Archive for the ‘safety’ Category

The Kazakhstan low-enriched uranium bank will not make the world safer

October 30, 2017

Banking on Uranium Makes the World Less Safe https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/09/08/banking-on-uranium-makes-the-world-less-safe/  There is a curious fallacy that continues to persist among arms control groups rightly concerned with reducing the threat of the use of nuclear weapons. It is that encouraging the use of nuclear energy will achieve this goal.

This illogical notion is enshrined in Article IV of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which rewards signatories who do not yet have nuclear weapons with the “inalienable right” to “develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

Now comes the international low-enriched uranium bank, which opened on August 29 in Kazakhstan, to expedite this right. It further reinforces the Article IV doctrine— that the spread of nuclear power will diminish the capability and the desire to manufacture nuclear weapons.

The uranium bank will purchase and store low-enriched uranium, fuel for civilian reactors, ostensibly guaranteeing a ready supply in case of market disruptions. But it is also positioned as a response to the Iran conundrum, a country whose uranium enrichment program cast suspicion over whether its real agenda was to continue enriching its uranium supply to weapons-grade level.

The bank will be run by the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose remit is “to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy.” Evidently the IAEA has been quite successful in this promotional endeavor since the agency boasts that “dozens of countries today are interested in pursuing nuclear energy.”

A caveat here, borne out by the evidence of nuclear energy’s declining global share of the electricity market, is that far more countries are “interested” than are actually pursuing nuclear energy. The IAEA numbers are more aspiration than reality.

Superficially at least, the bank idea sounds sensible enough. There will be no need to worry that countries considering a nuclear power program might secretly shift to nuclear weapons production. In addition to a proliferation barrier, the bank will serve as a huge cost savings, sparing countries the expense of investing in their own uranium enrichment facilities.

The problem with this premise is that, rather than make the planet safer, it actually adds to the risks we already face. News reports pointed to the bank’s advantages for developing countries. But developing nations would be much better off implementing cheaper, safer renewable energy, far more suited to countries that lack major infrastructure and widespread electrical grid penetration.

Instead, the IAEA will use its uranium bank to provide a financial incentive to poorer countries in good standing with the agency to choose nuclear energy over renewables. For developing countries already struggling with poverty and the effects of climate change, this creates the added risk of a catastrophic nuclear accident, the financial burden of building nuclear power plants in the first place, and of course an unsolved radioactive waste problem.

No country needs nuclear energy. Renewable energy is soaring worldwide, is far cheaper than nuclear, and obviously a whole lot safer. No country has to worry about another’s potential misuse of the sun or wind as a deadly weapon. There is no solar non-proliferation treaty. We should be talking countries out of developing dangerous and expensive nuclear energy, not paving the way for them.

There is zero logic for a country like Saudi Arabia, also mentioned during the uranium bank’s unveiling, to choose nuclear over solar or wind energy. As Senator Markey (D-MA) once unforgettably pointed out: “Saudi Arabia is the Saudi Arabia of solar.” But the uranium bank could be just the carrot that sunny country needs to abandon renewables in favor of uranium.

This is precisely the problem with the NPT Article IV. Why “reward” non-nuclear weapons countries with dangerous nuclear energy? If they really need electricity, and the UN wants to be helpful, why not support a major investment in renewables? It all goes back to the Bomb, of course, and the Gordian knot of nuclear power and nuclear weapons that the uranium bank just pulled even tighter.

Will the uranium bank be too big to fail? Or will it even be big at all? With nuclear energy in steep decline worldwide, unable to compete with renewables and natural gas; and with major nuclear corporations, including Areva and Westinghouse, going bankrupt, will there even be enough customers?

Clothed in wooly non-proliferation rhetoric, the uranium bank is nothing more than a lupine marketing enterprise to support a struggling nuclear industry desperate to remain relevant as more and more plants close and new construction plans are canceled. The IAEA and its uranium bank just made its prospects a whole lot brighter and a safer future for our planet a whole lot dimmer.

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Australia’s unsafe plan to sell uranium to Ukraine

July 24, 2017

In a statement tabled in the Senate last night, the Turnbull government has confirmed it will seek to proceed with selling Uranium to Ukraine despite significant safety and security concerns raised by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.

Uranium exports to Ukraine


“Australia, the nation that fuelled Fukushima should not sell uranium to the country that gave us Chernobyl,” said the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Dave Sweeney.

In February a JSCOT investigation found that existing safeguards were ‘not sufficient’ and there was a risk Australian nuclear material would disappear off the radar in Ukraine.

The government has ignored JSCOT’s recommended pre-conditions around risk assessment and recovery of nuclear materials and is looking to advance the deal despite the risks of war, civil unrest and nuclear insecurity in the eastern European country, which is involved in hostilities with Russia.

“The treaties committee’s report found ‘Australian nuclear material should never be placed in a situation where there is a risk that regulatory control of the material will be lost’, yet this is exactly what could happen under the deeply inadequate checks and balances that apply to exported Australian uranium,” said Mr Sweeney.

“JSCOT recommended the Australian government undertake a detailed and proper risk assessment and develop an effective contingency plan for the removal of ‘at risk’ Australian nuclear material prior to any sales deal.

“Unreasonably and irresponsibly the government response fails to credibly address this. Australia should be very cautious about providing nuclear fuel to an already tense geo-political situation in eastern Europe.

“Ukraine’s nuclear sector is plagued by serious and unresolved safety, security and governance issues.

“Two-thirds of Ukraine’s aging fleet of 15 nuclear reactors will be past its design lifetime use-by date in just four years.

“This is an insecure and unsafe industrial sector in a highly uncertain part of the world. Australian uranium directly fuelled Fukushima and this deeply inadequate response shows the government has learnt little and cares less”.

Testing of USA nuclear warheads is held up, due to safety factors at Los Alamos laboratory

July 24, 2017

A separate Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board report in February detailed the magnitude of the shortfall:

Los Alamos’ dangerous work, it said, demands 27 fully qualified criticality safety engineers.

The lab has 10

Safety problems at a Los Alamos laboratory delay U.S. nuclear warhead testing and production A facility that handles the cores of U.S. nuclear weapons has been mostly closed since 2013 over its inability to control worker safety risks, Science,  By The Center for Public IntegrityR. Jeffrey SmithPatrick MalonJun. 30, 2017 

In mid-2013, four federal nuclear safety experts brought an alarming message to the top official in charge of America’s warhead production: Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nation’s sole site for making and testing a key nuclear bomb part, wasn’t taking needed safety precautions. The lab, they said, was ill-prepared to prevent an accident that could kill lab workers, and potentially others nearby.

Some safety infractions had already occurred at the lab that year. But Neile Miller, who was then the acting head of the National Nuclear Security Administration in Washington, says those experts specifically told her that Los Alamos didn’t have enough personnel who knew how to handle plutonium so it didn’t accidentally go “critical” and start an uncontrolled chain reaction.

Such chain reactions generate intense bursts of deadly radiation, and over the last half-century have claimed nearly two dozen lives. The precise consequences, Miller said in a recent interview, “did not need an explanation. You don’t want an accident involving criticality and plutonium.” Indeed, Miller said, criticality “is one of those trigger words” that immediately gets the attention of those responsible for preventing a nuclear weapons disaster.

With two of the four experts remaining in her Washington office overlooking the national mall, Miller picked up the phone and called the lab’s director, Charles McMillan, at his own office on the idyllic Los Alamos campus in the New Mexico mountains, where nuclear weapons work is financed by a federal payment exceeding $2 billion a year. She recommended that a sensitive facility conducting plutonium operations — inside a building known as PF-4 — be shut down, immediately, while the safety deficiencies were fixed.

McMillan, a nuclear physicist and weapons designer with government-funded compensation exceeding a million dollars a year, responded that he had believed the problems could be solved while that lab kept operating. He was “reluctant” to shut it down, Miller recalled. But as the call proceeded, he became open to her view that the risks were too high, she added. So on McMillan’s order, the facility was shut within a day, with little public notice.

In the secrecy-shrouded world of America’s nuclear weapons work, that decision had far-reaching consequences. (more…)

Los Alamos National Plutonium Facility-4 (PF-4) and its dangerous plutonium pits

July 24, 2017

Safety problems at a Los Alamos laboratory delay U.S. nuclear warhead testing and production A facility that handles the cores of U.S. nuclear weapons has been mostly closed since 2013 over its inability to control worker safety risks, Science,  By The Center for Public IntegrityR. Jeffrey SmithPatrick Malon Jun. 30, 2017 “……..A unique task, unfulfilled for the past four years

Before the work was halted in 2013, those overseeing the U.S. nuclear arsenal typically pulled six or seven warheads from bombers or missiles every year for dismantlement and invasive diagnostic testing. One reason is that the unstable metals that act as spark plugs for the bombs — plutonium and highly-enriched uranium — bathe themselves and nearby electrical components in radiation, with sometimes unpredictable consequences; another is that all the bombs’ metallic components are subject to normal, sometimes fitful corrosion.

Plutonium also slowly decays, with some of its isotopes becoming uranium. And the special high explosives fabricated by nuclear scientists to compress the plutonium cores in a deliberate detonation also have an unstable molecular structure.

Invasive testing provides details vital to the computer modeling and scientifically simulated plutonium behavior that has replaced nuclear testing, said DOE consultant David Overskei. He compared the pit — so named because it is spherical and positioned near the center of a warhead — to the heart of a human being, explaining that destructive testing is like taking a blood sample capable of exposing harmful maladies.

The aim, as Vice President Joe Biden said in a 2010 National Defense University speech, has been to “anticipate potential problems and reduce their impact on our arsenal.” Weapons designers say it’s what anyone would do if they were storing a car for years while still expecting the engine to start and the vehicle to speed down the road at the sudden turn of a key.

Typically, warheads selected for testing are first sent to the Energy Department’s Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas. Technicians there gently separate their components — such as the detonators — at that site; they also send the pits — used in a primary nuclear explosion — to Los Alamos, and the highly-enriched uranium — used in a secondary explosion — to Oak Ridge, Tenn. The arming, fusing, and firing mechanisms are tested by Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque and other locations.

At Los Alamos, the pits are brought to Plutonium Facility-4 (PF-4), a boxy, two-story, concrete building with a footprint the size of two city blocks.  Inside are hundreds of special “glove boxes” for working with plutonium, a series of individual laboratories, and a special vault, in which containers hold plutonium on racks meant to ensure that escaping neutrons don’t collide too often with other atoms, provoking them to fission uncontrollably. Only a small portion of the building is normally used for pit surveillance, while about a fifth is used for pit fabrication, and another seven percent for analytical chemistry and pit certification. Budget documents indicate that annual federal spending for the work centered there is nearly $200 million.

“The Los Alamos Plutonium Facility is a unique and essential national security capability,” McMillan, the lab’s director, said last September during a visit by then-Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who watched as technicians — attempting to restart their work after the lengthy hiatus — used pressing machines and other equipment to fabricate a mock pit, rather than a usable one.

The building lies in the middle of a 40-acre campus in the mountains above Santa Fe hastily built during World War II to coordinate the construction of the two nuclear bombs used in Japan. Los Alamos is still considered the foremost U.S. nuclear weapons facility — where six of the nine warheads currently in the U.S. arsenal were designed, and where plutonium-based power supplies for most of the nation’s deep-space probes are fabricated. Hundreds of nuclear physicists work there.

Unfortunately, it also has an active seismic zone beneath the PF-4 building, producing persistent worries among the staff and members of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a congressionally-chartered oversight group, that if it experienced a rare, large earthquake, the roof could collapse and toss chunks of plutonium so closely together a chain reaction would ensue, spewing radioactive, cancer-causing plutonium particles throughout nearby residential communities.

Millions of dollars have already been spent to diminish this risk, which until recently exceeded federal guidelines, and the Trump administration last month proposed spending $14 million in 2018 alone to strengthen the building’s firewalls and sprinkler systems. The government has also sunk more than $450 million into preparations for construction of a modern and more seismically durable pit production facility at Los Alamos, projected to have a total price tag between $1.5 billion and $3 billion.

Making new pits involves melting, casting, and machining the plutonium, while assessing how well or poorly the pits are aging requires using various instruments to withdraw small pieces for detailed chemical and material analysis. These operations are typically done in the glove boxes, by specialists whose hands are inserted into gloves attached to the side of sealed containers meant to keep the plutonium particles from escaping. But the work is messy, requiring constant vigilance to be certain that too much of the metal doesn’t pile up in a compact space. The byproducts include “chunks, shards, and grains of plutonium metal,” all of it radioactive and unstable, according to a 2015 Congressional Research Service report.

Notably, a 2013 Los Alamos study depicted leaks of glove boxes at PF-4 as frequent — averaging nearly three a month — and said they were often caused by avoidable errors such as inattention, improper maintenance, collisions with rolling storage carts, complacency and degradation from the heat that plutonium constantly emits. It said that sometimes those operating or supervising the equipment “accepted risk” or took a chance, rushed to meet a deadline, or otherwise succumbed to workplace production pressures.

“Operations always wants it yesterday,” the lab’s current criticality safety chief and the lone NNSA expert assigned to that issue in the agency’s Los Alamos oversight office warned in a private briefing for their colleagues at Sandia labs last month. Managers “must shield analysts from demands” from production personnel, they said.

Besides posing a serious health risk to those in PF-4, glove box releases of radioactive material each cost the government $23,000 to clean up, on average, the Los Alamos study said.

An acute shortage of criticality experts

Calculating exactly “how much material can come together before there’s an explosion” — as the Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman once put it — is a complex task. While visiting the production site for highly-enriched uranium in

Oak Ridge, Tenn., during the 1940’s, for example, Feynman was surprised to see stocks of that fissionable material deliberately stored in separate rooms, but on an adjoining wall that posed no barrier to collisions involving atoms of uranium and escaping neutrons on both sides. “It was very dangerous and they had not paid any attention to the safety at all,” Feynman wrote years later.

Plutonium work is so fraught with risk that the total mass of that metal allowed to be present in PF-4 is strictly limited. A decade ago, the limit was increased without an appropriate understanding of the risks, according to an NNSA technical bulletin in February. But with pieces of it strewn and stored throughout the normally busy building, partly because the vault is typically full, its managers have labored for years to systematically track down and remove excess stocks. They had some success last year, when they got rid of nearly a quarter of the plutonium on the building’s “main floor,” according to recent budget documents.

Criticality specialists are employed not only to help set these overall mass limits but to guide technicians so they don’t inadvertently trigger chain reactions in their daily work; those specialists are also supposed to be the first-responders when too much dangerous material is found in one place.

“The weird thing about criticality safety is that it’s not intuitive,” Don Nichols, a former chief for defense nuclear safety at the NNSA, said in an interview. He cited an instance in which someone operating a stirring machine noticed that fissionable liquids were forming a “critical” mass, so the operator shut the stirrer off, not immediately realizing that doing so made the problem worse. In other instances, analysts had judged a plutonium operation was safe, but then more workers — whose bodies reflect and slow neutrons — wound up being present nearby, creating unanticipated risks.

Those doing the weapons disassemblies and invasive pit studies are typically under “a big level pressure” to complete a certain number every year, Nichols added. They are expected to do “so many of these in this amount of time,” to allow the labs to certify to the president that the stockpile is viable. Meanwhile, the calculations involved in avoiding criticality — which depend on the shape, size, form, quantity, and geometric configuration of material being used in more than a dozen different industrial operations — are so complex that it takes a year and a half of training for an engineer to become qualified and as many as five years to become proficient, experts say.

“It’s difficult to find people who want to do this job,” particularly at the remote Los Alamos site, said McConnell, the NNSA safety chief. With plutonium use mostly confined to creating the world’s most powerful explosives, “there are…very few public-sector opportunities for people to develop these skills,” he added. As a result, he said, many NNSA sites lack the desired number of experts, which slows down production.

At the time of the 2013 shutdown, after numerous internal warnings about the consequences of its mismanagement, Los Alamos had only “a single junior qualified criticality safety engineer” still in place, according to the February NNSA technical bulletin. Nichols, who was then the NNSA’s associate administrator for safety and health, said McMillan didn’t “realize how serious it was until we took notice and helped him take notice.”

Without having adequate staff on hand to guide their operations safely, technicians at PF-4 were unable to carry out a scheduled destructive surveillance in 2014 of a refurbished plutonium pit meant for a warhead to be fit atop American submarine-launched ballistic missiles. It’s been modernized at a cost of $946 million since 2014, with total expenses predicted to exceed $3.7 billion. Generally, up to 10 of the first pits produced for a new warhead type are set aside for surveillance to assure they’re safely constructed and potent before they’re deployed. But the planned disassembly was cancelled and the NNSA hasn’t scheduled another yet, because of the shutdown.

The lab also hasn’t been able to complete planned invasive studies of the aging of plutonium used in a warhead for an aircraft-delivered nuclear bomb, now being modernized at an estimated cost of $7.4 billion to $10 billion.

Former deputy NNSA director Madelyn Creedon told an industry conference in March that if new funds are given to the agency in President Trump’s new budget, she knows where she’d advise it be spent. “One of the things that doesn’t take a huge amount of money but it’s one that has been cut back over the last couple of years, is surveillance — enhanced surveillance” of existing warheads, Creedon said……..http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/06/safety-problems-los-alamos-laboratory-delay-us-nuclear-warhead-testing-and-production

How the USA weapons lab at Los Alamos just missed a nuclear disaster

July 24, 2017

A near-disaster at a federal nuclear weapons laboratory takes a hidden toll on America’s arsenal , Science Repeated safety lapses hobble Los Alamos National Laboratory’s work on the cores of U.S. nuclear warheads By The Center for Public IntegrityPatrick Malone Jun. 29, 2017 Technicians at the government’s Los Alamos National Laboratory settled on what seemed like a surefire way to win praise from their bosses in August 2011: In a hi-tech testing and manufacturing building pivotal to sustaining America’s nuclear arsenal, they gathered eight rods painstakingly crafted out of plutonium, and positioned them side-by-side on a table to photograph how nice they looked.

At many jobs, this would be innocent bragging. But plutonium is the unstable, radioactive, man-made fuel of a nuclear explosion, and it isn’t amenable to showboating. When too much is put in one place, it becomes “critical” and begins to fission uncontrollably, spontaneously sparking a nuclear chain reaction, which releases energy and generates a deadly burst of radiation.The resulting blue glow — known as Cherenkov radiation — has accidentally and abruptly flashed at least 60 times since the dawn of the nuclear age, signaling an instantaneous nuclear charge and causing a total of 21 agonizing deaths. So keeping bits of plutonium far apart is one of the bedrock rules that those working on the nuclear arsenal are supposed to follow to prevent workplace accidents. It’s Physics 101 for nuclear scientists, but has sometimes been ignored at Los Alamos.

As luck had it that August day, a supervisor returned from her lunch break, noticed the dangerous configuration, and ordered a technician to move the rods apart. But in so doing, she violated safety rules calling for a swift evacuation of all personnel in “criticality” events, because bodies — and even hands — can reflect and slow the neutrons emitted by plutonium, increasing the likelihood of a nuclear chain reaction. A more senior lab official instead improperly decided that others in the room should keep working, according to a witness and an Energy Department report describing the incident.

Catastrophe was avoided and no announcement was made at the time about the near-miss — but officials internally described what happened as the most dangerous nuclear-related incident at that facility in years. It then set in motion a calamity of a different sort: Virtually all of the Los Alamos engineers tasked with keeping workers safe from criticality incidents decided to quit, having become frustrated by the sloppy work demonstrated by the 2011 event and what they considered the lab management’s callousness about nuclear risks and its desire to put its own profits above safety.

When this exodus was in turn noticed in Washington, officials there concluded the privately-run lab was not adequately protecting its workers from a radiation disaster. In 2013, they worked with the lab director to shut down its plutonium handling operations so the workforce could be retrained to meet modern safety standards.

Those efforts never fully succeeded, however, and so what was anticipated as a brief work stoppage has turned into a nearly four-year shutdown of portions of the huge laboratory building where the plutonium work is located, known as PF-4.

Officials privately say that the closure in turn undermined the nation’s ability to fabricate the cores of new nuclear weapons and obstructed key scientific examinations of existing weapons to ensure they still work. The exact cost to taxpayers of idling the facility is unclear, but an internal Los Alamos report estimated in 2013 that shutting down the lab where such work is conducted costs the government as much as $1.36 million a day in lost productivity.

And most remarkably, Los Alamos’s managers still have not figured out a way to fully meet the most elemental nuclear safety standards. ……

these safety challenges aren’t confined to Los Alamos. The Center’s probe revealed a frightening series of glaring worker safety risks, previously unpublicized accidents, and dangerously lax management practices. The investigation further revealed that the penalties imposed by the government on the private firms that make America’s nuclear weapons were typically just pinpricks, and that instead the firms annually were awarded large profits in the same years that major safety lapses occurred. Some were awarded new contracts despite repeated, avoidable accidents, including some that exposed workers to radiation…….

George Anastas, a past president of the Health Physics Society who analyzed dozens of internal government reports about criticality problems at Los Alamos for the Center, said he wonders if “the work at Los Alamos [can] be done somewhere else? Because it appears the safety culture, the safety leadership, has gone to hell in a handbasket.”

Anastas said the reports, spanning more than a decade, describe “a series of accidents waiting to happen.” The lab, he said, is “dodging so many bullets that it’s scary as hell.”http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/06/near-disaster-federal-nuclear-weapons-laboratory-takes-hidden-toll-america-s-arsenal

The case for examining a permanently closed U.S. nuclear reactor

July 24, 2017

Permanently closed U.S. nuclear reactor should be “autopsied” Paul Gunter, Beyond Nuclear, 25 June 17

Permanently closed U.S. nuclear reactor should be “autopsied” Examination could identify potential safety flaws in operating reactors with parts from same controversial French forge

TAKOMA PARK, MD, June 21, 2017 –

  • A permanently closed nuclear reactor in Florida that, documents show, likely has a manufactured weakness in a vital safety component produced by a controversial French forge that also supplied components to 17 still operating U.S. reactors, should be “autopsied,” says Beyond Nuclear, a leading national anti-nuclear watchdog group.
  • The Crystal River Unit 3 reactor in Red Level, Florida, was permanently closed in 2013 and is in the decommissioning process. Research by Beyond Nuclear staff found that the Florida reactor likely shares an at-risk safety-related component manufactured at the French Le Creusot forge that is currently shut down and under international investigation for the loss of quality control of its manufacturing process and falsification of quality assurance documentation. The Crystal River reactor pressure vessel head was supplied by a factory at Chalon-Saint Marcel that assembles pieces forged at Le Creusot, both Areva-owned factories.

“The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission should seize upon this opportunity and ‘autopsy’ Crystal River 3,” said Paul Gunter, Director of the Reactor Oversight Project at Beyond Nuclear. “A close examination of Crystal River could provide critical safety data to inform the decision-making on whether the seventeen U.S. reactors still operating with at-risk Le Creusot parts should also be materially tested,” Gunter said.

The Le Creusot factory forges large ingots into safety-related components such as reactor pressure vessels, pressure vessel lids and steam generators.

The French industrial facility was discovered to be operating with lax quality control procedures that allowed the introduction of an excessive amount of carbon contamination into its manufacturing process, a problem technically known as “carbon segregation.”

The excess carbon weakens the component’s “fracture toughness” in the face of the reactor’s extreme pressure and temperature. Failure of a weakened component during operation would initiate the loss of cooling to the reactor and a serious nuclear accident.

At-risk safety components potentially containing these flaws, and manufactured at the Creusot Forge, have been delivered to reactors in France, other countries and the United States over a period of decades.

The NRC published Areva’s list in January 2017 identifying the 17 operational U.S. reactors with the at-risk components from the French forge. However, the federal agency did not disclose that Crystal River also installed a Le Creusot-manufactured replacement pressure vessel head during the October 2003 refueling outage and then operated the unit for nearly a decade before permanently closing.

“This information provides the incentive to do material testing on a component here in the U.S. from the suspect forge,” Gunter added. “It is only common sense, when presented in effect with the corpse, that the NRC should autopsy Crystal River before the body is buried,” he continued. ”This is a chance to better understand scientifically what the potential risks are at operating reactors with Le Creusot parts rather than relying on computer modeling, simulation or speculation,” Gunter said. “

For the sake of science and public safety, it is fortuitous that Crystal River, which operated for nearly a decade with a possible Le Creusot replacement component, is now permanently shut down and can be materially examined,” Gunter concluded.

The carbon segregation problem was first discovered at the Areva-designed EPR reactor still under construction, and now well over budget and behind schedule, at the Flamanville Unit 3 in Normandy, France. French safety authorities are investigating and are expected to make a decision in September on whether to continue with the troubled Flamanville reactor which experts say does not meet the fracture resistance standards.

Beyond Nuclear petitioned the NRC on January 24, 2017 to suspend operations at the 17 affected U.S. reactors pending thorough inspections and material testing for the carbon contamination of the at-risk components and to open an investigation into the potential falsification of Le Creusot quality assurance documentation. To date, the NRC has accepted the petition in part for further review and in part referred the potential falsification of documents to the federal agency’s allegations unit.

Only one affected nuclear plant, Dominion Energy’s Millstone 2 in Connecticut, has conducted a visual inspection on a Creusot Forge component at the behest of the state energy authority, but did not observe any defects or cracking.

However, a French newspaper revealed last week that metal specimens harvested from the Flamanville Unit 3 reactor pressure vessel, and subjected to shock resilience testing, fell dramatically below regulatory performance standards. A newly surfaced memo (jn French) from a leading safety physicist at the prestigious Institute of Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety said that, if subjected to violent pressure-thermal shock, the EPR reactor pressure vessel could shatter. Such a rupture could lead to a major loss of coolant accident and subsequently a nuclear meltdown.

Repeated safety lapses hobble federal nuclear weapons laboratory – including a near disaster

July 24, 2017

A near-disaster at a federal nuclear weapons laboratory takes a hidden toll on America’s arsenal, Repeated safety lapses hobble Los Alamos National Laboratory’s work on the cores of U.S. nuclear warheads, Center For Public Integrity , by Patrick Malone, June 19, 2017

Key findings
  • Technicians at Los Alamos National Laboratory placed rods of plutonium so closely together on a table in 2011 that they nearly caused a runaway nuclear chain reaction, which would likely have killed all those nearby and spread cancer-causing plutonium particles.
  • The accident led to an exodus of key engineers from Los Alamos who had warned the lab to take better precautions, and this led in turn to a nearly four-year shutdown of key plutonium operations at Los Alamos.
  • A similar incident in Japan in 1999 provoked a burst of radiation that caused two agonizing deaths, a mass evacuation and an order that 310,000 seek shelter. Three workers have died from such radiation bursts at Los Alamos in the past.
  • Los Alamos’s handling of plutonium — a key component of all U.S. nuclear weapons — has been criticized in more than 40 official government reports stretching over a decade, but the lab has repeatedly struggled to meet federal safety requirements.
  • Officials in Washington proposed to fine the lab more than a half-million dollars for its record of poor nuclear safety dating back a decade, but in the end chose not to do so, exemplifying what critics say is a climate of impunity for nuclear weapons contractors.
Eight rods of plutonium within inches — had a few more rods been placed nearby it would have triggered a disaster. Los Alamos National Laboratory/U.S. Department of Energy

At many jobs, this would be innocent bragging. But plutonium is the unstable, radioactive, man-made fuel of a nuclear explosion, and it isn’t amenable to showboating. When too much is put in one place, it becomes “critical” and begins to fission uncontrollably, spontaneously sparking a nuclear chain reaction, which releases energy and generates a deadly burst of radiation.

The resulting blue glow — known as Cherenkov radiation — has accidentally and abruptly flashed at least 60 times since the dawn of the nuclear age, signaling an instantaneous nuclear charge and causing a total of 21 agonizing deaths. So keeping bits of plutonium far apart is one of the bedrock rules that those working on the nuclear arsenal are supposed to follow to prevent workplace accidents. It’s Physics 101 for nuclear scientists, but has sometimes been ignored at Los Alamos……

Workplace safety, many of the reports say, has frequently taken a back seat to profit-seeking at the Los Alamos, New Mexico, lab — which is run by a group of three private firms and the University of California — as managers there chase lucrative government bonuses tied to accomplishing specific goals for producing and recycling the plutonium parts of nuclear weapons.

And these safety challenges aren’t confined to Los Alamos. The Center’s probe revealed a frightening series of glaring worker safety risks, previously unpublicized accidents, and dangerously lax management practices. The investigation further revealed that the penalties imposed by the government on the private firms that make America’s nuclear weapons were typically just pinpricks, and that instead the firms annually were awarded large profits in the same years that major safety lapses occurred. Some were awarded new contracts despite repeated, avoidable accidents, including some that exposed workers to radiation….

George Anastas, a past president of the Health Physics Society who analyzed dozens of internal government reports about criticality problems at Los Alamos for the Center, said he wonders if “the work at Los Alamos [can] be done somewhere else? Because it appears the safety culture, the safety leadership, has gone to hell in a handbasket.”

Anastas said the reports, spanning more than a decade, describe “a series of accidents waiting to happen.” The lab, he said, is “dodging so many bullets that it’s scary as hell.”https://apps.publicintegrity.org/nuclear-negligence/near-disaster/

Cameco uranium company: a litany of its accidents and controversies

May 18, 2017

Unviable economics of nuclear power catches up with Cameco, Independent Australia, Jim Green 9 May 2017  CAMECO’S INCIDENTS AND ACCIDENTS: 1981‒2016

This table lists many of Cameco’s accidents and controversies since 1981 — leaks and spills, the promotion of dangerous radiation junk science (in WA and elsewhere) appalling treatment of Indigenous people, systemic and sometimes deliberate safety failures and so on.

Date and Location Description of Incident
1981−89:

Saskatchewan, Canada

153 spills occurred at three uranium mines in Saskatchewan from 1981 to 1989. Cameco was fined C$10,000 for negligence in relation to a 1989 spill of two million litres of radium- and arsenic-contaminated water from the Rabbit Lake mine.
1990, May 13:

Blind River Uranium Refinery

Leak shuts down the Canadian refinery. Approximately 178 kg of radioactive uranium dust leaked into the air over a 30-hour period.
1993:

Canada/US

Inter-Church Uranium Committee from Saskatchewan reveals export of at least 500 tons of depleted uranium to the US military by Cameco, despite several Canadian treaties to export uranium only for “peaceful purposes”.
1998:

Kyrgyzstan

A truck en route to a Cameco gold main spills 2 tons of cyanide into the Barskoon River, a local drinking water and agricultural water source. 2,600 people treated and more than 1,000 hospitalized.
2001−

onwards:

Ontario

A 2003 report by the Sierra Club of Canada provides details of 20 major safety-related incidents and unresolved safety concerns at the Bruce nuclear power plant.
2002:

Kyrgyzstan

Fatality at Cameco’s Kumtor Gold Mine. Death of a Kyrgyz national, buried in the collapse of a 200 meter-high pit wall.
2003, April:

McArthur River, Saskatchewan

Cave-in and flood of radioactive water at the McArthur River mine. A consultant’s report found that Cameco had been repeatedly warned about the water hazards right up until the accident happened.
2004:

Key Lake uranium mill, Canada

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission approves Key Lake license renewal, despite continuing pit sidewall sloughing into the tailings disposed in the Deilmann pit. One million cubic meters of sand had already slumped into the tailings.
2004, April:

Port Hope, Ontario

Gamma radiation discovered in a school playground during testing in advance of playground upgrades. Although the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and AECL tried to dismiss the findings, the material under the school had to be removed when it was converted to low-cost housing in 2011. The contaminated material came from the uranium processing facility in Port Hope, now owned by Cameco.
2006, April:

Cigar Lake, Saskatchewan

A water inflow began at the bottom of the 6-meter wide shaft, 392 meters below the surface. All the workers left the area and removed equipment. According to a miner, “the mine’s radiation alarm kept going off, but the radiation technician merely re-set the alarm, assuring us that everything was fine.”
2006, Oct.: Cigar Lake, Saskatchewan Cameco said its “deficient” development of the Cigar Lake mine contributed to a flood that delayed the mine project by three years and would double construction costs.
2007:

Port Hope, Ontario

Substantial leakage of radioactive and chemical pollutants into the soil under the uranium conversion facility ‒ leakage not detected by monitoring wells.
2008:

US/Canada

Uranium mines owned by Cameco in Nebraska, Wyoming, and Canada have all had spills and leaks. Cameco made a settlement payment of $1.4 million to Wyoming for license violations, and $50,000 to Nebraska for license violations.
2008, January:

Rabbit Lake mill

Seepage underneath the mill discovered after a contract worker noticed a pool of uranium-tainted ice at an outdoor worksite.
2008, May:

Port Hope, Ontario

It was discovered during soil decontamination at the suspended Port Hope uranium processing facility that egress from degraded holding floors had contaminated the harbour surrounding the facility, which flows into Lake Ontario.
2008, June:

Key Lake

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission intends to approve the license renewal for Cameco’s Key Lake mill although CNSC staff assigned ‘C’ ratings (“below requirements”) in four out of 10 program areas assessed, including waste management, fire protection, environmental protection, and training.
2010:

Rabbit Lake

Uranium discharges from Rabbit Lake (highest by far in Canada) showed increase rather than the predicted decrease in 2010.
2011: Ship from Vancouver to China A number of sea containers holding drums of uranium concentrate are damaged and loose uranium is found in the hold.
2012, August:

Port Hope, Ontario

Spill of uranium dioxide powder resulted in one worker being exposed to uranium and three other workers potentially exposed during clean-up.
2012:

Northern Saskatchewan

Draft agreement between Cameco, Areva and the Aboriginal community of Pinehouse includes extraordinary clauses such as this: “Pinehouse promises to: … Not make statements or say things in public or to any government, business or agency that opposes Cameco/Areva’s mining operations; Make reasonable efforts to ensure Pinehouse members do not say or do anything that interferes with or delays Cameco/Areva’s mining, or do or say anything that is not consistent with Pinehouse’s promises under the Collaboration Agreement.”
2012, June 23: Blind River refinery, Ontario Three workers exposed to airborne uranium dust after a worker loosened a ring clamp on a drum of uranium oxide, the lid blew off and about 26 kg of the material were ejected into the air.
2013‒ongoing: Canada Cameco is battling it out in tax court with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Up to US$1.6 billion in corporate taxes allegedly went unpaid. Cameco also involved in tax dispute with the US IRS. According to Cameco, the IRS is seeking an additional $32 million in taxes, plus interest, and may also seek penalties.
2013: English River First Nation, Canada English River First Nation sign deal with Cameco and Areva, agreeing to support Millennium uranium mine and drop a lawsuit over land near the proposed mine. Some English River First Nation band members reacted strongly to the agreement. Cheryl Maurice said. “I am speaking for a group of people who weren’t aware that this agreement was being negotiated because there was no consultation process.”
2013, June: Saskatchewan Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde says the provincial government should not issue any new permits for potash, uranium or other resource development until First Nations concerns are addressed. Bellegarde said the province’s lack of a revenue-sharing deal with First Nations stemmed from “economic racism.” “Do not issue a licence to Cameco or Areva or BHP until indigenous issues are addressed,” he said.
2013, August:

Troy, Ohio, USA

A fire occurred on a truck carrying uranium hexafluoride which originated from Cameco’s refinery in Port Hope, Ontario. Nuclear regulators in Canada – where the cargo originated – and in the US were not informed of the incident.
2013, Sept.:

Northern Saskatchewan

Sierra Club Canada produces a detailed report on Cameco’s uranium operations in Northern Saskatchewan. It details systemic corporate failure by Cameco as well as systemic regulatory failure.
2014, Jan.:

Port Hope

About 450 Port Hope homeowners have had their soil sampled and properties tested in the first phase of the biggest radioactive clean-up in Canadian history. Some 1.2 million cubic metres of contaminated soil will be entombed in a storage facility. More than 5,000 private and public properties will undergo testing to identify places which need remediation. Port Hope is riddled with low-level radioactive waste, a product of radium and uranium refining at the Eldorado / Cameco refinery. The clean-up will cost an estimated US$1.3 billion.
2014, March A statement endorsed by 39 medical doctors calls on Cameco to stop promoting dangerous radiation junk science. The statement reads in part: “Cameco has consistently promoted the fringe scientific view that exposure to low-level radiation is harmless. Those views are at odds with mainstream scientific evidence.”
2015 A uranium supply contract was signed by Cameco and India’s Department of Atomic Energy on April 15, 2015. Nuclear arms control expert Crispin Rovere said: “As with the proposed Australia–India nuclear agreement, the text of the Canadian deal likewise abrogates the widely accepted principle that the nuclear recipient is accountable to the supplier. This is ironic given it was nuclear material diverted from a Canadian-supplied reactor that led to the India’s break-out in the first place. It would be like the citizens of Hiroshima deciding it would be a good idea to host American nuclear weapons within the city – the absurdity is quite astonishing.”
2015: Saskatchewan Cameco’s uranium operations in Saskatchewan are facing opposition from the Clearwater Dene First Nation. A group called Holding the Line Northern Trappers Alliance has been camping in the area to block companies from further exploratory drilling in their territory. The group set up camp in November 2014 and plans to remain until mining companies leave. Concerns include Cameco’s uranium deal with India and the health effects of Cameco’s operations on the Indigenous people of northern Saskatchewan.
2015:

Key Lake mill, Canada

Cameco personnel identify the presence of calcined uranium oxide within a building. Five workers receive doses exceeding the weekly action level of 1 mSv.
2016: Smith Ranch ISL uranium mine, Wyoming, USA The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission finds that a supervisor from Cameco subsidiary Power Resources deliberately failed to maintain complete and accurate records of workers’ exposure to radiation. The NRC issues a Notice of Violation to Cameco.
2016: Smith Ranch ISL uranium mine, Wyoming, USA

 

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a Confirmatory Action Letter to Cameco subsidiary Power Resources documenting actions that the company has agreed to take before resuming shipments of radioactive sludge to a Utah facility. The letter followed two incidents in which containers of radioactive barium sulfate sludge, a byproduct of uranium ore processing, arrived at their destination with external contamination from leakage during transport.

A more detailed, referenced version of this information, written by Mara Bonacci and Jim Green for Friends of the Earth Australia, is posted at wiseinternational.orghttps://independentaustralia.net/business/business-display/unviable-economics-of-nuclear-power-catches-up-with-cameco,10275

“Acceptable Risk” – the NRC’s faulty concept

March 9, 2017
the nuclear manufacturers—Westinghouse and General Electric—.. refuse to participate in any project unless they are guaranteed to be free of any liability for any offsite accident consequences. If they believed the NRC risk calculations, they would have no difficulty in accepting the litigation risk—but they obviously don’t. In short, the organizations most highly knowledgeable about nuclear safety don’t trust the NRC’s probabilistic calculations………
A definition of risk that placed greater emphasis on avoiding large-consequence events would be more in line with the common sense of the public whom the NRC is supposed to be protecting. If nuclear power is to have any long-term future, it will have to go beyond even that level of protection….Just as the nuclear manufacturers don’t want to bet their companies on calculations of nuclear safety, neither do people at large want to bet their cities and countrysides.


When 10,000 square miles of contamination is an acceptable risk: The NRC’s faulty concept,
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 9 JANUARY 2017 Victor Gilinsky In making safety decisions, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission uses accident probability calculations that are much more optimistic than anything that nuclear manufacturers like General Electric and Westinghouse actually believe. The result is weak public protection. A good example is the NRC commissioners’ rejection in 2014 of a proposal to limit the possible severe consequences of spent fuel pool fires in nuclear power plants because the proposal’s cost, however modest, exceeded the value of the expected reduction in “risk.”

Spent fuel pools are where highly radioactive (and thus thermally hot) used reactor fuel is stored after it is removed from the reactor core. If a pool loses its water supply, the spent fuel can overheat and eventually burn, releasing large quantities of radioactivity.  The spent fuel pool issue gained prominence after the 2011 Fukushima accident. For a time during the accident the dominant concern was that spent fuel in Fukushima’s damaged Unit 4 pool might catch fire. It didn’t happen, but it could have multiplied the effects of the catastrophic Fukushima accident manyfold. The NRC staff told the commissioners in 2014 that a worst-case spent fuel pool fire in a US plant like those at Fukushima—of which there are nearly three dozen—could release 25 times more long-lasting radioactivity than escaped from the Fukushima reactor vessels, and perhaps even more. Such a release could render 10,000 square miles uninhabitable and (around the Pennsylvania nuclear plant the staff chose as an example) could require the evacuation of 4 million persons.

The specific proposal before the commissioners was to limit the amount of radioactive spent fuel in a pool and thus to reduce the consequences of a fire by a factor of ten. This would be accomplished by speeding up the transfer of radioactive spent (used) fuel from the pool into “dry cask” storage. The plant owners have to do this eventually, but earlier transfers increase the cost. The commissioners saw their role as deciding whether the safety benefit—the reduction in risk—warranted this cost increase.

In fact, they weren’t deciding anything. The commissioners lent an air of official seriousness to the proceeding, but the decision making was on autopilot. It involved calculating the average risk (R) of an accident by multiplying two numbers, the accident’s probability (P) and its consequence (C). If P is sufficiently small, the average risk (or P times C) will be negligible no matter how large the consequence. And, therefore, the possible reduction in risk will hardly be worth any expenditure. That is how it worked in the 2014 case of a possible spent fuel fire, and that is how it has worked in most cases involving protection against severe accidents.

Actually, most cases don’t get this far. The commission has a threshold for the staff to investigate a safety issue posed by a hypothetical accident. If the estimated probability of “prompt” deaths offsite is below 2 in 1 million per year, the NRC staff need not investigate further. This involves a kind of Catch-22. The NRC assumes effective evacuation of the surrounding area in the event of an accident, so there aren’t people to be irradiated, and even substantial accidents don’t exceed the commission’s threshold……..

Consider the implications of NRC’s risk definition for the risk of long-term land contamination: The NRC staff’s projection of about 10,000 square miles, when multiplied by the staff-estimated accident probability, becomes an annual risk of about one-thousandth of a square mile, or less than an acre per year. Since valuable farmland runs at several thousand dollars per acre, the NRC conclusion is that any safety improvement that costs more than that isn’t worthwhile in terms of saving land. Similarly, the risk of displacing persons, becomes about half a person displaced per year, perhaps at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, and so, again, per NRC logic, it is not worth spending more than that to avoid long-term evacuations to protect against severe spent fuel pool fires. This isn’t the conclusion most people would arrive at for themselves or their home towns.

There are several things wrong with the NRC’s cost-benefit approach to nuclear safety. To begin with, neither factor in the risk formula—probability times consequence—can be calculated with any accuracy. For example, the consequences of an accident requiring the long-term, possibly permanent, evacuation of 4 million will surely not be limited to the expense of such an evacuation. It would, for example, almost certainly spell the end of nuclear power use in the United States and likely in many countries, with huge economic consequences. …….

Nor is the situation much better when it comes to estimating the accident probability. As there is little data on large accidents, the accident probability is a calculated number. The NRC staff relies increasingly on elaborate calculations that model the various failure modes of a nuclear plant. For outsiders, or for that matter the NRC commissioners themselves, the result essentially comes out of a black box. …..

Which brings us to a deep flaw in NRC’s safety methodology—its reliance on the average risk as the figure of merit. It is by no means the only possible measure of risk. We know that in many statistical situations the average is not the best choice to characterize the data.  It works where there are well-established data on both probabilities and consequences as, for example, in considering measures to reduce auto accidents. It doesn’t make sense for high consequence/low probability events, for one thing, because the numbers are so poorly known. Also, using average risk doesn’t reflect what most people—the people the NRC is supposed to be protecting—want to achieve. They don’t want to risk losing a city, no matter what the calculated probabilities. That is how the nuclear manufacturers—Westinghouse and General Electric—see it, too. They refuse to participate in any project unless they are guaranteed to be free of any liability for any offsite accident consequences. If they believed the NRC risk calculations, they would have no difficulty in accepting the litigation risk—but they obviously don’t. In short, the organizations most highly knowledgeable about nuclear safety don’t trust the NRC’s probabilistic calculations………

Any change in the NRC’s approach to nuclear risk must come from the outside; the agency has too much invested in the current approach for internal reform to have a chance. When a witness at the 2014 Commission meeting on spent fuel pool fires, Clark University professor Gordon Thompson, questioned using the average risk as the figure of merit, only one commissioner took notice and that was to ridicule the notion. The commissioners should have paid more attention.

A definition of risk that placed greater emphasis on avoiding large-consequence events would be more in line with the common sense of the public whom the NRC is supposed to be protecting. If nuclear power is to have any long-term future, it will have to go beyond even that level of protection. A 2012 report of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, a group heavily involved with the nuclear industry, called for a major step-up in nuclear safety and warned that severe accident impacts on people’s lives were “wholly inconsistent with an economically viable and socially acceptable use of nuclear energy.” Just as the nuclear manufacturers don’t want to bet their companies on calculations of nuclear safety, neither do people at large want to bet their cities and countrysides. http://thebulletin.org/when-10000-square-miles-contamination-acceptable-risk-nrc%E2%80%99s-faulty-concept10459

Background to shutdown of Indian Point nuclear power plant

February 1, 2017

An engineer’s perspective on the Indian Point shutdown http://enformable.com/2017/01/an-engineers-perspective-on-the-indian-point-shutdown/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Enformable+%28Enformable%29  Author: , 11 Jan 17  

The good—the very good—energy news is that the Indian Point nuclear power plants 26 miles north of New York City will be closed in the next few years under an agreement reached between New York State and the plants’ owner, Entergy.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has long been calling for the plants to be shut down because, as the New York Times related in its story on the pact, they pose “too great a risk to New York City.” Environmental and safe-energy organizations have been highly active for decades in working for the shutdown of the plants. Under the agreement, one Indian Point plant will shut down by April 2020, the second by April 2021.

They would be among the many nuclear power plants in the U.S. which their owners have in recent years decided to close or have announced will be shut down in a few years.

This comes in the face of nuclear power plant accidents—the most recent the ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan—and competitive power being less expensive including renewable and safe solar and wind energy.

Last year the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant in Nebraska closed following the shutdowns of Kewanee in Wisconsin, Vermont Yankee in Vermont, Crystal River 3 in Florida and both San Onofre 2 and 3 in California. Nuclear plant operators say they will close Palisades in Michigan next year and then Oyster Creek in New Jersey and Pilgrim in Massachusetts in 2019 and California’s Diablo Canyon 1 in 2024 and Diablo Canyon 3 in 2025.

This brings the number of nuclear plants down to a few more than 90—a far cry from President Richard Nixon’s scheme to have 1,000 nuclear plants in the U.S. by the year 2000.

But the bad—the very bad—energy news is that there are still many promoters of nuclear power in industry and government still pushing and, most importantly, the transition team of incoming President Donald Trump has been “asking for ways to keep nuclear power alive,” as Bloomberg news reported last month.

As I was reading last week the first reports on the Indian Point agreement, I received a phone call from an engineer who has been in the nuclear industry for more than 30 years—with his view of the situation.

The engineer, employed at nuclear plants and for a major nuclear plant manufacturer, wanted to relate that even with the Indian Point news—“and I’d keep my fingers crossed that there is no disaster involving those aged Indian Point plants in those next three or four years”—nuclear power remains a “ticking time bomb.” Concerned about retaliation, he asked his name not be published.

Here is some of the information he passed on—a story of experiences of an engineer in the nuclear power industry for more than three decades and his warnings and expectations.

THE SECRETIVE INPO REPORT SYSTEM

Several months after the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania in March 1979, the nuclear industry set up the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) based in Atlanta, Georgia. The idea was to have a nuclear industry group that “would share information” on problems and incidents at nuclear power plants, he said.

If there is a problem at one nuclear power plant, through an INPO report it is communicated to other nuclear plant operators. Thus the various plant operators could “cross-reference” happenings at other plants and determine if they might apply to them.

The reports are “coded by color,” explained the engineer. Those which are “green” involve an incident or condition that might or might not indicate a wider problem. A “yellow” report is on an occurrence “that could cause significant problems down the road.” A “red” report is the most serious and represents “a problem that could have led to a core meltdown”—and could be present widely among nuclear plants and for which action needs to be taken immediately.

The engineer said he has read more than 100 “Code Red” reports. What they reflect, he said, is that “we’ve been very, very lucky so far!”

If the general public would see these “red” reports, its view on nuclear power would turn strongly negative, said the engineer.

But this is prevented by INPO, “created and solely funded by the nuclear industry,” thus its reports “are not covered by the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and are regarded as highly secretive.” The reports should be required to be made public, said the engineer. “It’s high time the country wakes up to the dangers we undergo with nuclear power plants.”

THE NRC INSPECTION FARCE

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is supposed to be the federal agency that is the watchdog over nuclear power plants and it frequently boasts of how it has “two resident inspectors” at each nuclear power plant in the nation, he noted.

However, explained the engineer, “the NRC inspectors are not allowed to go into the plant on their own. They have to be escorted. There can be no surprise inspections. Indeed, the only inspections that can be made are those that come after the NRC inspectors “get permission from upper management at the plant.”

The inspectors “have to contact upper management and say they want to inspect an area. The word is then passed down from management that inspectors are coming—so ‘clean up’ whatever is the situation is.”

“The inspectors hands are tied,” said the engineer.

THE 60- AND NOW 80-YEAR OPERATING DELUSION

When nuclear power plants were first designed decades ago, explained the engineer, the extent of their mechanical life was established at 40 years. The engineer is highly familiar with these calculations having worked for a leading manufacturer of nuclear plants, General Electric.

The components in nuclear plants, particularly their steel parts, “have an inherent working shelf life,” said the engineer.

In determining the 40-year total operating time, the engineer said that calculated were elements that included the wear and tear of refueling cycles, emergency shutdowns and the “nuclear embrittlement from radioactivity that impacts on the nuclear reactor vessel itself including the head bolts and other related piping, and what the entire system can handle. Further, the reactor vessel is the one component in a nuclear plant that can never be replaced because it becomes so hot with radioactivity. If a reactor vessel cracks, there is no way of repairing it and any certainty of containment of radioactivity is not guaranteed.”

Thus the U.S. government limited the operating licenses it issued for all nuclear power plants to 40 years. However, in recent times the NRC has “rubber-stamped license extensions” of an additional 20 years now to more than 85 of the nuclear plants in the country—permitting them to run for 60 years. Moreover, a push is now on, led by nuclear plant owners Exelon and Dominion, to have the NRC grant license extensions of 20 additional years—to let nuclear plants run for 80 years.

Exelon, the owner of the largest number of nuclear plants in the U.S., last year announced it would ask the NRC to extend the operating licenses of its two Peach Bottom plants in Pennsylvania to 80 years. Dominion declared earlier that it would seek NRC approval to run its two Surry nuclear power plants in Virginia for 80 years.

“That a nuclear plant can run for 60 years or 80 years is wishful thinking,” said the engineer. “The industry has thrown out the window all the data developed about the lifetime of a nuclear plant. It would ignore the standards to benefit their wallets, for greed, with total disregard for the country’s safety.”

The engineer went on that since “Day One” of nuclear power, because of the danger of the technology, “they’ve been playing Russian roulette—putting one bullet in the chamber and hoping that it would not fire. By going to 60 years and now possibly to 80 years, “they’re putting all the bullets in every chamber—and taking out only one and pulling the trigger.”

Further, what the NRC has also been doing is not only letting nuclear plants operate longer but “uprating” them—allowing them to run “hotter and harder” to generate more electricity and ostensibly more profit. “Catastrophe is being invited,” said the engineer.

 THE CARBON-FREE MYTH

A big argument of nuclear promoters in a period of global warming and climate change is that “reactors aren’t putting greenhouse gases out into the atmosphere,” noted the engineer.

But this “completely ignores” the “nuclear chain”—the cycle of the nuclear power process that begins with the mining of uranium and continues with milling, enrichment and fabrication of nuclear fuel “and all of this is carbon intensive.” There are the greenhouse gasses discharged during the construction of the steel and formation of the concrete used in nuclear plants, transportation that is required, and in the construction of the plants themselves.

“It comes back to a net gain of zero,” said the engineer.

Meanwhile, “we have so many ways of generating electric power that are far more truly carbon-free.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

“The bottom line,” said the engineer, “is that radioactivity is the deadliest material which exists on the face of this planet—and we have no way of controlling it once it is out. With radioactivity, you can’t see it, smell it, touch it or hear it—and you can’t clean it up. There is nothing with which we can suck up radiation.”

Once in the atmosphere—once having been emitted from a nuclear plant through routine operation or in an accident—“that radiation is out there killing living tissue whether it be plant, animal or human life and causing illness and death.”

What about the claim by the nuclear industry and promoters of nuclear power within the federal government of a “new generation” of nuclear power plants that would be safer? The only difference, said the engineer, is that it might be a “different kind of gun—but it will have the same bullets: radioactivity that kills.”

The engineer said “I’d like to see every nuclear plant shut down—yesterday.”

In announcing the agreement on the closing of Indian Point, Governor Cuomo described it as a “ticking time bomb.” There are more of them. Nuclear power overall remains, as the experienced engineer from the nuclear industry said, a “ticking time bomb.”

And every nuclear power plant needs to be shut down.