The Fairewinds Crew is excited to announce the nomination of Fairewinds Energy Education for the international Design to Improve Life Award ! We are humbled and honored to have been spotted for nomination in the Community and Safety category.
By allowing nuclear energy corporations to raid nuclear plant decommissioning funds, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is granting an unreviewed and unregulated subsidy to the nuclear industry. Hosted by Chris Williams of Citizens Action Network, Fairewinds Energy Education’s Arnie Gundersen details how Decommissioning Stakeholders’ Fund-amental Rights are being trampled. This public meeting focuses on Entergy’s Vermont Yankee decommissioning and its threats to run roughshod over Vermonters. Vermont Yankee is one of the six nuclear power plants currently beginning the decommissioning process. This is a serious issue for all areas of the country since 8 or 10 additional nuclear plants are also considering decommissioning due to the cost of safety modifications as well as deteriorating equipment conditions that negatively impact safe plant operation.
Vermont Digger’s John Herrick claims that Vermont is probably the first state to challenge a plant owner’s request for money from a trust fund to pay for spent fuel management. Herrick’s exposé discusses the ensuing battle between the State of Vermont and utility owner Entergy regarding the use of shutdown Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning fund.
Last Friday, the State of Vermont submitted a request to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requesting a hearing to review Entergy’s decommissioning plans in an effort to block Entergy’s moves to dip into the decommissioning fund long before decommissioning even begins. Entergy has publicized its intention to postpone decommissioning of Vermont Yankee (VY) until the decommissioning trust fund has grown enough to cover the estimated $1.2 billion full cost of decommissioning. Taking money out now, will leave the fund with less monies available to begin VY’s decommission. Additionally, Entergy has also made it clear that once the federally required 60-years has passed, they will no longer accept financial responsibility for decommissioning the plant, instead leaving its carcass for Vermonters to clean up.
“By the state taking its actions and causing us to litigate, you know to defend the litigation, that is a decommissioning expense…The monies for decommissioning come out of the nuclear decommissioning trust fund,” Entergy spokesman Marty Cohn claimed.
Herrick said that Vermont’s proceedings will set precedence for other states as nuclear plants come up for decommissioning during the next 10 – 20 years. By agreement with Entergy, Vermont ratepayers are entitled to 55 percent of any remaining money in the fund after decommissioning. It should be noted that Entergy has never made a payment into the fund.
Fairewinds Energy Education’s Arnie Gundersen, nuclear engineer and safety advocate, points out that there is no basis in physics for Entergy’s postponed started date. According to Herrick, Gundersen said, “It allows the utilities free rein to raid the fund rather than rapidly decommission the plant.”
With entitlement to 55 percent of what remains, Vermonters have a seat at the table and can file comments with the NRC until March 23.
|The NRC is accepting comments from the public on the Vermont Yankee Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report. The comment period will be open through March 23, 2015. Written comments can be submitted to: Cindy Bladey, Office of Administration, Mail Stop: 3WFN-06-A44M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C. 20555-0001, and via www.regulations.gov, using Docket No. 50-271.
If you haven't checked it out yet, we invite you to watch the Fukushima Meltdown 4-Years Later special edition video by the Fairewinds Crew:
Four years have passed since the tragic triple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants, and the hits keep on coming as massive amounts of radioactively contaminated water continue to flow into the Pacific Ocean and no solution exists for safely containing the ongoing accumulation of radioactive debris contaminating the prefecture. Created in two parts, Fairewinds Energy Education presents you with a 5-minute retrospective followed by a 25-minute in-depth reflection on the Fukushima Meltdown 4 Years Later.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
By Sue Prent
When it comes to storage of spent nuclear fuel, the countries choosing to operate nuclear power plants are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
More than 50 years after the civilian population was persuaded to accept nuclear energy as a safe way to power modern living and commerce, nuclear scientists throughout the world have been unable to uncover a viable technological solution to the escalating problem of lethal nuclear waste.
According to a 2012 Congressional report, 67,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel is being “managed’ on-site at 77 different U.S. reactors. And with no solution in sight, another 2,000 metric tons is currently being added every year.
While the fission process inside a nuclear reactor releases the radioactive potential of the uranium pellets in the fuel, what goes into the reactor comes out as a lethal cocktail of radioactive rubble millions of times more radioactive than the original fuel. Here we are generating the most lethal material on earth and blithely creating it by the metric ton simply to run our air conditioners and heat our swimming pools and Jacuzzi’s.
There is no magic process by which we can make this mountain of highly radioactive waste simply disappear. The nuclear industry and government have failed to create a permanent waste repository. The government’s plan had been to bury this highly toxic nuclear waste very deep within the earth, but those plans came to a standstill due to hazards created by seismic instability, the real potential for radioactive contamination of precious aquifers, and significant citizen opposition.
So now, we are left with only two choices: allow the highly toxic spent fuel to remain indefinitely in the unshielded and overloaded spent fuel pools, or remove the partially cooled fuel as soon as it is cool enough to move and place it into onsite dry cask storage.
Do we really have much of a choice?
Even though the nuclear chain reaction is finished, the radioactive waste and rubble left behind remains hot. Preventing a nuclear meltdown in a spent fuel pool depends entirely on successfully maintaining the spent fuel pool-cooling bath of water, 24-7, for as long as the fuel remains in the pool. Under arbitrary NRC approvals that have saved the energy companies millions of dollars, spent fuel has already remained in pools for many, many decades so that the pools now hold more fuel than they were designed to hold. These jammed past capacity fuel pools create a number of possible scenarios, including operator error, mechanical failure, terrorist action and a host of outside forces that could compromise the ability of the spent fuel pool to keep the fuel cool thereby creating a fuel pool fire or meltdown I mentioned earlier.
For instance, at the Dresden Unit 1 reactor in Illinois, pipes froze and broke in the abandoned plant and drained the spent fuel pool of 60,000 gallons of precious cooling water. Over in Michigan, an errant raccoon once caused loss of power to the cooling pumps at the Fermi reactor. The likelihood of such wildlife misadventures increases substantially once a stand-alone reactor has been retired but left in the SAFSTOR mode as proposed for the Vermont Yankee plant. [Think grammar school English for pronunciation and read SAFSTOR like Sapstor, not the NRC nukespeak moniker that tries to make a 60-year sitting carcass appear safe.]
Some reactors, and again, Vermont Yankee is one of those, have their spent fuel pool positioned above the ground – five stories above –, leaving them at particularly high risk as targets for an airborne terrorist attack.
What then is the alternative?
Disturbingly, in the absence of any real possibility for entombment deep in the earth’s rocky substrata, dry cask storage has emerged as the only remaining solution. While it removes the necessity of perpetually keeping the spent fuel water-cooled, it comes with its own set of alarming problems.
There are many components to a dry cask storage system, any one of which has unique potential for errors or defects.
- The integrity of cask materials and their design and construction are a troublesome issue.
- Quality control can suffer under the pressure of tight work deadlines and cost constraints.
- Fleet buys that save corporations money may mean that a lesser quality cask or one not entirely appropriate for the storage site is used rather than one designed to protect the surrounding community.
The strength of concrete very much depends on high quality components and achieving a perfect chemical balance in the slurry; and some casks have been discovered as defective in that department. If the defects are only discovered after the fuel loading has begun, it is not a simple matter to reverse the loading process and return the fuel to the spent fuel pool. Doing so introduces a number of new risks of radiation releases and toxic contamination of the surrounding communities.
As for the long-term viability of concrete casks, the nuclear reactor containment systems themselves are showing early signs of concrete degradation due to an area’s salt, mineral, or moisture content. And the question remains as to what consequences may result from undetected concrete failure in loaded casks.
There have already been occasions when serious design flaws in the casks have only been discovered during loading; once rather spectacularly when a chemical explosion occurred inside the cask. Other mishaps have involved loose bolts, faulty o-rings, flaws in the neutron shielding material, cracked welds, etc.
Most recently at the Waste Isolation Storage Pilot Project in New Mexico, plutonium waste that had been properly packed for long-term storage and according to existing protocols, was discovered to haveexploded into the storage environment. When the protocols were reviewed to determine what might have caused the explosion, the most likely culprit was a change in the type of kitty litter that had been used as an absorbent.
It is thought that this kitty litter change may have triggered a chemical reaction that “blew” the seal on a canister sitting in storage.
Mistakes do happen, and they seem to happen more frequently in this aging industry that still, after 60-years, has no viable or workable long-term waste storage technology at hand.
Even the weight of the casks that runs to more than 100 tons each when fully loaded, represents a hazard; particularly in the case of reactors that have their spent fuel pools located five stories above the ground, as is the case at Vermont Yankee.
The loading process for retrieving the fuel from the spent fuel pool and securing it in the dry cask necessarily involves lowering the cask into the pool and then raising it out again once it has been fully loaded, drained and welded shut. The work must be done in the presence of all the other exposed fuel assemblies, so it is rife with hazards.
A slip of the loading gear, due to operator error or mechanical failure, could cause the cask to suddenly drop, sending all that weight crashing through the fuel pool with tremendous force, damaging fuel assemblies, destroying equipment, and breaching the water-tight containment. The result would most certainly be massive radiation release, with or without accompanying explosion and fire. The brake on the crane at Vermont Yankee failed several years ago… luckily the cask did not crash and damage other fuel or the pool itself. These aforementioned hazards are real, not made up.
The casks themselves have a limited life expectancy. If they cannot be consigned to deep earth entombment within the design life of the component parts, the spent fuel rods must be moved into new dry cask containers, which would involve a number of new risks for which no procedures or protocols exist.
Cask storage would represent more of an obstacle to terrorist exploitation than would storage in a spent fuel pool. However, if the goal was contamination rather than theft, even the strongest casks could be breached with high velocity armor piercing 50 caliber shells available on the Internet.
When you read that the NRC has determined that onsite cask storage is a safe method of spent fuel management, it must be understood that this is more of an actuarial judgment than an absolute scientific or engineering fact.
The NRC has simply weighed what it believes is the relatively small likelihood that a cask might be breached, or that a radiation release will occur due to an industrial accident or structural flaw, against the harsh reality that there truly is no other alternative for the hundreds of thousands of tons of spent fuel that the energy corporations have already accumulated.
We the people are powerless to change that bitter truth, but we have it within our power to draw a line under nuclear hubris, and promise our great-grandchildren that we will add no more to their toxic legacy.
– Book of the Month
Too Hot To Touch: The Problem of High-Level Nuclear Waste by William M. Alley and Rosemarie Alley
Written by Dr. William and Rosemarie Alley, a husband and wife team, Too Hot To Touch: The Problem of High-Level Nuclear Waste confronts the controversies and critical issues surrounding nuclear waste management in the United States with references to the problem on an international scale. Dr. Alley is a leading expert in the field of hydrogeology, who served as Chief of the Office of Groundwater for the United States Geological Survey for almost two decades. Dr. Alley’s duties with USGS included the oversight of the Yucca Mountain federal nuclear waste project from 2002- 2010. Nuclear waste management in the United States remains a hot topic with no long-term solution in sight since the Yucca Mountain project was shut down for not being a geologically sound nuclear waste containment site.
This easy to read book guides one through the history of nuclear waste disposal from the early days of atomic bombs, through the testing of low radioactive releases on the ocean floor, to the present not-in-my-backyard communities fighting to protect themselves from becoming nuclear garbage dumps. Too Hot To Touch will appeal to the geologist, nuclear scientist, and technologist wanting to learn from history as they face the difficult task of implementing a safe solution to this highly politically and socially charged technical problem of toxic leftovers.
Fallout: An American Nuclear Tragedy by Phillip L. Franklin
The lingering effects of radiation are severe and devastating for the victims exposed to the radioactive substances released during a nuclear meltdown like the one at Fukushima Daiichi. The consequences of exposure are well known by the nuclear industry and include various life threatening cancers and DNA mutations. Fallout: An American Nuclear Tragedy is a harrowing story of nuclear testing in Nevada in the 1950s and 1960s, and the subsequent health effects of the unknowing innocents affected downwind in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author Phillip Franklin attended the 1982 trial from which these stories of cancer victims and their survivors were uncovered. This book is particularly relevant with the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi where radioactive particles spread far and wide, creating an expansive fallout umbrella.
Starting in 2010, the Union of Concerned Scientists began a series of yearly exposés pointing out that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) was holding “special inspections” to investigate events and conditions that increased the chance of damage to the reactor core by a factor of ten or more. The 5th annual UCS report also analyzes safety trends during the past five years. The good news in the report appears to be that the number and severity of incidents leading to a special inspection have been steadily declining since 2010 with 15 in 2009 (covered in the 2010 report) and 9 last year (covered in this year’s).
UCS report author Dave Lochbaum said, “The fact that the number of significant safety lapses is slowly dropping is encouraging. The longer this trend continues, the more likely it represents actual improvement and not luck.”
However, the bad news in the report finds unnecessary withholding of non-sensitive safety data, tolerated inconsistent reporting methods from field offices, and unfair punishment of whistleblowers who raise safety concerns.
Withholding of safety data including nuclear plant owners’ requests for revisions to operating licenses and exemptions from safety regulations strips the public of their legal right to review and contest these requests. The report also reveals the ongoing NRC harassment of two staff whistleblowers: Lawrence S. Criscione and Michael Peck, both of whom have now been demoted and subjected to multiple investigations by the NRC’s inspector general. Criscione blew the whistle on inadequate flood protection at the Oconee plant in South Carolina, while Peck—an inspector at the Diablo Canyon plant in California—objected to an NRC report that downplayed the seismic risks at his facility. The report offers a host of recommendations for the NRC. For example, it proposes that the NRC should require nuclear plant owners to formally evaluate why their routine testing and inspection evaluations fail to discover longstanding problems.
On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Japan for her first visit since the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi in 2011. The Chancellor arrived ahead of schedule to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in preparation for this summer’s G-7 summit. "In light of the lessons in the experience of Fukushima," Merkel told the national broadcaster NHK ahead of her journey, "we would like for Japan to undertake the same road as Germany." Usually investment in renewable energy is the hot item on Merkel’s agenda, but for this trip, nuclear is top on the list. Germany is aiming to shut down all of its nuclear reactors by 2022. Japan’s 48 reactors have been offline since the 2011 nuclear disaster, but Japanese leaders are steadily pushing for reactivation even though more than 70% of Japanese citizens are on record against the restarts.
The Environment Ministry of Japan has signed a contract with 2,500 local residents from Okuma and Futaba displaced by the disaster to purchase their land within the Fukushima prefecture for the interim storage of nuclear waste from the ongoing meltdown of the nuclear plant Fukushima Daiichi.
Is a nuclear phase out in Japan really possible? According to Aileen Mioko Smith, Executive Director of Green Action- Japan, the answer is yes. Ms. Mioko Smith made a highly informative, very accessible power point presentation to the Wuppertal Institute in Germany providing ample pictures and facts supporting the need, the desire, and the how-to of a nuclear phase out in Japan. Citing respected sources, Ms. Mioko Smith proved the necessity of a nuclear power phase out for Japan, how it is in the public’s best interest, and why opposition is unfathomable. While many Japanese leaders, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have been pushing for the reactivation of Japan’s nuclear reactors shut down since the Fukushima Daiichi triple meltdown in 2011, more than 70% of the public wants no more nuclear power. Additionally, since the Fukushima Daiichi tragedy began, all five previous prime ministers are active advocates for the final shutdown of Japan’s nuclear power industry, even though each one originally supported nuclear power.
Fairewinds in the News:
“Why have the nuclear industry, its regulators and governments worldwide attempted to minimize the devastation created by the obvious collapse of the myth of nuclear safety?” This is the question that Fairewinds’ Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen posed to readers of TruthOut and The Ecologist in a powerful Op-Ed retrospective of the ongoing nuclear tragedy at Fukushima Daiichi now in its fourth year and completely unresolved by the nuclear industry that caused it. Poignant and to the point, Arnie shares the provided obvious answer is money; the focus on protecting investments made by the nuclear industry and world wide regulatory agencies has trumped the safety and protection of the people nuclear power was created to serve. The tragic triple meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi are an ongoing reminder of the catastrophic global impact of nuclear industry’s “one bad day”.
Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Energy Education took a trip this week across the pond to jolly ol’ England to speak at the House of Commons and various other events, one of which caused quite a stir when it was forced to relocate from its original venue at a local school to a local hotel. The Keswick School, a public institution by United States standards, agreed to host the meeting in question until Head Teacher Simon Jackson revoked hospitality on the day of the event. Keswick School’s location is very near to Sellafield a nuclear reprocessing site and nuclear power and waste were part of the discussion. On the grounds of disturbing the local community, Head Teacher Jackson refused to host Radiation Free Lakeland’s scheduled public discussion about a new nuclear power plant proposed for the area. Jackson admitted that there are many families employed by the nuclear processing site with children attending Keswick School. Radiation and Health expert and fellow speaker Dr. Ian Fairlie of London submitted a letter to Jackson with his concerns as to Jackson’s decision as an educator to “ban” a “friendly, informative meeting.”
To commemorate the ongoing tragedy that began at Fukushima Daiichi four years ago, Margaret Prescod, host of the Sojourner Truth radio show interviewed Fairewinds Energy Education’s board member Chiho Kaneko. Margaret asked Chiho, who recently returned from a visit to Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture, to update listeners of the west coast based radio show about what is going on in the battered Fukushima prefecture. Margaret asked Chiho how the Japanese government is handling the displacement of thousands of families, the contamination of an entire prefecture, intensive nuclear waste management, and the Japanese government’s push to restart the 48 remaining idled nuclear reactors. Identifying concerns and frustrations with both the local and national governments of Japan, Chiho’s response combines knowledge and heart giving voice to the dislocated victims of Fukushima.
Chiho Kaneko was also featured in a quick video on Real News covering broader questions about the devastating meltdown at Fukushima four years later.
Additionally, the radio show Project Censored covered the tragedy at Fukushima Daiichi four years later in a program with guests Attorney Charles Bonner, Cindy Folkers of Beyond Nuclear, and Fairewinds’ Arnie Gundersen. Attorney Bonner provides an update about the lawsuit in which US Navy sailors are seeking compensation for the debilitating injuries and illnesses incurred from radiation exposure to radiation from Fukushima Daiichi’s triple meltdown. These US Navy sailors were serving aboard the United States Ship Reagan, providing relief and aid in the disaster zone following the tsunami and nuclear tragedy. Cindy Folkers covers the expansive reach of radioactive particles released during and after the triple meltdown began on March 11, 2011, and Arnie speaks to the overall history of nuclear power’s safety risks.