The Virus and the Nukes

by on May 6, 2020 · 3 comments

in Energy, Environment

Nuclear Shutdown News May 2020

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 who are working to create a nuclear free future.

The Virus and the Nukes

As reported in last month’s Nuclear Shutdown News, the pandemic has been affecting workers at US nuclear plants.

The  April 10 Philadelphia Inquirer reported that some workers at the Limerick nuke plant in Pennsylvania had tested positive for the virus and 44 others had been quarantined “because they may have come in contact with infected workers.”

Limerick shut down one of its reactors in early March to switch out old nuclear fuel and replace it with new, a process known as refueling. At that time safety measures to discourage the spread of the coronavirus were not yet in place. While this work is going on, up to 1000 extra workers are added. They all need places to stay and eat locally.

In an April 5 press release, the Radiation and Public Health Project, (nuclear advocates)  said Dr. Lewis Cuthbert of the Alliance for a Clean Environment in Pottstown (where Limerick is located) called on the state governor to quarantine all workers at the plant, shut down the reactor being refueled, and postpone three other refuelings that are scheduled at other reactors.

But instead the Limerick reactor refueled in record time, because the NRC  allowed longer daily shifts and work weeks, as well as skipping usually required inspections and maintenance work.

On April 7 Power Magazine reported that 58 US nuke plants with 96 reactors are planning refuelings, including one now ongoing at the Millstone nuke plant in my home state of Connecticut.

Given all this Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, has called for putting off all future refuelings until the pandemic is over.

In contrast, Reuters reported on April 10 that the French nuclear utility, EDF, extended outages (shutdowns for refuelings) at three reactors “as it adjusts its maintenance schedule to the coronavirus outbreak.” Staff at one of the plants had already been reduced due to a “cluster of coronavirus in the area.” Restart of these reactors, supposed to be soon, has been put off until October. Also, a fall of business activity  caused by the virus reduced the need for electricity.

Another One Bites the Dust–Troublesome Nuke Reactor Shuts Down in New York

On April 30, as widely reported by various media, a reactor at the Indian Point nuclear plant ceased operations. The 45 year old reactor 2, located on the Hudson River only 30 miles north of New York City, currently the epicenter of of the global pandemic, is owned by New Orleans-based Entergy.

Plagued by problems and controversy, this nuke plant began operating in 1962 by another utility. Its first reactor lasted only 12 years. Reactor 3 is scheduled to close down next year.

After decades of malfunctions and opposition by environmentalists, most notably Riverkeeper, whose leading player was activist folk singer Pete Seeger, an agreement was forged with that group, Entergy and New York State to bring about Indian Point’s demise.

As reported by on April 21, at a virtual public meeting about reactor 2’s shutdown, “Questions from the public during the meeting demonstrated deep skepticism about Holtec and distrust of the Nuclear Regulatory Commissions regulators themselves.”

Enter Holtec

Holtec International is a Florida-based corporation that takes down closed nuclear plants and disposes of its deadly nuclear waste. In recent years, as more aging nuke plant across the country give up the ghost, it especially has taken on the role of handling the long-lived nuclear waste, a job the federal government was supposed to have started doing decades ago.

Holtec is, or is trying trying to take on this task at the shut down Pilgrim in Massachusetts, Vermont Yankee and Southern California San Onofre nuke plants. It also is requesting that the NRC let it build a national nuclear waste dump in New Mexico.

Twelve states are taking legal action opposing Holtec’s attempt to take control of Pilgrim’s decommissioning, as its called. New York Attorney General Letitia James is “leading the state coalition,” and has also “filed a petition to intervene in the transfer of Indian Point’s license to Holtec,” according to

Sources:; Philadelphia Inquirer,; Power Magazine,; Radiation and Public Health Project,; Reuters,


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Donna Gilnore May 7, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Waste is being stored in thin-wall steel canisters only 1/2″ to 5/8″ thick. Both the NRC and Dept. of Energy admit these thin-wall canisters are vulnerable to short-term through wall cracking, with no plan in place to prevent this. Other countries use thick-wall casks 10″ to 19.75″ thick. Each canister holds roughly the lethal radioactive material (e.g. , Cesium-137) released from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and 3 times the plutonium. Until these thin-wall canisters are replaced with thick-wall metal casks, none of us are safe. Unlike with the coronavirus, we won’t be able to stay home to protect ourselves.


Lars Gomoski May 10, 2020 at 10:19 pm

I’m not sure where you are getting your information or what you mean by “waste”. There are different levels of nuclear waste (Hi level, low level, etc.). I believe the “deadly nuclear waste” the article refers to is the spent fuel rods that the feds were suppose to take care of and dispose (Yucca Mountain). There is no way the spent fuel is being stored in thin-wall steel canisters only 1/2? to 5/8? thick. The radiation levels around those canisters would be deadly.


Donna Gilmore May 11, 2020 at 5:11 pm

The thin-wall stainless steel canisters are stored in either carbon steel lined concrete casks or carbon steel lined concrete storage holes. However, the concrete casks and storage holes have air vents for convection cooling of the super hot spent nuclear fuel. The concrete is for stopping gamma and neutrons. The 1/2″ to 5/8″ canister is the only barrier for the rest of the radioactive material. Information is from NRC technical documents for the spent nuclear fuel dry storage systems. Links at


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