— COVID-19 pandemic increases nuclear reactor disaster risk; NRC loosens rules, requires long shifts

Posted on BuzzFeed

Terrified Atomic Workers Warn That the COVID-19 Pandemic May Threaten Nuclear Reactor Disaster

April 9, 2020

By Harvey Wasserman

The COVID Pandemic has thrown America’s atomic reactor industry into lethal chaos, making a major disaster even more likely.  Reports from “terrified” workers at a Pennsylvania reactor indicate vital precautions needed to protect them may not even be possible.

Nationwide, with falling demand and soaring prices for nuke-generated electricity, the Pandemic casts a dark shadow over reactor operations and whether frightened neighbors will allow them to be refueled and repaired.

America’s 96 remaining atomic reactors are run by a coveted pool of skilled technicians who manage the control rooms, conduct repairs, load/unload nuclear fuel.

Because few young students have been entering the field, the corps of about 100,000 licensed technicians has been—-like the reactors themselves—-rapidly aging while declining in numbers.  Work has stopped at the last two US reactors under construction (at Vogtle, Georgia) due to the Pandemic’s impact, which includes a shrinking supply of healthy workers.

Every reactor control room requires five operators at all times.  But the physical space is limited there and in plant hot spots that need frequent, often demanding repairs.  Social distancing is virtually impossible.  Long shifts in confined spaces undermine operator safety and performance.

Of critical importance:  every 18-24 months each reactor must shut for refueling and repairs.  Itinerant crews of 1000 to 1500 technicians travel to 58 sites in 29 states, usually staying 30-60 days.  They often board with local families, or in RVs, hotels, or Air B&Bs. 

Some 54 reactors have been scheduled for refuel/repairs in 2020. But there is no official, organized program to test the workers for the Coronavirus as they move around the country.

As the Pandemic thins the workforce, older operators are being called out of retirement.  The Trump-run Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently certified  16-hour work days, 86-hour work weeks and up to 14 consecutive days with 12-hour shifts.

Long-time nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen warns of fatigued operators falling asleep on the job.  He recalls at least one exhausted worker falling into the highly radioactive pool surrounding the high-level fuel rods.  Operator fatigue also helped cause the 1979 melt-down that destroyed Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island Unit Two.

The industry is now using the Coronavirus Pandemic to rush through a wide range of deregulation demandsAmong them is a move to allow radioactive waste to be dumped into municipal landfills. 

The NRC may also certify skipping vital repairs, escalating the likelihood of major breakdowns and melt-downs.  Nearly all US reactors were designed and built in the pre-digital age, more than 30 years ago.  Most are in advanced decay.  Atomic expert David Lochbaum, formerly with the NRC, warns that failure risks from longer work hours and deferred repairs could be extremely significant, and could vary from reactor to reactor depending on their age and condition.

The industry has also been required to maintain credible public health response plans should those reactors blow.  But Pandemic-stricken US hospitals now have zero spare capacity, multiplying the possible human fallout from an increasingly likely disaster.

Industry-wide the Pandemic has brought working conditions to the brink of collapse.  At Pennsylvania’s Limerick Generating Station, workers say they are “terrified” that the plant has become a “breeding ground…a complete cesspool” for the Coronavirus.  “I’m in a constant state of paranoia,” one technician told Carl Hessler, Jr., of MontcoCourtNews.

Others say social distancing is non-existent, with “no less than 100 people in the training room” and “people literally sitting on top of each other…sitting at every computer elbow to elbow.”  Shift change rooms, Hessler was told, can be    “standing room only.”  At least two Limerick workers are confirmed to have carried the virus.  COVID rates in the county are soaring.

Nuclear engineer Gundersen warns that limited control room floorspace and cramped conditions for maintenance can make social distancing impossible.  “Some component repairs can involve five workers working right next to each other,” he says.

Because reactor-driven electricity is not vital amidst this pandemic downturn, the demand for atomic workers to “stay home” is certain to escalate.  “I am concerned with Exelon & Limerick Nuclear Generating Station’s handling of the scheduled refueling—which has required bringing in workers from across the country during this pandemic,” says US Rep. Madeleine Dean in a statement likely to be repeated at reactor sites around the US.

“The potential increase of COVID-19 cases from 1,400 new workers not observing social distancing is staggering,” says epidemiologist Joseph Mangano of the Radiation and Health Project.  “The Limerick plant should be shut until the COVID-19 pandemic is over.”

Indian Point Unit One, north of New York City, will shut permanently on April 28.  Iowa’s Duane Arnold will close in December.

But Ground Zero may be Pacific Gas & Electric’s two 35-year-old reactors at Diablo Canyon.  PG&E is bankrupt for the second time in two decades, and recently pleaded guilty to 85 felonies from the fires its faulty wires sent raging through northern California, killing 84 people.  In 2010 a faulty PG&E gas line exploded in San Bruno, killing eight people.

Surrounded by earthquake faults, Diablo’s construction prompted more than 10,000 civil disobedience arrests, the most at any US reactor.  PG&E now admits its two Diablo nukes will lose more than $1.2 billion this year, more than $3.44 million/day.

Amidst its bitterly contested bankruptcy, PG&E may be taken over by the state.  But more than a thousand workers are slated in early October to refuel and repair Unit One, which the NRC says is dangerously embrittled.

Whether local residents concerned about both a nuclear accident and the spread of the Coronavirus will let them into the county remains to be seen.  So is whether they’ll be still operating by then.

With the future of the nuclear industry at stake—-along with the possibility of more reactor mishaps—-the whole world will be watching.

Harvey Wasserman’s Solartopia!  Our Green-Powered Earth is at www.solartopia.org, along with The People’s Spiral of US History.  His California Solartopia Show is broadcast at KPFK/Pacifica 90.7fm Los Angeles; his Green Power & Wellness Show is podcast at prn.fm.  For a full one-hour expert podcast discussion of the impact of the Cornoavirus on nuke power, click here.

https://buzzflash.com/articles/terfied-atomic-workers-warn-that-the-covid-19-pandemic-may-threaten-nuclear-reactor-disaster

Posted under Fair Use Rules.

— 13 February 2020: Santa Susana Field Laboratory cleanup crisis meeting

CRITICAL SSFL WORK GROUP MEETING
“SSFL CLEANUP CRISIS: FINDING A PATH FORWARD” 

Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center
3050 E. Los Angeles Avenue, Simi Valley, CA 93065

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2020
6:30 p.m. vigil, 7:00 pm meeting
Seating is limited – 

Click here to RSVP today

Guest speaker: CalEPA Jared Blumenfeld

Description

Boeing, the Dept. of Energy, and NASA signed agreements to fully clean up all of SSFL’s contamination by 2017, but the cleanup hasn’t begun. Recently, all three have indicated their intent to break their cleanup agreements and leave most of the contamination on the site permanently. The cleanup is now at an impasse, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

California EPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld will discuss cleanup efforts on February 13 at a meeting of the SSFL Work Group. The SSFL Work Group was founded in 1989 to educate and engage the community, government agencies, and elected officials in the cleanup. The meeting will include a public Q&A with a panel of experts, community members, and elected officials.

SSFL Work Group Meeting
“SSFL Cleanup Crisis: Finding a Path Forward”
Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center
Thursday, February 13, 2020
6:30 PM Candlelight vigil
7:00 PM SSFL Work Group Meeting

Hosted by SSFL Work Group, Physicians for Social Responsibility- Los Angeles, Committee to Bridge the Gap, Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition and Parents Against SSFL.

The 2018 Woolsey fire at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (VIDEOS)

Legacy of a 60 Year Old Meltdown

Journalist Harvey Wasserman and Denise Duffield, Associate Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility- L.A. discussed the  Woolsey Fire, its implications, and the California and corporate refusals to clean-up the SSFL site, endangering residents daily, in these excerpts from the December 2018 meeting of Americans for Democratic Action – Southern California, in Culver City.

The Woolsey fire started at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory site, and based on helicopter sightings, was likely started by a transformer malfunction and fire at a Southern California Edison substation located there.

———————————————–

Additional resources
After The Dust Settles: A Woolsey Fire Sampling Update
https://www.fairewinds.org/woolsey-fire-blog/after-the-dust-settles 

PSR-LA https://www.psr-la.org/

Solartopia.org

Denise Duffield
PSR-LA Associate Director
dduffield (at) psr-la.org

Legacy of a Meltdown
By James Heddle & Mary Beth Brangan – EON
https://nonukesca.net/legacy-of-a-meltdown/

Santa Susana Field Laboratory: NASA releases draft supplemental environmental statement covering soil cleanup. Comments due Dec. 9

From the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

NOTE: The Federal Register notice does not give a due date for comments. It says the deadline is 45 days after the date of the Federal Register notice which was October 25. If you wish to submit comments, confirm the due date with NASA at the email address below.

Posted in the Federal Register
October 25, 2019

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/10/25/2019-23364/notice-of-availability-of-the-draft-supplemental-environmental-impact-statement-seis-for-soil

Click to access 2019-23364.pdf

Notice of Availability of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for Soil Cleanup Activities at Santa Susana Field Laboratory

AGENCY:

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

ACTION:

Notice of Availability of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to the March 2014 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for demolition and environmental cleanup activities for the NASA-administered portion of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), Ventura County, California. This SEIS will cover the soil cleanup activities at NASA’s portion of SSFL.

SUMMARY:

Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as amended, the Council on Environmental Quality Regulations for Implementing the Procedural Provisions of NEPA, and NASA’s NEPA policy and procedures, NASA has prepared a Draft SEIS for soil cleanup activities at SSFL in Ventura County, California. The Draft SEIS has been prepared because there are significant new circumstances relevant to environmental concerns bearing on the proposed action and its impacts. Specifically, the estimated quantity of soil required to be removed has increased substantially since the publication of the 2014 FEIS. This increase has the potential to alter the environmental impacts that were evaluated in the 2014 FEIS. For this reason, NASA has determined it is appropriate to prepare a supplement to the 2014 FEIS.

DATES:

Interested parties are invited to submit comments, preferably in writing, within forty-five (45) calendar days from the date of publication in the Federal Register of the Notice of Availability of the Draft SEIS on October 25, 2019.

ADDRESSES:

Comments submitted by mail should be addressed to Peter Zorba, SSFL Project Director, 5800 Woolsey Canyon Road, Canoga Park, CA 91304. Comments may be submitted via email to msfc-ssfl-eis@mail.nasa.gov. The Draft SEIS may be reviewed at the following locations:

1. Simi Valley Library, 2969 Tapo Canyon Road, Simi Valley, CA 93063, Phone: (805) 526-1735.

2. Platt Library, 23600 Victory Blvd., Woodland Hills, CA 91367, Phone: (818) 340-9386.

3. California State University, Northridge Oviatt Library, 18111 Nordhoff Street, 2nd Floor, Room 265, Northridge, CA 91330, Phone: (818) 677-2285.

4. Department of Toxic Substances Control, 9211 Oakdale Avenue, Chatsworth, CA 91311, Phone: (818) 717-6521.

The Draft SEIS is also available on the internet at https://www.nasa.gov/​feature/​environmental-impact-statement-eis-for-demolition-and-environmental-cleanup-activities. The Federal Register Notice of Intent to prepare the Draft SEIS, issuedin the Federal Register on April 5, 2019, is also available on the internet at: https://ssfl.msfc.nasa.gov/​news#news20190405.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Peter Zorba, SSFL Project Director, by email at msfc-ssfl-information@mail.nasa.gov. Additional information about NASA’s SSFL site, the proposed soil cleanup activities, and the associated planning process and documentation (as available) may be found on the internet at https://ssfl.msfc.nasa.gov or on the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) website at https://www.dtsc.ca.gov/​SiteCleanup/​Santa_​Susana_​Field_​Lab/​.

For the full notice:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/10/25/2019-23364/notice-of-availability-of-the-draft-supplemental-environmental-impact-statement-seis-for-soil

— Washington: “negative trend in contamination control” halts work at Hanford project — 8th worker exposure this year

From the Tri-City Herald

by Annette Cary
November 20, 2019

Work has halted at Hanford to remove a highly radioactive spill just north of Richland after an eighth incident this year in which a worker’s clothing or skin was contaminated with radioactive waste.

The 324 Building sits over a leak of radioactive cesium and strontium into the soil beneath it at the site about one mile north of Richland and about 300 yards west of the Columbia River.

“Although individually the contamination levels (on workers) have been low and no dose has been assigned to workers, collectively the number of personnel contamination events indicate a negative trend in contamination control that corrective actions  taken to date have been inadequate to address,” the Department of Energy wrote in a Nov. 14 letter to its contractor on the project, CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co.

Dose is a calculation of the radioactive exposure to the worker.

Earlier the same day that DOE sent the letter, CH2M had stopped work at the Hanford nuclear reservation’s 324 Building — one of several temporary halts to at least some of the work there this year.

Joe Franco, the DOE deputy manager at the DOE Richland Operations Office, told CH2M in the letter that he would not allow work to resume in the highly contaminated areas of the 324 Building until the company had developed a plan of correction and DOE had agreed on the path forward.

“(The Richland Operations Office) expects that workers at Hanford are protected from personnel radiological contamination while accomplishing our important Hanford mission,” Franco said.

The building has been left standing over the contaminated spill and the contamination to workers had been contained within the building, so the public is not at risk.

The building prevents precipitation from reaching the spill beneath it to carry it closer to the groundwater and also can be used to shield workers from radiation.

324 BUILDING WORK COMPLICATED

After the Tri-City Herald asked DOE for information about the Nov. 14 letter, Brian Vance sent a message to all Hanford employees on Wednesday afternoon saying that work within the building continues to be challenging “due to the high levels of radioactivity in the soil beneath the building.”

CH2M is working on improving “radiological practices and controls in the building by taking a holistic look at the full spectrum of operations,” Vance said. “Cleanup work in radiologically controlled areas inside the building will not resume without proper DOE oversight and approval.”

Ty Blackford, president of CH2M at Hanford, also sent a message to his employees Wednesday afternoon saying that work at the 324 Building has become more complicated.

He said work was stopped late last week after low-level contamination was discovered on an employee’s skin as they were leaving an area known to be contaminated within the building and checks were being done.

“The employee was easily decontaminated using standard techniques,” Blackford said.

In an incident in the spring in which a speck of contamination was found on the pant leg of an employee who was checking workers as they left a radiologically contaminated area, a piece of tape was used to remove the contamination.

“Each time we’ve encountered challenges at the project this past year, the team did the right thing by stopping work, evaluating conditions and determining the safest path forward,” Blackford said.

For the latest review of work processes, a team of experts is being assembled both from CH2M at Hanford and also from Jacobs Engineering, the owner of the Hanford contractor.

CONTAMINATION CONCERNS RAISED

The staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board also has been concerned about worker contamination and contamination spread within the building.

In the staff’s weekly report dated June 28, it noted that there had been a fourth case of a worker’s personal clothing being contaminated and the first case of skin contamination since February.

That week contamination was found on both a worker’s clothing and his skin.

If the protective clothing that workers wear becomes damp, the contamination can wick through to their personal clothing underneath and their skin, the report said.

As work was temporarily stopped in June, CH2M focused on ways to improve contamination, including requiring workers to wear water-impermeable outer coveralls, using adhesive paper and wet rags for added dust control, and limiting water injection during drilling.

Much of the focus of the review was on preventing the spread of contamination as workers were taking of their protective clothing layer and leaving contaminated areas, according to the defense board staff report.

But worker contamination continued to be a problem, including when contamination was found on a worker’s personal clothing in September, according to the defense board staff.

The clothing may have been contaminated as he took off protective clothing, and CH2M again changed processes for taking off protection clothing.

Contamination issues are tied to two projects being done in the building.

The contamination spill was within a hot cell, where work was done with highly radioactive material by workers manipulating equipment outside the building. The highly acidic strontium and cesium that spilled within the hot cell in the 1980s ate through stainless steel to reach the soil beneath.

Plans call for sawing out the bottom of the hot cell using remotely operated equipment and then digging up the most highly contaminated soil with an excavator arm mounted on the 30-foot-high, 5-foot-thick walls of the hot cell.

DOE officials have said the contamination beneath the building is so radioactive that it would be fatal within a few minutes of human contact.

DRILLING SPREADS CONTAMINATION

Before the bottom of the hot cell can be chopped and sawed up and then the contamination beneath it dug up, radioactively contaminated debris left in the hot cell has to be removed.

Some of the contamination events have involved the employees doing that work.

Other contamination events have been related to drilling being done into the soil beneath the building as part of a project to keep the building stable once part of the flooring and foundation is removed to allow digging.

Plans call for installing pilings beneath the building to stabilize it.

But as drilling has been done from within the building, contamination has spread.

In one incident in June contamination was found on a worker’s boots as he took off the protective clothing and was checked as he left the room where drilling was being done.

The next week was when the first incident of skin contamination since February occurred on a worker who was decontaminating the room where the drilling was being done.

“The 324 Building presents complex challenges and the department is committed to safe and deliberate completion of this project,” Vance said.Workers with Hanford’s CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. have removed, packaged and shipped 15 bins of contaminated waste from the 324 Building since July.

Workers with Hanford’s CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. have removed, packaged and shipped 15 bins of contaminated waste from the 324 Building since July. COURTESY DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY

Shipped where?

https://www.tri-cityherald.com/news/local/hanford/article237601614.html?fbclid=IwAR1qL6R-ea8EVXjC9HS8Bs7EfjJbTF1NSGwz_7UcCcgS95LeaWDvUfD0kNM

Posted under Fair Use Rules.

— Dangerous radioactive hot particles span the globe

From Beyond Nuclear International

Citizen scientists are uncovering risks that governments would rather cover up

November 20, 2019

By Cindy Folkers

When reactors exploded and melted down at the Fukushima nuclear power complex in March 2011, they launched radioactivity from their ruined cores into the unprotected environment.  Some of this toxic radioactivity was in the form of hot particles (radioactive microparticles) that congealed and became airborne by attaching to dusts and traveling great distances.

However, the Fukushima disaster is only the most recent example of atomic power and nuclear weapons sites creating and spreading these microparticles. Prior occurrences include various U.S. weapons sites and the ruined Chernobyl reactor. While government and industry cover up this hazard, community volunteer citizen science efforts – collaborations between scientists and community volunteers – are tracking the problem to raise awareness of its tremendous danger in Japan and across the globe.

After the Fukushima nuclear disaster began, one highly radioactive specimen, a particle small enough to inhale or ingest, was found in a private home where it should not have been, hundreds of miles from its source, in a vacuum cleaner bag containing simple house dust.

Fukushima Nagoya map

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— Fukushima’s ongoing nuclear catastrophe with no end in sight – doctors’ prescription for the Tokyo Olympics

From Beyond Nuclear International

November 24, 2019

Statement of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War – Germany regarding participation in the Olympic Games in Japan

In July 2020, the Olympic Games will start in Japan. Young athletes from all over the world have been preparing for these games for years and millions of people are looking forward to this major event.

We at IPPNW Germany are often asked whether it is safe to travel to these Olympic Games in Japan either as a visitor or as an athlete or whether we would advise against such trips from a medical point of view. We would like to address these questions.

To begin with, there are many reasons to be critical of the Olympic Games in general: the increasing commercialization of sports, the lack of sustainability of sports venues, doping scandals, the waste of valuable resources for an event that only takes place for several weeks and corruption in the Olympic organizations to name just a few. However, every four years, the Olympic Games present a unique opportunity for many young people from all over the world to meet other athletes and to celebrate a fair sporting competition – which was the initial vision of the Olympic movement. Also, the idea of Olympic peace and mutual understanding between nations and people is an important aspect for us as a peace organization.

Fukushima…and no end in sight

Regarding the Olympic Games in Japan, another factor comes into play: the Japanese government is using the Olympic Games to deflect from the ongoing nuclear catastrophe in the Northeast of the country.

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