Tag Archive: Salem County

Nuclear Meltdown: Don’t say they didn’t warn you

Here’s a remarkable quote on nuclear safety:

GE says the Mark I design has operated safely for more than 40 years and has been modified periodically to meet changing regulations. No nuclear plant could have avoided a meltdown after being swamped by a tsunami and losing power to cooling systems for an extended period of time, the company says — and at least one expert CNN spoke to agrees.

Thinking in terms of tidal waves is a mistake. General Electric just told you that an extended loss of power will cause ANY nuclear power plant to melt down, and as the rest of the CNN article says, the plants are not capable of containing all the resulting radioactivity. That’s why I went from mildly pro-nuclear to against it.    

 

One, Two, Three, Four: NRC now concerned about multiple reactors at same site

The New York Times is reporting that the NRC has new concerns after the Japanese nuclear disaster:

the staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission acknowledged that the agency’s current regulations and disaster plans did not give enough consideration to two factors that had greatly contributed to the continuing Fukushima Daiichi crisis in Japan: simultaneous problems at more than one reactor at the same site and a natural disaster that disrupts roads, electricity and other infrastructure surrounding a plant.

I don’t think there’s anything to add to that except that it is now obvious that neglecting those factors is not only foolish but dangerous. Fukushima has certainly changed my opinions on the safety of nuclear power. We have three reactors at a single site, and as the NRC made clear in the public meeting I attended, it will issue a new site permit for a 4th reactor without considering the safety of the other three. I hope this policy changes soon. By the way, the NRC also revealed this week that emergency equipment at nearly a third of the nation’s reactors had serious problems.

I am happy to note, however, that the Salem reactors got high grades in their regular annual NRC safety review.

Chemical Plant Safety

One of the odd things that the ultra-pro-nuclear people say online lately is that no liberal ever mentions chemical plant safety. That’s not true, and I’m very glad to see Senator Lautenberg introducing these water and chemical plant safety bills

“A catastrophic accident or terrorist attack at one of America’s chemical plants or water treatment facilities would have devastating consequences for the surrounding communities,” Lautenberg said. “In New Jersey more than 12 million people live close to one high-risk plant.  These plants provide valuable services, but they also pose significant threats.  When companies use dangerous chemicals, it is essential that they also use the safest methods available.  This common-sense legislation would ensure a thorough review of risk, and help us move toward more secure plants and safer communities.”

   

As Lautenberg explains, many companies have increased safety by switching to safer processes. It’s appropriate and valuable for the federal government to require other plants to review whether that would work for them too. Our Senator Menendez is a co-sponsor.

The key nuclear questions

Everyone from Rush Limbaugh to Steven Chu is lined up to defend nuclear power plant safety, but these are the questions that must be answered for those of who live near three reactors in Salem County:

1. Is it really true that a failure of the external power grid plus the failure of backup diesel generators leads directly and almost inevitably to partial meltdowns and hydrogen explosions in the reactor building? The record seems to be three out of three. I’ve seen lots of widespread power grid failures from causes as varied as Solar magnetic events, a forest fire in another state, and even deliberate action by energy speculators (Enron). Is every long-lasting power outage a few mistakes or generator failures away from meltdown?

2. Reporters keep saying “40-year-old” nuclear reactors as if age were an excuse and as if such ages were not the norm here. They’re getting that from political or industry sources, I imagine. Should any licenses be renewed if that’s what the people in charge really think? Until recently Oyster Creek was planned to be operated decades past its design lifetime, and the Salem reactors were not intended to last a century. I understand two of New Jersey’s reactors are more-or-less the same design.

3. Once the company was fighting meltdown, everyone was too busy to deal with a pool of spent fuel boiling off at Reactor 4. (Yes, it seems the nuclear waste caught fire.) Is it responsible to operate three or four reactors at one location if problems at one lead to problems at others?

4. It’s great that the final defense of the containment walls held, but is the power plant machinery really designed to survive large hydrogen explosions that we’ve seen at three out of three reactors?  

5. When will the spent nuclear fuel (radioactive nuclear waste) be removed from the nuclear sites? Leaving it on site seems like an extremely poor choice.

Disaster in Japan means goodbye to Salem 4th Reactor

I’ve written a lot about it over the last few years, but I think we can now say the plans for a 4th nuclear reactor in Salem County are definitely dead. If one of the numerous Japanese nuclear reactors had some minor problems after an 8.9 earthquake and tsunami, we could say the system worked well. Unfortunately, reports are that there are serious problems at both Fukushima No.1 reactor and Fukushima No. 2 reactor. No fewer than five reactors are under a state of emergency. Reuters believes there is a real nuclear crisis in Japan and the next few hours are key.

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ All Things Nuclear has excellent discussions of the issues from earlier in the day:

If all AC power is lost, the options to cool the core are limited.

The boiling water reactors at Fukushima are protected by a Reactor Core Isolation Cooling (RCIC) system, which can operate without AC power because it is steam-driven and therefore does not require electric pumps. However, it does require DC power from batteries for its valves and controls to function.

If battery power is depleted before AC power is restored, however, the RCIC will stop supplying water to the core and the water level in the reactor core could drop. If it drops far enough, the core would overheat and the fuel would become damaged. Ultimately, a “meltdown” could occur: The core could become so hot that it forms a molten mass that melts through the steel reactor vessel. This would release a large amount of radioactivity from the vessel into the containment building that surrounds the vessel.

The containment building’s purpose is to keep radioactivity from being released into the environment.

Reuters twitter indeed just used the words “nuclear fuel may have been damaged” as UCS suggested was possible.

I don’t think the (supposedly) small radiation leaks [so far, at this hour] are worse than living next to the Ichihara burning oil refinery (much less the earthquake itself), and I am hopeful that all problems will be resolved.  

But, the bottom line is that we are close enough to truly disastrous problems in so many reactors that it’s obvious the public will not accept claims of nuclear safety.  

Whatever happened with the Schools Construction Corporation?

My local paper has a story on a local school that won’t be replaced:

The John Fenwick Elementary School here, unfortunately, was not one of those on the list… The John Fenwick School is about 66 years old, and students must walk through classrooms instead of hallways to get to their own rooms, Michel said.  

In 2005, plans were initially put on hold as funding for the state’s special needs districts dissolved. Then in 2008, the school was allotted $40.6 million through the SDA’s capital plan to build a new school.

Needless to say, the money has still never appeared. There must be many schools around the state in the same boat. I’m not going to complain about Governor Christie here. I want to complain that as far as I can tell, there’s never been a true accounting for where the billions of dollars went under the old School Construction Company. Yes, I know it was replaced by a new entity. The online reports on the SCC from the state OIG simply identify the potential for fraud and waste. Was anyone ever prosecuted?

Students are still paying the price to this day and will be for years to come.

Nuclear Power Industry Conference

Erika Bolstad of McClatchy reports from a nuclear power conference:

In the absence of any government action to cap carbon emissions, new nuclear plants in this country will need loan guarantees and a promise of stable future prices and customers if America is to move forward as a leader in the worldwide nuclear renaissance, panelists at a nuclear power conference said Tuesday.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu called for nuclear power to be part of the mix as the nation moves toward mandating that power companies use more clean and renewable energy.

I don’t think there’s much new here, but the bottom line is that nuclear needs large government subsidies and there is too much uncertainty to go forward with new projects. Perhaps the current projects will be a success and alleviate the “white elephant” fears we all should have. As for the uncertainty, the Democratic energy bill died long ago in the Senate, and I don’t think we know what the new Republican House will do. Look at this quote:

…Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who’s in line to lead a House Appropriations subcommittee that will decide on some of that spending.

“I still have no vision of where we’re headed.  I don’t know where we’re going to be. As an appropriator, what I need to know is where are we now? Where are we headed? And how do we sustain a long-term effort to get there through changing administrations and changing secretaries?”

The reason I care is that there’s a real possibility of a fourth reactor in Salem County, NJ. The confusion is good news if you don’t want a new reactor, and bad if you view the alternative as more coal burning or if you just want the local jobs.  

As for the feasibility of getting Republicans to move forward with this, you have to buy that they can get their Tea Party base to not notice that this is an anti-global warming effort, and that Party of No strategy will disappear. I’m skeptical, but we do know that absent right-wing pressure our own Frank LoBiondo (NJ2) would be happy to vote for government subsidies to nuclear power plants in the district.  

In one of my earlier nuclear posts, deciminyan pointed out that there is no plan to deal with nuclear waste. The conference apparently dealt with that problem at the “summit” by agreeing not to discuss it!

Solar Power now cheaper than Nuclear?

Salem County, New Jersey, may be best known for farming but we are also the cutting edge of energy work, with ongoing projects to develop a new solar power plant and a new nuclear reactor. Which is better? The Energy Collective reports that a new study suggests that solar is the better bet:

The Holy Grail of the solar industry – reaching grid parity – may no longer be a distant dream. Solar may have already reached that point, at least when compared to nuclear power, according to a new study by two researchers at Duke University.

It’s no secret that the cost of producing photovoltaic cells (PV) has been dropping for years. A PV system today costs just 50 percent of what it did in 1998. Breakthroughs in technology and manufacturing combined with an increase in demand and production have caused the price of solar power to decline steadily. At the same time, estimated costs for building new nuclear power plants have ballooned.

Admittedly this Duke study is based on is a study of energy costs in North Carolina, and the authors plainly are advocating for solar energy. Still, nuclear plants have a record of turning into white elephants while chips have been getting cheaper and cheaper. I bet the main trends are the same here:

energy costs duke study.jpg

The plot (which you can click on) is taken from the study. Of course, nuclear has certain advantages (think nighttime) but this is an important development–encouraging for solar if depressing for nuclear. I also point to this quote from the study:

Employment in North Carolina has more to gain from investment in solar electric and solar water installations than from the same amount of investment in nuclear plant construction and operation – by a factor of three.

Thanks to House of Progress at OpenLeft for pointing me to this study.  

More on that new nuclear reactor

If you’re interested in the plans for a new nuclear reactor in New Jersey, I recommend the article “Nuclear Growth Puts Region at Risk” in yesterday’s News Journal. It gives a Delaware point of view. It was accompanied by this guide to the possible addition to Artificial Island in Salem County and this article on Obama and the “nuclear renaissance”.

As I’ve said before, it’s easy to see why local politicians are in favor in a county that has only 42,000 people age 18-64:

Plant designers will aim for a 60-year lifespan, with 4,000 people employed during a 5- to 7-year construction period, 600 workers hired full time to operate the site and another 1,000 needed during shutdowns for refueling.

It’s even possible PSEG will decide to build two new reactors on the same site.

We’ve discussed a lot of this before at Blue Jersey, but this was new to me:

In a report about to be released by the NRC, researchers have concluded nuclear power plants are “dramatically” safer than long believed.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, a nuclear power trade group, said the upcoming report, called the State of the Art Reactor Consequence Analysis (SOARCA), could reshape emergency planning for reactors nationwide. One recent NEI comment filed with the NRC said the report’s findings could justify dropping 75 percent of the land now in 10-mile evacuation zones, because there’s little risk beyond four or five miles.

But Edwin Lyman, a senior staffer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the NRC report “extremely compromised” and said that the NRC has refused to release documents that explain assumptions used to shape the findings.

Obviously it’s difficult to judge the credibilty of a report that isn’t published yet, but frankly the recent records of the SEC and MMS make me nervous, as Eliot Spitzer wrote :

In both instances, the regulators accepted industry assertions about the reliability of their safety mechanisms while failing to acknowledge — much less investigate — the darker, more complex reality. In each crisis, we had the same story of a belief in the reporting done by corporations, and in each case, we had a failure to recognize the enormous potential for fraud and the lack of incentives these corporate entities have in ascertaining and measuring potential risks to the public. The regulators continued to believe the lies fed them by CEOs even when the lies had become absurd. Both times, the agencies charged with regulating ignored the advice of their own experts, neglected to enforce rules, and engaged in an alarmingly cozy relationship with the industry they were supposed to be monitoring.

So far, the Obama administration has failed to fully grapple with the weaknesses and corruption of the regulatory agencies meant to guard the public from harm.

Could the rot extend to the NRC? On the other hand, Professor Richard Muller in his book “Physics for Future Presidents” argues nuclear reactors are quite safe, and I think he is reliable. He doesn’t think it’s very likely that the reactor fuel could melt through the containment building, which is the position being taken by the NRC. The PSEG application apparently claims that there is only a 1 in quadtrillion chance (whatever that is) of such an accident.  (I can’t help but remember that the economic collapse was made worse by the Wall Street geniuses who underestimated the likelihood of low probability “Black Swan” events?)  In any case, I repeat my recommendation that you should read the excellent article by reporter Jeff Montgomery. In my opinion it’s an example of how the “present both sides” ideal of journalism can actually work well.  

It’s official: PSEG files application for new nuclear reactor site

Here’s how PSEG describes it:

PSEG Power and PSEG Nuclear today filed an Early Site Permit (ESP) application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) as part of PSEG’s ongoing efforts exploring the possibility of building an additional nuclear plant.

“This is an important first step in the regulatory process to determine if a new plant is viable,” explained PSEG Power President Bill Levis. “Though it is not a commitment to build, it would determine that the location we have identified for a potential new plant is suitable from a safety, environmental and emergency planning standpoint.”

This “fourth reactor” would be adjacent to the three existing ones.  Such applications are not lightly done:

A dedicated nuclear development team has spent the past two and a half years developing the ESP application that is approximately 4000 pages.

The News Journal has the reaction from the Sierra Club:

“Nuclear is a bad investment for New Jersey’s ratepayers,” Jeff Tittel, New Jersey Sierra Club director, said in a written statement. “Nuclear technology is too expensive, unsafe, and will undermine investment in clean energy sources and the creation of green jobs. It is not green if it glows! “

I understood from the public hearing that it may take up to two years for the site to be approved and I suspect site rejection is quite unlikely.