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Nuclear -     1 - Duke Energy Employee Advocate

Nuclear - Page Nine

"Treason doth never prosper: what 's the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason."
- Sir John Harrington

Nuclear Safety

The Nation - by Matt Bivens - September 16, 2001

Posted on September 24, 2001.

What happens if a suicide bomber drives a jumbo jet into one of America's 103 nuclear power reactors? What happens if a fire fed by thousands of tons of jet fuel roars through a reactor complex--or, worse, through the enormous and barely-protected containment pools of spent nuclear fuel found at every such plant?

These questions are even more obvious and urgent than they may seem at first glance. Russian television reported on Wednesday: "Our [Russian] security services are warning the United States that what happened on Tuesday is just the beginning, and that the next target of the terrorists will be an American nuclear facility." Meanwhile, eight years ago, in the wake of the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, the terrorists themselves wrote to the New York Times to warn that nuclear attack would follow.

That letter, judged authentic by federal authorities, talked of "150 suicide soldiers" who would hit "nuclear targets." As if to drive home the point, those same terrorists had trained beforehand at a camp in Pennsylvania thirty miles from Three Mile Island. US law enforcement had them under surveillance at least a month before they struck--and at one point observed them conducting a mock assault on an electric power substation. That very same weekend, a man later judged to be mentally unwell drove his station wagon through the security barriers at Three Mile Island and parked next to a supposedly secured building.

There are nuclear power plants outside many urban areas. There's Indian Point on the Hudson River, some twenty-five miles northwest of New York City; Limerick Plant some twenty miles outside of Philadelphia; Calvert Cliffs, forty-five miles from the nation's capital; and a handful of nuclear plants ringing Chicago, from Dresden to Braidwood. A terrorist strike at any such plant could not bring about a nuclear explosion--but there are a number of scenarios that would spread deadly radiation clouds across, in the NRC's famous phrase, an area the size of Pennsylvania. On top of the tens of thousands of eventual radiation-driven deaths, there is the mass panic such an attack might cause. And if we can clean up and rebuild after the World Trade Center bombing, a radiological attack would force us to write off huge swathes of land as national sacrifice areas.

So given the extraordinary events of this week, we're taking extraordinary measures to protect our nuclear plants, right?

Well, in France, the defense minister has stationed troops around nuclear power plants... But in America, not much is being done.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday in a statement said it had "recommended" that plants tighten security. Bob Jasinski, an NRC spokesman, said Friday that nothing had changed since then. (What about Wednesday's Russian TV report? Or the repeated insistence by authorities that there are more terrorist cells out there?) The NRC also says there have been "no credible general or specific threats to any of these [nuclear] facilities"--and does not seem interested in reconsidering the specific and, it now seems, very credible 1993 threats of 150 suicide soldiers headed the NRC's way.

Security Already "Privatized"

David Orrik, a former US Navy Seal, until recently ran a program that tested the security at civilian nuclear plants by organizing mock attacks against them. His exercises don't sound terribly ambitious--they pit a small team, moving on foot, against a nuclear plant security force that would be warned six months in advance of the test. Even so, half of all plants tested failed--and in at least one case, Orrik's men were able to simulate enough sabotage to cause a core melt. And remember, these tests did not simulate, say, the Osama bin Laden truck bombs so successful in demolishing US embassies in Africa in 1998.

The nuclear industry did not enjoy failing, and did not enjoy shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to prepare for Orrik's tests--or to install security upgrades as the penalty for not passing. So it began to lean on the NRC to gut the program. This fall, the NRC is doing just that--phasing out Orrik's program in favor of one in which nuclear power plants will carry out "self-assessments." An NRC spokesman could not say if that plan would now be scrapped, and neither could Orrik. Asked on Friday if NRC was considering any dramatic new security measures, Orrik said he had "no sense at all" what would happen next. "I'm curious myself--will it be a sea change? Or business as usual?"

Sleeping in a Coffin

Ironically, one of the first real critical looks at the NRC's decision to let nuclear plants who failed security tests make up their own tests instead appeared in U.S. News & World Report's Monday edition--the day before, well, Tuesday.

That article quotes a representative of the Nuclear Enterprise Institute--the nuclear power industry's Washington-based trade group--as arguing that nuclear power plants "are overly defended at a level that is not at all commensurate with the risk." On Friday, the NEI's offices were closed. But a statement on the NEI website trumpeted the "extensive security measures" insisted on by the NRC, including employee background checks. These are the same background checks that let a man named Carl Drega work at three nuclear power plants throughout the 1990s. Shortly after leaving the third plant, Drega went on a 1997 killing spree that left dead two state troopers, a judge and a newspaper editor. Nor did such background checks blackball a computer programmer who worked at the Maine Yankee nuclear plant and slept in a coffin. That man goes on trial next year for the murder of seven co-workers at a Massachusetts technology company.

The NEI statement on nuclear plant security states that the reinforced concrete containment buildings that surround US reactors--they are there to prevent the spread of radiation in case of an accident--are "designed to withstand the impact of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and airborne objects up to a certain force." In reality, as even the NRC conceded on Friday, reactor containment buildings were not built with the idea of resisting an intentional assault by a modern-day jet--certainly not the monster 767s that crashed into the World Trade Center. The literature is actually strangely silent on this point--so much so that experts interviewed all named the same study, published in 1974 in Nuclear Safety, about probabilities of a plane accidentally hitting a nuclear reactor. That study concluded that some reactor containment structures had zero chance of sustaining a hit by a "large" plane, defined as more than 6.25 tons. The 767s that hit the trade center weighed 150 tons, and were probably moving at top speed.

In fact, the security vulnerabilities at nuclear plants are so ghastly that almost everyone contacted for this article balked at discussing them in any detail. Paul Gunter, an expert with the anti-nuclear power Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), recoiled when asked about one possible scenario. "Oh, I don't want to prescribe that. It's too terrifying to imagine." NRC spokesman Jasinski also refused to discuss that scenario. Bennett Ramberg, author of a sixteen-year-old book called Nuclear Power Plants as Weapons for the Enemy: an Unrecognized Military Peril, turned away some questions, saying, "I feel a little discomfort talking about that now." Later Friday, after Ramberg saw Wednesday's report of Pakistani terrorists threatening to target nuclear installations in India, and Tuesday's report of Israel thinking of bombing Iran's nuclear facilities, he felt freer to talk. "The cat's out of the bag," he observed.

Terrorists Don't Bomb Windmills

This week's events have changed the national landscape for nuclear power. For starters, they make the industry's gushy talk about the next-generation Pebble Bed Reactor--the reactor so safe it won't even need a containment building--seem ghastly and ridiculous.

Terrorism also has implications for the Great Waste Debate. Our reactors have for fifty years been piling up vast quantities of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel. The question of what to do with it all takes on a new urgency. Do we ship it all to a central site like the one proposed for Yucca Mountain--and create a spectacular series of terrorist targets for years, turning trains and trucks of waste into what critics deride as "Mobile Chernobyl"? Or do we keep waste in vast pools on site at reactor complexes--in buildings so frail that David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, says they could be pierced "by a Cessna"--and also keep producing more such waste every day?

There is no easy answer--which may explain such a sluggish and bleary-eyed response to potential terrorism against nuclear targets: the NRC and others are in denial. Not so long ago, they were arguing that terrorism was not a very scientific probability, and that terrorists had a moral impediment against taking life on a mass scale. So much for that. But if terrorism is real, then a clear-eyed view would suggest nuclear power is done for.

Nuclear power had been previously discredited on environmental grounds, on public safety grounds and even on financial grounds--don't be fooled, it's immensely costly, even with the public paying for both waste disposal and liability insurance. This week, nuclear power was also discredited on grounds of national security. A country that has nuclear power plants, it turns out, has handed over to "the enemy" a quasi-nuclear military capability.

We get 20 percent of our electricity from our fleet of enormously expensive and dangerous reactors. Regardless of what our vice president may think, through better energy efficiency and conservation alone we could reduce energy demand to the point of not needing any of those plants--of not even noticing that they had been shut down. The Rocky Mountain Institute, a prominent think-tank on energy matters, argues that "up to 75 percent of the electricity used in the United States today could be saved with energy efficiency measures that cost less than the electricity itself."

Given that our national will and purpose are now being mobilized, does anyone doubt that, properly channeled, we could succeed in this? Or that along the way we could also establish wind power, solar power and hydrogen fuel cells--and in so doing, completely wean ourselves from the oil of the Middle East? Surely this--and not open-ended war against every nation that has every stamped bin Laden's passport--is the path to real victory and national security. After all, as Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists noted, no one this week is calling his colleagues in the alternative energy sectors to ask about terrorist threats to windmills.

In the meantime, we can follow France's lead and post National Guardsmen around all nuclear facilities. We can restore the NRC's compulsory security drills, and make them even more demanding. Hey, we can even consider anti-aircraft emplacements at each power plant. And we can see how safe that makes us feel when the White House starts trying to punish Afghanistan.



Posted on September 22, 2001.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff will hold public meetings on Tuesday, September 25, in Huntersville, North Carolina on the environmental review related to the application of Duke Energy Corporation to renew the operating licenses for both units of the McGuire Nuclear Station located 20 miles north of Charlotte. Members of the public are invited to attend and comment on environmental issues the NRC should consider in its review of the proposed license renewal.

Central Piedmont Community College
North Campus auditorium
11920 Verhoeff Road
Huntersville, North Carolina
1:30 PM
7:00 PM

In addition, the NRC staff will host informal discussions one hour prior to each meeting. NRC staff members will be available to answer questions and provide additional information about the process during those informal sessions, but no comment submittals on environmental issues will be accepted then.

Interested persons may register to speak before the start of each session. Individual comment time may be limited by the time available.

The meetings will include an overview and NRC staff presentation on the environmental process related to license renewal, after which members of the public will be given the opportunity to present their comments on what environmental issues the NRC should consider during its review.

Nuclear Plant Safety at Issue

The Charlotte Observer - By BRUCE HENDERSON - September 22, 2001

Groups opposing renewed licenses for the two nuclear power plants near Charlotte say federal regulators should weigh last week's terrorist attacks and a plan to fuel the plants with plutonium.

Duke Power wants to extend the licenses for its Catawba and McGuire nuclear plants by 20 years, keeping them in operation until the early 2040s.

License renewals focus largely on the effects of age on nuclear plants. Plant operators have to show they can find and fix deteriorating parts before they become potential hazards.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will also do environmental studies of the plants' impacts on fish, water, human health and other issues. At meetings on Tuesday in Huntersville, the NRC will ask for public input on other environmental issues it should consider in deciding whether to renew the licenses.

Two anti-nuclear groups, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, say Catawba and McGuire deserve added scrutiny. They are separately seeking trial-like hearings on the license renewals.

The groups cite, as evidence of aging hazards, the cracks found this year in reactor vessel nozzles at Duke's oldest nuclear plant, Oconee. They challenge the safety of the structures meant to contain radioactive releases at Catawba and McGuire. They question the impact of a reactor accident on the rapidly growing Lake Norman population around McGuire.

Both groups cite another issue: Duke's plans to make Catawba and McGuire the first U.S. nuclear plants to use mixed-oxide fuel, which contains surplus weapons plutonium.

Duke has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to assume, for licensing purposes, that the plants continue to run on conventional fuel.

The opposing groups believe the plutonium fuel poses new risks to the plants and its neighbors. They say the NRC should consider those risks now.

Duke plans to ask for permission to test the new fuel within a year, spokesman Becky McSwain said. The license renewal process is expected to take two years or longer.

The NRC says it won't yet decide whether mixed-oxide fuel is a legitimate part of the license issue.

Last week's terrorist attacks, meanwhile, may inject another issue into the license debate.

Duke's plants remain at the highest security level. The NRC says it is analyzing risks to nuclear plants.

"They need to turn their thinking around, from thinking those things are not likely to the point of view of someone who was dedicated to do damage and would keep probing until they find a weakness," said Lou Zeller of the Blue Ridge group.

DOE Sees the Plutonium Light

Employee Advocate - - September 22, 2001

The Department of Energy (DOE) is getting a clue that it is no longer 1950, and that they cannot shuffle plutonium across the U. S. without risk. Each and every shipment will represent a risk, perhaps a grave risk. It matters not to Kamikaze pilots whether they dive into a building or a plutonium shipment. Whatever the target, they will not be giving any encore performances. And, the plutonium shipment has the potential to give infinitely more bang for the buck.

Henry Eichel (The Charlotte Observer) reports that the DOE is not shipping any plutonium to South Carolina, or anywhere else. Joe Davis, DOE spokesman, said: "All of DOE's nuclear-related shipments are on hold until further notice."

Many citizens have warned of the potential for disaster that each plutonium shipment represents. No one has been willing to listen - until now! Duke Energy Corporation could not see the risk, because they were blinded by dollar signs. The government could not see the risk because “it has never happened before.” Those without the vision to see the things that could be, are forever condemned to make blunder after blunder.

Only last month, the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) refused to even consider the possibility of a terrorist attack on a plutonium shipment! The NRC published their statements in the “August 2001 Scoping Summary Report.” The report addressed citizen’s concerns expressed at the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility Hearing, held in Charlotte, North Carolina, May 8, 2001.

4.6 of the report stated: “Many commenters raised a number of different issues concerning terrorism. However, the EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] will not address the impacts of terrorism, because these impacts are not considered to be reasonably foreseeable as a result of the proposed action.”

  • How many commenters? - many.

  • How many different issues? - a number.

  • Why were they ignored? - they were not considered “reasonably foreseeable.”

It is the old “If I stick my head deeply enough in the sand, the plane will not hit me in the rump” theory.

NRC MOX Fuel Hearing - Part One

NRC MOX Fuel Hearing - Part Two

NRC MOX Fuel Hearing - Part Three

Dangerous to "Streamline" Reactor Hearings

Public Citizen - Press Release - September 22, 2001

Public Would Lose Right to Formal Proceedings

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A proposal by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is unacceptable because it would severely limit or eliminate the public's ability to conduct formal, trial-type hearings to oppose NRC reactor license applications, Public Citizen has told the agency.

In comments submitted to the NRC last week, Public Citizen was sharply critical of a rule being considered by the agency. Under the rule, informal hearings - with no opportunity for the public to conduct document discovery (the compelled disclosure of documents) or to cross-examine witnesses - would become the default proceeding for virtually all licensing issues, including initial reactor licensing, license extensions and license amendments for aging reactors.

Currently, formal meetings give the public an opportunity to question issues of design, safety, radioactive waste, health and environmental impacts, routine radioactive releases, and emergency preparedness of nuclear reactors that are proposed, under construction or already built. Informal hearings limit the amount of information the public can obtain and curtail their ability to get key documents about the issues at hand.

Under the new rule, citizens wishing to contest the license renewal of a local nuclear reactor would have almost no time to request a formal hearing. Currently, groups wishing to intervene in the licensing process (such as citizen groups, and state and local governments) are given only a month to review the license application and formulate "contentions" that describe and provide documentation for the concerns they wish to contest. The new rule would require intervening parties to submit their contentions almost immediately after the hearing notice is published; the number of days depends on the kind of hearing. It would be unlikely that most intervenors would have the staff or resources to adequately respond in such a short time.

In sharp contrast to the commission's proposal to squelch public opposition for reactor licensing, industry enforcement hearings (held when a violation has occurred at a plant and penalties are determined) will be maintained as formal proceedings, allowing the industry to use the process to contest enforcement proceedings. The NRC's discriminatory treatment between public and industry hearings on this aspect of the rule change is unjust because it preserves due process for the industry but eliminates it for the public, Public Citizen said.

This attempt to "streamline" the licensing process would further compromise the commission's reputation and ability to be an effective regulator, and the proposed rule would "eliminate meaningful public participation and intervention in the licensing hearing process to the exclusive benefit of the nuclear power industry," Public Citizen said in its comments. The NRC's proposed actions are "blatant promotional activity" for the nuclear industry, Public Citizen said.

"Rather than fulfilling their mandate to build public confidence in the licensing process, and protect public health and safety, the NRC is rolling over and treating the nuclear industry as though it has a 'right' to any and all licenses," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "The recent tragic events have shown that America's nuclear plants could very well provide 103 deadly targets to terrorists. The public really should have a right to formal hearings to contest the licensing of any one of those radioactive targets."

The group's letter cited a 1987 report to the House Subcommittee on General Oversight and Investigations, entitled "NRC Coziness with Industry: Nuclear Regulatory Commission Fails to Maintain Arms Length Relationship with the Nuclear Industry." The subcommittee identified five significant instances in which the NRC failed to maintain a proper regulatory distance from the industry.

"This is just another example of the commission paving the way for the current administration's nuclear 'relapse.' The more barriers they can remove in the licensing process, the faster they can build new reactors and re-license the decaying ones," said David Ritter, Public Citizen policy analyst. "This would be a serious blow to democratic processes within the agency, and if this proposal is not rejected in its entirety, I would propose that the NRC drop any pretense of being a 'regulatory' commission, and remove the word 'regulatory' from its name."

The NRC is expected to make a decision within a few months.

Vulnerability of Nuclear Plants Evaluated

The Charlotte Observer - By BRUCE HENDERSON - September 21, 2001

Federal authorities are rethinking the ability of nuclear power plants, including the two near Charlotte, to withstand a terrorist assault like the one that leveled the World Trade Center.

"In view of what happened last week, we're going to have to go back and look at threats deemed feasible, or possible, with new eyes," Nuclear Regulatory Commission official Victor Dricks said Thursday.

The NRC is analyzing what would happen if a large jetliner hit a nuclear plant, Dricks said. "Potentially, it could leave severe damage," he said, including the release of radioactive materials. Duke Power, which runs the McGuire nuclear plant on Lake Norman and Catawba plant on Lake Wylie, says the plants could withstand such a terrorist strike.

Duke engineers concluded it was highly unlikely a large jetliner could penetrate the multiple barriers meant to capture escaping radioactivity, spokesman Becky McSwain said.

Nuclear fuel, encased in ceramic pellets inside metal rods, is irradiated inside a reactor vessel of steel 8 inches thick. If a vessel fails, a liner of three-quarter-inch steel is intended to contain radioactive steam.

Reinforced concrete 3 feet thick, designed to absorb outside impacts, surrounds it all.

Catawba and McGuire are among the few U.S. plants that rely on beds of ice to condense escaping steam. Their containment systems aren't as strong as traditional systems, such as the one at Duke's Oconee plant in northwestern South Carolina, which rely on larger structures to control the pressure.

Anti-nuclear groups say the ice systems are more likely to fail. The NRC won't talk about plant vulnerabilities or designs. Some nuclear plants are designed to absorb accidental plane crashes. McGuire, Catawba and Oconee weren't, Duke says, because they aren't in airport flight paths.

It would take three to five hours to evacuate people within two miles of McGuire, said a study Duke commissioned last year. The estimated times vary according to the time of year and day. It would take 6.1 to 7.6 hours to evacuate a radius of up to 14 miles, the study said.

More than 100,000 people live within 10 miles of both McGuire and Catawba, local officials say.

But the plants' designs mean that, even in the worst scenarios, any release of radioactivity would unfold over several hours, said Jerry Wilson, a Mecklenburg County emergency planner for nuclear plants. Power plants can't explode like atomic bombs.

"We feel like we could successfully move everybody out," Wilson said.

Duke's power plants continued at their highest state of alert since Tuesday, stepping up patrols by armed guards, canceling plant tours and limiting access to anyone but employees.

Helicopters seen hovering over Catawba and Oconee late Saturday and early Sunday, bringing fighter jets in response, remain cloaked in mystery. Local officials and U.S. Rep. John Spratt's office said aircraft were apparently part of military exercises.

An NRC program to test terrorist defenses at the nation's 65 nuclear power plants began in 1983.

Three-member teams of trained commandos, under contract with the NRC, pose as attackers and try to gain enough control of the plants to cause catastrophe. The two-day drills are scheduled in advance, the NRC says, so the teams don't get shot by armed guards.

Even so, U.S. News & World Report reported last week, nearly half the plants have failed the exercises. The NRC says its conclusions aren't that cut and dried. The exercises are intended to identify security weaknesses and correct them, the agency says.

McGuire underwent the terrorism exercise in 1995, Catawba in 1997 and Oconee in 2000. The results are classified, but the NRC says Oconee performed least well of the three, with less significant weaknesses at McGuire and Catawba.

"At this time, we are satisfied with all three plants," said NRC spokesman Roger Hannah.

Nuclear - Page Eight