A special team of six federal inspectors is investigating the unplanned shutdown of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth. The reactor, which produces about 10 percent of the state’s electricity, lost power during last week’s blizzard and had to rely on generators to run the nuclear plant’s critical safety systems. WBUR’s Bruce Gellerman reports on the shutdown and investigation.
Last month, Entergy began transferring spent fuel from Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s overcrowded wet pool to dry cask storage.
Entergy needs to create space in its spent fuel pool so that spent fuel that is removed from the reactor in the future has a place to cool. Two of the three storage casks wereloaded in January, with each cask containing 68 assemblies; the third cask was loaded the first week of February. The casks will be stored onsite at Pilgrim and are likely to remain in Plymouth for an indefinite period of time, as there is no Federal repository for storage of spent nuclear fuel.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Massachusetts and New York Attorneys General offices, believe dry cask storage of spent fuel to be safer than wet pool storage because it is passive and does not require human action to cool the fuel. However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and numerous government and scientific sources, have reported problems with the steel and concrete dry casks Entergy has ordered for spent fuel storage at Pilgrim. Concerns regarding the long-term viability and safety of dry casks have been raised, as well as the potential for stress corrosion cracking due to salt water exposure (with subsequent radioactive release) and vulnerability to terrorist attack.
Dry casks have three components: 1. a metal transfer cask to lift and handle the canister and prevent radioactive shieling of the spent fuel assemblies, 2. a leak-proof metal canister capable of holding 68 boiling water reactor assemblies, and 3. a storage overpack made of steel-encased concrete which provides physical and radiological protection of the metal canister when stored on the dry cask pad. This canister is vented for natural convection to dissipate spent fuel decay heat.
Pilgrim’s dry cask storage facility is located only about 175 feet away from the shoreline of Cape Cod Bay and about 6 feet above FEMA’s flood level. The proximity of the dry casks to the water and the effect of storm surge and sea level rise are worrisome. Pilgrim’s salt water environment may lead to premature stress corrosion cracking of the stainless steel canisters within 30 years – or perhaps sooner – resulting in major radiation releases. The concrete overpacks can also suffer from accelerated aging issues as the result of the coastal factors. Other nuclear power plants, such as San Onofre in Pendleton, California – also located on the water – have documented component failures in similar materials that have occurred in less than 30 years.
Unfortunately, the technology does not exist to inspect even the outside of the stainless steel canisters for cracks once loaded with spent fuel meaning there is no way to know that a stress corrosion crack has occurred. The NRC has given the nuclear industry five years to develop a method for inspecting the outside of the canisters; however, the NRC only plans on requiring inspection of one canister at each nuclear power plant. Even if a method did exist to detect a canister crack, there is no remediation plan if a canister does fail. The technology that is used to repair other stainless steel components cannot be used to repair canisters containing spent nuclear fuel. Per the NRC, if a canister becomes damaged due to a stress corrosion crack, there is no way to repair or replace the canister. Additionally, a canister cannot be transported in a transfer cask if there is a crack.
One potential fuel-handling solution that is currently being considered is the possibility of bringing a cask, or canister, back into the spent fuel pool, where it could be opened and possibly repaired or replaced. However, there is no publicly published documentation that a boiling water reactor dry cask has ever been loaded back into a spent fuel pool containing other assemblies. Temperature differences between the fuel in the dry cask and the spent fuel pool could disturb the properties of the cask, cladding, fuel, and related hardware if the materials were rewetted and rapidly cooled. Reinsertion of dry casks in the wet pool would thermally shock the irradiated fuel rods and cause a steam flash which would harm workers in the facility. Hence, an empty wet pool specifically designated for the reopening of damaged casks would be needed and is currently not available at any nuclear power plant in the country. Technology known as dry (hot cell) transfer has been discussed as an option for handling damaged casks; however, there is no dry handling facility available that is large enough to handle these canisters. Additionally, there is no mobile facility designed for this purpose and designing one may not be feasible.
There are no monitors installed on each cask to measure heat, helium (detection of helium can provide early warning of a problem) and radiation. A daily surveillance of the dry cask passive heat removal system is required to ensure system operability. This can be achieved by either monitoring the casks’ inlet and outlet vent temperatures or performing a visual inspection daily to ensure that the casks’ vents are not blocked. Pilgrim has chosen to perform daily visual inspections to ensure the air inlet and outlet vents do not become blocked and the passive heat removal system remains operable. The NRC expects that thermoluminscent dosimeters will be placed around the storage pad and will be used to monitor radiation on a quarterly to yearly basis. Unfortunately, the dosimeters can only read to a maximum threshold. They cannot provide an immediate reading of radiation.
Though the prospect of storing high-level nuclear waste in Plymouth indefinitely is not a pleasant thought and will never be the right or perfect solution for our town, there are steps that can be taken to do the job right and make dry cask storage as safe as it can be. Moving the dry casks to higher ground and enclosing them within a building offers multiple benefits: 1. increased protection against a salt water environment, storm surge, and sea level rise, 2. prevention of blockage of dry cask ventilation due to ice, snow, mud, and birds’ nests, thereby lowering the chance of a canister overheating, and 3. decreased visibility to potential terrorists, hence decreasing the site’s vulnerability to an attack.
While there is no current method to repair damaged canisters or casks, the addition of heat, helium, and radiation monitors for each cask would provide real-time information which would be invaluable in terms of identifying and responding to a problem with a dry cask. On-site storage of additional overpacks may offer temporary protection should a canister or cask corrosion crack occur.
Ultimately the best solution is to use casks that are not susceptible to cracks, that can be inspected and repaired, and that have early warning monitoring systems that alert us before radiation leaks into the environment.
Despite the concerns related to dry casks, dry cask storage has many advantages over wet pool storage: it does not require mechanical parts or offsite electrical power; does not need human intervention to function properly; and, is not as vulnerable to acts of terrorism. Dry cask storage also reduces the amount of spent fuel in the SFP, meaning there will be fewer releases of radioactivity in the event of an accident. Sadly, significant gains in safety can only be realized through expedited transfer dry cask transfer and resultant thinning of the spent fuel pool, which currently Pilgrim does not plan to do.
Heather Lightner is a registered nurse in Plymouth and president of Concerned Neighbors of Pilgrim, a local, grassroots group focused on safer storage of spent nuclear fuel at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station. She serves on the Plymouth Nuclear Matters Committee. The opinions expressed here are hers and do not reflect the official position of the NMC.
Pilgrim shut down automatically at 4:05am Tuesday, January 27, 2015 after two transmission lines failed during Blizzard Juno around high tide – furthering concerns that the nuclear plant is seriously unprepared to weather the storm.
Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth will continue to be classified by the federal government as one of the worst performers among nuclear power plants in the country, at least for now, based on a recent inspection.
PLYMOUTH, Mass. — Twelve Cape Cod residents were found guilty Friday in Plymouth District Court for illegally entering the grounds of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant.
The defendants admitted to trespassing at the Plymouth facility, but used the seldom argued necessity defense, declaring they were innocent because they were trying to prevent an imminent public danger.
Diana Turco, co-founder of Cape Downwinders, a group of Cape Cod residents who want the plant shut down, was one of 12 defendants.
“There are cancers caused by the nuclear power plant. There is no assurance of public safety in the evacuation plans. Those are huge issues,” Turco said.
The judge ruled the standards for the necessity defense were not met.
The 12 defendants were found guilty and each was sentenced to a day in jail, or time served.
PLYMOUTH — Depending on your perspective, Monday’s shut down of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station was either another example of the plant’s “defense in depth” safety or additional evidence of its vulnerability.
The press release from Pilgrim arrived just after 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, Oct. 15, and referenced a successful scram (sudden shutdown) of the reactor at 9:21 p.m. the previous evening. According to Pilgrim spokesman Carol Wightman, “Pilgrim Station automatically shut down due to the loss of one of the two 345-kV lines that provides offsite power to the plant.”
PLYMOUTH — A Monday night loss of outside power has forced the Pilgrim nuclear plant offline for the fourth time this year.
Carol Wightman, a spokeswoman for Pilgrim’s owner Entergy, said Tuesday morning that the plan automatically shut down at 9:21 p.m. Monday, when an NStar power line into the plant went out of service.
Wightman said Pilgrim gets its outside power from two 345-kilovolt lines. NStar had already taken one of the lines out of service for maintenance when the second line failed.
Wightman said the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission was informed as soon as the shutdown occurred.
She said the shutdown had no effect on the health or safety to the public or Pilgrim workers. She said the 685-megawatt plant will return to production when NStar completes repair and restoration of the two power lines.
Wightman said emergency generators began operating as soon as the NStar line went out of service, and that the generators are safely powering the plant.
Meanwhile, she said Pilgrim crews are doing maintenance that can’t be performed while the plant is in production.
Pilgrim has now been offline for 73 of 288 days thus far this year, though 46 of those days were for planned maintenance and refueling.
The plant was offline three times earlier this year from pump-related problems. The plant was down for a week in January, and again in late August and early September.http://www.patriotledger.com/topstories/x1281960517/Pilgrim-nuclear-plant-offline-for-4th-time-this-year#ixzz2htkweZba
110 Pilgrim violations, 2000-2012
The Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth experienced 108 lower-level and two higher-level safety violations from 2000 through 2012. The violations were included in a congressional study expected to be released this month showing that safety violations at nuclear plants across the country varies dramatically from region to region. The Government Accountability Office report obtained by The Associated Press suggests inconsistent enforcement of regulations could be responsible.
A Pilgrim spokeswoman said they’re committed to addressing even minor issues and that enhancing safety is their top concern.
Twenty-six Northeast reactors reported more than 2,500 violations, about 97 per reactor, during the 13-year period. Lower-level violations pose very low risk. Higher-level violations range from low to high safety significance, such as an improperly maintained electrical system that caused a fire affecting a plant’s ability to shut down safely.
Shutdowns at Pilgrim in 2013
Jan. 10: Trip of both recirculation pumps. Returned to full power on Jan. 17.
Jan. 20: Leak in a safety-relief valve. Returned to full power on Jan. 24.
Feb. 8: Offsite power loss and main generator load reject. Returned to full power on Feb. 16.
April 18: Refueling. Returned to full power on June 3.
Aug. 22: Electrical problems with water pumps. The plant restarted on Aug. 26, but was shut down by a steam leak on Sept. 8 before reaching full power. Returned to full power on Sept. 21.
Oct. 14: Loss of offsite power.
Source: Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The Boston Globe: Ex-leader of Japan warns against nuclear power
IEEE Spectrum: Former NRC Chairman says Nuclear Industry is “Going Away”
Patriot Ledger: State senator calls for Pilgrim nuclear plant to be shut down
Cape Cod Online: Panelists outline problems with U.S. nuclear plant safety
Patriot Ledger: Panelists say Pilgrim nuclear plant should be closed
South Coast Today: Nuclear Experts: Retire reactors
Counter Punch: Toward a Clean Energy Future: The Nuclear Forum
WBAI Pacifica Radio: New York Lessons from Fukushima
Huffington Post: Nuclear Power Through the Fukushima Perspective
Business Week: Indian Point Nuclear Plant Should Be Shut, Ex-Regulator Says
PLYMOUTH – A series of mechanical difficulties at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station has kept the plant from operating at peak for more than two weeks. Currently Pilgrim is completely off the electric grid, shut down Sunday evening because of a steam leak in a pipe supplying hot water to the nuclear reactor.
Compiled by Dave Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists – A 36-page printout of events that have occurred at Pilgrim, spanning from 1965 to May 2013.* Pilgrim Events (PDF)
*Important Note: This report contains information about events that happened – not events that did not happen. In other words, just because an event is NOT listed in this report does not mean it did not happen. It might be that the ongoing research effort that yielded this report has not yet recorded the event.
PLYMOUTH — The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station was manually shut down at 8 a.m. Thursday after a tripped breaker cut off power to pumps supplying water to its reactor. James Sinclair, spokesman for Entergy, the plant’s owner and operator, said Thursday the public was in no danger. The plant was put into safe shutdown mode while staff tried to figure out the cause of the tripped breaker.
The plant will remain offline until the problem is identified and fixed, Sinclair said. The facility could be put into “cold shutdown,” which takes up to 48 hours to complete, depending on what repairs are needed, he said.
Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the plant had 1.9 unplanned shutdowns in a 7,000-hour period. This latest shutdown could shift the plant into a category that requires tighter oversight by the federal agency.Keep reading
Read the letter: Sen. Markey & Warren: Letter to Entergy
The state’s two U.S. senators recently stepped into the nuclear safety debate, writing a letter to Entergy Corp. to urge the owner-operator of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station to expand the emergency planning zone and develop a realistic evacuation plan should the plant have a radioactive release.
Entergy updated its estimated evacuation times late last year for the 40-year-old plant, based on the latest U.S. Census figures. Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren, both Democrats, said those estimates are based on “highly unrealistic” assumptions.Keep reading
It’s that bittersweet time of year when we savor the last precious days of summer, trying to somehow make them last, yet knowing they’re about to come to an end. In a few short weeks, area parents will be packing backpacks and lunchboxes instead of beach bags, ceremoniously marking the beginning of another school year.
With the start of school, a slew of tedious paperwork will be brought home for parents to fill out and sign. In Plymouth, one of them will be a consent form authorizing the child’s school to administer potassium iodide (KI) should a radiological event occur at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station. In signing this consent form, parents are forced to face the possibility of a catastrophic crisis at Pilgrim. It is a risk that all residents of Plymouth (and beyond) are forced to accept as part of living in this wonderful area, in the shadow of an operating nuclear plant.Keep reading
Even more would try to leave in case of Pilgrim nuke plant event
BUZZARDS BAY — Entergy Corp., owners of the aging Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Manomet, has completed its survey of 500 Cape Cod households, asking two key emergency evacuation questions. Fifty Bourne households were contacted.
The first question involved people leaving the Cape due to a weather emergency. Some 59 percent of the respondents said they would depart; 41 percent said no. The second question involved people departing the Cape in the case of a nuclear event at the Pilgrim station and being advised to leave. Some 70 percent said they would get off the Cape; 30 percent said they would stay behind.Keep reading
Regulators and congressional investigators clashed Wednesday over a new report warning that in the event of an accident at a nuclear plant, panicking residents from outside the official evacuation zone might jam the roads and prevent others from escaping.
The report by the Government Accountability Office, which acts as the investigative arm of Congress, challenges a three-decade-old fundamental of emergency planning around American nuclear power plants: that preparations for evacuation should focus on people who live within 10 miles of the site…
What GAO Found
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are collectively responsible for providing radiological emergency preparedness oversight and guidance to commercial nuclear power plant licensees and local and state authorities around the plants. In general, NRC is responsible for overseeing licensees’ emergency preparedness at the plant (on-site), and FEMA is responsible for overseeing preparedness by local and state authorities around the plant (off-site). NRC and FEMA have also established a 10-mile emergency planning zone around nuclear power plants. Licensees are responsible for managing on-site radiological emergency preparedness and developing and maintaining plans that define activities that the nuclear power plant must take to prepare for and respond to a potential incident at the plant. Participating local and state authorities within the 10-mile zone must develop protective actions for responding to a radiological incident, including plans for evacuations and sheltering in place. A recent NRC task force considered the adequacy of the zone size and concluded that no change was currently needed but will be re-evaluated as part of its lessons learned efforts for the Fukushima incident.
NRC and FEMA conduct activities to ensure that licensees and local and state authorities have adequate plans and capabilities to respond to a radiological incident. For example, NRC and FEMA review emergency plans developed by licensees and local and state authorities to ensure that planning standards are met. In addition, NRC and FEMA observe exercises for each plant that licensees and local and state authorities conduct every 2 years to demonstrate their ability to respond to an incident. NRC also requires licensees to develop estimates of how long it would take for those inside the 10-mile zone to evacuate under various conditions. Licensees are to provide these evacuation time estimates to local and state authorities to use when planning protective action strategies.
NRC and FEMA require licensees and local and state authorities, respectively, to provide information annually on radiation and protective actions for the public only inside the 10-mile zone. Those in the 10-mile zone have been shown to be generally well informed about these emergency preparedness procedures and are likely to follow directions from local and state authorities in the event of a radiological emergency. In contrast, the agencies do not require similar information to be provided to the public outside of the 10-mile zone and have not studied public awareness in this area. Therefore, it is unknown to what extent the public in these areas is aware of these emergency preparedness procedures, and how they would respond in the event of a radiological emergency. Without better information on the public’s awareness and potential response in areas outside the 10-mile zone, NRC may not be providing the best planning guidance to licensees and state and local authorities.
Why GAO Did This Study
On March 11, 2011, a tsunami severely damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan and led to the largest release of radiation since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Japanese authorities evacuated citizens within 19 miles of the plant. GAO was asked to examine issues related to emergency preparedness at nuclear power plants. This report examines (1) federal, licensees’, and local and state authorities’ responsibilities in radiological emergency preparedness, (2) the activities NRC and FEMA take to oversee licensee and local and state radiological emergency preparedness, and (3) NRC and FEMA requirements for informing the public on preparedness and NRC’s understanding of public awareness. GAO reviewed laws, regulations, and guidance; examined emergency plans from licensees and local and state authorities; visited four nuclear power plants; and interviewed federal, local and state, and industry officials.
What GAO Recommends
To better inform radiological emergency preparedness efforts, GAO recommends that NRC obtain information on public awareness and likely public response outside the 10- mile zone, and incorporate insights into guidance, as appropriate. NRC generally disagreed with GAO’s finding, stating that its research shows public response outside the zone would generally have no significant impact on evacuations. GAO continues to believe that its recommendation could improve radiological emergency preparedness efforts and is consistent with NRC guidance.
BOURNE, MA — Last week a Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) official told local officials and residents that the state agency is considering working on a traffic plan that would essentially ask Cape Codders to stay in place were a radiological accident to happen at Entergy’s Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station (PNPS) in Plymouth. All of Cape Cod is within 37 miles of the facility and well within the 50 mile Ingestion Pathway Emergency Planning Zone.
At the meeting requested by Cape Downwinders and attended by local emergency officials from Barnstable, Mashpee, and Bourne, and Seth Rolbein, Senator Wolf’s chief advisor, MEMA Deputy Director Christine Packard told the group that MEMA has been in contact with Entergy Co., owners of the PNPS, to support and fund a traffic control study for Cape Cod. Ms. Packard reiterated that plans will be dealing with traffic control only and not address the lack of safety plans outside the 10 mile emergency planning zone (EPZ). The ‘shadow evacuation’ area extends 5 miles beyond the 10 mile EPZ and includes parts of Bourne and Sandwich. There are no evacuation instructions for those residents in that identified zone nor does MEMA plan to include any plans for Cape residents and visitors to evacuate.
“There are no plans to evacuate us from danger. There are no plans to shelter us from danger,” said Falmouth resident Bill Maurer, “but there are plans to control us during that danger which essentially insures that we will be exposed to that danger.”
According to Diane Turco of Cape Downwinders, MEMA Director Kurt Schwartz told the Barnstable Regional Emergency Planning Committee last October, “You will be in harm’s way”, acknowledging the serious irsk to people living on the Cape.
“The state’s response to citizen calls for public safety is to acknowledge Cape residents exposure to dangerous levels of radioactive materials and then relocate the population somewhere. The proposed traffic control plan is about controlling us to just stay put and take the hit.”, said Turco.
Organizers of the January 3 event said they were told by MEMA officials that the press would not be allowed at the meeting.
For additional information: David Agnew (774) 722-3728 / Paul Rifkin (508) 737-9545
Press Contacts: Bill Maurer: (508) 299-3936 / Diane Turco: (508) 432-1744
Even though part of Sandwich is 11 miles from Pilgrim, and Provincetown is 18 miles away, Cape Cod and the Islands have no radiological emergency plan. But don’t think that our government has done nothing to safeguard residents from an accident at its nearby Fukushima twin…
The Department of Public Health’s Radiological Emergency Information for Farmers, Food Processors and Distributors shows that there is
a plan some guidance for livestock…
Eight bills to provide some radiological emergency planning were introduced in the Statehouse between 1987 and 1992, and quite a few since. This past spring, seven Cape towns have had citizen initiatives on their town meeting warrant or election ballot. These non-binding measures varied from establishing an emergency plan to simply closing the Pilgrim reactor.