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Posts Tagged ‘NRC’


Thursday, March 24th, 2011

March 24, 2011
Nuclear Townhall
From the Editors

“Never let a crisis go to waste” is becoming the watchword of all policy wonks and longtime nuclear critic Frank Von Hippel puts it to use this morning in a New York Times op-ed ominously entitled “It Could Happen Here.” 

 â€¨“Nuclear power is a textbook example of the problem of `regulatory capture’ ­ in which an industry gains control of an agency meant to regulate it,” writes the Princeton professor, not seeming to acknowledge that regulatory agencies can be captured by opponents of a technology as well. “Regulatory capture can be countered only by vigorous public scrutiny and Congressional oversight, but in the 32 years since Three Mile Island, interest in nuclear regulation has declined precipitously.” 

Von Hippel criticizes the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for not requiring a filtering mechanism on auxiliary buildings that would remove some radioactive particles in case of an accidental steam release. “Even before Three Mile Island, a group of nuclear engineers had proposed that filtered vents be attached to buildings around reactors, which are intended to contain the gases released from overheated fuel,” he writes. “If the pressure inside these containment buildings increased dangerously ­ as has happened repeatedly at Fukushima ­ the vents would release these gases after the filters greatly reduced their radioactivity.”

Midway through the article, however, he switches gears and announces that an equally important reason for calling a halt to the advance of nuclear technology is to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. “Most notably, over the past 50 years the developed world has spent some $100 billion in a failed effort to commercialize plutonium breeder reactors. Such reactors would use uranium more efficiently, but would also require the separation of plutonium, a key component in nuclear weapons.”  He also criticizes General Electric’s development of using laser technology to enrich uranium on the grounds that it will make it easier for other countries to build bombs.

 â€¨Von Hippel’s solution is a One-World approach, where all nuclear technology would be put under the control of some international body. “Doing so would make it more difficult for countries like Iran to justify building national enrichment plants that could be used to produce nuclear weapons materials [emphasis added]."

But what if Iran didn’t feel the need to justify its enrichment effort and just went ahead and did it anyway?  One way or another, that’s pretty far afield from overheating reactors at Fukushima.

Read more about it at the New York Times


Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

March 22, 2011
Nuclear Townhall

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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



Friday, March 11th, 2011

March 11, 2011
Nuclear Townhall

Things are starting to move at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. On top of renewing Vermont Yankee’s license, the NRC has awarded design approval to GE Hitachi’s ESBWR, giving a boost to the consortium’s international efforts.

“The FSER [final safety evaluation report] and FDA [final design approval] mark a crucial step forward for the ESBWR’s global commercial prospects,” said Caroline Reda, president and CEO of GEH. “We appreciate the diligence of the NRC during the review process, which enables the ESBWR to remain on track to receive the NRC’s final design certification by this fall.”

Although Michigan’s DTE has chosen the Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) for its proposed Fermi Unit 3 near Detroit, the first construction will probably be abroad. India is experiencing a nuclear renaissance and has designed a site for multiple ESBWRs. The GE Hitachi consortium is also making inroads in Poland. Last month it signed a memorandum of understanding with POLATOM, the research institute that advises the Polish government on nuclear issues.

Thirty years ago, GE and Westinghouse dominated the reactor industry. GE’s boiling water reactor constituting one-third of America’s 100 reactor fleet while Westinghouse’s pressurized water reactor most of the other two-thirds. GE has not built a BWR since the ill-fated Shoreham plant, which never opened. Former GE CEO Jack Welsh was openly contemptuous of nuclear and current CEO Jeff Immelt notes that “no GE CEO has ever made money in nuclear.”  Westinghouse’s fortunes revived after it was bought by Toshiba in 2006, however, and GE followed by partnering with Hitachi in 2007.

The ESBWR is a “Gen III” reactor, designed to reduce costs and achieve greater safety by simplifying the design and using natural convection in cooling. The approval puts GE Hitachi one step ahead of Westinghouse, which is still awaiting approval of its Gen III design, the AP1000

Read more about it at Business Wire



Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

March 3, 2011
Nuclear Townhall
From the Editors

Somehow word of the worldwide nuclear renaissance hasn’t yet reached Washington.
In yesterday’s edition of The Hill, Georgetown University lecturer Francis Slakey suggests a new concern for the overburdened Nuclear Regulatory Commission – conducting “non-proliferation risk assessments” on all new uranium enrichment technology.
“Here’s one thing the U.S. can do to help keep [uranium enrichment] facilities [around the world] in plain sight,” writes Slakey. “NRC can conduct an assessment of the proliferation risks of any enrichment facility before granting a license. With a rigorous assessment, a facility would only get commercialized by assuring that it has some unique detectable `signature.’ It may have a distinct infrared or acoustic trace that is evident to our satellite or ground based arrays. Or, there may be a unique component of the technology whose acquisition would indicate the intent to build a facility. Any of those would guarantee that the US would always have the ability to detect the facility, diminishing worries about covert construction or use.”
The argument here is based on one simple premise:  the U.S. is the fountainhead of nuclear technology and the rest of the world is filled with technological idiots. That may have been true in 1977 when we first gave up nuclear reprocessing, but it is no longer true today. “The concern arises,” continues Slakey, “from new and anticipated developments that will allow nuclear fuel facilities — uranium enrichment technologies — to get so small and so efficient that U.S. surveillance methods can’t spot them. Then, a rogue nation might acquire the plans, covertly build the facility, use it to produce nuclear weapons material, and develop a nuclear weapon without the U.S. ever seeing a thing.”
Today the “rogue nation” is just as likely to develop its own technology or ask for help form Russia, China or North Korea. And if they do acquire U.S. technology, couldn’t they just disable whatever “signature” was built into the process? Does anyone think they’re not smart enough to do that?
Unfortunately, it is the non-proliferation industry that is behind the curve. “Fortunately, the secret uranium enrichment facility in North Korea was uncovered,” claims Slakey. In fact, North Korea used plutonium to build its bombs and the CIA report of a secret uranium enrichment facility turned out to be something of a false alarm.
What this new manifesto reveals is that delusions about America as the fountainhead of nuclear technology and efforts to halt nuclear power in this country go hand-in-hand. “If we don’t develop the technology, no one else will,” has been the argument since we gave up reprocessing in 1977. This premise has proved spectacularly wrong. The rest of the world has gone ahead without us.

Read more about it at the Hill



Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

March 3, 2011
Nuclear Townhall

Dan Rather may no longer look the nation in the eye every night at 6 o’clock, but he still has enormous prestige and he is lending that prestige to nuclear power.
“Everyone I talked to agreed that nuclear power is the solution,” said Rather after doing a special feature on his weekly HDNet show, “Dan Rather Reports.”  In a lengthy excerpt posted on Huffington Post, Rather does level-headed interviews with Dr. David Moncton of MIT, Dr. Eric Loewen of GE Hitachi and “Grizz” and Deborah Deal, the brother-and-sister team who head up Hyperion, one of the leading mini-reactor companies.
 Instead of the traditional “What-happens-if-the-reactor-blows-up?” type of questions, Rather allows Moncton to establish that Three Mile Island actually validated the integrity of safety systems and that Chernobyl was an anomaly of Soviet science. When it comes to “What-do-you-do-with-the-waste?” he has Loewen explain the Integral Fast Breeder – an interview that verified the conclusions of author Tom Blees in Prescription for the Planet.
Dr. Ernest Moritz of MIT weighs in against small modular reactors and other new technology, saying that the well worn grooves of Nuclear Regulatory Commission proceedings more or less doom us to technologies laid out twenty years ago. "I feel like I’m a technology Luddite or something in saying this," Moniz tells Rather. "For the next ten, twenty years, if we’re going to build nuclear power, it’s going to be fundamentally based around what you see and the so-called generation III+ reactors."
On the whole, though, the message is upbeat. “Whether the government is on the right path is a point of contention,” Rather concludes, “but on one point, everyone I interviewed agrees. Nuclear power is the solution, they say, and it’s time to get going.”

Read more about it at the Huffington Post



Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

February 23, 2011
Nuclear Townhall

One of the most persistent myths about nuclear power is that there is no residual value to spent fuel and that the costs of dealing with this supposedly intractable problem are foisted on the public’s coffers.
Disproving the latter thesis once again, the Wisconsin Electric Power Company settled this week for $45.5 million for its share of the government’s partial breach of contract for failing to acceptance commercial spent nuclear fuel beginning in 1998.  The utility won a lawsuit for $51 million in 2009 but the government had appealed.  Some industry estimates put the government’s overall liability at in excess of $50 billion ultimately.
“Now, WE Energies has revealed that the government initiated discussions with the utility in the second half of 2010 and offered to settle the lawsuit,” says this report on World Nuclear News. “Accordingly, on 8 February the parties signed an agreement in which the US has agreed to pay Wisconsin Electric $45.5 million in full and final settlement of the suit. Wisconsin Electric intends return the $31 million net proceeds after litigation costs to its customers, and has written to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to enable it to set up the necessary mechanisms.”
Other states and utilities have indicated they will be asking for money back as well. In December, South Carolina Governor-elect told President Obama in a private meeting that “the federal government has reneged on its promise, and South Carolina wants a refund.”  Both South Carolina and Washington State have sued to block the NRC closedown of the Yucca project. Exelon collected the first $300 million refund in 2008 and other utilities are now following in its path. The payments do not come out of the Nuclear Waste Fund but out of general revenues.
Still, the unraveling of the federal effort casts a shadow over any attempt to build a permanent repository – or better yet initiate a reprocessing strategy. The situation may become clearer or cloudier when the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future makes its report sometime in the next several months.

Read more about it at Nuclear World News



Saturday, February 19th, 2011

February 19, 2011

Nuclear Townhall
An amendment seeking to cut funding for the Yucca Mountain program for government fiscal year 2011 was defeated by a voice vote shortly after midnight during the stretch drive by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to finalize a spending bill with “the largest single discretionary spending cut in the history of the nation.” 
The Yucca defunding amendment was offered by Congressman Dean Heller (R-Nevada).  The Heller amendment would have eliminated approximately $200 million in funding for the program, which continues to receive funds under a continuing resolution despite efforts by the Obama Administration to terminate the program.
The House bill also includes a pro-Yucca Mountain provision seeking to thwart an ongoing effort by Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko to shut-down the agency’s Yucca Mountain review without any final determination by the Commission with regard to the Atomic Safety Licensing Board’s rejection of the Energy Department’s license withdrawal request.
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers hailed the Yucca Mountain review rider in a statement saying “in addition to spending cuts, the legislation also contains multiple provisions to stop harmful regulations or programs that would hurt the nation’s economy and inhibit the ability of American businesses to create jobs, such as onerous EPA “greenhouse gas” regulations, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility application process, and the Obama Administration’s health care reform act.
The House spending package, which passed the House with a party line vote, heads to an uncertain future in the Senate.  The current continuing resolutions expires on March 4.


Friday, February 18th, 2011

February 18, 2011
Nuclear Townhall


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.

"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.’


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. 
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


Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Yucca Mountain Safety Evaluation Report – Appendix A


Yucca Mountain Safety Evaluation Report – Volume 2

Yucca Mountain Safety Evaluation Report – Volume 3



Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

February 16, 2011
Nuclear Townhall


In a maneuver that will could directly complicate licensing for plant extensions and ripple into new plant siting, three northeast state attorney generals have sued the Nuclear Regulatory Commission contesting the recent waste confidence ruling that will allow utilities to store spent fuel for sixty years on-site.

"Whether you’re for or against re-licensing Indian Point, we can all agree on one thing,” New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman told the Associated Press. “Before dumping radioactive waste at the site for 60 years after it’s closed, our communities deserve a thorough review of the safety, public health, and environmental risks such a move would present.


The New York State Attorney General’s office is already on the record as opposed to relicensing Indian Point – as is Governor Andrew Cuomo and the entire New York political establishment.  The waste confidence lawsuit is another step in a multi-pronged effort to close the plant, which supplies New York City with one-quarter of its electricity.

Connecticut has not been so overtly anti-nuclear, although former Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (now U.S. Senator) did propose a windfall profits tax on reactors a few years ago because he said they were profiting unfairly from the run-up in oil prices. Millstone Units 2 and 3 have already had their licenses extended through 2035 and 2045 respectively.

Vermont, of course, is intent on closing Vermont Yankee after Governor Peter Shumlin won election in large part by opposing it. Vermont is already dealing with initial consequences, however, as IBM, the state’s largest employer, has announced it will leave without Vermont Yankee’s electricity.

All this might serve as a cautionary harbinger of things to come, except that litigation-minded attorneys in the state offices seem indifferent to the consequences. When asked how the state planned to replace Indian’s Point’s 2000 megawatts, one attorney in the New York office responded, “That’s not our problem.”

Read more about it at the Hanford News