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Nuclear -     1 - Duke Energy Employee Advocate
Nuclear - Page Fourteen

"If confronted with a great crises, it is not the crisis that builds something within us…
It simply reveals what we are made of already" - Oswald Chambers (1841-1917)

Corporations Receive Special Treatment

Public Citizen – Press Release – November 6, 2001

WASHINGTON, DC. - Public Citizen today joins a broad coalition of consumer and environmental groups denouncing energy policies that subsidize nuclear power without securing any commitments from the industry to improve plant security. The inability to secure nuclear power from terrorist attacks places millions of Americans needlessly at risk. Public Citizen calls for an end to the billions of dollars in subsidies that prop up the industry and demands immediate regulatory improvements to protect Americans from the threat of nuclear catastrophe.

"Federal regulators, consumer groups and even the nuclear power industry acknowledge that nuclear power plants are not prepared to withstand a terrorist attack from land, sea or air," said Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen president. "In a decade of testing for mock land-based assaults, the security provided by the nuclear industry failed to stop intruders 47 percent of the time."

Recent efforts to beef up security at the nation's 103 operating nuclear reactors, including ringing plants with National Guard troops, cannot guarantee the reactors' safety because nuclear reactors are not designed to withstand the impact of a commercial jetliner. Public Citizen urges the establishment of a more comprehensive regulatory framework to force the nuclear power industry to figure out how to deal with a terrorist assault. Public Citizen also calls for an immediate moratorium on the approval of new power plants until the security of Americans can be guaranteed.

"The risk of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe at an American nuclear power plant is real," said Tyson Slocum, research director for Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "At a minimum, the regulations covering safety at nuclear power plants must be upgraded in response to Sept. 11. But instead of asking the nuclear power industry to improve safety, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has continued relicensing procedures for reactors without holding these plants to higher standards in exchange for allowing them to operate for another 20 years."

Congress, too, has sacrificed public safety by continuing to promote subsidies for the nuclear power industry. Reauthorization of the Price Anderson Act - legislation that forces taxpayers to cover most of the estimated costs of a nuclear power catastrophe and allows the nuclear power industry to save an estimated $3 billion annually on insurance premiums - appears certain.

Although the U.S. House of Representatives passed its energy bill in August, the Senate has been embroiled in a procedural battle to rush a vote on the House legislation. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.)gaining concessions to force a vote soon by attaching the entire House bill as an amendment to the Defense authorization bill. The House legislation provides billions of dollars in taxpayer giveaways to the nuclear industry, including millions of dollars to recruit students to work in the commercial nuclear industry and millions more to subsidize every kilowatt hour of electricity generated by nuclear power.

"Billions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies to the nuclear power industry won't buy Americans the safety and security they demand," Slocum said.

Nuclear Station Security Tight, Stakes High

The Greenville News - by Bob Montgomery – November 5, 2001

The security at the Oconee Nuclear Station has been tightened to include guards with M-16s, military jets flying over and other steps not released to the public.

Authorities say they are confident that the plant is as safe as can be from terrorist attacks.

There is a lot at stake.

A terrorist attack on a spent nuclear fuel storage facility could release radiation up to 500 miles from a plant such as the Oconee station and cause up to 28,900 deaths, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

But NRC officials say such an event is unlikely, and that storage facilities are just as strong as reactor containment buildings and would likely be able to handle an attack.

A 1997 report by the NRC said the agency never required utilities to take into account a worst-case scenario involving a jetliner crash like the ones that occurred at the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11.

"If an airliner crashed into a cask, there could be some localized impacts," according to the report, prepared for the NRC by Brookhaven National Laboratory.

In 1997, the NRC said a worst-case scenario involving a huge radiation release from a spent fuel storage facility would result in 16,800 deaths within a 50-mile radius of the plant and 28,900 deaths within 500 miles.

Greenville is about 35 miles from the plant.

It would also result in billions of dollars in damage, condemn 156 square miles within a 50-mile radius of the plant and 188 square miles 500 miles away, according to the NRC report.

"With the spent fuel, you could get a lethal dose in a matter of minutes," said Lou Zeller of the nuclear watchdog group Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.

NRC spokesman Ken Clark said spent fuel, in 18-ton storage canisters 1 1/2 stories high and half the size of a football field, is stored 25 feet underground in 5-foot thick steel-reinforced concrete containers in heavy concrete pools.

"They have always been considered adequate to protect public health and safety," Clark said.

Still, because of the Sept. 11 attacks, the NRC has asked power companies to take another look at the strength of containment facilities and to increase security by hiring more manpower or asking local police, state police or the National Guard for help if needed.

"Security at nuclear plants has been enhanced considerably," Clark said.

Thelma Wiggins of the Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents nuclear utilities, said "Nuclear plants are some of the most robust facilities in this country."

She added that nuclear plants need to continue to operate to supply America's energy needs.

Duke spokesman Tom Shiel said an NRC report earlier this year concluded the risk of radiation from a storage facility "would be very low, even with sabotage, because there would be adequate time for cooling.

"We feel it's pretty safe," Shiel said. "What's the probability of something like that happening?"

Clark said he agreed the likelihood of a worst-case scenario is very low. "Fuel pools have always considered to be adequately protected," Clark said.

Since Sept. 11, Duke has increased security. Shiel said State Law Enforcement Division officers have begun patrolling in front of the Oconee plant.

Some 90 tons of spent fuel each year has been piling up at Oconee storage facilities since the mid-1970s, according to Duke officials.

The waste isn't expected to leave Oconee until at least 2010, when a federal repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada is expected to open.

Yet nuclear watchdog groups remain skeptical.

"Reactor containment domes are not designed to sustain a large aircraft, and control rooms are vulnerable," said Dave Lockbaum of the nuclear watchdog group Union of Concerned Scientists.

He said some people have proposed adding anti-aircraft artillery, but that brings a risk of shooting down a civilian airliner.

The problem won't be solved, he said, until enough money is spent on airline security to guarantee that terrorists don't board flights.

Still, many who live near the Oconee Nuclear Station said they live their daily lives feeling secure.

"My family lives in the shadow of the Oconee nuclear facility," said Bill Ebeling, a retired DuPont executive who lives on Lake Keowee. "We are in every way comfortable with the care and management of the facility. We know we have a good neighbor."

Said Jim Hamilton, a retired human resources manager who also lives along Lake Keowee, "I don't lose sleep or hair."

The Spent Nuclear Fuel Hazard

The New York Times - by Matthew L. Wald – November 5, 2001

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2 — As they survey the industrial landscape for objects that terrorists could turn into weapons, members of Congress, governors and others are showing growing anxiety about the vulnerability of nuclear reactors, and especially their spent fuel.

The Coast Guard and the National Guard are already patrolling many plants, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says improvements have been made since Sept. 11 to make reactors less susceptible to sabotage. The industry emphasizes that many design features intended to protect plants against accident result in "robust" structures that are also resistant to military attack.

But studies that were available until recently on the Internet are being cited by a variety of others as reason to worry. One, done 20 years ago for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, raises the possibility of an airplane crashing into a containment dome or some less-hardened part of a reactor and causing a meltdown. Another, dated September 2000, suggests that breaching a cask used to store spent fuel would create a lethal radiation dose in an area many times larger than that caused by a 10- kiloton nuclear weapon.

Other experts note that the spent fuel pools can contain 20 to 30 times as much radioactive material as the reactor core does. And the pools are in buildings not nearly as strong as those that house the reactors.

"I'm not so worried about the core; I'm worried about the spent fuel pool," said Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont, who has asked for the establishment of a permanent five- mile no-flight zone around the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in the southeastern corner of his state. "There's basically no protection there," he said in a telephone interview.

Experts disagree about the extent of the vulnerability, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the industry say there is no cause for alarm. But the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted Thursday to require the commission to review the potential for attacks on nuclear plants, specifically to identify a new "design basis threat," or threat around which the plant's defenses are geared. The commission had opposed the amendment.

The provision's author, Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, is a longtime opponent of the industry. Still, he won the near-unanimous agreement of his colleagues. "The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is refusing to take up the question at all," Mr. Markey said. "We're mandating that they take it up."

His amendment would also guarantee the continued existence of the office within the N.R.C. that evaluates physical protection at reactors. Before Sept. 11, the agency had a plan to turn that function over to an industry group, which it said could run tests more frequently.

The details of the design basis threat against which the plants are tested are classified, but the threat is known to be a commando-type attack. Paul Leventhal, president of the Nuclear Control Institute, a nonproliferation group, suggested today that the basis should be "19 suicidal terrorists, technically sophisticated, coming at you from different directions." That would describe the groups that hijacked four airliners on Sept. 11.

Some arguments are revised versions of the case that opponents have made against nuclear power for years. "We've never heard of a terrorist taking aim at a wind turbine," said Anna Aurelio, legislative director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which favors ending the use of nuclear power.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's chairman, Richard Meserve, said that various improvements had been made since Sept. 11, but he added that reactors were smaller than either the World Trade Center towers or the Pentagon and, thus, more difficult to crash into. "It would not be a trivial thing to have a kamikaze attack," Mr. Meserve said. "It's a lot harder to hit than the World Trade Center."

"We have all kinds of infrastructure in this country that is vulnerable to aircraft," he added. "You think about dams, chemical plants, refineries, skyscrapers, pipelines, any number of things.

"I don't particularly lose any sleep over collisions with spent fuel pools, as compared to those other things."

But threats to the nation's nuclear power industry have new resonance with some elected officials since the hijackings. "The risk assessment that existed prior to Sept. 11 is clearly inadequate," Representative Peter Deutsch, a Florida Democrat who is another member of the Energy and Commerce committee, said at the committee's meeting on Thursday. He said that a reassessment was urgently needed because some threats were clearly beyond what a private company could defend against and would require government action. In a telephone interview, he added that it was clear that the reactor containment would not be the only possible target.

While the most obvious area of concern at a nuclear plant is the reactor, which operates under high temperatures and pressures and could vent radioactive steam in an accident, the bulk of the radioactive material at most plants is in the spent fuel pool.

The radioisotopes, like cesium and strontium, are created in the reactor by splitting uranium. Since the fuel is moved from the reactor after about three years, it begins to accumulate in the spent fuel pool. While there, it sits under about 25 feet of water, which shields the radiation and carries off the heat that continues to emanate from the fuel. The industry estimates that even if all cooling stopped, the water would not begin boiling for 20 to 40 hours, and that even if it boiled, all that would be needed to end the problem is to add more water through something as simple as a fire hose. "These are huge structures, with a lot of inertia," said Lynnette Hendricks, director of licensing at the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's trade association.

Critics say that if the fuel were allowed to get too hot, it could ignite the cladding — a metal called zirconium — that holds the uranium fuel in place. The metal was selected primarily because it can be easily penetrated by neutrons, the sub- atomic particles that sustain a chain reaction.

But a petition filed earlier this week with the N.R.C. by a nuclear safety group argued that the zirconium could provide the chemical energy to fuel a fire that would disperse the radioactive materials. The group was seeking to prevent the owners of the Millstone nuclear plant, in Waterford, Conn., from storing more fuel in a pool there. Until recently, the commission's staff said that zirconium would not burn once the fuel was a few years old, and its heat production was reduced as some of the radiation died off. But earlier this year, the staff retreated from that position.

Still, Ms. Hendricks said that to set up a situation in which such a fire could occur, "you need to hook up a lot of `what-ifs.' "

The other way to store fuel is to put it in dry casks, massive concrete and steel boxes filled with inert gas. Before Sept. 11, safety advocates and nuclear engineers described this as safer, at least for older fuel, because it used no water for fuel to leak into and no pumps to fail.

But the casks sit outside the plant buildings, sometimes in sight from roads or nearby hillsides. They have been tested for transit accidents, but their security against attack with an antitank weapon or other armament is less certain.

A draft study by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements discussed the risk of shipping spent fuel and calculated that breaching a cask could produce a lethal radiation dose in an area of 2,700 square kilometers. In comparison, the study said, a 10-kiloton nuclear blast would produce those doses in 47 square kilometers.

Government officials note, though, that creating a hole in a cask is not the same as dispersing its contents; dispersion would depend on the size of the breach and the energy available to break up the fuel.

The federal government was supposed to take responsibility for disposing of civilian reactor fuel in 1998, but the plan is now more than 10 years behind schedule. The Energy Department is trying to demonstrate that Yucca Mountain, near Las Vegas, is a suitable spot for deep burial, but has encountered a variety of problems. So the spent fuel risk, however great it turns out to be, will stay with the plants for years to come. In Wiscasset, Maine, where the Maine Yankee nuclear plant used to operate, the state is demanding the fuel be hauled out. Otherwise, the site could become, in the words of Paula Craighead, the state's nuclear safety adviser, "Yucca Mountain without the mountain."

Experts Warn of Nuclear Terror Attack

Reuters – by Louis Charbonneau – November 4, 2001

VIENNA - Any future act of nuclear terrorism could use crude weapons aimed more at spreading panic than causing physical harm, experts warned on Friday.

``In some states where radioactive materials are not well regulated, they are potentially available,'' said Graham Andrew, scientific adviser at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In an interview with Reuters on the sidelines of an IAEA conference on nuclear terrorism, Andrew said attackers could take radiotherapy or x-ray materials from hospitals to construct a crude bomb.

While such a weapon might not wreak devastation, it would certainly spread panic.

``You're not going to get a large number of fatalities -- the consequence is going to be more one of economic disruption and anxiety in the public,'' he said.

Often referred to as a ``dirty bomb'', such a device could easily be built by surrounding a radioactive source with explosives and detonating it to spread radioactivity across a wide area.

``The potential for panic is quite large,'' Andrew said. ''Radioactivity is invisible, you can't see it or feel it. And you don't know what its impact on your health in 10 years will be.''

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told the conference that although it was highly unlikely terrorists could get their hands on a sophisticated nuclear weapon and detonate it, this could not be ruled out.

``This is the most horrifying scenario, but also the most unlikely,'' ElBaradei said. ``But nothing is excluded, as we've learned from September 11.''

The IAEA has called on countries to review security and protection for all radioactive materials, not just weapons-grade radioactive sources.

ElBaradei said the IAEA was aware of 175 cases of trafficking of nuclear materials since 1993. Of those, 18 involved highly enriched uranium, or plutonium, which is needed to make a nuclear bomb.

However, the IAEA experts judged the quantities of plutonium involved were insufficient to make a nuclear bomb.


Dr. Jerrold Post, a terrorism expert from the George Washington University in the U.S., said that an attack on a nuclear facility by religious fundamentalists was certainly conceivable in the light of the events of September 11. Post said he had interviewed several dozen suspected fundamentalist attackers about their views and told the conference that the results were ``startling and chilling''.

Post said, when asked if there were any limits to the numbers of casualties they wanted to inflict, one suspect had said: ``The more casualties, the better. The greater the number of casualties, the greater the measure of success.'' Post quoted another: ``This is not murder, this is jihad (holy war), and in a jihad, there are no red lines.''

Shortly after the events of September 11, nuclear experts began exploring the consequences of hijackers ramming a jumbo jet into one of the world's 438 nuclear power reactors.

The IAEA cannot yet predict whether the result would be a Chernobyl-style disaster or not. ``They haven't actually done that evaluation yet,'' said Andrew.

He referred to a 1988 U.S. experiment in which scientists rammed a small military jet into a concrete and steel structure identical to a nuclear power plant. The structure held.

``It wasn't just a publicity stunt,'' Andrew said. ``What it actually showed was that the engineering assessment predicted it accurately. There was a dent of about two-and-a-half inches and the computer simulations predicted that.''

He said he expected scientists soon to conduct experiments to find out what exactly would happen if hijackers crashed a plane as big as a jumbo jet into a nuclear power plant.

Experts Urge Nuclear Security

Associated Press – by Vanessa Gera - November 4, 2001

VIENNA, Austria - Nuclear experts pleaded with the world's richer countries to spend millions of dollars more on security for radioactive materials, warning that only stringent controls will stop terrorists and avert a nuclear catastrophe.

Appealing for international unity in creating universal and stringent controls on nuclear materials, Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said poor countries need help to fund security programs aimed at preventing nuclear material from falling into the hands of terrorists.

``This is in everyone's interest,'' said ElBaradei, who leads the U.N. agency that sets world standards for atomic safety and provides help to countries in case of a radiological disaster.

He said wealthier nations need to donate $30 million to $50 million annually to beef up security at nuclear facilities where theft or sabotage is most likely to occur. Given what is at stake, he said the amount is ``peanuts.''

Hundreds of experts gathered in Vienna on Friday to explore steps nations can take to secure radiological material - moves made more urgent by the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

He said it is unclear whether terrorist groups have the capability of building a nuclear bomb, but warned that governments must act quickly to prevent that from happening.

``We don't have any information that al-Qaida or any other terrorist organization has nuclear material,'' he said. Before the attacks on New York and Washington, the agency was worried most about the risk of governments ``diverting nuclear materials into clandestine weapons programs,'' ElBaradei said. Now, however, experts are concerned about using radiological materials to make a weapon unlike traditional nuclear devices meant to be used by governments at war.

Experts particularly worry that terrorists could construct a so-called ``dirty bomb.'' Unlike more sophisticated nuclear weapons, a ``dirty bomb'' is a crude device using radioactive material taken from industrial sites or hospitals and detonated by conventional explosives.

When a ``dirty bomb'' explodes, radioactive material is dispersed. Such a crude weapon may not kill many people, but would touch off panic, ElBaradei said.

The ability to create a ``dirty bomb'' makes it critical to cut off terrorist access to nuclear supplies everywhere. While the agency said there is a need to beef up security at sites where safeguards are at their weakest, it declined to specify which sites or countries were at issue, citing safety concerns.

``There have been two nuclear shocks to the world already - the Chernobyl accident and the IAEA's discovery of Iraq's clandestine nuclear weapons program,'' ElBaradei said. ``We (will) do all in our power to prevent a third.''

Energy Department Breaking Agreements?

Associated Press – November 4, 2001

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Gov. Bob Holden accused the U.S. Energy Department of breaking agreements on the shipment of nuclear waste through Missouri earlier this year and raised security concerns in light of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In a letter to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Holden asked the department to rethink shipping radioactive waste through Missouri, specifically through densely populated areas.

``In light of the recent terrorist attacks on our nation, I think it only appropriate for the Department of Energy to revisit the practice of shipping spent nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive waste through densely populated areas,'' Holden said in the letter.

He accused the department of failing to avoid rush-hour traffic and major public events on June 28 when the shipments passed through Missouri.

When the convoy carrying the waste arrived at the outskirts of St. Louis around 2:30 p.m., Holden sought to delay it. The trucks were allowed to proceed shortly after 7 p.m. and made their way along Interstate 70 across the state.

In its official notice, the Energy Department had written that the waste would go through Iowa, not Missouri.

Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis said federal officials worked with Missouri for months leading up to the shipment and went beyond what the state was requiring for security. ``We only seem to run into problems in Missouri,'' he said.

Nuclear - Page Thirteen