Nuclear -   32
Nuclear -   32
www.DukeEmployees.com - Duke Energy Employee Advocate
Nuclear - Page 25
couldn't handle that." - Warren Burgess, Davidson Planning Director - The Charlotte Observer
DOE Misses Deadline on Nuclear DumpPublic Citizen – Press Release – October 23, 2002
DOE Misses Deadline on Nuclear Waste Dump; Agency Disregard for Statutory Requirements a Cause for Concern
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) inability to meet a deadline to file a license application for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository demonstrates that the agency's site recommendation was premature and incomplete, Public Citizen said today. The group sent a letter to the House and Senate Appropriations committees drawing attention to the matter and expressing concern about the project's bloated budget for the coming year.
"The DOE's apparent disregard for process does not inspire confidence," Public Citizen wrote. "We urge Appropriators to rigorously review the FY 2003 funding request for Yucca Mountain and stop wasting taxpayer and ratepayer money on this runaway project."
After Congress gave a vote of approval for the Yucca Mountain project, President Bush on July 23 designated Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the site for the world's first high-level nuclear waste repository. To proceed with construction, the DOE must now obtain a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The Nuclear Waste Policy Act, a 1982 law from which the DOE derives its mandate for the Yucca Mountain project, specifies that the energy secretary must submit a license application to the NRC "not later than 90 days" after a site is selected.
Although this 90-day deadline expired Monday, DOE's own timelines suggest that the agency will not be ready to apply for a license until the end of 2004 at the earliest due to incomplete studies and unresolved technical issues. These include the lack of both a specific repository design and a plan for transporting nuclear waste to Nevada. The 90-day window implies that DOE was to submit a much more detailed and complete site recommendation for congressional consideration.
"The Secretary of Energy was fully aware that the agency was years away from completing a license application, yet he forced Congress to act prematurely on an incomplete site recommendation," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "The agency does not appear to be acting in good faith."
The original FY 2003 budget request for the Yucca Mountain Project was $524.7 million - up 40 percent from FY 2002. A supplemental request from the DOE added another $66 million. The House and Senate have yet to vote on appropriations packages.
Overworked Nuclear Guards Sent to 'Shrink'New York Times– by Matthew L. Wald – October 21, 2002
(10/20/02) - COVERT, Mich., Oct. 16 — To increase security after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Palisades nuclear plant here, like plants around the country, sharply increased the number of guards on duty. To do so, it put the guards on 12-hour shifts instead of 8, often six days a week instead of five.
The guards are still on that schedule, and they say it has made them tired, error-prone and cranky. But if they complain, they say, they are threatened with the loss of their jobs or sent for psychiatric evaluation.
Industry regulators and observers say increasing security may have put more guards on duty, but they are less effective.
"If something happened, these would be basket cases," said Peter Stockton, a security expert who was a special assistant to the secretary of energy in the Clinton administration and now works with the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group in Washington that recently wrote a report on problems in power plant security. Top officials at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have voiced similar concerns and credit the group for bringing the problem to their attention. Some in the industry, though, blame the commission for not issuing a final rule on higher security standards.
In an interview, one guard at the plant here acknowledged that she "just lost it" at work one day this summer, when confronted near the end of a long shift with ringing telephones, workers knocking on the glass of her booth because their ID cards would not function in the reader and various warning lights flashing. When another guard approached her with a low-priority problem, she cursed at him, shouted and burst into tears, she said.
The guard, who said she feared for her job and did not want her name used, was sent to a local psychologist who reported that "she is stressed by working too much."
The guard complained to the resident inspectors of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the plant here, on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Two days later, a psychologist who had not examined her sent a report to the Wackenhut Corporation, which employs the guards here, that said in addition to "routine work stress," her personal life "may have contributed to this employee having experienced loss of emotional control" and said that unless she improved, "the employee's access should be immediately withdrawn." The guard is armed, and has a pass that allows "unescorted access" to vital areas.
An executive at Wackenhut said the company had never taken retaliatory action but said he could not comment on personnel matters.
Guards here and elsewhere say the stress of long hours has made them more prone to errors like forgetting to lock a door, or leaving keys or weapons unsecured.
At another reactor a few hundred miles away, a guard who asked that he and his plant not be identified said that a few weeks ago, he left out a step in inspecting some material.
The guard, who has been working more than 72 hours a week, said he completed the inspection successfully but forgot to notify the central command post when he finished. Ordered to write a statement explaining his error, he cited "fatigue." The next day, he said, he was sent to a psychologist.
Richard A. Michau, president of the nuclear services division of Wackenhut, the largest security contractor at nuclear plants, said the company had had an increase in errors only because so many guards were new. If a worker declared himself unfit for duty, the company would not make him work, he said.
At Indian Point 2, in Buchanan, N.Y., Bart Wallace, a guard for the last eight years, said: "I work from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. I'm in bed by 7, I'm up at 1 and three hours later I'm walking out the door to go back to work."
"I'm going to work tired, I'm coming home tired, I'm never fully rested and they don't care," said Mr. Wallace, a retired New York City police officer. Overtime was common on the police force, he said, but never for months at a time.
Edward McGaffigan Jr., one of the five members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said overtime was an issue in places that had to make changes to meet rules imposed by the commission after Sept. 11.
"They weren't necessarily staffed to do it," he said. Now, 13 months later, they are still not staffed, he said.
Overtime has always been common at nuclear plants during refueling shut-downs, but those typically last weeks, not months. Mr. McGaffigan said some companies might have deferred hiring because they thought the new security rules would be temporary, but this summer, he said, "we basically told them the levels we are required to staff to isn't going to go down, even if the crisis goes away. They should be hiring in order to meet that new baseline."
Roy P. Zimmerman, the director of the commission's Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response, said that his agency expected more overtime immediately after Sept. 11 but that he was concerned about "excessive" overtime over a long period. Normally, guards should be working 40-hour weeks, he said. His staff is drafting a new rule, to submit to the commissioners, to make that expectation clearer and give guards the stronger protection that plant operators already have, he said.
But Mr. Michau of Wackenhut said the problem was that the commission has not finalized its requirements. "I wish the N.R.C. comes out with a final order, so we can hire the right amount of people," he said. "Is this temporary, or is this going to be permanent?"
Mark P. Findlay, the director of security at the Nuclear Management Company, which operates Palisades and five other reactors, said: "The N.R.C. really hasn't done their job and given us any permanency. We're not getting an awful lot of guidance."
The guard companies have had trouble hiring. At some plants, guards have quit to work at airports, for the new Transportation Security Administration. Many new hires have been rejected after failing drug or alcohol tests, or because of felony convictions. Some, guards say, quit when they realized how much overtime they were facing.
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Anti-Radiation Pills Go FastThe Charlotte Observer – by Pam Kelley – October 20, 2002
Thousands of area residents took time Saturday to pick up something they hope they'll never need.
Residents of Mecklenburg, Catawba, Gaston, Iredell and Lincoln counties who live near nuclear power plants collected potassium iodide tablets for 23,835 people. It was the first local distribution of the anti-radiation pills. A second will be held Tuesday.
More than 250,000 N.C. residents who live within the 10-mile radius of Duke Power's McGuire and Catawba plants are eligible for the free pills, which are provided by the federal government. The tablets distributed Saturday cover more than 9 percent of that population. S.C. officials announced Friday they'll also distribute potassium iodide, but haven't yet worked out details.
Known by its chemical symbol KI, potassium iodide blocks the radiation that causes thyroid cancer, the No. 1 illness that followed the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in the former Soviet Union.
Medical experts say the pills are the best protection after a radioactive release -- short of a quick evacuation, which could be difficult in urban areas.
On Saturday, officials distributed the pills at 13 locations in the five counties. Residents filled out a brief form, listing their address and the number of people in their household, though they weren't required to verify the information. In Mecklenburg, volunteers then handed them a Glad sandwich bag packed with pills and instructions.
Residents got two pills per person, a two-day supply, intended to be an extra defense while they're evacuating. The pills are good for five years.
At the Davidson United Methodist Church site, Davidson resident Connie Wessner noted that picking up pills to protect your family during a nuclear disaster made for a strange Saturday morning errand.
When she learned of the distribution, Wessner said, her first reaction was not to get the pills. "Who wants to have sort of a doomsday kit in their house?" she said. But once she got past that emotional response, she said, she knew it made sense to get them, just in case.
While Health Department officials distributed the pills in the church fellowship hall Saturday morning, costumed church members in the nearby sanctuary rehearsed a play about children coming to visit Jesus. Some parents waiting while their children rehearsed used the time to pick up pills for the family.
At several sites, supervisors said one of the most frequent questions was: What about pills for my pets? Pets weren't eligible for the free pills. But officials advised pet owners to check with their veterinarians.
At Denver United Methodist Church in Lincoln County, some residents also asked about getting extra pills for family or friends who visited frequently. "You have lots of friends when you live on the lake," said Susan Spake, the county's emergency management director. Health officials suggested that families with frequent guests buy extra pills from drugstores.
Many people picking up the pills Saturday said since the process was convenient and the pills were free, there was no reason not to get them.
"It'd just be something good to have in case it happens -- just a fail-safe in case we couldn't get evacuated," said Brian Quinn, a sophomore at North Mecklenburg High School, one of the distribution sites. Brian and two classmates were helping pack the pills to receive credit toward their International Baccalaureate program's community service requirement.
Charlotte residents Mike and Melinda Manning also got their pills at North Mecklenburg High, then debated whether to keep them in their home, their car, or Melinda's purse. If you're away from home when disaster strikes, they reasoned, it might be difficult to return home to retrieve them.
S.C. Will Issue Radiation PillsThe Charlotte Observer – by Jennifer Talhelm – October 20, 2002
Potassium iodide to be distributed free as temporary protection against thyroid cancer
COLUMBIA - South Carolina is following North Carolina's lead and will distribute potassium iodide pills to residents near nuclear power plants to help prevent cancer after a nuclear disaster.
On Friday, South Carolina became the 17th state to accept the federal government's offer to make the pill available for residents within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant. Potassium iodide blocks radiation that causes thyroid cancer.
York County residents who live near Duke Power's Catawba nuclear power plant on Lake Wylie will be the first in the state to get the pill. Residents will get two pills each, enough for two days. The pills are intended as an extra layer of defense while residents are evacuating.
But South Carolina may not distribute the pill the way most states have.
York County emergency management director Cotton Howell said his office will use the distribution effort to test how well they could get information and pharmaceuticals to the public in a disaster, such as an anthrax outbreak.
The details aren't ironed out yet, he said, but he envisions asking residents to come to a school or community auditorium, where officials would explain the pill and how it works and then distribute it.
N.C. officials are simply asking people to pick up the free pills at particular locations.
Other counties may decide to follow York's lead.
If not, the state will distribute the pills through the local health departments. South Carolina has four nuclear power plants. Another, Plant Vogtle in Georgia, is near North Augusta, S.C.
"We're the test," Howell said. "We have the entire state and other states looking at our plan."
Howell said he thinks the supply of potassium iodide, also known by its chemical symbol KI, will arrive in December. He expects to begin distribution after Christmas.
Officials in both Carolinas initially rejected the federal government's offer to make the pills available because they feared people would take the pill instead of evacuating.
Potassium iodide protects people from only one kind of harm, said Thom Berry, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
N.C. officials changed their minds after receiving complaints from the public and reviewing studies showing that people who took KI avoided thyroid cancer after the Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union.
N.C. residents in the Charlotte area within 10 miles of Duke's Catawba or McGuire nuclear power plants can pick up their KI doses today and Tuesday.
After N.C. officials decided to distribute KI, S.C. residents flooded state offices with phone calls asking South Carolina to do the same.
Many residents who could get KI under N.C.'s distribution plan lived within yards of S.C. residents, who couldn't.
Howell said his office received "hundreds of calls" from concerned residents. He said that prompted him to call the state to tell officials that York County residents wanted the pill.
Berry said the public reaction convinced the state to distribute KI. But officials still want to make sure people understand KI is not a "magic pill" that will make them radiation proof.
"We still strongly urge people in the event of a release to follow instructions," Berry said.
Near Nuclear Plant? Time to Get PillsThe Charlotte Observer – by S. Dodd, E. Beshears – October 18, 2002
N.C. residents who live near the Charlotte area's two nuclear power plants can line up starting this weekend for free pills that could save their lives in a disaster.
The distribution will be the first of its kind for local health departments, which received the potassium iodide for free from the federal government.
More than 200,000 people live within 10 miles of Duke Energy's McGuire and Catawba plants. All N.C. residents who fall in that radius are eligible for the pills, which will be distributed on Saturday and Tuesday.
Thousands who live in South Carolina can't get them yet, though, because health officials in their state haven't decided whether to accept the free pills. Officials say they worry the tablets might give residents a false sense of security and dissuade them from evacuating after a nuclear accident.
Known by its chemical symbol KI, potassium iodide blocks radiation that causes thyroid cancer -- the No. 1 illness following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union. Children are especially at risk.
Medical experts say taking KI is the most important way residents can protect themselves after a radioactive release -- short of a speedy evacuation, which would be difficult in many parts of the Charlotte region.
Residents who come out Saturday or Tuesday will receive two free tablets. One provides protection against thyroid cancer for about 24 hours.
People can pick up pills for family members, as well. "It's an honor system," said Mecklenburg County Health Department spokesman D.C. Lucchesi.
Officials have 350,000 pills available for Mecklenburg, Catawba, Gaston, Iredell and Lincoln counties and can request more from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission if they run out. But they don't know whether to expect big crowds or not. They've received more calls about West Nile virus lately than potassium iodide.
If pills are left over after next week, officials could make them available to people who work in the 10-mile zones.
Bruce Bowman's job is on Brawley School Road, the only access to a peninsula of more than 10,000 residents that would be hard to evacuate after a disaster at the McGuire plant. But he has no plans to get the pills.
"I think it's ridiculous," Bowman said. "There are more things to be afraid of than a nuclear facility. (The pill's) going to be something that people place on the shelf."
In other states, less than 25 percent of the people eligible for the pills have shown up when they've been distributed.
For those who do want them but live outside the 10-mile zones, several local drugstores began carrying KI this month. They say demand jumped after the counties announced plans to distribute the pills.
"As soon as we get them, we sell right out of them," said Melissa Manriquez, a technician at the CVS on N.C. 150 in Mooresville. The store expects another shipment today, she said.
The pills sell for about $1 each and usually come in packs of 14.
Some pharmacies don't carry the drug and say they haven't had enough requests to order it. For example, half the pharmacies checked Thursday in southern Iredell County, close to the McGuire plant, stock it.
Many national health experts, including the American Thyroid Association, say everyone who lives or works within 50 miles of a nuclear plant should have KI. They've urged officials to distribute the pills since 1982, when it received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.
It took Sept. 11 and fears of terrorist attacks against power plants to persuade the NRC to act. In December, the NRC offered pills to every state with residents who live within 10 miles of a plant. So far, 16 of the 34 eligible states have asked for them.
At a national conference this month, thyroid experts said that's not enough, urging all those states to participate.
"It's easy, cheap and largely nontoxic," said Dr. David Becker, professor of radiology and medicine at Weill-Cornell Medical College in New York, who wrote his first paper touting KI's potential benefits in 1985, before Chernobyl proved him right.
"It works," Becker said, "so what's the problem?"
The Carolinas have a dozen nuclear plants, including McGuire on Lake Norman and Catawba on Lake Wylie. But both N.C. and S.C. officials originally said no when the NRC offered the pills.
The states agreed to reconsider only after facing public criticism. North Carolina decided to take the tablets after health officials studied medical data from the Chernobyl disaster showing a 100-fold increase in thyroid cancer cases in a region up to 150 miles away. Areas of a similar distance in Poland, where people took KI, suffered no increase.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control continues to debate KI, with no date set for a decision.
Many emergency officials -- even those giving out pills this weekend -- say they prefer to concentrate on evacuation, rather than letting people think they could rely on the tablets.
"It's not a Superman pill," said Curtis Hopper, Gaston County's environmental health administrator. "You can't take it and sit back on your coach and wait. It is to be taken along with evacuation."
But evacuating everyone within 10 miles of the McGuire or Catawba plants could take at least eight to 24 hours, according to local emergency plans. Less than four hours is considered optimal by the NRC.
"If we had a meltdown at McGuire, I think I'd go to the church and pray," said Davidson planning director Warren Burgess. "The roads clearly couldn't handle that."
-- STAFF WRITER KAREN CIMINO CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE.
NRC Confirms Employee DiscriminationU. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission – Press Release – October 18, 2002
U.S. NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION
No. III-02-054 October 4, 2002
NRC STAFF ISSUES CONFIRMATORY ORDER TO EXELON NUCLEAR
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff has issued a Confirmatory Order to Exelon Nuclear Generation Company documenting the utility’s corrective actions being taken as a result of discrimination against a former employee at the company’s Byron Nuclear Power Station in Byron, Illinois.
NRC regulations prohibit companies licensed by the agency to discriminate against a worker for raising safety issues involving the facility.
An investigation by the NRC’s Office of Investigations determined that an Exelon corporate manager deliberately discriminated against the former employee on August 25, 2000, by not selecting the employee for a new position which he was seeking. The investigation found that the manager had based the hiring decision on the employee’s raising an internal safety issue.
The employee had raised an issue concerning the working environment in a department at the Byron station. He was concerned that a “chilled environment” existed which might discourage employees from raising safety issues because of concerns of possible discrimination by plant management.
Following review of the investigation findings, the NRC staff contacted Exelon on June 17 to schedule a predecisional enforcement conference to discuss possible violations of NRC regulations dealing with employee protection and deliberate misconduct. The company then requested the opportunity to present a settlement proposal prior to the conference.
After several meetings between the NRC staff and Exelon, the utility agreed to the issuance of a confirmatory order to resolve this matter.
Exelon agreed to admit the violation of NRC employment protection regulations as a non-willful violation and to undertake extensive corrective actions at all 21 of its licensed nuclear power reactors and within its corporate organization.
The corrective actions include, among others, counseling all management personnel involved with the discrimination incident, training of all vice-president and plant managers throughout the Exelon organization on employee protection regulations, review and revision of the company’s training program on preventing discrimination against employees who raise safety issues, and notifying all Exelon nuclear employees of the company’s commitment to foster a safety-conscious work environment which encourages employees to raise issues without fear of retaliation.
As a result of the utility’s admission of the employee protection violation and its extensive corrective actions at all its facilities, the NRC staff has agreed not to issue a notice of violation to the company or to any individual. No fine will be proposed. The Confirmatory Order contains the terms of the company's agreement, which are legally enforceable as NRC requirements.
The Confirmatory Order will be available on the NRC’s web site at: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/enforcement/actions/reactors/ and from the NRC’s Region III Office of Public Affairs. It will also be available in the agency’s ADAMS electronic reading room: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/adams.html.
As part of the settlement agreement, the Exelon has agreed not to contest the Order. Any person adversely affected by the action may request a hearing before an NRC Administrative Judge with in 20 days of the Order being issued.
The Confirmatory Order affects the following facilities operated by Exelon, including plants which are in the process of decommissioning:
Illinois: Braidwood 1 & 2; Byron 1 & 2; Clinton; Dresden 1, 2, & 3; LaSalle 1 & 2; Quad Cities 1 & 2; Zion 1 & 2.
Pennsylvania: Limerick 1 & 2; Peach Bottom 1, 2, & 3; Three Mile Island 1. New Jersey: Oyster Creek.
NRC Acknowledges Safety MistakesAssociated Press – October 13, 2002
TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission failed to perform inspections that could have detected an acid leak that caused the most extensive corrosion ever found on a U.S. nuclear reactor, according to an agency internal review.
The report Wednesday marks the first time it has formally acknowledged making mistakes that led to the damage at the Davis-Besse plant near Toledo.
The agency also blames the plant's operator, FirstEnergy Corp. An NRC report issued last week said inspectors found violations of 10 federal regulations at the plant.
Boric acid nearly ate through a 6-inch-thick steel reactor cap by the time the first of two leaks was discovered in March. The discovery, which the NRC has said should have been spotted several years earlier, led to a nationwide review of all 69 similar plants.
The report released Wednesday said the NRC and the nuclear industry did not think boric acid deposits would cause significant corrosion. An NRC senior inspector became aware of the deposits in 2000 but never notified superiors or inspected the area more closely, the report said.
Agency spokesman Jan Strasma said NRC managers will review the report's more than 50 recommendations.
``Certainly there'll be changes made,'' he said.
``This is a first step,'' said David Lochbaum, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has advocated tighter safety rules for nuclear plants. ``We need to see how successful the agency is at making these changes happen.''
Davis-Besse spokesman Richard Wilkins said Wednesday that the company is focusing on improving its inspections and standards.
The plant remains shut down. Workers have replaced the damaged reactor head. The company wants to restart the plant early next year, but regulators have not indicated if they will allow that.
``The report provides some valuable insights,'' said FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider. ``We've said we made mistakes, missed opportunities. Most importantly, we're putting into place more procedures and processes to make sure this doesn't happen again.''
Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, who was briefed by NRC Chairman Richard Meserve, called the findings ``serious and troubling.'' He called for congressional hearings and a General Accounting Office investigation into the Davis-Besse matter.
At least one other nuclear power plant has recently found the kind of leaks and cracks found at Davis-Besse. But the extent of leaking boric acid at the North Anna nuclear station, north of Richmond, Va., is small in comparison, according to an incident report filed this week with the NRC.
Such leaks and cracks ``clearly demonstrate that the NRC is not requiring a thorough safety overhaul of aging nuclear power plants,'' Lochbaum said.
The NRC has ``pretty reasonable assurance that there's not something on the order of another Davis-Besse situation out there,'' said Edwin Hackett, the assistant team leader of the NRC task force that reported Wednesday on the Davis-Besse corrosion.
Increasing Nuclear Plant SecurityThe News & Observer – by Catherine Clabby – October 13, 2002
(10/10/02) - North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper and attorney generals from 26 other states want the U.S. Congress to step up efforts to protect nuclear power plants from vulnerability to terror attacks.
Cooper thinks that federal and state officials have done a good job improving security at the plants, said J.B. Kelly, his general counsel. But Cooper supports efforts to centralize those efforts in a task force run by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Office of Homeland Security. Twenty-seven state attorneys general submitted a letter to congressional leaders on Wednesday urging creation of the task force and a more aggressive timetable to update plant security standards.
The letter singles out risks posed by spent fuel pools at nuclear plants, where radioactive waste is stored. Locally, those pools are a target of criticism by NC WARN, a group critical of safety conditions at the Shearon Harris nuclear plant in southwestern Wake County. Earlier this year, NC WARN asked Cooper to order owner Progress Energy to stop shipping spent waste to the Harris plant pools, saying the rail transports themselves pose a terrorist risk.
But on Wednesday, Kelly said there is no evidence that Progress Energy violates any laws or regulations with its transports. The Attorney General's Office sees no reason to take action against them, although it will continue to seek out information regarding their safety.
"We're not hearing anything from local law enforcement that they are concerned," Kelly said. "There is nothing that indicates that there is an imminent threat to anyone."
Shearon Harris is believed to have the largest waste storage capacity of any nuclear power plant in the country and to be the only commercial plant that imports waste for storage.
NC WARN this week submitted more information to Cooper's office.
Stan Goff, a retired U.S. Army master sergeant with experience in security assessments, evaluated the vulnerability to attack of the Progress transports.
While keeping some details confidential, Goff said he concluded that the trains, which travel about 200 miles from Eastern North Carolina to the Harris site, are highly vulnerable. The train tracks they travel on are embedded in a heavily forested corridor where it would be simple for attackers to hide themselves and explosives, said Goff, a former Army Special Operations member who now works for NC WARN as an organizer.
Keith Poston, a Progress Energy spokesman, said it's highly unlikely that anyone could ever reach fuel locked inside 70-ton casks on the guarded shipments, which occur about 10 times a year on unannounced dates. Kelly said the Attorney General's Office would review the latest NC WARN report.
"If Cooper is feeling fairly comfortable with the security, he needs to keep learning more about it," said Jim Warren, executive director of NC WARN. "It's very clear there are risks that exceed the security."
Whistle-Blower Awarded $ 4 MillionAtlanta Journal-Constitution – by Matthew C. Quinn - October 5, 2002
(10/4/02) - Georgia Power Co. must reinstate with about $4 million in back pay an executive fired in a 12-year-old whistle-blower case in which he alleged safety concerns at the company's nuclear power plants. In a decision announced Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a U.S. Labor Department administrative review board's order last year that Marvin Hobby be given his job back. Georgia Power had appealed that order.
Hobby claims Georgia Power fired him in 1990 because he questioned decisions on control of the utility's two nuclear power plants, contending they violated federal operating licenses. Prior to his termination, Hobby was a general manager and assistant to the president of Georgia Power.
Michael D. Kohn, who represents Hobby and is an attorney with the National Whistleblower Center in Washington, said Georgia Power must also pay Hobby $250,000 in compensation for lost promotions. In addition, the utility is bound by an order to send a letter to employees welcoming back Hobby to the utility, he said.
Kohn said Georgia Power had used a "scorched earth" strategy to fight Kohn through the courts. Hobby, he said, was "blacklisted" by Georgia Power and failed in efforts to return to the utility industry. Hobby, 55, lives with his family in the Atlanta area, he said.
John Sell, a spokesman for Georgia Power Co., said the company is reviewing the decision and "considering our options."
"We have made no decision on whether to appeal," he said.
Hobby is the highest-ranking executive to win a claim under a 1978 national whistle-blower law, Kohn said. "No attorney in his right mind" would appeal the case further, he said.
In 1997, Georgia Power reached an out-of-court settlement with another nuclear plant whistle-blower also represented by Kohn. Alan Mosbaugh had been dismissed in 1990 after alleging nuclear plant safety violations at Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle and secretly taping high-level executives.
NRC Accused of Being Too ChummyAssociated Press - October 5, 2002
OAK HARBOR, Ohio - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff may have let a power company's cost concern influence a decision to put off a shutdown of the Davis-Besse nuclear plant, according to a published report Friday.
But the NRC and FirstEnergy Corp. denied the allegation.
Akron-based FirstEnergy is paying about $200 million to repair the plant, install a new lid and buy replacement power until it is restarted. The reactor, about 20 miles east of Toledo, has been shut down since Feb. 16.
Inspectors found violations of 10 federal regulations at Davis-Besse, where acid nearly ate through a 6-inch-thick steel reactor cap. An NRC report released Thursday said FirstEnergy failed to take action to correct multiple safety concerns and violated rules for operating the reactor.
Workers have removed a damaged reactor head and are replacing it. The company wants to restart the plant by the end of the year, but regulators have given no indication when they will allow it to operate again. The NRC is not supposed to consider the financial impact on nuclear plants when making safety decisions. The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported that three nuclear power watchdog groups _ the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, the Union of Concerned Scientists and Greenpeace _ made the cost consideration charge Thursday based on newly released NRC documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
The information included an e-mail dated last Nov. 21 between two technical advisers to the NRC commissioners recounting a conversation that Samuel Collins, the NRC's senior safety officer, had with Robert Saunders, president of FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co., which runs Davis-Besse.
At the time, FirstEnergy was in the midst of a campaign to convince the NRC that Davis-Besse should not have to shut down by Dec. 31 for an inspection. FirstEnergy wanted to keep Davis-Besse running until March 31 for refueling.
FirstEnergy ``does not want an order,'' the document summarizes from the Collins/Saunders conversation, citing the company's concerns about public perception, its inability to get its fuel delivered any sooner than February and the shutdown order's impact on ``financial markets.''
Collins, through a spokeswoman, told The Plain Dealer that FirstEnergy's cost concerns did not come into play, although the ``availability of equipment and personnel to do the inspections'' was a factor.
He said the NRC believed Davis-Besse was safe to operate until Feb. 16, the compromise shutdown date the agency and the company negotiated.
FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Scneider said Thursday night that late last year Saunders ``certainly wasn't aware there was a cavity in the reactor head. He was operating with the best knowledge he had at the time.'' Schneider said that Saunders recalls making remarks at a public meeting that if FirstEnergy had to shut down Davis-Besse in December, that ``the company wasn't prepared to do that because fuel was not on site.''
Schneider said Saunders' other concern was that one shutdown for inspection and another later for refueling might ``double the (radiation) exposure rate to employees.''
Schneider said Saunders ``doesn't know about any private conversation or e-mail'' that may have sought to influence the NRC through cost considerations.
NRC Too Friendly?San Jose Mercury News – by Ken McLaughlin - October 5, 2002
In a major victory for environmentalists concerned with the possible degradation of the Elkhorn Slough, a Monterey County judge has ruled that more expensive cooling methods must be studied for Duke Energy's huge power plant at Moss Landing.
Superior Court Judge Robert O'Farrell's decision won't interrupt the flow of 2,550 megawatts of power -- about 5 percent of California's total electricity use on a hot summer day. But the decision, released Thursday, will force the Regional Water Quality Control Board to review its permit to make sure that the ``best technology available'' is being used to protect marine life, as required by the U.S. Clean Water Act.
``It's a clear victory that says that the water board messed up,'' said Deborah Sivas, director of the Earthjustice Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford University. ``It could eventually invalidate the permit.'' Officials at the board could not be reached for comment late Thursday.
The law clinic represents a group of environmentalists called Voices of the Wetlands, who had filed suit against the board for issuing a permit two years ago. Duke Energy, which bought the plant from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in 1998, was also named in the suit.
The modernized plant -- which opened several months ago and became the largest non-nuclear power plant in California -- is not only more than 1,000 megawatts bigger than the plant PG&E operated there, it is 85 percent cleaner and 30 percent more efficient, Duke officials have argued.
They say it uses half as much cooling water per megawatt-hour, lessening its effect on the adjacent Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
Duke Energy officials said late Thursday that they had not decided whether to appeal the decision. ``At this point we just don't know,'' said Patrick Mullen, a spokesman for Duke.
But Mullen said the judge's decision simply ``prolongs the process.''
``The state needs to invest in and modernize older power plants and that's exactly what we've been doing,'' Mullen said. ``We've complied fully with the process.''
The dispute arises from the addition of two 530-megawatt, natural-gas-fired generating units. The lawsuit was over the fact that Duke decided to draw 1.2 billion gallons of water a day from the bay to cool its power plant rather than use a ``closed-cycle'' system.
That means the plant is sucking in and killing plankton, marine eggs and other parts of the marine food chain in the slough, Voices of the Wetlands argues. The group also contends that there are alternative cooling systems widely used by other power plants that use much less or no seawater.
At a Sept. 5 hearing, Voices of the Wetlands argued that Duke made no effort to implement the ``best available technology.'' Duke disputes the claim, saying that the closed-cycle alternative wasn't necessary. Officials cited biological surveys conducted in the 1980s.
The studies were used by the regional board staff in 1995 to find that there was no significant impact on fish and invertebrates. Duke produced cost estimates that it claimed made the alternative cooling technologies ``wholly disproportionate'' to any environmental benefits.
John Oliver, adjunct professor of oceanography at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, said the impact of Duke's water extraction on the Elkhorn Slough is insignificant.
``All the science backs this up,'' he said. ``There's a much more important impact from increased tidal erosion.''
But O'Farrell ruled that the ``evidence is at best meager, and at worst, speculative and based on historical conjecture.''
The judge called the Elkhorn Slough ecosystem ``a threatened, biologically rich wetland system of exceptional value which has been subjected to 50 years of entrainment by the Moss Landing Plant and will be impacted for the life of the facility.”
N.C. Offers Potassium IodideThe Charlotte Observer – by Scott Dodd - October 2, 2002
Residents within 10 miles of nuclear plants eligible; S.C. still deciding whether to distribute free tablets
About 165,000 people living within 10 miles of the Charlotte area's nuclear plants can receive two tiny salt pills later this month that could help save their lives in a radiation-spewing disaster.
But thousands more on the other side of the state line will have to wait or buy their own.
N.C. counties in the Charlotte area will distribute free potassium iodide pills from the federal government on Oct. 19 and 22. Times and places where residents can pick up tablets will be announced next week.
South Carolina, however, says it hasn't decided whether to offer the pills, which can prevent thyroid cancer caused by radiation. Other N.C. counties near nuclear plants will make their own plans for distribution.
The pills don't block all potentially harmful radiation from a nuclear accident. So officials warn that taking potassium iodide, known as KI, shouldn't make people feel safe. They still need to evacuate if officials tell them to.
"This is a very small sliver of protection," said Mecklenburg Health Director Peter Safir.
People living more than 10 miles from the plants, including most Charlotte residents, aren't eligible for the free pills, although they might also be vulnerable to radiation. Studies suggest that a major nuclear accident might increase the risk of thyroid cancer more than 100 miles away.
Anyone, however, can buy potassium iodide at drug stores for about $1 a tablet or over the Internet -- including at a locally owned site, NukePills.com. No prescription is needed.
Mecklenburg County health officials say they've alerted major pharmacy chains that they might want to increase their local supplies in case they see more demand in the coming weeks.
Sixteen of the 34 eligible states have requested KI from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. At least one state has chosen to buy the pills from other sources.
The Carolinas have a dozen nuclear plants, including McGuire on Lake Norman and Catawba on Lake Wylie, both near Charlotte.
In February, officials in both Carolinas rejected the federal government's offer to provide free pills for anyone within 10 miles of a nuclear plant, saying the drug had limited effectiveness and that evacuation was safer.
That changed in North Carolina after officials received hundreds of complaints and reviewed studies of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union, which showed that a region up to 150 miles away saw a 100-fold increase in thyroid cancer cases.
Areas of a similar distance in Poland, where people took potassium iodide to guard against radiation poisoning, suffered no increase.
Also under public pressure, S.C. officials decided to reconsider this summer, but have made no decision yet. The Department of Health and Environmental Control says it is studying the issue.
"We want to make a decision as soon as possible, but we have a lot of questions to be answered," spokeswoman Jan Easterling said.
Mecklenburg, Gaston, Catawba, Iredell and Lincoln counties will receive 350,000 pills from the NRC stock. Mecklenburg officials expect fewer than half the eligible residents to want them. If they run low, however, local officials may ask for more.
When Illinois offered the pills last month, about 15 percent of those eligible showed up.
Locally, distribution will take place at several sites. Residents will be given two pills for each member of their family. "It's a bit of an honor system," Safir said.
People who work within 10 miles of the plants will be offered KI later; officials aren't sure when.
Potassium iodide is "not very different in its chemical structure from table salt," said Dr. Stephen Keener, Mecklenburg County's medical director. Table salt doesn't protect against radiation.
The pills will come with instructions and should not be taken unless a disaster occurs. Officials will make an announcement telling residents to use them.
Some people are allergic to iodide, and others can suffer minor side effects, such as rashes. Officials urge people who receive the pills to check with their doctor if they're not sure it's OK for them.
KI can be given to people of all ages, although newborns younger than 1 month should only take an eighth of a pill. Infants and children, who have more active thyroid glands than adults, are at particular risk of thyroid cancer in a radiation-spewing disaster.
Potassium iodide received Food and Drug Administration approval in 1982, three years after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania. For years, health experts urged federal, state and local officials to stockpile the pills for emergency civilian use. But it took the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to convince the NRC to act.
Until recently, both Carolinas kept small KI stockpiles -- enough to protect only emergency workers and civilians who could not evacuate quickly, such as hospital patients and prison inmates.
Distribution after a disaster also was a concern -- officials would prefer to see residents evacuate rather than stand in line for pills -- which is why they decided to distribute them to residents now, rather than storing them to pass out after an event.
"Potassium iodide is not a substitute for evacuation in an emergency," Keener said. "That is the No. 1, 2 and 3 priority."
But evacuating everyone within 10 miles of the McGuire or Catawba plants could take at least eight to 24 hours, according to local emergency plans. Less than four hours is considered optimal by the federal government.
The worst kind of nuclear accident could release enough radiation within a few hours to pose a potential cancer risk for people nearby. The chance of that happening, the NRC says, is very low.