Category Archives: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Some Big Changes in Vermont

By Howard Shaffer

Since the previous View from Vermont posted June 12, courts have issued several decisions that will have a major effect on nuclear power nationally, and on the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in particular. The Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Health Care Act has moved attention from these important federal court decisions, which otherwise would have received more publicity (outside of Vermont).

Three main rulings covered the following topics:

  • A lawsuit challenging the legality of the Vermont Yankee license extension issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
  • Refunding spent fuel storage costs nationally.
  • The “used fuel confidence” rule of the NRC.

Meanwhile, Vermont Yankee’s opponents staged another rally at the plant’s gates, with planned arrests.

And meanwhile, plant supporters continue to spread the positive message about Vermont Yankee and nuclear power.

The challenge to Vermont Yankee’s license

The State of Vermont and intervenors sued the NRC in federal court, claiming that the NRC issued Vermont Yankee’s 20-year license extension illegally. The plaintiffs asserted that the license extension was invalid because the plant has no valid water discharge permit.

The court of appeals dismissed the suit on procedural grounds. The court noted that there were six opportunities for the state to raise the issue during the licensing process. These opportunities were not used. The court said that all administrative avenues must be used before coming to the courts.

In other words, waiting until the license is issued, and then hoping the court will issue a “gotcha,” won’t work. Commentators expect that the Supreme Court would not accept a challenge to a circuit court decision on procedural grounds, when there is no disagreement between circuit courts and no larger issue involved:

Appeals court hands NRC a victory in Yankee license case

Miller

Commissioner Miller, chair of the Department of Public Service, argued the case:

State loses another legal round in Vt. Yankee relicensing

 

This decision was reported in the Valley News, our local paper, on the back of the front page, at the bottom. This area contains short, single paragraph articles of local interest. The Valley News does not support Vermont Yankee. If the plant had lost, it would have been a front-page story.

Yes Vermont Yankee has a great post about the ruling:

Vermont loses lawsuit against NRC about water quality permit

Used fuel storage cost refund

Vermont Yankee sued the federal government to recover the cost of storing used fuel on site. Other plants have filed similar suits. The plants claim that they have been forced into unnecessary costs because the federal government has not fulfilled its legal obligation to take custody of the fuel and remove it.

The court ruled for Vermont Yankee, and allowed almost all of the costs. What is of note in the Vermont Yankee case is that the state had put a special assessment on Vermont Yankee when the plant needed to build a concrete pad for dry cask storage. About this, the court said it would not be inappropriate to describe the high fee the state charged for construction of the concrete pad for storage of the dry casks for the used fuel as “blackmail”(!)

We will certainly hear more about “blackmail” in the fall election campaign. Vermont’s governor Peter Shumlin, a committed opponent of the plant, is up for reelection at the end of his two-year term.

Waste confidence rule

A federal circuit court decision found that the NRC’s waste confidence rule is not valid, because the NRC did not provide an adequate environmental impact statement for long-term storage. This decision is for all plants, not just Vermont Yankee, and will not affect Vermont Yankee immediately. The plant already has its 20-year license extension, so there is no pending NRC license to be stayed. However, there has been editorial commentary based on this ruling, and we can expect opponents to bring this up during the State Public Service Board hearings on the required Certificate of Public Good next year.

The State Public Service Board

Under Vermont law, the Vermont Yankee plant requires a Certificate of Public Good from the Vermont Public Service Board to operate. The original certificate expired on the same day as the expiration of the original NRC license.

The plant continues to operate under the original certificate because it had applied for a new one, and the proceedings are still in progress. The board had actually completed its proceedings several years ago, but was blocked from releasing them by a state senate vote that led to the Entergy v. Vermont lawsuit. The senate action was found illegal by the federal district court in January. The state has been enjoined by the court from acting to shut down the plant while the decision is appealed.

The board has set a schedule with proceedings finishing in August 2013, with their decision to follow. Entergy just filed a motion with the board suggesting the limits of the proceedings. Since the board cannot consider safety, or anything related to safety, or veiled attempts to imply safety, there is a real question about the proper scope of the proceedings. The board will hold a public hearing in Vernon, the plant’s hometown, in November.

The intervenors are expected to file their own opinions on the board’s proper scope. As a public radio reporter called it, intervenors are looking for any “hook” they can find to limit the plant’s power or shut it down. Vermont Yankee’s opponents are eying a requirement for year-round use of the existing cooling towers as a way of limiting the plant’s power. This was a partially successful tactic recently at the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey.

Some things stay the same: The opponents

The various local opponents groups, banded together during the last year as the Safe and Green Alliance, have not slackened their efforts to keep the Vermont Yankee opposition story in the news. They staged a protest event on Sunday, July 1.

Among other proceedings, a large “Trojan Cow” (600 lbs) was unloaded at the plant’s gates. The event received lots of free publicity from several newspapers, as opponents have become very good at this. In the Brattleboro Reformer, a state trooper was quoted as saying that the state was doing “due diligence” to shut the plant down, but the troopers had to do their own due diligence and arrest the protesters:

Protesters arrested at Vermont Yankee gates

Capt. Ray Keefe of the Vermont State Police said that there’s been a long relationship with the organizers and various police agencies to ensure that things run smoothly.

Cow attacks Vermont nuke plant (video)

Meredith Angwin has a stinging commentary about the protest at Yes Vermont Yankee:

Vermont Yankee protest: low turnout and low intelligence

A regatta is planned for August 18, with the objective of publicizing the plant’s use of the river.

And the supporters

There is no slackening of effort on the part of the plant’s supporters. For example, opponents always refer to the plant’s emergency planning zone (EPZ) as the “evacuation zone.” In a recently published letter, Dick January, now on the plant engineering staff, described another “EBZ”: the economic benefit zone.

The Vermont Yankee economic benefit zone

Dick is a long-time activist, going back to our days at the Yankee Atomic nuclear power plant and the Massachusetts shutdown referendum. His letter nicely shows that the Vermont Yankee plant is a very big economic benefit to the surrounding tri-state communities.

In fact, according to a member of the local chamber of commerce, this was one of the original justifications for locating the plant where it is. This fact will undoubtedly be raised again by supporters during the upcoming Public Service Board proceedings for a Certificate of Public Good.

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Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years. He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, and his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in nuclear public outreach. 

He is coordinator for the Vermont Pilot Project.  Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

The NRC chair and Yucca Mountain

By Jim Hopf

Several important events have recently occurred involving the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, and the interactions between the two.

New NRC chairman

Last month, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko stated that he would resign as soon as his replacement was appointed. His resignation was likely the result of political pressure and questions raised regarding his management of the NRC (which I’ve discussed in an earlier post).

Soon afterward, the Obama administration nominated Allison Macfarlane as a replacement for Jaczko. Macfarlane has a PhD in geology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is an associate professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University. She also served as a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.

Based on past statements she’s made and publications she’s authored, it is clear that Macfarlane is an opponent of the Yucca Mountain repository. She had referred to it as seismically and volcanically unstable, and said that its selection “broke the covenant with the states that the siting process would be fair and the best site would be selected.” Her views may be reflected in the conclusions of the Blue Ribbon Commission, which recommended the long-term dry storage of used nuclear fuel, and a new “consent-based” repository siting process. Macfarlane is also on record as supporting the idea of moving used fuel into dry storage as soon as possible to reduce fuel pool-related risks.

Nonetheless, it appears that opposition to Macfarlane’s appointment as chairman has been relatively muted. There appears to be a (political) understanding that Macfarlane would be accepted as chairman, as long as Kristine Svinicki is also reappointed to another term as a commissioner (Svinicki’s term expires on June 30). Republican (pro-Yucca) senators have stated that they will not block Macfarlane’s nomination, and their questioning during Senate confirmation hearings was relatively mild. The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) has also not opposed her nomination. On the flip side, Democratic senators have made it clear that they will, in turn, accept Svinicki’s reappointment.

Based on the above, it appears clear that Macfarlane will soon be appointed as NRC chairman and Svinicki will reappointed for another term as commissioner.

Court decisions on waste program

There have also been important recent court decisions pertaining to the U.S. nuclear waste program.

In a unanimous decision, a federal appeals court has given the US Department of Energy six months to explain/justify continuing to collect a 0.1 cent/kW-hr waste disposal fee from nuclear utilities, given that there is no plan on the table for permanent disposal (with the abandonment of Yucca Mountain). The plaintiffs were seeking a halt or suspension of the fee. In six months, the court will rule on whether the DOE has given sufficient justification for continued collection of the waste fee. The plaintiffs and other observers are confident that the DOE will not be able to come up with a sufficient justification at that time.

Another recent federal appeals court decision threw out the NRC’s waste confidence ruling, which had concluded that waste could be safely stored on (plant) site for as long as 60 years after plant closure, and that a repository would become available when necessary. The court said that the NRC’s evaluation failed to consider the impact if a repository doesn’t become available, and did not adequately assess the risks of long term on-site storage. The chief judge wrote that “the commission’s evaluation of the risks of spent nuclear fuel is deficient,” and that spent fuel “poses a dangerous long-term health and environmental risk.”

Opinion on the impact of this second ruling varied widely. Anti-nuclear groups (including some of the plaintiffs) hailed the decision and hoped that it would eventually block the NRC from granting new reactor licenses or reactor life extensions.

Klein

Others—including former NRC Chairman Dale Klein—believe that the impact will be relatively small, and that it will simply be a matter of the NRC doing additional work, such as allowing more public comment (some of the court decision text appears to support this view as well.) The NRC could also perform site specific (as opposed to generic) evaluations of long-term fuel storage risks. Others in the industry actually view the ruling in a positive light, thinking that it will put pressure on the government to move forward with solutions to the waste problem, such as centralized storage or licensing a repository (e.g., Yucca). NEI disagreed with the ruling, and urged the NRC to quickly address the court’s concerns.

Finally, there is a federal appeals court decision due sometime this summer as to whether the NRC is legally required to finish the Yucca Mountain license application. While the Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires the NRC to evaluate the application, the NRC is arguing that since Congress has not appropriated any more money to the NRC to complete the task, it “cannot” do so. Yucca supporters have pointed to $10 million that the NRC has at its disposal for the task, but the NRC maintains that $10 million is not nearly enough money to finish the task. Meanwhile, the House recently approved an additional $10 million for the NRC to complete the licensing review. The fate of this funding in the Senate is unclear (of course).

In addition to disagreeing with the lack of funding argument in general, Yucca supporters point out that while $10 million may not be enough to get through the legal hearings phase of the process, the NRC could certainly release the safety evaluation reports (SERs), which give the scientific/technical conclusions of NRC staff (which almost everyone believes concluded that Yucca Mountain met the requirements).

Perspective on Macfarlane’s appointment

Macfarlane

As for the NRC chairman position, the selection of Macfarlane was clearly political, as was the selection of her predecessor. It is clear that one of the primary, if not the primary, basis for her selection was her opposition to Yucca Mountain. It’s clear that opposition to Yucca was a requirement (i.e., a litmus test) for being considered for NRC chairman; a testament to the power of Senate Majority Leader Reid. Macfarlane’s background is in geology and public policy, with some experience in nuclear waste issues. She has very little background or experience in the area of nuclear power or nuclear reactor technology. (Then again, neither did her predecessor.)

NEI’s acquiescence to Macfarlane’s selection as chairman is either a sign that they know that they won’t be able to get anything better, or that they are more focused on reactor issues and are willing to let Yucca go by the wayside. (It is true that, frankly, long term on-site storage of used fuel does not represent a significant cost, in the grand scheme of things.)

Jaczko’s conditioning his leaving on the appointment of a successor was politically shrewd, in that it gave the advantage to Reid and Obama. Refusal to accept anti-Yucca nominees by Yucca supporters in Congress would have simply led to Jaczko staying on indefinitely. Thus, the choice was clearly between Jaczko or another Yucca opponent. My only question is, couldn’t NEI, and other industry supporters (in Congress, etc..), have held out for a Yucca opponent who also knows a thing or two about nuclear power/reactors?

Macfarlane may be right that Yucca may not be the very best repository site anywhere in the country, and yes it would be ideal to have both local and state consent for a repository (note that Yucca DOES have local consent). But that’s not the point, at least as far as the Yucca license application is concerned. The question is whether Yucca is good enough to meet the requirements (impeccable requirements that far exceed those applied to any other waste stream). After spending billions on Yucca analysis, the American public deserves to at least know if Yucca would have met the requirements, and if it remains a viable disposal option (if we ever decided to use it).

All indications are, however, that Macfarlane will continue to do what Jaczko has done, which is to use administrative tricks and the lack of funding excuse to effectively halt the licensing process. She will probably also try to prevent the release of the SERs (which show that the repository passed the NRC staff’s objective, scientific evaluations). Whatever you believe about policy, whether or not Yucca passed the specified technical requirements is a matter of simple fact/truth. How can anyone in good conscience favor the suppression of the truth? I find the actions of Jaczko (along with Reid, possibly Obama, and soon to be Macfarlane) in this specific area to be unconscionable.

Yucca Mountain's north crest

I’ve always believed that the release of the SERs, or having Yucca pass the NRC licensing review, would be of significant value even if a political/policy decision were made to not proceed with the repository. A significant fraction of the public is laboring under the false notion that there is no practical or technical solution to the waste problem (i.e., they don’t understand that it is purely a political problem that has been technically solved). This is a significant source of opposition to nuclear. If we go back to the drawing board (in a quest to find a “consent-based” repository), without getting it on record that Yucca passed the (impeccable) technical requirements and is a technically viable solution, the public will go on believing the false premise that there is not (and may never be) an acceptable technical solution to the waste problem. This will have a negative impact on public support for new reactors going forward.

With Macfarlane at the helm, and any funding for completing the licensing review likely to be blocked by Reid, the only hope for completing the licensing review may be in the courts. Let’s hope that the courts understand that the political will of one man (Reid) does NOT represent the will of Congress. Many votes have already made clear that large bipartisan majorities in both houses support Yucca, and that it is only the power of one man, over both legislation and appropriations, that is causing the current situation. Given that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act was passed into law (making Congress’ intent at that time clear), and that finishing the application still reflects the will of the great majority of legislators, the court should see that finishing the application is the clear “will of Congress”, one senator’s undue influence over the budget and appropriations process notwithstanding.

Perspective on court decision

As for the court decision throwing out the NRC’s waste confidence ruling, all I can say is that I hope the optimists are right (i.e., that it’s just a matter of doing some more work or that the ruling is a means by which the government will be pressured to move a waste solution forward). Personally, the decision makes me a bit nervous. The anti-nukes seem to believe that it will lead to blockage or shutdown of reactors.

Can we be sure that the government (or courts) will not take such a (drastic) step? What will be sufficient to satisfy the court? Will centralized long-term storage facilities be enough, or will we need a repository (or at least tangible progress in that regard)? Or will further analysis into technical issues of very-long-term dry storage be sufficient? Again, this is an area where having a licensed repository would be of value, even if the political/policy decision (at present) is not to pursue it.

I personally take issue with the court’s characterization of stored nuclear fuel as “a dangerous long-term health and environmental risk”. As someone who works in the dry used fuel storage field, I’m confident that the risks of long-term storage are negligible. The issue of whether fuel is stored in pools or in dry storage casks is independent of the issue of how long it takes to establish a repository. The result of a lack of (or delay in) a repository is increased dry fuel storage (not pool storage) especially given that confidence ruling considered the period after the plants are closed/decommissioned (where all fuel is in dry storage). There are few, if any, conceivable mechanisms that would cause a significant release from dry storage casks. Tangible or significant public health impacts are all but inconceivable. Also, inspections of casks, which have been loaded for ~20 years, are not showing significant degradation of the cask materials.

In addition, one must ask the question, “dangerous compared to what”? The (obvious) fact is that the risks associated with long-term dry fuel storage are negligible compared to the public health and environmental risks associated with the fossil fuel plants that would be used in lieu of nuclear plants, if nuclear plants were closed (or not built) over the lack of a waste confidence rule. One would hope that the NRC would mention such issues (risk comparisons that look at the bigger picture) in the revised waste confidence evaluations required by the court. But alas, I wouldn’t hold my breath . . .

I’ve been advocating looking at the bigger picture (i.e., the risks of nuclear compared to the fossil fuel alternatives) for some time now, with respect to a lot of things, such as deciding nuclear regulations and how strict they should be. I’d love to see a cost vs. public health risk benefit analysis for the Vogtle basemat rebar issue. Any remotely reasonable evaluation would conclude: “use as is”. But, of course, no such evaluation will be done (“verbatim compliance!”).

There’s one positive development in this area, however. The American Nuclear Sociery has taken a courageous stand in its Fukushima Committee Report, where it suggests that the federal government quantitatively assess the relative risks/impacts between nuclear and other energy sources. Hopefully, the conclusions of such an evaluation would be considered when making decisions on future requirements for nuclear plants. It may perhaps lead to recognition that if such requirements were to result in nuclear plant closures, public health risks and environmental impacts would increase due to the use of fossil fuels instead.

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Hopf

Jim Hopf is a senior nuclear engineer with more than 20 years of experience in shielding and criticality analysis and design for spent fuel dry storage and transportation systems. He has been involved in nuclear advocacy for 10+ years, and is a member of the ANS Public Information Committee. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Write your own joke

by A. Priori

Summer is here, and while I’ve been on emeritus status at Excited State University for many years, my seasonal rhythms are still those of academia. This means that I’m loafing now, even when it comes to making wisecracks.

I’m willing, however, to guide others in the production of japery, and fortunately the real world has provided us with some excellent raw material. What follows is a direct quote from a licensee event report posted on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Web site on June 12. The reporting organization was the NRC itself, through its Region I Office:

“On May 8, 2012, Region I identified that a survey instrument check source containing approximately 2.64 micro-curies of strontium-90 was missing. The source is believed to have been inside of a metal cabinet that was inadvertently discarded on May 2, 2012, during the removal of excess property in preparation for relocation of the regional office. The source is not considered to be a hazard to public health and safety due to its low activity level and beta emission decay path.

Upon discovery, the Region implemented several immediate actions including: attempts to locate and retrieve the source; confirmation that the remaining instrument check source was properly secured; and, a courtesy notification regarding this issue to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In addition, a review of this event, consistent with the NRC’s Management Directives, was initiated to identify and implement appropriate follow-up actions to prevent recurrence.

This report is being submitted in accordance with NRC MD 10.131 Part V for missing material in a quantity greater than 10 times the quantity specified in 10 CFR 20 Appendix C.”

NRC’s Region I is moving from an office in King of Prussia, Pa., to another office in King of Prussia, Pa. The name of the town alone is always good for a chuckle. In your joke development process, feel free to take a wider perspective: NRC’s Headquarters is also getting ready for a move, as the third White Flint North building is finished and the parts of the agency that have been overflowed elsewhere join up again with the HQ folks in the first two buildings.

Sadly, it’s too late to use this in the Nuclear Energy Institute’s joke-writing contest, which expired June 15. You’re welcome to post your jokes here as comments, but all you’ll win is the admiration of your peers.

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A. Priori

A. Priori is the heatstroke-induced hallucination of E. Michael Blake, Senior Editor of Nuclear News, the monthly magazine of ANS. Blake would like to point out that he has no opportunities to loaf, in any season, but he’s just a whiner.

NRC nominations hearing in US Senate today

A hearing titled “Hearing on the nomination of Allison Macfarlane and re-nomination of Kristine L. Svinicki to be Members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission” was held in the US Senate this morning starting at 10:00 AM EDT.

The hearing was webcast live starting at 10:00 AM.

Please see this earlier Nuclear Cafe post for more details.

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ANS Honors NRC Commissioner Kristine Svinicki with Presidential Citation

NRC Commissioner Kristine L. Svinicki (Photo: NRC)

American Nuclear Society (ANS) President Eric Loewen today announced that Ms. Kristine Svinicki of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will receive a 2012 ANS Presidential Citation. Commissioner Svinicki will receive her award during the ANS President’s Special Session at the ANS Annual Conference: “Nuclear Science and Technology: Managing the Global Impact of Economic and Natural Events,” being held June 24-28 in Chicago, Illinois.

“Commissioner Svinicki has demonstrated leadership and adherence to the highest standards of professional conduct while serving on the Commission,” said Loewen. “She combines an unshakeable demeanor with proven technical and professional qualifications, and we support her nomination to a second term as NRC Commissioner.”

The Presidential Citation recognizes the following achievements:

Commissioner Kristine L. Svinicki—For courageous leadership, dedication to public service, and unwavering commitment to a regulatory framework that enables and facilitates safe and secure use of nuclear technology.

Commissioner Svinicki is a nuclear engineer and policy advisor and has extensive nuclear technology experience. She is a longstanding ANS member, where she served two terms on the ANS Special Committee on Nuclear Non-Proliferation. In 2006—before she was nominated to be NRC Commissioner—the Society honored her with a Presidential Citation in recognition of her contributions to the nuclear energy, science, and technology policies of the United States.

Commissioner Svinicki’s current term is set to expire on June 30, 2012. President Obama has nominated her for a second five-year term. A U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing on the re-nomination of Commissioner Svinicki and the nomination of Dr. Allison Macfarlane—who would serve the rest of current NRC Chair Gregory Jaczko’s term, which expires at the end of June 2013—is scheduled for Wednesday, June 13, 2012.

For more information about the conference, visit www.ans.org.  For information about ANS Honors and Awards, visit http://www.new.ans.org/honors/.

Facts and fears at NRC public review in Vermont

By Howard Shaffer

View from VermontVermont Yankee’s annual NRC performance review for the previous calendar year was held May 23, in Brattleboro Union High School, within 10 miles of the plant. In previous years, annual reports and state meetings have been held here, and in the Vernon Elementary School, across the road from the plant. The town of Vernon stopped hosting plant-related events due to behavior of some attendees.

This year’s meeting was in two parts. The first was set up like a science fair, with displays and the opportunity to move from one exhibit to another to talk individually with presenters. The second part of the meeting was held in the same room after the removal of displays, with a traditional setup of chairs for attendees, a table and chairs for NRC officials, and a moderator to manage a Q&A session. Events during this second part of the meeting were covered in “The Politics of Intimidation.”

An important display

BWR MK I Containment and Reactor Building, showing location of used fuel

One of the displays in the “science fair” part of the meeting was a cutaway model of Vermont Yankee’s reactor building. The model showed the fuel pool wall and liner depicted with clear plastic. In the pool were models of fuel assemblies, and the walls were blue to show the location of the water. This model clearly demonstrated that the fuel is several stories below the refueling floor, behind a thick outer wall, the thick pool wall, and pool liner. Obviously a great deal of work and expense had gone into this model. It seems to have been made to address one of the issues that “anti-nukes” continually raise against boiling water reactors with the MK I containment: an alleged vulnerability to aircraft attack by intentional collision.

An attempt to explain

As I approached the table with the model, a member of the public was examining it. Behind the table was the staff member assigned to explain it to the attendees. I joined the conversation. I mentioned my background as a startup engineer at the plant and pointed out that the fuel is behind very thick walls, as shown in the model. Also, the top of the pool is at the refueling floor level, and the water surface just below, as clearly shown in the model. It was pointed out an aircraft would not be a good “battering ram” against the reinforced concrete walls.

The reaction

Walking away with the member of the public  toward the next display, I continued to explain that the industry had carefully studied the effects of intentional large plane crashes into plants. The study found that the only parts of a large commercial jet of concern are the engines. The turbine shaft acts like a spear. The rest of the plane is only a little more than heavy duty aluminum foil, when a plane is used as a battering ram. The tragic crash at the Pentagon on 9/11 proved that.

Stopping, turning, and looking at me, I could see the fear in this person’s eyes as she said “I don’t buy it.”

Enhancing fear

During the second part of the meeting, nearly all the speakers were opposed to Vermont Yankee and nuclear power. Many statements and questions raised or reinforced fears.

One speaker listed all the core damaging accidents in the history of nuclear power, then said that the frequency was much more than had been predicted and “promised.” As I recall from hearing Professor Rassmussen describe the results of his work [WASH-1400 "Reactor Safety Study" (1975)], the frequency he stressed was for core damaging accidents resulting in releases to the public. Core damaging accidents not resulting in releases to the public would be expected to be more frequent. After the Three Mile Island accident he reviewed his report, and found that an accident like TMI was predicted to have already happened before then!

A calm request

Former State Representative Sarah Edwards, from Brattleboro, complemented the opponents for being there, and for being persistent. She said that she had visited Waterford, Yucca Mountain, WIPP, and Oak Ridge, and was on the Vermont State nuclear advisory panel; all while a member of the legislature. She asked that used fuel in the pool be moved to dry casks as soon as possible. Edwards said that she understood that used fuel had to stay in the pool for five years after being discharged form the reactor. As I understand it, this request could be fulfilled, once the Vermont Public Service Board modifies the plant’s Certificate of Public Good. Currently, the plant is approved only for dry cask storage sufficient to reach the end of the original 40-year license—which was this past March.

The future

On June 4, the State of Vermont filed an appeals brief in the US Second Court of Appeals, as expected. The consensus is that this case, Entergy v. Vermont, will go to the Supreme Court.

The Vermont Public Service Board is conducting an examination for a new Certificate of Public Good for Vermont Yankee. There will be a public hearing in November in Vernon, the plant’s location.

End note

David Ropeik, former Boston environmental journalist and expert in risk communication at the Harvard School of Public Health, is well known to the American Nuclear Society’s Northeastern section, having spoken at and attending our meetings over the years. His recent article on “what controls what we think” is highly worthwhile reading. The feelings and behavior at the NRC’s May 23 meeting confirm his conclusions.

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Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years. He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, and his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in nuclear public outreach. 

He is coordinator for the Vermont Pilot Project.  Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Macfarlane and Svinicki NRC nomination hearing June 13

A US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing titled “Hearing on the nomination of Allison Macfarlane and re-nomination of Kristine L. Svinicki to be Members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission” will be held Wednesday, June 13, at 10:00 AM EDT. The hearing will be webcast live starting at 10:00 AM.

President Barack Obama nominated Macfarlane to be an NRC commissioner and will designate her as NRC chair upon appointment. Macfarlane is an associate professor of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University (GMU), a position she has held since 2006. Macfarlane served as a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future from March 2010 to January 2012.

Macfarlane would serve the remainder of current NRC Chair Gregory Jaczko’s term, which expires at the end of June 2013. On May 21, Jaczko announced that he would resign his position as soon as his successor was confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

President Obama has re-nominated current NRC Commissioner Svinicki for a second five-year term. Svinicki’s current term is set to expire at the end of June 2012. On May 14, the American Nuclear Society issued a statement urging the U.S. Senate to act promptly on Svinicki’s nomination so that there would be no interruption in her service.

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Starting a new nuclear construction industry is hard work

By Rod Adams

Construction at Vogtle units 3 and 4 and VC Summer units 2 and 3 is not going as well as many nuclear advocates would like. I’m not surprised, but neither are most people who have been involved in complex construction and technology projects that involve a lot of moving parts and numerous interested parties. Nothing that happens at those projects will change my mind that atomic fission is a superior way to produce heat and boil water. There is little chance that events at those individual projects will convince me that there is something fundamentally wrong with the advanced passive reactor plant design.

There are some important lessons that need to be shared widely so that the chances of them recurring is minimized, but it is difficult to completely eliminate the challenges that will inevitably be a part of all major construction projects. For the nuclear industry and all nuclear advocates, it is important to recognize that even if things were going perfectly, there would still be plenty of negative publicity coming from the professional opposition to what we do. We are involved in starting up a new nuclear construction industry, almost from scratch.

For the sake of brevity, I will put the current issues at Vogtle and Summer into three categories—backlog of design changes from the certified design, delays that were partially caused by licenses and permits whose issuance was resisted at every step of the process, and an error that resulted in laying concrete rebar that did not match the licensed standard requirements.

Licensing

Soon after the issuance of the AP1000 design certification and the associated combined operating license for Vogtle, the project leaders began the process of submitting design license amendments so that they could implement changes and refinements. Many of the requested design modifications are based on lessons learned during the construction of similar units in China. Unfortunately for the project owners, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has no process for handling license amendments that can keep up with the needs of a construction project.

The “one step” licensing process that is described in 10 CFR 52 (CFR–Code of Federal Regulations) results in the issuance of an operating license based on a certified design. The underlying assumption by the regulators is that the design is complete and will not be changed during construction. Any changes to the design as certified need an operating license amendment.

Even if the change is an improvement, it requires a rigorous NRC evaluation and approval process designed to prevent unintended negative consequences directly affecting reactor safety. The operating license amendment process is quite different from the one used to process changes when the owners build based on a construction permit and request their operating license after completing construction and low power testing.

The problem with one step licensing is that it is a poor assumption to believe that it is possible to build first-of-a-kind (FOAK) construction projects without making any changes to a design that was completely conceived on paper and inside computers. Reality often does not match models. In addition, construction codes and standards are continuously evolving; even though the process is slow, there are inevitably going to be changes that might affect a design that was first submitted for certification 10 years before construction actually started.

The backlog of potential changes for Vogtle and Summer developed because the leaders were understandably reluctant to submit any changes while the design certification work was still in progress. There is not much that the project leaders can do at this point other than to be even more reluctant than they already are to accept any suggestions that would require a license amendment.

With the clarity made possible by hindsight, the Part 52 one-step licensing process might not be the best choice for any FOAK nuclear power plant, even if similar units have been built outside of the United States. US licensing requirements are different enough to require what is essentially a new design and a different construction process.

The opposition’s strategy: delay

It is hard for nuclear advocates to fail to notice that the organized opposition—which did everything in its power to slow the licensing and permitting processes required for Vogtle and Summer—are engaging in “I told you so” crowing about the high cost of new nuclear plant construction. Every story about a potential cost overrun is accompanied by quotes from groups like Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Arjun Makhijani’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. (Note: Makhijani is famous for fantasizing about a carbon free, nuclear free energy supply.)

Arjun Makhijani, the president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, said efforts to rush such a complex project to completion set the scene for delays and rising costs.

“The cost increase should not be a surprise; rather it is déjà vu all over again,” he said. “It would be much better if construction were suspended until all design issues were resolved.”

(Source: Augusta Chronicle (May 11, 2012) Price of Vogtle expansion could increase $900 million)

There is no secret to the opposition’s recipe for making any construction project excessively costly. All they have to do is to force schedule delays and costs inevitably increase due to financing, idle labor, labor force reconstitution, issues associated with supply chains, and inflation. Project managers are rarely applauded for missing deadlines, even if they adhere to a carefully prepared, logical schedule that gets pushed to the right (on a timeline) by external forces. Once delays have been imposed, costs will increase again if efforts are made to revise schedules and accelerate work to attempt to get back on schedule.

Supply chain issues are especially difficult to explain to people who have not worked in an industrial setting. When the parts that are needed are large and custom made, they need to be ordered months to years in advance. Once those parts are finished, the manufacturer needs to ship or needs to get paid for storage.

If the parts require special environmental controls to ensure that they do not deteriorate, storage charges increase dramatically. Suppliers who have to delay order shipments or who receive purchase orders several months after they expected the orders to arrive become more reluctant to do business. (That means that they start negotiations for the next order at a higher unit price.) Suppliers also logically delay investing in production capacity until after the orders—and the associated payments—actually arrive.

Rebar

The final current issue associated with Vogtle and Summer is a specific error that resulted in rebar (reinforcement bars of steel that strengthen concrete) being laid at both projects that did not match the concrete standard that was included as part of the certified design. Correcting the error will result in a several month delay at both projects while rebar is removed, new rebar is cut and the new rebar is laid. No concrete can be poured before that happens and there are many steps in the construction process that cannot take place until the concrete is in place. Management is going to be distracted.

The source of the error has not been determined and the results of the investigation may never be made public. What seems to have happened is that someone or some group on the project team decided to use a reinforced concrete standard that was updated after the license was approved. That standard specified a different rebar configuration. The design change was prepared, but never approved by the NRC. Somehow, the rebar was installed to the newer standard even though the license amendment had not been approved. I suspect that there was a communications breakdown that prevented the installers in the field from knowing the exact status of the design. It might have been as simple as a drawing or specification that specified a standard without specifying the exact revision of the standard.

It is going to be an expensive lesson. It is one that can be avoided by projects that have not yet begun construction. In nuclear construction projects, effective change control and effective communications plans are essential.

Reviving a slumbering giant of an industry is hard work. There will be plenty of successes to celebrate, but I would not be a “nuke” if I did not seek to learn as much as possible from the difficulties experienced by others and if I did not seek to document those lessons so that others can also avoid making the same errors. That is part of our learning culture.

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Adams

Rod Adams is a nuclear advocate with extensive small nuclear plant operating experience. Adams is a former engineer officer, USS Von Steuben. He is the host and producer of The Atomic Show Podcast. Adams has been an ANS member since 2005. He writes about nuclear technology at his own blog, Atomic Insights.

President Obama names Allison Macfarlane as NRC Commissioner to replace Jaczko

President Barack Obama today announced his intent to nominate Allison Macfarlane to be U.S. Nuclear Regulatory (NRC) commissioner and to designate her as NRC chair upon her appointment. Macfarlane is an associate professor of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University (GMU), a position she has held since 2006. Macfarlane served as a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future from March 2010 to January 2012.

Macfarlane received a B.Sc. from the University of Rochester and a Ph.D. in Geology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She co-authored an article titled “Nuclear proliferation: Time to bury plutonium,” which appears in the May 9, 2012, edition of Nature.

Macfarlane would serve the remainder of current NRC Chair Gregory Jaczko’s term, which is set to expire at the end of June 2013. This past Monday, May 21, Jaczko announced that he would resign his position as soon as his successor is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

This nomination will join President Obama’s nomination of NRC Commissioner Kristine Svinicki for a second five-year term in awaiting action by the U.S. Senate. Svinicki’s current term is set to expire at the end of June 2012. On May 14, the American Nuclear Society issued a statement urging the U.S. Senate to act promptly on Ms. Svinicki’s nomination so that there is no interruption in her service.

Immediate reactions to the Macfarlane nomination

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D., Nev.) issued the following statement:

I am confident that like her predecessor, Dr. Allison Macfarlane will make preserving the safety and security of American citizens her top priority as chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Dr. Macfarlane’s education and experience, in particular her service on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, make her eminently qualified to lead the NRC for the foreseeable future. The nuclear industry has a perfect opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to safety by supporting Dr. Macfarlane’s nomination.

I continue to have grave concerns about Kristine Svinicki’s record on the commission. But I believe the best interests of the public would be served by moving the nominations of Dr. Macfarlane and Ms. Svinicki together before Ms. Svinicki’s term expires at the end of June, to ensure that we have a fully functioning NRC. Republicans claim to share that goal, and I hope they will work with us to make it a reality.

Marv Fertel, president and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute, issued the following statement:

The nuclear energy industry congratulates Professor Macfarlane on her selection by the president. She has been an active contributor to policy debates in the nuclear energy field for many years.

Given the importance of having a fully functioning, five-member commission to carry out the NRC’s safety mission, the nuclear energy industry urges the administration to submit her confirmation paperwork as expeditiously as possible. It would not serve the public interest to have her nomination linger with the term of Commissioner Kristine Svinicki set to expire at the end of June. We urge the Senate to confirm both Commissioner Svinicki and Professor Macfarlane expeditiously.

The NRC must continue to be an effective, credible regulator if the nation is to maximize nuclear energy’s role in achieving America’s economic growth and energy security.

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Reactions to NRC Chairman Jaczko resignation announcement

By Paul Bowersox

On May 21, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Chairman Gregory Jaczko announced that he would resign his position as soon as his successor is confirmed (Jaczko resignation statement). The New York Times in its reporting of the story noted:  “The White House said it would name a successor ‘soon,’ but it is unlikely that anyone will be confirmed to succeed Dr. Jaczko for many months, ensuring continued turmoil at the deeply divided agency.

Reaction to resignation

Jaczko

Reaction to this announcement “inside the Beltway” was swift and partisan. U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.): “The resignation of Chairman Jaczko will close an ugly chapter and allow the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to focus on its mission—ensuring the safe operations of the nation’s nuclear plants.

Jaczko clashed with other commissioners during his tenure, and the other four commissioners took the unprecedented step of signing a letter alleging bullying by the chairman, resulting in an internal commission investigation and congressional hearings in the House and Senate (December 15, March 15). Jaczko was also severely criticized for terminating a proposal to build a national high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

White House reaction

White House spokesman Clark Stevens: “A strong and effective NRC is crucial to protecting public health and safety, promoting defense and security, and protecting the environment, and we intend to nominate a new chairman soon.

Congressional reaction: Republicans

Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Environment Committee James Inhofe (R., Okla.): “Given the numerous reports of Chairman Jaczko’s failed leadership at the NRC, it was right of him to step down today.

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.): “Dr. Jaczko’s troubling behavior as chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had clearly resulted in a hostile work environment for women that ran counter to acceptable norms of workplace equality and that threatened to undermine the mission of the NRC itself.

Congressional reaction: Democrats

On the other side of the aisle. appraisals were more favorable.  Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.): “For his efforts to hold the nuclear industry accountable, Chairman Jaczko was subjected to repeated personal attacks made by some of his colleagues and pro-industry advocates in Congress. I am extremely disappointed he is leaving the Commission.”

Rep. Edward Markey (D., Mass.): “Greg has led a Sisyphean fight against some of the nuclear industry’s most entrenched opponents of strong, lasting safety regulations.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: “I thank Chairman Jaczko for always fighting for the health and safety of the American people. I look forward to the President’s nomination of a successor that will carry the same level of concern…

The Nuclear Energy Institute

Marvin Fertel, president and chief executive officer of The Nuclear Energy Institute, was balanced in his appraisal: “In the seven years that Chairman Jaczko has served as a member of the commission we recognized his commitment to set the highest standards for the safe operation of the nation’s 104 nuclear power plants and transparency throughout the nuclear regulatory framework. We have had differences with the chairman on how best to achieve our mutually shared safety goals. But to his credit we’ve always had open lines of communications and a willingness to respectfully discuss the issues.

Reading the tea leaves

Speculation and conjecture concerning Jaczko’s eventual successor immediately began swirling around the internet. The Energy Collective quotes nuclear industry analyst Dan Yurman: “If the White House is smart, they’ll nominate [current Commissioner] Bill Magwood as a successor, in order to minimize political fallout” while also noting that Magwood is controversial and unpopular among environmental groups.

Others who may be considered, according to buzz in the nuclear industry, include Bill Borchardt, executive director for Operations at the NRC, who has been with the NRC since 1983 and enjoys a very favorable reputation as an exceptional federal regulator; and Allison MacFarlane, who has served on National Academy of Sciences panels on nuclear energy and nuclear weapons issues and was a member of the White House’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. Are these dark horse candidates? Who else will be in the running?

Inside the Beltway, only the tea leaves can portend.

Addendum Friday, May 25:  Tea leaves no longer necessary.  President Obama names Allison Macfarlane as NRC Commissioner to replace Jaczko.”

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Bowersox

Paul Bowersox serves on the staff of the Outreach Department at the American Nuclear Society.

 

 

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko announces resignation

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Chairman Gregory Jaczko announced today that he would resign his position as soon as a successor is confirmed. Jaczko has served on the 5-member commission since January 2005 and was named chairman in May 2009. His current term as commissioner was set to expire in June 2013.

In reporting the resignation, the New York Times noted:

The practical impact of the announcement is not clear. Dr. Jaczko’s term as a member of the commission ends in 13 months, but the commissioner who serves as chairman does so at the pleasure of the president, meaning that he would be replaced in January if Mr. Obama does not win a second term. Given the slow pace of Senate confirmations, especially in an election year in which control of the White House and the Senate could change, it is not clear that the Senate will approve a replacement before the election in November, and it is more unlikely to do so if Mr. Obama loses and becomes a lame duck.

Below is Jaczko’s official statement.

STATEMENT OF NRC CHAIRMAN GREGORY B. JACKZO

After nearly eight years on the Commission, I am announcing my resignation as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, effective upon the confirmation of my successor. My responsibility and commitment to safety will continue to be my paramount priority after I leave the Commission and until my successor is confirmed.

After an incredibly productive three years as Chairman, I have decided this is the appropriate time to continue my efforts to ensure public safety in a different forum. This is the right time to pass along the public safety torch to a new chairman who will keep a strong focus on carrying out the vital mission of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

During this last year alone, the agency has responded with an impressive focus on safety under my leadership to a number of diverse challenges including the accident at the Fukushima Da-ichi reactors in Japan, and a number of severe incidents at reactors in the United States ranging from flooding, an earthquake and tornados to damaged plant structures and steam generator problems. In addition to this vigilant oversight, together we identified and began to implement lessons learned from Fukushima and completed our rigorous safety reviews for the first new reactor licenses in 30 years.

Throughout my time on the Commission as both Chairman and Commissioner, the agency finalized regulations to ensure new reactors are designed to withstand an aircraft impact, completed the development and implementation of a safety culture policy statement, enhanced our focus on openness and transparency, and enhanced awareness of and worked to resolve some of the most long-standing generic issues facing the nuclear industry, including sump strainer issues and fire protection. Beyond the power reactor work, substantial progress was made in establishing a more transparent and effective oversight program for fuel cycle facilities. In addition, radioactive sources of concern are now fully protected with our new security regulations and source tracking system. We stand as a stronger and more decisive regulator now because of these years of efforts. I am truly humbled by the agency’s success.

Serving the American people as the Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been an honor and privilege. The mission of this agency—protecting people and the environment, and providing for the common defense and security—could not be more clear, or more critical. Our collective focus on that mission was, I believe, one of the primary reasons the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was one of the best places to work in the federal government throughout my tenure. The highly talented and dedicated professional staff, including dozens who have served on my personal staff over the years, have been instrumental in fulfilling the agency’s mission.

I will always be grateful for the opportunity of having served alongside the staff for all of these years, and for all that we accomplished together. I am looking forward to bringing all I have learned from my work and focus on safety at this agency with me as I move forward.

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Nuclear capacity factors in May Nuclear News

The May issue of Nuclear News magazine is available in hard copy and electronically for American Nuclear Society members (must enter ANS user name and password in Member Center).  The issue contains the following feature articles:

  • U.S. capacity factors: The oldest reactors keep pace, by E. Michael Blake
  • From its birthplace: A symposium on the future of nuclear power, by Larry Foulke
  • INPO/WANO performance indicators: U.S. fleet posted strong performance in 2011

Other news in the issue: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issues combined construction and operating licenses for two new reactors at Summer site; the Tennessee Valley Authority announces late 2015 startup for Watts Bar-2 and an additional cost of $1.5 million to $2 million; the NRC issues confirmatory action letter on San Onofre restart plans; the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board allows a challenge to Limerick’s license renewal; the NRC’s staff and the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards favor a 15-percent power uprates for Turkey Point-3 and -4; Gallup poll shows U.S. public’s support for nuclear power is near pre-Fukushima levels; the NRC cites PSEG Nuclear for security infraction at Hope Creek/Salem; South Korea hosts second Nuclear Security Summit; the NRC to establish new security regulations for the use and transport of radioactive materials; the National Nuclear Security Administration sends last shipment of high-enriched uranium to France; major milestone reached in waste treatment project at the Idaho Site; and underground waste tanks at the  Savannah River Site are being readied for closure.

Also, the low-level waste repository in Texas clears a regulatory hurdle; the Hanford Site’s Plutonium Fabrication Pilot Plant/308 Building is demolished; the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future urges the NRC to begin work on generic regulations for nuclear waste management; Cameco acquires Areva’s share of the Millennium project, receives license renewals for three facilities; Energy Resources of Australia explores potential for underground mining at Ranger 3 Deeps; Peninsula Energy commits to Lance projects in Wyoming;  E.ON and RWE drop plans to build nuclear plants in the United Kingdom; Babcock-led consortium takes over Dounreay site in Scotland; GE Hitachi and Britain’s National Nuclear Laboratory sign agreement to dispose of plutonium in the UK; Berkeley boilers shipped from England to France for recycling; With no investors, Bulgaria drops Belene nuclear plant project; and fuel loading begins at Canada’s refurbished Point Lepreau plant.

And there is much more.

Don’t go a month without your Nuclear News!

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The Vermont Yankee Follies Continue

By Howard Shaffer

Since March 22 of this year, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant has been operating via a 20-year license extension granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The State of Vermont has been barred from attempting to shut down the plant by federal court injunctions. Nonetheless, the follies surrounding the plant continue, with all stakeholders participating: the legal system, the legislature, plant supporters, and plant opponents.

The legal system

Entergy Vermont Yankee’s suit against the State of Vermont, which was found in Entergy’s favor, has been appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Briefs are due next month. This suit involves federal authority versus “States Rights.” It is generally expected that it will be appealed to the Supreme Court. That might mean a decision at the end of the court’s 2013–2014 term, in the spring of 2014.

The NRC has been sued for improperly issuing a license renewal to the Vermont Yankee plant, on the grounds that the NRC does not have a valid water quality permit from the state. Such permits are issued by states under federal law. The plant and the NRC maintain that they do have a valid permit: the one originally issued. The commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, a lawyer, argued the state’s case on May 9.

The Vermont Public Service Board (not to be confused with the Department of Public Service) that regulates state utilities has decided to start all over on Vermont Yankee’s application for a Certificate of Public Good. The board recently held a conference of the parties to get all the issues on the table. The conference also discussed the option of starting all over by opening a new docket, or scrubbing the existing docket of issues struck down by the court when it found in the plant’s favor. A new docket has been opened. A prehearing conference was held, and the board just issued the schedule for proceedings. There will be public hearings in November, followed by sessions with testimony, rebuttal etc. Final briefs will be due August 26, 2013. A decision would follow, and could take months.

Plant opponents held a rally at the plant offices, 10 miles from the plant, attended by more than 1000 people on the first day of the plant’s extended NRC license. Non-violence training had been held, and 130 protestors were arrested for trespassing. The state’s attorney for the county refused once again to take them to court, opting to not waste court time to provide the trespassers with a forum. The rally and arrests provided plenty of media coverage.

A small group of grandmothers was again in court for blocking the plant’s gate. They acted the day after hurricane Irene did major damage in the state, while first responders were busy. Their action on that day was not popular. Their case was scheduled for trial later. It will be interesting to see what happens. (The “Grannies” have claimed that radiation permanently damages the gene pool, a discredited and dangerous argument from the early Eugenics movement—see Yes Vermont Yankee articles here and here.)

Anti-nuke grannies

 

 

 

 

The legislature

Vermont’s citizen legislature recently adjourned after its annual four-month session. The legislature passed a new tax on Vermont Yankee to make up for revenue lost when agreements based on plant purchase and used fuel storage expired. The agreements ended when the state’s Certificate of Public Good (CPG) expired on the same day as the original NRC license. Under state law, an expired CPG remains in effect if renewal proceedings are in progress, which they are. Commentators were quick to point out that the legislature and governor may not like Vermont Yankee, but they don’t mind the revenue it provides them.

The governor has been lampooned for his comments on the legislature’s action on a proposed merger of two electric utilities in the state. One of the utilities was in financial difficulty some years ago, and it was allowed to raise rates to be bailed out. A provision of the agreement was that if the utility were ever sold, the ratepayers and stockholders would be refunded the bailout money.

Now it is proposed to sell the utility for the merger, and the ratepayers are expecting checks for their refunds. The utilities suggest “refunding” the money in the form of energy and money saving investments, claiming that the ratepayers will ultimately save much more than they would gain from direct cash. Many are angry, and the AARP organization has run ads blasting the “non-refund.”

The legislature proposed a bill to order the Public Service Board to require a direct cash refund as part of the merger agreement, which they are reviewing and must approve. The governor wrote to the legislature saying that they should not interfere with the board, because it is the legal body that oversees utilities. Many quickly pointed out that interfering with the board was precisely what the legislature did during Vermont Yankee’s CPG renewal, which led to the federal lawsuit. The governor never objected to that (Yes Vermont Yankee has the details.)

Vermont Yankee’s supporters

We continue our public outreach at every opportunity. Meredith Angwin’s “Yes Vermont Yankee” blog and our “Save Vermont Yankee” Facebook page keep on inspiring supporters.

On April 28, there was a book signing in Keene, N.H., with the author of “Public Meltdown,” Prof. Richard Watts from the University of Vermont. Cheryl Twaorg, whose husband is a senior reactor operator at the Vermont Yankee plant, and Richard Schmidt were there. No opponents showed up, which was surprising, since Antioch New England University, a hotbed of opposition, is in Keene.

Richard Schmidt was on a two-hour radio panel with Meredith Angwin in North Hampton, Mass. The topic was the Vermont Yankee power struggle.

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) David Lochbaum appeared at two Massachusetts events on successive nights. The first night was at Plymouth on a panel sponsored by the Freeze Pilgrim group (that is, Freeze relicensing until all Fukushima fixes are done). Russell Gocht, a graduate student at UMass Lowell, represented nuclear power and plant supporters (American Nuclear Society Northeastern Section member Chuck Adey had lined him up at a recent section meeting). The next night, UCS had a panel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Nuclear supporters and students attended. Steve Stamm provided a report. We had encouraged attendance at these events by providing notification and details.

Our flow of letters to newspapers hasn’t stopped. There are continually issues on the whole spectrum of energy policy and technology that provide a springboard for comment.

Vermont Yankee’s opponents

Plant opponents have not “laid down their sword and shields” either. The Fukushima tragedy has provided grist for them to keep up the attack on the MK I containment design, and bring back an old German study on childhood leukemia around nuclear power plants. A letter promoting the study appeared in the Valley News, and another supporter and I had rebuttals published.

The Vermont Yankee opponents and anti-nuclear groups have allied with the Occupy movement. They held a rally where 130 people were arrested. A nuclear supporter took a picture of a sign showing the linkage. No picture of this sign appeared in the media.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years. He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, and his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in nuclear public outreach. 

He is coordinator for the Vermont Pilot Project.  Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

 

ANS commends President Obama for Svinicki nomination

The American Nuclear Society today issued the following statement:

The American Nuclear Society (ANS) commends President Obama for nominating Kristine Svinicki to a second term on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Ms. Svinicki is a nuclear engineer and policy advisor and is well qualified to continue service as an NRC Commissioner. She has extensive nuclear technology experience. She is a longstanding ANS member, where she served two terms on the ANS Special Committee on Nuclear Non-Proliferation. In 2006, the Society honored her with a Presidential Citation in recognition of her contributions to the nuclear energy, science, and technology policies of the United States.

The ANS believes that U.S. nuclear safety and security interests are best served by having a full roster of NRC commissioners with proven technical and professional qualifications. As such, we urge the U.S. Senate to act promptly on Ms. Svinicki’s nomination so that there is no interruption in her service.

For more information about the American Nuclear Society, please visit www.ans.org.

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No easy road for U.S. nuclear new build

Getting the NRC license is just the first step

By Dan Yurman

Last December, Southern Nuclear had plenty to celebrate on New Year’s Eve. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission had just approved the safety certification for the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor, setting the stage for a decision on February 9, 2012, to issue reactor licenses to build two of them.

As Southern began mobilizing the full scope of its construction activity at its Vogtle site in Georgia, two issues arose that appeared inevitable based on what we know about the nuclear energy industry in the second decade of the 21st century.

First, the federal government continued to drag its feet on fulfilling its commitment to complete the final term sheet of the $8.3 billion loan guarantee for the project. Second, anti-nuclear groups launched a campaign to stop the construction activity.

Southern’s Vogtle project

Southern’s chief executive officer Thomas Fanning is not a man to put all of his eggs in one basket. In response to reports that the Department of Energy might not approve favorable terms on the credit risk premium for an $8.3 billion loan guarantee, he said that the utility has the ability to go to capital markets without it.

The issue at hand is the cost of the “risk premium,” which is the fee the utility must pay the government in return for the loan guarantee. A fee of between 1-2 percent of the amount covered ($83-166 million) is a lot of money, so every point counts.

In addition to working out a rate to charge the utility, the DOE has to contend with political pressure from Congress over the now ill-fated Solyndra loan that cost the government over half a billion dollars. It puts any new decision for any type of loan guarantee under a microscope.

David Frantz, the acting director of the DOE loan program, told a House Appropriations Committee hearing in March that he expects the agency to close on the loan guarantee. However, Alex Flint, vice president of government affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute, told Platts on March 28 that he worries the agency may not meet that commitment. He said that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which shares authority for approval of the loan guarantee with the DOE, “is not an enthusiastic supporter of the program.”

Flint added that the formula used by OMB “is flawed” and will result in a fee that is too high.

Another issue is that the way the collateral for the loan guarantee is calculated creates issues for the multiple equity partners on the Vogtle project. They want to limit their liability to their equity stake in the project. The government is seeking deeper pockets.

Another opening for contentions

An environmental group that wants to stop the construction of the Vogtle site reactors has won a partial victory in U.S. district court. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy won a ruling that will disclose some details of the DOE’s loan guarantee credit subsidy fee information for the $14 billion project.

Federal District Court Chief Judge Royce Lambert also criticized the DOE for denying the original Freedom of Information Act request. He said in his ruling that the DOE had failed to provide adequate justification for withholding the documents.

The Southern Alliance is also one of nine environmental groups that expects to ask the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., to halt construction of the Vogtle project while other courts consider previous legal challenges to the NRC’s action to grant the reactors a license. The NRC rejected the groups’ petition challenges to its February 9 decision.

The groups said that the NRC failed to adequately address safety issues that emerged from the Fukushima crisis. The NRC said it had done so and that reactors under construction would be held accountable for future safety orders based on their application to specific designs.

This is a key issue for Southern, which points out that any halt to construction would be costly in terms of schedule delays. Also, the utility worries that design changes mandated by the NRC could drive up construction costs.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, who was outvoted by 4-1 on the licenses for the Vogtle reactors, said on March 31 that the review of the licenses for two similar AP1000s planned to be built by Progress Energy in Florida could be delayed if he has his way.

He wants all of the Fukushima safety related changes to U.S. reactors, including new starts, in place before any more licenses are issued by the agency.

The other four commissioners have rejected this position, saying that the agency can issue new safety orders whenever necessary and that there is no need to hold up new licenses.

Progress Energy is also in the midst of a merger with Duke Energy, which could change the project’s schedule or possibly end it depending on economic conditions and other financial and market issues for the new combined firm. The closing date for the merger has been postponed once and may be delayed again if state and federal energy regulatory agencies don’t sign off on it.

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Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy, and is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.