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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.
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.”
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