— 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.

— France’s nuclear giant Areva admits to ‘400 irregularities’ in power plant parts; will the UK govt finalize HInkley Point contract with Areva?

Areva is partner in the Hanford nuclear site.

Documents on 400 Areva nuclear reactor parts were “modified’ — falsified — to rubberstamp their quality because those 400 parts failed the tests.


From the Telegraph

The British government is poised to finalise a multi-billion pound contract to build reactors at Hinkley Point designed by Areva CREDIT:  EDF ENERGY/PA

France’s ailing nuclear giant, Areva, faced a major scandal on Tuesday after the country’s nuclear watchdog confirmed there have been “irregularities” in 400 parts produced in its reactors since 1965, and that “around 50 are currently in service in France’s nuclear power plant fleet”.

France’s independent Nuclear Safety Authority, ASN, said the “irregularities” were listed in an audit it had ordered from Areva after it detected a “very serious anomaly” in a reactor vessel in the country’s Flamanville EPR nuclear plant, the same model Britain plans to use for two new plants at Hinkley Point. 

The fault in the vessel destined to house the plant’s nuclear fuel and confine its radioactivity was detected last year.

“These irregularities consist in incoherencies, modifications or omissions in manufacturing dossiers,” ASN said in a statement.

The revelation came hours after Areva’s director general admitted that 400 documents assessing whether parts of nuclear plants met required standards may have been “falsified”.

The doubts over documents supposed to rubber-stamp the quality of parts destined for new-generation nuclear power reactors will be a cause for serious concern for the British government as it is poised to finalise a controversial, multi-billion pound contract to build reactors at Hinkley Point designed by Areva.

Areva launched an audit late 2015 into anomalies at the Le Creusot Forge site, which  specialises in highly complex moulded parts for new-generation nuclear reactors.

According to Les Echos, an operator conducted tests on metal parts then wrote down his findings on a host of parameters.

“When a value was obtained at the upper end of the required norm, the written reports of certain manufacturing reports were allegedly modified,” it wrote.

This was the case for around 400 parts, it wrote.

ASN said it has asked Areva to transmit as soon as possible the list of parts concerned and its analysis of the consequences on the safety of installations”.

The explosive revelations came just hours after Emmanuel Macron, the French economy minister, visited the site.

During the visit, Mr Macron reiterated the French government’s support for the Hinkley Point project, which unions at EDF have argued is too expensive for the cash-strapped French electricity utility due to manage it.

“Hinkley Point is an essential project for this factory and I have come to restate the government’s commitment to the project without which there would be hundreds of job losses at the Le Creusot site,” he told unions.

“I believe in the need to undertake big export projects for the French nuclear industry and in particular Hinkley Point,” he went on.

“It will enable us to continue to strengthen our skills, to make us even stronger and to conquer new markets.”

His words came days after Mr Macron confirmed that the final decision on whether to go ahead with the project would be delayed until at least September, casting fresh doubt over the likelihood of the plant starting up in 2025 as planned.

Mr Macron issued the latest delayed timescale after announcing thata financial bailout for developer EDF had been agreed with the French state, its majority shareholder, but that the company would embark on a 60-day consultation with unions hostile to the project.

Hinkley Point:

£18 billionEDF estimate of construction cost
3.2 GWCapacity of plant
5.8 millionNumber of homes it could power
5,600People to be employed on site at peak construction
25,000Total number of jobs that could be created
£92.50Price to be paid (in 2012 money) for each MWh unit of electricity – more than double the current market price of power
35 yearsDuration of subsidy contract agreed by ministers
2025Earliest expected date for first power to be generated

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/03/frances-nuclear-giant-areva-admits-to-400-irregularities-in-nucl/

FINAL NOTE:

“Jobs” is the banner waved by the French government to promote their nuclear maladventures.

If France would quit bombing Syria and Libya and other countries and quit subsidizing NATO, there would be plenty of money in the federal budget for creating a strong living economy.

• Knocking on the Devil’s Door: Our Deadly Nuclear Legacy (VIDEO)

Directed by Gary Null

Excerpt:

Greg Palast (57:40 in video)

Hillary Clinton’s “big client was Entergy which now owns the Indian Point nuclear plant in New York, where Senator Clinton was very reluctant to call for the closure of this obvious danger right near New York City.”

“They [Entergy] basically own the Clinton family, and I saw this when I was working an investigation in Britain where Entergy, this little company from Little Rock, Arkansas, bought the entire London electric system because of the connection between Entergy and the Clintons and their influence with the Blair government in Britain. And then Entergy turned around and flipped the London electric company for a billion dollar profit in just a few months.

What does Entergy do for the President and for the first lady at the time? Remember that there was an investigation of her billing records? I never heard anyone say who she was supposedly billing where the billing records were faked. The company was Entergy! Entergy knows if they were deliberately overcharged. And maybe they wanted to be overcharged because it’s a way to pay the Governor [Bill Clinton] by hiring his wife for doing nothing.”

“They knew it, and they could do what they want, and today Entergy is at the forefront of the nuclear industry in the U.S., and at the forefront of buying up plants cheap and then getting extensions on the life of these plants, plants that are almost ready to be shut down, and should be; they use their political power to get an extension on the plant and then they get free money, billions of dollars for extra decades. It’s quite a game.”