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Archive for the ‘Nuclear’ Category

Texas Capitol - north viewWith the regular session behind us and energy and environmental issues not likely to find a place in the special session, it’s a good time to look at what we accomplished.

Our wins came in two forms – bills that passed that will actually improve policy in Texas and bills that didn’t pass that would have taken policy in the wrong direction.

We made progress by helping to get bills passed that:

  • Expand funding for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) by about 40%;
  • Create a program within TERP to replace old diesel tractor trailer trucks used in and around ports and rail yards (these are some of the most polluting vehicles on the road);
  • Establish new incentives within TERP for purchasing plug-in electric cars; and
  • Assign authority to the Railroad Commission (RRC) to regulate small oil and gas lines (these lines, known as gathering lines, are prone to leaks); and
  • Allows commercial and industrial building owners to obtain low-cost, long-term private sector financing for water conservation and energy-efficiency improvements, including on-site renewable energy, such as solar.

We successfully helped to stop or improve bad legislation that would have:

  • Eliminated hearings on permits for new pollution sources (the contested case hearing process is crucial to limiting pollution increases);
  • Eliminated additional inspections for facilities with repeated pollution violations;
  • Weakened protections against utilities that violate market rules and safety guidelines;
  • Eliminated property tax breaks for wind farms, while continuing the policy for other industries;
  • Granted home owners associations (HOAs) authority to unreasonably restrict homeowners ability to install solar panels on their roofs; and
  • Permitted Austin City Council to turn control of Austin Energy over to an unelected board without a vote by the citizens of Austin.

We did lose ground on the issue of radioactive waste disposal.  Despite our considerable efforts, a bill passed that will allow more highly radioactive waste to be disposed of in the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) facility in west Texas.  Campaign contributions certainly played an important roll in getting the bill passed.

We were also disappointed by Governor Perry’s veto of the Ethics Commission sunset bill, which included several improvements, including a requirement that railroad commissioners resign before running for another office, as they are prone to do.  Read Carol’s post about this bill and the issue.

With the legislation over and Perry’s veto pen out of ink, we now shift our attention to organizing and advocating for a transition from polluting energy sources that send money out of our state to clean energy sources that can grow our economy.

We’re working to:

  • Promote solar energy at electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities;
  • Speed up the retirement of old, inefficient, polluting coal-fired power plants in east Texas;
  • Protect our climate and our port communities throughout the Gulf states from health hazards from new and expanded coal export facilities;
  • Fight permitting of the Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines in Texas;
  • Ensure full implementation of improvements made to TERP; and
  • Develop an environmental platform for the 2014 election cycle.

Our power comes from people like you getting involved – even in small ways, like writing an email or making a call.  If you want to help us work for a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable future, email me at [email protected] And one of the best things you can do is to get your friends involved too.

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Earlier today, Southern California Edison (SCE) announced that they will retire Units 2 and 3 of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), essentially closing the troubled nuclear power plant which is located between San Diego and Los Angeles.

SONGS, which has been in operation for 45 years, may be a harbinger for the future of our aging nuclear fleet, many of which are near the end their original license period and are applying for extensions.

  • Unit 1 began commercial operation on January 1, 1968 and ceased operation on November 30, 1992.  Since then it has been dismantled and is used as a storage site for spent fuel for Units 2 and 3,
  • Units 2 and 3 were both licensed in 1982 and by license amendments in March, 2000 are currently licensed until 2022. However, unit 3 has been shut down since the detection of a leak in one of the steam generator tubes on January 31 and Unit 2 is off line, for routine inspections which found that design flaws appeared to be the cause of excessive wear in tubing that carries radioactive water at San Onofre.

SCE cited continuing questions about when or if the remaining SONGS units might return to service as the cause for their decision, concluding that the uncertainty was not good for customers or investors.

In a statement Friday, California Public Utility Commission’s President Michael R. Peevey called the decision “understandable,” and that the closure of the nuclear power generating station “will require even greater emphasis on energy efficiency and demand response programs.” Utility companies will also need to add transmission upgrade and find new generation resources.

Concerns in Texas

In Texas, both nuclear plants (Comanche Peak outside of Fort Worth, and South Texas Nuclear Generating Station (STP), between Houston and Corpus Christi on the Texas Gulf Coast) are nearing the end of their life expectancies as reflected in their original licenses which are due to expire in 2027 and 2028, and have filed for a license extension.  STNP’s unit two has experienced nine months of outage during 2 prolonged shutdowns in 2 years. The second outage was triggered by a fire that occurred only days before the public hearing on the license extension application.

Environmentalists expressed concerns about the plant’s ability to operate safely beyond the original life expectancy of the plant.

“Relicensing should be halted while a serious, in-depth examination occurs,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of the Austin-based SEED coalition, which advocates for sustainable energy, and member of the Austin Electric Utility Commission (Austin Energy owns 16% of STP Units 1 and 2). “I think it’s becoming increasingly unreliable, and it’s costing us money to fix it.” She noted that it was difficult to get information about the plant’s problems and she expressed concern that these aging plants will experience problems more often and of greater threat to the safety of the plant and the surrounding communities.

 

 

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NRC Says NINA Doesn’t Meet Their Requirements

STP US vs Foreign OwnershipOn Tuesday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told judges overseeing the licensing case for two proposed South Texas Project reactors that the applicant (NINA) is subject to foreign ownership control or domination requirements and does not meet the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act in this regard. This will help licensing opponents in the hearing that is anticipated this fall.

“This NRC notice is great for us as opponents of two proposed reactors at the South Texas Project,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of SEED Coalition, a group that has intervened in the licensing process, along with the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy and Public Citizen. “We hope that we’ll soon see clean, safe energy developed in Texas instead of dangerous nuclear power. We must prevent Fukushima style disasters from happening here.”

“Federal law is clear that foreign controlled corporations are not eligible to apply for a license to build and operate nuclear power plants. The evidence is that Toshiba is in control of the project and this precludes obtaining an NRC license for South Texas Project 3 & 4,” said Brett Jarmer, an attorney also representing the intervenors.

“Foreign investment in U.S nuclear projects is not per se prohibited; but Toshiba is paying all the bills for the STP 3 & 4 project. This makes it difficult to accept that Toshiba doesn’t control the project,” said Robert Eye.

Toshiba North America Engineering, or TANE, will assume exclusive, principal funding authority for the project, but they are a wholly owned subsidiary of Toshiba America, Inc, a Japanese corporation. Opponents contend that this makes them ineligible for licensing.

“National security and safety concerns justify NRC’s limits on foreign ownership and control of nuclear reactors,” said Karen Hadden, Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. “What if a foreign company was careless in running a U.S. reactor? International allegiances are known to shift. Our own reactors could become a weapon to be turned against us in the future and be used to threaten civilians in a war against the U.S. The NRC is right to protect against this possibility.”

“Even if the reactors are operated by the South Texas Nuclear Operating Company, they will get their orders from foreign owners. What if their concerns are more about cost-cutting and less about safety?” asked Susan Dancer, President of the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy. “Japanese investors would have us believe that they can come to America and safely build, own and operate nuclear plants, and that we should not concern ourselves with passé laws and regulations, but the recent Fukushima disaster has demonstrated the flawed Japanese model of nuclear safety and the lack of protection afforded the Japanese people. In such an inherently dangerous industry, the American people deserve protection through federal law, including that our nuclear reactors are controlled by the people most concerned about our country: fellow Americans.”

“Foreign Ownership, Control or Domination policy is spelled out in the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) of 1954,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office.  “In Section 103d it says that no license may be issued to an alien or any corporation or other entity if the Commission knows or has reason to believe it is owned, controlled, or dominated by an alien, a foreign corporation, or a foreign government.”

The NRC interprets this to mean that these entities are not eligible to apply for and obtain a license. According to Commission guidance, an entity is under foreign ownership, control, or domination “whenever a foreign interest has the ‘power,’ direct or indirect, whether or not exercised, to direct or decide matters affecting the management or operations of the applicant.” There is no set percentage point cut-off point used to determine foreign ownership. The factors that are considered include:

  • The extent of foreign ownership
  • Whether the foreign entity operates the reactors
  • Whether there are interlocking directors and officers
  • Whether there is access to restricted data
  • Details of ownership of the foreign parent company.

For further information please visit www.NukeFreeTexas.org

To read the staff FODC determination letter, click here.

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Two years after the earthquake and accompanying tsunami that resulted in three of the reactors melting down at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, nuclear engineers are still grappling with how to bring the facility under control.  This plant was heavily damaged and to date, no one has been able to repair it.  So it’s still badly broken and it is no wonder that power outages and water leaks continue to hamper the clean-up.

The United Nations atomic monitors, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), arrived at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant to review how contaminated water is being stored at the disaster site and assess decommissioning risks.  Their arrival was met with reports that a large amount of radioactive water had leaked from the plant.  The IAEA has made irregular visits to the Fukushima site since the March 11, 2011, disaster occurred. Their last visit was in December, 2012.

Currently, about 280,000 tons of highly radioactive water are stored at the Fukushima plant, according to Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the company that owns the plant. That’s enough to fill about 112 Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to Bloomberg News calculations.

So here is how we got to that much radioactive water.  The reactor cores still have fuel inside that needs to be kept cool.  To cool the cores, Tepco has had to continuously bring in water from outside and pour it in.  That water flows down into the basement of the plant. From there, they pump it out, do an initial decontamination (they are able to remove some radioactive elements like cesium from the waste water, but other elements, like tritium, require more time to scrub) and store it.  Initially, they were storing the radioactive water in metal tanks on site, but these tanks have been filling up because groundwater has also been coming into the basements so they recently switched to reservoirs – really just earthen pits that have been lined with sheets of plastic. It is somewhere in this complex process that these leaks have occurred and right now they believe the reservoirs are leaking.  Here is a cleanup strategy as jaw-droppingly “maybe should have gone with something a bit less duct-tape home repair” short-sighted as the cleanup of the Pegasus Tar Sands spill in Arkansas with what appears to be paper towels that was ridiculed on the Rachel Maddow Show and the Colbert Report.

There are monitors around all the reservoirs, so they have pin pointed which ones are leaking, but they don’t know how much has leaked.  What we do know is that fish and mollusks within 12.4 miles of the Fukushima plant have surpassed baseline measures of radioactivity, according to Tepco’s  most recent environmental monitoring report published April 12. One specimen tested near the port entrance to Fukushima Dai-Ichi was 4,300-times more radioactive than what Japanese officials consider standard and may pose health risks.

Some say clean up is decades away, I say that is a nice fairy tale. Fukashima still has fuel inside, the spent fuel that was being stored above the reactors is still there, and no one can get to any of it right now. The area is just too radioactive. So they will have to wait for all the fuel to cool down and then figure out how to go in there and get it out.  It will be years before they can even open up the reactors. But the reality is that nuclear power plant disasters of this magnitude will take generations to clean up.

In six days we will commemorate the 27th anniversary of the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.  Only 2 miles away from the reactor, the company town of Pripyat, remains deserted and unfit for human habitation for hundreds of years to come.

Chernobyl sits inside a fenced area known as the Exclusion Zone. Radioactive remnants of the failed reactor continue to smolder inside a modern day sarcophagus, a concrete and steel encasement hastily erected after the accident. Leaky and structurally unsound, it now threatens to collapse, shaking loose enough radiation to cause a second disaster of similar magnitude. Work has already started on a new encasement, which will slide over the existing sarcophagus to seal in the remaining nuclear fuel. In the mean time desperate efforts are underway to shore up the sarcophagus to protect it from collapsing.

While our nation has avoided a disaster equal to these, our nuclear fleet of 104 reactors is an aging one, many of which are close to heavily populated areas of the country, and there is no absolute guarantee that the U.S. is invulnerable to a disaster of this magnitude.  We should all keep this in mind as nuclear plant after nuclear plant applies for a license extension that will go well beyond the expected life planned for these plants.

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Nuclear Electric Insurance Ltd. (NEIL), the company that insures all 104 U.S. nuclear power plants has just around $3.6 billion on hand to pay for claims from broken nuclear plants in California (San Onofre nuclear power station), Texas (South Texas Nuclear Project), Michigan (Cook nuclear power station) and Florida (Crystal River).  Crystal River alone represents such a financial threat that the insurance company may have to demand that its member utilities shell out more money.

As a mutual insurance company, NEIL’s members agree to cover each other in the event of a catastrophe. NEIL was formed in 1980 in response to the Three Mile Island disaster and is allowed to raise as much as $2 billion from its members in a 20 day period drawing from the owners of all 104 nuclear plants in the United States.

NEIL’s policies allows for a payment up to $2.25 billion for damage to a plant, plus up to an extra $490 million for replacement power while the plant is idled.

Damage to Crystal River nuclear plant's containment wall

Damage to Crystal River nuclear plant’s containment wall

Repairing the Crystal River plant could cost as much as $3.5 billion for construction work and $300 million a year for related costs such as purchasing alternative electricity while the plant remains off line. That could push the total cost above $5 billion, but there are questions about whether the damage was an accident or whether the 2009 replacement of old steam generators inside the nuclear plant’s 42-inch thick concrete containment wall was mishandled when the managing company chose a do-it-yourself approach in order to save about $15 million by using one of the two companies that handled all similar projects in the nation. An attempt to repair the resulting crack in the containment wall and bring the plant back online resulted in more cracks.

Most of the 104 reactors in the United States were built in the 1970s and early 1980s. A few date back to the 1960s and they are starting to show their age, putting additional pressure on the insurer as is evident in the additional claims in the works.

Turbine loss at the Cook nuclear power station in Bridgman, MI. resulted in a claim for which NEIL had already paid out $400 million by the end of 2011.

The insurer also faces “the meaningful” claim for the South Texas Nuclear Project, which suffered damage to a turbine generator in its number two unit and is not expected to be back online until as late as July this year. It is unclear how much that will cost the insurance company.

And now NEIL must ready itself for the troubles at California’s San Onofre nuclear power station, where two generators have been offline since January 2012.  The replacement power alone for San Onofre’s out-of-service units reached $221 million through September of this year and it is unclear what the repair costs would add to that bill.

In the past, NEIL has paid out annual distributions to all its members after the insurer reaches a comfortable reserve — generally about $3.5 billion. The money is distributed to the members based on the premiums they pay each year. Between the loss of the annual distributions and charges to these power companies to cover shortfalls from these claims, nuclear plants around the country could be looking some unexpected financial hits in the coming year or two.

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Tuesday, a fire erupted in the Unit 2 main transformer that feeds power from the reactor to the public power grid of the South Texas Project Electric Generating Station near Bay City and about 85 miles southwest of Houston.  The unit 2 was automatically taken offline and STP officials say unit 1 is still operational, but STP officials say they don’t know when unit 2 will be restarted.

The fire broke out at 4:42 p.m. was extinguished within 15 minutes, but the plant had to declare that an “unusual event” had taken place and notified county, state and federal officials. Managers declared the event over at 7:47 p.m.  No injuries were reported and STP is claiming that the incident poses no hazard to the public or to plant workers.

The two 1,350-megawatt generators, owned by NRG Energy, CPS Energy and Austin Energy, serve 2 million users. each reactor at the plant produces 1,280 megawatts of electricity. One megawatt is enough to power 500 homes during mild winter conditions, but if your remember the Texas rolling blackouts during a severe winter event in February of 2011 you might also remember that the electricity shortage during that unusual high demand time was due to unexpected plant outages.  Let’s hope we don’t have one of those before unit 2 comes back online.

Interestingly enough, this incident happened just before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission begins seeking public comment on a draft supplemental environmental impact statement for the proposed renewal of the South Texas Project nuclear power plant’s operating licenses for an additional 20 years.

NRC staff will hold two public meetings in Bay City, Texas, on Jan. 15, 2013 to present the findings of the draft report and accept public comments. The meetings will be held at the Bay City Civic Center, 201 Seventh St., from 2-5 p.m. and 7-10 p.m. NRC staff members will be available for one hour prior to each session to meet informally with members of the public.

The South Texas Project nuclear plant has two pressurized-water reactors. The plant operator, STP Nuclear Operating Co., submitted its license renewal application on Oct. 25, 2010. The current operating licenses expire Aug. 20, 2027, for Unit 1 and Dec. 15, 2028, for Unit 2.  The original license was issued based on the expected life of the plant.  Most of our aging nuclear power fleet is nearing the end of their life expectancy and since most energy companies have not been successful in securing funding for building new plants, the strategy is to just extend the life of the current facilities by renewing their licenses.

The draft supplemental environmental impact statement contains the NRC staff’s analysis of potential impacts specific to the South Texas Project site. In preparing the report, the staff held a public meeting in Bay City on March 2, 2011, as part of the public “scoping” process for the report. The staff also conducted site audits at the plant in May and July 2011 and consulted with other agencies while analyzing the applicant’s environmental report submitted with the application.

The draft NRC report does not discuss potential environmental impacts of extended storage of spent nuclear fuel after the plant eventually ceases operation. That issue will be addressed in the NRC’s waste confidence environmental impact statement and rule, expected by September 2014. In August 2012, the Commission decided that the agency will not issue final licensing decisions for reactors, including license renewal, until the waste confidence rule is completed. If at that time, site-specific issues relating to spent fuel storage at South Texas Project remain unresolved, they will be addressed separately.

Public comments on the draft environmental impact statement for the South Texas Project license renewal will be accepted through Feb. 22, 2013. They may be submitted online via the federal government’s rulemaking website at www.regulations.gov using Docket ID NRC-2010-0375. They may also be mailed to Cindy Bladey, Chief, Rules, Announcements and Directives Branch (RADB), Division of Administrative Services, Office of Administration, Mail Stop: TWB-05-B01M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C., 20555-0001. Comments may also be faxed to 301-492-3446.

The South Texas Project draft supplemental environmental impact statement is available for public inspection in the NRC Public Document Room at NRC headquarters, 11555 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Md. Copies will also be available at the Bay City Public Library, 1100 7th St., Bay City, Texas.

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Update:  The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said an alert at the Oyster Creek plant in Forked River, N.J., ended early Wednesday, October 31.

According to an NRC press release, three reactors (Nine Mile Point 1 in Scriba, N.Y., Indian Point 3 in Buchanan, N.Y.; and Salem Unit 1 in Hancocks Bridge, N.J.) experienced shutdowns as Hurricane Sandy pounded the East Coast.  Another plant, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, remains in an “Alert” due to high water levels in its water intake structure.

NRC says, “Nine Mile Point 1 underwent an automatic shutdown at about 9 p.m. Monday when an electrical fault occurred on power lines used to send power to the grid. It is likely a storm-related event, but the plant’s operators are still evaluating the cause. All plant safety systems responded as designed and the shutdown was safely carried out. Meanwhile, Nine Mile Point 2 experienced a loss of one of two incoming off-site power lines as a result of the fault. One of the plant’s emergency diesel generators started in response to generate power usually provided by the line. Nine Mile Point 2 remained at full power.”

NRC continued, “Indian Point 3 automatically shut down at about 10:40 p.m. Monday in response to electrical grid disturbances caused by the storm. . . the unit was placed in a safe shutdown condition.” And, “Salem Unit 1 was manually shut down by plant operators at about 1:10 a.m. Tuesday as a result of circulating-water pumps being affected by high river level and debris in the waterway.”

Finally, but perhaps of most concern, Oyster Creek had an declared an “Alert” at approximately 8:45 p.m. on October 29th  preceded by an “Unusual Event” at about 7 p.m. when the water level first reached a minimum high water level criteria. The water level rose due to a combination of a rising tide, wind direction and storm surge. While the water level has dropped since peaking earlier today, the Alert remains in place until the level is below the specific criteria for the intake structure, which is where water from an intake canal is pumped into the plant for cooling purposes.

The alert came after water levels at the plant rose more than 6.5 feet above normal, potentially affecting the “water intake structure” that pumps cooling water through the plant.

Those pumps are not essential to keep the reactor cool since the plant has been shut for planned refueling since October 22. Exelon however was concerned that if the water rose over 7 feet it could submerge the service water pump motor that is used to cool the water in the spent fuel pool, potentially forcing it to use emergency water supplies from the in-house fire suppression system to keep the rods from overheating.

Exelon also moved a portable pump to the intake structure as a precaution in case it was needed to pump cooling water.  The water levels reached a peak of 7.4 feet — apparently above the threshold — but the pump motors did not flood.  As of 11 a.m. EDT Tuesday the water level was down to 5.8 feet, but they will need the water level to stay below 6 feet for a while before the alert status is taken off.  When the water level falls below 4.5 feet, the plant could then be taken off the unusual event status.

Fortunately for everyone, Oyster Creek, the oldest nuclear plant in the nation, was shut down for a refueling and maintenance outage prior to the storm and the reactor remains out of service.

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has reported that a reactor at Three Mile Island, the site of the nation’s worst nuclear accident, shut down unexpectedly on this afternoon when a coolant pump tripped and steam was released.  Right now they are saying the plant is stable with no impact on public health or safety.

Still, this is a story we should follow.  The following news outlets have stories as of 5:50pm CT and will probably add updates as they become available.

 

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Somewhere between Pecos and Odessa in southwestern Texas, Halliburton has lost a seven inch radioactive rod used in natural gas fracking.

Workers discovered the rod was missing on September 11th.  A lock on the container used to transport the radioactive rod was missing, along with the rod inside. Trucks have retraced the route of the vehicle, but have had no luck tracking it down so far.

This rod contains americium-241/beryllium which the health department says is not something that produces radiation in an extremely dangerous form. (Not sure what that means – I mean who even knew they used radioactive rods for fracking) But it’s best for people to stay back, 20 or 25 feet. (Seriously, what does this mean?)  Apparently you would have to have it in your possession for several hours before it is considered dangerous.

The National Guard has been asked to step in and help search for the missing rod, so if you are out driving in that 130 mile area and find a seven inch stainless steel cylinder about an inch in diameter, marked with the radiation warning symbol and the words ‘Do Not Handle’, well . . . DO NOT HANDLE, stay back at least 20 feet, and call the National Guard.

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According to the Huffington Post, not one, but two, whistleblower engineers at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have accused regulators of deliberately covering up information relating to the vulnerability of U.S. nuclear power facilities that sit downstream from large dams and reservoirs and failing to act to despite being aware of the risks for years.

One plant in particular — the three-reactor Oconee Nuclear Station near Seneca, S.C. — is at risk of a flood and subsequent systems failure, similar to the tsunami that devastated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility in Japan last year, in the event that an upstream dam fail.

The Fort Calhoun nuclear facility in Nebraska was surrounded by rising floodwaters from the nearby Missouri River in 2011.

Given the extreme weather patterns the world has seen in the last decade, that likelihood seems greater than it did when these plants were built.

A report, completed in July of 2011, after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami flooded the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was heavily redacted in a move, the whistleblower claims, to prevent the public from learning the full extent of these vulnerabilities, and to obscure just how much the NRC has known about the problem, and for how long.

The report examined vulnerabilities at the Oconee facility, the Ft. Calhoun station in Nebraska, the Prairie Island facility in Minnesota and the Watts Bar plant in Tennessee and concluded that the failure of one or more dams sitting upstream from several of these nuclear power plants “may result in flood levels at a site that render essential safety systems inoperable.” High floodwaters could conceivably undermine all available power sources, the report found, including grid power, emergency diesel backup generators, and ultimately battery backups. The risk of these things happening, the report said, is higher than acceptable and warranted a more formal investigation.

The heavily redacted copy of the report is publicly available on the NRC website.

Click here to read the Huffington Post’s entire investigatory story.

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Excelon at Victoria, TX

Earlier this week, Exelon Generation announced plans to withdraw its Early Site Permit application for an 11,500-acre tract of land southeast of Victoria, TX.

The company said the decision was based mainly on economics and sited current market conditions that make it impossible to create electricity for less than what the company could sell it for.  This comes down to the price of natural gas which has seen substantial drop making it impossible to build a large base load nuclear plant and make a profit.

Excelon had submitted an Early Site Permit application that would have given them 20 years before they would be required to build a plant.  Given that,  they must believe that the current economic trend is a long-term one.

Citizens in the region opposing the plant had expressed concerns regarding the region’s water supply, the knowledge that most of power generated would have gone to other areas, and safety risks regarding malfunctions and attacks.

South Texas Nuclear Project

With the NRC rejection of the Calvert Cliffs new site permit because of its foreign ownership (French Électricité de France-EDF), the application for expansion of South Texas Project (for a 3rd and 4th unit) will probably be rejected to because of it’s predominantly Japanese ownership (Toshiba).

The 1954 Atomic Energy Act prohibits the NRC from issuing a reactor license to any company owned by a foreign corporation or government.

STP also has an application in for a license extension.  We don’t know what is happening with license extensions with regard to the issue of long term waste storage.  We will update when we have a better indication of how the NRC is going to handle those applications.

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The agency responsible for approving the construction of nuclear reactors may no longer be able to rely on its old “build reactors now and worry about radioactive waste later” approach.

Learn more about new challenges to nuclear waste policy.

For decades, nuclear reactors have been built under two assumptions:

  • One day there would be a place to permanently store the lethal waste generated from nuclear power.
  • While the final burial place was being determined, the nuclear waste could be safely stored on-site.

But when it comes to waste that remains dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years, assumptions can be a reckless gamble.

A federal court agrees.

In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ruled that these assumptions are no longer good enough, prompting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to address the shortcomings of the two rules which translate these assumptions into policy — the waste confidence decision and the storage rule.

In response, 24 groups, including Public Citizen, challenging both new reactor licenses and license renewals for existing reactors filed a petition urging the NRC to respond to the court ruling by freezing final licensing decisions.

On July 8, the NRC voted to suspend a final decision on all new reactor licenses. No doubt this is a short-term win for us.

But the intermediate and long-term implications for nuclear energy and the policies that govern radioactive waste are still unclear.

As these implications unfold, we will continue to keep you updated and when possible provide opportunities to take action toward improving the safety of our country’s mounting stockpile of nuclear waste.

To get more information on the court’s decision, check out the blog post by Allison Fisher of Public Citizen’s Climate and Energy Program, Will nuclear power continue to hobble along despite its radioactive Achilles’ heel?

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As Japan commemorates the anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bomb attack, Japanese officials are developing new energy policies that will guard the safety and the livelihood of the Japanese public in the wake of the devastating Fukushima nuclear accident.

Sixty seven years ago today, on Aug. 6, 1945, nearly 140,000 people were killed by the first atomic bomb used in warfare. Three days later the United States dropped another bomb in Nagasaki that killed 70,000 more.

In March 2011, Japan was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami which crippled Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima nuclear plant and sent it into meltdown.  This caused radiation to spew over large areas from which more than 160,000 people had to flee. Every one of Japan’s nuclear plants were shuttered in the months following the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.  This is a country that now knows, all too well, the devastation of nuclear power both in war and in peacetime.

Two of the nation’s reactors resumed operations in July, but the Fukushima disaster has turned public sentiment against the country’s dependence on nuclear power.

According to NBC News, a recent parliamentary investigation concluded that past energy policy reliance on opinions of industry experts, bureaucrats and politicians had bred collusion and blindness when it came to ensuring nuclear reactors’ safety.

Now Japan is conducting citizen debates to look at options for the role of nuclear power in their generation mix, and expects to compile a draft of its new energy policy by the end of August.

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Late yesterday, in a stunning rebuke of TCEQ’s decision to deny citizens the right to show how dangerous radioactive disposal would be in West Texas, State District Court Judge Lora Livingston ordered TCEQ to reverse their decision denying the Sierra Club the right to a contested case hearing over the license granted to Waste Control Specialists to operate a radioactive waste dump in Andrews County, just east of the New Mexico border. In her order, Judge Livingston remanded the case back to the TCEQ for a contested case hearing on whether this radioactive waste can be safely disposed of in West Texas.

The Sierra Club’s won a battle in its long fight against a radioactive waste dump in West Texas when the Travis CountyJudge reversed a decision made by the TCEQ three years ago that denied Sierra Club its right to a contested case hearing on the license given to Waste Control Specialists (WCS) for the dump. Sierra Club subsequently filed a lawsuit in District Court to win that hearing, but the court date had been delayed for years.  Yesterday was the first opportunity for opponents to argue before an impartial judge about the TCEQ’s conscious decision to ignore key information about potential problems with the site. The Judge agreed that TCEQ should have granted the Sierra Club the right to oppose the license for the waste dump in a contested case hearing before state administrative law judges and now the TCEQ license has been remanded to the agency to grant the contested case hearing.

Low level radioactive waste is so dangerous that it has to be disposed of in specially designed remote and isolated sites to prevent contamination of water and air.  When Waste Control Specialists applied for a license, the staff at TCEQ reviewed the application and recommended its rejection because of their concerns about the possibility of water intrusion and contamination.  The TCEQ’s executive director overruled the recommendation of the staff and recommended issuing the license.

In light of the staff’s concerns, the Sierra Club requested a hearing on the application. That request was denied and the license was issued by two of the three TCEQ commissioners appointed by Governor Perry. Six months later TCEQ’s executive director went to work for WCS.

New information has recently come to light about the WCS site  pertaining to the potential for water to come into contact with radioactive materials. According to data provided by TCEQ., water has been detected in monitoring wells at the facility for the last several months. An expert report authored by geologist George Rice and entitled, Occurrence of Groundwater at the Compact Waste Facility Waste Control Specialists Facility Andrews County, Texas, points out that infiltration of rainwater and movement of groundwater was already occurring within the buffer zone of the “Compact Waste Site” as recently as this March.

Just last week, the TCEQ granted WCS the right to receive radioactive waste at the site and begin operations despite the Sierra Club’s appeal to State District Court.

Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Lone Star Chapter of Sierra Club said, “This ruling confirms what we have been saying all along. The Sierra Club and its members in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico deserve the opportunity to show that radioactive waste dumped at the WCS site could impact people in the area through airborne radioactive particles and potential groundwater contamination. TCEQ should immediately stop operations at the WCS site and follow the judge’s order and grant the Sierra Club’s request for an expeditious but fair contested case hearing on the license for the dump site.”

Rose Gardner lives within four miles of the WCS radioactive waste facility and was represented in this case by Sierra Club. “I’m very glad about the judge’s decision, since we’ll now have a hearing where we can fully examine radioactive risks to our land and water. We now have more livestock than ever before and having the WCS radioactive waste dump nearby threatens our health and safety. TCEQ blocked this hearing before and needs to be more open with information and opportunities for citizens to participate,” said Gardner.

“This case is of national significance because the dump’s biggest investor is Harold Simmons, one of the largest contributors to Republican political campaigns and attack ads. He helped to fund the “Swift  Boat Veterans for Truth”  and  the “Obama is a Muslim”  attack ads. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Simmons has spent $18 million so far this election cycle and plans to spend a total of $36 million before the end of this cycle. Why would he spend that kind of money?  The amount and types of waste could be vastly expanded by a Republican President or Congress thus increasing the amount of money Simmons can make off of the dump and  increasing the funds he has available to donate to future political campaigns. And if anyone doubts that his political spending will pay off in favorable treatment, all they have to do is look at how successful he’s been in Texas”  said Tom “Smitty”  Smith of Public Citizen’s Texas Office.

“This is a big victory for the citizens of Texas and New Mexico. The TCEQ knew this case was likely to be decided this week, but rushed to sign off on the dump site late last month, allowing radioactive waste to start coming into Texas, showing just how much political pressure Harold Simmons, the chief financial investor of WCS, can exert on Texas politics and agencies. The first shipments of radioactive waste arrived just 10 days ago.  We call on TCEQ to act responsibly and reverse their decision granting that permit,” said Karen Hadden of  the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition.

The SEED Coalition and Public Citizen have been actively involved in opposing the recently adopted rule to open up the WCS facility to accepting waste from the rest of the nation and continue to monitor the transparency and accountability around this rule change.

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Harold Simmons built a West Texas dump for radioactive waste that is bigger than 1,000 football fields, paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and got a permit for it in Texas, and is now working to fill it.

To turn it into a profitable enterprise, the Texas billionaire has now hired lobbyists to urge the Obama administration to expand the types of nuclear waste, including depleted uranium, the dump can accept and award his company disposal contracts.

Click here to read the Bloomberg story on the influence of money on this regulatory issue.

Click here  and here and here and here, to read earlier blog posts about Harold Simmons, his Texas political contributions and the WCS radioactive waste dump.

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