Category Archives: spent fuel

A reason for holiday cheer–Significant court victories on nuclear waste

By Jim Hopf

DC PerspectivesA United States appellate court recently handed down two long-awaited rulings with respect to Yucca Mountain. As most observers expected, both decisions were decidedly in nuclear’s favor.

Yucca licensing effort

The court essentially has ruled that the administration’s termination of the Yucca licensing process is illegal, as it is in violation of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA). On August 13 of this year, the court directed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to resume the licensing process, but allowed a comment period to determine how best to proceed.

Yucca_Mountain_2 180x144In a more recent (November 18) ruling, the court has given more specific instructions (summarized in this NRC order). It has ordered the NRC to complete the Safety Evaluation Report (SER) for the repository, and to place all licensing documents that support the Yucca application into its official records system, where they can be accessed by the public. The court also requested that the Department of Energy complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that is required for repository approval.

The administration, as well as the NRC, has tried to argue that even if required by the NWPA, the NRC cannot complete (or continue) the licensing process since Congress has not appropriated the money to do the work. However, it appears that this will not get in the way of the NRC complying with these recent court orders. Documents show that the NRC has $11 million in “unobligated carryover funding” that was originally appropriated in 2011. The NRC staff estimates that $8.3 million will be required to complete the SER.

tour group yucca  mountainA completed SER, with a positive conclusion, would represent a scientific determination by the NRC’s technical staff that the repository would meet all the (strict) technical requirements. Although the full licensing process would still involve steps for legal challenges and other stakeholder input, a final, published SER would essentially settle the scientific/technical question as to whether or not Yucca is a viable solution to the nuclear waste problem.

Nuclear waste fee

The court also handed down a ruling that indefinitely suspends the 0.1 cent/kW-hr fee that the federal government has been collecting from nuclear utilities to support the nuclear waste program. The fund has been collecting ~$750 million per year from nuclear utilities, and has accumulated almost $30 billion, despite the ~$12 billion that has been spent already on the Yucca project. The court order would zero out the fee indefinitely (probably until a new repository project was started, at a new selected site).

The Yucca project has been terminated, or is at least on indefinite hold, and no other repository site is being pursued or characterized. Thus, it is not at all clear what significant (and justifiable) expenses the program would face in the near- to mid-future. Given that any repository operations date has been moved far into the future, any expenses related to shipping and handling fuel have also been moved into the distant future. Thus, the court concluded that there is no reason why additional contributions to the fund are needed and justified.

In an attempt to justify the continuation of the fee, the DOE produced an extraordinarily wide estimated range for the total eventual cost of the repository program; essentially arguing that it had no idea what it would cost. The court sharply disagreed with the DOE’s cost estimates, calling its fee assessment “fundamentally flawed”, “legally inadequate”, and “absolutely useless.” The court, in fact, ridiculed the DOE’s fee assessment (and the absurdly large cost estimate range), saying that it “reminds us of the lawyer’s song in the musical “Chicago”—”Give them the old razzle dazzle.” That is, the court suggested that the DOE was being deliberately dishonest and evasive.

Significant victories

I believe that both decisions will significantly benefit nuclear, for the following reasons:

Impact of SER publication

I’ve always believed that having the NRC publish a SER, which determines that Yucca Mountain is a scientifically and technically sound solution for permanent nuclear waste disposal, would be of significant value to nuclear power, even if the project does not end up going forward.

The fact is that nuclear waste can be stored at plant sites, very safely and at very low cost, due to its miniscule volume. My view is that the biggest negative impact of failure to resolve the nuclear waste problem is that it leaves the public with a false impression that nuclear waste is a unique, intractable problem with no acceptable technical solution. In terms of long-term health/environmental risks, the real truth is that nuclear’s waste problem is more technically solved than that of many, if not most, other industrial waste streams, including those of fossil fuels. The false notion of intractability is a source of significant public opposition to nuclear power. That opposition, in turn, leads to the use of fossil fuels in lieu of nuclear, which results in public health risks and environmental impacts that are orders of magnitude larger than any that will ever be caused by nuclear waste, no matter where or how it’s disposed of.

A SER, with a positive conclusion, published by the NRC’s objective technical staff, could go a long way toward ameliorating those (mostly unfounded) concerns on the part of much of the public. Even if Yucca does not go forward, it can be argued that while Yucca was a technically sound (adequate) solution to the problem, we are choosing to pursue other options that are even better and/or have a greater degree of state and local public support. The point would be that it is not the case that we have no acceptable options (i.e., that we are “doomed” in some respect). We will be able to say that we know the waste will be buried in a way that does not result in significant long-term impacts or risks, given that we know we have at least one technically sound option.

The advantage of a published SER will only be significant if scientists and the nuclear industry and its supporters highlight the SER’s conclusions and strongly make the above case to the public. The publishing of the SER, as well as its scientific significance with respect to the real risks of nuclear waste disposal, will not be noticed by the public unless we make an effort to raise public awareness. A clear message must be sent that the nuclear waste problem has been solved, from a scientific and technical perspective.

Impact of waste fee elimination

As for the waste fee, it’s clear that further contributions are not justified. Not only is there no repository project to spend money on right now, but since any project, and any significant expenditures, have been pushed far down the road, long-term interest on the funds already accrued would likely be sufficient to cover any future expenses. At a minimum, it’s clear that the fee should be suspended until a new site is selected and significant (and justified) program expenditures resume.

One almost has to wonder if the government was deliberately dragging its feet on moving forward with a repository, making the fee essentially a nuclear power tax that the government could use to spend on other things—or, at least, use the trust fund to make the deficit/debt appear smaller. With the fee suspended, and with courts requiring the government to compensate utilities for on-site storage costs, the government may finally have a financial incentive to actually resolve the problem.

The immediate effect of the suspension is to reduce nuclear plant operating costs by 0.1 cents/kW-hr (i.e., $1 per MWh). Given the financial pressures that many older, smaller existing nuclear plants currently (and hopefully temporarily) face, every little bit helps. The fee elimination could well reduce the probability of seeing any more plant closures over the next few years. That, in turn, would significantly benefit both public health and environment, and reduce CO2 emissions.

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Hopf

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.

Nuclear Matinee: Removal of Spent Fuel from Fukushima Pool No. 4

News out of Fukushima-Daiichi this week is encouraging:  TEPCO successfully transferred the first batch of fuel rod assemblies from the reactor unit No. 4 spent fuel pool to a common fuel pool building offering longer-term stable storage conditions. Completing the process for the more than 1,000 fuel rod assemblies that remain at No. 4 is projected to take a year, and will be a first major step toward decommissioning of the site.

The following video may be of interest to those who are watching and following events at Fukushima closely, as it shows the removal of one of the fuel rod assemblies via underwater camera. Much ink has been spilled over the past year concerning perils and hazards of this stage of decommissioning—so one might as well see part of how it’s done.

 

Cask with 22 fuel rod assemblies headed toward common fuel pool building (Kyodo News)

Cask with 22 fuel rod assemblies heads to common fuel pool building (Kyodo News)

 

Nuclear Matinee: Test Missile vs. Spent Fuel Cask

Yes, of course… in super slo-mo.  Today’s Nuclear Matinee features videos of a recent test conducted to simulate an aircraft crash on a HI-STAR 180 spent nuclear fuel transport cask, a product of Holtec International that is completing rigorous certification for the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate.

This will be one tough, and well-sealed, cask.  The missile strike from the US Army’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds launcher was at over 600 miles per hour – and resulted in no breach of containment integrity on the test scaled model:

The results in super slow-motion:

 

The post-impact inspection of the cask showed that it weathered the impact with large performance margins confirming our dynamicists’ predictions…” see this Holtec Highlights release for all the details.

missile vs cask 321x201

 Thanks to NEI Network on YouTube and Holtec International 

Court Finally Rules on Yucca Mountain’s NRC License Review

By Robert L. Ferguson

Shortly after the Obama administration unlawfully terminated the Yucca Mountain Project, three Washington State citizens (Robert L. Ferguson [the author], Bill Lampson, and Gary Petersen) filed suit to hold the President and his administration accountable to the law. Similar suits filed by Aiken County, South Carolina, and the states of Washington and South Carolina; the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners; and Nye County, Nevada, were combined into one lawsuit.

tour group yucca  mountainAfter a year-long wait for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on our lawsuit against the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for illegally stopping the Yucca Mountain license review, the court finally ruled on Tuesday, August 13, to grant us a writ of mandamus ordering the NRC to follow the law and resume the review.

Jaczko

Jaczko

Two of the judges on the three-judge panel agreed that the NRC had violated the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) when its former chairman, Gregory Jaczko, stopped the Yucca Mountain license review at the point when it was nearly complete. Jaczko also withheld the Yucca Mountain Safety Evaluation Reports (SERs), which were due to be released to Congress and the public.

The NRC eventually delivered two volumes of the Yucca Mountain SERs to Capitol Hill, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Heritage Foundation. However, any conclusions about whether or not the site would be safe for storing radioactive waste were omitted from the reports, and the executive summary was gone. The NRC said that the redactions were justified by a Freedom of Information Act exemption that excludes material that could affect a legal process.

One of the legal processes pending against the NRC was our lawsuit, which began in February 2010, and is now at an end in August 2013. It has been a long and personally expensive endeavor, but we accomplished what we set out to do—establish that the President of the United States is not above the law. The court’s ruling confirmed that U.S. laws must be followed regardless of political opinions. It’s regrettable that private citizens had to resort to litigation to compel our elected and appointed government officials to obey the law. I’ve written a book chronicling our legal battle and the politics behind it entitled The Cost of Deceit & Delay: Obama and Reid’s Scheme to Kill Yucca Wastes $Billions.

Kavanaugh

Kavanaugh

Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote in his opinion, “This case raises significant questions about the scope of the Executive’s authority to disregard federal statutes.” He explained, “The underlying policy debate is not our concern. The policy is for Congress and the President to establish as they see fit in enacting statutes, and for the President and subordinate executive agencies to implement within statutory boundaries.” He concluded that the President and federal agencies “may not ignore statutory mandates or prohibitions merely because of policy disagreements with Congress.”  (Link to the Court’s order here.)

Garland

Garland

The NRC has $11.1 million left in an account designated for the Yucca Mountain license review. Chief Judge Merrick Garland wrote in his dissenting opinion that the lack of funds makes the court’s ruling “useless” because it amounts to “little more than ordering the commission to spend part of those funds unpacking its boxes, and the remainder packing them up again.”

We disagree. The NRC testified during the court hearing that $10 million would be enough to at least publicly release the Yucca Mountain SERs. Hopefully, they won’t have to unpack too many boxes to find the un-redacted versions.

The value of disclosing to the public the results of the Department of Energy’s costly scientific evaluation of Yucca Mountain, which is located in Nevada, and the NRC’s review contained in the safety reports will settle once and for all whether or not Yucca is a suitable site for the disposal of high-level waste. If the conclusions of the NRC’s review favor licensing the site, doing so will comply with the NWPA and clear the way for building interim storage facilities for nuclear waste, whether or not construction of a repository at Yucca Mountain is authorized by Congress.

The logical next step would be for Congress to modify the NWPA to allow implementation of the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendations to establish consolidated storage facilities and create a new organization to manage the nuclear waste program. Congress also should amend the NWPA to allow the separation of the defense waste program from the commercial waste program, to establish a clear path for the disposal of defense waste independent of any future decisions regarding reprocessing of commercial spent fuel.

I want to congratulate and thank our legal team, with special thanks to Andy Fitz, the attorney for Washington State who presented and argued the case before the court for the entire team.

The legal team for the case number 11-1271, known as Aiken County, S.C., et al. v. NRC et al., in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, from left to right: Ken Woodington, attorney for South Carolina; James Bradford Ramsey, attorney for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC); the author Bob Ferguson; Barry Hartman, attorney for Ferguson et al.; Andy Fitz, attorney for Washington State; Robert Anderson, attorney for Nye County, NV; Tom Gottshall, attorney for Aiken County, SC; S. Ross Shealy, attorney for Aiken County, SC; and Mary Wilson, attorney for Washington State.

The legal team for the case number 11-1271, known as Aiken County, S.C., et al. v. NRC et al., in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit: (left to right)
Ken Woodington, attorney for South Carolina; James Bradford Ramsey, attorney for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC); the author Bob Ferguson; Barry Hartman, attorney for Ferguson et al.; Andy Fitz, attorney for Washington State; Robert Anderson, attorney for Nye County, NV; Tom Gottshall, attorney for Aiken County, SC; S. Ross Shealy, attorney for Aiken County, SC; and Mary Wilson, attorney for Washington State.

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Ferguson

Ferguson

Robert L. (Bob) Ferguson is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy at the Department of Energy. His career in nuclear energy spans 50-plus years, much of it dealing with managing nuclear waste. His book, The Cost of Deceit & Delay: Obama and Reid’s Scheme to Kill Yucca Mountain Wastes $Billions, is available at Amazon.com.

Congress Hears Testimony on Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013

Breaking the used nuclear fuel logjam?

By Paul Bowersox

On Tuesday, July 30, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a full committee hearing to consider Senate Bill 1240—the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013. Following suit, the House of Representatives on Wednesday hosted U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz at an oversight hearing of the Environment and the Economy Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Senate bill is a bipartisan effort led by committee chair Ron Wyden (D., Oregon), committee ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), and top Senate energy appropriators Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) and Lamar Alexander (R, Tenn.). The bill attempts to chart a new course for U.S. used nuclear fuel storage by, largely, implementing the recommendations of President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. The legislation would establish a new, independent agency for managing the used fuel, establish consent-based interim storage facilities, allow states and localities to apply for permanently storing used fuel, and make numerous other changes to the U.S. Nuclear Waste Policy Act (see Jim Hopf’s summation of key points of the Blue Ribbon Commission here).

View the hearing at the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources website (fast-forward to 18:20 to begin). View the hearing at the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy website.

But what about Yucca Mountain?

The American Nuclear Society supports the formation of a new, independent agency to manage the nation’s used fuel, as well as establishing centralized, interim used fuel transportation and storage facilities, and continued research and development on advanced nuclear fuel cycles, including fuel recycling.

The Yucca Mountain repository, however, remains a point of contention, even two years after licensing studies at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission were halted by President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.). The position of ANS remains that the NRC should conclude this licensing process for the repository.

The position of most House Republicans, similarly, is that the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada is the nation’s sole permanent repository—as was made into law in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982—at least, if NRC reviews were to be completed. The “problem” of nuclear waste storage is already solved, in this view—only political roadblocks, not technical nor environmental issues, keep used nuclear fuel onsite at U.S. nuclear energy facilities.

The Senate Bill 1240 halts transfers of “non-priority” nuclear waste after 10 years unless Congress provides funding for a permanent repository program, and no new interim sites are allowed after 10 years unless a permanent storage site has been selected.

Pursuing these parallel tracks for intermediate and permanent storage might prove acceptable in an eventual vote in both houses of Congress, in some months. Yucca Mountain is not mentioned in Senate Bill 1240, except as background—but it is also not expressly precluded as a possible eventual site for a permanent geologic repository.

Hot off the press:

House Republicans to Energy Secretary:  Don’t Scrap Yucca by Alex Brown at National Journal

Nuclear Energy Institute’s Fertel Tells Congress to Act Now on Used Nuclear Fuel Legislation

We’re Paying Twice to Manage Nation’s Nuclear Waste by William H. Miller in St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Economic Conditions Primary Challenge For Nuclear, Not The Unsolved Waste Puzzle by John Johnson at Nuclear Energy Insider

senate energy committee 355x201

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bowersoxPaul Bowersox manages social media at the American Nuclear Society

 

 

 

Environmental Impact Evaluations – Seeing the Bigger (Nuclear vs. Fossil) Picture

By Jim Hopf

DC PerspectivesAs I discussed last fall, a federal appeals court ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to perform more thorough evaluations in support of its new Waste Confidence Rule, particularly with respect to the potential impacts of long-term storage of spent fuel at plant sites. While those evaluations are being performed, the NRC has suspended all new plant licensing and plant license renewals.

As discussed in that post, most experts believe that this issue will be resolved, in a timely manner, through additional analysis. Permanent cessation of licensing activity (until a repository is sited or built), or substantial new requirements (such as moving all fuel over 5 years old to dry storage) were considered unlikely. The NRC predicted that it could finish the required evaluations in ~2 years.

Reactions to NRC’s Waste Confidence Evaluations

spent fuel pool 180x119Predictably, anti-nuclear “environmental” groups are claiming that the evaluations that the NRC are doing are insufficient. They say that the evaluations should consider waste being stored on site for centuries, consider risks of terrorist attacks, and risks from severe earthquakes like that which struck Fukushima. They also advocate moving all >5 year spent fuel to dry storage. Finally, they say that 2 years is nowhere near long enough for the evaluations, and that all licensing activity should remain suspended for as long as it takes for “adequate” review to be performed.

And now, the attorneys general from four New England states are joining in, filing a petition for the NRC to do a “more thorough” review of the risks/impacts of long term on-site fuel storage. They are asking the NRC to reject the conclusions and recommendations of its technical staff, because they did not “adequately address the risks of spent fuel storage.” The AGs also state that the NRC’s evaluation did not give enough consideration to two options; requiring that all >5 year cooled fuel be placed into dry storage, and not allowing further production of spent fuel until a repository is constructed. (Yes, you heard that right, the AGs from four states are actually asking the NRC to consider shutting down the nuclear power industry.)

What are they after?

One hopes that all the AGs are asking for is for the NRC to do more homework to provide a stronger case. That would allow them to tell the public that they forced the NRC to do a “better job” and look out for their safety. Or perhaps, they’re hoping for the 5-year dry cask storage requirement, allowing them to point to a tangible “improvement” that they can take credit for (or perhaps to just extract a pound of flesh from the industry). One really hopes that they don’t really want the industry to shut down.

In my view, is it’s not that those risks (of long term storage) have not been evaluated. It’s that the people in question don’t like the answer. In other words, they will never be satisfied until the “evaluation” gives them the answer they want, which is that the risks are unacceptable, or that the industry must take some extensive, expensive, and burdensome actions.

Negligible risks/impacts

dry cask 190x141As someone who works in the area of dry fuel storage, I can tell you that the answer is pretty obvious. The risks of spent fuel storage are utterly negligible, compared to other risks that society routinely faces in general, and in particular, compared to the risks associated with alternative (fossil) power generation options. No credible scenario for a significant release from dry storage casks exists. Even terrorist attacks would have a minimal public health consequence.

Spent fuel pool risks are also quite low, and neither the 5-year cask requirement nor a repository would do much to reduce those (small) risks, since almost all the heat in spent fuel pools is from the fuel younger than 5 years. The theory of spent fuel pool cladding melt or fire (in the extremely unlikely, hypothetical event of pool drainage) is quite dubious in the first place, and it is being addressed at the few plants where it is thought to be a potential concern. Also of note is the fact that the spent fuel pools did NOT release any significant amount of radioactivity at Fukushima.

The fact is that nuclear waste is generated in a miniscule volume and, unlike the wastes from fossil plants and other industries, it has always been safely and fully contained, has never been released into the environment, and has never caused any harm. Further evaluation needed? In my view, the health/environmental impact evaluation for long-term onsite storage of used fuel could be adequately given in one sentence:

“The public health risks and environmental impacts of long term onsite storage of used nuclear fuel are clearly orders of magnitude less than those of the fossil fueled power generation that would otherwise be used in place of nuclear generation.”

It’s clear that shutting the industry down until a repository is built will result in fossil fuels being used for most of the replacement power.  Even if new plant licensing and plant life extensions are suspended, for a long time, the result will eventually be some reduction in nuclear generation, and will result in some increase in fossil generation.

San Onofre

san onofre 190x148Meanwhile, in Southern California, the San Onofre plant has been shut down for years due to tube failure problems with its steam generators (as discussed on this site here and here). The NRC has required that the plant remain shut until all the issues are thoroughly investigated; a process that has been taking a very long time. The NRC has been under a lot of political pressure to take its time and do a “thorough” investigation.

Steam generator replacement has been discussed. The utility also proposed running one unit at 70-percent power, based on evaluations showing that it would not result in significant tube vibration and degradation. The NRC has decided to allow public hearings on that (70-percent power) restart request, and having it require a license amendment is even being discussed. In order to meet peak power demand while San Onofre remains shut, two ~50 year old, highly polluting fossil plants in Huntington Beach were taken out of out of retirement and fired up.

In terms of the potential consequences of steam generator tube failure, it seems (based on what I’ve read) that the notion of steam generator tube failures causing a meltdown (i.e., core damage) is a real stretch. The only real potential is that the sudden failure of a large number of tubes could cause a significant fraction of the primary coolant loop water (and the radioactivity therein) to be released into the environment. (Note that even nuclear opponent Arnie Gunderson did not say that steam generator tube failures could cause a “meltdown” in this article.)

While one can only guess what the political/public reaction to such a release would be, its actual health consequences would be negligible to non-existent, particularly in comparison to the ongoing impacts of fossil generation. In reality, what is most likely to happen if things didn’t work out and the tubes started to fail is that some tubes would fail, the plant operators would notice the increase in secondary side activity, and they would safely shut the plant down.

Not only have old, dirty fossil fueled plants been fired up while the whole San Onofre saga played out, but the utility has just announced that it will close both of the reactors due to this issue. This will result in ~2000 MW of additional fossil fueled generation for several decades.

Blinders – Not looking at big picture

huntington beach power plant 190x116The common theme for these two stories is that nuclear risks are being evaluated in isolation. Overall impacts, such as the effects of reduced nuclear on the overall power generation system, are not being considered. Nuclear operations are held to a standard of perfection, or some arbitrary standard that regulators and other politically powerful stakeholders view as being adequate. That, as opposed to being compared to other risks accepted by society or, more importantly, the risks related to the alternative (primarily fossil) generation that would be used in place of nuclear.

Again, what are these people seeking from another several years of waste storage evaluations, when it is obvious, by cursory inspection, that the risks of waste storage are negligible compared to those of fossil generation alternatives? Perhaps they hope that the evaluations will uncover practical steps that could reduce the risks even further. At least the dry storage proposal is ostensibly that kind of step, although whether it is worth the cost and effort is highly debatable.

New England is home to many gross-polluting coal plants (many of which make the “Dirty Dozen” list of top polluters). If those states’ AGs really cared about their public’s health risks, they’d focus their efforts on getting those plants cleaned up or closed. They wouldn’t be wasting any time or effort on negligible risks associated with used nuclear fuel.

Why is the mindset that San Onofre cannot be reopened until everything is completely analyzed, understood, and resolved, and until the chance of steam generator failure is all but eliminated? And if all the hoops result in the plant’s closure, so be it. Where was the environmental impact evaluation that compared the risk of running San Onofre to the health risks of operating two 50-year old fossil plants that are located in a relatively high population density area? Given the limited health consequences of any credible steam generator failure scenario, it seems clear what such an evaluation would show.

It is likely that the operation of the Huntington Beach fossil plants has already had a larger public health impact than what would occur even in the event of a worst-case steam generator failure scenario (i.e., release of primary coolant loop activity). And finally, how about the consequences of the plant being closed?  Have they compared the risks of steam generator failure (low probability times limited consequence) to several decades worth of fossil fueled power generation? How about global warming impact?

Less nuclear = More fossil

smokestacks 150x100One thing that people need to be clear on is that using less nuclear power primarily results in increased use of fossil fuels. That’s certainly what’s happening in Japan. (They’re turning to coal to replace nuclear, since imported oil and gas are costing too much.) In Germany, where a huge effort is being made on renewables, coal generation is being significantly increased to offset the loss of nuclear. Even if Germany did succeed in building enough renewable generation to offset the lost nuclear generation, they’d still effectively be choosing fossil fuels over nuclear, since they could have used the renewables to replace fossil instead.

Reducing nuclear use will not cause renewable generation to increase. Construction of renewable capacity is primarily driven by government mandate and/or large subsidy. The final fraction of renewable generation will likely be close to the maximum practical amount based on intermittentcy limitations.

The only real question is whether the net effect of reduced nuclear would primarily be an increase of gas or coal use. If one assumes future environmental regulations that will limit the use of coal, then arguing that nuclear will be replaced by gas may be reasonable (especially in California). On the other hand, unless coal is limited by policy, one could argue that, in the end, reduced nuclear would mean more coal since the supply of gas will reach its limit at some point. Use of gas to replace nuclear would drive up the price of gas, which would result in more existing coal plants remaining open or operating more hours per year. This is already happening in the United States, now that gas prices have risen somewhat from historic lows. This would result in a net effect of nuclear being replaced by coal.

When pressed, nuclear opponents usually cede that fossil fuels are worse than nuclear (since the facts are actually pretty clear on that point). And yet, it’s generally the case that nuclear plants are closed when anything is out of sorts, and are required to address all the issues before they are allowed to restart. In the interim, fossil fuels are always used in its place, regardless of their much larger health and environmental risks.

You don’t hear people say, although the situation with San Onofre isn’t ideal, that we must keep it operating while the issues are resolved, since firing up old fossil fueled generators would have an unacceptable impact. A no-compromise philosophy is taken for nuclear risks (when anything is not just right), whereas reducing the known, ongoing health risks and climate impacts of fossil generation seems to be treated more like an aspirational goal. Something that we really should do, and will get around to some day (kind of like a New Year’s losing weight resolution). When anything happens, fossil fuels are always the backstop, or default. Although fossil fuels’ impacts are known to be vastly larger, they simply aren’t taken that seriously by our society; definitely not in comparison to our response to any issues with nuclear.

In any event, any REAL environmental impact evaluation would fully consider such issues. It would evaluate the impact of any reduction in nuclear generation, due to waste issues, etc., on the overall power sector. It would objectively compare all the risks of nuclear generation (including those of on-site used fuel storage, or imperfect steam generators, etc.) to the risks and impacts of the generation sources that are likely to be used in its place. If such evaluations were performed, and were objective, nuclear would have nothing to fear.

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Hopf

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.

ANS Chicago Local Section welcomes Dr. Mark Peters

What’s Next For Used Nuclear Fuel and Nuclear Waste Management Policy?

On the evening of January 16, the Chicago local section of the American Nuclear Society welcomed distinguished guest speaker Mark Peters, Ph.D., deputy director for programs at Argonne National Laboratory. A dinner meeting was held at the ANS headquarters building. Peters addressed the section on the future of US policy concerning used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste management, a topic area for which he is a nationally recognized expert (short bio).

Mark T. Peters, Ph.D.

The topic could not have been more timely, as the US Department of Energy on Friday, January 9, released a response to the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future recommendations on nuclear spent fuel and nuclear waste policy, broadly endorsing the commission’s findings and in effect outlining a new strategy for US nuclear waste disposal.

Chicago Local Section Chair Totju Totev, Ph.D.

Over 40 were in attendance to hear Peters provide a background on US spent fuel and waste storage policy history, and a detailed update on current status—including Yucca Mountain and other ongoing nuclear waste legal challenges. Often Peters paused the presentation to enable spirited Q&A discussions on many aspects of the topic. (As an aside, many in attendance advocated a “closed nuclear fuel cycle“—while this is not current policy in the United States, Peters noted that continued R&D is important to develop the viability of this option for the future.)

Getting ready for presentation

“It was a pleasure to address the ANS Chicago Local section on this vitally important topic,” Peters said after the event. “Many members in the section are involved in advancing research and development in the nuclear fuel cycle, and I was pleased to discuss the history of and ongoing discussions on US policy concerning spent fuel and nuclear waste management.”

Peters’ presentation slides linked here.

Chicago Local Section Secretary Justin W. Thomas, Ph.D.

Periodic dinner meetings such as this one are hosted by many ANS local sections on a regular basis. See map of ANS local  sections for contact information in your geographic area.

Dr. Totev and Dr. Peters

Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future website here.

Peters’ Testimony to U.S. House of Representatives on behalf of ANS concerning recycling used nuclear fuel.

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Nuclear Matinee: Powering America – Managing Nuclear Waste

The nuclear energy industry is the only large-scale energy producer responsible for managing and storing (and paying for) all the wastes generated by the process [in contrast to, for example... dumping wastes into the atmosphere].

This short video takes viewers inside the system for handling spent nuclear fuel, and explores the option of recycling and reprocessing to aid in resolving the long term storage issue.

Thanks to The Heritage Foundation for the video. We also highly recommend the full documentary on America’s nuclear power industry at http://heritage.org/poweringamericafilm/.

Nuclear Cafe Matinee: Nuclear Recycling in 4 Minutes

The 800 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity produced by the 104 nuclear reactors in the United States each year – all while emitting no greenhouse gases — is by far America’s biggest source of green energy.  And this abundant energy source can become even greener by recycling used nuclear fuel.

Currently, only about five percent of the uranium in a nuclear fuel rod gets fissioned for energy; after that, the rods are taken out of the reactor and put into storage. There is a way, however, to use almost all of the uranium in a fuel rod. Recycling the uranium in used nuclear fuel could power the United States for a thousand years, just by using the uranium we’ve already mined, and all of this energy carbon-free.

This excellent short video from Argonne National Laboratory explains how.

And now… you too can regale your friends and others at holiday parties with pontifications about pyroprocessing!

Thanks to Argonne National Laboratory, and for more information visit Argonne Nuclear Energy.

ANS International High-Level Radioactive Waste Management Topical Meeting

Integrating Storage, Transportation, and Disposal

The 2013 ANS Topical Meeting on International High-Level Radioactive Waste Management will be held April 28–May 2, 2013, at the Albuquerque Marriott in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The meeting is a forum for discussion of the scientific, technical, social, and regulatory aspects of the entire “back end” of the nuclear fuel cycle, including waste generation, transportation, storage, treatment, disposal, facility remediation, regulation, and stakeholder involvement.

The conference is an opportunity for an exchange of information on current topics of interest among international participants in nuclear waste activities.

Intended participants and audiences include individuals working on all aspects of irradiated fuel and high-level waste management such as geologic waste-disposal systems, interim storage systems, spent nuclear fuel reprocessing systems, transportation systems, facility remediation systems, the governmental and private organizations using these systems, regulators, and those involved in scientific and societal issues related to policy questions for these systems.

Register Now

Hotel Reservations (attendees should identify themselves as part of the American Nuclear Society to receive the group rate)

See the International High-Level Radioactive Waste Management meeting page for preliminary program and more details. We hope to see you in Albuquerque.

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Spent Fuel Pool at Oyster Creek

By Will Davis

As the Eastern half of the United States falls under siege by Hurricane Sandy and combined weather fronts—which together are being termed ”Frankenstorm”—the nuclear community is targeted by nuclear opponents keen on capitalizing on this severe weather event. A recent piece quoting Arnold Gundersen asserts that Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station is facing serious problems should it lose offsite power, saying essentially that the plant will be unable to provide cooling for the spent fuel in its spent fuel pool.

This allegation is without merit.

This document—a memorandum from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission  staff to the then-operator of Oyster Creek—spells out the spent fuel pool (SFP) cooling arrangements in place back in 2000. It includes the following description of the SFP cooling arrangements:

Make up water to the SFP is normally provided by the condensate system from the condensate storage tank (CST) which has a nominal capacity of 525,000 gallons. The condensate pumps can provide 250 gallons per minute (gpm) with one pump operating or 420 gpm with two pumps. Additional makeup can be provided from the demineralized water storage tank (nominal capacity 30,000 gallons) by connecting the demineralized water transfer pumps to the SFP with hoses. The fire protection system can also provide makeup from the fire pond to the CST using the 2,000 gpm diesel driven fire pumps through a permanent connection.

The SFPCS {Spent Fuel Pool Cooling System} removes decay heat from fuel stored in the SFP through its associated heat exchangers to the reactor building closed cooling water (RBCCW) system. The SFP water is maintained within its TS limits by these systems. The SFPCS consists of two SFP pumps, two SFP shell and tube heat exchangers, two augmented fuel pool pumps, and one augmented fuel pool plate and frame heat exchanger. In addition, the SFPCS also includes interconnections with the condensate demineralizers and the condensate systems which filter and demineralize the SFP water as well as provide makeup water to the SFP. The SFPCS operates continuously to maintain the SFP water temperature at or below the Oyster Creek TS limit (maximum of 125 degrees Fahrenheit (F)).

As we can see, a total loss of offsite power (LOOP) scenario has clearly been considered—otherwise, diesel fire pumps would not have been mentioned.

Oyster Creek Nuclear Energy Facility

Plants designed to handle spent fuel pools during loss of offsite power

Oyster Creek, like all other operating U.S. nuclear plants, was built to design considerations (10 CFR 50 Appendix A) that set limits on design that includes the protection of spent fuel pool from events both man-made (operational) and natural. The plant has been designed to handle the full heat load of the spent fuel placed in the pool—even with a loss of offsite power.

Spent fuel pool cooling has received greater attention since the Fukushima Daiichi accident; during that accident and for some time after, many had wrongly assumed and asserted that the spent fuel pools were in dire condition. In fact, some even claimed that Fukushima Daiichi Unit 4 was going to collapse and that the spent fuel was going to trigger a cataclysm. Those allegations were refuted at the time, multiple times,  and have been proven false.

Even though early post-Fukushima assumptions about spent fuel pools were overly unrealistic, the NRC has emphasized SFP cooling and level measurement as a part of its post-Fukushima action plan. Many experts and the Nuclear Energy Institute consider this approach sensible. NEI points out, however, via NEI Nuclear Notes that moving SFP actions to Tier 1 in no way implies that operating U.S. nuclear plants aren’t already safe. Read that post here.

The Safety Evaluation Report related to license renewal of Oyster Creek at the NRC contains the following information about Oyster Creek’s spent fuel cooling system:

The SFPCS (Spent Fuel Pool Cooling System) is designed for both normal and accident conditions of loss of offsite power coincident with a single active component failure.  The augmented SFPCS is designed to provide a seismically qualified cooling loop capable of providing cooling during such conditions.

As if that were not enough:

Exelon – Oyster Creek Safety and Emergency Planning Fact Sheet

Clearly, there is provision for SFP cooling at Oyster Creek using two SFP systems—the one that was originally installed and an augmented system installed when the pool capacity was increased—and also it’s a fact that the plant, like all others in the path of the storm, is and has been well aware of the approach of this storm and has even more personnel (and NRC inspectors) on site than usual, making full preparation for any event. “Any event” includes extended loss of offsite power.

Oyster Creek has multiple cooling systems for spent fuel pool

UPDATE:  Exelon has re-confirmed to the American Nuclear Society by telephone and e-mail that Oyster Creek does in fact have numerous, redundant cooling systems for the spent fuel including closed-loop and service water systems. Exelon tells us that if required, two locomotive–sized diesel engines are ready and standing by should offsite power be lost, to provide power to those two backup systems during the refueling outage should an extended LOOP scenario arise.

Exelon has, as expected by many, declared an Unusual Event at Oyster Creek due to the rising water levels. Below are excerpts from Exelon’s press release on this declaration (emphasis added):

 Oyster Creek Generating Station Declares Unusual Event

Lowest of four NRC emergency action levels reached due to high water levels

Forked River , NJ (October 29, 2012) Exelon Nuclear declared an “Unusual Event” at Oyster Creek Generating Station at 7 p.m. today after water levels in the plant’s intake structure reached higher than normal levels.

This is an anticipated declaration required by procedures and is the result of Hurricane Sandy’s impact on the region. There is no challenge to the safety of the plant. Oyster Creek is currently shut down for planned maintenance and refueling.

Oyster Creek is a robust and fortified facility, capable of withstanding the most severe weather. When the storm was identified, operators performed a host of plant inspections to ensure that all safety systems were operational and that outside equipment and materials were properly secured.

An Unusual Event is the lowest of four emergency classifications established by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There is no danger to the public or plant employees associated with this declaration.

Exelon Nuclear has notified all appropriate federal, state and local emergency response officials of the Unusual Event.

Oyster Creek is about 60 miles east of Philadelphia in Ocean County, New Jersey. The plant produces 636 net megawatts of electricity at full power, enough electricity to supply 600,000 typical homes, the equivalent to all homes in Monmouth and Ocean counties combined.

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For more information

Below is a brief video interview with the Nuclear Energy Institute‘s Everett Redmond, director of Nonproliferation and Fuel Cycle Policy. He breaks down in straightforward language the purpose and design of spent fuel pools to store used fuel at nuclear energy facilities. This is a basic overview that does not address specific nuclear energy facilities.

_____________________________________

Will Davis is a writer and Social Media consultant for ANS, is a Contributing Reporter to Fuel Cycle Week, owns and writes the Atomic Power Review blog, and is a former US Navy Reactor Operator, qualified on S8G and S5W reactor plants.

ANS staff members also contributed to this report and compiled additional resources for readers.

Update on Nuclear Waste Confidence Court Ruling

By Jim Hopf

As I discussed in a June 20 ANS Nuclear Cafe post, a federal appeals court rejected the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s new nuclear Waste Confidence rule, and ordered the NRC to perform a more thorough evaluation that addresses potential risks and health and environmental impacts of very long term storage of nuclear waste at nuclear sites (until a final disposal option is developed).

As discussed in that post, anti-nuclear organizations were hopeful that the court ruling would lead to a halt in NRC licenses for new plants and plant life extensions, while others believed that the impact would be minor, the main result simply being more work to be done by the NRC. Recent events have shown both sides to be right, to some degree.

NRC’s response to the court ruling

In September, the NRC instructed staff to develop an environmental impact statement (EIS) to evaluate very long term storage of used nuclear fuel, and a revised Waste Confidence ruling. The NRC expects to complete the work in ~24 months. The NRC’s analysis will address issues raised by the court, including the impact if a repository is never built, as well as risks to spent fuel pools from leaks or fires.

The upshot is that the NRC believes that it can address the issues raised by a court, within a reasonable time period.

Suspension of licensing activity

On the other hand, and to the delight of nuclear opponents, the NRC also announced that it will not issue any final licenses for new nuclear power plants or 20-year life extensions (for existing plants) until the revised EIS and Waste Confidence ruling are completed and the court’s issues are addressed.

The NRC’s decision appears to affirm the nuclear opponents’ position that new plants or extended operation of existing ones cannot be justified in the absence of a valid Waste Confidence determination. On the other hand, most experts (as well as the NRC) believe that the issue can be resolved with additional analysis and evaluation. At worst, some additional measures and costs may be involved, such as moving more fuel from spent fuel pools to dry storage casks, spent fuel pool modifications and upgrades, more rigorous long-term monitoring of dry storage casks, or the possibility of repackaging stored spent fuel, if necessary.

Limited impact

As serious as it sounds, the impacts of the suspension of licensing are minor to non-existent, at least over the short-to-mid term.

For both new plants and plant life extensions, the NRC has stated that it will continue with all on-going work on license applications. The NRC will simply not formally release any final licensing decisions. Thus, the NRC’s completion of work related to any license applications will not be delayed. The only parties that would be affected are those that were expecting final licensing decisions over the next ~two years.

With respect to new plants, both of the reactor projects at Vogtle, in Georgia, and Summer, in South Carolina, can still go forward, since they have already received their final construction and operating licenses (COLs). A few other plant projects (e.g., the Levy project in Florida) are in the licensing process, but most if not all of these other projects are currently planning to only obtain the license, and have not decided (yet) to proceed with construction. It is unlikely that any projects other than Vogtle and Summer would have decided to start construction over the next two years anyway (for several reasons, including lack of demand for new capacity and low natural gas prices). Thus, the two-year hiatus in (final) licensing decisions is not expected to have any impact on new plant projects.

With respect to existing plants, there are several plant life extension applications before the NRC. In theory, there are many such applications that would be affected by the two-year licensing freeze. However, plants are allowed to keep operating while life extension applications are in NRC review (and would only be required to shut down in the event of a formal rejection of a life extension application by the NRC). Thus, the freeze in final licensing decisions will not result in any plant shutdowns, or any other impacts on such plants.

For the above reasons, the two-year freeze in final licensing decisions by the NRC is not expected to have any impact on the industry. The only potential impact will come ~two years from now, after the completion of the revised EIS and Waste Confidence ruling, in the form of additional requirements related to used fuel storage.

My perspective

As I discussed in my earlier post, I find the court’s characterization of stored used nuclear fuel as a significant public health and environmental risk to be absurd, given the perfect, several-decade record of (dry and wet) fuel storage, and the lack of potential impact from dry fuel storage casks under any scenario. Unlike, say, fossil-fueled power generation, stored nuclear fuel has never had any impact at all on public health or the environment, and almost certainly never will.

As for the environmental impact analysis, I can sum it up in one sentence: “The public health risk and environmental impact from extended storage of used nuclear fuel is negligible compared to the impacts of the fossil-fueled power generation that would be otherwise used, in place of nuclear generation that was shut down or never built due to lack of ‘confidence’ in used fuel storage.”

I’m still waiting on a similar “waste confidence” evaluation for fossil-fueled plants, or a plan to capture, contain, and store all of their wastes/pollutants, for as long as they remain hazardous. How can our society get it so backwards in terms of which energy sources have a serious, intractable “waste problem”, and which source is the only one with a valid, acceptable long-term plan?

I work in the dry storage area, and I know that the maximum potential release from a dry storage cask that could result from any form or system degradation, any type of accident, or (even) any potential terrorist attack, would not have significant off-site consequences (certainly nothing that would approach even the daily impact from U.S. fossil-fueled generation).

We have already started detailed evaluations of the issues related to very long term dry fuel storage. Currently, opinion is that no significant degradation of the fuel assemblies is expected to occur, even over 100 years or more of dry storage. As the fuel decays, temperatures inside the cask will decrease (as will radiation levels). This reduces the driving force behind many potential fuel assembly degradation mechanisms. The metal components of dry storage systems, including the canisters that contain the assemblies, are expected to hold up well (and already have, over decades of storage). Whether the concrete vaults/silos (storage casks) that the canisters are placed in will be able to hold up over the very long term is somewhat less clear. That would be a problem that is easily solved, however, as the inner canister could simply be extracted and placed within a new concrete container.

Based on my dry storage experience, it seems to me that, along with (possibly) requiring some spent fuel pool upgrades, all the NRC should have to do to adequately resolve the court’s concerns is require some additional monitoring of dry storage casks, along with (perhaps) some additional money to be set aside by utilities to cover any potential issues that may occur down the road (including the possibility of some repackaging, decades from now).

One thing that should be obvious is that storage of used nuclear fuel is “acceptable”, even if it is assumed to remain on the nuclear plant site indefinitely, since any public health risks and environmental impacts are negligible compared to those associated with fossil-fueled power generation (gas as well as coal).

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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.

ANS Friday Matinee: Eric Loewen at Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium

The Arthur M. Sackler Colloquia addresses scientific topics of broad and current interest that cut across the boundaries of traditional disciplines. “The Science of Science Communication” was a Sackler Colloquium interdisciplinary scientific meeting held at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., on May 21–22, 2012. At this meeting, American Nuclear Society Past President Dr. Eric Loewen addressed the other “three R’s” of [nuclear] education:  Radiation, Reactors, and Residuals.

More featured speakers at Sackler Colloquia’s video channel.

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.

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.