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Posts Tagged ‘Union of Concerned Scientists’


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


Friday, January 28th, 2011

Nuclear Townhall
January 28, 2011
While it hasn’t had much success in issuing licenses for new reactors, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission 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


Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Nuclear Townhall
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