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Nuclear -     1 - Duke Energy Employee Advocate

Nuclear - Page 19

“The NRC has admitted that even a crash at the auxiliary electrical or cooling
facilities could trigger a core meltdown.” - U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey - AP

Plutonium Dispute Intensifies

Associated Press – April 17, 2002

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Gov. Jim Hodges isn't backing down from the federal government just because the Energy Department says it's ready to begin shipments of plutonium to South Carolina next month.

Hodges had said previously that he's ready to send state troopers to intercept the truckloads or even lie in the road himself to stop them. His spokesman renewed those calls on Monday upon learning that U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham wants to start the shipments around May 15.

``The governor made it very clear that the 30-day notice would escalate the situation,'' spokesman Jay Reiff said. ``Troopers blocking shipments is an option. Legal avenues will be aggressively pursued. You use every feasible tool.''

Abraham said in a letter to Hodges that it was ``essential'' to begin the shipments to meet a schedule for closing the Rocky Flats weapons facility in Colorado by 2006.

The Bush administration wants to transport excess plutonium from weapons facilities around the country to the department's Savannah River complex near Aiken, where it will be made into mixed oxide fuel to run commercial nuclear reactors.

Hodges has vowed to intercept any shipments unless he gets firm agreement -- subject to federal court enforcement -- that the plutonium will not remain in South Carolina permanently.

By giving the 30-day notice required by Congress, Abraham issued a clear signal to Hodges that the Bush administration intends to pursue the shipments, over the governor's objections if necessary, Energy Department officials said.

A spokesman for the department would not discuss how the federal government would react to troopers at the state's borders or lawsuits.

It's not in the government's best interest to talk about ``armed confrontation,'' spokesman Joe Davis said. ``We think we can get these issues resolved.''

In a separate letter to key members of Congress, Abraham said his intention is to begin shipments of 76 trailer loads of plutonium from Rocky Flats shortly after May 15, continuing through June, 2003.

Reps. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John Spratt, D-S.C., were working on legislation that could break the impasse, Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop said. A bill under consideration could require that plutonium not be left in the state permanently.

Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., called the department's decision ``great news'' and said he would work with South Carolina's congressional delegation to ease the state's concerns.

The standoff over the shipments escalated last week when Abraham rejected a demand from Hodges that a federal judge oversee the enforcement of any agreement on the plutonium shipments.

Abraham outlined what he called a string of concessions to ease the governor's concerns. Among them is a formal commitment to take the plutonium back if the conversion plant falls behind schedule or runs into funding trouble.

But Hodges told Abraham he wants more assurances in a formal consent agreement that would allow a federal judge to oversee the process.

Abraham rejected the courts' involvement, saying it would amount to ``an attempt to conduct ... national security and foreign policy affairs through the judicial process'' and ``goes beyond what we can do.''

Anti Nuclear Dump Rally

Public Citizen – Press Release – April 17, 2002

Opponents of Yucca Mountain Nuclear Dump Rally in Washington

Representatives of More Than 100 State-Based Organizations Join Lawmakers, National Organizations Urging Congress to Sustain Nevada "Veto"

(4/16/02) - WASHINGTON, D.C. - More than 100 representatives of state-based environmental, disarmament and public interest groups joined members of Congress, national organizations and District of Columbia residents at a rally on Capitol Hill today, urging Congress to reject the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear dump.

"This proposal threatens the health, safety and environment of Americans nationwide, not just in Nevada," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "We urge Congress to stand up for public health and the environment by voting 'no' on this dangerous plan."

Speakers raised concerns about the safety of nuclear waste transportation. Tens of thousands of deadly nuclear shipments would travel on the roads, rails and waterways of 44 states and the District of Columbia en route to Yucca Mountain if dump program moves forward.

"This risky transportation scheme cannot be justified," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. "Nuclear waste transportation casks have not been properly tested to ensure they won't release radiation in a crash. A serious accident or terrorist attack could be catastrophic."

Behind the crowd at today's event loomed a full-sized inflatable model of a nuclear waste transportation canister. Participants held signs that read "Stop Yucca Trucks" and depicted highway signs of routes identified by the Department of Energy (DOE) as likely nuclear waste shipment thoroughfares.

In February, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham recommended that 77,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste from commercial nuclear power plants and U.S. Department of Energy weapons facilities be buried at Yucca Mountain, about 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nev. Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn issued a Notice of Disapproval on April 9, effectively vetoing the plan. Congress could override Nevada's veto with a majority vote in both Houses. A vote is expected in the coming months.

Anna Aurilio, legislative director for U.S. Public Interest Research Group, announced the release of a new television advertisement opposing Yucca Mountain nuclear shipments, which will begin running today in Vermont.

Other speakers at today's event included U.S. Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.); U.S. Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Jim Gibbons (R-Nev); Martin Butcher, director of Physicians for Social Responsibility's Security and Nuclear Program; Chris Townsend, political action director for United Electrical Workers; Gerald Pollet, director of Heart of America Northwest (Seattle, Wash.); and Chris Williams, executive director of Citizen Action Coalition of Indiana.

Participants were to meet with senators and Senate staffers today.

Congress Should Block Nuclear Industry

Public Citizen – Press Release – April 17, 2002

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

(4/16/02) - We are here today because of the efforts of one very powerful and wealthy special interest lobby - the nuclear industry. Its drive to push this ill-conceived and potentially catastrophic plan through the government as quickly as possible is based on an old premise that highway builders and other government contractors often rely on. That premise is that once a project as enormous as this gets going, it's hard to stop. But Congress should stop the Yucca Mountain plan, and stop it now, before more investments are made.

The idea to put a nuclear dump at Yucca Mountain is phenomenally irresponsible. Yucca Mountain is located in a seismically active area. It lies atop a drinking water aquifer. Government scientists admit they cannot say whether or how nuclear waste would be safely contained. Nor can they guarantee that this waste could be transported safely. There are a host of unanswered questions, yet still, the industry is pressing ahead, and federal agencies are compliantly going along.

The Yucca Mountain plan calls for highly radioactive waste now stored at nuclear plants and government weapons facilities to be shipped by truck or train through 44 states and the District of Columbia. We're talking about 100,000 shipments, possibly going through a neighborhood near you. What many lawmakers ignore is that no one is adequately prepared to deal with an accident or terrorist attack involving this deadly waste. Not police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians or communities. And certainly not the public.

The Department of Energy has a long record of investing in wasteful ventures that cost taxpayers billions. Yucca Mountain, if approved, would be another costly disaster to add to the list. It is time for Congress to put public safety over politics and pull the plug on Yucca Mountain. The nuclear industry should not be permitted to use campaign contributions and lobbying clout to buy disastrous public policy.

A vote by any member of Congress for the Yucca Mountain dump would be a vote for the reckless disregard of the public. Congress must decisively reject this foolhardy plan and start talking about real solutions to our nuclear waste problem.

The Hole in the Reactor

New York Times - by Daniel F. Ford – April 14, 2002

(4/13/02) - PARIS

This week the FirstEnergy Corporation, owner of the 25-year-old Davis-Besse nuclear power plant near Toledo, Ohio, proposed welding a steel Band-Aid to the top of the plant's cracked nuclear reactor, now so corroded that 70 pounds of steel have been eaten away. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission expressed skepticism that this patch-up would be adequate to prevent a dangerous leak in the reactor, but given this plant's history, skepticism is hardly enough.

Problems at Davis-Besse aren't new. In 1986, after the nuclear reactor meltdown at Chernobyl, Tom Brokaw asked me on NBC television which American nuclear power plant I thought was most likely to experience a catastrophic accident. One of my top picks was Davis-Besse — a unit with the same design as the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania that had a partial meltdown in 1979.

Davis-Besse's current troubles began when technicians fixing a cracked control rod nozzle earlier this year stumbled on a far more astonishing safety lapse — the corrosion in the supposedly fortress-quality reactor. But for this chance discovery and the immediate shutdown of the plant, the stage was set for the hemorrhaging of cooling water and a possible meltdown of the reactor, which could have led to a release of a large plume of radioactive material.

I was not making a wild guess when I pointed to Davis-Besse in 1986. For more than a decade I had studied the records of American nuclear reactors with the M.I.T. physicist Henry Kendall. Davis-Besse's underlying problems — the plant was frequently cited for substandard safety practices — were legendary, yet nuclear safety officials did little to rectify them.

That large steel pressure vessels might develop dangerous cracks after years of operation was recognized in the 60's and 70's, yet the Atomic Energy Commission forged ahead. It required all nuclear plants to install emergency cooling systems for pipes connected to the reactor. But there was no such protection possible for the reactor itself, and the commission simply ruled that the rupture of these vessels was an "incredible event." Many at the commission knew differently and were concerned about this and other safety issues.

It's appropriate now, I think, several years after his death, to identify the Deep Throat who helped acquaint Henry Kendall and me with the problems in American nuclear power plants. In 1974, at the Cosmos Club in Washington, Kendall and I were handed a briefcase full of papers by John F. O'Leary, the director of licensing of the A.E.C. He believed in nuclear energy, he said, but only if it were done right. And it wouldn't be unless more details of the problems got out and better regulation was demanded. We studied the papers and distributed them to journalists. Major reports ran in the national press.

Maintenance, quality control, equipment testing and inspection — these had been described as bywords of nuclear safety. But most nuclear plants, according to the commission's own internal audits, were failing badly on all counts. When we asked O'Leary how he could possibly sign off on more and more plant licenses, he offered his personal rationale: Things would leak before they broke. There would be some warning, and the surrounding area could be evacuated in time.

Today we have dozens of aging (and corroding and creaking) nuclear plants, licensed in the 1970's, operating close to our major cities. The reactor with a hole in its head at Davis-Besse is proof that the reforms and safety upgrades promised after O'Leary's revelations and Three Mile Island and Chernobyl have not, to put it delicately, had full success. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has let Davis-Besse operate year in and year out with documented bad maintenance. It may seem melodramatic but is probably accurate to say the N.R.C. safety inspection program is on a par with our hit-or-miss airport security.

With federal regulation having proved ineffective, it may now be time for the attorneys general in states with trouble-plagued nuclear plants to take potential meltdowns seriously. They could join together, as they did in litigation concerning cigarettes, and some of those plants might just find their licenses revoked. Daniel F. Ford was executive director of the Union of Concerned Scientists from 1971 to 1979 and is author of "Three Mile Island" and "The Cult of the Atom: The Secret Papers of the Atomic Energy Commission."

S.C. Battles U.S. on Plutonium

New York Times – by David Firestone – April 13, 2002

ATLANTA, April 11 — Unable to reach agreement on the future of plutonium shipments to South Carolina, the governor and the federal Department of Energy threatened each other today with a showdown over the processing of nuclear waste that the government says is vital to national security.

Spencer Abraham, the secretary of energy, sent a letter to the governor, Jim Hodges, offering a written agreement and new legislation ensuring that the plutonium would not be permanently stored in South Carolina after it was processed at the Savannah River Site in the southern corner of the state.

If the governor cannot accept those promises, Mr. Abraham wrote, the Energy Department will revoke them on Monday and begin shipping the waste into South Carolina.

But Governor Hodges said the government had failed to make a legally binding promise not to store the plutonium in his state, and he demanded that the two sides get a court order enforcing the promise. Without an agreement that the promise was enforceable in court, he said at a news conference today, he will physically prevent the Energy Department's trucks from rolling over the state line.

"We want to make sure South Carolina has the legal tools available to make sure the government keeps its promises," Mr. Hodges told reporters today. "There will be no plutonium shipments until they do so."

The 34 metric tons of plutonium under debate was left from the production of nuclear weapons, and much of it is stored at the defunct Rocky Flats Arsenal in Colorado, which is scheduled to be dismantled by 2006. In 1996, in an effort to prevent the plutonium from falling into the wrong hands, the United States and Russia agreed to take equal amounts of plutonium out of their nuclear stockpiles, and the government plans to convert the material to fuel for nuclear power plants at the South Carolina site and then distribute it to nuclear plants around the country. (The fuel cannot be used for weapons.)

In his letter, Mr. Abraham committed the federal government to processing and removing the fuel, or removing the plutonium if for any reason it could not be processed. He offered to submit legislation to Congress that would guarantee such a removal, and said the government would stop shipping plutonium if the legislation was not passed by Oct. 15.

"I believe we have gone to extraordinary lengths to endeavor to accommodate your concerns on every point," the secretary said in his letter. Any further delay, he said, would undermine the disposal agreement with Russia and would jeopardize other cleanup efforts around the nation, including the timely closure of Rocky Flats.

The governor responded that he would accept Mr. Abraham's terms only if they were entered into an order in Federal District Court. Otherwise, he said, a new administration or a new Congress could change its mind down the road and leave South Carolina holding the nuclear waste that no other state wants. But the Energy Department said that a matter of national policy could not be left up to the courts.

Clearly political considerations are part of the dispute.

Mr. Hodges is a Democrat and will win points in his state for standing up to Washington, while Republicans in South Carolina are backing the Bush administration and saying it has made a good-faith offer.

But underlying the politics is a familiar issue of national policy regarding which state will have to accept nuclear waste. Colorado wants to see Rocky Flats dismantled, and Senator Wayne Allard, a Republican from the state, accused Governor Hodges this week of endangering national security by playing politics with the shipments. Nevada officials are bitterly fighting the Bush administration's plan to store wastes in Yucca Mountain.

Turning the plutonium into nuclear fuel will solve part of the disposal problem, but Mr. Hodges made it clear this week that he was not willing to put his trust in the promise of such technology. Officials predicted today that the situation would be resolved short of a border confrontation, but both sides remember that Idaho stopped incoming shipments of waste in 1988 using the state police.

Choice Budget Cuts

Employee Advocate – – April 13, 2002

The Green Scissors 2002 report by a coalition of taxpayer, environmental and consumer groups identified 78 cuts that could be made in the budget to protect the environment, and save taxpayers more than $54 billion, according to The WasteBasket.

Many of the programs were lobbied in by special interests groups. The pork barrel spending is a burden on the taxpayers, and sometimes a burden on the environment.

Here are four of the suggestions to be eliminated:

  • Nuclear Energy Research and Development-Eliminating research and development subsidies for the nuclear power industry would save taxpayers $252 million over five years.

  • Petroleum Research and Development- Eliminating the petroleum and coal research programs, which benefit large, profitable fossil fuel companies, would save almost $1.3 billion over five years and reduce subsidies that encourage global warming.

  • Yucca Mountain High-Level Waste Facility-Shelving the Yucca Mountain Project would relieve taxpayers from subsidizing this $56 billion program.

  • "Clean Coal" Programs-Expediting the termination of the existing "Clean Coal" Technology Program and stopping new programs from beginning would save taxpayers $253 million.

Nuclear Code Red

New York Times – by Bob Herbert– April 7, 2002

(4/4/02) - The nuclear reactor known as Indian Point 2 sits beside the Hudson River about 30 miles north of New York City. It has the worst safety rating of all 103 nuclear reactors in the United States. And of all the U.S. reactors, it's located in the most densely populated region.

That is not a good combination of circumstances.

Concern over the plant's continuing safety problems has heightened since Sept. 11. Increasing numbers of residents and elected officials are coming to the conclusion that the possibility of a terrorist attack or a catastrophic accident at Indian Point is a risk that is not worth taking. They believe it is time for the Indian Point complex with its two reactors — Indian Point 2 and the less troublesome Indian Point 3 — to close.

In February 2000 an accident at Indian Point 2 resulted in the discharge of 20,000 gallons of radioactive water. Officials said the radiation released was not a threat to public health, but the reactor was closed for nearly a year. Last December, four of seven control room crews failed to pass their annual qualification exams. That same month the reactor shut down automatically after an electrical connection to the plant's turbine switched off unexpectedly. Leaks, malfunctions, human errors — it's always something at Indian Point.

Casualties from a worst-case scenario at the complex would dwarf those of the attack on the World Trade Center. A 1982 study commissioned by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission found that a meltdown at Indian Point 2 could cause 46,000 fatalities and 141,000 injuries in the short term. The potential casualties from a meltdown at Indian Point 3 were even worse. Long-term, the deaths from cancer resulting from an Indian Point catastrophe would likely be horrendous.

The casualty estimates are conservative. The population in the region is greater now, and evacuation plans are pathetically inadequate.

I called the Nuclear Regulatory Commission this week to ask about the safety ratings at Indian Point 2. A spokeswoman, Diane Screnci, said the commission did not rank plants. But it does conduct inspections and issue findings that are graded using the colors green, white, yellow and red. Green is the safest category and red the least safe.

Indian Point 2 is "currently the only plant with a red finding," Ms. Screnci said. She characterized the red finding as highly significant and said Indian Point 2 continued to receive "increased N.R.C. attention."

A serious accident or even a terrorist attack is no guarantee that the worst will happen. But we all learned as the World Trade Center vanished on Sept. 11 that the worst can happen.

The vulnerability of nuclear power plants is made frighteningly clear when we consider that American Airlines Flight 11, as it flew south from Boston toward Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, passed almost directly over the Indian Point complex. Then consider that President Bush reported in his State of the Union Message that Americans in Afghanistan had found diagrams of U.S. nuclear power plants, and that the nation's 103 nuclear reactors were never designed to withstand the impact of a commercial airliner.

Everyone within at least a 50-mile radius would be in danger if something terrible happened at Indian Point. That 50-mile radius contains more than 7 percent of the entire population of the United States — 20 million people. It includes all of New York City; the suburban New York counties of Westchester, Orange, Rockland and Putnam; Bergen County in New Jersey; and most of Fairfield County in Connecticut. There is no other nuclear plant in the country with anything close to Indian Point's potential for disaster.

Its chronic safety issues made Indian Point problematic before Sept. 11. Accidents happen. But since the attack on the World Trade Center, and with the awful proliferation of suicide bombers in the Middle East, the unthinkable is no longer unthinkable. Residents in the vast potential danger zone surrounding Indian Point have little trouble imagining an airliner diving toward the complex, or terrorists on the ground attempting to sabotage it.

Anxiety is very high, and opposition to the plant by residents and elected officials is intensifying. It may not be long before a consensus is reached that Indian Point is a problem the region can do without.

NRC Seeks Public Comments

Employee Advocate – – April 6, 2002

April 5, 2002, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that it is seeking public comments on the proposed rule for packaging and transporting radioactive materials. There will be a 90-day window for comments, starting after publication in the Federal Register.

Details can be found on the NRC website:

NRC Public Comments

Not Under Our Mountain

New York Times – by Evelyn Nieves – April 2, 2002

LAS VEGAS, March 31 - When it comes to the Bush administration's plan to store the nation's deadly radioactive waste under Yucca Mountain, political leaders here in Nevada do not mince words.

Oscar Goodman, the Democratic mayor of Las Vegas, which sits 90 miles east of Yucca, has called Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham ``a piece of garbage.''

The Senate Democratic whip, Harry Reid, said the president was ``a liar.''

Republicans, too, are incensed: Gov. Kenny Guinn said the president had ``misled'' Nevada, and Senator John Ensign announced that he was ``profoundly disappointed'' in the president.

Noting that the General Accounting Office concluded in December that nearly 300 scientific and engineering questions about the Yucca plan remained unanswered, Nevada's top officials accused the president of kowtowing to the pro-Yucca nuclear energy lobby and reneging on a campaign promise not to approve the plan without ``sound science.''

But the Nevada officials - of every political stripe - are not simply sounding off. Governor Guinn plans to veto the administration's recommendation within the next two weeks, before the 90-day deadline permitted for such a veto. This sets the stage for a vote by Congress by summer.

Senators Reid and Ensign have recruited two former White House chiefs of staff, John D. Podesta, who worked in the Clinton administration, and Kenneth M. Duberstein, who worked in the Reagan administration, to lobby senators to sustain a Guinn veto. (The House of Representatives is expected to override the veto.)

Now the Nevada campaign is going public.

In an effort to counter the nuclear industry's own deep-pocketed Washington lobbyists - John Sununu, chief of staff for the first President Bush, and Geraldine Ferraro, the onetime vice-presidential candidate, have been enlisted in the pro-Yucca fight - Nevada is planning a multimillion-dollar advertising and publicity campaign intended to stoke opposition to the plan beyond Nevada's borders.

On March 27, officials announced that they were trying to raise $10 million to pay for national television commercials that would be broadcast in states where nuclear waste would travel before reaching the burial site, presenting the argument that the Yucca plan is dangerous for every city and town, every highway and byway and every truck stop and railroad yard along the way. Officials are hoping to raise the money from local and county governments as well as the casino industry and other private businesses.

The state also plans to send trucks with mock nuclear casks into cities around the country, where they will find themselves trapped in traffic jams, demonstrating the potential problems with transporting nuclear material through 43 states.

Officials are also hoping for a huge publicity boost this week, when the NBC series ``The West Wing'' features a plot about an accident that occurs while a truck is transporting nuclear waste.

``People - and I mean the politicians - think of this as Nevada's problem,'' Governor Guinn said in comments echoed by his colleagues. ``But it's not just Nevada's problem. It's America's problem. God forbid there should be an accident during transport.''

Mr. Abraham, in a recent opinion article in The Washington Post, said that nuclear waste had been safely transported for 30 years, covering 1.6 million miles without incident, and that the science on Yucca, after 20 years of study, was sound. He accused the Nevadans of using scare tactics to sabotage the plan, adding that that it was obviously safer to store nuclear waste 800 feet beneath a barren desert owned by the government than to keep it scattered in 131 sites in 39 states in temporary, above-ground facilities.

But Nevada's leaders say that the Government Accounting Office report makes clear that much needs to be studied before the transporting of nuclear waste can be called safe, especially given the potential for terrorism. They added that it was misleading to say the Yucca plan would mean the end of nuclear waste around the country. Every active nuclear reactor in the country would continue to house highly radioactive waste because spent nuclear fuel rods must be put in on-site cooling pools for at least five years before they can be transported.

``It is so disingenuous of them to say this would mean the end of 131 nuclear waste sites,'' Senator Reid said, adding that the plan would instead create thousands of mobile waste sites, ``accidents waiting to happen,'' as the waste is transported.

``If we can get this message out, we can convince the Senate to vote with us,'' Mr. Reid said. But he conceded it would not be an easy sell.

While Nevadans have become well versed on the issue, the rest of the country has paid little attention to the proposals, polls show.

While Senators Reid and Ensign are lobbying their colleagues in the Senate for the 51 votes they will need to sustain Mr. Guinn's veto and kill the Yucca project, officials here have also armed themselves with lawsuits to block the project should Congress approve the plan and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission grant it a license.

Governor Guinn filed a lawsuit hours after President Bush approved the plan, contending that the Department of Energy did not let the state review the final environmental impact statement before the recommendation. That suit joins two others Nevada filed last year accusing the Energy Department of ignoring its mandate to find a geologically sound burial ground and the Environmental Protection Agency of either violating federal law or manipulating scientific data to reach pro-Yucca conclusions.

Mayor Goodman now speaks about Yucca Mountain everywhere he goes, telling Nevadans of a Clark County study released in January that estimated a roadway accident involving nuclear material on its way to Yucca Mountain could eliminate 54,000 jobs in the region, force 90,000 residents to move and cost the local economy $1.4 billion. He said he was itching to take his message national.

``One catastrophic accident, God forbid,'' he said, ``would mean a nuclear holocaust.''

Nuclear Payola

Associated Press – April 2, 2002

For a few hours trudging through the Nevada mountain where the government wants to store nuclear waste, dozens of congressional aides and a few of their bosses got two or three days in Las Vegas -- at the nuclear industry's expense. Since 1999, at least 168 congressional aides and seven House members have taken trips to Yucca Mountain that were paid for by the Nuclear Energy Institute, an Associated Press check of congressional travel records found.

The industry is hoping the trips to caverns and casinos will help secure Congress' approval later this year for Yucca Mountain as the nation's storage site for radioactive waste.

"Staff people say this is a great deal," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., one of many Nevada officials fiercely opposing the site. "They have dreams of their trip to Las Vegas. If you just went to Yucca Mountain and came home, it would be an ugly trip."

The trips to Vegas are considered fact-finding missions -- meaning they can be paid for by special interests under congressional rules. The review of congressional records shows the Nuclear Energy Institute spent more than $208,000 on the trips since 1999.

The records don't detail the activities for each trip. Several congressional aides did describe theirs -- provided their names not be used for fear they'd be punished for embarrassing their bosses.

Yucca Mountain Recommendation Tainted

Public Citizen – Press Release – April 2, 2002

Science Smothered Under a Mountain of Lobbyists, Report Says

(4/1/02) - WASHINGTON, D.C. - Nuclear industry money and lobbyists may have biased Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham's controversial recommendation that a nuclear waste dump be developed at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, according to a report released today by Public Citizen.

The report, which analyzes nuclear industry campaign contributions to Abraham and the lobbying expenditures of top contributors, concludes that Abraham's site recommendation is not a responsible, science-based policy assessment but "a bill of sale to the well-funded nuclear industry lobby."

In February, Abraham formally recommended that the proposed nuclear waste dump be built and President Bush concurred. (Bush himself received nearly $300,000 from the nuclear industry for his presidential bid.) Nevada's governor has pledged to veto the plan, but Congress could override the veto. A congressional vote is expected late this spring.

"President Bush and Spencer Abraham are trying to fool the public when they say the decision to dump waste at Yucca Mountain is based on science," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "When it comes to the administration's nuclear waste policy, it's as if every day is April Fool's Day. Unfortunately, the only people who are laughing are nuclear industry executives and their handsomely paid lobbyists."

The report discloses that the nuclear industry contributed $82,728 to Abraham during the 2000 election cycle, when he was a U.S. senator, and spent even more money lobbying on issues dear to the industry's bottom line, including the ill-conceived nuclear waste dump proposal. In 2000 alone, leading nuclear energy interests that helped bankroll Abraham's unsuccessful Senate campaign spent more than $25 million to hire some of the highest-powered lobbyists in Washington, D.C., including top officials from the Reagan and Clinton administrations, records show. Eight of the lobbying firms hired made Fortune magazine's recent list of the 20 most influential firms in Washington.

The nuclear industry is doling out so much cash because it is itching to build new power plants and needs a place to store nuclear waste. But Yucca Mountain, the only site under consideration for the proposed repository, lies in an earthquake zone and atop a drinking water aquifer. Also, storing waste there would require shipping it through almost every state, creating rolling radioactive hazards for communities everywhere and creating a network of vulnerability amid heightened national security concerns.

"This unsafe project cannot be justified," said Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen's president. "It is unconscionable that the money the nuclear industry is spending to lobby in support of this dangerous dump comes from the working families who pay power bills and whose communities may be jeopardized when this deadly waste goes rolling through."

Public Citizen's report, Yucca Mountain Bought and Sold, shows that:

  • The pro-repository nuclear power interests that bankrolled Abraham's 2000 campaign spent $25 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies in 2000 - nearly a half-million dollars every week.

  • In addition to their in-house lobbyists on staff, Abraham's close nuclear friends employed 53 independent lobbying firms, for a combined total of 199 individual lobbyists. More than 80 percent of those lobbyists reported on disclosure forms that they were lobbying on nuclear waste legislation, Yucca Mountain appropriations or closely related issues.

  • Some of the lobbyists themselves contributed to Abraham's 2000 campaign, including Winston & Strawn, the law firm that had to withdraw as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Energy Yucca Mountain project last year when it was revealed that the firm was lobbying for the Nuclear Energy Institute in a blatant conflict of interest.

  • Nearly half the lobbyists hired by Abraham's top nuclear contributors previously worked for the federal government. The roster includes seven former members of Congress; former acting Energy Secretary Elizabeth Moler, who also was former chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; Gregory Simon, the chief domestic advisor to former Vice President Al Gore; Haley Barbour, political affairs director in the Reagan White House and former chair of the Republican National Committee; and James Curtiss, who served on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"Abraham attributed his Yucca Mountain recommendation to compelling national interests, but he should have said compelling special interests," Hauter said. "No wonder they call it nuclear power."

Cracks in Reactor Heads

The Charlotte Observer – by Bruce Henderson – April 2, 2002

(3/27/02) - Cracks found in reactor heads at Duke Power's Oconee nuclear plant near Seneca, S.C., led to the discovery of severe corrosion at an Ohio plant, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says.

The NRC has ordered 68 other reactors of similar design, including those at Duke's three plants, be inspected for corrosion. Initial responses are due by Tuesday.

Duke first found cracks in the welds surrounding nozzle openings in reactor vessel heads, which cap the top of the structure, at Oconee in late 2000. Because cooling water in the vessel is under intense heat and pressure, any leak becomes important.

Duke repaired cracks found in all three of Oconee's reactor heads. The company now plans to spend about $60 million to replace the heads between 2003 and 2004.

The NRC last August ordered other nuclear plants to look for similar cracks.

In repairing nozzle cracks at its Davis-Besse plant near Toledo, Ohio, FirstEnergy Corp. also found corrosion that left only 3/8 inch of the 6-inch-thick vessel head. There's no evidence so far of the same type of corrosion at Oconee, Duke and the NRC say.

"We're not aware of any right now, but this is just the beginning," said Scott Freeman, an NRC resident inspector at Oconee.

The NRC is evaluating whether the Ohio corrosion is linked to leaking nozzles, accumulations of the boric acid that is added to cooling water, or both.

Duke's Charlotte-area plants, McGuire on Lake Norman and Catawba on Lake Wylie, operate at lower temperatures than does Oconee and are considered less susceptible to corrosion.

Duke says that in contrast to the cracks at Oconee, which were found in welds around openings for the rods that control the reactor, the Ohio plant suffered corrosion of the vessel itself.

Oconee, whose three reactors went online in 1973 and 1974, will become the first U.S. nuclear plant to replace vessel heads.

Replacing the heads was a business decision to prevent the need for further repairs to cracked nozzles,

Duke spokesman Tim Pettit said. Repairs could lengthen the time a reactor is unable to generate electricity.

The new heads will use a different material, less prone to cracking, for the control-rod nozzles, Pettit said. The NRC met with Duke on Monday to review Oconee's performance for 2001. Inspectors last year had cited two violations of low to moderate safety concern. Both dealt with the plant's ability to recover from tornado damage.

NRC inspectors reported only problems of very low safety significance at McGuire and Catawba in 2001.

Crashing Planes and Meltdowns

Associated Press – March 29, 2002

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Government regulators have acknowledged that the nation's 103 operating nuclear reactors could not withstand the impact of an airliner the size of the ones used in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a newspaper said.

While industry and federal officials downplayed the threat shortly after the attacks, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission conceded in newly released documents that even an accidental crash was not factored into designs of 96 percent of U.S. nuclear plants, The Patriot-News of Harrisburg reported in Thursday's editions.

And even for the few plants where the threat was considered - notably Three Mile Island near Harrisburg - design changes were intended only to protect against smaller aircraft traveling at slower speeds.

``When the plants were designed, large aircrafts that are presently used were not in use,'' NRC spokeswoman Sue Gagner said.

The agency also said systems that provide cooling, electricity and storage of spent fuel are mostly in nonhardened buildings that could not withstand an aircraft or missile attack.

U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., a frequent NRC critic who prepared a report based on NRC Chairman Richard A. Meserve's responses to his questions, said the responses show that more needs to be done to improve nuclear plant safety.

The NRC has admitted that even a crash at the auxiliary electrical or cooling facilities could trigger a core meltdown, but still the agency ``refuses to install anti-aircraft weaponry,'' or take other security measures, Markey said.

The agency maintained Wednesday that reactors remain difficult targets.

``Even though they were not designed to withstand aircraft crashes, they are extremely rugged structures,'' Gagner said.

When most plants were built in the 1960s and 1970s, regulators and owners never dreamed that a large airliner could intentionally be crashed into a nuclear plant.

Fifty-five of the nation's 60 nuclear plants lie within 15 miles of public airports, most small airports carrying fewer than 100,000 departing passengers a year, NRC and FAA data indicate. But nine plants, including Three Mile Island and plants near Pittsburgh and Charlotte, N.C., are near airports that serve more than 100,000 passengers.

Three Mile Island, three miles from Harrisburg International Airport, is the only nuclear power plant ``constructed with special design features to protect vital areas from crash impact and fire effects,'' according to the new documents.

Yet even those features - which include reinforcement of outer walls and thickening of concrete sections - would likely be inadequate, according to the NRC.

TMI was designed to withstand an impact of 200,000 pounds at 230 mph, but a Boeing 757 or 767 such as those used in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon weighs between 272,500 and 450,000 pounds, and the planes used in the attacks traveled at speeds of 350 mph to 537 mph when they struck their targets.

TMI was not built to withstand the impact of a larger airplane because ``the probability of an on-site crash was sufficiently low,'' according to the NRC documents.

Two other plants - the Limerick nuclear plant near Pottstown and Seabrook plant in Portsmouth, N.H. - were outfitted with more modest design features to help them withstand the impact of an airplane weighing up to 12,500 pounds.

``With respect to the remaining sites, the probability of an aircraft impact was either estimated or judged by inspection to be sufficiently low such that the event need not be considered in the design basis,'' the NRC documents said.

David Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said new safety features should be included in the next generation of plants, but retrofitting existing plants would be difficult.

``The plants are what they are,'' said Lochbaum. ``It's too late to go back and install six more feet of concrete.''

Reactor Head Damage

Wall Street Journal – March 29, 2002

(3/27/02) - Federal regulators have ordered operators of a dozen U.S. nuclear power plants to provide more information on corrosion problems at their reactors to determine if the damage is as extensive as was recently found at a similar plant in Ohio.

Three weeks ago, FirstEnergy Corp. found corrosion had eaten almost entirely through the metal cap atop the reactor vessel at its 935-megawatt Davis Besse plant near Toledo, Ohio. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has asked operators of the country's other 68 pressurized water reactors whether they have performed inspections that would have caught such damage and, if not, why they should be allowed to keep operating.

Replies have to be posted next Wednesday. Twelve plants identified last year as potentially susceptible to the kind of cracking that likely led to Davis Besse's corrosion will have their replies reviewed first, said NRC spokesman Victor Dricks.

"Those 12 have been signaled out for highest attention," he said. "We'll put the highest priority on those that have the highest susceptibility."

The plants are operated by Duke Energy Corp., Exelon Corp., Dominion Resources Inc., Progress Energy Corp., Entergy Corp. and American Electric Power Co. News of damage to the Davis Besse plant was reported by the New York Times yesterday.

Last year, Duke discovered cracks in a control rod drive mechanism tube at its Oconee plant in South Carolina. The NRC decided that there were 13 reactors in the U.S. that could have similar problems and asked all of them to check for cracked tubes.

Those reactors -- 12 plus Davis Besse -- include Duke's three Oconee units, Exelon's Three Mile Island 1 in Pennsylvania, Dominion's Surry 1 and 2 in Virginia, Dominion's North Anna 1 and 2 in Virginia, Progress Energy's Robinson Unit 2 in South Carolina and Crystal River 3 in Florida, Entergy's Arkansas Nuclear 1, and American Electric Power's Cook 2 nuclear unit in Michigan.

All of these units were brought off line for checks between last August and late winter this year. Tube cracks were found at Davis Besse, Oconee, Arkansas Nuclear and Crystal River, NRC spokesman Jan Strasma said.

Davis Besse, brought down for a planned refueling outage in mid-February, was the last of the 13 units to be checked. Cracks were found in five of the reactor's 69 tubes. When FirstEnergy began repairing one tube, it discovered a 6.5-inch-deep cavity in the vessel head nearby. It later found a much smaller area of corrosion near another cracked tube.

The corrosion problem, while significant, didn't pose a safety risk, the NRC has said. Had there been a reactor breach, the plant has safety systems to cool the system and contain the coolant leak.

Davis Besse's larger cavity was likely caused by boric acid from the plant's cooling system that leaked through the cracked tube. Other plants have had cracks, and boric acid is known to corrode carbon steel, but such significant damage had never been seen before in the industry.

The NRC last week asked the other operators of pressurized water reactors, which like Davis Besse use boric acid, whether they had inspected the entire reactor vessel head visually during their most recent outage. If not, the NRC asked when they would do such checks. It also asked plant owners to justify keeping the units on line if they hadn't done complete checks.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group, arranged a survey of the same plants and forwarded the raw data to the NRC last week. In that report, compiled by California research institute EPRI, the plants previously flagged for potential cracking problems all said they had performed 100% visual inspections of the reactor vessel head during recent outages.

Those that found cracks, such as Duke Energy, said the cracks were repaired, the vessel heads were cleaned and that the full visual inspections found no evidence of corrosion problems.

Reactor Head Corrosion

New York Times – by Matthew L. Wald – March 29, 2002

(3/26/02) - WASHINGTON, March 25 — Nuclear reactor operators have been ordered to check their reactor vessels after the discovery that acid in cooling water had eaten a hole nearly all the way through the six-inch-thick lid of a reactor at a plant in Ohio. The corrosion left only a stainless-steel liner less than a half-inch thick to hold in cooling water under more than 2,200 pounds of pressure per square inch.

At the 25-year-old Ohio plant, Davis-Besse, near Toledo, the stainless steel was bent by the pressure and would have broken if corrosion had continued, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where officials were surprised by the discovery. They said they had never seen so much corrosion in a reactor vessel.

The commission, which has warned plants for years to watch for any corrosion, has ordered all 68 other plants of similar design — pressurized-water reactors — to check their lids. The commission is particularly worried about a dozen of the oldest plants and ordered them to report by early April whether they were safe enough to keep in service. The commission told these plants to demonstrate that technicians there would have noticed such corrosion in their normal inspections, had it occurred.

If the liner had given way in the Ohio reactor, experts say, there would have been an immediate release of thousands of gallons of slightly radioactive and extremely hot water inside the reactor's containment building.

The plants have pipe systems that are meant to pump water back into a leaking vessel, but some experts fear that if rushing steam and water damaged thermal insulation on top of the vessel, the pipes could clog. In that event, the reactor might have lost cooling water and suffered core damage — possibly a meltdown — and a larger release of radiation, at least inside the building.

Such extensive corrosion "was never considered a credible type of concern," said Brian W. Sheron, associate director for project licensing and technology assessment at the regulatory commission.

Small leaks of cooling water are common, Mr. Sheron said, but engineers always thought that if cooling water leaked from the piping above the vessel and accumulated on the vessel lid, the water would boil away in the heat of over 500 degrees, leaving the boric acid it contains in harmless boron powder form. At Davis-Besse, however, it appears that the water was held close to the metal vessel lid, or head, perhaps by insulation on top of the vessel.

Boric acid is used in cooling water to absorb surplus neutrons, the subatomic particles that are released when an atom is split and go on to split other atoms, sustaining the chain reaction.

Engineers are not yet certain why the corrosion occurred.

A nuclear engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit watchdog group that is often critical of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the discovery was troubling.

"This is really something that shouldn't happen," said the engineer, David Lochbaum. "You shouldn't get such a huge hole in a pressure-retaining vessel."

Edwin S. Lyman, the scientific director of the Nuclear Control Institute, an anti-proliferation group based here, said: "This is a pretty serious issue, and it has generic implications. And it was discovered by accident."

Workers stumbled on the problem in the process of fixing a leaking tube that connects to the vessel head, which is 17 feet in diameter and weighs 150 tons. The tube is part of the reactor control system; inside it there is a control rod, which operators can lower into the core to smother the flow of neutrons and stop the chain reaction, or raise to allow the reactor to run.

Technicians discovered that the metal that supports the tube had mostly disappeared.

The plant owner, FirstEnergy Corporation, is hoping to patch the hole, an irregular opening about 4 by 5 inches. But the commission is skeptical about whether this is possible.

No one in this country has replaced a reactor vessel head, although several plants have ordered parts to do so. FirstEnergy ordered a new head just before the extent of the problem became obvious. A company spokesman said the company hoped to install it in the spring of 2004.

That date reflects how the industry, with no new reactor orders in decades in this country, has limited production capacity for such parts.

The plant might also be able to use a vessel head from a reactor in Midland, Mich., that was never completed, or from a similar plant that was retired in 1989.

Davis-Besse, which began operating in 1977, was not designed with the idea that the head would be replaced; technicians would have to cut a bigger hole in the steel-reinforced concrete containment building to get the new head into it.

The company has not said what the job will cost, but Duke Power Company, which operates three reactors similar to Davis-Besse, plans to replace the heads of all three for about $20 million. FirstEnergy could spend nearly that much each month for electricity from alternative sources if it must wait for the replacement part.

Because of the discovery at Davis-Besse, the regulatory commission ordered a dozen other plants to report back within two weeks and prove that inspections they have done in the past would have found any corrosion.

The inspection cannot be done while the plant is running, and if the utilities cannot convince the commission, they presumably face shutdowns of perhaps several weeks just for the checks.

Such shutdowns occurred intermittently in the 1970's and 80's but have become extremely rare as reactors have improved their reliability.

The industry is hopeful, however, that inspections it began under commission orders several years ago, to look for leaks, would have found any similar cases. Those inspections began after the heads of French reactors showed signs of leaks and corrosion.

"It could be something unique to Davis-Besse," said Alexander Marion, director of engineering at the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's trade association. A goal for the investigation at the plant, he said, would be to find out not only why the corrosion occurred but also why it was not noticed sooner.

"The plants are getting older and we're starting to see these kinds of problems," Mr. Marion said.

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