Funded by a Lintilhac Foundation Grant, Fairewinds Energy Education has evaluated Entergy’s plan to use the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) sanctioned SAFSTOR process to decommission Vermont Yankee. The full commissioned report filed with the NRC on March 23, 2015 can be found on our site along with a video of Arnie's testimony at the NRC hearing in Brattleboro February 19, 2015.
Developed by the NRC, SAFSTOR is a subsidy that benefits nuclear power plant owners like Entergy by providing them with a 60-year window to decommission nuclear plants. Entergy’s Vermont Yankee plant permanently ended operations December 29, 2014. Since its shutdown date, Vermont Yankee has continued to be newsworthy with the recent discovery of Strontium-90 leaks in at least four different test wells on the nuclear plant site. Stronitum-90 readily attaches itself to water, is extremely toxic, and has a direct link to leukemia and a host of other cancers.
The decommissioning and dismantlement of Vermont Yankee cannot wait. Letting SAFSTOR leave the carcass of Vermont Yankee on the banks of the Connecticut River for 60 years is not the answer for Vermonters. The money exists for Entergy to protect workers and to completely clean up its toxic mess by 2032.
"Beware the ides of March..." Even thus forewarned, Shakespeare’s warrior emperor, Julius Caesar, dies by the sword as he lived by it. The lesson lost on him, in a later Shakespeare play, Caesar's protégé Marc Antony is delivered by his own political vanity to a similar untimely demise.
March has been a most unlucky month for the nuclear energy industry and its regulators, just as it was for the hapless Antony. The nuclear power industry has proven to be similarly resistant to learning its own lessons from five nuclear meltdowns that have occurred in 35 years, with four of those meltdowns occurring in the month of March.
If the focus following the March 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island (TMI) had been on public safety rather than 'damage control', it could be argued that the March 2011 triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi might never have been allowed to happen.
Neither of these catastrophes could truly be termed an 'accident'. Both resulted from a confluence of neglected design flaws, avoidable failures and decisions made to protect the bottom line.
At TMI, rather than ordering evacuation of their near neighbors as a precaution, utility management rationalized away early morning indications that something had gone terribly wrong and continued to do so as the situation steadily worsened throughout the remainder of the day.
They waited 48-hours, by which time those in the path of the radiation plume had already received the highest doses, before evacuating women and children.
Apparently, it was considered more important to avoid alarming the public than it was to offer them the simple protection that timely evacuation would have provided.
What followed is a well-documented conspiracy by the powers-that-be to obscure data on actual radiation releases, discredit honest assessments, and suppress injury claims.
Within the nuclear enclave, the only lessons learned from TMI are on how better to cook the books.
Further enabled by a captive regulatory system, the industry gave radiation releases a benign makeover for public consumption. At the same time, reactor owner/operators enjoyed the added benefit of being able to legally uprate their systems (increase power output without upgrading the plants) for greater profit, based on manipulated reports regarding radiation releases from TMI.
It was a win-win for all the stakeholders, except for the people of Three Mile Island and for taxpayers who continue to indemnify the industry against the exceptional risks involved when nuclear generation goes awry.
We must not forget another March landmark of nuclear industry failure, the 40th anniversary of the devastating fire at Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant in Alabama. As Beyond Nuclear points out, even though that terrible fire shut-down Browns Ferry for over twenty years, when it was once again brought on line in May 2007, none of the hard-won fire prevention measures that had resulted for the industry from lessons learned at Browns Ferry were actually implemented there.
So here we are commemorating 36 years since the TMI meltdown on March 28, having just passed observation of the March 11 tragedy at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site, an even more horrific calamity, where public safety once more lost out in the conspiracy to protect government and industry interests.
In Japan as at TMI, the very authorities who have been entrusted with the public’s safe-keeping are suppressing information and manipulating data in order to serve the corporate and political interests of their handlers.
Just as happened in the aftermath of TMI, efforts to collect accurate data on radiation exposures from the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe have been deliberately subverted, and there is a concerted effort to change the subject.
TMI was once the measure against which any nuclear disaster might be compared for magnitude. Then came Chernobyl to claim the yardstick; followed by Fukushima Daiichi, which still boasts the title of “worst ever.”
If the denial culture that shields the nuclear industry refuses to change, one can’t help but wonder how long it will be until the next one.
We'll be putting out more material on the tragedy at Three Mile Island but until then, if you haven't checked out our latest coverage of the TMI meltdown please check out :
Three Mile Island: Writing the Nuclear Accident Playbook
By Arnie Gundersen
People today who are familiar with social media think that TMI means “Too Much Information”. But to me, and anyone listening to the news in 1979, TMI will always represent the disaster at Three Mile Island, when the public received too little information, not too much.
At the time of the nuclear disaster at TMI, there were plans to build more than 200 nuclear plants in the US, with some projections topping 1,000. Today, less than 100 nuclear plants are operating in the US. During the 1970’s, the total amount invested in those early plants easily exceeded one trillion dollars. If the public became fearful of nuclear power, then the nuclear industry, investors, and banks that had loaned money would face huge losses, so the nuclear industry and nuclear regulators tried desperately to minimize the significance of what was happening at the crippled reactor.
The pattern of denial created by the nuclear industry during the TMI meltdown had at least five steps in its playbook:
- Make it appear that “authorities” have the situation under control.
- Delay any evacuation orders for as long as possible.
- Claim radiation releases are much lower than they actually are.
- Claim radiation exposures are acceptable and that no one will die.
- And lastly, minimize conflicting information given to the press through paid off experts.
The formula for damage control at TMI was designed by the nuclear industry composed a one size fits all “playbook” the industry has followed for all nuclear catastrophes since TMI. Comments made during the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi by utility owner Tokyo Electric could easily mimic those made at Chernobyl and TMI! When Maggie and I saw these old tricks being played again at Fukushima Daiichi, we dedicated ourselves to ensuring that the public has an accessible resource on which to rely that provides accurate information, and thus the Fairewinds videos were born.
In this video posted to commemorate the TMI disaster, I discuss the pattern of denial regarding nuclear power plant failures and meltdowns, not just for TMI but also for Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi as well. We at Fairewinds Energy Education hope you will watch it and think about sharing the true facts with others.
Special Edition Book of the Month:
Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer by Helen Caldicott
Review by Caroline Phillips, Fairewinds Administrator
A trained physician with four decades of anti-nuclear activism under her belt, Dr. Helen Caldicott is well versed and knowledgeable when it comes to the costs and consequences of nuclear power. In her book titled, Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer, Dr. Caldicott discusses the nuclear industry and the government’s failure to respond correctly in the face of nuclear tragedy as first demonstrated in the meltdown at Three Mile Island (TMI) that began March 28, 1979.
Dr. Caldicott quotes an admission at the time of the TMI disaster by Joseph Hendrie, former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), “ We are operating almost totally in the blind, [Governor Thornburgh’s] information is ambiguous, mine is nonexistent and - I don’t know- it’s like a couple of blind men staggering around making decisions (p. 67).”
Read more here.
Vermont Yankee Nuclear News:
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has focused on Vermont Yankee’s questionable expenses including Entergy’s intention to use decommissioning fund money on VY property taxes, Entergy’s membership dues in the Nuclear Energy Institute, insurance, security staffing costs, and shipping non radioactive asbestos waste.
In Fairewinds latest analysis funded by the Lintilhac Foundation, we provide detailed evidence that SAFSTOR is an industry subsidy developed by the NRC and use of the decommissioning fund for Independent Spent Fuel Storage is illegal. Entergy has made it clear that they will not begin decommissioning of Vermont Yankee until the fund reaches the $1.2 billion needed to cover not only the full decommissioning cost but also spent fuel storage. Obviously, taking money out of this fund before decommissioning begins stunts the fund’s growth and prolongs the decommissioning start date. Chief Engineer of Fairewinds Energy Education addressed the issue that Entergy’s relaxed start date and SAFSTOR’s 60-year deadline has no basis in physics to the NRC at their public meeting in Brattleboro last month. Entergy has also announced it refuses to accept financial responsibility after the 60-year period SAFSTOR is completed.
Even Entergy admits that there is no basis in law to allow it to tap the decommissioning fund to pay for independent spent fuel storage. In Vermont we tap maple trees, not the decommissioning fund says Fairewinds.