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Posts Tagged ‘Nuclear Power’

Critiques of nuclear generation have generally revolved around safety risks and high construction fees, but relatively little attention has been paid to what happens when a nuclear plant powers down for good.

Costs Can Reach Over $1 Billion

Nuclear plants must be decommissioned at the end of their useful life, and operating licenses are generally for 40-60 years. The costly, labor-intensive process involves two major actions: nuclear waste disposal and decontamination to reduce residual radioactivity.

There are currently 104 commercial nuclear power plants operating in the US, most of which were built in the 1970s and are slated for decommissioning during the next three decades.

At least one nuclear plant now running will be shut for good in the next several years, namely Exelon Corp’s Oyster Creek plant in 2019. Before then, we could see Entergy Corp’s Vermont Yankee plant shutter as early as next year, should the state’s veto of a license already granted by the NRC hold up in court.  And New York State politicians continue to wield whatever pressure they can to keep Indian Point from winning a license extension in ongoing proceedings.

South Texas Nuclear Project (STP) in Matagorda County licenses expire in 2027 and 2028, they recently applied for a license renewal which would extend the life of the plants 20 years, and they would expire in 2047 and 2048 respectively.  The license renewal application is being contested and you can click here to find out how you can listen in to the 1st Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) hearing on this license renewal application.  However, even if the license renewal is approved, there is a possibility that at some point before the license expiration dates, the costs of repairs could exceeded the value of the plant, and dismantling it could offer a better financial option.

As of April 2011, there were 23 nuclear units in various stages of decommissioning. Only ten out of the 23 have been completely cleaned up.

Decommissioning costs typically run at $500 million per reactor unit. But actual costs vary based on size and design, and some have reached over $1 billion — that is between 10 percent and 25 percent of the estimated cost of constructing a nuclear reactor today.

About 30 percent of the cost of decommissioning goes towards waste disposal.

A decommissioned plant creates several different streams of waste

  • Spent nuclear fuel rods are kept in dry storage or in spent fuel ponds at the reactor sites. An average nuclear plant generates 20 metric tons (44,092 lbs) of used nuclear fuel annually, or 1,200 metric tons over a plant’s 60-year lifespan. Every 3 to 5 years, one-third of the fuel assembly rods in the reactor are removed and stored in storage pools for about 10 to 20 years. During this period, the fuel loses much of its radioactivity and heat.  After that period, the fuel can be stored in large sealed metal casks that can be cooled by air. Typically a 1000 MWe reactor will discharge about 2 metric tons of high level waste each refueling. A PWR will discharge 40 to 70 fuel rods; a BWR will discharge 120 to 200 fuel rods.
  • Anything contaminated with lower levels of radiation — pipes, tools, workers’ clothing, reactor housings, really, pretty much everything but the spent fuel rods — are sent to special low-level nuclear waste facilities around the country. The remaining non-radiated waste can be disposed of in regular landfills.

Three pathways to decommissioning

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission offers utilities three options for decommissioning plants.

  • The first option is immediate cleanup after the plant shuts down.
  • In the second option, called SAFSTOR, the plant is closed and awaits cleanup at a later time, offering plants extra time to increase their decommissioning funds.While there is a requirement for operators to set aside funds for decommissioning, some plants have had to shut down before they had sufficient decommissioning funds and once they shut down, the revenue stream dries up.  This means they must wait until their funds accrue sufficient interest to begin decommissioning.The NRC gives utilities up to 60 years to complete decommissioning.This waiting period adds flexibility for plant owners with multiple reactors that shut down at different times. Once all the reactors cease operation they will be decommissioned together to save money and resources.

Of the 13 reactors currently being decommissioned, six chose immediate decontamination and seven remain in SAFSTOR conditions.

  • No U.S. plant has ever chosen the third decommissioning option, called ENTOMB.Workers would begin by moving the fuel rods into dry storage casks removing 99.9 percent of the plant’s radiation, but which currently must be stored on site.  Next, they use solvents and filters to clean up other contaminated surfaces.The other radioactive material onsite is sent to low-level waste facilities, and the plant is left to sit for decades.With ENTOMB there is no requirement to build extra containment buildings because the NRC postulates that most of the radiation will already be gone, though plant operators would continue to monitor the site for security.After 80 to 100 years, the plant would be safe enough to enter while wearing street clothes, and workers could dismantle the plant with just “a plasma torch and dust mask”.Still utilities don’t like the ENTOMB option because they don’t want to deal with the long-term liability.

Radioactivity for Volume

Low-level radiation waste comes in three varieties: Class A, B and C. Class A waste contains the lowest levels of radiation.

There are three low-level nuclear waste facilities in the United States — in Clive, Utah; Barnwell, South Carolina and Hanford, Washington. Clive only accepts Class A waste; the other two sites accept Class B and C waste but only from select northwestern and eastern states.

The new low-level waste facility under construction in Andrews County, Texas will accept Class A, B and C waste, and originally limited its intake to nuclear waste from Texas and Vermont, but the Texas legislature just opened the site up to take waste from outside the original compact, meaning it could take waste from anywhere in the United States.  However, a study by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality indicates the site only has the capacity to take the low-level radioactive waste from the six Texas and Vermont reactors.

When Barnwell and Hanford started restricting their operations, nuclear plants adjusted their practices. Operators began changing filters more often to selectively create Class A waste that could be sent to Clive.  As a result, Class B and C now make up less than 15 percent of low-level nuclear waste.

So after nearly 60 years, with 104 nuclear reactors approaching the end of their useful life, it remains unclear how this country is going to deal with the decommissioning waste.  How foolish would a nuclear renaissance be in the face of this unsurmounted problem?  The industry continues to insist, over-optimistically, that we will find a long-term solution, yet ,pessimistically, doesn’t think we can find a replacement renewable energy source in the same time frame.  The industry dost protest too much, methinks.

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In  an energy  article published todayThe New York Times reports German Prime Minister Angela Merkel abandoned plans for extending the life of Germany’s nuclear power plants and ordered them to be closed by 2022.

This is a stunning reversal of energy policy for the German Chancellor considering she approved plans 9 months ago to extend the country’s nuclear power plants.  The decision, still facing legislative approval, was popularly endorsed by environmental groups and expected to be warmly received by voters.

In recent days, hundreds of  thousands of protesters have taken to the streets  demanding for the end of nuclear power dependency  spurred on by the  nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima plant in Japan. Reportedly, the nuclear crisis has been believed to have been the culprit for Mrs. Merkel’s party losing control in the election of the  German state of Baden-Württemberg for the first time in 58 years. The election was based on a energy policy referendum.

Switzerland recently unveiled their plan to phase out nuclear power dependency by cutting plans to build new nuclear plants and  promising to close nuclear plants when they reach the end of their normal operating lives. However, surrounding European states, France, the Netherlands, and Poland, still remain committed to building new nuclear power plants or maintaining their current nuclear plants.

What can the state of Texas take from this new German energy plan? Well, admittedly not much.

After a recent legislative session spent passing SB 1504, A.K.A Simmons’ Bill, and SB 1605, another Harold Simmons/WCS led bill on the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission, Texas Legislature sadly is not in a position to propose new aggressive measures to phase out nuclear power dependency. But the people do have a voice.  Write your congressmen and representatives, and if you live close to a nuclear plant, attend town hall meetings and ask poignant questions on nuclear power. Demand a nuclear-free Texas.

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Last week, the seven-member Federal Council of Switzerland called for the decommissioning of the country’s five nuclear power reactors and development of new energy sources to replace them.

The recommendation will be debated in the Swiss parliament, which is expected to make a final decision next month. If approved, the five reactors (at four facilities) would go offline between 2019 and 2034 as they reach the end of their average 50 year.

The Swiss Energy Minister Doris Leuthard and other Swiss energy officials hope to turn to entirely non-nuclear sources of power like hydropower, wind energy, biomass and photovoltaics combined with energy efficiency to replace the two-fifths of the nation’s energy needs that the nuclear reactors now supply.

The announcement comes days after an estimated 20,000 people took part in the biggest anti-nuclear protest in Switzerland in 25 years by people concerned about the continuing crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan.

The German government has also signaled its determination to ditch nuclear power and replace it with renewable energies.

While nuclear power proponents will argue that nuclear power is safe, a number of nations are coming to grips with the fact their their citizens are not willing to live with the consequences of something going wrong.  While those incidents may be few and far between, the aftermath can be devastating for the surrounding environment, the health and safety of the people living near the facilities and the economy of a country that has to deal with the cleanup should a disaster of the magnatude of Japan’s Fukashima Dai-ichi happen.

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In honor of SB 1605, a Simmons‘ led bill on the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission, we decided to post a music video speaking of more sensible, viable options for clean energy. Hope you enjoy it!

And the lyrics after the jump if you want them: (more…)

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We wrote about this a while back, but in case you forgot – the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is holding a meeting in Bay City, Texas, today, Thursday, May 19, with representatives of South Texas Project (STP) Nuclear Operating Co., to discuss the agency’s assessment of safety performance for the South Texas Project nuclear power plant located near Bay City.

The meeting, which will be open to the public, is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. at:

Wharton County Junior College
Center for Energy Development
4000 Avenue F
Bay City, Texas.

Click here to read our earlier blog for more details.  If you live within the now infamous 50 mile circle around the nuclear plant, you might want to stop in to ask questions about the safety of this plant and what measures have been put in place to protect you and your family in the event of an accident.


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NRC WILL HOLD A PUBLIC MEETING TO DISCUSS 2010 PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT OF SOUTH TEXAS PROJECT NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

STP Houston and Corpus ChristiMost of us are familiar with the 10 and 50 mile zones around Fukushima, this map shows those same zones around the South Texas nuclear plant located just 76 miles outside of Houston.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff will meet in Bay City, Texas, on Thursday, May 19, with representatives of South Texas Project (STP) Nuclear Operating Co., to discuss the agency’s assessment of safety performance for the South Texas Project nuclear power plant located near Bay City.

The meeting, which will be open to the public, is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Wharton County Junior College (Center for Energy Development) 4000 Avenue F, Bay City, Texas.

In addition to the performance assessment, the NRC staff will be available to answer questions from the public on the safety performance of the South Texas (Nuclear) Project and the NRC’s role in ensuring safe plant operation.

The meeting will provide an opportunity for NRC to discuss their annual assessment of the plant with the company, local officials and the public.   NRC will answer any questions attendees may have about their oversight.

A letter sent from the NRC Region IV office to plant officials addresses the performance of the plant during 2010 and will serve as the basis for discussion. It is available on the NRC website – click here to read the letter.

In light of public concerns that have emerged regarding the safety of nuclear plants here in the U.S. in the wake of the Japanese nuclear disaster at Fukushima, this public meeting provides an excellent opportunity for citizens living 10, 50, or even 150 miles away to find out what measures are in place at South Texas Project to protect it’s neighbors.

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NRC WILL HOLD A PUBLIC MEETING TO DISCUSS 2010 PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT OF COMANCHE PEAK NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

Comanche Peak

Most of us are familiar with the 10 and 50 mile zones around Fukushima, this map shows those same zones around the Comanche Peak nuclear plant located just 38 miles outside of Fort Worth.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff will meet in Glen Rose, Texas, on Thursday, May 12, with representatives of Luminant Generation Co., to discuss the agency’s assessment of safety performance for the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant. The plant is located near Glen Rose.

The meeting, which will be open to the public, is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at the Somervell County Expo Exhibit Hall, 102 Northeast Vine Street, Glen Rose, Texas.

In addition to the performance assessment, the NRC staff will be available to answer questions from the public on the safety performance of Comanche Peak and the NRC’s role in ensuring safe plant operation.

The meeting will provide an opportunity for NRC to discuss their annual assessment of the plant with the company, local officials and the public.   NRC will answer any questions attendees may have about their oversight.

A letter sent from the NRC Region IV office to plant officials addresses the performance of the plant during 2010 and will serve as the basis for discussion. It is available on the NRC website – click here to read the letter.

In light of public concerns that have emerged regarding the safety of nuclear plants here in the U.S. in the wake of the Japanese nuclear disaster at Fukushima, this public meeting provides an excellent opportunity for citizens living 10, 50, or even 150 miles away to find out what measures are in place at Comanche Peak to protect it’s neighbors.

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The past several days have been yet another reminder that the hubris of modern engineering can be brought low by the extreme power of mother nature.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it was monitoring the Browns Ferry nuclear power plant near Athens in north Alabama, after it lost offsite power Wednesday night due to the storms.  While there was no direct hit from a tornado at the plant, the storms did take down the transmission lines from the plant causing the three units at the plant to shut down automatically when power was lost.

According to the Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates the plant, one of the plant’s diesel generators was out of service for maintenance, but the other seven started to power the units’ emergency loads that provide cooling for the reactors.  No radiation was released as a result to the shutdown and the plant remains in a “safe” shutdown mode (you know, like Fukushima Dai-ichi’s units 4 thru 6).  Plant operators and Tennessee Valley Authority line crews are working to restore offsite power to all three units but the plant is expected to be down for days and possibly weeks while repairs to the transmission lines are made.

Meanwhile, less than two weeks ago, the Surry nuclear power plant lost offsite power early in the evening, of April 16th when a tornado touched down in an electrical switchyard next to the plant.

The two units at the Surry plant automatically shut down and four of the plant’s diesel generators started to power the units’ emergency loads. As of this writing, NRC’s website shows Surry 1 back online, but Surry 2 is still offline. 

Tuscaloosa, Alabama, only 100 miles south of the Browns Ferry nuclear plant, was devastated by an estimated EF-4 tornado over a mile wide that stayed on the ground for 2 hours, leaving behind a shocking landscape of twisted wreckage for seven miles.  In light of the devastation wrought by this storm, we should count ourselves very fortunate that these nuclear plants were only the victims of downed transmission lines and damaged adjacent switching yards.  While the reactor containment might be able to withstand a tornado of this magnitude, we don’t know how vulnerable the backup systems would be. 

One of the lessons we should take away from Fukushima should be – never underestimate the power of mother nature or overestimate our ability to engineer things to withstand the extremes that nature can throw at us.

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Damage at the Fukashima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant following a devastating earthquake and tsunami

A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll shows Americans oppose building more nuclear power plants in the United States, by a margin of 2-1.  This is an 11-point increase in opposition, up from a few years ago.

In the aftermath of Japan’s nuclear plant crisis, 64 percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll now oppose new  nuclear plant construction, while 33 percent support  it. “Strong” opposition outstrips strong  support, 47-20 percent. Opposition is up from 53  percent in a 2008 poll, and strong opposition is up  even more, by 24 points.

This ABC News-Washington Post poll was conducted  by telephone April 14-17, 2011, among a random  national sample of 1,001 adults, including landline  and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a  margin of sampling error of 3.5 points. The survey  was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y, with sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.  Click here to check out the charts and questionnaire.

This poll reflects changing public attitudes that goes beyond a not-in-my-back-yard phenomenon. The survey finds that while 67 percent of Americans oppose construction of a nuclear plant within 50 miles of their home, this number is not significantly different than the number who oppose it regardless of location.  Opposition also appears to be bipartisan, with majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents alike opposed to new nuclear plant construction.

Still, there are differences among groups; opposition is higher among Democrats (75 percent, vs. 59 percent of Republicans and independents combined), women (73 percent, vs. 53 percent of men) and liberals (74 percent, vs. 60 percent of moderates and conservatives).

In the past, support for building nuclear plants has fluctuated, showing sensitivity to nuclear crises. In the mid-1970′s when nuclear plant building was booming 61 percent supported nuclear power, however support fell sharply after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 and bottomed out at just 19 percent in May 1986 after the Chernobyl crisis (whose 25th anniversary will be marked next week).  

Most Americans do not say that nuclear power is unsafe, but the subtle difference in their perception of how safe nuclear plants are plays into whether or not they support the building of new nuclear plants.  Indeed, 53 percent of Americans said that nuclear power is safe overall, 11 points above the immediate post-Chernobyl level.  But only 23 percent see it as “very safe,” which apparently is what’s needed to sustain public support, and very justly so, given the potential consequences should a plant prove unsafe.  Among people surveyed who think nuclear power plants are very safe, 84 percent favor building new ones. But that falls to 33 percent of those who just think it’s only somewhat safe. And those who think it’s unsafe are nearly unanimous (93 percent) in their opposition.

Not surprisingly, 42 percent say the crisis in Japan has made them less confident in the safety of nuclear power overall; 51 percent say it’s had no effect. This, too, ties in closely with support for construction:  Among those who are less confident now, 84 percent  oppose building new plants. Among those whose opinions haven’t changed, opposition falls to 48 percent.

These changing attitudes toward nuclear power have been reflected in recent events that include:

  • NRG’s decision to write off their investment in a proposed expansion of theSouth Texas(Nuclear) Project, effectively killing that project. 
  • In a contested case brought by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), the NRC Licensing Board, said that UniStar Nuclear is not eligible to build a reactor in theU.S.ordered UniStar and the NRC Staff to show cause as to why they shouldn’t rule in NIRS’ favor, and deny a construction license for Calvert Cliffs-3.
  • Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has introduced HR 1242, a nuclear bill that would:
  • Ensure that nuclear power plants and spent nuclear fuel pools can withstand and adequately respond to earthquakes, tsunamis, strong storms, long power outages, or other events that threaten a major impact.
  • Require nuclear power plants to have emergency backup plans and systems that can withstand longer electricity outages.
  • Require spent nuclear fuel to be moved into safer dry cask storage as soon as the fuel is sufficiently cooled to do so.
  • Require the Department of Energy to factor in the lessons learned from the Fukushima melt down when calculating the risk of default on loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants.

These are all pretty dramatic changes from what was happening in this country, with respect to the nuclear renaissance, just over a month ago.  It took 20 years for the memory of Chernobyl to fade enough for the industry to take up the mantle of promoting a nuclear expansion in this country as the panacea for our varied energy woes that included high oil prices, environmental concerns prompted by the Gulf oil spill a year ago and efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.  The ongoing nuclear disaster at Fukushima is showing the world that when things do go wrong, the costs of nuclear in terms of high prices, and environmental concerns are higher than people want to pay.

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Radiation hotspots of Cesium-137 from Chernobyl

Radiation hotspots of Cesium-137 in 1996 resulting from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident. -Wikipedia

Experts believe the radioactive core in reactor No. 2 at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant has melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on to the concrete floor of the drywell below.  This new development has raised fears of a major release of radiation at the site, and some nuclear industry experts are saying that while they don’t believe there is a danger of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe, it’s not going to be good news for the environment.

The major concern when molten fuel breaches a containment vessel is that it will react with the concrete floor of the drywell, releasing radioactive gases into the surrounding area. At Fukushima, the drywell has been flooded with seawater, which was a last ditch effort to cool any molten fuel that escapes from the reactor and reduce the amount of radioactive gas released.

The drywell is surrounded by a secondary steel-and-concrete structure designed to keep radioactive material from escaping into the environment. But an earlier hydrogen explosion at the reactor may have damaged this, and the detection of water outside the containment area that is highly radioactive and can only have come from the reactor core, is a good indication that the containment area has been breached.

In the meantime, countries around the world are reassessing their nuclear power programs.  Britain has signaled that they could take a step back from nuclear power in the wake of the disaster.  Germany ordered a temporary halt to the country’s seven oldest reactors, and China is considering scaling back their program.

France, which gets about 80 percent of its energy from atomic power and has been the poster child for nuclear power during the recent nuclear renaissance, wants threats from airplane crashes and terrorists excluded from safety checks planned on European reactors following the Fukushima nuclear accident.  An interesting stance to take considering as recently as October of 2010, the French defense minister, Herve Morin told the French people that a terrorist threat exists, and could hit them at any moment.

At a minimum, governments should insist on two conditions for the future of the next generation of nuclear power plants: they have to be safe and they can not let the taxpayer be ripped off.  This is a opportunity for investment into renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and energy storage that don’t have the potential to be really, really bad news for the environment and the people who live in that environment.

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Today is the 32nd anniversary of the worst U.S. nuclear accident, a partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island power plant outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Although no deaths or injuries resulted, many of the concerns the public is expressing about the ultimate fate of the doomed Fukushima Dai-ichi plant were played out over five days in 1979 in the North East.  Then, as now, it is difficult for the public to discern what the real status of the situation is.

Today a spokesperson for the Japanese government announced that the containment structure surrounding the No. 2 reactor at the nuclear power plant is damaged and may be leaking radioactive material.  Tepco, the plant’s owner, then disclosed that small amounts of plutonium had been found among contaminants around the facility later today as Japanese authorities explained that how radioactive water was leaking into maintenance tunnels and possibly, into the Pacific Ocean.

The radiation level near the No 2 reactor is four times the top dose Japan’s Health Ministry has set for emergency workers struggling to control the further emission of radioactive material from the damaged plant and it is unclear what the status of ongoing efforts are, given the increased radiation levels. 

Greenpeace is organizing vigils around the country to show support for the victims of the Japan disaster and ask for a nuclear-free world.  Click here to find out about an event in your area tonight.

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted to launch a review of US nuclear power plant safety in response to the March 11th Japan earthquake and tsunami which resulted in the crisis at Japanese nuclear power plants.

The NRC plans to establish an agency task force, made up of current staff and former NRC experts that will conduct both short- and long-term analysis of the situation in Japan and implications for U.S. nuclear plants.  They also announced that the results of their work will be made public.

In addition to the NRC’s response to the events happening in Japan, investors are scaling back their investments in U.S. power companies that have the biggest exposure to nuclear plants because of regulatory uncertainty in reaction to the Japanese crisis.

Public and political scrutiny of the 104 U.S. nuclear reactors erupted as the world watched Japan racing to prevent a meltdown and contain radiation at Tokyo Electric Power’s (Tepco) Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors in the wake of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The ensuing sell-off in U.S. utilities with nuclear plants points to fears that these companies face greater regulatory hurdles and significant costs to keep their plants open.

Interestingly enough, NRG Energy (NRG) shares jumped 5.4%  on expectations that the power company will abandon its South Texas nuclear Project expansion, especially if its Japanese partners pull out, including Tepco who had announced they were going to partner with NRG and Toshiba for  a 10% share of the expansion, and possibly increase that to 20% if a U.S. loan guarantee was awarded to the project.

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How close do you live to a nuclear plant? I got curious and this is what I found out.

If a crisis at a nuclear reactor happened in the U.S., could you be living in a danger zone? In a 10-mile radius, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the air could be unsafe to breathe in the event of a major catastrophe. In 50 miles, food and water supplies may be unsafe.  Click here to go to CNN.Money’s plant locator.

Don’t forget that radioactive particles can be carried on the wind and many of us in Texas know how far the wind can carry things - for example, every year, when we start coughing each time we walk outside, when Mexico is burning fields.

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Back in January, Texans For A Sound Energy Policy (TSEP) filed formal legal contentions with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) urging denial of Exelon’s application for an Early Site Permit (ESP) for a proposed nuclear power plant site south of Victoria, Texas.

Yesterday, TSEP appeared at a hearing before a three-judge panel of the Atomic Safety & Licensing Board (ASLB) to press its legal and scientific arguments.  This is the first NRC proceeding since onset of the ongoing Japanese nuclear disaster. 

TSEP argued that nuclear power is a high risk, high stakes business, and that the events in Japan must be paramount in the board’s determination of the suitability of the site for the construction of one or more nuclear power reactors – a determination that includes both safety concerns and environmental impact concerns.  TSEP believes that this site is neither safe nor environmentally acceptable and that the key to preventing nuclear and environmental disasters is to address site selection honestly, openly and comprehensively.

From a safety perspective, TSEP has raised four proposed contentions and noted, from the outset, their concerns with the cavalier attitude of Exelon, and a process that appears designed to deliberately obscure key safety issues regarding the site from the public.

TSEP said that their perception is that Exelon believes that it does not matter if there is faulting, hundreds of oil and gas wells, toxic gas and methane and inadequate water supply as long as the power block itself is not directly affected.  Additionally, there is a total disdain for any instability and uncertainty of the geologic platform for the proposed facility which is silt and clay riddled by fractures and oil and gas penetrations.  That coupled with the fact that there is co-location with toxic and explosive gas  poses potential dangers to the safe operation of a nuclear

TSEP believes good engineering can address many potential safety issues, but that we cannot engineer around issues that are not recognized, studied and evaluated.

In light of what the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant is dealing with, water – which has been a major environmental concern – now shows itself to be a major safety issue.  According to Jim Blackburn, the attorney representing TSEP,

Exelon’s proposed plan includes a cooling pond that is clearly crossed by two and potentially four subsurface faults.  These faults clearly threaten the stability of the cooling pond.  Exelon does not deny this but instead argues that it does not matter if the cooling pond fails because it is not a safety feature.  It seems that the Japanese situation suggests that a reserve supply of water may in fact be a major safety issue.  Without the salt water to pour on the core as a last resort, the situation in Japan would already have been worse.  There is no such fall-back plan here.  The cooling pond would function as a last resort facility, but it may in fact be breached and drained, assuming sufficient water to fill the pond at all.

Click here to watch a segment of the Rachel Maddow Show for information on spent fuel pools.

We hope the NRC will slow some of these license approvals and re-licensing applications down until they have had time to evaluate what worked and what didn’t work when backup systems fail. 

The ASLB will be reviewing and deciding which contentions put forth by TSEP will be heard in a licensing hearing later this year.

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The tragic events unfolding in Japan demand a re-examination of U.S. nuclear policy.  While stocks in nuclear plummet and nuclear industry lobbyists scramble on Capitol Hill to shore up support for massive federal subsidies to kick-start the stagnate industry, concerns regarding the existing aging fleet are surfacing and should be heeded.  Click here to read more about specific concerns about some of the aging US nuclear fleet.

Amazingly, despite emerging concerns about existing and proposed reactors, the Obama administration has said it will not back off its plans to further prop up the nuclear industry through increased taxpayer-backed loan guarantees and the inclusion of nuclear power technology in the administration’s clean energy standard. The administration has included $36 billion in loan guarantees in its budget proposal for fiscal year 2012. Instead, it should immediately halt subsidies and instead focus on developing solar and wind power.  Take Action on Nuclear Subsidies

The administration  must take off the blinders, look hard at what is going on in Japan and realize that yes, a catastrophe can happen here.

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