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Nuclear -     1 - Duke Energy Employee Advocate

Nuclear - Page Six

"If you set aside Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the safety record of nuclear is
really very good." - Paul O'Neill, Treasury Secretary [Wall Street Journal, 5/25/01]

Billions to Profitable Energy Companies

Public Citizen - Press Release - August 1, 2001

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The energy bill (H.R. 4) scheduled for a vote tonight in the U.S. House shells out billions in subsidies to energy companies that have enjoyed record profits, but does nothing to protect consumers from price-gouging and profiteering by energy companies.

The legislation would dole out nearly $4.4 billion in subsidies to the nuclear industry, more than $7 billion to the coal industry and $24 billion to the oil and gas industries.

"All the billions in wasted taxpayer dollars still can't buy the nuclear industry a decent safety record or dispose of its radioactive waste securely," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "And throwing billions more at the coal, oil and gas companies at the same time these sectors are enjoying record profits is terrible policy."

The legislation is filled with ill-advised public giveaways to corporations that don't need and don't deserve corporate welfare, Hauter said. These subsidies include nearly $11 million to a uranium mining company with a deplorable safety and environmental record, and billions more to the coal industry to develop unproven and dirty new coal technologies. Taxpayers would also lose millions in royalty payments, because the House legislation allows some oil companies to drill on public lands without compensating taxpayers.

"President Bush's election campaign was heavily financed by nuclear, oil and coal interests, and now it's payback time," Hauter said. "Many elements of this House legislation mirror the president's objectives. Unfortunately for consumers, it gives billions in subsidies to profitable corporations without lifting a finger to protect consumers from profiteering natural gas and electric power generators this winter."

Instead of corporate welfare to rich corporations, Public Citizen advocates increased consumer protections through stronger anti-trust laws, more diligent policing of dysfunctional energy markets, and tougher fines for price-gouging.

Imagine That Fire Burning Nuclear Waste

The Charlotte Observer - By KEVIN KAMPS - July 28, 2001

Rules governing transport of radioactive waste are overdue for updating

BALTIMORE -- Here's a scary thought: What if the train that burned in a recent Baltimore rail tunnel fire had been carrying nuclear waste?

It's not that far-fetched. According to Energy Department maps that trace national rail routes for transporting nuclear waste to a proposed repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev., a train carrying spent fuel rods from a nuclear power plant near Maryland's Chesapeake Bay could pass through the same tunnel.

If a train carrying atomic waste were to catch fire, the only thing standing between people and deadly radiation would be the nuclear waste transport casks, which could leak in a severe accident, releasing radiation. Spent nuclear fuel, even decades after removal from the reactor, delivers a lethal dose of radiation in just a few minutes.

The July 18 inferno in Baltimore's Howard Street train tunnel reached temperatures as high as 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, according to local authorities. The blaze, apparently fed by flammable chemicals in the train cargo, burned out of control all day long, overnight and well into the next day.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission calls for high-level nuclear waste containers to be able to withstand a 1,475-degree fire for 30 minutes. Clearly, this real-life accident in Baltimore burned longer and hotter than anything the NRC envisioned.

These outdated criteria date to 1947 and haven't been updated since, despite combustibles on the roads and rails today that burn at much higher temperatures. That needs to change.

By any reckoning, the damage from a tunnel fire involving nuclear waste could be enormous. According to experts such as Marvin Resnikoff, a nuclear physicist with Radioactive Waste Management Associates in New York City, a severe high-level radioactive waste transport accident releasing radiation in an urban area could cause scores of latent cancer fatalities and cost tens of billions of dollars to clean up. Resnikoff used the Energy Department's own computer models to arrive at those figures.

The Baltimore Sun quoted a firefighter as saying all he could see inside the tunnel was the glowing metal of train tanker cars. He described it as "a deep orange, like a horseshoe just pulled out of the oven."

The big question is, could high-level atomic waste containers survive such severe accident conditions? If not, we could be looking at our own Chernobyl catastrophe - on wheels.

Plutonium Theft Raises Security Issue

United Press International - July 16, 2001

BERLIN, Germany, - Police recovered a package containing liquid plutonium from a disused military base and reportedly arrested a worker from a nuclear reprocessing plant on suspicion of having taken the substance. A 49-year-old worker taken into custody last week, his wife and a child have all been hospitalizing after testing showed they had been exposed to radioactive material.

Comments on Radioactive Metals Recycling

Public Citizen - Press Release - July 13, 2001

Comment Period on Scope of Programmatic
Environmental Impact Statement Is Too Short

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Public Citizen has requested that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) extend its deadline to receive comments on a proposal that is critical in establishing how radioactively contaminated scrap metals will be disposed of. The current deadline for comments is Sept. 10, which allows the public only two months to examine what are highly complex issues.

The DOE on Thursday published a Notice of Intent for a document called a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which is designed to examine alternatives for disposing of the contaminated materials. The notice lists various policy alternatives, all of which allow for the disposal of radioactively contaminated metals in unlicensed sanitary landfills, where they would be treated as "non-radioactive."

The PEIS also could permit the "unrestricted release of scrap metals from DOE radiological areas and scrap metals outside radiological areas that may have residual surface radioactivity." This would allow the metals to be recycled, where they could end up in any number of consumer and industrial products. It is highly unlikely that any such materials would be tracked or labeled, so consumers would be denied the opportunity to make informed choices and avoid any radiation hazards.

"All of these possible outcomes sound frighteningly similar to previous policies of the NRC, which attempted to assist the nuclear industry by eliminating some types of nuclear waste from regulatory control," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "Although Congress wisely revoked those policies in 1992, it looks as though DOE is attempting to revive them by tinkering with the language and attaching various euphemisms to what is really the recycling of nuclear waste."

The Notice of Intent also announced that six public meetings are to be held around the country beginning at the end of July. This provides less than three weeks for concerned citizens who plan to participate to study the relevant issues and prepare accordingly.

"Considering the enormous impact such a policy could have, public participation must be taken seriously, and processes must be conducted with integrity, " Hauter wrote in a letter to Carolyn Huntoon, assistant secretary of the Department's Office of Environmental Management. "Unless corrected, the unacceptably short comment period will further erode public confidence in the department's handling of the dangerous materials of our nation's nuclear legacy."

The DOE was instructed in January by then-Secretary Bill Richardson to publish the Notice of Intent by March 20. However, by publishing it this week, the department in effect extended its own deadline by 114 days.

"If the agency can extend the deadline for itself, we certainly hope it will extend the same benefit to the public," said Dave Ritter, policy analyst for Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "The agency has all the resources, while the public does not. Further, people's summer schedules are irregular. And once the scope of this document is set, there's no going back. It's critical to get it right now, and the public should have at least until December to do that."

Radioactive Threat Exceeds Federal Estimates

USA Today - By Peter Eisler - June 25, 2001

Thousands more people than anticipated face health and pollution threats from plutonium and other highly radioactive elements that fouled vast amounts of uranium recycled by the U.S. nuclear weapons program over the past 50 years.

Recycled uranium was shipped worldwide from 1952 until 1999, when distribution was halted by revelations of its contamination.

Now, new federal studies reviewed by USA TODAY show that the program yielded 250,000 tons of tainted uranium -- roughly double the estimates of two years ago. The material was handled at about 10 times the number of sites revealed previously, reaching more than 100 federal plants, private manufacturers and universities.

The studies suggest that thousands more workers than expected might have unwittingly faced radiation risks beyond those associated with normal uranium, increasing their odds of developing cancer and other ailments. That places an unexpected burden on a soon-to-begin federal program to compensate sick nuclear weapons workers.

Contaminants from the tainted uranium also raise the potential for soil and groundwater pollution at some of the newly recognized processing sites. That threatens to complicate cleanup plans.

Most recycled uranium went back into nuclear weapons production or was used as fuel for power reactors. But thousands of tons also were used in everything from academic research to the making of armor for Army battle tanks.

The vast majority of the material contained only traces of impurities -- too little, scientists say, to pose risks beyond those posed by natural uranium, which is mildly radioactive and raises health hazards if inhaled as dust. But some plants handled recycled uranium in ways that concentrated its contaminants, significantly boosting its hazards.

''This stuff circulated much more widely than we'd thought,'' says Robert Alvarez, an official at the Department of Energy when it launched the new studies in 1999.

''The problem is, they really don't have reasonable estimates of how much (contamination) was in a lot of this recycled uranium,'' adds Alvarez, now a scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies. ''It could range from very tiny amounts to relatively high levels.''

Federal researchers conclude in the new studies that contamination generally was ''extremely low.'' But that finding masks problems.

The uranium's contaminants apparently were concentrated at a dozen or more previously unrecognized sites, raising pollution and worker health threats. But it's unclear which batches of uranium were most dangerous -- or where they went -- so not all high-risk sites are identifiable.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., says, ''The government has a responsibility to follow up.''

New Focus on an Old Nuclear Problem

New York Times - By MATTHEW L. WALD - June 4, 2001

The nuclear plant here split its first atom in December 1973. Both halves are still here.

So is all the other fuel that the twin Peach Bottom reactors have used in almost three decades of making electricity. The same is true at more than 120 other nuclear power plants around the country, even though nearly 20 years ago their owners signed a contract with the federal government for the Department of Energy to take the fuel to Nevada for burial, beginning in January 1998.

What to do with used nuclear fuel is a technical and political conundrum that is getting new attention as the Bush administration pushes for a greater role for nuclear power, while Senate Democrats say they will not agree to the longstanding plan to bury the waste at the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada.

The problem will only grow as reactors built years ago seek license renewals to keep running for many more decades. Next month, the owners of the Peach Bottom power plant will apply to extend its operating license from the once standard 40 years to 60.

Recognizing the storage problem, in the last few months Peach Bottom has set itself up to store its fuel on site for decades to come.

"We never intended that Peach Bottom become a temporary storage site for used fuel," said James P. Malone, vice president for nuclear fuels at Exelon, the company that runs Peach Bottom's two reactors and 15 others around the country.

But Yucca Mountain, the federal government's proposed site for permanent storage, was never a sure thing and is about to become even less so when Nevada's senior senator, Harry Reid, a longtime opponent of the project, becomes assistant majority leader.

An engineer here who is now deeply involved in waste storage, Paul R. Rau, said that when he first went to work for the company that runs Peach Bottom 23 years ago, "I would never have thought about it."

But the neat grid of 3,819 spaces at the bottom of a pool where the plant stores its spent fuel has steadily filled with fuel rods.

So at this 620-acre site on the banks of the Susquehanna River, just north of the Maryland state line, Mr. Rau has built enough storage space to handle waste far beyond the expected lifetime of the reactors. The company built what looks like an exercise yard at a prison, a concrete pad two to three feet thick, surrounded by floodlights, motion detectors and two dozen cameras, with a double row of 10-foot fences topped with concertina wire. On the pad, which is the size of a football field, the company installed four casks last summer, each 18 feet high and 8 feet in diameter, each weighing 90 tons and holding 24 tons of spent fuel. This summer the company will add five more; eventually the total could reach 72, and even after that, the pad could be expanded.

The casks, which could also be used for shipping, are designed to last at least 40 years. They are filled with inert gas to prevent corrosion, and require no mechanical cooling systems; David J. Foss, an engineer here who supervised their loading, said maintenance consisted mostly of inspecting them and sweeping the leaves off the pad.

Peach Bottom's approach is typical. For now, the 103 operating power reactors around the country store their wastes in spent-fuel pools like the ones here, 40 feet on a side and 40 feet deep, designed to withstand earthquakes and filled with purified water. Since the fuel rods still generate heat, even years after being removed from a reactor, the water is needed to prevent meltdown. It also provides radiation shielding. But the pool requires additional systems: heat exchangers to keep the water from boiling away, and filtration systems to pick out the radioactive material that builds up in the water. Over the long term, corrosion and cooling are concerns.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's main trade association, says there are already 16 reactor sites with dry cask storage, and an additional 20 that will run out of space in their spent-fuel pools by the end of 2004 and will probably need such storage. Nearly all will need it by 2010.

But it costs more than $1 million for enough casks to store a year's worth of fuel for one reactor. So Peach Bottom's operator, at the time the parent company of the Philadelphia Electric Power Company, was one of 12 utilities to sue the Energy Department to recoup its costs after the 1998 deadline; Peach Bottom, like other reactors, had been paying the government a tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour generated, in exchange for a government promise, now broken, to take the fuel.

Peach Bottom settled, with the department agreeing that the plant could skip payments equal to the price of the casks. But this has not placated Exelon, which is highly likely to be a builder of new plants if any are ever ordered in this country. The company, like other utilities, would like the waste problem solved first.

The cask storage sites have created a political role reversal: the companies that build them hate them, and the people who want to phase out nuclear plants see them as bolstering their argument.

The companies are eager to empty them and have the Energy Department move the fuel, preferably to a federal burial site, but at a minimum to a centralized above-ground repository - probably looking much like the one here, only bigger. For the companies, the casks are a reminder of an unresolved problem.

But opponents are happy to emphasize that the problem is unsolvable, and that the waste should stay in its containers, right where it is, a reminder in five dozen locations that there is no permanent repository. Their goal is to convince the public that the reactors should stop producing waste - in other words, that they should stop operating.

"Their ulterior motive is to say that there is no solution," said Marvin S. Fertel, senior vice president at the Nuclear Energy Institute.

But storing the fuel in casks is "not a pressing problem," said Dr. Arjun Makhijani, the president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, a nonprofit group often critical of the Energy Department. Assuming proper regulation, Dr. Makhijani said, cask storage is quite safe, probably safer than Yucca.

"So long as the reactors are operating _ and this is not a plug for relicensing _ the waste should be stored on site," he said.

Dr. Makhijani and others say that the government has proved unable to deal with its own nuclear wastes, from weapons production, and should not be trusted to find a burial spot that will stay essentially intact for 10,000 years.

But other scientists like burial, and the industry contends that Congress will, too. "If you don't vote for it, the waste stays in your state for 40 or 50 years," Mr. Fertel said. Under the language of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, any senator can introduce a motion to approve the project, and the Senate must then take up the matter.

When the reactors now operating were designed, mostly in the 1960's, the builders assumed that reactors would store their wastes for only a few years before they were reprocessed for further use. One reprocessing plant ran for a few years in the 1960's, in West Valley, N.Y., but was a technical and financial failure. When Jimmy Carter was president, he barred a second plant, in Illinois, from opening. The Bush administration's energy report raises the possibility of reviving reprocessing, but experts say that technology's prospects are highly uncertain.

Even if Yucca Mountain opens, it is too small; under the 1982 law it is supposed to accept 77,000 tons of civilian and military wastes, but the civilian wastes alone will come to more than that, partly because of license renewals, which were not anticipated in 1982. The industry hopes that by the time this becomes a problem, Nevadans will see the economic benefits of the repository and support a change in the law to accept more waste. But the other possibilities are lengthy storage in casks and the search for a second site, which no one wants to undertake.

BNFL Mox Plan Dealt Blow by Japanese Utility

Financial Times - By K. HIJINO, M. JONES - June 2, 2001

British Nuclear Fuels's plans to open a Pounds 460m Mox manufacturing plant at Sellafield suffered another blow yesterday after Japan's largest electricity utility agreed to postpone the loading of recycled nuclear fuel at its plant in northern Japan.

Tokyo Electric Power Company's decision, made after a meeting with local government officials, follows a referendum in the village of Kariwa last weekend in which more than half of the population, which depends heavily on the power plant for jobs, voted against the use of controversial mixed-oxide fuel (Mox).

Public opinion in Japan has hardened against the use of Mox, which combines plutonium recycled from spent fuel with uranium, since BNFL admitted in September 1999 to falsifying quality control records for Mox shipped to Kansai Electric Power Company.

Shaun Burnie, a Greenpeace campaigner, said Tokyo Electric's decision was a further step towards ending the use of the fuel and preventing BNFL's plant from being opened.

"There is a genuine sense now that Mox use is way off in Japan and that there are no prospects for future Mox reactors," he said.

BNFL's Sellafield Mox plant was largely completed five years ago but will not receive clearance from the British government to start operations until its economic case has been proven. Although some 40 per cent of its capacity has been contracted or reserved by customers in Europe, its most important client is Japan.

A report commissioned by Greenpeace and submitted to the government this month as part of a public consultation process warned that the economics of the plant have worsened because of developments in Japan and an estimated 30 per cent increase in costs.

BNFL said it was following progress in Japan closely and was still hopeful of securing contracts.

"This referendum was not legally binding but its interpretation is a matter for local and national government in Japan," said an official.

Ikuo Hirayama, governor of Niigata prefecture, yesterday called on Tokyo Electric to delay the use of Mox after earlier meeting the mayors of Kariwa and Kashiwazaki City.

Nobuya Minami, Tokyo Electric's president, said the group would respect the request. "The time has come for us to pause," he said. "The opposition (to Mox) is also a criticism of Tokyo Electric's everyday activities."

Duke seeks OK for plutonium at McGuire

Duke seeks OK for plutonium at McGuire

news@norman - May 16, 2001

A proposal by Duke Energy to use military-grade plutonium in its McGuire Nuclear Plant on Lake Norman is meeting with stiff opposition from some area residents who say it’s a dangerous move that poses a threat to the safety of humans and the environment.

Duke Energy disagrees, saying the plan is part of an international agreement between Russia and the United States that would “make the world safer by destroying much of the surplus weapons plutonium and rendering the rest undesirable for use in weapons.”

Duke wants to start using plutonium as a fuel source (MOX fuel) at McGuire beginning in 2003. Duke is the only company that operates nuclear plants in the United States seeking approval to use plutonium. A number of other utilities had expressed early interest in the idea, but all of them except for Duke withdrew from the process.

“Because plutonium is both a long-lived radioactive element, and extremely toxic, we are concerned if there were an accident, and it were to get into Lake Norman, it would render the lake unuseable as a drinking source, and could make the entire region uninhabitable,” stated Jay and Selah Bunzey of Westport.

“We do not feel this region should be the first in the United States to test this process out. It should be done in a much less populated area,” they stated.

Duke says that using plutonium is a proven technology, noting that nuclear reactors in Europe have been using plutonium fuel for decades.

That is a claim disputed by some, including Steven Dolley of the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI), a nuclear non-proliferation research and advocacy center based in Washington.

The NCI opposes the use of weapons plutonium in civilian commerce.

“Duke claims that ‘many years of experience’ in European reactors shows MOX to be safe and effective. But the plutonium in European MOX fuel was recovered from used nuclear-power plant fuel, not from nuclear bombs,” he stated.

“Warhead plutonium is of a different isotopic composition, responds differently in reactors, and has never been tested on a commercial scale. DOE began test irradiation of a few MOX pellets in an experimental reactor in early 1998, and will not have any results for years. Warhead-plutonium MOX fuel remains an unproven technology with significant risks associated with its use,” he stated.

On its internet site, NCI reports that Dr. Edwin Lyman, NCI’s Scientific Director, conducted a MOX fuel safety study using the same computer codes employed by DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “Dr. Lyman's study concluded that, in the event of a severe accident resulting in a large radioactive release, an average of 25% more people would die of cancer if the reactor were using a partial core of plutonium-MOX fuel, as opposed to a full core of conventional uranium fuel. DOE itself has concurred with many of Dr. Lyman's findings. Dr. Lyman also found that the impact of MOX fuel on certain reactor characteristics may also increase the chance that such a severe accident would occur. DOE and Duke dismiss such accidents as extremely improbable---but it must be remembered that the accidents that took place at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the Tokai nuclear-fuel plant in Japan last September all had been similarly dismissed as highly unlikely or even "impossible" events,” NCI reports.

Duke has been playing the patriotic trump card in its quest to obtain approval for MOX fuel.

In a statement to stockholders last year Duke said that the company’s participation in the MOX fuel project is “crucial” to reducing the amount of weapons-usable plutonium in Russia. “In parallel with the U.S. project, Russia will also be fabricating MOX fuel and using it in Russian reactors to dispose of its surplus plutonium. The fundamental goal of the overall program is to reduce the amount of weapons-usable plutonium in Russia, where it is particularly vulnerable to theft or diversion,” Duke stated. The company also acknowledged that the government is paying Duke for the ongoing preparatory work and once it starts using MOX fuel it will receive the fuel at a lower cost than would be incurred for the equivalent energy content of uranium fuel.

As far as safety is concerned, Duke says MOX is a proven technology and before using the fuel the company will be required to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the fuel poses no undue risk to the health and safety of the public.

More MOX Fuel Problems

Nuclear - Page Five