March 31, 2011
Archive for the ‘Safety’ Category
March 22, 2011
Chairman Gregory Jaczko has announced that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will conduct a 90-day study on the significance of Fukushima for American reactors with updates at 30 and 60 days.â€¨
The announcement came yesterday as top NRC officials said the situation in Japan did not warrant any immediate changes at American nuclear plants. “Every single day, we assess whether or not there is some additional regulatory action that needs to be taken immediately in order to address the information we have to date,” R. William Borchardt, executive director for operations, told the full commission in a televised hearing. Borchardt said that every day NRC inspectors double-check emergency equipment at each reactor “to make sure they haven’t fallen into disuse because they haven’t been used.”
â€¨â€¨Attention has already focused around the ventilation pipes, which have been hardened in U.S. reactors but may not have been similarly upgraded in Japan. If the pipes at Fukushima remain as simple ductwork, they could have been overpressurized when workers vented the steam, which led to several hydrogen explosions.
â€¨â€¨Dramatizing how serious the NRC’s responsibilities will be, another division of the agency issued a 20-year license renewal for Vermont Yankee even as the commission was holding hearings. Vermont Yankee is a twin of several of the Fukushima reactors. Commissioners said there would be further review of the relicensing as details of the Japanese accident come to light.
â€¨Overall, the commissioners expressed confidence in their ability to continue regulating nuclear development. “Some may characterize that our faith in this technology is shaken,” said Commissioner Kristine L. Svinicki. “But nuclear safety is not and cannot be a matter of faith. It must be a matter of fact.”
Read more about it at the New York Times
February 2, 2011
From the Editorsâ€¨â€¨
With the WIKILEAKS induced speculation regarding whether or not Al Qaeda is preparing “weapons of mass destruction,” let’s get straight what we’re talking about.â€¨
â€¨A “dirty bomb” that spreads radioactive material is not a “nuclear bomb.”
Anthony Martin, a columnist for the Washington-based Examiner, got off on the wrong foot this morning with the headline, “Wikileaks document shows Al Qaeda has nuclear bomb.” That shows what happens when reporters play “telephone.” Martin is reading off a story in The Telegraph of London, which contains a misleading diagnosis: “A leading atomic regulator has privately warned that the world stands on the brink of a `nuclear 9/11’".
â€¨â€¨The Telegraph story, reprinted in the Vancouver Sun and now rapidly making the rounds, goes on as follows:
â€¨â€¨“Security briefings suggest that jihadi groups are also close to producing `workable and efficient’ biological and chemical weapons that could kill thousands if unleashed in attacks on the West. . . . At a NATO meeting in January 2009, security chiefs briefed member states that al-Qaeda was plotting a programme of `dirty radioactive IEDs,’ makeshift nuclear roadside bombs that could be used against British troops in Afghanistan.”â€¨â€¨
Here we go – stolen plutonium, rogue nuclear scientists, why did we ever get into this nuclear power stuff in the first place, right?â€¨â€¨
Wrong. Here’s how the story goes on: Security briefings suggest that jihadi groups are also close to producing "workable and efficient" biological and chemical weapons that could kill thousands if unleashed in attacks on the West. . . . At a NATO meeting in January 2009, security chiefs briefed member states that al-Qaeda was plotting a programme of `dirty radioactive IEDs,’ makeshift nuclear roadside bombs that could be used against British troops in Afghanistan.”
â€¨â€¨What happened to the “nuclear 9/11? As you can see, there’s a huge confusion of terms here.
â€¨â€¨A “dirty bomb” can involve radioactive material. It is not a nuclear explosion. It simply means scattering highly radioactive material with a conventional explosion. There are all kinds of dirty bombs. They can involve chemicals, biological agents or radioactive substances. Of the three, the radioactive materials are the least dangerous because its affects can be shielded by simple devices and occur over a long period of time. Toxic chemicals such as chlorine, cyanide or the botulin toxin are more immediately lethal. Biological agents such as anthrax, Japanese encephalitis or the Yellow Fever virus are probably the worst, since they can multiply. â€¨â€¨
The consensus among scientists is that the dangers of a radioactive dirty bomb have been wildly exaggerated. Under “dirty bomb,” Wikipedia contains the following evaluation:
â€¨â€¨“The fear of radiation is not always logical. . . . Dealing with public fear may prove the greatest challenge in case of an RDD event. Policy, science and media may inform the public about the real danger and thus reduce the possible psychological and economic effects.”
â€¨Defining the difference between “dirty bombs” and “nuclear weapons” will be a start.
Read more about it at the Daily Telegraph
January 28, 2011
From the Editors
Perhaps in keeping with the popular misconception that living near a nuclear reactor is the equivalent of living in the neighborhood with a mushroom cloud, the Augusta Chronicle is reporting that the Vogtle Plant in Georgia has opened an “information center” with emphasis on how to escape the area if something goes wrong at the new reactors.â€¨
â€¨“The two-building complex adjacent to Georgia Power Co.’s offices in Waynesboro would serve as a media and information center if a serious accident or emergency were to occur at the power plant, situated 20 miles away on the banks of the Savannah River,” the newspaper reports. There was no mention of reduced air pollution or other benefits the new plants might bring.
â€¨â€¨The new $2 million headquarters in Waynesboro is designed to be a kind of emergency command center. “[T]he center includes a newsroom with desks and other facilities for reporters; and offices for local emergency officials, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other agencies that would be involved in such an emergency,” says the Chronicle.
â€¨The article emphasizes that Vogtle officials have already held annual emergency drills for the last two decades preparing for the hypothetical disaster scenario. "They’ve done it all," Ken Davis, public information director of the Georgia Emergency Management Association told the Chronicle. "Worst-case, unimaginable scenarios are their specialty."â€¨
â€¨All this is undoubtedly necessary to reassure the public and meet some federal requirements imposed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other agencies. But it would be good to note that anti-nuclear activists also use such elaborate precautionary measures as proof positive that nuclear is unacceptably dangerous. At a recent nuclear seminar at the New York Academy of Sciences, one anti-nuclear protestor was carrying forth about Three Mile Island when another participant asked, “How many people were injured at Three Mile Island?” “That’s not important,” the protestor responded. “They had to be evacuated!”
Read more about it at the Augusta Chronicle
January 28, 2011
While it hasn’t had much success in issuing licenses for new reactors, the has managed to produce a new manifesto on safety culture that probably won’t be read by anyone but will serve as a legal benchmark for anti-nuclear groups trying to prove that reactors aren’t being operated properly.
The 53-page document, “Proposed Final Safety Culture Policy Statement,” issued this week, was written in response to a 2008 Staff Requirements Memorandum titled, “A Commission Policy Statement on Safety Culture.” The intent, according to this report in The Day, of New London, Connecticut, is to “minimize human error and managerial problems at reactors across the country.”
The document is not “an enforceable regulation, but rather a guide to “expectations" about how reactor employees should conduct themselves to enhance safety and security, NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko told The Day. Read the full report here.
The publication drew immediate criticism from David Lochbaum, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who said the requirements should be mandatory. "Bottom line, the NRC should be an enforcer of regulations that ensure safety, not an encourager of unreliable traits that might lead to acceptable safety levels,” he told The Day. Lochbaum cited a shutdown of the Millstone reactor in Connecticut in the 1990s as a reason for his concern.
Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the NRC, said that regulatory procedures can and do lead to heightened oversight of reactor performance without being mandatory. He cited a recent occurrence at Palo Verde as an example. "If inspectors see a pattern of behavior that doesn’t link up with a positive safety culture, we bring that to a plant’s attention, and that can affect a plant’s overall standing," he told The Day.
The report must receive the approval of the full Nuclear Regulatory Commission before being officially published in the Federal Register.
Read more about it at the Day
”Never let a crisis go to waste” seems to be the motto of the Obama Administration and the nuclear industry and blogosphere are responding as well.
If nothing else, the Gulf oil spill has brought into focus the enormously successful safety record of the nuclear industry. If the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe is the oil and gas industry’s Three Mile Island, then the message from the nuclear industry is, “We’ve been through that a long time ago. Follow our lead.” Commentators and Senators are pointing to INPO, the Price Anderson Act and other aspects of the nuclear industry as the paradigm for the way offshore oil should be organizing itself.
Now Charles Barton, one of the best of the bloggers, has taken things a step further and called for a White Paper on the safety aspects for a “Mass Global Deployment of Nuclear Power.” Barton begins by referencing a 2005 study, “Comparative Assessment of Natural Gas Accident Risks, by the Paul Sherrer Institute, which found that among 100,000 casualties in the energy sector, 2000 came from natural gas while only 31 were the result of nuclear. (The vast majority came from coal and oil.) Even those 31 casualties were hypothetical, resulting from assuming the linear no threshold hypothesis for radiation exposure. The rate of verifiable fatalities for nuclear was zero.
Barton goes on to explore various designs for “Ultimate Safe Reactors” and “Absolute and Ultimate Safe Reactors,” based on molten-salt technology. All this will be subject to debate and there will be other suggestions as well. But as a case for beginning to show the world how ultimately safe and productive nuclear can be, it’s a good start.
Read more at