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Tom Smith, William Walker and Neil Smith respond to Samanth Subramanian’s long read on the enormous task of dismantling Sellafield
Thu 22 Dec 2022 12.15 EST

The industry’s solution to this is a network of deep disposal facilities. But none have yet been created, their cost is enormous and there is no certainty that they will perform the long-term task required of them. These are considerations that sadly receive little attention in current debates about the need for new nuclear-generation capacity.
Coincidentally, you published a letter (14 December) suggesting that nuclear radiation is less dangerous than emissions from a wood-burning stove, a curious comparison to make. Wood-burning stoves are pollutants, no question, but they could never lead to a Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chornobyl or Fukushima. Nor will decommissioning them cost billions and take decades.
Tom Smith
Chair, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, 2017-20
► In 1993, a government official told me that “it was sometimes right to do the wrong thing”. For reasons of political expediency, it was right to give political consent for the operation of the thermal oxide reprocessing plant (Thorp) at Sellafield. This huge facility, not mentioned in Samanth Subramanian’s fine long read, had been built over the previous decade to reprocess British and foreign, especially Japanese, spent nuclear fuels. Abandoning it would be too embarrassing for the many politicians and their parties that had backed it, expensive in terms of compensation for broken contracts, and damaging to Britain’s and the nuclear industry’s international reputation.
It was wrong to proceed, as the government well knew, because the primary justification for its construction – supply of plutonium for fast breeder reactors (FBRs) – had been swept away by the abandonment of FBRs in the 1980s (none were built anywhere). Because returning Thorp’s separated plutonium and radwaste to Japan would be difficult and risky. Because decommissioning Thorp would become much more costly after its radioactive contamination. Because there was a known win-win solution, favoured by most utilities – store the spent fuel safely at Sellafield prior to its return to senders, avoiding the many troubles that lay ahead.
Thorp operated fitfully until its closure in 2018. The 30 tonnes of plutonium that it separated remains at Sellafield – another waste to trouble generations to come.
William Walker
► Anton van der Merwe makes the compelling point that lack of investment in nuclear power over the last 40 years has had a disastrous impact on carbon emissions and therefore has exacerbated the climate emergency (Letters, 14 December). However, in the same issue, the long read discusses plans for new nuclear without mentioning the huge beneficial impact that low-carbon nuclear will need to have if we are to avoid climate catastrophe. The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on 1.5C temperature rises published in 2018 presented mitigation scenarios in which nuclear generation would grow on average 2.5 times from today’s level by 2050. Without this, the chances of meeting climate targets are much reduced.
Neil Smith
Solihull, West Midlands


The bill would require the Florida Department of Transportation to complete a study on the feasibility of using phosphogypsum as a material for road construction, with a short timeline and completion date of April 1, 2024.
“The only way Gov. DeSantis can assure Floridians he’s serious about protecting them from this radioactive waste is to veto this reckless bill,” said Ragan Whitlock, a Florida-based attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This dangerous plan to pave Florida’s roads with toxic phosphate mining waste is an egregious handout to an industry that has a lengthy history of damaging the environment and putting public health at risk.”
The EPA currently requires that phosphogypsum be stored in piles called “gypstacks” that are hundreds of acres wide and hundreds of feet tall.
More than 1 billion tons of radioactive waste are already stored in 25 stacks in Florida.
According to a news release from the organizations opposing this bill, “The industry has a demonstrated history of inadequate management when it comes to phosphogypsum waste. The stacks are prone to spills and sinkholes - like the breach at Piney Point and sinkholes at New Wales - that threaten Tampa Bay and the Floridan Aquifer.”
“No environmentally conscious or ‘green’ governor worth his salt would ever sign a bill into law approving roadbuilding with radioactive materials,” said Rachael Curran, an attorney with People for Protecting Peace River. “Even the fast-tracked ‘study’ contemplated by this industry-sponsored bill would create harm because that study involves a full-scale road project that would have very real, very detrimental impacts to the environment and health of Floridians, especially road-construction crews.”
In 2020 the Trump-era EPA approved the use of phosphogypsum in roads. Following a lawsuit and petition by the Center and other conservation, public health and union groups, in 2021 the agency withdrew that approval.
Putting radioactive phosphogypsum in roads would let the fertilizer industry off the hook for safely disposing of the millions of tons of dangerous waste it creates each year while generating another cash stream for industry giants, the release stated.
Notice of Public Meeting on June 7, 2023 - Annual Assessment Meeting (Webinar) for PA/MD/NY/NJ Nuclear Power Plants (Beaver Valley, Calvert Cliffs, Hope Creek, Fitzpatrick, Limerick, Nine Mile Point, Peach Bottom, R.E. Ginna, Salem, and Susquehanna)
ADAMS Accession No.  ML23124A107


Beyond Nuclear Bulletin
May 4, 2023

A Beyond Nuclear webinar
Join us Tuesday, May 16, 10am-11:30am ET for Beyond Nuclear's first online teach-in on continuing threats to dump huge amounts of tritium (pictured) into our environment. Tritium in the US Nuclear Power Sector features: Dr. Ian Fairlie providing an overview of tritium and the harm it causes; Mary Lampert of Pilgrim Watch describing opposition to tritium dumping by Holtec into Cape Cod Bay from the closed Pilgrim, MA nuclear power plant; and lawyer, Michel Lee of the Council on Intelligent Energy & Conservation Policy, who will discuss the threat of tritium dumping from the Indian Point nuclear power plant in NY into the Hudson River. A future tritium teach-in will focus on environmental justice issues around a nuclear weapons lab and Japan's threat to dump wastewater from the Fukushima meltdown.
US-Russia citizen dialogue
Civil society organizations from the US and Russia are co-hosting an online conference to explore the environmental hazards of decommissioning nuclear power plants and ways to ensure the transfer of these facilities to a state that will be environmentally safe for present and future generations. The U.S.-Russia people-to-people online mini-conference takes place on Friday, May 19, 10am-12:30pm ET. Register here. Simultaneous translation will be provided. US and Russian speakers will explore ways to democratize the process and improve safety during decommissioning through greater transparency and effective interaction of stakeholders. They will also evaluate the opportunity for “autopsy” of decommissioned reactors to inform the condition of plants seeking license extensions.
Nuclear Leaning Tower of Pisa?!
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission revealed that six months ago, ground settling at the Davis-Besse reactor on Lake Erie in Ohio (photo) damaged fire-fighting water pipes. Additional settling across the site was discovered two months ago. The Toledo Blade reports: Toledo-based activist Terry Lodge said he hopes the NRC “will note the history of cracking of the shield building at Davis-Besse, which contains the nuclear reactor.” That cracking was attributed to the Blizzard of 1978 several years ago. But Mr. Lodge said effects of settling “might directly affect its remaining, and suspect, stability.” Lodge served as legal counsel from 2011-2016, as we challenged the dangerous cracking, and sought to block Davis-Besse's 2017-2037 license extension.
Let’s push back together
Nuclear reactors in war torn Ukraine remain in peril. Japan is threatening to start dumping 1.3 million tons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear site into the ocean any day. The IPCC has released its most dire climate warnings ever and yet propaganda in favor of small modular reactors continues unabated. In the US, reactor owners are pursuing license renewals to extend reactor operations as long as 80 years. With no solution for the radioactive waste, minority communities are targeted with waste dumps. That’s why we need your support now more than ever to block these dangerous proposals and redirect policy to the fastest and most effective choices — renewable energy and energy efficiency. Please donate to Beyond Nuclear today.

Tritium and the Nuclear Power Sector


A Beyond Nuclear webinar

Tritium and the U.S. Nuclear Power Sector is the first in our two-part webinar series on the threats to dump huge amounts of tritium (radioactive hydrogen) from the nuclear power and nuclear weapons sectors into our environment.
Tuesday, May 16, 2023 10:00-11:30 AM ET
What is tritium? Why is it harmful? What damage can it do in our environment and how does it get into the food chain and into our bodies? And are there alternatives to releasing it?
Speakers (pictured above, left to right) 
Dr. Ian Fairlie, an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment and a tritium expert who will provide an overview of tritium and its pathways.
Mary Lampert of Pilgrim Watch, who will address Holtec’s plan to dump 1 million gallons of tritiated water from Pilgrim into Cape Cod Bay.
Michel Lee, a New York attorney with Council on Intelligent Energy & Conservation Policy, who will discuss the similar threat of tritium dumping by Holtec from New York’s Indian Point nuclear power plant into the Hudson River.
A question and answer period will follow the presentations.
Outrage has been voiced from around the world at Japan’s plan to dump more than one million tonnes of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean, contaminated mainly with tritium. But here in the US, water contaminated with tritium could soon be dumped into Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts from the closed Pilgrim nuclear power plant, and into New York’s Hudson River from the decommissioning Indian Point nuclear power plant.
Although Holtec has “paused” its plans to dump tritium for now from Indian Point and agreed to further study at Pilgrim, the company has few constraints from proceeding and could ignore public and state opposition.
Our second webinar, to be announced soon, will focus on environmental justice issues around the proposed tritium vapor release from Los Alamos National Laboratory as well as Japan's threat to dump tritiated water from Fukushima into the ocean.
Dear Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

Please accept the comments attached in response to the above referenced proceeding, published in the Federal Register on March 3, 2023 (Renewing Nuclear Power Plant Operating Licenses-Environmental Review), submitted on behalf of Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Alliance for a Green Economy, Citizens Resistance at Fermi Two, Connecticut Coalition Against Millstone, EFMR Monitoring Group at Three Mile Island, Physicians for Social Responsibility Wisconsin, and Seacoast Anti-Pollution League.
Timothy Judson (he/him)
Executive Director
Nuclear Information and Resource Service
(6930 Carroll Ave., Suite 340, Takoma Park, MD, 20912)
Nuclear Regulatory Commission - News Release
No: I-23-003 May 1, 2023
CONTACT: Diane Screnci, 610-337-5330
Neil Sheehan, 610-337-5331
NRC Initiates Special Inspection at Calvert Cliffs Unit 1 Nuclear Power Plant
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has begun a Special Inspection at the Calvert Cliffs Unit 1 nuclear power plant to review issues associated with an emergency diesel generator at the facility. The twin-engine generator malfunctioned during recent testing and was the subject of an NRC enforcement action last year.
A three-member team arrived at the Lusby, Maryland, plant on May 1 to begin the inspection. The team will be supplemented by the NRC resident inspectors assigned to Calvert Cliffs, who have been following plant owner Constellation Energy’s actions on-site since the mechanical failure of the generator on April 24.
The NRC inspection team will gather key information regarding the problems involving the generator and will seek to better understand plant operators’ response. The team will document its findings in an inspection report to be issued within 45 days following the conclusion of the review.
“Because of redundant systems, this event did not directly impact plant safety,” NRC Region I Administrator Raymond Lorson said. “Nevertheless, our team has been tasked with learning more about why this problem occurred and what steps the company is taking to ensure it does not happen again.”
Operators have determined that the plant’s other emergency diesel generators are unlikely to have similar problems, but NRC inspectors are reviewing that assessment as part of this review.
Emergency diesel generators are considered a key safety component at nuclear power plants. In the event off-site power becomes unavailable, plants use the emergency diesel generators and battery systems to operate safety systems until it is restored.
Last September, the NRC finalized a “white,” or of low to moderate safety significance, inspection finding for Calvert Cliffs based on a problem involving the same emergency diesel generator. In that case, operators failed to prevent the introduction of foreign material into the generator, resulting in its automatic shutdown and failure during routine testing.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission - News Release
No: III-23-007 April 25, 2023
Contact: Viktoria Mitlyng, 630-829-9662 Prema Chandrathil, 630-829-9663
NRC Begins Special Inspection at Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has launched a special inspection at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station to investigate the circumstances surrounding ground settling occurrences at various locations around the plant.
The NRC determined a special inspection was necessary after learning that an October 2022 fire protection piping failure was likely caused by excessive stresses on piping from ground settling; learning of an additional fire protection piping failure in March 2023; and becoming aware of multiple occurrences of ground settling at the site. Fire protection piping, a system related to safety, delivers water to the plant for firefighting purposes.
The five-person special inspection team will establish a historical sequence of events related to ground-settling zones and assess the licensee’s actions to evaluate, monitor or mitigate the phenomenon and its potential impact on equipment important to safety. The team has expertise in operations, fire protection, aging of components, license renewal, geotechnical science, geology and geophysics/seismology.
NRC inspectors verified the plant was in a safe condition and that the licensee took prompt action to restore the fire protection function after both fire protection piping failures.
Upon completion of the special inspection, NRC inspectors will document their findings in a publicly available inspection report, which will be distributed electronically to listserv subscribers and available on the NRC website.
The plant, located in Oak Harbor, Ohio, is operated by Energy Harbor Corp.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission - News Release
No: 23-030 April 24, 2023
CONTACT: David McIntyre, 301-415-8200
NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to Hold Oral Argument on Diablo Canyon
Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation License Renewal
A Nuclear Regulatory Commission Atomic Safety and Licensing Board will hold an oral argument May 24 on whether a petitioner has standing and has proposed admissible contentions challenging Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s application to renew its license for the Diablo Canyon independent spent fuel storage installation in California.
The oral argument will begin at 1 p.m. Eastern time in the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel Hearing Room at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, and members of the public may attend. Members of the public who wish to listen to the oral argument on a listen- only telephone line should contact the Board’s law clerk, Noel Johnson, at noel.johnson@nrc.gov for the telephone number and passcode. The oral argument will be transcribed and the transcript posted in the Electronic Hearing Docket on the agency website.
PG&E has applied for a 40-year renewal of its license for the independent spent fuel storage facility. The current license expires March 22, 2024. San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace has petitioned for an adjudicatory hearing to challenge aspects of the application. The Board will hear arguments from the petitioner, PG&E, and the NRC staff.
The Board is composed of three administrative judges from the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel. Boards conduct adjudicatory hearings on NRC licensing and enforcement actions. Board members are independent of the NRC staff. A Board’s ruling may be appealed to the Commission, the five-member body that sets NRC policy.
For Immediate Release
April 5, 2023
Harckham Rebukes Holtec for Plan to Release Radioactive Wastewater into the Hudson
Peekskill, NY – New York State Senator Pete Harckham released the following statement regarding Holtec informing the Indian Point Energy Center Decommissioning Oversight Board (DOB) that it intends to begin releasing radioactive wastewater from the shutdown nuclear power plant into the Hudson River next month. This is three months earlier than when Holtec first announced the releasing of this wastewater would take place.
“While we have been in the middle of communications with Holtec centered on finding alternatives to dumping millions of gallons of radioactive wastewater into the Hudson River, its decision to expedite this action from August to May is simply an act of bad faith and corporate arrogance. It is no wonder that the communities along the river and even beyond continue to be outraged by Holtec’s handling of Indian Point’s decommissioning.
“Holtec’s agreeing to allow the state to test the radioactive wastewater as it travels to the Hudson is a small concession gained by our state agencies but not a solution to the problem. The point is that the DOB, residents and business owners should not be put into a ‘last to know’ position when it comes to dumping radioactive wastewater into the Hudson River. Holtec continues to pursue a course of action with scant acknowledgment of our communities’ concerns about this critical issue.”
Pete Harckham represents the 40th Senate District, which includes the towns of Carmel, Kent, Patterson and Southeast, and the village of Brewster in Putnam County; the town of Stony Point in Rockland County; and the city of Peekskill, the towns of Bedford, Cortlandt, Lewisboro, New Castle, North Salem, Somers and Yorktown, the towns/villages of Mount Kisco and Ossining, and the villages of Briarcliff Manor, Buchanan and Croton-on-Hudson in Westchester County.
Tom Staudter / Office of State Sen Pete Harckham
(914) 419-5221 mobile