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

"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)

Nuclear Power’s Dim Prospects

The Patriot-News – by Brett Lieberman – December 30, 2001

(12/19/01) - WASHINGTON--For the first time since the 1979 Three Mile Island accident, the nuclear power industry began this year with hope that its recovery would begin.

The industry found the new Bush administration supportive of building a generation of reactors at a time when soaring energy prices, particularly in California, were turning around public opinion. It also found industry leaders such as Exelon Nuclear, operator of TMI and 16 other reactors, ready to propose new plants as early as next year.

Then came Sept. 11.

The terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Somerset County and persistent questions from lawmakers, watchdog groups and residents about plants' security against terrorist assaults or ability to withstand an airliner crash have led to a new round of questions about the industry's viability.

Industry and regulatory officials maintain that plants are being operated far more efficiently and safely than they were just a decade ago and that they are more secure than many Americans would believe based on the complaints of a few critics.

"Not much has changed for us," insisted Melanie White, a spokeswoman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's main lobbying group.

"What certain people are saying about the nuclear industry ... they've always been against nuclear power," she said, adding that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the industry are continuing a top-to-bottom review of security needs that was initiated after the attacks.

Yet even prominent industry leaders acknowledge that Sept. 11 and the calls for posting National Guard troops, anti-aircraft batteries and closing plants may have reshaped the debate.

"Sept. 11 has definitely changed a lot of people's thinking about security," said Jack Skolds, chief operating officer of Chicago-based Exelon, the nation's largest operator of nuclear plants.

"Sept. 11 added a new variable into the mix into determining whether nuclear plants can be safe and economical ... going forward," Skolds said in a telephone interview. "It's a legitimate question for the nuclear power industry as well as other industries out there."

Nuclear power operators have spent millions of dollars on security for overtime, more personnel and equipment since the attacks.

Because of the industry and public attention, as well as steps taken to strengthen security in other parts of the economy, such as at airports, Skolds and other industry representatives believe the nation's 103 operating reactors are more secure than they were on Sept. 10.

That may be one reason why many industry leaders remain upbeat about prospects for a new generation of reactors.

Last week, Corbin McNeill, co-chief executive officer of Exelon, told a Chicago conference that his company is on track to apply with the NRC by 2003 or 2004 to license a new "pebble bed modular reactor" it has been developing in South Africa. The smaller and cheaper reactors would produce only 120 megawatts to 150 megawatts, but industry researchers claim they are much safer.

The last plant to come online was Watts Bar in Tennessee. A construction permit was issued in 1973, but it did not begin operating until May 1996. Meanwhile, the unfinished Unit 2 section of Seabrook nuclear plant in New Hampshire was scrapped in the 1980s because of financing problems after its sister reactor cost nearly $5 billion.

Since the TMI accident, growth in the nuclear power industry has primarily been overseas, including Japan, France, South Africa and Germany. But that could be changing. The German parliament approved a plan Friday that would close its country's 19 nuclear plants within 20 years.

Key to selling the public and regulators on new plants will be shifting the focus from security to the need for more electricity and the benefits of nuclear power versus coal, natural gas, imported oil or other alternatives.

"I think the industry is still generally upbeat," said Gail Marcus, president of the American Nuclear Society and principal deputy director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology. "The need for energy is still there and the ... alternatives still aren't there."

Seeking to bolster support among lawmakers and the Bush administration, the nuclear-related companies and individuals contributed nearly $4 million to political parties and candidates this year through Dec. 1. Nearly three-quarters of the money went to Republicans, including $30,000 in soft money that Exelon gave the Republican National Committee in October, according to an analysis for The Patriot-News by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The contributions came as Congress worked to reauthorize the Price-Anderson Act, which limits liability in the event of a catastrophic accident.

Marcus and other nuclear proponents cited polls in October for the Nuclear Energy Institute that showed 66 percent of Americans support nuclear power to lessen the nation's dependence on foreign energy sources. The favorable ratings are the highest since the early 1980s.

"People saw the California [energy] crisis and recognized the greenhouse emissions problem and now people are seeing the energy security problem and they realize we've got to have options," she said. However, a Gallup Poll in November showed public support has slipped in the last six months, with Americans opposing nuclear expansion 52 percent to 42 percent.

"I would think it would be a very difficult sell, next to impossible" at the moment, said Peter Bradford, a former NRC commissioner who served during the TMI accident.

"The events of Sept. 11 will require fundamental reassessment of several aspects of nuclear regulation in this country. Such reassessment can only increase cost and controversy, the fundamental causes of nuclear power's fall from favor in the 1970s and 1980s."

Operating improvements and increased efficiencies have reduced the cost of nuclear power production considerably since the early 1990s. Yet if major structural or security changes are needed, the costs could rise.

States have spent $58 million for security around nuclear plants since Sept. 11, according to a National Governors Association report.

"They really have no choice," said John Thomasian, director of National Governors Association's Center for Best Practices. "These expenditures are right up there with health care. You just don't have a choice."

More Plutonium Shipment Problems

Greenville News – by John Boyanoski – December 29, 2001

U.S. Department of Energy officials said Thursday that if plutonium is not shipped from Rocky Flats, Colo., to South Carolina by early 2002, it could cause a serious delay in the planned 2006 shutdown of the former nuclear weapons plant.

The plan to ship 30 to 50 tons of bomb-grade plutonium to South Carolina has been an ongoing battle between the state and the federal government. Gov. Jim Hodges has threatened to lie down in front of trucks and a federal nuclear oversight panel has said the state isn't equipped to handle the highly radioactive material over a prolonged period.

The Energy Department must give the state a 30-day notice before shipping, and DOE spokesperson Patrick Etchart said officials at the Rock Flats site haven't received any orders to move.

Hodges couldn't be reached for comment.

Theoretically, mid-spring is the latest possible date the shipments could begin and still meet the 2006 closure date, said Alan Parker, the president of Kaiser-Hill Co., the firm conducting the Rocky Flats cleanup.

But the Energy Department's entire fleet of specially designed trucks would have to be assigned to the Rocky Flats cleanup to get the shipments done in time, Parker said.

All of the plutonium has been moved to a single building so that the rest of the plant can be demolished. Once the plutonium is gone, the last structure can come down.

The plutonium is supposed to go to the Savannah River Site near Aiken, but Hodges first wants a written promise that the plutonium will not be stored there permanently. The governor has said U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham failed to reassure him of that.

The Energy Department had planned to convert the plutonium to reactor fuel or to immobilize it in glass but neither plan was funded by Congress. Energy Department officials have said they'll start looking for alternative places to put the plutonium unless Hodges cooperates.

"We have not slowed down any on the cleanup and closure efforts. A closure of this magnitude has never been attempted or completed before anywhere," Etchart said. "If it goes beyond that (February), it will start to put a major stress on the system."

U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., is threatening to push for the closure of the Savannah River Site if South Carolina refuses the plutonium. Hodges has dismissed the threat, saying he doubts any other state will want the plutonium without a long-term disposal plan.

GAO Faults the NRC

Associated Press – December 26, 2001

WASHINGTON, Dec. 24 — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has failed to adequately ensure that owners have enough money to safely own, operate and later decommission nuclear power plants, a Congressional review says.

The commission needs to tighten its review of requests to transfer licenses, especially because the costs of dismantling a plant and disposing of radioactive waste could increase, said the study by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

The review was requested by Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, because of concerns that deregulation and recent license transfers have reduced money available for decommissioning a plant, which costs $300 million to $400 million.

The regulatory commission has licensed 125 nuclear power plants for limited times. Utilities have sold or are selling all or part of 15 plants. Another 30 plants have had licenses transferred.

Before transferring licenses to new plant owners, the commission requires companies to make periodic deposits into a trust fund; prepay costs; or obtain a bond, insurance or credit to guarantee they can meet certain financial requirements.

In general, enough money is being set aside to take plants out of service, the report said, but the commission has not done enough to monitor the financial arrangements.

The commission's "reviews were not always rigorous enough to ensure that decommissioning funds would be adequate," it said. "Moreover, N.R.C. did not always adequately verify the new owners' financial qualifications to safely own and operate the plants."

The commission should ask for guarantees of additional revenue and document its review of any financial information, including revenue projections, the report said.

It also said the commission gave plant owners about two years before their licenses are terminated to determine whether additional cleanup was needed. The accounting office recommended shortening that time.

But the commission said an earlier deadline "would not add significant value to the decommissioning process." It also disagreed that it should modify its financial reviews "because many of the proposed license transfers are unique."

Retired Scientist Still Fighting Nukes

The Charlotte Observer – by Bruce Henderson – December 23, 2001

Jesse Riley, 87, fought plants in '70s, opposes continuing their use

The scene inside a federal courtroom this week could have come from 30 years ago.

A platoon of Duke Power and Nuclear Regulatory Commission lawyers and engineers filled one side of the small room.

Across the aisle, a white-haired man sat hunched at a counsel table, papers spread before him, three younger companions at his side.

Jesse Riley, at 87, was returning to battle.

Charlotte's premier anti-nuke warrior, it turns out, has more staying power than some of the radioactivity he's tried to corral since 1970.

The fight then was over the construction and operation of Duke's McGuire and Catawba nuclear plants. Riley and his group, the Carolina Environmental Study Group, scrapped hard but lost. The plants, along with Duke's first nuclear plant, Oconee in northwestern South Carolina, generate about half the utility's electricity.

Now the retired scientist is trying to stop something he never anticipated: adding 20 more years to the plants' original 40-year operating licenses.

"I was horrified about 40 years," Riley says. "In the early days, we were told 25 to 30 years. We're living on borrowed time and are being asked to live on even more borrowed time."

To Riley, any nuclear power plant is an accident waiting to happen. To Duke and the NRC, continual inspections, training and backup systems dwarf those risks.

Riley argues that the potential for human error and failing components in the massively complex plants is not worth risking lives. Used fuel, some of which can remain radioactive for thousands of years, poses a long-term disposal problem that hasn't been solved.

The aging plants brought the old activist back to the counsel table this week during a meeting with the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. As in the old days, he tossed anxiously the night before his appearance.

Years of heat, pressure and neutron bombardment mean reactor parts can develop problems nobody ever foresaw, he says.

Cracks from stress and corrosion, in nozzles that penetrate the reactor vessel head, were detected this year at Oconee. The heads were replaced, the NRC says. No cracks were found at Catawba and McGuire. Duke says finding the Oconee cracks before they caused problems proves the effectiveness of its inspection programs.

"What hasn't happened is what we're concerned about," Riley told the board. "Things like this do happen. We don't anticipate them, and if they're serious we suffer."

Scientist by training

Riley's experience before the board was invaluable, says Mary Olson, southeastern director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, which he helped represent.

"This is not something that the public is born knowing how to do," she says.

As the only scientist in the Carolina Environmental Study Group, Riley led the way into the arcane world of nuclear power.

"Mostly, he was doing it himself," says Shelley Blum, an attorney who in the late 1970s represented Riley's group in opposing Catawba and McGuire. "To combat Jesse, (Duke) had to bring in people who literally wrote books on the subject."

Riley scheduled his vacation time so he could attend hearings that sometimes ran for weeks. Nights and weekends, he pored over multivolume technical reports 3 feet thick.

The group's achievement, Blum says, was to slow down the licensing process enough to show that the growth of electricity demand didn't support Duke's plan to build two more nuclear plants.

"So I figure that at least Jesse saved ratepayers a lot of money," he says.

Duke officials say the company ditched its plans for more plants in the early 1980s because of economic conditions and slowing power demand, not because of licensing delays with McGuire and Catawba.

Despite their differences, Riley and Duke officials remained formally cordial.

"I feel that they have done, as jobs go, a reasonably good job," Riley says. "I don't know all their mistakes because they're not public."

Duke lawyer Larry Porter helped represent the utility in the Catawba and McGuire hearings in the 1970s and '80s.

"I remember that he was thorough, very interested in what he was doing, and he was convinced that he was right," says Porter, who is now Duke's deputy general counsel.

"We didn't always agree. I found him to be a worthy opponent and a gentleman."

A cartoon and a poem

The upstairs "nuke room," Riley's trove of documents in his Myers Park home, shut down for the last time two years ago. Riley's wife Sue cleaned out the room, recycling thousands of pages.

On the pale blue walls hang an undated Doug Marlette editorial cartoon: Reddy Kilowatt, Duke's long-time symbol, on the run with a pack of dogs - labeled ecologists - nipping at his heels.

And a framed poem from Duke's legal counsel, celebrating his 1981 retirement.

"As you leave Celanese," it ends,
"To seek a life of ease
"Remember this line
"Which I now opine
"Nuclear power is NOT a disease."

Catawba and McGuire: Risk of Attacks

The Charlotte Observer – by Bruce Henderson - December 21, 2001

Licensing board hears arguments against20-year extensions

Opponents of 20-year license extensions for the two Charlotte-area nuclear plants on Wednesday raised the possibility of terrorist attacks in a meeting with a federal licensing board.

Since Sept. 11, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has begun a top-to-bottom review of security at all 103 of the nation's nuclear reactors. The commission also suspended exercises that measure the ability of nuclear plants to repel terrorist attacks.

The Nuclear Information and Resource Service, an anti-nuclear group, says the Catawba and McGuire nuclear plants near Charlotte deserve special scrutiny. Duke Power wants to extend the plants' operating licenses by 20 years, keeping them in operation into the early 2040s.

"We're in a new time," since the attacks on New York and Washington, said Mary Olson, the group's Southeastern director. "Something has happened that could change everything."

Duke responded that Olson raises no security concerns that are unique to Catawba and McGuire, so the issue shouldn't become a licensing question.

An Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, a panel named by the NRC, met Tuesday and Wednesday in Charlotte to discuss opponents' opposition to the license extensions. The three-member board will decide next month whether any of the claims merit a more exhaustive hearing.

If it denies security as an issue worthy of a full hearing, Olson asked that the board refer it to the full commission.

Her group also claims that Duke's planned use of a plutonium blend of fuel at McGuire and Catawba, beginning in 2007, should be considered during license renewal. Those would become the first U.S. nuclear plants to use fuel that contains surplus weapons plutonium.

Duke Power insists questions about the mixed-oxide fuel should be handled separately. Duke plans to begin seeking permission in March to use test batches of the new fuel. An application for production use of the fuel would be filed in late 2003 or early 2004.

Opponents may raise any questions about mixed-oxide fuel when the utility files applications to use it, Duke said.

The Nuclear Information and Research Service also raised questions about the effects of age, stress and metal fatigue when reactors originally licensed for 40 years are pressed into service for 60.

Duke said those issues are covered by a system of inspections and programs meant to detect aging components.

NRC on Catawba and McGuire Stations

The Charlotte Observer – by Bruce Henderson - December 20, 2001

Critics say plant design has risks

(12/19/01) - A Nuclear Regulatory Commission panel on Tuesday questioned differing assessments of the risks of a key structure at the McGuire nuclear plant north of Charlotte.

Duke Power wants to extend the operating licenses of McGuire and its sister Catawba plant on Lake Wylie by about 20 years.

An Atomic Safety and Licensing Board is meeting in Charlotte to hear claims from two groups who want the NRC to deny the extensions.

For the board to agree to a full hearing on any of the claims, it has to find a "genuine dispute" of fact. Questions from the three-judge panel suggested they might have found such a dispute in the design of McGuire and Catawba.

The plants are among a handful that use unusual structures to contain radioactive steam that could escape during a reactor accident. The structures can be smaller and weaker under pressure than most because they rely on ice beds to condense escaping steam into water.

Even so, the NRC says, the ice-condenser plants are within safety guidelines.

A government study last year found that, in one dire if unlikely scenario, McGuire's containment is more likely to fail than other plants because it was more prone to power losses.

In the pretend scenario, the power plant loses electric power, disabling components that control a buildup of hydrogen. The hydrogen explodes.

The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, which opposes extending the plant licenses, says the study by Sandia National Laboratories places the likelihood of failure at McGuire five times higher than Duke's own analysis.

Duke and NRC staff say the Sandia study is irrelevant to license renewal. The study was based on 10-year-old data that doesn't account for improvements to McGuire's backup power, diesel generators, Duke says. The licensing board will decide by late January whether to grant a hearing to Blue Ridge or to the Nuclear Information and Research Service, which also opposes the extensions. The meeting continues today.

NRC Licensing Board to Meet in Charlotte

Associated Press – December 18, 2001

CHARLOTTE - Environmental and anti-nuclear groups plan to use the threat of terrorist attacks, and questions about the safety of a new fuel, to fight 20-year extensions of the licenses of two nuclear-power plants.

The plants, McGuire on Lake Norman and Catawba on Lake Wylie near Rock Hill, have operated for nearly 20 years. New licenses would allow them to run into the early 2040s.

A licensing board of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission will meet Tuesday and Wednesday in Charlotte to hear the groups' claims.

The board will decide by late January whether any of the claims merit a full hearing in a trial-like setting.

The Nuclear Information and Resource Service, an anti-nuclear group with an Asheville office, and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, headquartered in Ashe County, are seeking the hearing. The groups plan to argue that the consequences of sabotage and terrorism at the plants, such as attacks on cooling-water systems, haven't been fully evaluated, according to papers filed with the commission. Duke Power officials say that because terrorist threats apply to all nuclear plants, security issues are too broad to be part of license renewal.

The groups also say the utility's plan to use fuel containing surplus weapons plutonium, starting in 2007, will increase the aging of reactor parts and would kill 25 percent more people in a severe accident.

Duke Power has asked the commission not to consider the use of mixed-oxide fuel, arguing it's a separate issue from license renewal. The commission has indicated it agrees.

A three-member panel of administrative law judges, called an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, will hold next week's meeting at the federal courthouse in Charlotte.

"Recycling" Radioactive Metals

Public Citizen - – December 13, 2001

WASHINGTON, D.C. - In what public interest groups deem a betrayal, certain U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) officials are pushing a proposal that would allow the "unrestricted release" - including recycling - of potentially radioactive metals from DOE nuclear sites. The plan directly violates the spirit of previous DOE policy and would quietly reverse DOE's July 2000 decision to suspend the release of potentially radioactive metals. The plan was outlined in a draft memo from the department's Field Management Council (FMC) that Public Citizen and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) recently acquired.

The DOE is currently conducting an environmental review of how to handle radioactive scrap metal from DOE sites (the process is called a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) on the Disposition of [Radioactively Contaminated] Scrap Metals). This process includes a planned public comment period and hearings on the various alternatives for the disposition of potentially radioactively contaminated metals generated by DOE nuclear activities. The metals at issue can be sold and used to make a wide variety of retail goods and industrial materials.

The FMC proposal would essentially bypass the current environmental review process by pre-selecting one of the alternatives under consideration by the DOE. Should the proposal be approved by Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, there would be no public review, participation, comment or notification. Amazingly, the memo states that "this action will not bias the analysis" of the ongoing review.

References to "scrap metals that may have originally contained small, but acceptable quantities of residual radioactivity" and "the Oak Ridge complex's initiative to recycle metals with acceptable level[s] of residual radioactivity" indicate that the DOE is again aiming to unload thousands of tons of radioactively contaminated waste and materials upon American businesses and consumers.

The PEIS process itself has not been without problems. In early 2000 the DOE hired Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) to perform the environmental review. SAIC had previously been terminated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a substantial conflict of interest because it had a financial interest in a quarter-billion dollar contract to recycle radioactive metal from the DOE's Oak Ridge, Tenn., complex, and at the same time was creating a report for the NRC to use as a guide for releasing and recycling radioactive materials from its own facilities. After Public Citizen, NIRS and other public interest groups met with DOE officials in July and pointed out SAIC's questionable record, DOE revoked its contract with SAIC to perform the environmental review.

"This latest back-door maneuver makes it crystal clear that DOE's ultimate goal is to release and disperse radioactive materials," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "The PEIS process has revealed strong public, environmental and metal industry opposition to radioactive recycling. So now DOE is plotting another step to recycle this stuff in complete disregard of its own environmental review process. It may be in the DOE's financial and legal interests to toss its nuclear waste into our homes, but Americans have always been strongly opposed to the idea."

"DOE is destroying whatever fragments of credibility this troubled process has left by attempting to secretly reverse the one good policy they have - prohibiting radioactive metals from getting into commerce," said Diane D'Arrigo, Nuclear Information and Resource Service project director. "In addition, DOE continues to send other contaminated materials out into the marketplace."

Dave Ritter, policy analyst with Public Citizen's Critical Mass, agreed. "What Americans really want this holiday season is assurance from their government that radioactive waste will not be recycled into metal, concrete, soil, plastic or any other product. Instead of a clear and unambiguous ban on this practice, the DOE is trying to side-step its own process and eventually drop its own version of a terrorist's 'dirty bomb' all over this country."

Public Citizen and NIRS are submitting Freedom of Information Act requests to the DOE for all materials relating to the development of the FMC memo.

Nuclear - Page Fifteen