News

From The Hill:

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) is asking the Government Accountability Office to review the permitting process for nuclear plants as others in his party appear poised to offer lucrative incentives to revive the industry. Among his questions is whether the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has adequately weighed the risks earthquakes and severe weather may pose to nuclear power plants.

Markey, who co-sponsored climate change legislation that passed the House last June, notes that nuclear power generation, “has been offered by some as one answer to the escalating crisis of global warming as the operation of nuclear power plants results in lower carbon dioxide output than burring carbon-based fossil fuels.”

Markey has a number of concerns about nuclear power, despite its low emissions. A “catastrophic accident” poses a greater safety risk than “many orders of magnitude more severe than any other type of power plant,” the letter states.

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From the Guardian:

On February 16, while President Obama was in Maryland announcing an $8.3bn taxpayer-backed loan guarantee for Southern Company to build two new nuclear reactors in Georgia, inspectors at the Vermont Yankee reactor were finding dangerously high levels of tritium, a radioactive cancer-causing chemical, in the groundwater near the plant.

The next week, the Vermont state Senate voted overwhelmingly to shut down Vermont Yankee when its current license expires in 2012.

Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas (R) called the timing of the nuclear loan guarantee announcement and the Vermont Senate's decision "ironic." More than just some coincidence, though, the Vermont Yankee situation demonstrates that from the mining of uranium ore to the storage of radioactive waste, nuclear reactors remain as dirty, risky, and as costly as they ever were. If President Obama's recent enthusiasm for nuclear reactors has led you to believe otherwise, you've bought in to the administration's greenwashing of nuclear.

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From the Epoch Times:

The people of Georgia may soon be neighbors to the first two new U.S. nuclear plants approved in decades, thanks to billions in loan guarantees just proposed by the Obama administration. But discontent in state legislatures is signaling that those new nuclear plants may not be warmly welcomed in every neighborhood.

Around the country, a problem-plagued nuclear industry is being met by public mistrust. Just last month, the Vermont senate voted 26–4 to block a license extension for Vermont Yankee, the state’s only nuclear power plant, when it reaches the end of its original 40-year license in 2012.

Also in February, West Virginia defeated a bill to repeal that state’s ban on new nuclear construction. And in Arizona, a bill to classify nuclear power as renewable energy was withdrawn.

The source of distrust is a fleet of 104 nuclear plants that isn’t aging well. Vermont Yankee and its owner Entergy Corporation, for example, seemed a shoe-in for a 20-year license renewal in 2012 until one of the plant’s cooling towers collapsed. Then radioactive tritium was discovered leaking into local groundwater from buried pipes that cannot be inspected (after Entergy claimed under oath that no such pipes existed).

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From the Brattleboro Reformer:

In a letter to the Vermont Public Service Board, the Department of Public Service has alleged that Entergy is still not being totally forthcoming about the extent of underground and buried piping at Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.

A filing submitted by Entergy on Jan. 24 has not been "sufficiently responsive" to clear up "inaccurate representations" made last year to the DPS, the PSB, Nuclear Safety Associates, which conducted a reliability assessment of the plant, and the Public Oversight Panel, which was tasked with reviewing NSA's report, wrote Sarah Hofmann, DPS' director of public advocacy in the letter, which was co-signed by John Cotter, DPS' special counsel.

The Entergy filing "is based on a flawed and indefensible reading of (Act 189) and appears to be part of an effort on the part of (Entergy) to minimize the significance of the original inaccurate disclosures ..." she wrote.

The reliability assessment was mandated by Act 189, which was approved by the Vermont State Legislature.

After learning about the "inaccurate representations" made last year, the DPS demanded that Entergy supply details about all underground pipes and systems at the plant.

The problem with Entergy's response to the demand, wrote Hofmann and Cotter, is that it relied on Entergy's definition of underground pipes -- only those that are "in direct contact with soil or concrete."

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From the Rutland Herald:

Workers at Vermont Yankee looking for a source of a radioactive tritium leak continued to use a robot to investigate a dime-sized hole in a drainpipe in the reactor's advanced off-gas system.

Larry Smith, spokesman for Entergy Nuclear, said Monday that the hole was located in an elbow in a 1-1/2-inch pipe, and he said the company was investigating what caused the hole and whether to replace the elbow or patch it.

Smith also noted that preliminary planning was under way for groundwater and soil remediation.

The water coming from the hole is not reaching the environment, since it is in an underground pipe tunnel and the water goes into a drain, where it is eventually treated, Smith said.

Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave Entergy Nuclear a 5-1/2-month extension to finish work on required improvements to its security systems, which were supposed to be completed by March 31.

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Three Mile Island

NRC staff completed its performance review on Feb. 12, 2010, covering the fourth quarter and all of 2009. In a letter dated March 3, 2010, the NRC said Unit 1 “operated in a manner that preserved public health and safety and fully met all cornerstone objectives.”

Peach Bottom

NRC staff completed its performance review on Feb. 16, 2010, for the most recent quarter and all of 2009. In a letter dated March 3, 2010, the NRC said Units 2 and 3 “operated in a manner that preserved public health and safety and fully met all cornerstone objectives.”

The letter reviewed the confirmatory order of Dec. 1, 2009, to plant owner Exelon regarding two workers, one a licensed reactor operator who failed to report a driving under the influence arrest and the other a maintenance supervisor who provided inaccurate and incomplete information when applying for the job.  Details are mentioned in previous reports.

The letter also mentioned the previously reported $65,000 civil penalty issued on Jan. 6, 2009, relating to inattentive security officers discovered in September 2007. The NRC noted that its 2009 mid-cycle performance assessment letter indicated that extensive inspections have “adequately addressed this issue.”

Berwick

The NRC staff completed its performance review on Feb. 16, 2010, for the fourth quarter and all of 2009. In a letter dated March 3, 2010, the NRC said that Susquehanna Units 1 and 2 “operated in a manner that preserved public health and safety and fully met all cornerstone objectives.”

The letter discussed the previously reported matter when a potential chilling effect letter was issued in January 2009 over safety work environment issues.  The letter noted that plant owner PPL has taken reasonable actions to improve the safety conscious work environment (SCWE) at the site. “Specifically,” the NRC letter said, “the staff determined that you recognized the issue impacted multiple areas across the site; took appropriate and timely actions to address it; and completed a range of corrective actions which have been implemented and are judged, at this time, to have been effective in addressing the underlying issues.” The NRC said that cross cutting issues do not exist at this time.

Nonetheless, the NRC said it would continue to monitor PPL’s activities over the issue. It added that it is continuing to review some events that occurred during 2008, and PPL would be notified of the outcome in separate correspondence.

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From Nuclear France:

The safe energy alliance, Sortir du Nucléaire, made public March 6, a group of confidential documents from EDF, which, the alliance states, demonstrate that the EPR (European/Evolutionary Pressurized Water Reactor) will risk exploding.  The documents were sent to the organization “very recently” by an anonymous source within EDF.  Sortir du Nucléaire has given them to a group of unnamed experts for in-depth analysis, and has posted them on its Web site, http://www.sortirdunucleaire.org,  for downloading.

The first of the EDF documents is an unsigned and undated, but documented, summary, “Une technologie explosive: the EPR.”  This document, which Sortir du Nucléaire apparently relies on for a press release states that the danger lies in the arrangement of the control rods (which allow the power of a reactor to be increased or decreased) and the operation of the reactor in a mode known as RIP (instant return in power), a type of “load following,” allowing rapid changes in power to respond to changes in the demand for electricity on the grid. At very low power, control rods may be ejected and may rupture the covering surrounding the mechanism controlling the rods, the summary says.  The rupture of the covering could let cooling water escape the reactor vessel, which would in turn allow some of the fuel rods and cladding to overheat and release extremely radioactive steam inside the confinement structure.  This, in turn, would make possible a critical excursion resulting in an explosion.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Ralph DeSantis
Three Mile Island Communications
717-948-8930

LONDONDERRY TWP. Pa. (March 5, 2010) – Three Mile Island Unit 1 (TMI-1) began producing carbon-free electricity today at 7:30 p.m ET when operators connected the plant to the regional power grid. TMI-1 generates 852 megawatts of electricity, enough power for more than 800,000 homes.

The unit was taken offline on March 4 at 3:02 a.m. ET to perform maintenance on two reactor coolant pumps and on an Isolation Phase Bus Bar in the Turbine Building. The maintenance work involved repairing small oil leaks on both pumps and electrical work on the bus bar. The work has been completed.

“We took advantage of being offline to do all the work necessary to ensure the plant is set up for a safe and reliable operating cycle,” said Bill Noll, TMI site vice president.

Exelon Corporation is one of the nation’s largest electric utilities with approximately $19 billion in annual revenues. The company has one of the industry’s largest portfolios of electricity generation capacity, with a nationwide reach and strong positions in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. Exelon distributes electricity to approximately 5.4 million customers in northern Illinois and southeastern Pennsylvania and natural gas to approximately 485,000 customers in the Philadelphia area. Exelon is headquartered in Chicago and trades on the NYSE under the ticker EXC.

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From the NRC:

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff is seeking public comment and offering the opportunity to request a hearing regarding a request from PSEG Nuclear for a pilot program to explore the production of Cobalt-60 at the Hope Creek Generating Station, located about 18 miles south of Wilmington, Del.

If approved, the requested license amendment would give PSEG permission to generate and transfer Cobalt-60 under the NRC’s regulations for “byproduct” material. The Cobalt-60, as a radioactive material licensed by the NRC and Agreement States, is used in applications such as cancer treatment and for irradiation sterilization of foods and medical devices.

PSEG seeks permission to alter the reactor’s core by inserting up to 12 modified fuel assemblies with rods containing Cobalt-59 pellets, which would absorb neutrons during reactor operation and become Cobalt-60. PSEG’s pilot program would gather data to verify that the modified fuel assemblies perform satisfactorily in service prior to use on a production basis. PSEG has informed the NRC that if the amendment is granted, the company plans to insert the modified assemblies during Hope Creek’s planned fall 2010 refueling outage.

The NRC staff review of the amendment request will include evaluating the potential effects of the modified fuel assemblies on plant operation and accident scenarios. The amendment will only be approved if the staff concludes the modified core will continue to meet the agency’s safety requirements.

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From the New York Times:

Thomas H. Pigford, an independent-minded nuclear engineer who was recruited by the federal government for his advice on major nuclear accidents and nuclear waste, died Saturday at his home in Oakland, Calif.. He was 87.

His death was confirmed by the nuclear engineering department at the University of California, Berkeley, of which he was the first chairman. Dr. Pigford had been treated for Parkinson’s disease for nine years, his wife, Elizabeth Pigford, said.

In 1979 he was a member of the commission that investigated the accident at the Three Mile Island reactor, near Harrisburg, Pa. The panel found that poorly trained operators had turned off key safety systems, allowing a simple malfunction to grow into a harrowing accident that reduced the nuclear core to rubble.

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