Beyond Nuclear offers an explanation of recurring pipe leaks at nuclear plants

Beyond Nuclear Bulletin


September 3, 2009


Regulatory decay allows more radioactive leaks from aging nuclear power plants

Background: More radioactive leaks from reactors like Dresden, Oyster Creek, Vermont Yankee and Indian Point are calling attention to a largely ignored Nuclear Regulatory Commission document dating back to 1979 when the agency first asked operators to periodically inspect pipes and tanks to prevent uncontrolled leaks. 


Reactor operators are not inspecting the miles of buried and corroding pipes and tanks. NRC is instead allowing reactors a "leak first fix later" approach rather than use preventive inspections to maintain integrity of these radioactive waste management systems through preventive inspections. In addition to frequent intentional radioactive releases, these accidental and unmonitored spills and leaks onsite are contaminating water resources away from the reactors, jeopardizing public health.

The October 19, 1979 NRC technical circular entitled "Prevention of Unplanned Releases of Radioactivity" advises the nuclear industry to periodically inspect buried pipes specifically using hydrostatic testing equipment and procedures with the focus on the "prevention" of uncontrolled and unmonitored radioactive release pathways.

Our View: Reactors are getting older and more decrepit. Twenty-year license extensions are breezing through NRC approval without regard for the environmental cost and impacts from these uninspected and deteriorating systems. How has protecting water by preventing uncontrolled and unmonitored radioactive releases become less important to NRC as the nuclear power plants degrade?

What You Can Do: You can participate in a campaign to hold nuclear power plant owners and the NRC accountable for these radioactive releases and the increased risks they pose to our health and safety. You can start by contacting your reactor's NRC Project Manager and ask why the agency has relaxed its oversight of a preventive and more protective standard---just when inspection is most needed. Then contact us at Beyond Nuclear to coordinate with follow-on action.

DOE grants two week extension for public comments on changes to nuclear loan guarantee rules


Background: The U.S. Department of Energy is attempting to fast track changes to its nuclear loan guarantee program rules. The proposed changes were first announced on Aug. 7, with only 30 days given for public comments on highly technical financial proposals, with potentially hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money at stake. A coalition of environmental groups requested an extension of the comment deadline on Aug. 20. U.S. Senator ClaireMcCaskill (Democrat-Missouri) also wrote DOE requesting an extension. On Sept. 3, DOE agreed to a 14 day extension to the comment period.

Our View: DOE's proposed new rule is inconsistent with the 2005 Energy Policy Act.� DOE has failed to justify its proposed weakening of taxpayer claims to assets from new nuclear projects that default, a reversal of its 2007 nuclear loan guarantee final rule. The new proposed rule unreasonably gives the Energy Secretary unbridled discretion in paying back other lenders first when new reactor projects default, pushing taxpayers to the back of the line for getting compensated. Every single one of DOE's proposed changes exposes U.S. taxpayers to more risk, not less. The U.S. economy is already on the rocks as a result of what Alan Greenspan has termed "the under-pricing of risk." Now DOE proposes to relax the nuclear loan guarantee rules in a way that will inevitably lead to under-pricing of substantially hundreds of billions of dollars of additional risk in a new sector, the nuclear power industry.

What You Can Do: Thank you to everyone who acted on our alert yesterday and successfully urged DOE to grant an extension. Please call Sen. McCaskill's office at (202) 224-6154 to thank her for helping win a public comment period extension. Urge her office (as well as your own U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative, via the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121) to submit strong comments that protect American taxpayers against the astronomical financial risks of nuclear loan guarantees. You can read DOE's proposed rule change, and send your own individual comments, by visiting the Loan Guarantee Program website. Watch next week's bulletin for environmental coalition comments, to which you can add your organization's name. To learn more about nuclear loan guarantees, visit Beyond Nuclear's "Nuclear Costs" website.

Krummel nuclear plant shuts down with undisclosed fuel damage

Background: The Krummel reactor near Hamburg, Germany was shut down on July 4, 2009 following a transformer fire caused by an electrical short circuit. The reactor had been running for only two weeks after a previous fire in the other transformer in 2007 had closed the plant for two years and cost Vattenfall, its Swedish owner, $420 million in repairs and upgrades. Vattenfall officials reluctantly disclosed that this time the SCRAM was complicated by damage to "perhaps a few fuel elements" but would not elaborate other than to say all safety systems operated and there was no radiation leak. Der Spiegel reports that evidence of sharp metal shavings and other foreign objects left behind from repairs inside the reactor vessel are evidence of the company's even more problematic carelessness and mismanagement.

Our View: The costly repetition of the reactor closure is being rightfully viewed as another nail in the coffin for nuclear power in Germany and Europe. It is as well a warning here in the United States of how increasing financial pressures to quickly recover from unscheduled repairs and  strive for record breaking shorter refueling outages is an increasingly risky business.

The French Nuclear Medusa


Operating profit for unfinished Finland EPR plummets 97%


French state-owned nuclear corporation Areva admitted this week that the delays and cost over-runs on its ongoing EPR reactor construction site in Finland had "virtually wiped out interim operating profits" according to an article in the Financial Times. Embattled CEO, Anne Lauvergeon, whose job has remained in jeopardy for some time, told the FT that Areva had suffered a 97% fall in operating profit amounting to 16 million euros (just under $23 million) while net profit was down 79% at 161 million euros (just under $229 million). Sounding an ominous warning for the future of new reactors, Areva - the lead contender for new plants in the U.S. - already faces a $5.3 billion euro ($7.5 billion) price tag for the plant that is already three years behind schedule while admitting that the price tag could continue to soar.

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