Archive for the ‘Reactor Safety’ Category
Friday, February 18th, 2011
February 18, 2011
â€¨â€¨In an announcement that will echo across the Northeast in anti-nuclear circles, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy announced it has discovered a flaw in the control rod blades that may require their more frequent replacement.â€¨â€¨
"The design life if not revised, could result in significant control blade cracking and could, if not corrected, create a substantial safety hazard and is considered a reportable condition," the company told the NRC, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Anti-nuclear groups immediately pounced on the announcement, predicting runaway reactors. “David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry engineer who now frequently consults with groups critical of the industry, said the faulty blades could make affected control rods inoperable,” reports the Journal. "`It could either slow down or stop the control rod from inserting" when plant operators were trying to reduce power or shut a plant down,’ Lochbaum said. Gundersen said control rods `are like the brakes on a nuclear reactor. It’s almost like they have a 100,000 mile warranty on them and they need to be changed out at 40,000.’
”â€¨â€¨On closer inspection, however, the story reveals that alarmist hand-wringing over a gloom-and-doom scenario is not warranted. If the rods begin to crack, they release boron and tritium into the cooling water, a condition that can easily be monitored. "As long as there is no significant increase in boron or tritium observed, the recommendation would be continue operation until the end of the operating cycle," NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan, told the Journal. â€¨The list of 27 reactors that use GE’s boiling water technology includes some of the oldest plants in the nation. Massachusetts’ Pilgrim, Vermont Yankee, Oyster Creek, and the TVA’s Browns Ferry units are among them. After 40 years of operation, none have yet reported any problems. Connecticut’s Millstone 1 unit, also listed in the Journal story, closed permanently in 1998.
Read more about it in the Wall Street Journal
Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
January 12, 2011
You didn’t used to hear the nuclear industry held up as a model for safety practices but it’s becoming more common all the time.
Writing in the Tampa Tribune yesterday, former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham told readers that the industry’s safety regime at the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) should serve as a model for efforts to improve safety in offshore oil drilling. Graham now serves as co-chairman of President Obama’s Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
“Our commission is urging the offshore oil and gas industry to follow in the path of other high-risk industries such as nuclear power and chemical, which have established industry organizations to assure the highest standards of safety and complement effective governmental regulation,” Graham told readers. “Each of these organizations was established in the wake of a disaster Three Mile Island and Bhopal. It is an open question as to whether the offshore industry leaders will see Deepwater Horizon as a similar mandate and opportunity to act.”
Graham, a Democrat, did not make a case for expanding nuclear power but did argue that we should replace oil in some unspecified way: "Unless we develop and sustain a national energy policy which will fundamentally change our petroleum addiction, the only choice our generation will have is whether to leave to our children or to our grandchildren an America totally dependent on foreign oil producers for its national security, economy and way of life,” he concluded. It’s not clear exactly how this can be accomplished, but unless we are to revert to burning even more coal, nuclear is obviously going to be part of the answer.
Read more at the Tampa Bay Tribune
Wednesday, January 5th, 2011
January 5, 2011
From the Editors
Win some, lose some. Newsweek’s website features a run-of-the-mill horror story about how highly trained teams of commandos could break through the security system at a nuclear reactor, and do something-or-other that would set off the inevitable “nuclear holocaust.” The feature mixes in apples and oranges adding the safety of spent nuclear fuel to the security smorgasbord
Specially trained commando teams made up of military veterans actually mount such attacks periodically to test security systems. The news is that in 100 such attempts over the past five years, the commandos have succeeded in getting inside the perimeter eight times. Wonder how many times they could get into the White House? David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Lawyers – no, sorry, Scientists – is on hand to announce the whole thing is really a cover-up: “The industry is hiding behind the 9/11 tragedy to withhold information like which plants have failed tests and repairs that have been made.”
Remember, all this is to protect against a hostile civilization on the other side of the globe whose main accomplishments since 2001 have been to send one terrorist with a bomb in his shoe and another with a bomb in his underpants.
But no matter. “The improvement that many scientists favor,” Newsweek reports, “is one that has been made elsewhere including in China, France, Japan, Belgium, and the U.K. All have eliminated the need to store portions of used fuel. Instead, they reprocess the waste, a complex process that removes the remaining uranium from almost pure plutonium and other byproducts, and puts it back in the reactor to produce more power. `You’re actually destroying some waste by recycling it,’ says Denis Beller, a nuclear engineer at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.”
Recycling spent fuel – what a great idea! Wasn’t there something in the paper the other day about China developing a new recycling technology? Maybe we should give them a call. We once had a reprocessing effort going in this country, didn’t we? Then along came Jimmy Carter.
Read more at Newsweek
Wednesday, January 5th, 2011
January 5, 2011
In a feature story right from the anti-nuclear playbook (“Flirting with Disaster…Every few years the defenses of the nation’s nuclear plants are tested. What’s scary is how often they fail”), Newsweek magazine reports that “eight times out of roughly 100 attempts over the past five years, … mock terror teams have successfully broken through … defenses” of U.S. nuclear plants.
Right on script, the article quotes a Union of Concerned Scientist spokesman accusing the industry of “hiding behind the 9/11 tragedy to withhold information—like which plants have failed tests and repairs that have been made—that should be available.”
Newsweek surmises that “worries are particularly acute because the nuclear-energy industry is experiencing a new era of growth” – citing positive support from President Obama for loan guarantees and Energy Secretary Chu’s recent public statement that nuclear energy was “clean energy.”
On a positive note, the feature concludes that “advanced technology has virtually eliminated the risk of accidental meltdowns, like the one at Chernobyl in 1986, adding repetitive safeguards that allow the plant to shut itself down if operators can’t.”
But Newsweek warns: “The bigger problem is the highly radioactive waste that is left over once most of the energy-producing juice has been sucked out of it” – stuff that “will remain dangerously radioactive for about 10 millennia, until the year 12011.”
The features rebuts a pithy quote from American Nuclear Society President Andy Kadak that modern nuclear plants are like prisons opining that “prison breaks still happen from time to time” and the “security measures that are in place result in very little transparency.” Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko offers Newsweek a bureaucratic defense saying “we think in the end overall security is best achieved by keeping most of [our security information] protected.” This prompts another rebuff from Newsweek, which observes that “yet as the Gulf Coast oil spill showed, an industry out of public view can get sloppy.”
Newsweek offers a new rationale not yet floated by the Obama Administration for the termination of the Yucca Mountain project, which it describes positively as “dry, desolate, not prone to natural disasters – the perfect location for a repository” saying the project was canceled “in pursuit of something less risky than concentrating millions of pounds of waste in one place.”
Not to worry, we’re told the Energy Department has a Blue Ribbon Commission “researching other ideas, such as burying it in the oceans, shooting it into space, or finding a new repository somewhere else in the world.” The Newsweek feature concludes with this oddity: “That site’s defenses, however, would need to be foolproof,” an observation presumably not applicable to an outer-space-based repository.
Read more at Newsweek
Friday, November 19th, 2010
Start with this video on YouTube:
In the 1990s the Department of Energy conducted a test on what would happen if someone tried to crash an airplane into a nuclear containment structure. You can see the results.
Then came 9/11 and a round of new concerns, not all of them well informed or rational. They made the unsubstantiated and irresponsible allegation that if the 9/11 hijackers had aimed their jet at Indian Point instead of the World Trade Center, millions might have been killed.
What about the test with the F-4 Phantom? Well, that didn’t count. “A jumbo jet is much larger,” they argued. “They weren’t even invented when the first containments were built. The impact would be much greater.”
But all this is spectacularly ignorant of physics. The amount of kinetic energy generated by a jet plane is given by the formula E = ½ mv2, where m is the mass and v is the velocity. A jumbo jet could weight ten times as much as the F-4 and still not make a bigger impact. That’s because the velocity is the more important factor. The F-4 Phantom was doing 500 mph. A jumbo jet trying to hit a target the size of a reactor couldn’t possibly do much more than 120 mph. (That’s the speed it’s doing when an experienced pilot brings it in on the runway.) Besides, a jet liner is basically an aluminum beer can whose structural integrity is linked to the air pressure inside. As one physicist puts it, a jet liner crashing into a containment all would be like an empty beer can crushed against John Belushi’s head.
Why does all this matter? Because right now the Westinghouse AP1000 – the choice of nearly half the proposed reactors in the U.S. – is in a protracted design approval review because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is trying to figure out how to protect it from airplane attacks. Now, with site clearance moving along at the U.S. flagship for the Nuclear Renaissance – the Vogtle plant in Georgia with its two new planned reactors — the pace of the AP1000 review is more important than ever. All this while the Chinese are more than halfway to completing the world’s first AP1000 and have three more underway.
Does it make any sense to try to build a shield to protect a containment structure? Or have we already solved the problem already?