“Nuclear Oversight Lacking Worldwide” – the problem of “coziness” / video & transcript from Fairewinds Associates, Inc.

“Nuclear Oversight Lacking Worldwide” – the problem of “coziness” / video & transcript from Fairewinds Associates, Inc..

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“Nuclear Oversight Lacking Worldwide” – the problem of “coziness” / video & transcript from Fairewinds Associates, Inc.


This update from Fairewinds features a concise ( ~ 10 minute) video with some reports and stories over the years showing that although the US has repeatedly admitted and resolved to deal with it, it still hasn’t solved the problem of “coziness” between those who own and operate plants, and those who are supposed to be regulating them.  Various pundits have been implying or saying that the “coziness” problem between industry and regulators is specific to Japan.  Arnie Gunderson says it’s not.

I agree.  In one of my early posts on Fukushima, I remarked:

“One comment:  some op-eds are blaming Japanese culture for the situation, especially for some of the regulatory lapses.  I don’t agree with that at all.  We are looking in the mirror here.   The U.S. has had similar problems being hesitant to admit problems.  Here, too, reluctance to be too harsh morphed into actual refusal to enforce regulations.

There are examples of failures of monitoring and enforcement across cultures, countries, and plant designs.

(March 26th post, this site: https://mattersofproportion.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/update-on-fukushima-japan-nuclear-reactor-in-an-information-vacuum/)

There is also a point in the video relevant to the regulation of new nuclear power plants:  the GAO‘s investigation into Jeffrey Merrifield showed he had a conflict of interest when he was involved in the granting of “Limited Work Authorizations” that allow construction to begin before the plant design has even been certified. (Gunderson’s site includes a link to the GAO report on it.)  This is highly relevant to the precarious situation I think we’re in with respect to how constrained people are in responding to design issues being raised about the AP1000:  in several recent posts, I’ve said I think the fact that construction on the first US AP1000, which is ongoing in Georgia, at the Vogtle site, cannot help but put political pressure on the regulators charged with providing an impartial review of the AP1000 design.

Gunderson’s video is a response to a suggestion that the “coziness” problem indicates a need for “cooperation” between countries, as if somehow the US and a global cooperative effort could help Japan with this problem.  The suggestion is no solution at all; he makes some subtle points by putting together some interesting historical facts.  I won’t recount them here; I will just encourage you to visit his site.

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What’s still hanging around Los Alamos & what we should learn from it

What’s still hanging around Los Alamos & what we should learn from it.

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What’s still hanging around Los Alamos & what we should learn from it

There’s an excellent article (from AP) about the detritus in New Mexico from early bomb production there that still presents hazards; here’s the link at Forbes (it’s also on Huffpost, SFGate, and many others): “Los Alamos under renewed environmental scrutiny”:  http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2011/10/01/general-us-nuke-lab-cleanup_8711576.html

There are lots of reasons this issue should be top priority, but the reason it is getting attention at the moment is that if fire threatens again, as it did this last summer, there’d be a threat to public safety and no time to do anything about it.  There’s radioactive debris and contaminated soil in canyons through which storm waters flow into the Rio Grande, too.  The article is good at giving a vivid picture of what’s physically still  around that needs to be dealt with.

Evidently, there has been money appropriated and spent, but the job is not done. Actually, strictly speaking, with this kind of contamination, the job is never done — we just pass on the need for expensive site maintenance and movement of materials from one vulnerable place to a less vulnerable one like an intergenerational hot potato.  The article is also good at making that clear.  In many cases, constant monitoring is required to make sure there are no dangerous leaks.  Often, it needs to be moved again years later, even if that wasn’t forseen or planned on when it was first put someplace.

More precisely, the part of the job we need to do right now — should have already done by now — is not done. There are two points I found especially striking:

— Even if we knew where everything was, and exactly what to do with it, that wouldn’t solve the problem.  It needs to be funded.  There is a consent decree to clean up at least part of it, but, the article reports: “Congress, however, has cut the Los Alamos cleanup request for $358 million to $185 million, raising the question of the lab’s ability to meet the consent decree”, and

— the massive uncertainty surrounding radioactive materials disposed of, when not even a century has passed yet: ” Some 800 contaminated areas remain untouched, including nine of 26 dump sites. Like Area B, lab officials have no idea what some of those sites contain. [. . .]  Down the hill from Area B for example, is another site that officials say could be even worse.”

Even for areas where a little more is known about where to look, the whole situation makes you want to cry:  “The canyons that unfurl beneath the lab complex are also a concern. During the early years, liquid waste was simply drained from buildings out over the cliffs.”

The article is just about this legacy waste, and the issue of legacy waste from weapons production is generally seen as separate from the issue of what to do with spent fuel from commercial reactors.   There is often talk of “closing the fuel cycle” as a way of making the whole issue of dealing with spent fuel moot.  However, after following that issue for awhile, I don’t think that is really a practical solution to the problem of waste, since the reactors needed to close the fuel cycle currently being considered produce hazardous waste of their own.

The issue of legacy waste from weapons is rightfully considered separate in some sense:  it is a different political problem, and the radioactive materials dealt with and how they were disposed of, are different.  But I see some commonalities that mean we need to think about what should be learned from the current mess we have been handed from the past generation:  the nation is still producing more spent fuel from commercial electricity production each year, and there is no plan about where to put it that won’t leave our descendants in the same position in which the previous generation has left ours.

We need to protect ourselves from the mess our ancestors left us, and resolve not to make it worse than it already is for the next generation.  Where should these responsibilities fit into our energy planning?

Added on October 2nd, 6 pm:  Of course, it is not just the spent fuel that commercial nuclear power operation is likely to leave as a legacy to the next generation.  Technically informed people know that, practically speaking,  there are likely to be accidents.  This evening’s news from Japan is a reminder of that: “Plutonium found 40Km from Fukushima plant”  http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/7e3af460-ece6-11e0-be97-00144feab49a.html#ixzz1ZfFb3seE

Plutonium has been found in six places far away from the plant already, and, due to “plutonium’s long half-life and the potential for even small amounts to pose a health hazard if ingested”, you’d think it should be cleaned up as soon as possible. But the problem of limited clean-up funds and/or capabilities arises here, too, even in a context in which the world’s eyes are upon it and the rest of the world begs to help:  according to the article in the Financial Times, government officials are saying that “clean-up efforts should still concentrate on the far greater amounts of radioactive caesium contaminating the area.”

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UPDATED – comment on Sun Sentinel article “Design planned for new Florida nukes OKed as criticism intensifies” by Julie Patel

UPDATE:  Julie Patel has corrected the article.  On a Saturday morning, yet!  Thanks very much to her for that.

[I entered the comment below electronically on the Sun Sentinel’s website in the space provided for comments, but it has not yet appeared, so I am posting it here.  Sorry for the boring formalities, but it is unsettling to find my name pop up in the news and be (falsely) described as filing a lawsuit!! ]

This is Susan G Sterrett. I would like to correct a misstatement in your article.

I have not filed any legal action, nor participated in filing any legal action related to nuclear power plant construction in Florida or anywhere else. I am not a member of the AP1000 Oversight Group, nor of NC Warn, nor of Friends of the Earth, nor of any of the groups that filed legal actions to stop any nuclear plants from progressing.

Here is what I did do: I participated as a member of the public in the NRC’s process of reviewing the AP1000 design as it is considering granting design certification. I provided what I deem to be helpful information in matters of public safety and good design. I am not responsible for the statements made by anti-nuclear groups. They have attributed statements to me that I did not make. You can easily check what I have said, though.

Here is the five minute presentation on the issue that I made to the NRC, on my own: https://mattersofproportion.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/sterrettacrspresentation16august2011talktextwithslideimages.pdf

Although I am unaffiliated with the groups that filed legal action, I did refer them, and am happy to refer any of your readers, to the information on my website: http://www.mattersofproportion.wordpress.com

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Letter to the Editor, Tribune Review re: AP1000 Design


To: The Editor, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Regarding your story on Friday, September 30th, 2011 (“Westinghouse: Proposed nuclear reactor’s building safe”) in which you refer to a news release from environmental groups:  The news release from the environmental group provides links to my presentation and letters to the NRC, and that groups’ legal motion. Those documents linked to are correct, but the press release itself is misleading in a few places.  Unfortunately, your article furthers the error by putting quotation marks around them as though I made those statements.  I would appreciate it if you could correct them.

Your article reads as follows:  “They said “former design engineer” Susan Sterrett, who worked on an early version of Westinghouse’s reactor, claimed the sun’s rays on the shield building “could result in weakness and failure under external stresses, such as an earthquake.”  The words in quotes were never uttered by me, in writing or otherwise. I just did not say anything about the effects of an earthquake at all.  It is unfortunate that one or two paragraphs of the environmentalist groups’ press release are misleading, as most of the rest of the press release is correct.

I believe the issue I did raise — taking into account the effects of the heat of solar radiation — is of the utmost importance, and a matter of public safety, but I was very careful, factual, and unsensational in the statements that I made to the NRC in my presentation “Forgetting about the sun.”  The issue I raised is erroneous analysis and unanalyzed effects of the heat of solar radiation (sunshine).  The ACRS letter published last week about the AP1000 does discuss the issues I raised about solar radiation at length, and on the surface the ACRS letter appears to be very thorough.  However, I have looked at it more closely, and it is actually very evasive.  Hence the issue is still a live one, and it is very important.

It is well known that even the best of professionals is sometimes less thorough under political and economic pressure.  I note that the ACRS was under tight time constraints of a schedule that had already been announced by the NRC prior to the full ACRS committee meeting on September 8th at which they discussed the issue. The political and economic pressure I suspect they felt from the fact that construction at Vogtle was already well underway and the utility, Southern Company, was asking that the license be expedited even further, could hardly be ignored. Because construction had already been started, any changes required by a proper analysis would meet great resistance.  In my opinion,the NRC is to blame here for issuing the Limited Work Authorization for the Vogtle project that permitted such a situation to arise.

The news release from environmental groups provides links to my letters and presentation to the NRC, so you can see what I actually said to the NRC. You may quote whatever you like from the text of my presentation or letters there.  For convenience, here is a pdf of my presentation to the NRC’s ACRS subcommittee on the AP1000 at their meeting on August 16th, 2011, with the slides and text integrated into one pdf document:   https://mattersofproportion.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/sterrettacrspresentation16august2011talktextwithslideimages.pdf

This material, plus the two longer, more detailed letters I wrote to the NRC, are available either via the links provided on the environmentalist groups’ website (http://www.ncwarn.org/2011/09/ap1000-motion-and-dr-sterritt-documents/), or on the NRC’s website.  It is also available on my blogsite             http://www.mattersofproportion.wordpress.com

There is another point in the article I would like to clear up: the question as to when I worked for Westinghouse as a design engineer.  All the design work I did for Westinghouse was prior to 1998.  I worked as an employee for seven years prior to entering graduate school full time in the mid-1980’s, and I worked at various points part time as a consultant during some of the mid-1990’s.  At one point I was the system design engineer for a system on the AP600, and co-authored an ANS conference presentation on a design solution to a challenging feedwater control problem for the AP600 design that was collectively solved by design engineers at Westinghouse and Southern Company, to the satisfaction of all concerned. Certainly many people at Westinghouse will remember this work.  In the approximately 11 years that I did work for Westinghouse (some as an employee and some as a consultant), all prior to 1998, I authored many calculations, reports, and computer programs, including work in structural analysis, in fluid system design, and in computer simulations used on training simulators.

I would very much appreciate a correction to the article that removes the quotation marks around the statement that was misattributed to me, if that is possible.  I would also very much appreciate it if you would publish this letter from me.

Thank you,

S G Sterrett

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Thorium Reactors – a practical step forward after decades of being thrwarted?

Thorium Reactors – a practical step forward after decades of being thrwarted?.

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