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Nuclear -     1 - Duke Energy Employee Advocate

Nuclear - Page 23

“(M)olten rock moving at up to 600 mph could fill the repository…within hours”
- Geophysical Research Letters, American Geophysical Union on Yucca Mountain

Target: Nuclear Waste

Associated Press - August 21, 2002

LUSBY, Md. (AP) - On the shore of one of the country's most bountiful waterways, the Chesapeake Bay, two reactors have produced electricity for nearly a quarter century - and accumulated 950 tons of radioactive waste.

Some security experts worry that at Calvert Cliffs on the Chesapeake and other nuclear power plants, the most vulnerable terrorist target may not be the reactors, but the waste they produce.

Last month, President Bush signed into law a plan to ship used reactor fuel, now kept in deep pools of water at power plants in 31 states, to a central underground repository in the Nevada desert.

But the Yucca Mountain site is not expected to open until 2010 and still faces legal and regulatory hurdles, while the amount of reactor waste - now about 45,000 tons nationwide - is growing by 2,000 tons a year.

Nestled on 380 coastal acres surrounded by a nature preserve, dense woods and agricultural land where tobacco farming once was a way of life, the Calvert Cliffs plant has produced about 30 tons of spent fuel a year since its two reactors began operating in the mid-1970s.

Most of the radioactive waste is kept in 39 feet of treated water in what looks like an indoor swimming pool, though much deeper and reinforced with a steel liner and four feet of concrete. With pool space filing up, a small amount of the waste has been stashed in steel casks inside concrete bunkers on the site.

``We think it's very safe ... in the pool and in the dry storage area,'' says Peter Katz, senior plant official and a vice president of Constellation Energy, the plant's owner. He says he doesn't ``for a minute doubt the safety and security'' of the material.

Because of new terrorist concerns, Katz is tightlipped about precautions taken and he won't tell how much fuel is kept there or specify its location. He agreed only reluctantly to meet with a reporter - and then only at the now-shuttered visitors' center outside the complex perimeter.

Before Sept. 11, Calvert Cliffs officials freely provided such information, even distributing an aerial photograph identifying plant structures by number, including the reactors, spent fuel pool building, and the dry-cask waste storage area.

Shown one of the photos, Katz lamented: ``I can't get them all back.''

Federal security experts believe Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network has been interested in nuclear facilities, and power plants have been on high alert since September. The nearby waters of the bay are now off limits to boaters. Plant guards carry automatic weapons. All but business-related visitors are turned away.

Because the government was supposed to take the spent fuel years ago, plants were never designed for long-term storage. Nor were fuel pools designed with a terrorist attack of the scale launched last September in mind.

While the highly radioactive fuel rods inside the reactor are protected by a four-foot-thick concrete dome, anti-nuclear activists consider the spent fuel a potential easy target.

``An attack against a spent fuel pool could drain enough water to cause a catastrophic radiological fire that cannot be extinguished,'' Robert Alvarez, a former Energy Department senior policy adviser, told a recent Senate hearing. He cited a 1997 analysis that said such a fire could contaminate up to 188 square miles. Another nuclear critic, David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the industry's mock security exercises have paid little attention to protecting waste at reactor sites.

The NRC acknowledges its studies on spent fuel vulnerability have focused on ensuring the pools can withstand an earthquake or other natural disaster - not a terrorist assault. In May, the NRC ordered increased security for spent fuel pools at all plants and a review of their vulnerability to a terrorist attack. The review has not been completed.

But Joe Colvin, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry trade group, said preliminary findings of an industry-sponsored analysis show the pools are ``much more robust and much more well protected ... than we even believed.''

The analysis showed a crashing aircraft would not rupture the pool, despite major damage to the building itself, he said. ``The pool would not leak significantly,'' he said.

Jack Skolds, chief nuclear officer at Exelon, which owns 17 reactors in Illinois and Pennsylvania, also cited the new industry analysis and said: ``Can I categorically say every spent fuel pool would withstand the impact of a (Boeing) 767? No I can't tell you that. I can tell you they are very safe indeed,'' says Skolds.

An uncontrollable fire in a fuel pool was theoretically possible, Skolds said, but ``the number of things that would have to happen are so unlikely that the probability of that occurring is very, very small.''

Exelon operates the oldest commercial power reactor still operating _ the Dresden plant, near Joliet, Ill., where 6,579 fuel assemblies, some 15,000 tons, are stored in twin pools.

During the debate over Yucca Mountain repository, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham insisted the waste is safe. However, he repeatedly cited the security, safety and environmental concerns of leaving it scattered at reactor sites, many of which are near precious waterways or population centers.

``The question is how safe do you want it,'' said Colvin of the Nuclear Energy Institute. ``...The safest possible way to protect the spent fuel is have it all in one location.''

Seized: 2,000 Shoulder-Fired Warheads

New York Times - August 21, 2002

WASHINGTON, Aug. 19 — A Canadian businessman who owns a defense contracting company has been charged with weapons violations after officials seized thousands of warheads for shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles at his Roswell, N.M., company over the weekend.

Federal officials in Las Cruces, N.M., filed a complaint charging that the company of the businessman, David Hudak, who was initially held for a passport violation on Thursday, was in violation of several firearms laws. The company, High Energy Access Tools, trains military and law enforcement personnel and United States allies in counterterrorism techniques.

Over the weekend officials had seized 49 wooden crates containing more than 2,000 warheads from a bunker on the grounds of the company. According to the complaint, officials also found "numerous high explosives," in addition to the missiles, none of which were registered to Mr. Hudak or the company.

Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Customs Service continued to search the bunker and premises in Roswell today, looking into whether the missiles and explosives had been obtained legally, an official with the bureau in Albuquerque said.

But Frank Fish, the director of security for Mr. Hudak's company, said all the materials on the premises were licensed. "We had purchased the equipment and had all the proper licenses and complied with all the proper regulations," Mr. Fish said. "We welcome with open arms their investigation, and if there is something wrong we will correct it and get back to business."

Of the thousands of munitions found in the bunker, the primary concern of officials was the warheads, which the complaint says bore yellow bands that are a NATO marking meaning highly explosive. The warheads are designed as military weapons, "used to defeat light armored vehicles and or bunkers," the complaint said. Typically the warheads are attached to shoulder devices or rockets to launch them. No such devices were found in the bunker, the complaint said.

The warheads were legally bought by Mr. Hudak from a weapons manufacturer after they did not meet the minimum standards for government buyers, Mr. Fish said. The weapons were shipped to International Hydro Cut Technologies in Canada, the parent company for High Energy Access Tools, and then returned to the United States.

"They went through customs to Canada and then back through U.S. Customs to Roswell," Mr. Fish said. The warheads have been on the company's inventory, which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has inspected and seen, Mr. Fish said.

Tom Mangan, an official with the bureau's Albuquerque office, said the number of warheads that were found was unusually large for a private company. "There is a heightened sense of awareness to this type of activity, and it deserves to be scrutinized," Mr. Mangan said.

Public Citizen Intervenes in FERC Complaint

Public Citizen – Press Release – August 20, 2002

Seeks Return of Nuclear Decommissioning Funds to Ratepayers

WASHINGTON D.C. - A surplus in the fund to be used to decommission the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant should be returned to ratepayers - not given to the nuclear plant's future owner, Public Citizen told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today in a motion to intervene in a complaint.

In the complaint, filed late last month, the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution and Citizen's Awareness Network asked FERC to rule that surplus decommissioning funds should be returned to ratepayers. Entergy has agreed to purchase the plant on the condition that the company be allowed to pocket portions of the anticipated surplus in the decommissioning trust fund after the plant is decommissioned.

Nuclear operators are required to establish trust funds through fees collected from ratepayers to cover the tremendous costs of decommissioning a nuclear power plant at the end of its operating lifetime.

Under a deal negotiated earlier this summer, Entergy plans to keep 45 percent of the surplus in Vermont Yankee's decommissioning trust fund. Although the Vermont Public Service Board ruled that surplus decommissioning funds should be returned to ratepayers, non-Vermont utilities in Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts had a 45 percent interest in the Vermont Yankee plant and are outside the jurisdiction of the Vermont Board's ruling.

"This amounts to corporate banditry," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "The decommissioning funds were collected from ratepayers, and the full amount of any surplus should be returned to ratepayers regardless of which state they live in."

Public Citizen's filing also noted that allowing corporations to profit from a surplus in a decommissioning fund creates a dangerous incentive for nuclear owners to delay and cut corners on clean-up in order to save money.

Nuclear Waste Lawsuit – Press Release – August 19, 2002

The Natural Resources Defense Council

NRDC and Coplaintiffs Charge DOE Illegally Awarded Itself the Authority to Reclassify High-Level Waste to Avoid Proper Cleanup

WASHINGTON (August 12, 2002) -- A federal district court judge late Friday denied the Department of Energy's motion to dismiss a suit alleging that the agency gave itself the authority to illegally reclassify high-level nuclear waste so that it could leave it at three facilities. In his ruling, the judge, B. Lynn Winmill at U.S. District Court in Boise, said, "[I]t is inconceivable that Congress intended to allow the DOE unfettered discretion in the management of radioactive waste as the Defendants [DOE] have alleged." (A pdf file of the judge's decision is available from NRDC.)

"We are pleased Judge Winmill denied DOE's motion to dismiss and that the facts of this case will be heard," said Geoffrey Fettus, an attorney with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), one of the plaintiffs and lead counsel in the case. "It's stunning that the Energy Department is trying to cut corners when dealing with a substance as dangerous as high-level nuclear waste.

"The agency says it would like to accelerate cleanup," Fettus added. "We would like the cleanup to take less time, but not by stashing thousands of tons of the nation's most radioactive waste under a concrete cap in leaky tanks and hoping no one notices."

The original lawsuit, filed in February 2002 by NRDC, the Snake River Alliance and the Yakama Indian Nation, argues that DOE, by giving itself the authority to reclassify high-level nuclear waste as "incidental waste," would use an illegally low standard for cleaning up some 100 million gallons of the nation's most highly radioactive waste. Most of this waste is located in underground tanks at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington; the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) near Idaho Falls; and the Savannah River site near Aiken, South Carolina. Dozens of the tanks in Washington and South Carolina are leaking.

NRDC and its coplaintiffs maintain that DOE is required by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to bury all of its high-level radioactive waste deep underground in a geologic repository. They say that leaving the waste in tanks and covering it in concrete would ensure it would eventually leach into groundwater adjacent to the Columbia River in Washington, the Snake River Aquifer in Idaho, and into the water table at the Savannah River site.

Since filing the suit, the plaintiffs have been joined by the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, whose reservation sits about 40 miles downstream on the Snake River from the INEEL. The court also has allowed Washington and Idaho standing in the lawsuit as "friends of the court."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

For the Well Financed Terrorist

Associated Press – by Charles Sheehan – August 9, 2002

BUTLER, Pa. - The sport utility vehicle that rolls out of the Ibis Tek shop looks just like those driven by millions of soccer moms.

But with a flip of the switch, out of the sunroof pops weaponry ranging from a .50-caliber M2 machine gun to an MK-19, 40 mm grenade launcher.

For now, you don't need to worry about a whole new level of road rage -- the western Pennsylvania manufacturer said it isn't selling in the United States. But it does ship its one-of-a-kind SUVs around the globe, especially to places where "have a safe trip" is more than just a nice thing to say.

Ibis Tek President Tom Buckner opened the company three years ago with his brother, John, and Tom Letter. They provide security products ranging from bulletproof vests to communications systems, as well as security consulting, almost exclusively in the Middle East.

The Ibis Tek Viper, Cobra and Python defense systems, which are outfitted for factory-issue trucks such as the Chevrolet Suburban and larger Ford pickups, are marketed out of Geneva, Switzerland.

While the company's client list is confidential, Buckner will say that about a dozen of his vehicles are being used in four Middle Eastern countries. The Royal Guard of Saudi Arabia possesses three.

An Ibis ride with all the trimmings -- including options such as armor plating that will stop a 7.62 mm armor-piercing bullet -- will set you back about $500,000.

And that's without the actual firepower: the company outfits the cars with defensive systems including the hidden, laser-guided gun platforms, but the clients themselves must buy their own guns, which are mounted only upon delivery.

Gas mileage is another matter. Ibis Tek vehicles can weigh as much as 11,000 pounds and miles to the gallon can dip into the single digits.

"You don't buy them for the gas mileage," Buckner said.

Sales of the vehicles are strictly regulated by the U.S. Department of State.

"If the item is not deemed to be something that could prove destabilizing to the region, and there is no outstanding foreign policy reason, it would be eligible for approval," said Jay Greer, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Political and Military Affairs. "We consider these things from a national security perspective."

John Weaver, vice president of engineering, said no vehicles have been sold domestically. While they would be legal in the United States, at least before being armed, an export permit would be required for the French company, Thales AFV, which designs the company's weapons stations in Britain.

Then, to actually attach a weapon, an owner would have to have a license from the federal government.

"There are a number of measures in place that would prevent a rogue outfit from getting their hands on this," Buckner said.

He said the cars are designed for protection, not for attack.

"Everything we do is defensive in nature," he said. "We make nothing offensive in nature."

The weapons platform is fully automated with laser sighting that can be operated from the passenger seat -- or the back seat if preferred -- using a joystick and a computer screen. A standard configuration can hold a .50-caliber machine gun in several barrel lengths and a 40 mm grenade launcher, Buckner said.

Weapons experts said that, while several companies provide armor for cars or affix guns to them, they were unaware of another firm modifying cars to conceal heavy weaponry.

It takes about six months to have a vehicle road ready, and Ibis Tek offers training courses.

Still, Buckner said, the "average deer hunter in Pennsylvania" could operate the system if he or she had a minimal amount of computer experience.

NRC Slaps Oconee Nuclear Over Safety

Greenville News– by Bob Montgomery – August 9, 2002

(August 07, 2002)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission cited the Oconee Nuclear Station for a safety violation that in a worst-case scenario could have resulted in the loss of shutdown cooling in the Unit 1 reactor containment building.

It was the second safety violation announced by the commission at Oconee Unit 1 in two weeks.

The citation stems from an NRC inspection in January 2001 in which the commission said it identified a lack of adequate procedural controls during a refueling outage in the fall of 2000.

NRC and Duke Power officials said Wednesday the now-corrected problem was minor. It "does not represent a current safety issue," said NRC spokesman Ken Clark.

The commission classified the violation as a low to moderate safety concern, but nuclear industry critics said the incident raises concern of power plant safety.

The previous violation, discovered in December 1995 and corrected in November 2000, involved the potential flooding of the auxiliary building that could have halted cooling to the reactor coolant pumps, possibly leading to reactor core damage, the NRC said.

Clark said Wednesday that the most recent violation was characterized as "white," meaning low to moderate safety concerns. White is the second of a four-step, color-coded system, with green meaning safe operation and yellow and red meaning serious safety concerns.

A January 2001 NRC inspection found "the absence of adequate instructions for operators to close one of the emergency hatch doors" to the Unit 1 containment building during a refueling outage in the fall of 2000, said Loren Plisco, NRC director of reactor projects in a report dated Aug. 2, 2002.

When asked what actions the operators would take if there was a loss of decay heat, the NRC concluded that the "the operators would not have questioned the need to reverify containment closure.

"Specific procedural steps did not exist to direct closure of the outer emergency hatch door," Plisco wrote.

Duke spokesman Tom Shiel said the incident was minor and that any threat to safety was "unlikely."

He said Duke has since changed the procedure that would ensure protection against any possible challenge to the emergency hatch door.

But a nuclear industry critic said the incident shows nuclear power plants are not 100 percent foolproof.

"It underscores the vulnerability of a terrorist attack," said Ed Lyman, president of the Nuclear Control Institute, an anti-nuclear power group. "It's not well-advertised, but buildings have hatches, and unless they're properly closed, then there's essentially a breach in the containment.

"Here is an example that if the NRC evaluated all of their procedures, they would have caught this problem," Lyman said.

Oconee Nuclear Cited for Safety Violation

Passing the Nuclear Buck

New York Times – by Matthew L. Wald – August 8, 2002

WASHINGTON, Aug. 6 — The sale of about two dozen nuclear power reactors around the country to a small number of companies has undermined the system Congress devised to ensure compensation for people hurt by a severe nuclear accident, according to an analysis commissioned by two antinuclear groups in New York.

Federal law requires reactor operators to buy $200 million in conventional insurance. It also provides for about $9.3 billion in additional coverage by requiring that after an accident, each plant pay $10 million a year, up to $88 million, to compensate victims.

When the law, known as the Price-Anderson act, was approved by Congress, the idea was to spread the risk among all reactors. But as a result of recent mergers and purchases, four companies now own so many reactors that their liabilities would be more than half a billion dollars each in case of accidents.

The study, which was commissioned by Riverkeeper, a Hudson River environmental group, and the STAR Foundation, a Long Island antinuclear group, points out that in many cases, the companies bought the reactors through limited liability subsidiaries that could declare bankruptcy and permit the parent corporations to walk away unscathed. It also says that the limited liability structure jeopardizes the money set aside for decommissioning the reactors at the end of their lives.

"Price-Anderson only works if those companies are reachable in the event of an accident," said Alex Matthiessen, executive director of Riverkeeper. "These limited liability structures seem specifically designed to put them beyond reach."

The report, prepared by Synapse Energy Economics and scheduled to be officially released on Wednesday by being posted on the World Wide Web at, details layer upon layer of corporate structures used in recent reactor purchases. Robert Alvarez, program director for the Star Foundation, said that most of the holding companies had no employees and were merely "shell corporations." He called them " Enron-style subsidiaries."

Representatives for the nuclear industry scoffed at the idea that the changes in ownership threatened the insurance system. Having nuclear plants concentrated in the hands of companies that specialize in running reactors has safety benefits, they said, and may also create greater financial responsiveness.

"If I'm a nuclear operator, I'm not going to undermine my core business to save $10 million a year," said Marvin S. Fertel, senior vice president at the Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade group. Failure to pay the fee for one reactor could jeopardize the licenses of the others, he said.

A typical 1,000-megawatt nuclear plant has fuel and operating expenses of $130 million to $140 million a year, he said, and a $10 million payment on top of that, in the unlikely event of a major accident, was a small increment.

In an introduction to the report, Peter A. Bradford, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a former head of the public service commissions in both New York State and Vermont, agreed that the consolidation of nuclear ownership might make for safer operation. But he said he thought it also "risks the shifting of accident and decommissioning costs from the plant owners to the general public because the relatively secure financial backing of substantial utilities companies has, in many cases, been replaced by a limited liability subsidiary whose only asset is an individual nuclear power plant."

Price-Anderson, established in 1957 by Congress, expired on Aug. 1. Provisions remain in force for existing reactors but new ones would not be covered. But that point is moot, since no new reactors have been ordered since 1978.

The insurance system established by the law could be crucial for people who live within a few miles of nuclear plants because commercial property insurance does not cover radiation accidents.

In creating the program, Congress set a cap on how much would be paid to any victims of a nuclear accident. The cap is periodically adjusted for inflation; it is now about $9.5 billion, with the money coming from the $200 million in conventional insurance and the $9.3 billion that would be paid by the nuclear industry after an accident.

Opponents say the cap is a subsidy to the nuclear industry; the industry asserts that the $9.5 billion is far more than would be available for a catastrophe at a chemical plant or some other industrial site. So far, they point out, payments have totaled only about $200 million.

Whatever the merits of the arguments on both sides, the emerging structure of the industry has clearly changed the underlying assumptions behind the building of nuclear power plants. Critics agree that having a single company operate 15 or 20 reactors is probably good for safety, since plants within a company share expertise more readily than plants owned by scattered utilities.

But they also say that the new owners may lack the deep pockets of the mammoth regulated utilities that built the reactors, making an insurance scheme more necessary.

The new legal structure is radically different from what came before. For example, the Indian Point reactors, in a suburb of New York City along the Hudson River, were sold by Consolidated Edison and the New York Power Authority to Entergy, a utility that built five of its own plants and has bought six more.

A spokesman for Entergy, Carl Crawford, said the structure had tax advantages. Asked if it also created a liability shield, he said, "It has that effect, too."

But, he said, "anyone who thinks that a company that would spend a billion and a half of its own dollars is going to shirk a $10 million a year insurance payment, that's just not reasonable."

Nuclear Strike Brings NRC Scrutiny

The Virginian-Pilot by Michael Davis – August 7, 2002

(8/6/02) - Federal regulators are taking a closer look at Dominion Virginia Power's two nuclear plants in the state as unionized employees of the company remain off the job.

Meanwhile, representatives of the utility and its striking workers were called back to the bargaining table Monday afternoon and encouraged to return to contract talks if either side has anything to say.

A federal mediator overseeing negotiations ``wanted to make sure that the lines of communication are open,'' said Jim Norvelle, a spokesman for Richmond-based Dominion.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has dispatched additional inspectors to monitor Dominion plants at Surry and North Anna during the walkout, which started at noon Friday.

The facilities are being operated by the book, according to the agency.

``Thus far, our technical staff has made the determination that they are able to run the plants safely with the workers they have there,'' said Ken Clark, a spokesman at the NRC's regional office in Atlanta.

Striking Dominion workers had warned that the company could not keep the plants online reliably without the union employees, which include electricians, operators and other technicians.

Surry and North Anna each employ about 800 workers, one-third of whom are covered by the union contract.

``The people who run this place are out on the picket line,'' said Rusty Tanner, the shop steward at Surry for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 50.

The NRC normally employs two full-time resident inspectors at Surry and North Anna. The agency has added an undisclosed number to watch each facility's control room nonstop during the walkout.

The additional NRC staffers will remain ``as long as necessary,'' Clark said.

Surry's two reactors are 17 miles northwest of Newport News. North Anna, which also has two reactors, is 40 miles northwest of Richmond.

About 1,000 unionized Dominion employees across Hampton Roads walked out Friday over retirement and health-care benefits after more than six months of talks on a new contract.

It is the first labor strike against Dominion -- Virginia's biggest utility -- since 1964.

Workers manned picket lines through the weekend, as the company reassured consumers that it could keep the lights on using managers, nonunionized workers and temporary help.

``The union leadership, our supervisors and employees are to be commended for an orderly transition at our offices and power stations,'' said Thomas F. Farrell II, chief executive of Dominion Energy, the electric generating subsidiary of Dominion. ``The workers who left their jobs are valued employees and we want them to return to work soon. We regret they felt it was necessary to take this action.''

The IBEW represents about 3,700 Dominion employees in Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia.

Locally, the union includes employees of the Surry plant, the company's Chesapeake and Yorktown coal- and oil-fueled plants, and field workers such as line technicians and meter readers.

On Monday, representatives of Dominion and the IBEW met for less than an hour. A federal mediator, who has been involved in contract talks since mid-July, arranged the sit-down in case either side had reconsidered negotiations over the weekend.

While both parties insist they are ready to return to the bargaining table, no further talks are scheduled.

Violent thunderstorms slashed through Northern Virginia Friday night and Saturday, interrupting power to tens of thousands of households in the region.

At the storms' peak, about 18,000 Dominion customers lost service. The power was turned back on by late Sunday.

``We've restored power in very good time, maybe a little slower than usual,'' Norvelle said.

``We're running very well. That said, we want this done.''

The only forecast for precipitation in Hampton Roads this week is a 30 percent chance of showers this morning. Temperatures are expected to be seasonal, with highs in the middle to upper 80s through next weekend.

Related article:

Walkout Over Retirement, Health Care

Yucca Mountain Volcanoes

Associated Press – August 2, 2002

(8/1/02) - WASHINGTON -- A volcanic eruption at Yucca Mountain could do more damage than previously thought, possibly forcing radioactive waste from its burial site to the surface, according to a new study.

If long-dormant volcanoes near the prospective high-level nuclear waste dump sprang back to life, molten rock moving at up to 600 mph could fill the repository deep beneath the Nevada desert within hours, said an article in the July issue of Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.

Intense heat and pressure could cause some canisters of spent nuclear fuel that are to be buried at Yucca Mountain to rupture and allow radioactive material to flow toward the surface, the article said.

"It can potentially affect a large number of waste canisters," wrote a team of English, Dutch and American scientists that developed computer models to assess the risk of a volcanic eruption.

Seven dead volcanoes are within 27 miles but the last eruption was 80,000 years ago. Project scientists calculate that the chance of one occurring within the waste repository over the next 10,000 years is 1 in 70 million.

Previous government studies have said volcanic eruptions would do little damage to the site 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. But project scientists who commented on a draft of the new study said it presents a potentially useful model for evaluating what could happen if an eruption were to occur.

President Bush last week designated Yucca Mountain as the nation's lone long-term waste repository.

Oconee Nuclear Cited for Safety Violation

The Greenville News – by Anna Simon, Bob Montgomery – August 1, 2002

(7/29/02) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has cited the Oconee Nuclear Station for a safety violation that went uncorrected for six years and in a worst case scenario could have damaged the reactor cooling system.

The citation was announced Monday after a final commission decision.

NRC and Duke Power officials said the now-corrected problem was minor.

It involved a high-pressure service water system line in the fire protection system in Oconee's Unit 1 and posed no danger to the public or property outside the plant, said Binoy Desai, acting branch chief overseeing Duke plants for the commission.

"This was an issue that was self-identified and corrective actions were taken in November of 2000," said Dayle Stewart, a Duke spokesperson.

Under a worst case scenario, "If the high pressure service water system was to flood the building and disable safety equipment, a secondary or back-up system would come into play and provide cooling water to the reactor coolant pump seals," Stewart said.

The commission classified the violation as a low to moderate safety concern, but nuclear industry critics were concerned.

"Despite the NRC's stringent review for license renewal, this problem has been unaddressed for up to six years" said Jim Riccio, a nuclear power analyst for Greenpeace, a citizens' environmental watchdog group.

"They're sitting here renewing licenses rather than fixing safety problems."

The NRC has four resident inspectors who work at the plant every day to ensure safety, Desai said.

The problem at Oconee was a high pressure service water system line in an auxiliary building that was filled with water and pressurized although it was supposed to be dry, Desai and Stewart said.

If the line suddenly ruptured completely, it would have flooded the auxiliary building and could have disabled safety equipment that provided cooling to the reactor coolant pumps, possibly resulting in a loss of coolant to the reactor, Desai said.

That would have caused the reactor to heat up until plant personnel detected the problem and started back-up systems, he said.

While a worst case scenario could have led to damage to the reactor core, all radioactive materials would have been contained in the reactor dome so there would have been no danger to people, homes or property outside the dome, Desai said.

The metal high pressure water system line uses untreated lake water and has shown signs of corrosion, according to the NRC.

The federal agency classified the finding as "white" on its four-step color coded system that goes from green indicating safe operation, to white indicating low to moderate safety concerns, to the more serious yellow and red as safety concerns increase.

The commission also gave Duke a violation notice for failing to take more timely corrective action. Duke discovered the problem in December 1995, and it was corrected in April 2001, Desai said. The NRC learned about the problem two years ago, he said.

Desai said the commission was more concerned about how long the problem went uncorrected than the problem itself.

It was discovered during a 1995 review of early plant documents, Stewart said. Duke engineers at the plant discovered a 1972 letter to the commission stating that the high pressure service water system would be in a dry condition.

"Once that letter was discovered, Duke began an extensive series of evaluations and assessments to determine the full impact of maintaining the system with water in the line, which we considered a safe operation because that way the water is immediately available when needed," Stewart said.

Numerous corrective actions were considered, and once Duke determined which would alleviate the safety concerns, "We expedited them," Stewart said.

New seals recently put on the reactor coolant pumps to correct an unrelated problem in Unit 1 helped to correct this problem as well, Desai said. Seal replacement was the main correction along with some other modifications, Stewart said.

The issue wasn't discussed with the NRC until 2000, prior to an inspection in that area of the plant, Stewart said.

NRC wasn't told earlier because it wasn't required under NRC reporting guidelines at that time, she said.

Roger Hannah, spokesman for the NRC, said the incident was relatively minor. If there had been a rupture or some kind of leak in the high pressure water system line, there could have been some flooding in the auxiliary building, but probably no serious problems, he said.

Belgium MOX Fuel for Duke - by Tim Smith – July 28, 2002

(7/26/02) - COLUMBIA – The United States is asking the Belgium government to approve using facilities there to produce the first test batches of MOX, the nuclear fuel officials plan to manufacture at the Savannah River Site in six years, a member of the Belgium parliament told The Greenville News.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Energy confirmed that the government was discussing use of overseas facilities with European officials but declined to provide details.

Producing the test mixed oxide fuel will be the next major milestone for the $4 billion project, which is designed to convert 34 metric tons of surplus American military plutonium to fuel for commercial nuclear reactors.

Asking European facilities to produce the test MOX carries risks, environmentalists and officials of nonproliferation groups say, not only because using nuclear bomb material at such plants could stir political protests but also because it could mean shipping U.S. military plutonium overseas.

Eloi Glorieux, a member of the Flemish government in Belgium's parliament, said the government there would likely decide by the end of August whether to approve the U.S. request to use a MOX production facility near Dessel to make the first test batches of MOX.

He said while the issue has not stirred public debate, it is being argued by officials of the government, with conservatives in favor of the proposal and many Social Democrats and so-called "Greens," the environmentalists, opposed.

"Right now, it's absolutely open," he said. "It will depend on how the game is played. It will be the one who gives in first. It's not an economic issue. It's not really a social or an employment issue. It's an ethical question, so to say."

European facilities have manufactured MOX for years for commercial nuclear reactors, though not using weapons-grade plutonium.

European MOX is made essentially by recycling spent nuclear fuel. The test fuel, called lead test assemblies, will be used at one of Duke Energy's two Charlotte-area nuclear power plants, Catawba in South Carolina, or McGuire in North Carolina.

Lisa Cutler, a spokeswoman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is overseeing the project, said no decisions have yet been made about how the test fuel will be created.

"One option that we're looking at is early fabrication of a small number of lead assemblies in Europe," she said. "We're meeting with government officials in Europe to determine what would be necessary to pursue this option."

She declined to elaborate on the talks or name the nations involved.

In addition to the facility at Dessel, owned by Belgonucleaire, Glorieux said the U.S. also is considering facilities in France.

One MOX facility in France is owned by Cogema, one of the partners in the consortium that has signed a contract to build the MOX plant at SRS.

Asked why officials were considering Europe, Cutler replied, "We're looking at a number of different options and they all have different advantages and disadvantages. We're looking for the best place to do it."

Tom Clements, an official with Greenpeace International who met recently with Belgium officials about the issue, said the U.S. Department of Energy prefers the European option because it would allow the fuel to be tested much more quickly than if they waited until after the SRS facilities were operating, now scheduled for 2008.

"I think they want a quick resolution to stay on their timeline," he said. "But there's no rush. The U.S. government must provide honest answers about the costs and risks of a MOX program and not be a party to anti-democratic, secret decision making in a foreign country."

Glorieux, who is opposed to use of the facilities for the U.S. MOX, said he knows Belgium resistance to the U.S. proposal will not stop production of the test fuel.

"If Belgium doesn't do it, France will," he said. "And if Belgium and France won't do it, then the United States has enough experience and technology that it will only take one or two more years for them to make their own MOX facilities. But I think it is a very bad message to give to the world, that the use of MOX is a good thing. There are alternatives which are less environmentally damaging and less dangerous."

He said the Belgium government decided three years ago to eventually end its production and use of MOX and it would therefore not make sense to aid another nation's efforts to begin making such fuel.

Cutler said the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico is working on the purification of weapons-grade plutonium to be used for the test fuel.

She said however it's done, the creation of test fuel is critical for the MOX program to succeed.

"We need to know how the material is going to perform in the reactor," she said. "And we need to perform tests so that the facility that is going to be built is done to the right specifications."

Rose Cummings, a spokeswoman for Duke Energy, said officials hope the test fuel will come to Duke sometime in 2004 in the form of four assemblies, each of which carries about 204 fuel rods. Each fuel assembly is about 12 feet long, 1 foot wide and weighs about 1,500 pounds, she said.

The four test assemblies will be part of 193 assemblies that power the reactor, she said. Duke plans to run the test fuel for at least two fuel cycles of about 18 months each, during which, she said, Duke, DOE and officials with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will examine the fuel's performance and safety.

Before Duke can load the test fuel, it must apply to the NRC. Environmental groups have raised safety questions about the fuel, charging that an accident involving MOX will cause many more injuries than an accident with typical nuclear reactor fuel, which is made of uranium.

Glorieux said the decision by Belgium would likely be made by the government's council of ministers and its prime minister, though it will be debated in the Parliament.

"It's not a public issue," he said from his Brussels office. "If you ask people in the street about it, nobody will know about it or care. But it's a very important issue for me."

Heelsplitter Verses Atom-Splitter

Senators Bow to Nuclear Industry

Public Citizen – Press Release – July 9, 2002

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

Today's decision by the U.S. Senate to give a green light to the potentially disastrous Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump is disappointing, but we are pleased that more senators than ever - 39 - voted against it.

Still, this outcome was not unexpected, given that the nuclear industry spent millions of dollars to buy ads, contribute to politicians' campaigns and hire lobbyists to twist arms. In fact, senators and senatorial candidates took more than $5 million from the nuclear power industry in political action committee contributions from 1997 through February 2002. This vote was paid for, and records likely will show more contributions poured into campaign coffers in recent weeks. With today's vote, lawmakers have not only succumbed to industry influence but have again failed to check the Bush administration's inappropriate coziness with the energy industries.

Ahead of us are regulatory, legislative and legal battles. We hope common sense will prevail, because there are plenty of issues to be addressed:

  • It is unclear whether enough money will be appropriated for Yucca Mountain to come to fruition. Already the government has spent $7 billion on this white elephant; today's total cost estimate is $58 billion and tomorrow's will be more.

  • The Department of Energy (DOE) has not released the routes it would use to ship the nuclear waste to Nevada. This has enabled the administration to avoid the wrath of concerned lawmakers who may not yet know that these mobile Chernobyls could be coming through their districts. When routes are finally laid out, expect a huge amount of opposition from affected communities and their representatives.

  • The DOE has estimated that nearly 300 crashes could occur while this dangerous waste is being shipped to Nevada. Yet it is unlikely that emergency workers would be prepared to adequately handle such potential disasters. Further, the transportation casks have not been fully tested to ensure they could withstand realistically severe crashes. Also, the waste will make a tempting terrorist target as it rolls across the country; the Yucca Mountain scheme calls for scattering dirty bombs all over the United States.

  • Even the government's own scientists confess they cannot demonstrate that the proposed repository will not leak and contaminate the environment and drinking water supplies.

  • Yucca Mountain will not solve our waste problems because the irradiated fuel must cool onsite for years before being moved. Whether or not Yucca Mountain is built, nuclear waste will always be scattered at nuclear reactors throughout the country as long as reactors continue to operate. Further, the total volume of this country's high-level nuclear waste is expected to exceed capacity at Yucca Mountain before the repository can open.

We applaud the efforts and leadership of Sens. Tom Daschle, Harry Reid and others. We hope they will continue to lead the fight against what is, and always will be, a terrible idea.

Nuclear - Page 22