With nuclear plant in Plymouth nearing decision, NRC fails us again on safety

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    With nuclear plant in Plymouth nearing decision, NRC fails us again on safety

    The Pilgrim nuclear plant in Plymouth is up for decision this year on a 20-year extension. After 37 years, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has finally started some actions proposing to reduce hazards of older boiling-water reactors with relatively small Mark I and Mark II containments--like Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim. The proposals are being criticized as too little, too late and too expensive. [ Brian Wingfield, NRC rules after Fukushima criticized for cost, adequacy, Business Week, March 10, 2012, at http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-03-09/nrc-requires-reactor-blackout-plans-in-first-fukushima-rules ]

    Not long after the 1975 fire at the Brown's Ferry plant in Alabama, which nearly wrecked three of the particularly hazardous units, both engineers for their manufacturer and NRC staff found that reactors with those types of containments would be unable to survive severe accidents. All NRC did about the problems so far was to urge power-plant operators to address the issues, somehow. [Brian Jordan, Denton urges industry to settle doubts about Mark I containment, Inside N.R.C. 8(12):1-3, June 9, 1986]

    Trying to curry favor with NRC after the Pilgrim plant was closed for other safety problems, in 1987 Boston Edison proposed a "direct torus vent system" claimed to reduce hazards, also called a "hard vent" system. NRC allowed it to be installed, and eventually it was emulated at other reactors with Mark I containments. However, the design was never certified or given realistic testing. When first called on to save the three Japanese reactors that melted down last year, it failed, for different reasons, at all three.

    Like predecessors AEC and ERDA, NRC has usually been a reactive rather than a proactive agent for nuclear power safety. Its tired phrase is "Lessons Learned." [ R.W. Borchardt, Proposed charter for the longer-term review of Lessons Learned from the March 11, 2011, Japanese earthquake and tsunami, SECY-11-0117, U.S. NRC, August 26, 2011, at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/commission/secys/2011/2011-0117scy.pdf ]

    Almost unknown to the general public, if "hard vent" systems were to work as claimed, before reactors blew up from hydrogen accumulation or overpressure, vents would discharge highly radioactive contents directly into the atmosphere: smaller disasters instead of larger ones. Fundamentally, there is no cure for the problems. The containments are too small, and enlarging them substantially would be tantamount to replacing entire reactors. Despite knowing that for decades, NRC has been issuing 20-year operating extensions. It is a corrupt agency.

     
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    Re: With nuclear plant in Plymouth nearing decision, NRC fails us again on safety

    Hmm,
    Appdev you missed the point. The Fukushima reactors had no control due to the tsunami. Controllers could not issue a command to any system. No automatic system had power at the time of the explosion. A serious risk not present at most US type 1 reactors. Your realistic testing is worse than the grid failure in hmm 2002? The named plants had power backups running for the grid failure. No damage. The hard vents do not discharge highly radioactive material at all.
    If they discharge, ever they would discharge tritium at the worst. This is not a serious human pathogen and not a carcinogenic radiation assumeing you wear clothes. The issue with hard vents is preventing explosions. Hydrogen is tough to put in the atmosphere without a bang. You certainly do not want it venting into the interior space of a building.
     The Fukushima cesium came as far as can be verified, the spent fuel pool which was loaded with cesium and went dry.
     
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    NRC tries putting lipstick on nuclear pigs

    As anyone would know who followed and understood the technical reports, the devastated reactors in Japan released huge amounts of highly radioactive debris into air, ocean and earth, and explosions above their spent fuel pools released still more.

    An internal explosion in one reactor wrecked the "hard vent" connected to it. The "hard vents" at two reactors were opened, but that did not prevent explosions. [ Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, Special report on the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station, November, 2011, available at http://www.nei.org/resourcesandstats/documentlibrary/safetyandsecurity/reports/special-report-on-the-nuclear-accident-at-the-fukushima-daiichi-nuclear-power-station ]

    Contrary to news reports so far reaching the general public, on Friday, March 9, NRC did not "issue orders" about improving reactor safety. Instead, it issued a press release. [ NRC to issue orders, U.S. NRC, March 9, 2012, at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/news/2012/12-023.pdf ]

    NRC commissioners all acted between February 27 and March 2, but sleazebags at the agency waited until late Friday afternoon, March 9, before releasing "news." [ Commission voting record, U.S. NRC, March 9, 2012, at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/commission/cvr/2012/2012-0025vtr.pdf ]

    Reports reaching the public so far are full of junk about reactors surviving "indefinitely" without access to the power grid or their normal cooling water, about "commercial-grade" equipment, about "filtered vents" and other speculation. [ R.W. Borchardt, Director of Operations, Policy issue, U.S. NRC, February 17, 2012, at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/commission/secys/2012/2012-0025scy.pdf ]

    What is actually happening is business as usual. NRC commissioners approved vague "requirements," yet to be issued as orders, and they are waiting for reactor operators and builders to say what they are willing to do. They will mostly rubber-stamp whatever the industry comes up with.

     
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    Only "hard" thing about vents is explaining them

    The "hard vent" system used at boiling-water reactors with Mark I containments was a political invention, not a technical one. Under former management by Boston Edison, operators at the Pilgrim nuclear power-plant in Plymouth had committed a string of major safety errors. NRC ordered the plant closed in 1986. The company president and several employees were fired; the remainer were retrained, over about three years.

    With 40 percent of the generation idle, new company managers were desperate to curry favor with NRC and proposed a "hard vent" system to reduce well-known hazards of Pilgrim's Mark I containment. Although over $200 million was spent on the project, in current value, the system was never thoroughly evaluated, never given realistic testing, never standardized and never certified by NRC.

    Venting a containment violates its basic purpose: to contain. During the Three Mile Island disaster of 1979, the pressurized-water reactor containment was large and strong enough to contain nearly all the hazards. The smaller Mark I boiling-water reactor containments used at Fukushima and at Pilgrim in Plymouth lack enough capacity to cope with a severe accident--clearly known for over 30 years.

    In the late 1990s, reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant with Mark I containments had been equipped with similar "hard vent" systems. When called on in the disaster that began March 11, 2011, all of them failed to protect the reactors. Whether or not vents opened, all the reactors suffered hydrogen explosions. One of the "hard vent" systems was wrecked by a hydrogen explosion that it had failed to prevent.

    In its recently proposed regulations, a corrupt NRC is now trying to curry favor with the U.S. public by "upgrading" a so-called "safety system" that experience has shown to be worthless. The "upgrade" is required to have a "capacity to vent the steam/energy equivalent of 1 percent of licensed/rated thermal power." [  R.W. Borchardt, Director of Operations, Policy issue, U.S. NRC, February 17, 2012, at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/commission/secys/2012/2012-0025scy.pdf ]

    The agency does not explain why "1 percent" has value. In fact, there is nothing magic about it. Just after an emergency shutdown, residual decay heat from a boiling-water reactor will produce about 2 to 8 percent of rated output and will fall to 1 percent in about 1 to 4 hours, depending on the states of operation and the histories of fuel rods. If venting were needed before that, a 1-percent capacity would fail.

     

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