— 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.

— 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.

Continue reading

— Norway’s Halden Reactor: A poor safety culture and a history of near misses

From Bellona.org

March 3, 2017

By Nils Behmer

haldenreactor

Are those who operate Norway’s only nuclear research reactor taking its safety seriously? A new report raises concerns.

October 25th brought reports that there was a release of radioactive iodine from the Halden Reactor. The Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority subsequently withdrew the reactor’s operating license from the Institute for Energy Technology. The NRPA has pointed out several issues the institute must resolve before the reactor goes back online.

It’s not the first time the NRPA has had to issue an order to the IFE. The NRPA had been supervising the IFE since 2014 over its lack of safety culture. The incident in October shows this frame of mind persists.

Reactor cooling blocked

So what happened in October? The iodine emission began when the IFE should have dealt with damaged fuel in the reactor hall. This led to a release of radioactive substances via the ventilation system. The release began on Monday, October 24 at 1:45 pm, but was first reported to the NRPA the next morning.

The next day, the NRPA conducted an unannounced inspection of the IFE. The situation was still unresolved and radioactive released were still ongoing from the reactor hall. The ventilation system was then shut off to limit further releases into the environment.

This, in turn, created more serious problems. When the ventilation system was closed down, the air coming from the process should also have been turned off. Pressurize[d] air kept the valves in the reactor’s cooling system open, which in turn stopped the circulation of cooling water.

‘A very special condition’

In the following days, the NRPA continued to monitor the reactor’s safety, and many repeated questions about the closure of the primary cooling circuit. The IFE initially reported that the situation at the reactor was not “abnormal.” By November 1, the NRPA requested written documentation from the responsible operating and safety managers. A few hours later, the NRPA received notice from the IFE that the reactor was in “a very special condition.”

What that meant was that the IFE had discovered temperature fluctuations in the reactor vessel indicating an increased neutron flux in the core, and with that the danger of hydrogen formation. Bellona would like to note that it was hydrogen formation in the reactor core that led to a series of explosions at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011.

The IFE therefore had to ask the NRPA for permission to open the valves again, even if that meant releasing radiation to the public. The release that followed was, according to the NRPA, within the emission limit values specified in the operating permit.

In Summary

The IFE has been under special supervision by the NRPA, but it doesn’t seem to Bellona that the IFE has taken the requirement for increased reporting nearly seriously enough. It seems they further didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation that arose in October. The IFE either neglected procedures it’s obligated to follow, made insufficient measurements, or failed to report the results satisfactorily.

Bellona is concerned that the reactor core may become unstable by just closing the vents. Hydrogen formation in the reactor core is very serious, as Fukushima showed. The IFE has previously stopped circulation in the primary cooling circuit for, among other things, maintenance while the reactor has been shut down.

Those who live around Halden had previously been satisfied with guarantees that the ravine in which the reactor [sits] could hermetically seal it off. As the incident in October shows, this guarantee no longer applies.

Nils Bøhmer is Bellona’s general director.

http://bellona.org/news/nuclear-issues/2017-03-norways-halden-reactor-a-poor-safety-culture-and-a-history-of-near-misses

Posted under Fair Use Rules

News articles from incident:

http://enenews.com/alarm-radioactive-leak-at-nuclear-plant-damaged-fuel-in-reactor-workers-immediately-evacuated-from-site-reactor-in-a-very-special-condition-dangerous-neutron-flux-in-core-reported

— Floating reactors: avoiding another Fukushima or creating more damage and risk? (VIDEO)

This short must-see video by MIT Associate Professor Jacopo Buongiorno. Download this video and save it.

Quotes from the article below and the video:

“The ocean is inexpensive real estate.”

“The ocean itself can be used as an infinite heat sink.

“The decay heat which is generated by the nuclear fuel, even after the reactor is shut down, can be removed indefinitely,”

Jacopo Buongiorno, MIT

The collaborators listed in the article don’t include biologists, marine biologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, or medical experts. This is an economic development project with some safety-appearing measures.

 

From RT

18 Apr, 2014

A group of American engineers proposed bringing nuclear power generating facilities out to sea, to secure them from earthquakes and tsunamis, and prevent a possible meltdown threat by submerging a reactor’s active zone.

A report by American scientists to be presented at the Small Modular Reactors Symposium, hosted by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, suggests that a nuclear power plant could be built in a form of standardized floating offshore platforms similar to modern drilling oil rigs and anchored about 10km out into the ocean. Electric power would be transferred to land by underwater cables.

Jacopo Buongiorno, associate professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who led the research, believes the project has a number of crucial advantages.

The main peculiarity of the new project is that a reactor is put into the underwater part of the facility, where it would be securely cooled by seawater in case of an emergency.

“The ocean itself can be used as an infinite heat sink. The decay heat, which is generated by the nuclear fuel even after the reactor is shutdown, can be removed indefinitely,” Buongiorno said, adding that “The reactor containment itself is essentially underwater.”

Such NPP would be safe from earthquakes and also from tsunamis inflicted by aftershocks. Back in 2011, a combination of these two devastated the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, which led to breakdown of the reactors’ cooling systems and eventually ended with meltdown of two reactors’ active cores. Radioactive fallout from that catastrophe is set to contaminate the Pacific Ocean for many years to come.

Positioning the plant should also be a simple process: just tow the station to wherever it is needed and moor it to the seafloor. No need to look for a seismically safe place with plenty of water, a sea or lake, nearby as with traditional nuclear power plants.

“The ocean is inexpensive real estate,” Buongiorno said.

The all-steel sea-based construction of the facility also eliminates the need for expensive concrete works, which make up a considerable part of the cost of any nuclear power plant.

Buongiorno stressed the versatility of the project which could be adjusted to match any energy consumption need, be it 50 or 1,000 megawatts.

“It’s a flexible concept,” he said.

The personnel of the plant could work on rotating scheme, with living quarters placed atop of the facility.

When the working lifespan of such plant is expired, it could be decommissioned the same way it is currently done nuclear submarines’ reactors, a well-proven technology considerably less expensive than decommission of a ground-based nuclear power plant.

The project is being developed by MIT Professors Jacopo Buongiorno, Michael W. Golay, Neil E. Todreas and other MIT staff, with support from the University of Wisconsin, and the major US nuclear plant and offshore platform construction company Chicago Bridge and Iron.

Developers of the project believe the concept could be required by many countries, in the first place earthquake- and tsunami-prone Japan, Indonesia, Chile etc.

Russia’s floating nuclear power plant nearly complete

The idea of constructing sea-based nuclear power facilities is definitely not new yet only one country has so far managed to bring such a project to reality.

Russia is in the process of finalizing construction of a 70 megawatt floating nuclear co-generation plant named ‘Akademik Lomonosov’, after a famous Russian scientist of the 18th century. The project implies construction of a series, probably seven, of vessel-mounted, non-self-propelled autonomous power facilities.

Launched in 2010 by state-owned Rosatom nuclear energy corporation, the project is now in the final stage of construction at the Baltic shipyard in St. Petersburg.

The vessel hosting the plant is measured 140 by 30 meters and with 5.5-meter draught has a displacement of 21,500 tons. The crew of the plant consists of 70 engineers.

The power unit of the plant consists of two 35MW KLT-40C nuclear reactors and two steam-driven turbines.

The plant will be generating enough power to serve 200,000 people.

Unlike the floating plant proposed by the American engineers, ‘Akademik Lomonosov’ is not just a power generator. It also produces 300 megawatt of heat that could be transferred onshore. This will be equal to saving 200,000 tons of coal every year.

This is the major difference between the Russia’s nuclear power plant and American project, which sacrificed heat generation to security matters. An American plant moored 10 km off the coast cannot transfer hot water ashore so it will waste the heat and only warm up the waters nearby.

The facility could also be converted into desalination plant producing 240,000 cubic meters of fresh water per day, an immensely interesting solution for seaside countries with scarce water resources situated in Northern Africa and the Middle East.

The plant, with a lifespan of 40 years, will be re-fueled every three years and will have a 12-year service cycle, when the plant will undergo servicing and maintenance at the Baltic shipyard.

The equipment for the floating power plant has been developed and supplied by 136 companies and subcontractors.

Deployment of a nuclear facility out to sea have raised concerns of such environmental organizations as Greenpeace, which maintained that sea-based nuclear facility is prone to torpedo and missile attacks and could also be seized by terrorists striving to obtain nuclear materials for a ‘dirty’ nuclear bomb.

For all that Russia has well over 50 years of experience of operating nuclear powered icebreakers, nuclear submarines and other vessels, most of them specifically built for operation in the extreme conditions of the Arctic Ocean.

That’s why Rosatom is considering deployment of floating nuclear power plants to any region with either difficult weather conditions, such as the port of Pevek in the Russian Arctic or Vilyuchinsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s Pacific region, notorious for frequent seismic activities.

https://www.rt.com/news/floating-nuclear-power-plant-040/

— France: Forced closures of nuclear plants cause soaring energy prices

From Zero Hedge

French ‘Shocked’ As Power Prices Spike To 8-Year Highs On Nuclear Reactor Probe Shutdown

— France’s nuclear power stations ‘at risk of catastrophic failure’ — Sizewell B and 27 other EDF nuclear plants

Global Research, October 01, 2016
The Ecologist 29 September 2016
tumblr_lvqjar7N5n1qiypiuo1_500

A new review of the safety of France’s nuclear power stations has found that at least 18 of EDF’s units are are ”operating at risk of major accident due to carbon anomalies.”

The review was carried out at the request of Greenpeace France following the discovery of serious metallurgical flaws by French regulators in a reactor vessel at Flamanville, where an EPR plant is under construction.

The problem is that parts of the vessel and its cap contain high levels of carbon, making the metal brittle and potentially subject to catastrophic failure. These key components were provided by French nuclear engineering firm Areva, and forged at its Le Creusot.

“The nature of the flaw in the steel, an excess of carbon, reduces steel toughness and renders the components vulnerable to fast fracture and catastrophic failure putting the NPP at risk of a major radioactive release to the environment”, says nuclear safety expert John Large, whose consultancy Large Associates (LA) carried out the Review.

His report examines how the defects in the Flamanville EPR reactor pressure vessel came about during the manufacturing process, and escaped detection for years after forging. It then goes on to investigate what other safety-critical nuclear components might be suffering from the same defects.

Steam generators at 28 EDF nuclear sites at risk

After several months of investigation LA found that critical components of a further 28 nuclear plants were forged by Le Creusot using the same process. These are found in the steam generators – large, pod-like boilers – that have been installed at operational EDF nuclear power stations across France.

The conclusion is based on documents provided by IRSN (the independent French Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire) that reject assurances given by both EDF and Areva that there is no safety risk from steam generators containing the excess carbon flaw.

In August 2016, IRSN warned the French nuclear safety regulator Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN) that:

  • EdF’s submission was incomplete;
  • there is a risk of abrupt rupture which could lead to a reactor core fuel melt; and
  • immediate “compensatory” measures need to be put in place to safeguard the operational NPPs involved.

“As a result of Areva’s failures, a significant share of the French nuclear reactor fleet is at increased risk of severe radiological accident, including fuel core meltdown”, said Large. ”However, there is no simple or quick fix to this problem.

“The testing and inspection regime currently underway by Areva and EDF is incapable of detecting the extent and severity of the carbon problem and, moreover, it cannot ensure against the risk of rapid component failure. It is most certain that the IRSN finding will equally applies to replacement steam generators exported by Areva to overseas nuclear power plants around the world.”

EDF reactors face protracted closure, credit rating falls

EDF stated yesterday that it will carry out further tests on 12 nuclear reactors during their planned outages in the coming months – and that extended periods of outage are to be expected. “There are outages that could take longer than planned”, an EDF spokesman told Reuters.

“In 2015, we discovered the phenomenon of carbon segregation in the Flammanville EPR reactor. We decided to verify other equipments in the French nuclear park to make sure that other components are not impacted by the phenomenon.”

In anticipation of the nuclear closures, year-ahead electricity prices rose in the French wholesale power market, forcing power rises across Europe up to a one-year high.

Meanwhile Moody’s has downgraded EDF credit ratings across a spectrum of credit instruments. EDF’s long-term issuer and senior unsecured ratings fell from A2 to A3 while perpetual junior subordinated debt ratings fell to Baa3 from Baa2. Moody’s also  downgraded the group’s short-term ratings to Prime-2 from Prime-1.

According to Moody’s,

“the rating downgrade reflects its view that the action plan announced by EDF in April 2016, which includes government support, will not be sufficient to fully offset the adverse impact of the incremental risks associated the Hinkley Point C (HPC) project on the group’s credit profile.

“Moody’s believes that the significant scale and complexity of the HPC project will affect the group’s business and financial risk profiles. This is because the HPC project will expose EDF and its partner China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN, A3 negative) to significant construction risk as the plant will use the same European Pressurised reactor (EPR) technology that has been linked with material cost overruns and delays at Flamanville in France and Olkiluoto 3 in Finland. In addition, none of the four plants using the EPR technology currently constructed globally is operational yet.”

Once rating agencies have had time to evaluate the seriousness of EDF’s current problems with reactors packed with unsafe crirical components, further downgrades may follow. “The ratings could be downgraded if (1) credit metrics fall below Moody’s guidance for the A3 rating; or (2) EDF were to be significantly exposed to AREVA NP’s liabilities”, the agency warns.

Flamanville EPR heading for the scrapheap

The Review also shows that the reactor pressure vessel of the Flamanville EPR, which is already installed, does not have a Certificate of Conformity issued by ASN. This means that it does not comply with the European Directive on Pressure Equipment, nor does it meet the mandatory requirement of the ASN, which since 2008, stipulates that any new nuclear reactor coolant circuit component has to have a Certificate of Conformity before its production commences.

“Without a Certificate of Conformity the reactor pressure vessel and steam generators currently installed in Flamanville 3 will almost certainly have to be scrapped”, said Roger Spautz, responsible for nuclear campaign at Greenpeace France.

The review, he added, ”reveals evidence that at the Creusot Forge plant, Areva did not have the technical qualifications required to meet exacting nuclear safety standards. The plant was not under effective control and therefore had not mastered the necessary procedures for maintaining the exacting standards for quality control in the manufacture of safety-critical nuclear components.”

Areva has now acknowledged that ineffective quality controls at le Creusot Forge were mainly responsible not only for the flaws in the Flamanvile 3 EPR, but across other operational nuclear power plans – and that the technical failures date back to 1965.

Moreover, ASN has indicated that in the nuclear components supply chain three examples of Counterfeit, Fraudulent and Substandard Items (CFSI) have occurred in the year ending 2015.

The recent ASN publication (24th September 2016) of a list of the NPPs affected by the AREVA anomalies and irregularities demonstrates that the phenomenon not only has reached alarming proportions but is continuing to grow under scrutiny.

The number of components affected by irregularities and installed in NPPs in operation increased by 50 in April 2016 from 33 to 83 by 24th September this year. Irregularities affecting the Flamanville EPR increased from two to 20 over the same period.

Also at risk: Sizewell B, Hinkley C finance, Taishan EPRs

LA’s Review also relates these developments in France to the UK, specifically: the currently operating Sizewell B NPP in Suffolk; and the now contracted construction programme for the Hinkley Point C NPP.

Sizewell B which includes a number of components sourced from Le Creusot which need urgent examination and / or replacement in order to prevent unsafe operation. The fact that this could escape the UK’s nuclear regulators also indicates, says Large, that “the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) did not delve deep enough into the situation as now revealed by ASN.”

As for For Hinkley Point C, it now appears inevitable that the Flamanville reactor will not be completeted by its target date of the end of 2020, indeed it may very well never be completed at all. Under the terms of agreement for the plant’s construction accepted by the European Commission, this would render the UK government unable to extend promised credit guarantees to HPC’s financial backers.

“Now that ASN has deprioritized efforts on the under-construction Flamanville 3 NPP because of its pressing urgency to evaluate the risk situation for the operating NPPs”, says Large, ”there is a greater likelihood that Flamanville 3 will not reach the deadline for operation and validation of its technology by the UK Credit Guarantee cut-off date of December 2020.”

Also at risk are the two EPRs that Areva and EDF are currently constructing at Taishan in China. These are now at the most advanced stage of any EPR projects in the world, however there are increasing fears that they contain faulty components.

The vessels and domes at Taishan were also supplied by Areva, and manufactured by the same process as that utilised by Le Creusot. It is suspected that Chinese nuclear regulators may have decided to overlook this problem and hope for the best. However if they discover that the steam generators, which along with the reactor vessels have already been installed, are also at risk of catastrophic failure, that might prove a risk too far – even for China.

The danger for EDF and Areva is that the massive commercial liabilities they may be accruing for faulty reactors supplied to third parties, together with the tens of billions of euros of capital write-downs for projects they have to abandon, and the loss of generation revenues due to plant outages, could easily exceed their entire market capitalisation.

In other words: for EDF, Areva, their shareholders and the entire French nuclear industry, the end really could be nigh.

Oliver Tickell is contributing editor at The Ecologist.

— Pennsylvania: Nuclear plant operators suspended after prioritizing reactor operation ahead of safety

From Beyond Nuclear

As Susan Schwartz of the Press Enterprise reports from Salem Twp., PA, three senior reactor operators at the Susquehanna nuclear power plant (see NRC file photo, left) have been temporaily suspended, pending retraining:

Three senior reactor operators have been temporarily disqualified after they took a safety system offline before shutting down a reactor at the Susquehanna nuclear plant in May, regulators confirm. A nuclear watchdog believes the operators did it in an effort to avoid shutting down the unit, an expensive move for the plant.

Susquehanna has two reactors, both Fukushima Daiichi sibling designs. Susquehanna Units 1 and 2 are General Electric Mark II boiling water reactors.

The article, which reports the incident took place at Unit 2, quotes Dave Lochbaum of UCS:

Watchdog’s take

But David Lochbaum, nuclear safety project director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he suspects the operators disabled the safety system to buy themselves time in the hope of avoiding the shutdown.

If the high pressure coolant injection system is triggered, it can cause the unit to shut down automatically, said Lochbaum. He’s a nuclear engineer who worked 17 years in the industry and also a former reactor technology instructor with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

He believes the operators hoped that by delaying the automatic scram, they would give workers time to fix the electrical fault and restore proper cooling and ventilation so the reactor wouldn’t need to be shut down.

But before they took the safety system offline, they didn’t check to make sure nothing was happening that might require it to work.

“They breezed through that step,” he said. “They put the operation of the plant ahead of safety. They took some shortcuts.”

‘Mistakes were made’

That attitude contributed to the accident at Three Mile Island in 1979, he said.

Operators there misdiagnosed a problem with the reactor and shut off the safety systems, explained Lochbaum. If they had left them alone, he says the safety systems as designed would have saved the day.

The Susquehanna Steam Electric Station was nowhere near such dire straits, Lochbaum stressed.

“It’s unfortunate mistakes were made, but the system is pretty robust,” he said. “It would have taken several more miscues before this event would have resulted in meltdown or core damage.”

In other words, luckily, operators at Susquehanna Unit 2 in 2016 only made one major mistake, instead of several. The March 28, 1979 series of mistakes made at Three Mile Island Unit 2, however, led to a 50% core meltdown, and the worst nuclear power disaster — thus far, anyway — in U.S. history.


http://www.beyondnuclear.org/home/2016/7/20/susquehanna-operators-suspended-after-prioritizing-reactor-o.html

PG&E covers up continued safety problems at Diablo Canyon

From the Lompoc Record
February 25, 2016

Nuke plant poses risks

PG&E recently reported to the NRC its analysis of an incident that occurred on Dec. 31, 2014, at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.

PG&E described it as an “event or condition that could have prevented the fulfillment of the safety function of structures or systems needed to remove residual heat and mitigate the consequences of an accident.” Do they mean meltdown?

Just how small of a problem was this that took over a year to diagnose, repair and report? Did they shut down part of the plant during that year, or did they continue to operate without knowing the cause of the problem?

Once again we are reminded that while we sleep, the possibility of a nuclear disaster at Diablo is very real. How many safety regulations have been fudged away over the years? What health risks are people living downwind from these reactors subjected to?

The way for California to safely meet carbon emission standards is by using renewable sources, not by keeping Diablo open. Renewables mean no carbon or highly toxic radioactive waste hanging around for 250,000 years.

Shut it down now, before it’s too late.

by Simone Malboeuf
Los Osos

http://lompocrecord.com/news/opinion/mailbag/hartmann-nuke-risks-oil-trains/article_9f1703e4-4a34-5f16-997c-6be468a26bc9.html

Posted under Fair Use Rules.

 

• PG&E had 29 safety violations at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in 2014

From Mothers for Peace:

Region IV of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held the 2014 annual assessment meeting for Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant on June 24, 2015.

29 “gaps in excellence” in 2014
Statement by Jill ZamEk, Board Member of
San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace.
My name is Jill ZamEk, and I am a member of San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, the organization which has opposed the operation of Diablo Canyon since 1973.

There were 29 violations documented by the NRC at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in 2014.  I have read the 11 Inspection Reports, and I have concerns regarding the number and the significance of these violations.

As stated earlier by Tom Hipschman, all total for 2014, there was one White cited violation and 28 violations rated Green. Green means low safety significance because something dire could have occurred but didn’t. The vast majority of these 28 Green violations were non-cited – meaning that although violations occurred, there were no penalties applied.

The one White violation involved emergency preparedness.  The instructions for protecting those in the ocean within 10 miles of the plant were removed in 2005. It took 9 years for somebody to notice it.

The remaining 28 Green violations involved fire protection, inoperable emergency diesel generators, occupational radiation safety, poor maintenance planning on safety-related equipment, failure to follow procedures, problems with design control, and multiple instances of failure to identify and evaluate system interactions regarding seismically-induced systems.  Eleven of the violations involved security or materials control. One recent finding identified a violation dating back to the original construction welding process from 1974 – over 40 years ago.

Overwhelmingly, the root cause of these violations points to human performance deficiencies.

The violations that give me the greatest feelings of unease are the three involving the corrective action program – identifying and resolving problems.  Apparently there is an enormous backlog of problems involving operable but longstanding, degraded conditions at the plant.  Some problems were simply not identified in a timely manner, some disregarded and not put into the corrective action program, and others inappropriately delayed.

As of August 2014, there were 29 documented degraded conditions affecting safety-related equipment – the oldest dating from June 2008. (That’s over 2,000 days ago.) The median age of the problems was 1,176 days post-identification.  In the words of the NRC from the inspection report, there exists

“a large number of longstanding degraded or non-conforming conditions, some of which had not been appropriately addressed by compensatory measures or interim corrective actions.”

As we have witnessed in Chernobyl and Fukushima, the nuclear reactors and waste facilities at Diablo Canyon have the potential for causing profound devastation.  We as humans and the things we make are not flawless.  Ed Halpin referred to these flaws as “gaps in excellence.”  The 29 documented “gaps” demonstrate the enormous risk we face.

http://mothersforpeace.org/blog/29-gaps-in-excellence-in-2014

Comment: If the backup generators do not work, then any failure in grid power means that the reactors could become another Fukushima.

I’ve previously written about this with excerpts from Vulture’s Picnic by Greg Palast, including my comments to the NRC — https://healfukushima.org/2015/09/01/comments-to-the-nrc-on-diablo-canyon-relicensing/. The new Smart Grid is extremely vulnerable to hacking, and more so every day with networked devices, including Smart Meters, that connect directly to the grid.

This report is absolutely terrifying. The NRC did nothing about these violations. Few penalties, no one fired. And this is happening at nuclear power plants across the county – this lax management and zero safety culture.

It’s a ticking time bomb. And most of the public have no idea of their extreme danger.

• Comments to the NRC on Diablo Canyon relicensing

Comments submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
On Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant re-licensing
Docket Nos. 50-275 and 50-323NRC-2009-0552

Given the earthquake faults, the ongoing radioactive emissions from the plant, and the hacking risk to the plant, as well as PG&E’s deplorable safety record and culture, Diablo Canyon must be immediately shut down and decommissioned. The danger to the ocean, to the West Coast, and the world from nuclear energy has been amply demonstrated with the ongoing disaster at Fukushima.

The NRC allows Diablo Canyon to continue operating despite holding other NPPs to much higher and stricter standards. The Union of Concerned Scientists reported last year that Diablo Canyon does not comply with federal safety standards.[i]

Despite the disclosure this year that PG&E used the wrong accident and earthquake data when building safety equipment, and has failed since 1984 to use updated data, the NRC allows Diablo Canyon to remain open.[ii]

Also disclosed was that PG&E and the NRC altered Diablo Canyon’s operating license so it would conform.

Diablo Canyon discharges huge amounts of tritium, strontium and cesium into the ocean continually. PG&E stated in 2014 that Diablo Canyon regularly discharges more tritium than Fukushima NPP in its melted down state is pouring into the ocean.

That water [in 2012] contained 3,670 curies of tritium, or 136 trillion becquerels, according to the company, almost three-and- a-half times the amount released from the Fukushima plant into the ocean in the period starting May 2011. The plant also discharged cesium-137 and strontium-90, though at lower levels than Fukushima.[iii]

Since it was estimated in June 2014 that 60 PBq of cesium-137 had been released into the ocean from Fukushima[iv], and TEPCO announced that 5 billion Bq of Strontium-90 are released daily into the ocean from Fukushima[v], the questions have to be asked:

  • How much less?
  • Does it really matter how much less when we are dealing with such virulent poisons, poisons that bioaccumulate up the food chain?

Strontium mimics calcium and is known as the bone seeker.

There are unknown normal airborne releases, as well as periodic high releases when the reactors are re-fueled. These releases are averaged over 365 days, rather than given as the figures per release[vi]. The rain-out amounts from Diablo Canyon emissions combined with Fukushima fallout can only be imagined.

This is very serious and ongoing radioactive contamination of the environment.

In addition, there is the hazard from the power plant’s reliance on grid power.

Arne Gundersen:

…the most likely type of a nuclear accident is caused by a loss of offsite power.  That is what happened at Fukushima:  the power system AROUND the plant broke down.  If that happens, not only will the plant not have power, but the street lights won’t work.  According to the NRC, the street lights DO work.  Not only that, but your home lighting won’t work and your radio and TV won’t work.  But according to the NRC, you will be able to contact the outside world by phones or by radio or by television.   But remember the most likely cause of a nuclear accident is loss of offsite power and that has NEVER been part of an emergency plan, assuming that all of that does not work.[vii]

There are increasing attacks to the power grid. PG&E has played a pivotal role in creating the so-called “Smart Grid”, which former CIA director James Woolsey calls a stupid grid because of its vulnerability[viii]. PG&E has also aggressively Installed wireless Smart Meters and encouraged network-connected Smart appliances, creating millions of vectors to the power grid and increasing exponentially the possibilities for hacking[ix].

These factors put the residents of the region in increased jeopardy. A hacked power grid disconnects essential power for keeping reactor cores and fuel pools cool. Without power, the power plant must rely on generators to turn on instantly at full power and sustain operation for as long as needed.

Fukushima’s troubles started before the tsunami. The earthquake cut off electrical power to the plant, and at least some of the generators failed when they were turned on. Journalist Greg Palast in Vulture’s Picnic has a long and detailed section on the vulnerability of generators as backup power.

A page from the notebook of an Emergency Diesel Generator expert, R.D. Jacobs, hired to monitor a test for a nuclear reactor’s back-up cooling system.

This is to record that on my last visit,….I pressed [a company executive] saying that we just did not know what the axial vibration of the crankshaft was doing to the [diesel] units. I was unable to impress him sufficiently.

The diesels were “tested” by turning them on for a few minutes at low power. They worked find. But R.D., a straight shooter, suspected problems. He wanted the motors opened and inspected. He was told by power company management to go to hell.

When we forced the plant builder [in Suffolk County, New York] to test the three Emergency Diesel Generators in emergency conditions, one failed almost immediately (the crankshaft snapped, as R.D.[Jacobs} predicted), then the second, then the third. We named the three diesels “Snap, Crackle, and Pop.”

…I knew that all these diesels were basically designed, or even taken from, cruise ship engine rooms or old locomotives. . I’m not an engineer, but I suspect a motor designed for a leisurely float n Bermuda is not fit for a life-and-death scramble. So, I asked [an industry insider], “They really can’t work at all, the diesels, can they?”

That’s when he introduced me to the phrase “crash start.”

On a ship, he explained, you would take half an hour to warm up the bearings, and then slowly build up to “critical” crankshaft speed, and only then add the “load.” the propeller…

That’s for sailing. But in a nuclear emergency, “the diesels have to go from stationary to taking a full load in less than ten seconds.”

Worse, to avoid having to buy additional diesels, the nuclear operators turbo-charge them, revving them to 4,000 horsepower in ten seconds when they are designed for half that output.

The result: snap, crackle, pop.

I learned that, at Fukushima, at least two of the diesels failed before the tsunami hit. What destroyed those diesels was turning them on. In other words, the diesels are junk, are crap, are not capable of getting up to full power in seconds, then run continuously for days….

”So, you saying emergency diesels can’t work in an emergency?”

“Actually, they’re just not designed for it.”

Vulture’s Picnic, p. 294-297

Scientific American had a very telling graphic with a computer keyboard, a time bomb, and a power plant[x].

I would not visit San Luis Obispo County nor would I live there because of this resident hazard.

The U.S. government is ultimately at fault for promoting these hazardous power plants in the first place. But even with safety regulations in place, the NRC clearly cannot police itself, and it certainly cannot provide even a bare minimum of safety for the nuclear power plants under its jurisdiction and the people who live in the vicinity.

It is lunacy to continue this extremely toxic method for generating electricity, when the current costs to society and the environment from its continuance are so high and go on permanently into the future. Solar is coming online in increasing levels, and Californians’ energy use has been dropping. The cost is too great to allow its continuance one more day.

Shut down Diablo Canyon now.

 

[i] http://www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/diablo-canyon-report-0381.html

[ii] http://www.foe.org/news/news-releases/2015-03-diablo-pge-secretly-used-wrong-data-for-safety-equipment#sthash.8DQl1ReI.dpuf

[iii] http://www.telegram.com/article/20140203/NEWS/302039780/1052

[iv] http://www.nature.com/srep/2014/140304/srep04276/full/srep04276.html

[v] At press conference 8/25/14 http://www.tepco.co.jp/tepconews/library/archive-j.html

[vi] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tk7xzg1T0kk&feature=player_detailpage#t=1574

[vii] http://fairewinds.com/content/white-house-nrc-recommend-50-mile-fukushima-evacuation-yet-insist-us-safe-only-10

[viii] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lF3eywqD-I

[ix] http://www.smartgridnews.com/artman/publish/End_Use_Smart_Homes/Are-smart-homes-a-security-threat-to-electric-power-utilities-5914.html

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2013/07/26/smart-homes-hack/

http://www.sfgate.com/technology/article/Security-lags-in-protecting-Internet-connected-5153837.php#photo-5734988

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-01/turkish-blackout-shows-world-power-grids-under-threat

“More and more attacks are targeting the industrial control systems that run the production networks of critical infrastructure, stealing data and causing damage,” said David Emm, a principal researcher at Moscow-based security company Kaspersky Lab Inc., which advises governments and businesses.

All power use was previously measured by mechanical meters, which were inspected and read by a utility worker. Now, utilities are turning to smart meters, which communicate live data to customers and the utility company. This opens up the systems to hackers…

“Introducing smart meters means you install access points to the electricity grid in private homes,” said Reinhard Gruenwald, an energy expert at the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag, a scientific institution advising German lawmakers. “You can’t physically protect those. If criminals are smart enough, they may be able to manipulate them.”

http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/business/tech-biz/07/16/14/smart-technology-could-make-utilities-more-vulnerable-hackers

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2011/1206/Cyber-security-Power-grid-grows-more-vulnerable-to-attack-report-finds

Massachusetts Institute for Technology — “Millions of new communicating electronic devices … will introduce attack vectors — paths that attackers can use to gain access to computer systems or other communicating equipment. That increase[s] the risk of intentional and accidental communications disruptions,” including “loss of control over grid devices, loss of communications between grid entities or control centers, or blackouts.”

[x] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/power-hackers/