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Nuclear - Page Two


"If you want justice on the job, nobody is going to give it to you. You have to fight for it. " -Rep. Sanders


Nuclear Energy Bill Is an Atomic Waste

Public Citizen - Press Release - March 9, 2001

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A sweeping nuclear energy bill introduced this week in the Senate would promote an increased reliance on nuclear power under the guise of environmentalism and would improperly give the nuclear industry a $100 million subsidy, according to Public Citizen's analysis of the bill.

Promoting nuclear power is risky because questions about its safety still abound and we still cannot guarantee safe storage of nuclear waste for the duration of its hazardous life.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and entitled "The Nuclear Energy Electricity Supply Assurance Act of 2001," would encourage the construction of new nuclear plants, subsidize the completion of unfinished reactors that have lain fallow for years and promote the development of reactor designs that lack containment structures to prevent the release of radiation into the environment and surrounding communities.

"Senator Domenici's nuclear energy bill is yet another misguided attempt to subsidize this most dangerous and unforgiving technology," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "It is thoroughly irresponsible to promote the use of nuclear power when there is still no technically feasible means of assuring that long-lived radioactive wastes can be isolated from the environment. Further, this will do nothing to solve the current predicament we have with rising electricity costs."

The Domenici bill also would approve a shift from formal hearings - which give the public the right to obtain documents through discovery and to cross-examine hearing participants - to informal hearings, in which the public can do neither. This would curtail the ability of citizens to adequately participate in the licensing hearings on a proposed "high-level" waste repository at Yucca Mountain, in Nevada, and on safety issues at more than 100 U.S. nuclear reactors.

"Senator Domenici wants to turn Americans into second-class citizens by limiting our public hearing and participation rights," said James Riccio, senior analyst for Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "Shielding the nuclear industry from public scrutiny will further undermine confidence in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the industry. If the nuclear industry cannot withstand the rigors of formal hearings, their reactors and nuclear waste dumps should not be built."

The Domenici bill would extend the Price Anderson Act, which indemnifies the nuclear industry against the financial consequences of a nuclear accident. The bill also would encourage the construction of more reactors while limiting the liability of the nuclear industry in the event of an accident. The bill would allow foreign corporations to own and operate nuclear reactors in the United States, which would mean that U.S. taxpayers would be subsidizing foreign corporations while exercising limited controls over their operations.

"I fail to see why the American taxpayer should indemnify foreign corporations whose nuclear reactors threaten the lives and livelihoods of American citizens," Hauter said. "Foreign and domestic corporations that expose the public to the risk of a nuclear disaster should be held financially accountable for their actions. Shielding nuclear corporations from the consequences of their actions will only result in more dangerous nuclear plants and waste dumps."

The Domenici bill also would create an Office of Spent Nuclear Fuel Research to promote dangerous and discredited technologies such as the reprocessing of radioactive waste, which would cost $10 million alone in 2002.

"This does nothing to solve the nuclear waste problem but instead introduces a host of new environmental and safety problems," Hauter said. "It merely serves as a smokescreen to mask the problems that would be exacerbated by the increased reliance on nuclear power that this bill promotes."

The bill's proposed remedy for the failure of electricity deregulation - taxpayer subsidizing of the operation of more nuclear reactors - simply would complicate this country's self-inflicted power crisis, Hauter said. By propping up a dangerous and failed technology, the legislation ignores proven alternatives such as wind, solar and energy conservation, she said.

"The massive subsidies and radioactive waste clean-up costs are so staggering that nuclear power will only increase already sky-high wholesale electricity prices," Hauter said. "The prescription for the failure of electricity deregulation is to re-establish public authority over profiteering power producers."

Finally, the overarching problem with the bill is that nuclear reactors are neither clean nor safe, Riccio said. For Senate Republicans to promote nuclear power as environmentally friendly is at best deceptive and constitutes the worst kind of corporate welfare, he said.

Public Citizen is a consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.



Nuclear Plant Fire and Shutdown

Public Citizen - Press Release - February 5, 2001

Breaker Explosion Shows Flaws in NRC's Industry-Friendly Maintenance Rules

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The emergency shutdown this weekend of San Onofre nuclear reactor No. 3 not only exacerbates California's energy crisis but provides a disturbing example of why the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) industry-friendly maintenance rules are inadequate to stave off catastrophic failures, Public Citizen said today.

The reactor, located on U.S. 5 between San Diego and Los Angeles, had been shut down for about a month for refueling and maintenance. It was in the process of being brought back into operation on Saturday when one of the electrical breakers in the plant "failed catastrophically," according to an NRC event report. The breaker exploded, causing a short and a fire that forced the reactor to be shut down. It will likely remain down for several weeks. The reactor generates approximately 1,100 megawatts, or enough to power 1.1 million homes, according to published reports.

The NRC's maintenance rule requires utilities to do preventive maintenance of "important equipment" to ensure there are no catastrophic failures. But the NRC and the nuclear industry have been cutting back on the amount of time a nuclear reactor is taken out of service for refueling and maintenance by narrowing the scope of work conducted and allowing more maintenance to be conducted while the reactor is operating. The idea is to increase the utility's profitability by decreasing the time reactors are down. The breaker that blew on Saturday is not considered "important equipment," so it is not covered by NRC's maintenance rule.

"The NRC and the nuclear industry have been skimping on maintenance during refueling to improve the profitability of nuclear reactors," said Jim Riccio, senior policy analyst for Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "The nuclear industry's shortsightedness and greed may extend California's electricity woes for several more weeks as the nuclear plant recovers from the fire. Rather than providing relief to California's electricity crisis, the nuclear industry is contributing to it."

The utility declared Saturday's explosion and fire to be an "unusual event" -- the lowest level of the four emergency event classifications used by the NRC.



Nuclear Plant Was Restarted Too Fast

New York Times - By MATTHEW L. WALD - January 11, 2001

Apparently feeling pressured by supervisors to reopen the Indian Point 2 nuclear reactor after 10 months of repairs, control room operators moved too fast to restart the plant last week, making the reactor harder to monitor and control, according to an internal report by Consolidated Edison.

The haste led to mistakes that have delayed the reactor's return to full power. Con Edison officials have held output at 30 percent of power until they straighten out the problems at the plant, 35 miles north of Manhattan in Buchanan, N.Y.

The report said the errors on Jan. 2 did not create an unsafe situation and did not violate any government rules. But it said operators piled mistake on mistake, and should have reported the problem to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission within four hours. They took seven hours to recognize that reporting was required.

A copy of the report, which the company began distributing to elected officials yesterday, was given to The New York Times by Critical Mass, a private group that monitors nuclear plant performance.

It said the plant's operators might have felt rushed because of pressure from supervisors to get the reactor back on line for the first time since February, when it was closed after a radioactive leak in a steam generator caused the worst accident in the plant's 26-year history.

"Pressure to perform while restoring the unit to service may have led operators to reduce their questioning attitude and make them more willing to accept less-than-adequate plant conditions during start up," said the report, which was signed by five company managers.

According to the report, one operator wanted to pause to review procedures before the process started; instead, managers replaced him with a more experienced operator and kept going. The errors, the report said, put the plant in "a condition that may degrade the ability of the operators to monitor and control reactivity" the rate of the nuclear chain reaction, that is.

Con Edison has a contract to sell the reactor to Entergy Nuclear of Jackson, Miss., but the utility has to get it running first. The report said operators had sensed that one of their supervisors showed frustration with the pace of work. Company officials had said before the start-up that the pace of operations would be deliberate and prudent, and they repeated that message yesterday. The officials said that managers were briefed yesterday on the proper attitude toward the work, and that workers would be briefed today, covering nearly all the 800 people at the site.

"We're unhappy," said Steven E. Quinn, a vice president of Con Edison. Operators should have been better prepared before starting the plant, he said, and should have waited longer after the first problem of the restart process appeared before trying to keep going and incurring another error. "Did we violate a law? I don't know that we found any violations here per se," he said. But the events "show us we haven't effectively communicated our expectations in regard to how we operate the plant, with regard to excellent operations," he said.

Mr. Quinn said excellent operation was "what our citizens demand and require, and that's what we've got to do." Two leaks of radioactivity occurred during the restart process, but they are unrelated to the procedural problems discussed in the report.

The problem began as operators tried to match the supply of cooling water with the rising rate of heat production in the core, a process that engineers say is often tricky. The operators miscalculated and pumped in too much water, which then swelled as it was heated. When the level got too high in a part called a steam generator, it triggered the automatic shutdown of the turbine, which converts steam to mechanical energy.

With the turbine shut, operators had to reduce heat production in the reactor to a level that other cooling systems could handle, but they reduced it too much.

A more serious error came a few moments later, when the operators thought the temperature in the reactor was falling too low. To compensate and increase the nuclear reaction in the core, they partially removed control rods the long metal blades that absorb neutrons and thereby choke off a chain reaction.

Withdrawing the rods makes the reactor produce more heat, like opening a damper on a furnace. But the reactor also runs faster when the water is cooler, because neutrons flowing through cooler water are more apt to continue the chain reaction than neutrons running through hotter water. Thus the operators were adding reactivity by two means at once, which is considered bad practice in the industry, the report noted.

At the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regional headquarters in King of Prussia, Pa., Brian E. Holian, deputy director of the division of reactor safety, said yesterday that by investigating the problem and making its findings public, Con Ed was doing what the agency had been pushing it to do.

Withdrawing the rods while the reactor was cooling violated Con Ed's operating procedures, he said. But he said the utility had volunteered that it had failed to report the incident within four hours and was unlikely to face a fine as a result.

Indian Point 2 had been closed since February, when a leak in a steam generator caused a release of radioactivity that officials said was no threat to public health.

Last week, as technicians restarted the plant, two minor leaks started, one of which appeared to be dripping a small amount of radioactive water into a containment tank. Federal regulators and the utility said such leaks were common and caused no safety or environmental problems.

But Andrew J. Spano, the Westchester County executive, and Senator Charles E. Schumer criticized Con Edison and the commission for not providing county officials and the public with a full, timely accounting of the new leaks. They said the restart should be delayed until the plan can be inspected by an independent panel of industry experts and local officials.

Yesterday, Representative Sue Kelly, a Republican whose district includes the plant site, said in a statement that "a keep-the-plant-running- at-all-costs mentality seems to have taken hold at the highest levels of Con Edison and clearly puts undue pressure on workers."

At Critical Mass, Jim Riccio, a spokesman, complained, "They're more concerned with starting the reactor than with doing it safely."



Ukraine to Shut Last Reactor at Chernobyl

L. A. Times - December 14, 2000

Energy: The planned closure Friday would fulfill president's 1995 pledge to West. Public fears resulting job and power cuts.

CHERNOBYL, Ukraine--In the first days of the 1986 nuclear disaster here, when Chernobyl's toxic plume of radioactive debris had not yet been reported in the West, Pyotr Zborovsky was in the thick of it. He used a sledgehammer to break into the reactor building and climbed down in darkness until his tarpaulin boots were immersed in radiation-contaminated water.

Disregarding the danger, for several days the then-army captain led a unit that desperately pumped irradiated waste water out of the building and into a containment pond before it could poison the water supply of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.

Sitting 14 years later in his two-room apartment in Kiev with his wife and his dog Fluff, looking at the yellowing newspaper clippings about his heroism, Zborovsky assessed the costs. Among his 65 men, he said, six or seven have died, most before the age of 40.

Zborovsky himself has never been the same. He passes out frequently, and his bones are brittle. The 48-year-old, once called Moose for his strength, has had three fractures in the past 18 months.

Yet despite his experience during the world's worst accident at a nuclear power plant, he shares a feeling widespread among fellow Ukrainians: He opposes the planned closure Friday of the last operating Chernobyl reactor.

"Now is not the time," he said, reflecting on the expected loss of thousands of jobs and about 5% of the nation's inadequate supply of electricity. "The economy of the country is not that strong."

Defying overwhelming public sentiment at home, Ukrainian President Leonid D. Kuchma plans Friday to issue the order switching off reactor No. 3 here, making good on a pledge he gave to Western leaders five years ago. The plant, which was closed for technical reasons last week, was powered up again this week for the event.

"We would like to be ushered into the 21st century with a closed Chernobyl nuclear power plant and not an open one," explained Ecology Ministry spokesman Sergei N. Peleshenko.

Critics say it is Ukraine's need for Western investment and loans, and not concern about safety, that drives Kuchma's decision.

Otherwise, they ask, why close a plant that has been operating without incident within international guidelines and that only recently underwent $300 million in safety improvements--especially when its replacement has not yet been built? And why during winter, when power demands are at their height? Already, many rural areas go without electricity for six hours a day.

It is easy to see why Ukraine needs Western help. For Chernobyl alone, the country requires $758 million to build a new sarcophagus around the destroyed reactor to hold in deadly radiation; the shell constructed after the accident is leaking and unstable.

Ukraine also wants the West's help to finish construction of two new nuclear reactors to compensate for the energy lost by the shutdown of reactor No. 3 and the earlier closures, under Western pressure, of Nos. 1 and 2. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development approved an initial $215-million loan for the $1.5-billion project last week--conditioned on Chernobyl being finally shut down.

That is why Kuchma is expected to use the shutdown to win more help for his struggling country. The prime ministers of Russia and Belarus, along with Kuchma and U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, are expected to make a one-day visit to the site today. And for Friday, plant managers are trying to figure out how to get hundreds of reporters and cameras into No. 3's cramped control room, where the reactor is viewable via a grainy closed-circuit TV.

But for the control room staff--nuclear power professionals who receive relatively high wages and see their careers and families' future at risk--the attitude is more like: Spare me.

"This is a misfortune that could have befallen anyone," answered shift supervisor Vladimir Zaytsev when asked how he felt about being put on duty for the shutdown.

Chernobyl is about a two-hour drive north of Kiev, on a road that takes visitors across flat farmland and forest, through villages where roadside cottages are often leaning and in need of paint.

The last part of the journey traverses the nearly empty exclusion zone, which stretches out 19 miles in all directions from the plant. It was from here that 116,000 people were permanently evacuated in the first days of the accident.

Among the communities abandoned was Pripyat, home to nearly 50,000 people who lived within sight of the cooling tower and the four reactors. Now it is a ghost city, overrun with brambles and grass, its communist-era insignia rusting and its debris-strewn apartment buildings starting to crumble from the elements.

Looking at Pripyat, it is easy to imagine that in another generation it will be overwhelmed by the encroaching vegetation and forest. Only a radiation detector gives hint of any danger here, showing higher-than-normal levels concentrated in the mosses that grow in cracking pavement.

After the accident--in which an operational experiment caused the reactor to overheat, prompting fire and an explosion that exposed the core to the outside air--there were fears that the zone would become a nuclear desert for centuries.

Instead, nature has proved resilient. The retreat of people meant that animals and plants could flourish, with growing populations of moose and roe deer, the wolves that feed on them, and wild boar, among others. Poachers are frequent visitors, and the game they kill probably ends up on plates across Ukraine. Biologists have been trapping mice and voles looking for signs of mutations, but so far the evidence is ambiguous. Botanists, however, note that many pine trees show abnormalities in the structure and number of their branches and needles, suggesting some subtle changes on the genetic level.

Human life in the zone also has come back, to a modest degree. Aside from the thousands who commute every day to work at the plant or its support facilities, at least 500 "resettlers" have returned despite official injunctions.

"We are like guinea pigs who have lived here for 14 years, and nothing has happened to us," said Anastasia Chikalovets. "We don't believe that there is anything there."

The resettlers are mainly elderly people used to a rural existence who could not manage on their tiny pensions in the city. In the country, with only a few animals and a garden, they can produce most of their daily food.

While feeding visitors pickled mushrooms, bread, fish, cottage cheese and fried pork fat, washed down with potent chlebny moonshine--all products grown or collected in her village of Opachichi inside the zone--Chikalovets and her husband, Nikolai, explained that when they returned a year after the accident they had to hide from officials trying to drive them out.

Then, around 1991, the police let them be. Now they even get free electricity from the Chernobyl plant and occasionally a few food staples from the government.

Although she has visited the nearby plant only once, Chikalovets is worried about what its shutdown will mean for her. "There will be disorder here, and we will be forgotten," she said.

But the shutdown of the reactor doesn't mean the immediate closure of the plant, insisted Andrei Shatsman, deputy chief engineer for operation.

"No one is closing the station," he said. "It will continue to operate for several years to come. The only difference is that from Dec. 15, the people there will be busy with the process of phasing it out."

As Shatsman explained, the unspent nuclear fuel within the reactor will have to be guarded, removed and put into storage, work that will last at least until 2008. (The existing storage is full, and a European-funded project to build a new site has just begun.)

Although labor unions at the plant oppose the shutdown, arguing that 2,000 of the 9,000 workers will be laid off almost immediately, Shatsman said there will be no sharp reductions, only a gradual shrinkage by attrition.

While no one feels joy over Kuchma's decision, Shatsman said, "we are not delicate damsels. There is a government resolution, and our job is to carry it out."

Of course, looming over all of this are the still unresolved dangers of the damaged reactor No. 4. A plan is in place for reconstructing the sarcophagus. But the long-range problem is how to remove and neutralize the danger of the more than 150 tons of highly radioactive plutonium inside.

Although portions of the interior are accessible and monitored, the fuel within remains deadly. Much of the removal work will have to be done by robots whose electronics will have to be shrouded from the effects of radiation. Peleshenko, the Ecology Ministry spokesman, said the cleanup might take 100 years.

And what of the lasting health consequences of the Chernobyl explosion? Aside from the at least 31 staff members and firemen who died during or just after the accident, there probably have been at least 6,000 premature deaths among the 600,000 soldiers and volunteers who took part in the cleanup, concluded David R. Marples, a University of Alberta historian and expert on the accident.

In studies, researchers have noted a general rise in morbidity, signs of impaired immune responses and various circulatory and skin problems, Marples wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on the 10th anniversary of the April 26, 1986, disaster.

But the accident's most concrete health effect has been the sharp rise in juvenile thyroid cancer in areas of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia that received the highest contamination, said Valery P. Tereshchenko, deputy director of the Institute for Endocrinology and Metabolism at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.

He said that doctors in Ukraine already have operated on 1,610 young people for thyroid cancer, a figure expected to reach 2,000 in less than five years. The rate of thyroid cancer among the nation's children is at least 10 times the world average.

And it is anyone's guess whether cases of leukemia or other forms of cancer will rise in the future, or if a positive link will be established between birth defects and the radiation exposure, as many distressed parents now assume.

However, even if the worst proves to be true, it is clear that Chernobyl still will be missed by many loyalists.

"In the heads of ordinary Americans, the news of the closure will be greeted with relief. But the thoughts of an ordinary Ukrainian will be something quite different," said Sergei Pavlovsky, the Chernobyl plant's chief spokesman, who was born and grew up in Chernobyl, worked at the plant and still longs for his old home in Pripyat. "What you are about to see is a very poor country making a very costly present to the world."



Thousands March to Preserve Chernobyl Aid

L. A. Times - December 4, 2000

KIEV, Ukraine--Thousands of people, including children in wheelchairs and widows holding black-banded portraits of their husbands, paraded down this city's central boulevard Sunday demanding that the government maintain pensions and subsidies for victims of the world's worst nuclear accident, at Chernobyl.

Among those protesting were workers who took part in the cleanup after the disaster and children whose birth defects have been ascribed to the radioactive smoke that spewed out of the plant, about 80 miles north of here, when its No. 4 reactor exploded and caught fire early on April 26, 1986.

Organizers of the march put the number of protesters at 10,000, but journalists estimated it was only about half that. Nevertheless, the column stretched for several city blocks as it proceeded first through a median-strip park and then down Kreshchatik Street, Kiev's main boulevard, which was closed to traffic.

The Chernobyl Union, which lobbies for the victims of the accident, organized the demonstration in an effort to halt plans by Ukraine's cash-strapped government to reduce aid in next year's budget.

Among the privileges at risk in the government's cost-cutting plans are an end to free public transportation and the abolition of a 50% rent subsidy given to the Chernobyl families.

More than 2.2 million of Ukraine's 50 million residents are eligible for benefits stemming from the accident, either as victims or as family members of victims.

"We try not to use the word 'privilege,' " said Georgy Khilya, 42, one of the marchers. "These are certain guarantees the government has given to the people who either volunteered or were sent to Chernobyl to save the country from a nuclear catastrophe."

Khilya said he was sent to the area as a soldier and has been hospitalized repeatedly during the years since with lung and cardiovascular problems.

Another marcher was Nina Ryzhuk, carrying a hand-colored photograph of her husband, Vasily. According to her, he volunteered to help in the cleanup immediately after the accident and suffered health problems from various ailments for the rest of his life until he died last year at 67.

"No one can give me back my husband, but at least leave us the benefits. . . . Without them, it will be impossible to live," she said.

The Chernobyl Union leader, Yuri Andreyev, said it was a coincidence that the march was held just as Ukraine is getting ready--after years of pressure from the European Union and the United States--to shut down the last functioning reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power station.

Still, many of the march participants said they see the impending shutdown, scheduled for Dec. 15, as an omen that they will be forgotten.

The number of people killed by the Chernobyl disaster remains a matter of some dispute. It is known that about 30 plant workers and firefighters died soon after the accident from radiation exposure.

Statisticians believe that thousands more people have since died prematurely as a result of cancers or other accident-related illnesses.


Nuclear - Page One