Nuclear -   32
Nuclear -   32
www.DukeEmployees.com - Duke Energy Employee Advocate
Nuclear - Page 27
Indian Point ProblemsNew York Times – by Matthew L. Wald – February 6, 2003
(2/2/03) - As the government reassesses emergency preparedness at the Indian Point nuclear power plant, it faces a conundrum: the more often that opponents of the plant say the emergency plans will not work, the more likely they are to be right.
That conclusion was outlined in a recent report by James Lee Witt, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is reviewing disaster plans at Indian Point. Beneath the basic conclusion of Mr. Witt, now a consultant to New York State, that the plan is inadequate, is a second problem: the current debate over Indian Point is having the perverse effect of making emergency action, if necessary, harder, and people who dislike the plant are making things worse.
''Advocacy groups use language whose emotional content can increase unnecessary evacuation, and thus can have adverse consequences for public health in the event of a release,'' the report said.
Unnecessary evacuation, experts say, would clog the roads with people who could safely stay put, a phenomenon argued over since 1979, when emergency planning for nuclear plants began, called ''shadow evacuation.''
How much would occur is a matter of speculation, but Mr. Witt said some parties were encouraging it. ''In pursuit of their agenda to close Indian Point, some have misused'' data from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, he said, ''presumably to frighten and alarm the public. Misuse of information can lead to behavior that may endanger public health and safety.''
FEMA is supposed to sort this out sometime in February, when it will produce a new report on preparedness for the reactors, in Buchanan, N.Y. The report will consist of its evaluation of the September 2002 emergency exercise at Indian Point and an evaluation of Mr. Witt's work. Current officials of the agency said they would not talk about the Witt report until their review was done.
But Mike Beeman, a spokesman for FEMA, listed exactly the same concern as Mr. Witt: ''It will work if people understand what they should do if there were an event that occurred at the plant, and understood that they should listen to people providing the directions to them.'' Otherwise, he said, the potential for paralysis on the roads would increase.
Why, then, is the public becoming more concerned without becoming more educated? Because, according to the Witt report, some people want it that way, to close the plant.
''Their persistent misuse of scientific data contributes to public misinformation,'' his report complained. ''Ending those parts of their effort that can with fairness be termed demagoguery would serve the public better, and make more effective the participation of advocacy groups in the regionwide planning process.''
Mr. Witt did not further define which advocacy groups he was talking about, and a spokeswoman for his consulting firm said he would not comment further until the report was complete. It is currently in a ''public comment'' period that resembles those that accompany the official reports of the government agency he used to head.
And no one was willing to own up to deliberately misrepresenting information to scare the public.
''There is nothing that we've said publicly that is inaccurate or misleading,'' said Kym Spell, a spokeswoman for Riverkeeper, the nonprofit organization that is one of the most prominent opponents of the nuclear plant. ''I can't speak for James Lee Witt; I don't know who he's referring to,'' she said. Riverkeeper's position is that emergency plans will never be good enough.
Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, another prominent opponent, said that opposition to Indian Point was now a ''great social movement'' and that like all such movements, it was diverse and might, in fact, include people who said things that were not true. Mr. Brodsky said he had not concluded that adequate emergency plans were impossible, but that there were plenty of other reasons to close the plant, many of them economic.
Mr. Witt himself, although he found numerous deficiencies, stopped well short of saying the plans could not be made workable, and also said that there was more to coping with an emergency than planning. ''Organizations and people have the ability to adapt during a response, so actions can vary emergency to emergency,'' his report said. ''Many preparedness shortfalls can be addressed in a response using emergency processes or adaptation, whereas systemic issues can be much more problematic. We have focused on the systemic, while acknowledging that many things can be 'handled' if an emergency were actually to occur.''
How FEMA will read that balance is not clear; Mr. Beeman said it had a clear scope of what it would look at. (Not on the list, he said, was whether opponents were misusing data to scare the public.) But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is likely to have the final say, has a different outlook, according to one of its members, Edward McGaffigan.
''We have to have 'reasonable assurance of adequate protection of the public health and safety,' '' he said in a telephone interview. ''It doesn't say absolute assurance or perfect protection of public health and safety.''
''A lot of this emergency planning stuff may well come down to a vision that these plans have to be perfect,'' he said.
Nuclear Fuel Attack HazardNew York Times - by Matthew L. Wald – February 5, 2003
WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 — A successful terrorist attack on a spent fuel storage pool at a large nuclear reactor could have consequences "significantly worse than Chernobyl," according to a new scientific study. But it said the risk could be cut sharply by moving some of the spent fuel to dry casks near the reactors and making changes in how the rest is stored.
The report, which will be published this spring in a scientific journal of Princeton University, is one of the few broad analyses of the risk posed by spent fuel that is being made public. Because there is no long-term storage site for nuclear fuel, the risk it poses would persist for years even if the reactors where it is now stored are shut down, as some critics are seeking for the Indian Point plants in New York.
Many reactor operators have already moved some fuel to dry casks because their pools have filled up as the federal program to bury the fuel has slipped further into the future. Burial can be done only with fuel that is more than five years old, because newer fuel gives off so much heat that it must be kept in water. The older fuel can be kept dry because air will safely dissipate its heat. It would cost $3.5 billion to $7 billion to move old fuel to dry casks, the authors predicted.
But if the federal government opens a burial site at Yucca Mountain near Las Vegas, as it says it will in about a decade, some of that money will have to be spent anyway to put fuel in casks for shipment to a permanent burial site.
The paper will appear in the spring issue of Science and Global Security, a journal at Princeton. Some of its eight authors began briefing federal officials in Washington today. Their recommendations include reinforcing the casks to make them less vulnerable and designing them so that if a large airplane were crashed into them, the plane's fuel could not pool around them and overheat them as it burned.
The nuclear industry has generally argued that a successful attack is highly unlikely. At the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's trade association, Stephen D. Floyd, a senior director, said that an aircraft could not do the job, and that adversaries could not assemble a larger attack without attracting attention.
Security improvements, Mr. Floyd said, should be limited to those that address realistic threats. "Otherwise you're going to chase your tail and spend this country out of existence on what-if scenarios," he said.
Today, two of the authors briefed one of the five members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Edward McGaffigan Jr., who said the study overstated the possible effects. At Indian Point, Mr. McGaffigan said, even if terrorists could puncture a spent fuel pool, it would be very difficult to drain the water because the fuel is almost entirely below ground.
"If you're at all rational as an Al Qaeda planner, you don't choose this target where you have a probability of failure," he said. "You have other targets where you have a higher probability of success."
But the authors, reviewing European tests and other studies, suggest that a plane moving fast enough could cause the building over a spent fuel pool to collapse, or could create an explosion under a pool.
The authors say that the industry has raised the risk by reconfiguring its pools over the years to squeeze in more and more fuel and that in their current configuration the pools are vulnerable to heating up and catching fire if they are breached.
Nuclear experts, including at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, acknowledge that the vulnerability of the pools has increased because they are so full. With older fuel removed, the authors say, remaining fuel could be spread out, and reactor operators could install air-moving equipment that could help keep it cool even if the pool were drained.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled in December that it was impossible to determine the likelihood of a terrorist attack and thus has resisted using its standard method for deciding whether to make improvements, which is to multiply the probability of an event with its consequences, and using the product to rank the hazard and determine how much should be spent to reduce it. "This situation calls for more explicit guidance from Congress," the paper said.
Nuclear plants create radioactive material as they operate, splitting atoms of uranium, which are only slightly radioactive, into a variety of products that are highly unstable and give off gamma rays or subatomic particles to achieve stability. Nearly all the radioactive material stays inside the fuel, which continues to generate heat over the years as it gives off radiation.
When the nuclear plants were designed, engineers believed that the fuel would be removed quickly from the pools, and were more concerned about releases from inside the containment, where water and steam at high temperatures and pressures seemed more prone to escape. Spent fuel pools are designed to withstand earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural hazards, but were not explicitly designed with terrorism in mind.
The authors plan to brief some members of Congress on Thursday. The authors include Frank N. von Hippel, a Princeton physicist; Gordon R. Thompson, director of the nonprofit Institute for Resource and Security Studies, in Cambridge, Mass.; Alison Macfarlane, of the Securities Studies Program and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Edwin Lyman, president of the Nuclear Control Institute; and Robert Alvarez, a former adviser to the energy secretary.
Nuclear Linked to 65 Million DeathsNews.Independent.co.uk - by Paul Waugh – February 3, 2003
(1/31/03) - Pollution from nuclear energy and weapons programmes up to 1989 will account for 65 million deaths, according to a European scientific committee headed by an adviser to the British Government.
Research published yesterday by the European Committee of Radiation Risk claims that previous figures massively underestimate the nuclear industry's impact on human life.
The ECRR is an international body of 30 independent scientists, led by Dr Chris Busby, a member of the Government's radiation risk committee and adviser to the Ministry of Defence on the use of depleted uranium.
The findings prompted immediate calls for the Government to rethink its support for the nuclear industry or share responsibility for millions of deaths worldwide.
The report came as the European Commission yesterday published two new draft directives setting up the first EU-wide standards on nuclear power plant safety, decommissioning and the management of radioactive waste.
The study by ECRR, which was formed in Brussels in 1998, is based on a risk assessment model developed over the last five years, and uses evidence from recent discoveries in radiation biology and from human epidemiology. It found that radioactive releases up to 1989 have caused, or will eventually cause, the death of 65 million people worldwide.
It concludes that the cancer epidemic is a result of pollution from nuclear energy and of exposures to global atmospheric weapons fallout, which peaked in the period 1959-63. The research cites evidence such as the levels of breast cancer in women who were adolescent between 1957 and 1963, when nuclear weapons testing was at its peak.
Dr Lucas said: "The fact that existing analysis could not account for the abnormally high local levels of illnesses like childhood leukaemia was more a reflection on the research methodology than the acclaimed safety of the nuclear project."
Caroline Lucas, Green MEP for South-east England, said the figures gave the nuclear debate a renewed urgency. "The Government must call an immediate review of its support for the nuclear industry or bear moral, and potentially legal, responsibility for this tragic and avoidable loss of human life."
The ECRR findings challenge the conventional methods of calculating risk of the International Commission on Radiological Protection, which has been criticised as being too close to the nuclear industry.
Scientists have fiercely debated claims that radiation causes cancer clusters near plants such as BNFL's site at Sellafield but Ireland and Scandinavian countries have long complained about the risk.
In Brussels, the European Commission adopted two proposals for directives aimed at improving nuclear standards ahead of enlargement, when countries with ailing power plants, such as the Czech Republic, enter the EU.
Britain has previously objected to the proposals and some Government officials are concerned that EU-wide powers may interfere with Britain's nuclear industry.
One of the directives states that nuclear safety "cannot be guaranteed without making available adequate financial resources" and sets up rules on the management and use of decommissioning funds.
INPO Cites Management ProblemsDow Jones – January 28, 2003
(11/20/02) - NEW YORK (Dow Jones) -- Major U.S. nuclear plant operators said Wednesday they will review and report on procedures at their plants within the next three months after a confidential industry report called on them to make sure their staffs don't put productivity ahead of safety.
In a report dated Nov. 11, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, an Atlanta-based industry group to which all reactor owners belong, said management problems allowed severe corrosion to develop at FirstEnergy Corp.'s (FE) Davis-Besse rector, and that those problems might not be isolated to one plant. The plainly worded report suggests the deregulated industry could easily fall prey to creeping neglect of safety. The institute, which has a quasi-regulatory role, told reactor owners to evaluate their procedures and report back within 90 days.
The nuclear industry has seen strong improvements in efficiency under deregulation, as outage times and operating expenses have been cut. Critics, however, fear the gains have come at the expense of safety. The subject is a touchy one for industry executives, who said safety has always been their first priority. "Where plants fail, it really is a management problem and a lack of the right leadership," said Jerry Yelverton, CEO of New Orleans-based Entergy Nuclear, a unit of Entergy Corp. (ETR). "Davis-Besse didn't have that."
In March, engineers doing work at Davis-Besse found a hole that nearly went all the way through the heavy steel lid covering the reactor. The hole, the largest ever found, was caused by leaking boric acid. A breach likely wouldn't have threatened public safety, but would have been serious nonetheless.
A focus on short-term production goals, lax management oversight, justification of problems in order the keep the plant operating, and a lack of sensitivity to nuclear safety, are among the shortcomings evident in FirstEnergy's management at Davis-Besse debacle, the institute said.
Moreover, corporate incentives, which rewarded employees for keeping outages short and doing repairs while the plant was still on line, were partly to blame for the neglect of a chronic leakage problem on the reactor vessel head, the institute said.
Incentives should convey a company's priorities, said Henry Brew Barron Jr., Duke Energy's senior vice president of nuclear operations.
"We have monetary incentive programs for all employees based on metrics that look at plant safety," he said, as well as reliability and cost effectiveness.
"The important thing is making sure the value system, in the employees eyes, is not ambiguous," he said. Barron said Duke would respond to the institute report within the 90-day deadline.
Davis-Besse's problems appeared to have slipped unnoticed across several radar screens, including the institute's, said Dave Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington, D.C.-based industry watchdog.
"The nuclear industry is populated by people who like to do calculations," he said. "A safety culture is not something people with a technical background are prepared to deal with."
FirstEnergy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the operations of the nation's 103 nuclear power plants, have both acknowledged that they failed to act on warning signs at Davis-Besse. FirstEnergy has said emphasizing productivity over safety allowed the problem to worsen.
FirstEnergy has shuffled management at its operating company and instituted a weekly problem-solving meetings at the plant between staff members and Lew Myers, FirstEnergy's chief of nuclear operations.
The institute was created after the 1979 Three Mile Island meltdown. It visits plants and issues reports to keep reactor owners from falling below industry standards.
Don’t be Chintzy with NuclearEmployee Advocate – DukeEmployees.com - January 22, 2003
Mike Tuckman made some observation about spending money for nuclear safety in the November 18, 2002 issue of Team Nuclear. Duke wisely made repairs a reactor head in Oconee. No problem there, reactor head damage should be promptly repaired.
The problem is that Mr. Tuckman seemed to be having second thoughts about having spent the money.
Mr. Tuckman noted on spending the money “This was throwing good money after bad because both of these components will be replaced at the next refueling.”
True – IF the heads make it to the next outage! Duke gives much lip service about doing the right thing. But doing the right thing and then lamenting about it, gives the impression that one did nor really want to do the right thing at all.
Mr. Tuckman Further stated “Just to give a practical example of how much money this is, imagine standing in the bathroom and throwing a $100 dollar bill down the toilet every 10 seconds. If you did this 24 hours a day, it would take 19 days to get rid of all the money.”
This is what is called a practical example at Duke? When an executive VP feels that spending money for nuclear safety is throwing money in the toilet, that does not produce a warm fuzzy feeling. This amount spent would not cover what has been given away in executive stock options. That must be different. Evidently it is okay to throw millions right and left in the name of executive compensation. But when money is spent on nuclear safety, it time to break out the crying towel.
There has been a pattern with dollar squeezing over the past six years. Executive compensation is excepted, of course; the sky is the limit there. Employee benefits and plant maintenance are the areas where every nickel is always squeezed to the maximum degree.
The concern has been with all this money grubbing – that it may eventually affect nuclear safety. No executive will ever come out and say that profits should override safety. In practice, it is much more subtle than that. But when people are preached to day in and day out to “do more with less” to “save money,” at what point is safety compromised?
There are no winners in a significant nuclear accident. Everyone loses: employees, investors, the public, the company, and the environment. The only one who could possibly feel like a winner is the suicide jockey, right before he plows the jetliner into a reactor. But even good nuclear maintenance cannot prevent the possibility of this scenario unfolding.
Duke should have been proud to have spent the money to enhance nuclear safety. Never whine for doing the right thing!
Recently, Mr. Tuckman has said that the Duke Nuclear Generation Department had its best year ever in 2002. If the money had not been spent for needed maintenance, if the reactors were held together with baling wire, how successful would the year have been?
The highly promoted endeavors of energy trading and selling deregulated power did not do too well in 2002. In fact, they did so poorly that they drug down the rest of the company! So Duke should not complain about spending money for necessary upkeep of the areas that are holding up the company.
Nuclear Mafia?Employee Advocate – DukeEmployees.com – January 20, 2003
Mike Tuckman, Duke Power Executive Vice President, Nuclear Generation, gave a speech at the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations CEO Conference on November 7-9, 2002. The title of his speech was "Aging Fleets: Health Club or Hospital."
His speech compared operating nuclear power plants to the NASA Space Program. He spoke of the benefits of retrofitting nuclear power plants.
Mr. Tuckman made this comment: “Nuclear is like the Mafia – once you’re in, you’re never out.”
That was a very interesting choice of words for the Executive Vice President, Nuclear Generation. Of course, the many employees that have been downsized may argue the point.
Nuclear Terrorism Not ConsideredThe Charlotte Observer – by Bruce Henderson – January 11, 2003
Federal regulators appear ready to extend the operating licenses of Duke Power's two Charlotte-area nuclear plants without evaluating what damage terrorists could inflict on them.
An 801-page safety evaluation of the Catawba and McGuire plants, released this week, leaves few issues that could block the 20-year license extensions.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, nuclear friends and foes have debated the vulnerability of the nation's 104 nuclear-power reactors. Four are within 20 miles of Charlotte.
But members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled last month that studies of potential terrorist attacks on the Catawba and McGuire plants aren't warranted.
The NRC said terrorist threats apply to all nuclear facilities. The commission said it is reviewing the potential effects of attacks, as well as its security rules and procedures. Plant security has been increased and further changes are likely, it said.
License renewal focuses narrowly on the effects of age on nuclear plants. Terrorism, the commission and Duke say, isn't relevant to aging.
"That doesn't mean it's not important," said Duke spokesman Tim Pettit. "Absolutely, it's being addressed. It's being addressed today and will be addressed during the extended operating life of the plants."
The NRC is expected to decide by year's end whether to extend the plants' licenses. If granted, both could operate into the early 2040s.
Two anti-nuclear groups who sought to inject terrorism into the licensing proceedings derided the NRC ruling.
The commission made similar rulings last month for three other nuclear facilities awaiting license decisions. Among them is a proposed S.C. plant that would make a new plutonium-blend fuel for Catawba and McGuire.
The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, which challenged the license extensions, said it and other critics may appeal the NRC rulings in federal court. The Nuclear Information and Resource Service is also fighting the relicensing.
"This is ripe for challenge," said Blue Ridge executive director Janet Zeller. "They didn't actually take realistic terrorist potential into account. It's like they set it aside."
Dr. Wynn Mabry, Mecklenburg County's homeland-security chief, said he toured McGuire last year and called Duke "very conscientious and forthright" in detailing its security measures.
But Mabry added: "I think that it would be in the best interests of any American community in close proximity to a nuclear power plant to have the NRC consider terrorism-protection measures" in relicensing. Emergency-response plans should also be a factor, he said.
Zeller's group contends that the design of the protective structures around the Catawba and McGuire reactors makes them especially vulnerable to failure.
An industry group, the Nuclear Energy Institute, released a study last month saying U.S. nuclear plants would not release harmful radiation even if a fully loaded Boeing 767, the type aircraft that struck the World Trade Center, crashed into them.
Duke has said it believes its plants could take a similar hit without a radiation release. The NRC is conducting its own evaluations of terrorism.
One Catawba-McGuire licensing challenge raised by the anti-nuclear groups still hasn't been resolved.
The opponents claim that plant structures designed to contain radiation releases would be especially prone to fail during some severe accidents.
The commission last month sent the issue to a lower licensing board for a recommendation. But the commission sided with Duke by suggesting the challenge has been adequately addressed.
The licensing board last year refused a third challenge by anti-nuclear forces, that Duke's proposed use of mixed-oxide fuel at Catawba and McGuire be evaluated during relicensing. Critics claim MOX fuel, which includes plutonium, will be dangerous.
Anti-nuclear forces, who could file further challenges, say they can claim some success even if the plant licenses are extended. Taking a position on MOX now, said Mary Olson of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, guarantees a full public airing when Duke applies, possibly this year, to use the new fuel.
"We already have a seat at that table, and we won that by going through these steps," she said.
NRC Employees Worried About SafetyAssociated Press – by H. Josef Hebert – January 10, 2003
WASHINGTON – The top officials of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission say it is committed to safety, but they're having trouble convincing many of the agency's own workers.
A survey of NRC employees shows that a third of them question the agency's commitment to public safety and nearly half are not comfortable raising concerns about safety issues within the agency.
The survey, conducted by a private consulting firm, found the NRC's overall "safety culture and climate" has improved since a similar 1998 survey. It also emphasizes that the findings demonstrated that NRC employees are committed to protecting public safety at the nation's nuclear power plants.
But the survey – which covered about half of the agency's 3,072 employees, from clerical workers to nuclear engineers to senior managers – also showed that nearly half of them don't feel that it's "safe to speak up in the NRC" about safety issues.
And a majority of the workers complained the agency "has not established a climate where traditional ways of doing things can be challenged," according to the 41-page report released by the NRC's inspector general and posted on the agency Web site.
When asked a series of questions assessing agency attitudes toward safety and employee involvement in how the agency addresses safety issues, 67 percent of the workers responded favorably and 33 percent unfavorably.
While nearly 90 percent of the top-level managers saw the agency firmly committed to public safety, one in three non-supervisory workers – including some of the most senior career employees – expressed concern when asked about the subject.
NRC Chairman Richard Meserve in an interview Tuesday acknowledged the survey demonstrates "there are some issues we still need to work on" and said senior managers must work harder "in getting our message across" about safety commitment.
But overall, Meserve said, "the report reflects an enormous amount of progress" from findings in a similar survey by the same private contractor in 1998.
In almost every category covered by the survey – from attitudes about senior managers and training to the future direction of the agency – the results were more positive this time than four years ago, agreed NRC Assistant Inspector General Stephen Dingbaum, whose office ordered the report.
But David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer and industry watchdog for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he was struck by "the gulf between management and the work force" perception of the NRC's safety commitment and that no improvement had been made in that area over the past four years.
"If these numbers were reported to the NRC by a (nuclear power) plant owner, saying half of its work force didn't feel comfortable raising safety issues, the NRC would require the owner to fix it because the number is not acceptable," said Lochbaum.
Other findings of the survey:
–A significant number of workers expressed concern about the nuclear industry influencing regulations.
–The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have given NRC workers "a sense of rededication" to their job and mission as safety regulators.
–Some NRC employees worry that safety training requirements for nuclear facilities are outdated and "leave the security of the nuclear sites ... vulnerable to sabotage."
–Just under 40 percent of the workers lack confidence in decisions made by the NRC's senior management team. That's an improvement over the 1998 survey, when half of the work force expressed a lack of confidence in their senior bosses.
The study also said only 43 percent of the workers feel the NRC is highly regarded by the public.
The "2002 Survey of NRC's Safety Culture and Climate" was conducted by International Survey Research LLC, a private firm hired by the NRC.
The findings were based on random interviews and written questions sent in May and June of 2002 to 2,868 of the NRC's 3,072 employees, with 53 percent of them responding. The report said that's a "more than sufficient" sample to draw agency-wide conclusions.
On the Net:
NRC Disregards Nuclear TerrorismNew York Times – by Matthew L. Wald – January 8, 2003
WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ruled that the threat of terrorism cannot be considered when licensing reactors or other nuclear installations because the risk is too speculative.
The commission also said discussing the issue in licensing hearings would give too much information to terrorists and might "unduly alarm the public."
The ruling, made late last month, covers a factory that Duke Energy and other companies are seeking to build in South Carolina to turn weapons plutonium into reactor fuel; two existing Duke reactor plants that would use the plutonium fuel; a temporary waste-storage project in Utah; and a project to expand fuel storage at the Millstone reactors in Waterford, Conn.
The commission said that it defined risk as a product of the probability of an event multiplied by its consequences, but that in the Utah case, which involves building concrete and steel casks to store highly radioactive nuclear fuel, "we have no way to calculate the probability portion of the equation, except in such general terms as to be nearly meaningless."
The ruling has outraged some nuclear-safety experts. Victor Gilinsky, one of the five members of the regulatory commission in the 1970's and 80's, complained that at a time when the commission forbids considering terrorism at the Duke plutonium plant, "Ashcroft is changing the Bill of Rights because it is imminent."
Dr. Edwin Lyman, president of the Nuclear Control Institute, an antiproliferation group in Washington, said the decision was contradictory. The commission reasoned that it need not consider terrorism, because terrorism is "entirely independent of the facility," Dr. Lyman pointed out.
But that, he added, "ignores the fact that the terrorist threat to a facility is surely dependent on where that facilities is sited, i.e. in a remote or densely populated area."
"One of the main threats we face today in the U.S. is that many potentially hazardous facilities are located near heavily populated areas," Dr. Lyman wrote in an e-mail message. "This situation is tolerated because severe accidents are considered highly improbable. But surely in the future, it makes sense to consider the possibility of terrorist acts that could intentionally cause large releases when making decisions about the location and design features of hazardous facilities."
The commission ruling took note of the Sept. 11 attacks. It said the proper approach would be to improve security at nuclear sites, on airplanes and around the country generally, rather than to try to determine the environmental effects of "a third-party attack" on a site.
In the past, design features at nuclear plants proposed to ensure environmental safety had been available for public scrutiny. But the commission said security preparations and characteristics of plants that would bear on the success of a terrorist attack would remain secret.
The commission ruled that terrorism could not be considered under the National Environmental Policy Act, the law that requires the government to issue an Environmental Impact Statement when it takes a major action.
Diane Curran, a lawyer in Washington who has represented nuclear opponents in several cases where considering terrorism was forbidden, said that opponents could try to raise the same arguments under the Atomic Energy Act, but that under that law, the regulatory commission was free to ignore them.
Only in the environmental impact statement process is the government required to respond, Ms. Curran said, and thus the decision was a major setback for opponents.
Peter A. Bradford, a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 1977 to 1982, compared the commission's attitude to its view on hydrogen explosions. Before the accident in 1979 at Three Mile Island in Middletown, Pa., Mr. Bradford said, such explosions were considered impossible. After the one at Three Mile Island, he said, the commission still considered them impossible, "because now that we had had one, we would be too vigilant for another to occur."
"The bottom line is that events that have occurred but that can't be dealt with must still be considered impossible, first because they haven't yet occurred, then because they have," he said.
The commission has historically declined to speculate about terrorist threats against reactors. In the late 80's and early 90's, it fought off arguments that it needed stronger defenses against truck bombs, despite truck bomb attacks around the world. The commission argued that in the United States no bomb could be assembled without attracting the notice of the police. But in early 1993, terrorists exploded a truck bomb in an underground garage at the World Trade Center and a man with a history of mental problems drove his station wagon through an open gate at Three Mile Island and drove into the turbine building. The man, who was not armed, hid inside the plant for hours.
Shortly after that, the commission revised its rules to cover bombs in small vehicles. But it has not instituted any sweeping rules related to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"They are closing the barn door from yesterday," said David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The commission, Mr. Lochbaum said, should be more forward looking. But he added that nuclear engineers were "not good on qualitative analysis" and that the commission's problem was that it was confronting a problem with a lack of data points on major terrorist attacks.
A Nuclear Horror StoryNew York Times – Editorial – January 8, 2003
(1/7/03) - The more we learn about a case of severe corrosion discovered at a nuclear plant in Ohio last March, the more frightening the incident appears. The corrosion, which ate nearly all the way through the thick lid of a reactor, left the vessel dangerously vulnerable to rupturing. Even more alarming were the slipshod industrial practices and lax regulatory oversight that allowed it to happen. If those practices are not changed, the same pressure to keep reactors operating while ignoring warning signs may threaten the safety of nuclear plants all around the country.
The corrosion was found almost by accident at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Oak Harbor, about 25 miles east of Toledo. For several years operators had missed the significance of warning signs that boric acid was leaking and accumulating in potentially dangerous amounts. During inspections last February, a workman stumbled onto hidden corrosion that shocked everybody. Boric acid had eaten through six inches of carbon steel, leaving only a stainless steel liner about a quarter-inch thick to hold in high-pressure cooling water.
When investigators looked into the matter afterward, they found disturbing evidence that both the First Energy Nuclear Operating Company, which runs Davis-Besse, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had put production interests ahead of safety. The industry's own oversight group, The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, concluded in November that the power company had shifted focus from "implementing high standards to justifying minimum standards." It accused the company of excessive focus on production goals and "lack of sensitivity to nuclear safety."
Unfortunately, the regulatory agency that was supposed to ride herd on unsafe plants was equally negligent. A report just released by the N.R.C.'s inspector general concludes that the regulatory staff was slow to order Davis-Besse to shut down for inspection, in large part because it did not want to impose unnecessary costs on the owner and did not want to give the industry a black eye. Although the N.R.C. insists that safety remains its top priority, its timidity in this case cries out for a searching Congressional inquiry into whether the regulators can still be counted on to protect the public from cavalier reactor operators.
NRC Doubted Own AuthorityNew York Times – by Matthew L. Wald – January 4, 2003
WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 — Three months before workers refueling an Ohio nuclear reactor discovered last year that its lid had rusted nearly all the way through, the staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission drafted an order to close it for inspection.
But the order was never issued, because the staff doubted its authority to close the plant, did not want to impose unnecessary costs on the owner and was reluctant to give the industry a black eye, according to an internal commission report released today.
The report, by the commission's inspector general, concluded that the staff had been too hesitant and that a policy adopted by the N.R.C. in the mid-1990's to take costs into account when setting regulatory requirements was in conflict with the commission's goal of maintaining reasonable assurance of public safety.
But the basic problem, the report said, was the staff's assumption about who had the burden of proof — the commission or a plant's operator — when safety was in question.
The commission "appears to have informally established an unreasonably high burden of requiring" of itself "absolute proof of a safety problem, versus lack of reasonable assurance of maintaining public health and safety," said the inspector general, Hubert T. Bell.
The report, dated Dec. 30, was issued today after an account about it appeared this morning in the Cleveland daily The Plain Dealer. Its sharp criticism of the commission's staff concerned the belated nature of the shutdown of the Davis-Besse reactor, near Toledo, last year.
Other reactors of the same design had been found to have cracks in parts attached to the lid, and the commission wanted all such plants inspected by Dec. 31, 2001. The operators of the Davis-Besse plant wanted to wait until March 2002, when the reactor was scheduled to be shut anyway for refueling.
When the plant finally closed, on a compromise date in February 2002, engineers and workers were shocked to find that cracks of the kind the commission staff had suspected there had let acidic water leak onto the head, where it had eaten away a 70-pound chunk of steel six inches thick.
Only a layer of stainless steel about a quarter-inch thick had prevented the cooling water from spewing out of the vessel head, in a leak that could have proved catastrophic. The corrosion was the most extensive ever found at an American nuclear plant.
Three months earlier, in November 2001, the commission's staff had drafted a shutdown order. But some staff members were not sure they had the authority to issue it, the inspector general's report found. Others thought that it might not be defensible in court, and that such an order would "destabilize confidence" in the industry.
William M. Beecher, director of the commission's public affairs office, said the N.R.C. received the report on Thursday and had not yet determined how it would respond. But, he said, "the N.R.C. has the unquestionable and unquestioned authority to shut down a plant if it concludes that public health and safety is potentially in jeopardy."
Such shutdown orders were common in the 1970's and 1980's, when reactors were newer and operating problems were first occurring. They are rarer now. In the mid-1990's, the commission adopted a policy called "risk-informed regulation," in which it pays more careful attention to the costs it imposes on plant operators, comparing those costs with the amount of risk reduction they provide.
But Mr. Beecher said that while the commission and its staff do take costs into account, "the primary and overarching requirement, concern, standard, for the N.R.C. is public health and safety."
"Anything else," he said, "is secondary or tertiary."
As for the concern about having to defend such an order in court, the new report determined that the fear of a lawsuit had been unfounded. The president of the FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company, which runs Davis-Besse, told the inspector general that no formal shutdown order would have been required; he would have closed the plant had the commission simply telephoned and asked him to do so, he said.
The inspector general undertook his investigation at the request of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a safety group that is generally highly critical of nuclear operations.
David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer with the group, said in an interview that shutting down early for a special inspection would not have been an undue burden on Davis-Besse. Other reactors suspected of cracks in the lids did just that, Mr. Lochbaum said.
Putting a Lid on ChernobylWashington Post – by Guy Gugliotta – December 30, 2002
Sunday, December 29, 2002; Page A01
Engineers are completing plans for what may be the largest movable structure ever built -- a 20,000-ton steel shell to enclose Chernobyl Reactor 4, site of an apocalyptic nuclear accident whose consequences are still being felt more than 16 years later.
By next summer an international consortium led by Bechtel International Systems Corp., of San Francisco, will finish the conceptual design for a hangar-shaped arch nearly 370 feet high -- the height of a 35-story building -- that would be slid into place along greased steel plates to cover the ruined remains in a snug, weather-tight shelter.
Inside, robotic cranes and, where possible, live workers will then begin prying apart the wreckage, removing radioactive dust from twisted girders, storing pieces of radioactive core in shielded canisters and cutting old steel into manageable lengths.
The whole job -- design, construction and "stabilization" of the derelict reactor 80 miles north of Kiev -- is part of a fully funded 10-year plan set in motion by the Group of 7 industrialized nations in 1997. The $768 million project, including the shell, is scheduled for completion in 2007, according to officials involved with the project.
And then the world will wait.
The shelter is designed to keep water out and dust in for 100 years, or for as long as it takes the Ukrainian government to designate a permanent storage facility and dispose of more than 200 tons of uranium and nearly a ton of lethally radioactive plutonium that remain inside the ruins.
Most of the fuel-containing material lies as a solid "lava" formed by the fusion of molten fuel, concrete, 30 tons of fuel dust and 2,000 tons of combustibles.
In the basement, rainwater and fuel dust have mixed together in a dangerous radioactive "soup." Lethal chunks of the reactor core lie unseen in the rubble and in the earth alongside the building. More pieces of core were boxed and buried in a "cascade wall" built and bulldozed into place by Soviet workers in the immediate aftermath of the explosion.
"We will need a lot of shielding," said Vincent Novak, director of the Nuclear Safety Department for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, overseers of the project. "If it weren't for the radioactivity, I could almost call the job 'a piece of cake,' but the radiation makes it hugely complex and extremely difficult."
The Chernobyl explosion occurred April 26, 1986, when an out-of-control nuclear reaction blew off the roof of the steel building and spewed tons of radioactive material into the air, releasing 30 to 40 times as much radioactivity as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs combined in 1945.
It was the worst nuclear accident in history. Thirty workers died immediately at the facility, and 135,000 people were evacuated from the surrounding "Exclusion Zone." As recently as 2000, the Ukraine government was spending 5 percent of its gross domestic product to mitigate consequences of the disaster.
In the six months immediately following the explosion, the Soviets erected an improvised shelter known as the "sarcophagus," but within 10 years scientists became alarmed because of leaks and the building's threatened collapse. The walls were weakening, Novak said, and there was tremendous uncertainty because "it was almost impossible to determine" the real dangers.
In 1997, the Group of 7, plus Russia, the European Union and Ukraine, set up the Chernobyl Shelter Fund with the European reconstruction bank in charge. The bank established a shelter implementation plan, estimated the project cost at $768 million, and funded it with donations from 28 nations, ranging from $170 million from the United States to Iceland's $10,000.
In the first phase, completed in 1999, the sarcophagus's roof and structural pillars were strengthened, and the reactor's rickety ventilation stack, jutting more than 150 feet above the sarcophagus, was stabilized. The stack was an added concern, because it was shared by the contiguous Reactor No. 3, which was still operating.
But these were emergency measures. "Safety analyses show there are still about 1,000 square meters [1,200 square yards] of holes in the roof and sides," said Eric Schmieman, chief engineer for environmental technology at Battelle Memorial Institute's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. "A significant amount of water can go in, and dust can go out, and birds and squirrels and birds come and go all the time."
The Bechtel-led consortium designing the $250 million structure to cover the sarcophagus had to make several decisions early. None of the three design contractors, including Battelle and the French state utility Electricite de France, will be allowed to bid on the actual work.
Doubts arose as to whether a steel structure could last a century. With lethal levels of radiation inside the shell, opportunities for repair and maintenance could be limited.
"It's doable," said Bechtel's Matthew Wrona, project manager. "There are paints that last a long time and maintenance techniques for harsh environments." The Eiffel Tower is perhaps the best-known large, century-old steel structure fully exposed to the elements, but Wrona noted that several large suspension bridges are aging elegantly.
The team also avoided experimental technologies in favor of the tried and true.
"We're trying to build it for 100 years, and using brand-new technologies increases the risks," Schmieman said. "If a human being has to intervene, there's a consequence. We need to minimize the danger."
The team settled on a steel arch 40 feet thick. The inside dimensions would be 803 feet -- almost three football fields -- across and 330 feet high. Up to that point, planning was relatively simple, because "it had all been done before," said Philippe Convert, technical manager for Electricite de France, but the next steps were a different story: Lethal gamma rays escaping from the reactor's damaged core would make the center of the arch too hot for humans to work. Building the arch in place was impossible.
Instead, the team decided to construct the arch in four 120-foot sections, then link the sections together and slide the entire structure along a track made of steel plates built on each side of Reactor No. 4. When completed, the project managers believe the new shelter will be the largest movable structure ever built.
One end will be fully enclosed, while the other will be a "cutout" that fits snugly over Reactor No. 3's building, which connects to the ruins. Current plans call for the stack to be taken down, and the junction between the arch wall and Reactor No. 3 to be sealed.
The new shelter will not "contain" the core's radioactivity but will be weatherproof.
The tracks will be made by driving piles into the ground at relatively close intervals, then filling the gaps with concrete. The planners want to avoid seating the concrete in a deep trench, for fear of unearthing radioactive material during excavation.
The concrete will then be covered with stainless steel plates and coated with a lubricant, while the bottom of the new steel shell will have Teflon pads for easier sliding. Convert said the sliding technique is used extensively to move heavy machinery.
While workers will be able to enter some parts of Reactor No. 4 and work on the wreckage in relative safety, the most routine tasks can suddenly turn deadly.
"Surprises are inevitable," Novak said. During the initial roof and structural repair, "we found a large piece of core embedded in the wall. Everything stopped until we could build a device and get the shielding to handle it. Each case is different."
To help deconstruct parts of the reactor building and the sarcophagus, the new shell will have four ceiling cranes designed to pluck heavy steel beams from the old reactor and to wrestle pieces of twisted metal from the ruins. They will also be equipped with hydraulic cutters to chop wreckage into manageable chunks.
One unusual problem is the need to manage the new shell's microclimate. "It's so big, it could even rain inside, so we have to keep the moisture down," Wrona said. Air conditioning would be prohibitively expensive, so "we'll try to use natural air currents. It's like the inside of an automobile on a cold morning."