Meeting at Boston State House on Pilgrim Nuclear Reactor 10/9/13, the lessons of Fukushima

Yesterday I went into Boston to attend a hearing on nuclear issues.  Here follows a summary of my notes.

The first speaker was State Senator Dan Wolf, representing the Cape Cod area.   He identified himself as an air plane mechanic, pilot, and owner of Cape Cod Air.   He went on a tour of the reactor at Pilgrim, hoping to be reassured.  Instead, he left more concerned.    He identified levels of failure in the airline industry of old equipment.   First, there is loss of covenience: the lights don’t work, the paint is chipped: then there is loss of systems: leaking pumps, frayed wire: finally there is catastrophic failure.  He says he is committed to a policy of public safety first, and that the beneficiaries of nuclear reactors are primarily the owners and shareholders.

The former Prime Minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, spoke of his role at the time of the accident in Fukushima on 3/11/11.  He had been in favor of nuclear power at that time.  He outlined the events: there was loss of power and the decay heat caused multiple melt downs over the next few days, as well as hydrogen explosions.  The emergency triage center had to be evacuated, as it was in the danger zone.  There was much confusion as to how to establish who big the evacuation area had to be.  He expressed regret that they were not prepared for the disaster.   There was no system to administer potassium iodide, to protect the thyroids of the people exposed.  There was no one clearly in charge, and no coordinations of the government and industry.  He said that there is a reactor on a peninsula in Japan, and there can be no safe evacuation.  just like with Cape Cod.  The disaster might have been worse, because there are a total of 10 reactors along the sea near Fukushima, and if they had all been involved, much of Tokyo might have to be evacuated and left uninhabitable for years.

He said that his initial plan had been to continue with nuclear power, but, upon reflection about the events, he decided that Japan should give up nuclear power and switch to renewables.  Since the disaster Japan has increased solar production an equivalent to three nuclear reactors.  Finally, he said that it was because of the people that the reactor in California at San Onofre was shut down.

Gregory Jaczko, former head of the NRC spoke next.  At the time of the renewal of the license of Plymouth the NRC was running “business as usual,” and had not been in a reflective mode, as developed after the events at Fukushima.    He felt that many people think that an event of low probability will occur in the distant future, not in the near future.   During the crisis one of staffers expressed dismay, “this was not supposed to happen.”   They were unprepared.   It took nine months to get the disaster under control (some say it is not yet under control).    Fundamental beliefs were challenged.   The problem of hydrogen explosions had been addressed and was thought to be manageable until the explosions occurred.  The extent and duration of the evacuation had not been anticipated, nor had the breakup  of communities that occurred even with temporary evacuation.   At one point nuclear reactors contributed 30% of the energy, and now there is none.  He estimates that the total economic cost of the disaster is $500 billion dollars.  He says  that society is saying that nuclear power is no longer acceptable.  Now is the time to reflect.  Implementing modifications to nuclear reactors take five years, even if they are done rapidly.   Now is the time to reflect upon alternatives.

Arnie Gunderson, former nuclear reactor worker, spoke next.  Accidents will occur, and many of the current risk assessments are based upon the newer designs, rather than the older models.  The Probabilistic risk assessments are underestimated.  On the one hand, the industry says that the risks are minimal, and on the other hand, the industry wants the public to carry the burden of this risk .  Nuclear industry is full of good citizens, doing good work, living in the community; this does not provide immunity against accidents.  Only 5% of the data submitted to the NRC is reviewed.   The NEI allows the standard to be set by the NRC to be the minimum.   They are allowing companies to form LLC; thus, Vermont, Yankee, LLC, could go bankrupt with no risk to the parent company.   In fact, Entergy abandoned one of its power plants in New Orleans after Katrina.  At a time when the reactors are aging and require more maintenance, they are allowing staff reduction.

A disaster at Plymouth would be worse than at Fukushima because there are many more years of stored spent fuel rods, equivalent to hundreds of bombs.  Cape Cod cannot be evacuated.   The containment vessel is too small for the reactor.    The reactor needs a  hardened filter release valve.   He traveled around Tokyo, and all five samples of dirt met criteria for being hazardous waste. The earthquake knocked out the power at Fukushima, and the tsunami damaged the pumps.    There was an earthquake on Cape Ann in 1730 that destroyed building in Boston.  Reactors are under designed.  Risks are under stated.

The final speaker was  Bradford, a lawyer from the Vermont Law School.   The nuclear industry has too much of a voice in appointing members of the NRC, and money is too loud.  There has been no root cause analysis of what happened at Fukushima.   The nuclear renaissance has become a bubble.   At Three Mile Island the event lasted only 5 days.  All similar reactors were shut down for months.   There were two Congressional investigations with 180 recommendations.   There was to be regulation of off site emergency planning.  There were firm recommendations that the NRC work with NGO’s; in fact, the opposite occurred.  There is no over site review of the NRC.  The costs of nuclear power are among the most expensive.   There will be no new nuclear reactors without significant subsidies.

I have some reservation about Arnie Gunderson’s assessment of the nuclear industry that it is full of good people.  It is a comforting thought, but is there any industry that is full of good people?  Are there really  no difficult bosses, no unhappy workers?

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One thought on “Meeting at Boston State House on Pilgrim Nuclear Reactor 10/9/13, the lessons of Fukushima

  1. Pingback: Ralph Nader on nukes, 10/14/13 | Vernon Radiation Safety

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