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

"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)

Yucca Mountain: More Conflict of Interest Issues

Public Citizen – Press Release – December 6, 2001

(12/5/01) WASHINGTON, D.C. - President Bush's nomination of Margaret Chu to the office responsible for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository raises conflict of interest concerns because of her previous work at Sandia National Laboratories, a key participant in the project, Public Citizen said today. Chu has been nominated as director of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM). The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the confirmation today.

"Such blatant organizational conflict of interest makes this nomination unacceptable," said Lisa Gue, policy analyst with Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "As director of OCRWM, Chu would be in a position to review the work of a program she formerly directed."

For more than two decades, Chu was employed by Sandia National Labs, most recently as director of the Nuclear Waste Management Program. Sandia is a DOE nuclear weapons and research facility operated by Lockheed Martin Corp. The facility has conducted several studies related to the Yucca Mountain repository proposal, including a series of "Total System Performance Assessments" (TSPAs) that aim to predict the ability of the DOE's repository designs to contain nuclear waste far into the future. As stated on Sandia's Web site, "Any decision on whether to build and operate a repository at the [Yucca Mountain] site will be strongly influenced by past and future TSPA analyses."

Yucca Mountain, located northwest of Las Vegas in Nevada, is the only site under consideration for a proposed high-level nuclear waste repository. OCRWM is responsible for evaluating the suitability of the site, which may lead to a recommendation by the energy secretary early next year. Numerous technical, environmental and policy issues remain unresolved, but the pro-nuclear Bush administration appears committed to pursuing the project.

"Sandia's Yucca Mountain studies have tended to favor the repository proposal," said Gue, noting that the presidentially appointed Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board has frequently been critical of the high level of uncertainty involved in the TSPA analyses. "If the DOE decides not to recommend the site, Sandia's reputation would certainly be hurt."

"Because of her long association with Sandia's Nuclear Waste Management Program, Margaret Chu will be under immense pressure to support a favorable evaluation of the Yucca Mountain repository proposal regardless of evidence that should disqualify the site," Gue said.

Recent events have brought to light other instances of conflict of interest within the Yucca Mountain Project, seriously damaging its credibility. The law firm Winston & Strawn resigned last week after the DOE's inspector general reported that lawyers serving as counsel to the Yucca Mountain Project were simultaneously registered as members and lobbyists for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's pro-repository lobbying group. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's inspector general also is investigating an alleged leak of unpublished NRC documents to Winston & Strawn lawyers. Additionally, a draft Government Accounting Office document, reported on last week in the Washington Post and elsewhere, appears to indicate that DOE's current site recommendation activities are premature because many studies are incomplete.

"The repository proposal should be shelved pending a thorough and independent review of the causes and consequences of contractor conflict of interest and pro-industry bias within the Yucca Mountain Project," said Gue. "The integrity of the program has been seriously undermined, and by nominating Margaret Chu the administration shows no interest in improving this dismal track record."

Goodbye, Yucca Mountain?

Associated Press – December 3, 2001

LAS VEGAS, Dec. 1 — A plan to bury tons of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada has suffered two setbacks: a law firm hired in 1999 to advise the Energy Department quit, and Congressional investigators said a decision on the plan should be postponed indefinitely.

The law firm, Winston & Strawn, based in Chicago, came under fire in recent months after the disclosure that lawyers working on the federal contract also worked for the Nuclear Energy Institute, which is lobbying the government to approve the Yucca Mountain project.

Opponents of the proposed nuclear waste repository, including Nevada's two senators, Harry Reid, a Democrat, and John Ensign, a Republican, called the relationship a conflict of interest.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has accepted the firm's withdrawal, said Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Energy Department.

Winston & Strawn issued a statement on Friday denying a "legal conflict of interest," but said it withdrew to protect the Energy Department from "extraneous arguments and public debate."

Also on Friday, the General Accounting Office recommended that the Bush administration indefinitely postpone a decision on the Yucca Mountain project, in which the nuclear industry is seeking to bury 78,000 tons of used reactor fuel.

The office, which is the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, said at least 293 technical issues should be resolved before the Energy Department decided on the waste dump.

"Making a site recommendation at this time is premature," the report concluded.

Mr. Abraham said the report was "fatally flawed" and "assembled to support a predetermined conclusion." The review had been requested by Senator Reid.

After almost two decades of study, Mr. Abraham is on the verge of making a recommendation to President Bush on whether Yucca Mountain, a volcanic ridge about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is a suitable site to entomb the nation's radioactive waste.

The nuclear power industry is eager to find a permanent disposal site for the waste and is pushing the government to open Yucca Mountain. Under a 1982 law, the department was supposed to begin accepting nuclear waste from the utilities in 1998. But the project is already 12 years behind schedule and faces more technical and legal challenges. Mr. Davis, the Energy Department spokesman, said there was no connection between Winston & Strawn's quitting and the recommendation by the General Accounting Office.

It was unclear whether the firm's withdrawal could delay the Energy Department's effort to obtain a license for the repository from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In explaining the withdrawal, James Thompson, Winston & Strawn's chairman and a former Illinois governor, said, "We thought the controversy has been a burden and a distraction to the client."

Mr. Thompson estimated that his firm had received "a little more than $1 million" of the $16.5 million Energy Department contract.

Senator Ensign said that Friday was an important day for opponents of the Yucca Mountain project.

"Between Winston & Strawn and the G.A.O. report, we have been given more ammunition than we've ever had before to be able to realistically kill Yucca Mountain," he said in Las Vegas. "The odds just improved dramatically in our favor."

Federal Plutonium Warning

Associated Press – December 3, 2001

A warning from a federal panel that plutonium should not be stored for 50 years at the Savannah River Site has left state officials wondering just how long the federal government wants to keep the nuclear material in South Carolina.

The panel told the Energy Department that plans to store plutonium at the former nuclear weapons plant near Aiken for five decades are impractical because the facility "was never intended to provide more than interim storage."

SRS has been chosen to take plutonium out of weapons and process it into fuel for nuclear reactors and ship it out. But state officials, including Gov. Jim Hodges, worry federal officials won't fund processing the nuclear material, leaving it sitting at SRS forever.

"This just further strengthens my resolve that South Carolina will have an ironclad agreement with the Department of Energy before any plutonium reaches here," Hodges said. "If we do not, we will all be dead and gone and the plutonium will still be sitting at SRS."

While the Energy Department says it is committed to reprocessing the plutonium and shipping it out to another location, the letter shows federal officials aren't committed to the policy, the governor said.

"That is totally contrary to what they agreed to do several years ago, and it is contrary to what they have been telling us," Hodges said.

Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis said the 50-year reference is an agency standard of packaging longevity, and does not imply that federal officials intend to leave the material at SRS for that long.

"We've always said we have a review under way and we are not close to shipping anything to SRS," Davis said. "It is our intention that the material that goes into SRS for treatment will be taken out of SRS for storage."

House Speaker David Wilkins, who met with Undersecretary of Energy Robert Card in August about the plutonium shipments, said the letters did not change his view that the Bush administration wants to ship the plutonium out of SRS once it is converted into fuel.

"I do not interpret that as a statement by DOE that we must keep it for 50 years," Wilkins said.

Vote on Nuclear Power Subsidy

Public Citizen – Press Release – November 27, 2001

Price-Anderson Act Being Rammed Through the House; Act Promotes New Reactors, Subsidizes Nuclear Industry in Event of Accident or Terrorist Attack

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. House of Representatives should not vote on the Price-Anderson Act - which establishes a subsidy for the nuclear industry - as scheduled Tuesday because lawmakers will have no opportunity to amend it and virtually no time to debate it, Public Citizen said today.

The act allows the nuclear power industry to operate with only a sliver of private-sector insurance coverage relative to the enormous costs that would be incurred in the event of an accident at a commercial reactor. The act establishes a taxpayer-backed insurance regime for nuclear power plants that limits the liability of nuclear operators in the event of an accident and reduces the amount of insurance they are required to carry on operating reactors. Those limits are far below the potential cost of an accident, so taxpayers could pay billions of dollars if a meltdown occurs or a reactor is attacked by terrorists. Such taxpayer support reduces the incentive for the nuclear industry to increase security.

H.R. 2983 would reauthorize the act, which was first passed in 1957 and has been reauthorized throughout the years. The law is scheduled to expire next year, but nuclear industry proponents contend it must be extended now to cover a new generation of nuclear power plants or those plants won't be built.

The House leadership has placed H.R. 2983 on the suspension calendar, a legislative device normally reserved for non-controversial measures virtually certain to pass, such as bills to name post offices and courthouses or resolutions expressing congressional support for holidays. By considering the bill under a suspension of the rules, House members are not allowed to amend it, and just 20 minutes of debate are permitted per side.

"This country needs to have a broad, deep discussion about its energy future," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "Yet the leadership in the House of Representatives is pretending that national energy policy is no more important than naming a courthouse."

To be lifted from the suspension calendar, 145 members of the House would have to vote to return H.R. 2983 to the normal legislative process, where the merits of promoting nuclear power could be debated and amendments could be introduced.

A full debate on the wisdom of the United States encouraging more nuclear plants - which could be terrorist targets - is particularly important after Sept. 11. Since that time, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has announced a comprehensive review of security safeguards at nuclear plants, National Guard troops have been summoned to bolster security at several plants, and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have announced they intend to introduce legislation to federalize security forces at nuclear power plants.

Citing security concerns, a coalition of citizens and political and civic leaders in New York have petitioned for the closing of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which is located only about 25 miles from New York City. And associates of Osama bin Laden have been quoted in media reports about the desire to attack a nuclear power plant in the United States. Should a plant be attacked, radiation could spread widely, killing countless numbers of people, making more people sick and rendering whole cities uninhabitable.

Even before Sept. 11, the White House sparked vigorous debate and protest by proposing a far-reaching energy program loaded with subsidies for industries close to the administration, including the nuclear power industry. The Senate is expected to take up that controversial legislation early next year.

But in the House, Hauter said, heightened interest in energy policy, heightened concern for security at nuclear plants and heightened awareness of the relationship between the two don't appear important enough to warrant democratic debate.

"If House members vote to build new nuclear power plants - and make no mistake, that's what Price-Anderson reauthorization is all about - with virtually no debate, they are depriving the nation of exactly the type of vigorous democratic discussion we've asked our military forces to defend," Hauter said.

Federal Protection for Nuclear Plants

The New York Times – by Robert F. Worth - November 22, 2001

BUCHANAN, N.Y., Nov. 20 — The federal government should assume responsibility for protecting the country's nuclear power plants to safeguard them from terrorist attack, a group of Democratic members of Congress from New York said today.

Speaking outside the Indian Point nuclear plant here, the lawmakers — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Representatives Nita M. Lowey and Eliot L. Engel — said they planned to introduce legislation that would include the creation of a security force within the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Mrs. Clinton also proposed to expand the evacuation zone around nuclear plants to 50 miles from 10 miles, along with other measures to protect people living close to the plants.

David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said federalizing security at the plants would probably be helpful, because security is uneven, with some owners doing the job well and others cutting back to save money.

"Having federal oversight would tend to be better than what we've had in the past," he said.

The bill also calls for an expansion of the evacuation zone, and new measures to toughen the simulated terrorist attacks the federal government already conducts periodically on nuclear plants to evaluate their safety. Mrs. Clinton said she would also propose stockpiling potassium iodide, which helps to prevent cancer and other diseases among people exposed to radiation.

Safety measures have been enhanced at all of the nation's nuclear plants since Sept. 11. At Indian Point, National Guard troops can still be seen and the Coast Guard has patrolled the Hudson nearby.

But many believe that the plant's proximity to New York makes it inherently dangerous. About 20 million people live within 50 miles of the plant, and two weeks ago four members of Congress and a number of officials signed a petition urging that Indian Point be closed until its safety could be guaranteed.

Expanding the evacuation zone to 50 miles would include New York City, which is 30 miles to the south. Mrs. Clinton did not offer details but said "the direction and force of the wind" would be the major determinant of where an evacuation would be needed. The evacuation plan has become a sore point for many people in Westchester County who believe that it would not work in a serious accident.

Many questions about the proposals remained unanswered, including their cost. "I don't think you can put a price tag on real security and peace of mind," Mrs. Clinton said.

Public Citizen Urges Rejection of Repository

Public Citizen – Press Release –November 17, 2001

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Additional research and analysis is required to substantiate proposals for a high-level radioactive waste dump at Yucca Mountain, Nev., according to a new review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Absent this information, the Department of Energy (DOE) should abandon plans to pursue the dump's development, Public Citizen said today.

The NRC announced on Wednesday that it had submitted preliminary comments on the sufficiency of Department of Energy's (DOE) site characterization activities at Yucca Mountain. The NRC concluded that the DOE hasn't compiled sufficient information on the dump. However, the agency said that it "believes that sufficient at-depth site characterization analysis and waste form proposal information, although not available now, will be available at the time of a potential license application."

"The NRC's sufficiency review amounts to merely a statement of faith indicating the agency's hypothetical confidence in the results of analyses not yet completed," said Lisa Gue, a policy analyst with Public Citizen. "The DOE should not be contemplating a site recommendation before site characterization activities have been satisfactorily completed."

The NRC's comments include a summary of nine "key technical issues" identified by the agency as "important to repository performance." Of the 37 sub-issues listed, only five are considered resolved, with the vast majority still requiring additional information, testing and analysis by the DOE. The NRC also identified safety and security issues as a concern, but stopped short of specifically describing the implications of a terrorist act at the proposed facility. Despite NRC's findings, the DOE has not announced any change in plans to pursue the Yucca Mountain dump.

A 1987 amendment to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act directed the DOE to assess the suitability of Yucca Mountain, which is located approximately 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas, for development as the world's first high-level nuclear waste repository. Under the plan, 77,000 tons of radioactive waste from U.S. nuclear power plants and the DOE weapons complex would be transported through 45 states to the proposed dump.

"A nuclear waste repository would introduce new nuclear dangers in Nevada, not to mention the risks involved in transporting high-level radioactive waste across the country," Gue said. "Given current concerns about terrorism and security, proceeding with the Yucca Mountain proposal would be reckless and irresponsible."

Despite these and other concerns that the proposed repository might leak radioactivity, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has indicated that he intends to recommend to the president that the project move forward. A formal site recommendation is expected in early 2002. If the president refers the recommendation to Congress, as is likely, Nevada's disapproval could be overridden by majority vote.

Although the DOE intends to issue a site recommendation within the next few months and the issue could come before Congress as early as next spring, the NRC's review and the DOE's own timeline both indicate that a license application could still be several years off. But the Nuclear Waste Policy Act specifies that if Congress approves a Yucca Mountain site recommendation, the DOE must submit a license application to the NRC within 90 days.

"Clearly the act intends that any site recommendation be based upon much more concrete proposals and thorough analyses than what the DOE has developed. A site recommendation at this stage would be premature at best," Gue said.

The DOE will receive comments on its Yucca Mountain repository proposal in a supplemental public comment period that closes on Dec. 14, 2001.

Employee Advocate note: Written comments should be addressed to Carol Hanlon, U.S. Department of Energy, Yucca Mountain Site Characterization Office (M/S #205), P.O. Box 364629, North Las Vegas, Nevada, 89036-8629

More MOX Fuel Problems

Employee Advocate – – November 17, 2001

WYFF News reports that the Savannah River Site Security force may go on strike at the end of the month. The employees are not happy because of the start date for a retirees’ medical plan.

It seems like everywhere you turn companies are taking retirement or health care benefits from employees. The Mixed Oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel scheme has been plagued with many problems – now this!

The security force is unionized. Wackenhut Services is threatening to replace striking officers with nonunion workers.

A few sparks could fly as the company attempts to replace 450 armed guards with scabs.

Second NRC Meeting on McGuire

What You Don’t Know…

Employee Advocate – – November 9, 2001

“What you don’t know will not hurt you” is an old adage that always sounded a little flaky. Each passing day brings more evidence that “what you don’t know can kill you”!

The New York Times has reported some interesting details about a postal worker’s death, due to anthrax inhalation. The worker was concerned that he may have been exposed to anthrax on the job, but his management tried to explain it away.

There are a lot of things be explained away these days. The nuclear terrorism threat, bioterrorism threat, shrinking pensions, vanishing health care, and disappearing job are just a few.

Many politicos and management types feel that their main job is to keep the “masses” from panicking. They feel a need to express to the “troops” that everything is OK. If they have to twist the facts a little, so be it.

The last thing some officials want is the public (or employees) starting to question things. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” “Everything is going to be fine.” “A jet crashing into a nuclear reactor would cause no consequences.” “Just shut up, and drink you Kool-Aid.”

The postal employee was not buying everything his management put out: "I don't know anything. I couldn't even find out if it — if the stuff was or wasn't. I was told that it wasn't, but I have a tendency not to believe these people." He waited too long to question management’s “cover story” and the anthrax exposure killed him.

His recorded call to 911 leaves a clear recorded of everything. There is a big push to cut back on medical expenses for employees. But, here was a case of anthrax exposure being treated with Tylenol! Of course, no one admitted the possibility that he could have been exposed to the spores. Deny, deny, deny…“Take a couple of Tylenol, and everything will be OK.”

“People in and around Mr. Daschle's office were immediately given antibiotics, and none have become sick. But postal workers were not given antibiotics until a week later. Postal officials have said they were relying on advice from the Centers on Disease Control and Prevention that postal workers were not in danger.”

“Everything will be OK; there is no need to worry.”

Worker Who Died Suspected Anthrax

What Plutonium Shipments?

Employee Advocate – – November 8, 2001

Everyone does not keep up with national news. And, it is hard to keep up to date on every little story.

But one would think that the Homeland Security Director would be on top of the plutonium shipment issue. Plutonium shipments going to various places would certainly be a tempting terrorist target. Terrorist would not event have to go to the plutonium; they could wait for the plutonium to come to them.

According to Gannett News Service, South Carolina Governor Hodges asked the Homeland Security Director for assistance in dealing with the plutonium issue. Imagine the governor’s surprise when Director Ridge did not have a clue as to what he was talking about!

Many people have warned about the dangers of shipping plutonium to produce MOX nuclear fuel. And, that was before the terrorist attacks in September! Under current conditions, the risk of shipping plutonium is probably 100 times greater.

Homeland Security Director and Plutonium

Gannett News Service – by Larry Wheeler – November 8, 2001

WASHINGTON — Despite heightened security at U.S. nuclear power plants since September's terrorist attacks, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge was unaware the Department of Energy was contemplating shipping weapons-grade plutonium cross-country, Gov. Jim Hodges said Tuesday.

Hodges, a Democrat, met with Ridge at the White House to discuss his state's nuclear and seaport security concerns and later met with South Carolina's Congressional delegation to talk about home state security.

At the top of Hodges' list of concerns was a long-standing Energy Department plan to truck radioactive plutonium from the closed Rocky Flats, Colo., nuclear weapons complex to the federal Savannah River Site, near Aiken.

"This was an issue (former) Gov. Ridge was not familiar with," said Hodges, who met with reporters outside the White House. "I asked Gov. Ridge to intervene and urge the Department of Energy to delay shipments until some agreement is reached."

Hodges said he did not get a firm commitment from Ridge.

Once at the South Carolina nuclear-processing and -disposal complex, the plutonium would be converted to fuel for commercial nuclear power plants or encased in glass for permanent storage elsewhere.

Hodges opposed the nuclear material shipments before Sept. 11, insisting the Energy Department commit to a long-term disposal plan before the lethal fuel could be allowed into his state.

The South Carolina governor did not fault Ridge for being unfamiliar with the plutonium shipment issue.

"He's had a thousand things coming at him in a month's time," Hodges said.

Others don't share Hodges' view.

"It is disturbing that wasn't something high on (Ridge's) briefing list," said Brett Bursey, director of the South Carolina Progressive Network, a coalition of activists closely monitoring nuclear safety and other issues.

Earlier this year, Hodges was highly critical of the Bush administration's failure to provide money to convert the plutonium to power plant fuel or immobilize it.

Hodges threatened to block government plutonium trucks at the South Carolina border with the aid of state troopers.

Despite Hodges' concerns, the threat of plutonium covertly or openly rumbling across U.S. highways in the near future seems low.

"Plutonium shipments are not imminent," said Joe Davis, an Energy Department spokesman.

Davis said Energy Department officials have met with Hodges and South Carolina delegation lawmakers at least a dozen times since August to address concerns.

The agency is committed to drafting a plan that would have the plutonium processed at the Savannah River Site and then shipped outside the state for final disposal, he said.

While shipments of other kinds of spent nuclear fuel and waste have resumed since the Sept. 11 attacks, the movement of the weapons-grade plutonium would be classified and conducted under heavy security, Davis said.

Nuclear - Page Fourteen