday that he supports shutdown of the Pilgrim reactor near Cape Cod. He added that he would write a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners asking them to close the reactor but said, “It doesn’t matter what I think.”

Massachusetts' Pilgrim reactor.

Massachusetts’ Pilgrim reactor.

The NRC quickly made clear that indeed, it doesn’t care what Deval, or any other governor, thinks. “We would only act to shut down the plant if we identified significant and pervasive problems that could call into question the facility’s safety,” NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said in an email. “We have not seen issues of that magnitude at Pilgrim.”

In other words, the NRC says only it has the authority to close reactors, and it doesn’t have to listen to officials elected by the public.

But history shows it is not exactly true that only the NRC can close a reactor. In fact, the NRC has never ordered a nuclear reactor permanently closed, and is unlikely to ever do so. Yet several reactors have closed early–four of them just last year, with a fifth, Vermont Yankee, scheduled to close this year. And a dozen or so other reactors also have closed early; in the case of the Shoreham reactor on Long Island, before it even went into commercial operation. Then-Governor Mario Cuomo, faced with enormous public pressure from Long Island, pledged that he would close Shoreham. And he set up a mechanism to do so. At Vermont Yankee, opposition to the reactor from Governor Peter Shumlin and most of the state’s elected officials was a key factor in Entergy’s decision to close the reactor early–the atmosphere in the state had become too difficult for Entergy, especially faced with low-cost competition from other energy sources.

Entergy also owns Pilgrim, which received a 20-year license extension in 2012. But Vermont Yankee had received a 20-year license extension in 2011. A license extension is a piece of paper; not an assurance of operation. Also like Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim is a Fukushima-clone GE Mark I reactor, with a deficient reactor design that should never have been approved in the first place (and would certainly not be approved for new construction in the U.S. today).

State Senator Dan Wolf, another opponent of Pilgrim, pointed out that the state has authority over the emergency management system and use of water from the bay to cool the reactor. Wolf said a good case can be made that the reactor should be forced to use a closed-cycle cooling system–i.e. one with cooling towers. Building cooling towers would probably be cost-prohibitive for Pilgrim, and the federal EPA is attempting–in theory anyway–to end the use of once-through cooling systems, which cause havoc to marine life, like Pilgrim’s at both nuclear and coal plants. The same issue has arisen at New York’s Indian Point reactors, where Governor Andrew Cuomo opposes license renewal and wants the reactors closed, and California’s Diablo Canyon reactors, where Governor Jerry Brown’s current position is unclear although he was an outspoken opponent of the construction of Diablo Canyon and spoke at anti-nuclear protests there in the 1970s.

It would seem that Gov. Deval and other officials have some tools to challenge the continued operation of Pilgrim; the question now is whether they will use them. In any case, with protests mounting and official opposition in the public arena, Pilgrim certainly is high on anyone’s endangered reactors list.

Columbia Generating Station. Photo: NRC

Columbia Generating Station. Photo: NRC

On the other side of the country, Washington State’s Columbia Generating Station has rarely received national attention. A General Electric Mark II reactor, a model only slightly different than the Mark I–it’s still vulnerable to hydrogen explosions and containment failure– Columbia has operated below the radar for a couple of decades.

But that started to change late last year, when the Oregon and Washington chapters of Physicians for Social Responsibility began investigating the reactor.

Their first finding, released in November, found that earthquake risk factors for the reactor have been greatly underestimated.

That was followed by a bombshell study released by PSR but prepared by a former nuclear industry executive, that found ratepayers could save nearly $2 Billion if the reactor closed now, rather than continued operating.

And then, on Monday, Union of Concerned Scientists released its annual nuclear safety study and found that, for the first time ever, one reactor accounted for three “near-misses” (near-misses are defined by UCS as “when the NRC dispatches an inspection team to investigate an event or condition that increases the chance of reactor core damage by a factor of 10 or more.”) in one year.  That reactor: Columbia Generating Station.

And even the normally pro-nuclear media in central and eastern Washington is taking notice.

While no major elected official in Washington has yet called for shutdown of Columbia, one positive sign is that a bill promoted by pro-nuclear state legislators to conduct a study of the viability of supporting new reactor construction in Washington was shelved earlier this week.

It may be early yet, but perhaps Columbia will join the ranks of endangered reactors as well. Certainly its many and growing problems merit stronger scrutiny by elected officials and the public alike.

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/03/12/on-the-endangered–reactors-list/

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Nuclear Newsreel, Friday, February 14, 2014

Nuclear Power

The mindset over at the Tennessee Valley Authority is just impossible to fathom. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that TVA will spend $160 million for replacement steam generators at Watts Bar-2–before the reactor is even built! Construction at Watts bar-2 began more than a generation ago–back in the 1970s–and the reactor still isn’t finished. But the original steam generators have flaws that have caused leaks at other reactors and have aged while waiting for construction to be completed. TVA decided it would be too expensive to replace them now, before starting up the reactor. So it’s planning to get the reactor running with faulty steam generators, and then planning to replace those generators in just a few years. If, of course, the existing faulty generators don’t rupture by then. Citizens of Tennessee have to hope for the best….

Of course, TVA won’t include the replacement steam generators in its initial construction costs, making them look lower than they otherwise would. “Nuclear power is always sold as the cheapest power until it isn’t,” said Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an anti-nuclear group based in Knoxville. “It’s not cost competitive when you have these billion-dollar cost overruns that we’ve already experienced at Watts Bar 2 and now we’re having a look at what will probably be a half billion dollar replacement project in the not too distant future.”

Arnie Gundersen and the remnants of Fukushima Unit-3

Arnie Gundersen and the remnants of Fukushima Unit-3

Tepco has finally admitted what Fairewind and NIRS have been saying for nearly three years now: the Fukushima Unit-3 fuel pool is in much worse shape than the Unit-4 pool which caused so much concern late last year. In this new video from Fairewinds, Arnie Gundersen explains the problems that will face Tepco–and the world–when clean-up of this mess begins. 50 tons of rubble fell on top of and into the pool.

Sometimes state legislatures do stupid things, Part 1. Washington state legislature approves creation of task force to examine feasibility of new nuclear power in the state. Most of Washington’s electricity comes from hydropower, just three percent from the one reactor in the state–the remnant of the legendary WHOOPS collapse of the early 1980s. That happened when the Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS) tried to build five reactors at once and couldn’t do it; only one was completed. The other four were abandoned at various levels of construction and WPPSS defaulted on billions of dollars of bonds–in fact, still the largest such bond default in U.S. history. Renewables other than hydro account for relatively little of Washington’s supply–there should be more. As Tom Buchanan of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) says here: “There are other options. We think that carbon free and nuclear free go hand in hand.” He said renewable energy sources including wind and solar, along with continuing energy conservation are the way forward. We agree.

Sometimes state legislatures do stupid things, Part 2. The Texas legislature will examine the feasibility of offering up some part of the state to be an “interim” high-level radioactive waste site. A potential permanent site, at Deaf Smith County, was dropped in the 1987 “Screw Nevada” radioactive waste bill and isn’t likely to be revived. But there’s a lot of wide-open space in west Texas, so some legislators think a “temporary” radioactive waste dump could bring in a few extra bucks. Better watch out Texas: those “interim” sites aren’t exactly fail-safe and could quickly become permanent when it’s clear that no one else will take the lethal waste. Or as Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen puts it here: “It’s idiotic to even consider disposing of high-level radioactive waste in Texas. Other states have rejected having high-level radioactive waste dumped on them. It’s all risk and very little reward for Texans.”

Electricite de France (EDF) is overwhelmed by nuclear reactor upkeep operations, reports Bloomberg. Adding to the financial pressures on the world’s largest nuclear utility (yesterday, we posted that EDF is trying to raise its wholesale nuclear power rates), EDF is finding that maintaining and attempting to upgrade its 58-reactor fleet is costing twice as much and taking 50% more time than projected. Add to that the utility’s woes in attempting to build the way-over-budget and way-behind-schedule Flamanville EPR reactor and the European Commission’s initial finding of illegal subsidies that may scuttle EDF’s proposed Hinkley Point complex in the UK, and you get the picture of a utility, that despite posting record profits last year, is scrambling for its life to get out of a self-imposed nuclear collapse.

Clean Energy

The Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration says that coal plants will be retired much more quickly, at least through 2016, than previously projected. That’s the good news. Oddly, EIA projects coal retirements will slow rapidly after that.

Distributed resources, including combined heat and power systems and solar PV, could make up a full third of the U.S. power grid by the end of this decade. And while rooftop solar isn’t a huge part of that this decade, its rapid growth suggests that the percentage of power provided by distributed generation will continue to increase rapidly every decade.

Inside Washington

This one isn’t exactly energy-related but it’s a must-read anyway. The two best people writing on economic issues these days are Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. In this piece, The Vampire Squid Strikes Again: The Mega Banks’ Most Devious Scam Yet, Taibbi reports on a little-known piece of some 1999 legislation that is fundamentally transforming the American economy–and not for the better. The subtitle gives some indication of the issue: “Banks are no longer just financing heavy industry. They are actually buying it up and inventing bigger, bolder and scarier scams than ever.” And, indeed, the article notes that the mega-investment bank Goldman Sachs is now in the uranium business. What could possibly go wrong?

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/02/06/nuclear-newsreel-friday-february-14-2014/

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