Was There a Near-Fukushima Event on the Atlantic During Hurricane Florence?

by on October 10, 2018 · 3 comments

in Energy, Environment

Nuclear Shutdown News for September 2018

By Michael Steinberg / Black Rain Press

Nuclear Shutdown News chronicles the decline and fall of the nuclear power industry in the US and beyond, and highlights the efforts of those working for a nuclear free future. Here is our September 2018 report.

A Near-Fukushima on the Atlantic?

On September 17 the Raleigh News & Observer reported, “Floods limit access to Duke’s Brunswick nuclear plant: crews us partopotties, cots.”

Did the Atlantic coast have a near-Fukushima event when during September Hurricane Florence made landfall? Utility Duke Energy’s Brunswick two nuclear reactors are located 30 miles south of Wilmington, NC, where the former Category 4 hurricane made landfall as a tropical storm in mid September.

It was reported that “workers are sleeping on cots and using portable toilets because the water is currently shut off and the toilets can’t flush”, and that there was “limited access to the plant, and some workers have been able to leave the site and check up on their homes nearby. After the storm passed some drove to a Walmart in Southport to stock up on provisions.”

Brunswick’s twin reactors started up in the 1940s, and are now approaching their designed operating life, 40 years. They are called boiling water reactors, the same model as the three Fukushima reactors that melted down in 2011, and were built by the same company, General Electric.

US nuclear plants are required to shut down if hurricane force winds, 73 miles per hour or higher, are moving in. Fortunately the winds weren’t quite that strong when Florence hit the East Coast.
Numerous nuke plants in the Carolina and Virginia were in the storm’s path. But only Brunswick reduced power. The “plant declared an ‘Unusual Event,’ the lowest level of nuclear emergency,” according to the News & Observer.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission reported, “Flooding of roads and downed trees prevented fresh crews from relieving the nearly 300 Duke Energy ‘storm riders’ who had been on site for days. And the blocked roads made it impossible to reach the 10 mile emergency evacuation zone if a higher level emergency is declared”

Food had to be brought in by helicopters.

Oldest US Nuclear Plant Shuts Down–For Good

New Jersey’s Oyster Creek shut nuke plant shut down permanently in mid September. On September 17 the Asbury Park Press reported that owner Exelon of Chicago ordered the plant to “power down Monday as 400 current and former workers gathered to  watch as workers flicked switches, pressed buttons and announced the shutdown of the plant.”

Oyster Creek started up in 1969, making it 49 years old when it was all over. Like the Brunswick nuke plant it was built by General Electric, with one boiling water reactor. Ownership changed hands in 1999 when it was sold to Amergen for a firesale price of $10 million. Amergen was later absorbed by Exelon, the nation’s largest owner and operator of nuclear plants, in 2003.

In 2009, despite some fierce opposition from locals, the NRC allowed the plant to operate for another 20 years, until 2029.

That same year it was revealed that plant radioactivity was spreading from Oyster Creek towards off site groundwater wells in residential areas.
In 2010 Exelon announced it would close Oyster Creek in 2010 rather than spend big bucks to build cooling towers required to meet environmental standards.  Later Exelon pushed back the closure date to this year.

Exelon is handing off demolition of the plant, disposal of megatons of its nuclear waste, and a $1 billion trust fund paid by utility customers over the years to another New Jersey outfit, Holtec, which says it can achieve these tasks, which usually take decades, in eight years.
Stay tuned!

Sources: Asbury Park Press, app.com; Wikipedia, wikipedia.org

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Noel Wauchope October 10, 2018 at 4:07 pm

Interesting facts raised. What about the latest hurricane – “Michael” Any nuclear reactors in its path?

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sealintheSelkirks October 12, 2018 at 7:54 pm

Unfortunately, like building on the ocean front facing earthquake faults, eventually you run out of luck. It’s not a matter of if, but of when. Here’s a short list of near-calamities (a cut from an article):

The World Nuclear Association says its goal is “to increase global support for nuclear energy” and it repeatedly claims on its website: “There have only been three major accidents across 16,000 cumulative reactor-years of operation in 32 countries.” The WNA and other nuclear power supporters acknowledge Three Mile Island in 1979 (US), Chernobyl in 1986 (USSR), and Fukushima in 2011 (Japan) as “major” disasters.

But claiming that these radiation gushers were the worst ignores the frightening series of large-scale disasters that have been caused by uranium mining, reactors, nuclear weapons, and radioactive waste. Some of the world’s other major accidental radiation releases indicate that the Big Three are just the tip of the iceberg.

CHALK RIVER (Ontario), Dec. 2, 1952: The first major commercial reactor disaster occurred at this Canadian reactor on the Ottawa River when it caused a loss-of-coolant, a hydrogen explosion and a meltdown, releasing 100,000 curies of radioactivity to the air. In comparison, the official government position is that Three Mile Island released about 15 curies, although radiation monitors failed or went off-scale.

ROCKY FLATS (Colorado), Sept. 11, 1957: This Cold War factory produced plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons 16 miles from Denver. It caused 30 to 44 pounds of breathable plutonium-239 and plutonium-240 to catch fire in what would come to be known as the second largest industrial fire in US history. Filters used to trap the plutonium were destroyed and it escaped through chimneys, contaminating parts of Denver. Nothing was done to warn or protect downwind residents.

WINDSCALE/SELLAFIELD (Britain), Oct. 7, 1957: The worst of many fires burned through one reactor igniting three tons of uranium and dispersed radionuclides over parts of England and northern Europe. The site was hastily renamed Sellafield. Another large radiation leak occurs in 1981and leukemia rates soared to triple the national average.

KYSHTYM/CHELYABINSK-65 (Russia), Sept. 29, 1957: A tank holding 70 to 80 metric tons of highly radioactive liquid waste exploded, contaminating an estimated 250,000 people, and permanently depopulating 30 towns which were leveled and removed from Russian maps. Covered up by Moscow (and the CIA) until 1989, Russia finally revealed that 20 million curies of long-lived isotopes like cesium were released, and the release was later declared a Level 6 disaster on the International Nuclear Event Scale. The long covered-up explosion contaminated up to 10,000 square miles making it the third- or 4th-most serious radiation accident ever recorded.

SANTA SUSANA (Simi Valley, Calif.), July 12, 1959: The meltdown of the Sodium Reactor Experiment just outside Los Angeles caused “the third largest release of iodine-131 in the history of nuclear power,” according to Arjun Makhajani, President of the Institute for Energy & Environmental Research. Released radioactive materials were never authoritatively measured because “the monitors went clear off the scale,” according to an employee. The accident was kept secret for 20 years.

CHURCH ROCK (New Mexico), July 16, 1979: Ninety-three million gallons of liquid uranium mine wastes and 1,000 tons of solid wastes spilled onto the Navajo Nation and into Little Puerco River, and nuclear officials called it “the worst incident of radiation contamination in the history of the United States.” The Little Puerco feeds the Little Colorado River, which drains to the Colorado River, which feeds Lake Mead—a source of drinking water for Los Angeles.

TOMSK-7 (Russia), April 7, 1993: In “the worst radiation disaster since Chernobyl,” Russian and foreign experts said a tank of radioactive waste exploded at the Tomsk nuclear weapons complex and that wind blew its plume of radiation toward the Yenisei River and 11 Siberian villages, none of which were evacuated.

MONJU (Japan), Dec. 8, 1995: This sodium-cooled “breeder reactor” caused a fire and a large leak of sodium coolant into the Pacific. Liquid sodium coolant catches fire on contact with air and explodes on contact with water. Costly efforts to engineer commercial models have failed. Japan’s Monju experiment was halted in 2018 after over 24 years of false starts, accidents and cover-ups.

TOKAI-MURA (Japan), Sept. 30, 1999: A uranium “criticality” which is an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction caused a “neutron burst” that killed three workers and dispersed neutron radiation throughout the densely populated urban area surrounding the factory.

Not to be slighted, deliberate contamination has also been enormous: Five metric tons of plutonium was dispersed over the earth by nuclear bomb testing, and other nuclear weapons processes; Over 210 billion gallons of radioactive liquids were poured into the ground at the Hanford reactor complex in Washington State; and 16 billion gallons of liquid waste holding 70,000 curies of radioactivity were injected directly into Idaho’s Snake River Aquifer at the Idaho National Lab.

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OB Joe OB Joe October 15, 2018 at 1:13 pm

I think Michael raised the right question, but didn’t really make the case. But at least he helps to remind us of the nuke industry still around.

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