Posts Tagged ‘Nuclear’

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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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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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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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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This weekend marks the first anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Our thoughts and prayers will be with the hundreds of thousands of Japanese still living in contaminated areas.

There are anniversary actions across the U.S. and entire world this weekend. You can find a list of many of them on the NIRS Actions page. Don’t forget to click the link you’ll see there for additional global actions to get a sense of the incredible number and variety of events going on all over the world!

Here in Austin:
Saturday, March 10th at Noon, Prevent Fukushima Texas vigil
At the river (Lady Bird Lake) immediately across from the front of the Austin City Hall (301 W. 2nd St.) just West of 1st Street.

Speakers will include Chiaki Kasahara and Ivan Stout, who lived in Japan at the time of the nuclear disaster and had to leave their home, family and friends in order to protect their health and that of their young son.

Sponsored by SEED Coalition and Nuke Free Texas. www.NukeFreeTexas.org

(If it looks like light rain, bring an umbrella. If it’s raining heavily, we’ll move over to a covered space at City Hall – under the solar panels.)

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Although flood concerns at Nebraska’s two nuclear power plants have subsided for the time being, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has announced short and long term plans that will examine and possibly affect flood safety at both reactors.  The NRC is schedule to be in Omaha starting July 27th examining flood control at the Fort Calhoun Station.

Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant during the height of the flood after a 2000 foot long water filled barrier berm failed

In the meantime, the NRC issued a memo yesterday announcing that the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant will be receiving additional oversight from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission because of problems associated with the reactor protection system at the plant that was uncovered during a scheduled test on June 14, 2010.  At that time, one of four electrical contacts failed in a system used to “trip” or automatically shut down the reactor. The condition appears to have existed for 63 days before it was discovered.  This means the condition was in place before flooding was a concern at the plant,  Fort Calhoun has been shut down since April 7th for a refueling outage, and remained shutdown after June 6 when concerns about flooding along the Missouri River began.  The emergency status abated with the river cresting June 23rd .

While the NRC says the failure did not pose a danger to public health or safety, because other means existed to perform that safety function if necessary and the operator of the plant has replaced the defective electrical component, it does appear that had the plant been operating when the flooding occurred, emergency shutdown might have been compromised.

The NRC preliminarily determined that the violation was “yellow,” meaning it has substantial safety significance (NRC evaluates performance at nuclear power plants with a color coded process which classifies regulatory findings as either green, white, yellow or red, in order of increasing safety significance) and has since downgraded it to white.

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NRC Japan Task Force Report CoverThe Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Japan Task Force has proposed improvements in areas ranging from loss of power to earthquakes, flooding, spent fuel pools, venting and preparedness, and said a “patchwork of regulatory requirements” developed “piece-by-piece over the decades” should be replaced with a “logical, systematic and coherent regulatory framework” to further bolster reactor safety in the United States.

The report has been given to the five members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who are responsible for making decisions regarding the Task Force’s recommendations.

While declaring that “a sequence of events like the Fukushima accident is unlikely to occur in the United States” and that plants can be operated safely, the Task Force also recognized that “an accident involving core damage and uncontrolled release of radioactivity to the environment, even one without significant health consequences, is inherently unacceptable and proposed a comprehensive set of 12 recommendations to increase safety and redefine what level of protection of public health is regarded as adequate. It also recommended additional study of some issues.

The recommendations looked at ensuring protection, enhancing accident mitigation, strengthening emergency preparedness and improving the efficiency of NRC programs.

The report noted that the current NRC approach to regulation includes requirements for protection and responses for events that the facilities were originally designed to stand up to, such as earthquakes of the largest magnitude, or the highest flood level, or the strongest hurricane that had been experienced in the area at the time the permit was approved.  These are referred to as “design-basis” events.  There are also modest requirements for some “beyond-design-basis” events as well as voluntary initiatives by individual plant operators to address severe accident issues that are part of the NRC’s current framework for protection against what happened at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island or Fukushima.  But as noted by the task force, the current approach is piecemeal.

The report recommends a more coherent regulatory framework that balances defense-in-depth (layered security mechanisms that increase security of the system as a whole) and risk considerations that includes, but is not limited to:

  • Requiring plants to reevaluate and upgrade as necessary their seismic and flooding protections and reconfirm every 10 years;
  • Strengthening Station Black Out (SBO) systems so that plants could cope with offsite or onsite power outages for a minimum of 8 hours; establishing equipment, procedures and training to keep the core and spent fuel pool cool at least 72 hours; and developing plans for offsite resources to be delivered to the site to support uninterrupted core and pool cooling;
  • Requiring that emergency plans address prolonged station blackouts and events involving multiple reactors;
  • Requiring additional instrumentation and seismically protected systems to provide additional cooling water to spent fuel pools if necessary;
  • Reviewing vent designs and identifying, as part of the longer term review, insights about hydrogen control and mitigation inside containment or in other buildings.

We now wait to see if and how the NRC will incorporate these recommendations into their licensing and regulatory authority over the U.S.’s nuclear fleet.  It is doubtful that this will slow the rush to relicense that is occurring around the country as plants near the end of their planned life.

Click here to read the full 79-page report.

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Exelon’s  Dresden Nuclear Power Plant located in Morris, Ill., roughly 60 miles southwest of Chicago declared an alert at 10:16 a.m. CT today after a chemical leak restricted access to a vital area that houses plant cooling water pumps.  The leaking chemical is sodium hypochlorite, which is similar to bleach, and is routinely used in plant operations to treat water.

NRC says there is currently no impact to the public health and safety and the environment.

The leak has been stopped and clean up by plant workers is underway.  The utility reported about 330 gallons of the chemical leaked and two plant workers who were working in the area were taken offsite for treatment due to possible inhalation of the chemical fumes

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It appears that the fate for nuclear power in Japan following the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, could be decided by a local governor of an obscure prefecture of about 850,000 residents on the southernmost main island of Kyushu.

Governor Yasushi Furukawa of Saga Prefecture, must decide in coming days whether to support a request by Prime Minister Naoto Kan to restart two reactors at a local nuclear plant that have been shut down since last winter for regular maintenance.  If Governor Furukawa decides no, and other governors follow his lead, every nuclear reactor in Japan could end up idled in less than a year, turning Japan into a non-nuclear country faster than Germany.

Japan’s reactors are legally required to shut down every 13 months for routine maintenance. Thirty-five of the nation’s 54 reactors are now offline, some because of damage from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, but most because of the maintenance requirement. Unless some of them are turned back on, the last reactor in Japan will be shut down by next April.  Currently nuclear reactors provide the nation with almost a third of its electricity.

Turning the reactors back on requires the central government’s approval, which has not been granted since the Fukushima accident. In the public backlash against nuclear power that has followed the disaster, the government is asking local political leaders to sign off on the restarts as well.

Mr. Furukawa is the first governor who is being called upon to make a decision. This has turned him into a reluctant leader of sorts on this nation’s nuclear future, as his decision will be closely watched by other local leaders, most of whom are on the fence about restarting reactors as they weigh issues of public anxieties about safety versus the threat of electricity shortages.

Recent Japanese opinion polls show an overwhelming majority — 82 percent in a survey conducted last month for Tokyo Shimbun — support getting rid of the nation’s reactors, but do not favor an immediate halt, prefering a gradual phasing out of nuclear power as alternatives are found.

Japan has a long history with nuclear power, and is the world’s principle manufacturer of some nuclear reactor components.  A pull back of their commitment to nuclear power could have a resounding affect on the future of nuclear power throughout the world, including those countries – the U.S., India, and Poland – who are still promoting the expansion of nuclear power.  The Saga Prefecture governor should make a decision in the next couple of weeks and we’ll update this blog at that time.

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In a series of investigative stories, the Associated Press (AP) has been reporting on the state of the US nuclear industry in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan.  In this recent report, the AP found that as America’s nuclear power plants have aged, the once-rural areas around them have become far more crowded and much more difficult to evacuate.

Even as nuclear plants run at higher power, posing more danger in the event of an accident, populations around the facilities have swelled as much as 4½ times since 1980.  At the same time estimates of evacuation times have not been updated in decades.  Emergency plans would direct residents to flee on antiquated, two-lane roads that clog hopelessly at rush hour. And evacuation zones have remained frozen at a 10-mile radius from each plant since they were set in 1978.

With about 120 million people, almost 40 percent of all Americans, living within 50 miles of a nuclear plant (using 2010 Census data) this scenario smacks of human tragedy, for any nuclear accident in this country.

Click here to read this segment of AP’s investigative study of Nuclear Power in America.

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Global Support for Nuclear Power Drops

A new Ipsos/Reuters poll released on June 22nd reveal that global support for nuclear power has plummetted in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. A survey of over 19,000 people in 24 countries showed that three quarters of people now think nuclear power will soon be obsolete.  Only three countries still show support for nuclear power: the U.S., India and Poland.

Recent investigative reporting shows that the relative safety of nuclear power in the U.S. is tenuous, despite what some politicians have claimed. A big problem is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has been working with the nuclear power industry to keep our country’s reactors operating within safety standards, but they’ve been doing it by either weakening those standards, or not enforcing them at all. A year-long investigation by the Associated Press (AP) revealed that the NRC has extended licenses for dozens of aging U.S. nuclear plants despite their having multiple problems, like rusted pipes, broken seals, failed cables and leaking valves. When such problems are found, the NRC will weaken the standards to help the plants meet them instead of ordering them to be repaired to meet current standards. The nuclear industry argues that the standards they are violating are “unnecessarily conservative,” so the NRC simply loosens the standards.

Just last year, the NRC weakened the safety margin for acceptable radiation damage to nuclear reactor vessels — for the second time. Through public record requests to the NRC, the AP obtained photographs of badly rusted valves, holes eaten into the tops of reactor vessels, severe rust in pipes carrying essential water supplies, peeling walls, actively leaking water pipes and other problems found among the nation’s fleet of aging nuclear reactors.

Fukushima has been a wake up call about the dangers of nuclear power, and some countries are heeding the information. But it seems the U.S. is lagging behind when it comes to this issue. Light-to-absent coverage of TEPCO’s struggles to bring Fukushima under control, legislators who insist on acting favorably towards the nuclear power industry despite the deteriorated state of our current reactor fleet and an ineffective Nuclear Regulatory Commission have all contributed to a bad combination of a dangerous situation and a complacent American public on this issue.

This combination of lax regulations and questionable maintenance at US nuclear facilities is especially concerning with the flooding that two Nebraska nuclear plants are now facing from the swollen Missiouri River. 

Here in Texas, the first hearing to determine what issues would be addressed in the Sustaninable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition’s intervention in the re-licensing application of the South Texas Nuclear plant in Matagorda County happened Monday.  There are indications that the NRC is being more mindful that they appear more concerned with safety issues in the relicensing process, but we will see whether this is window dressing or if the agency is going to apply some lessons learned from Fukushima to our country’s relicensing process as this application moves forward.

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According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Japanese authorities are now admitting the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant in March may have been worse than a core meltdown.

IAEAIn an official report that will go to the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) set up in 1957, Japan now says nuclear fuel in three reactors possibly melted through several pressure vessels and into the earth below.  This type of event, called a melt-through, is the worst outcome in a nuclear accident.

GOSHI HOSONO, SPECIAL ADVISOR TO JAPANESE PM (Translation): At present there is damage to the bottom of the reactor container, we call this ‘core melting’ in English. Part of the nuclear fuel has fallen onto the dry earth floor and it’s possible that it’s still lodged there.

TETSURO FUKUYAMA, GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN (Translation): Hot spots were found, meaning there were certain spots with very high readings of radiation.

According to atomic experts, this is about as serious as it gets in a nuclear disaster. Dangerous levels of radioactive iodine and cesium have already contaminated the sea, the soil, groundwater, and the air.

This week plutonium was detected for the first time outside the stricken plant, and Strontium-90, known as a bone seeker because it can cause bone cancer and leukemia, has now been found as far away as 37 miles from the facility.

In a draft report to the IAEA, Japan admitted that it wasn’t prepared for the Fukushima meltdown.  Further, it also acknowledged that its nuclear regulator was run by a ministry, which has been the chief promoter of nuclear energy for decades (sound like another nuclear regulatory agency that we know closer to home?).

In an NRC memo issued on Thursday – Subject:  NRC MONITORED ALERT, FLOODING (and a FIRE!!!!) AT FORT CALHOUN NUCLEAR STATION (the portion in red are mine, the rest is the NRC’s memo).

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Tuesday monitored conditions at the Fort Calhoun Station, located 19 miles north of Omaha, Neb. The plant, operated by Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), declared an Alert at 9:40 a.m. CDT.

The Alert was declared due to an indication of fire in the west switchgear room at 9:30 a.m. Automated fire suppression systems activated as expected and the fire was confirmed out at 10:20 a.m. OPPD exited the alert at 1:15 p.m. An “Alert” is the second lowest of four emergency classes. OPPD briefly activated its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and the Joint Information Center (JIC).

For the duration of the event the NRC monitored developments from its incident response center at its Region IV office in Arlington, Texas, and received updates from the onsite NRC Inspectors. OPPD notified the states of Nebraska and Iowa.

There was no danger to the public of a radiation release because the plant has been shut down since early April for a refueling outage and remains in that condition (much like the Fukushima Dai-ichi units 4, 5, and 6). Although the plant briefly lost its normal ability to cool the spent fuel pool, temperatures in the pool remained at safe levels and the plant recovered pool cooling without the need for any of the plant’s multiple backup systems.

The licensee previously entered a Notice of Unusual Event due to the rising level of the Missouri River and some onsite flooding on June 6. Since that time, NRC has provided round the clock staffing with its Resident Inspectors and they will continue to remain on site and monitor the situation during the flood conditions.

Just last month, two US nuclear plants went into emergency shut down due to outside power loss and a fire in a switchyard adjacent to the plant when tornados tore through the Southeast.  Neither of these two plants were hit directly by a tornado, which would have made containment of the situation much more difficult.  But, scarely.one was discovered, just three months prior to the tornados, to have had issues for as long as nine months with their backup coolant system, which would have made the incident following the tornado much more dire. 

The disaster in Japan has forced numerous countries to re-evaluate the safety of their nuclear fleet of power plants and their ability to respond to safety incidents compounded by natural disasters that make containment more difficult.  Switzerland and Germany have made the decision to pursue other renewable energy sources and to phase out their nuclear units as their licenses come to their end. 

As the US looks at three incidents, in three months associated with natural disasters

  • unusual flooding,
  • what is amounting to one of the most prolific and deadly tornado seasons this country has seen in decades, and
  • a hurricane season that has just come upon us and is predicted to be an above average Atlantic hurricane season according to the most recent forecasts by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project (CSUTMP).

In the words of Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya punk?”

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The Senate Energy Committee is scheduled to consider today–May 26, 2011–a bill establishing a new “clean energy” bank called the Clean Energy Development Administration (CEDA).

Unfortunately, this “clean energy” bank is anything but a source for funding genuinely clean energy. In fact, both new nuclear reactors and certain coal projects would be eligible for unlimited taxpayer backed loans if this bank were to be realized.

Take action now: tell your Senators to reject CEDA unless nuclear power and coal are removed.

Please act quickly and tell your Senators–especially if they are on the Energy Committee (members listed below)–to reject CEDA as currently written. There is nothing “clean” about nuclear power and they have a 50% default rate on financing for new plants.  A glance at any photo of Fukushima should make it clear that “clean” can no longer be considered a way to describe nuclear power. Unless nuclear power and dirty coal are taken out of the CEDA program, it should be defeated.

If one of your Senators is on the Energy Committee (members listed below), please also call him/her today and urge him/her to reject CEDA unless nuclear and coal are removed from the program. Senate switchboard: 202-224-3121.

Senate Energy Committee
Chairman Jeff Bingaman (NM)
Ron Wyden (OR)
Tim Johnson (SD)
Mary L. Landrieu (LA)
Maria Cantwell (WA)
Bernard Sanders (I) (VT)
Debbie Stabenow (MI)
Mark Udall (CO)
Jeanne Shaheen (NH)
Al Franken (MN)
Joe Manchin (WV)
Christopher A. Coons (DE)
Lisa Murkowski (AK)
John Barrasso (WY)
James E. Risch (ID)
Mike Lee (UT)
Rand Paul (KY)
Daniel Coats (IN)
Rob Portman (OH)
John Hoeven (ND)
Dean Heller (NV)
Bob Corker (TN)

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