Nuclear Shutdown News for February 2015

by on February 25, 2015 · 15 comments

in Culture, Economy, Energy, Environment, Health, History

No nukesBy Michael Steinberg / Black Rain Press

Nuclear Shutdown News chronicles the continuing decline of the US nuclear industry, and the people working for better energy alternatives.

As I was gathering information for this issue, one word kept popping up: Entergy.

Entergy is a gigantic energy corporation whose highrise headquarters renders the skyline of downtown New Orleans. Among its holdings are 11 nuclear power reactors, making it the nation’s second largest nuclear power company, after Chicago’s Exelon.

At the turn pf the century Entergy went on a nuke plant spending spree, buying up a half dozen aging reactors at bargain basement prices, as nuke plants go.

Those included Pilgrim in Cape Cod (purchased in 1999); Fitzgerald and Indian Point 2 & 3 in New York (2000); Vermont Yankee (2002); and Palisades in Michigan (2007).

The point of these purchases, of course, was to boost corporate profits. But, as time would tell and this issue will illustrate, Entergy’s scheme would come with other prices that are coming due now.

On December 29 of last year, as multiple sources reported, Entergy permanently shut down its Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. VY started up in 1972, and so was several years past the 40 year mark US nuke plants were designed to operate until when it closed for good.

After Entergy took over Vermont Yankee in 2002, things went steadily downhill. A radioactive lake developed under the plant, and Entergy lied about its knowledge of it. The rad lake leaked into the nearby Connecticut River, which flows south into Massachusetts. ‘No nukes’ protesters besieged VY, and marched on its local corporate headquarters in nearby Brattleboro, VT.

For its part, the state of Vermont refused to allow Entergy to operate VY for another 20 years and ordered it to permanently shut down the plant ASAP.

Entergy fought back in federal court and won the right to push VY along for another 20 years, but in vain. Vermont Yankee simply wasn’t the money maker it once was, and so Entergy eventually came to terms with the state of Vermont and agreed to a permanent shutdown for VY.

This was a great victory for the Nuke Free Movement. And following on the shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear plant in southern California in 2013, the lights are growing dimmer in nuclear power corporate offices across the nation every day.

Vermont Yankee’s problems, however, are far from over. It’s not clear if Entergy will pay for all the costs of VY’s shutdown and dismantlement, as it’s supposed to.

And, on February 11, MASS Live reported:

“Cancer causing isotope found in groundwater near Vermont Yankee.”

This article related how the Vermont Department of Health had found Strontium 90 “at a level less than accepted as safe by the Federal Government, but higher than expected” near the plant.

Strontium 90 is created by the detonation of nuclear weapons, as well as the operation of nuclear power reactors. It is not found in nature. Rising levels of Sr 90 resulting from atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the ‘50s and ‘60s led to passage of the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963.

One consequence of Vermont Yankee’s shutdown is that its reactor will no longer be producing Strontium 90 and the many other radioactive poisons that nuke reactors routinely emit into the environment.

The Associated Press reported on January 9 that, at Entergy’s Indian Point 3 reactor:

“Alarm failure forces partial shut down at New York plant.”

Indian Point is 35 miles north of New York City.  According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

“A faulty alarm system that would warn of low levels in a water tank forced workers to begin a shut down.

“Cold weather affected a heater at Indian Point 3’s water storage tank. The heater’s failure meant two alarms weren’t working.”

The article reported that the tank is important because it would be used to pump water into the reactor during an accident, water that might be used to prevent a nuclear meltdown.

In another example of Entergy bad energy, nola.com reported that things weren’t so jolly at Entergy’s River Bend nuke plant in Louisiana on Christmas morning. The River Bend reactor, located 24 miles northwest of Baton Rouge on the Mississippi River, is nearly 30 years old, and has always been owned by Entergy, unlike Vermont Yankee.

On this usually festive morning, the nuclear plant “automatically shut down,” nola.com reported, “due to the failure of an electrical circuit for a valve controlling one of the turbines that generates electricity” at the plant.

This accident didn’t directly involve the nuclear reactor, but after the shutdown ‘water levels in the reactor reached an overly high 54 inches. That resulted in pumps that feed water to the reactor shutting down.”

As at Indian Point, without water covering the reactor fuel to keep it cool when the reactor is shut down, River Bend was on the way to meltdown.

When the water level dropped below 51 inches, workers attempted to restart one of the feedwater pumps, and it failed to start. Workers then used an alternative pump to take the failed pump’s place but another valve and another pump failed, “and monitoring equipment indicated that the water level in the reactor had dropped to an extremely low 8.1”

Fortunately the plant workers “manually restored the water level in the reactors to its normal height,” thus avoiding disaster.

But the multiple failures prompted the NRC to send a special inspection to another beleaguered Entergy nuclear plant.

On January 31, the Boston Globe reported that Entergy’s 42 year old Pilgrim nuclear reactor on Cape Cod was also “under review” by the NRC “following an unplanned shutdown during last week’s blizzard.”

The Globe also reported “the outage was related to the blizzard” and was –

“blamed for the shutdown of two major lines carrying electricity from the plant. Officials said the problem was similar to one that occurred during a 2013 blizzard.”

On February 5 WBUR reported the Pilgrim

“lost power during last week’s blizzard and had to rely on [diesel powered] generators to run the nuclear plant’s safety systems.”

Before the storm, Pilgrim Watch and another watchdog group had asked Entergy to shut down Pilgrim as a precautionary measure, but they were ignored.

But on February 15, as another blizzard approached, Cape Cod Today reported that Entergy had already shut down Pilgrim “in preparation of potential loss of offsite power and the grid’s inability to accept the power Pilgrim generates.”

As for the NRC, it declared,

“The decision to shut down Pilgrim was a voluntary action on the part of Entergy. It was not an action sought or required by the NRC.”

And, Reuters reported on February 4, a-

“New York judge rule Entergy cannot stop hearings to shut down Indian Point for part of the summer to protect fish in the Hudson River.”

The proposal is to shut down Entergy’s two Indian Point reactors for at least 42 days between May 10 and August 10 annually during the peak of fish migrations in the river. Indian Point takes in up to 2.5 billion gallons from the river daily, and later releases it back at warmer temperatures.

This causes thermal stress that kills many newly born fish. New York’s environmental agency and environmental activists want Entergy to build cooling towers to reduce this thermal stress. But Entergy claims this is too costly.

The judge’s decision allows the battle over implementing the summer shut down policy at Indian Point to continue.

In other news, on February 19, Dr. Ernest Sternglass died at age 91. Dr. Sternglass was a pioneer in linking radioactive emissions from nuclear weapons detonations and nuclear power “routine” emissions to the development of health problems such as cancer, infant mortality, low birthweight babies, and premature deaths.

In particular, Dr. Sternglass’ book, Secret Fallout: From Hiroshima to Three Mile Island, is a brilliant and highly influential work. Without it, it’s highly unlikely there would be a Nuclear Shutdown News. Dr. Sternglass was also a founding member of the Radiation and Public Health Project (www.radiation.org), which carries on his work.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Phil Lawrence February 25, 2015 at 2:04 pm

I realize I’ll be in the minority here, but I think the benefits of nuclear energy far outweigh the negatives.

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anonymous February 25, 2015 at 3:05 pm

No Phil, you are not alone. any rational look at the fully-allocated environmental impact of so-called ‘green’ energy sources (i.e solar/wind) would result in a much more favorable view of nuke. Sadly, because of the hysterics of the last 30 years, not much research has gone into how to mitigate design issues with 1960’s based designs. The Thorium fueled, sodium cooled reactor is one of the alternatives that comes to mind…

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Marc Snelling Marc Snelling February 25, 2015 at 5:54 pm

Maybe if you don’t take into account waste and meltdowns. I doubt many who live near Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island or a nuclear dump site would agree. Those who have had to pay the billions for these cleanups might not agree either.

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Howard Shaffer February 25, 2015 at 7:20 pm

Chernobyl #4 was terrible and won’t happen again, because the fatal design flaw was a bypass switch around the automatic safety shutdowns.
Fukushima as very bad, but try reading the World Health Organization follow up reports. Those who stick to “any amount of radiation is dangerous” which is based on decades old science which was slanted to influence the atmospheric test ban treaty, won’t believe the reports.
Three Mile Island was a scare with only mental health effects.
Now compare to all the coal industry and oil industry deaths, accidents, health effects, and pollution over the years from Three Mile Island to Fukushima. Global warming anyone?

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Marc Snelling Marc Snelling February 26, 2015 at 10:48 am

What does mental health have to do with a 14 year $1 billion dollar clean-up?

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Howard Shaffer February 26, 2015 at 7:34 pm

Who paid? Not the public.

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Bearded OBcean February 26, 2015 at 9:47 am

Speaking as someone who grew up within shouting distance of 3 Mile Island, no one gave much thought to the plant after 1979.

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CliffHanger February 26, 2015 at 5:58 pm

I grew up in the Northeast and was traveling on the highway passing TMI when it happened. There was a small but clear increase in thyroid cancers in people who lived downwind from TMI in the years that followed. I’d be pretty sure they gave some thought to the plant.

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Howard Shaffer February 25, 2015 at 5:40 pm

How about a comment and comparison with the Southwest planes flying with MISSED INSPECTIONS? With your great knowledge of technology, would you get on one?
As a nuclear engineer I would. The inspections are on a BACKUP hydraulic system for the rudder. (Hint: Nuclear power plants have backup systems and too. Ever heard of single failure proof design? Your car has a single failure proof brake system.) Plus there is a safety margin built into the inspection frequency too, same as in nuclear power plants.
In spite of all your fears, the sky isn’t falling. Stop running around like Chicken Little, calm down and learn some science and engineering. Remember Marie Curie, “Everything is to be understood, nothing is to be feared.” And President FDR, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
VP Biden says of campaigns, “Don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative.” Stop comparing nuclear power to perfection and look at the benefits and limits of the alternatives and of nuclear power.

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Marc Snelling Marc Snelling February 26, 2015 at 11:25 am

Anyone opposed is an irrational chicken little who needs a science education? Tell that to the scientists and engineers who oppose nuclear. My wife is a Radiation Therapist, my father is a Physicist, my career has been in technology designing systems eliminating single points of failure. But thanks for the lecture. Did Marie Curie say that when she was dying of radiation poisoning?

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Howard Shaffer February 26, 2015 at 7:41 pm

Marie Curie died at 63 I believe. Well past the average age of death for her generation. Then as now death from cancer is from many causes. Since medical science still does not know all the causes of cancer (mine included). Anti nukes love to imply that she died from cancer.

No matter the profession, opposing something because it is not perfect without comparing it to the alternatives, and passing on scare tactics is Chicken Little behavior.

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CliffHanger February 27, 2015 at 5:42 pm

Phew. Good thing she was 63. Sure helps us blow off that whole radiation part.

Not anti-nuke, just not afraid to deal with inconvenient truths. Nuclear energy still needs to solve safety issues and that pesky “now what the hell do we do with this used up stuff?” problem before it gains more support than “renewables”.

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Howard Shaffer February 28, 2015 at 8:47 am

Let me be clear. Marie Curie had cancer when she died. Medical science just doesn’t know what caused it. It could have been from her work isolating Radium, or something else. My point is that if someone has or had cancer, and they had the slightest exposure to non-natural radiation, then the political spin is it MUST have been the radiation that did it. Science knows that excess exposure to radiation can cause cancer-for example too much sun can cause skin cancer, and the safe working levels are known too.

What is meant by safety issues? The potential for accidental releases, no matter how rare? Liquid fueled reactors won’t be able to melt down. Compare the risks and benefits off all energy technologies to each other to get a rational energy policy. We accept deaths, injury and damage from all technologies. A million deaths from car accidents, world wide, each year. Then there are the chimney fires each year, more in cold weather. There is so much emotion about radiation that some people demand perfection in its use.

Dealing with radioactive waste? No problem. Been done for decades. Proper preparation and burial in remote dry sites that are monitored is the solution. Radioactivity is naturally in the environment, a little more from solid wastes won’t hurt. We know this from places in the world where the natural radiation is very high.

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Marc Snelling Marc Snelling March 1, 2015 at 6:14 am

Argue with the history books about Marie Curie, I’m not the source.

People are hardly demanding perfection, there are many more nuclear accidents than the big ones everyone knows about.

Nuclear waste is not natural in the environment, that is not the same thing as naturally occurring radiation. Reactors and waste dumps are all supposedly safe until they are not. Then the taxpayer is stuck with the decades long clean up. Where do the billions in clean up costs figure into this rational energy policy of yours?

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CliffHanger March 1, 2015 at 8:20 am

I am a physician with a background in physics and have a radiation safety certificate from the state of California. I don’t want to argue details in this format with someone who’s unable to be convinced otherwise, but as a parting comment…

The “safety issues” are real and investigations of major nuclear accidents show that small scale accidents go unreported to the general public. To call them “rare” and therefore try to be dismissive of them is foolish. What can be so bad if it’s “rare”? A “rare” complication of a disease resulting in an ear ache is one thing,; one that causes sudden death is something else. Both “rare”. For radiation safety, problems are “known” risks that must be managed, not to perfection, but wisely, because they are potentially of enormous and long-lasting danger.

As for the radioactive waste problem, stuffing something underground where it is out of sight and out of mind is not a solution. “No problem!” And no, it NOT similar to natural radiation. Enough with the pseudo-science apologetics that “a little more won’t hurt”.

I’m done.

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