TMI Update: Jan 14, 2024

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The Union of Concerned Scientists,
Beyond Nuclear,


Public officials, watchdogs seek investigation after NRC ignores fire experts’ warnings about risks at operating plants; modeling failure impacts new reactors too

DURHAM, NC – Officials from five local governments near the Shearon Harris nuclear plant, and three watchdog groups, asked for a federal investigation into possible wrongdoing by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission involving the top safety issue at the nation’s reactors.  They say the NRC is ignoring its own safety regulations – and criticisms by numerous fire science experts – while attempting to bring scores of nuclear plants into compliance after over two decades of regulatory failure.

Beyond Nuclear, NC WARN and The Union of Concerned Scientists today filed a legal motion with the NRC’s Office of Inspector General.  They urged the OIG to issue an expedited “show cause” order directing NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko to explain why his agency has allowed pilot programs by Progress Energy and Duke Energy to use risk calculations that failed, under required testing, to predict the ignition and spread of electrical fires.  The NRC is scheduled to grant license amendments to the Harris and Oconee nuclear plants very soon, which would bless them as finally achieving compliance.

The risk calculations, or fire “modeling,” are the scientific basis for a new regulatory plan intended to end years of controversy over the NRC's lack of enforcement.  The watchdog groups today sent the OIG extensive evidence that two international fire science panels, an industry trade association, a national testing lab and the NRC itself have found serious limitations that essentially render the models unreliable for safety decision-making.

"It looks more like smoke and mirrors than real fire safety," said David Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, during a press teleconference today.  He said the NRC seems so focused on scheduling that they’re willing to ignore key safety issues. "The NRC received very critical comments from independent fire scientists, but rather than fixing those serious problems, the agency essentially ignored them in order to approve the pilot projects and move ahead with new plants. The NRC is letting the U.S. public down."

Fire is ranked by the NRC as the leading safety factor – 50 percent of overall risk – for a U.S. reactor meltdown.  Current regulations were developed in 1980 following a near-disaster caused by fire at the Browns Ferry plant in Alabama.  But most plant owners have never met those regulations, so the NRC recently allowed them to attempt compliance with the fire modeling scheme.

The watchdogs say the NRC is ignoring the modeling problems apparently in order to provide the illusion that fire safety problems are resolved.  The new “risk-informed” regulatory plan is optional for all existing plants and for new ones that might be built.  Electric cables are of particular concern because they, themselves, are leading fire hazards, and because they are essential so operators can shut down and cool the reactor following an accident or sabotage.  The groups also say the new risk-based fire strategy is fundamentally flawed because it explicitly ignores security threats.
“No one can accurately predict the level of fire risk derived from an attack on a nuclear power plant,” said Paul Gunter, Director of Reactor Oversight Project for the Takoma Park, Maryland based anti-nuclear group, Beyond Nuclear.  “There is no reliable way to evaluate fire risks from sabotage because of the lack of data, the limited range of scenarios considered, and large uncertainties about human performance,” he said. “This is why we continue to call for stringent enforcement of physical fire protection features as included in the long-standing regulations.”

Gunter and NC WARN director Jim Warren met privately with NRC Chairman Jaczko in March.  But the agency head dismissed the firmly worded concerns of the fire science experts.  He also would not explain why NRC has directed the pilot plants to use fire models that have not been “verified and validated” as required by regulations.  Nor would he explain why the agency intends to grant license amendments even though the NRC has begun a three-year retesting of fire models that failed in earlier laboratory experiments.

Mayor Randy Voller of Pittsboro, a Harris plant neighbor, explained why he wants the OIG investigation:  “Local officials must speak out for public protection by looking forward – instead of reacting after disasters.  The Gulf oil tragedy shows how catastrophe can strike even after assurances that industrial operations are perfectly safe – and it’s showing the intensity of consequences when such assurances prove wrong.”

The mayor, along with representatives from governing bodies in Chatham County, Orange County and the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, sent a letter requesting the OIG investigation.  They also have asked U.S. Rep. David Price to urge NRC Chairman Jaczko to resolve the controversy before issuing any license amendments.

Price, whose district includes the Harris plant, was instrumental in gaining earlier investigations of the fire protection saga by the OIG and the U.S. Government Accountability Office.  In 2008 both agencies confirmed the complaints by these same nuclear watchdogs, reporting extensive shortcomings with NRC enforcement stretching back two decades.  The OIG and Congress have authority to seek prosecution if any individual causes the neglect of regulations designed to protect public safety.  The watchdog groups also plan to ask an NRC science panel, the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, to directly investigate the fire modeling issue.

Progress Energy reports having spent over $10 million on upgrades and studies for the new regulatory program.  The groups said the Raleigh-based power giant delayed compliance with the existing regulations year after year because that would have cost much more.

Jim Warren, director of NC WARN, pointed to President Obama’s recent admonishment that coal mine safety regulations “are riddled with loopholes.”  Warren called on Obama to apply the same standard to the NRC: “The nuclear industry has been gaming the NRC for decades because of persistent pressure to cut costs.  If the Obama NRC allows this travesty to continue, the U.S. could see more catastrophes that should have been prevented.”  


From WKSU:

Akron-based FirstEnergy hopes it has identified the last of its nozzle troubles at its Davis Besse nuclear power plant. But WKSU's M.L. Schultze says it's still trying to figure out how those problems arose so soon.

The head of the reactor at FirstEnergy’s Davis Besse nuclear power plant has been operating for only about six years. Which is FirstEnergy was surprised in March when it discovered cracks in some of the nozzles that penetrate that the reactor head , and through which control rods are fed.

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The Nuclear Resister, Nukewatch and the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA) invite you to join us for a national gathering, culminating with nonviolent anti-nuclear direct action, July 3-5, 2010, to declare our independence from nuclear weapons and nuclear power. The gathering will be held at Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee (tentative), with protest and action at the Y-12 nuclear weapons complex in nearby Oak Ridge, where OREPA has sustained a nonviolent campaign for over 20 years.

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From EarthTimes:

It was front-page news across America this February when the Vermont Senate voted to shut down the troubled Vermont Yankee reactor in 2012.  But what most Americans don't know is that the nuclear industry also lost all of its seven other major state legislative pushes this year  going 0-8 and putting yet another nail in the coffin of the myth of the "nuclear renaissance" in the United States, according to an analysis by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS).

Even as some in Congress would lavish tens of billions of dollars ? and even unlimited ? loan guarantees on the embattled nuclear power industry, state lawmakers in Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Vermont and West Virginia and Wisconsin said a firm "no" this year to more nuclear power.  The legislative issues ranged from attempts by nuclear industry lobbyists to overturn bans on new reactors to "construction work in progress" (CWIP) assessments to pay for new reactors to reclassifying nuclear power as a "renewable resource."    

How bad is the nuclear power industry doing in state legislatures?  In 2009, the industry went 0-5 with reactor moratorium overturn efforts in Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, and West Virginia. Even after stepping up its on-the-ground efforts in 2010 with paid lobbyists and extensive public relations efforts in states like Wisconsin, the industry again came up with nothing.

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The Clean and Safe Energy Coaltion (CASEnergy) is a public relations campaign for new reactors launched in 2006, funded by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) industry group, and headed by former Bush Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christine Todd Whitman and former Greenpeace activist Patrick Moore (who left that group in 1986). CASEnergy was launched on April 24, 2006. On its website, the PR firm Hill & Knowlton boasted that the group is "a national grassroots organization that advocates the benefits of nuclear energy. The CASEnergy Coalition is a Hill & Knowlton campaign run out of the Washington, DC office."

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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Loyola University, Lakeshore Campus Chicago, IL

Workshops and Speakers on various aspects of the radioactive waste crisis

1:00 to 1:30pm – Introductory session (plenary)

Why Chicago? Why now? What the grassroots anti-nuclear movement needs to do to protect people and the environment from radioactive waste.

1:30 to 2:00 – Plenary on First Set of Workshop Topics: Parking Lot Dumps, Reprocessing, and HOSS (workshop leaders will present short summaries of their particular break out session, so participants can choose which workshop most interests them)

2:00 to 3:15 -- First Set of Workshops (break out sessions) 1. Reprocessing and plutonium policy

2. Hardened on-site Storage (HOSS) as opposed to current on-site outdoor dry cask and indoor pool storage

3. So-called commercial “low-level” waste generation, processing, storage, disposal, “recycling” and “release”

4. Radioactive waste transport Issues and away-from-reactor commercial high-level radioactive waste storage (centralized interim storage, monitored retrievable storage, or parking lot dumps)

3:15 to 3:45 Rest Break

3:45 to 4:15 – Plenary on Second Set of Workshop Topics: Yucca, WIPP, and Health (again, workshop leaders will present short summaries of their particular break out session, so participants can choose which workshop most interests them)

4:15 to 5:30 Second Set of Workshops (break out sessions) 1. Prevention is the best medicine: stopping new uranium mines and reactors 2. Yucca Mountain and other targeted repositories/disposal sites 3. Military waste sources and current policy challenges (WIPP and other DOE sites) 4. Radioactivity’s hazards to health, now and in the future

EVENING PROGRAM beginning at 7pm:

Keynote speaker(s) to be announced, as well as musical entertainment, including singer/songwriter Victor McManemy of Traverse City, Michigan.


Greetings fellow walkers and hosts,

The International Peace Walk for a Nuclear Free Future finally completed it's journey as we walked into New York City last Saturday, joining with the other three walks that had arrived and the thousands of others who were converging for the NPT Review Conference.  Receiving this letter means you touched the walk in some way, either as a walker, hosting us, bringing us food, or helping out in some other way; one way or the other your email got into our records.  We are so grateful for all the tremendous efforts everybody made as we passed through so many communities and met so many wonderful people.  You have inspired and energized us to keep working to end the nuclear madness that threatens us all.

We in Footprints for Peace hope we can all keep in touch.  The best way for you to find out what we are doing is to go to our website and sign up for our newsletter, and you can become a friend of Footprints for Peace on Facebook.  We are planning a couple of events this summer you might be interested in:

  • Run for Freedom, June 12 and 13 we will run for Leonard Peltier
  • Bikes Not Bombs, July 29 to August 6 we will bike from Portsmouth, OH to Oak Ridge, TN for the Names and Remembrance Ceremony on Hiroshima day at Y-12

There is information about both of these events on our website.  We also support and/or will participate in the following events:

  • Flower Festival at the Great Smoky Mountains Peace Pagoda, May 15 (
  • Mountain Justice Summer training camp, May 27 to June 6, on Pine Mountain, KY (
  • Resistance for a Nuclear Free Future, July 4th weekend, Maryville College and Y-12, Oak Ridge, TN (
  • Scotland International Peace Walk for a Nuclear Free Future, July 31 to August 29 (information on our website)

As we continue to replenish our souls in anticipation of a busy summer, we remember that the Women's Walk for Peace from Brisbane to Canberra in Australia is still going strong.  Information about that walk is also on our website. We send them our love and support.

in peace and solidarity,
Jon Blickenstaff
FootPrints for Peace




From CNN:

As oil began approaching the coast of the United States, environmental scientists said the effects of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico could have ecological and biological consequences for years, if not decades.

The intricate ecosystem is a major source of seafood for the United States and hundreds of species of animals and plants are at risk, experts said.

Some areas in the path of the slick are particularly sensitive to problems because unlike the rocky coast of Alaska hit by oil from the Exxon Valdez disaster, much of the coastline that will be hit by the BP spill consists of marshy areas where the water is calmer and more difficult to clean.

The marshes are in extreme danger, said a biologist with the University of Houston who studies coastal wetlands.

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