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.
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.
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
Foreign nuclear experts on Friday blasted the operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, with one saying its lack of transparency over toxic water leaks showed “you don’t know what you’re doing.”
The blunt criticism comes after a litany of problems at the reactor site, which was swamped by a quake-sparked tsunami two years ago. The disaster sent reactors into meltdown and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents in the worst atomic accident in a generation. Earlier this week, Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) admitted for the first time that radioactive groundwater had leaked outside the plant, confirming long-held suspicions of ocean contamination from the shattered reactors.
“This action regarding the water contamination demonstrates a lack of conservative decision-making process,” Dale Klein, former head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), told a panel in Tokyo. “It also appears that you are not keeping the people of Japan informed. These actions indicate that you don’t know what you are doing…you do not have a plan and that you are not doing all you can to protect the environment and the people.”Keep reading (Phys.org)
Dear West Coast Senators:
We the undersigned are deeply concerned about the radiation danger from the ongoing disaster at the Japanese nuclear complex at Fukushima-Daiichi. We are asking you to conduct a thorough investigation of the continuing damage to West Coast states, and the potential danger of another catastrophe.
This would include a detailed inspection of the facility by a team of experts who are independent of the nuclear industry, as well as ongoing monitoring of West Coast and Hawaii water, air and food for radiation. We are especially concerned about making sure the site is safe in case of another huge earthquake, which is not unlikely.
ABC (Australia) , July 23, 2013: It’s taken about two-and-a-half years, but it seems the Japanese government is finally losing patience with the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant. The reason: its haphazard approach to stabilising the complex. Last week it was unexplained steam rising from the shattered remains of the building housing the melted reactor number three. This week it’s TEPCO’s admission that radioactive water from the plant has probably been leaking into the Pacific for the last three months. […]
NHK WORLD , July 23, 2013: […] Tokyo Electric Power Company admitted for the first time on Monday that tainted water is seeping into the sea from the plant site, based on its analysis of water levels underground and in the adjacent sea. High levels of groundwater contamination have been identified [… Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide] Suga told reporters after the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday that the government views this as a grave matter. […]
NHK WORLD , July 23, 2013: A senior Japanese government official has criticized the operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant for failing to stop radioactive water leaking into the ocean. Tokyo Electric Power Company officials announced on Monday that new findings suggest tainted water has been leaking into the ocean since April. Officials from the Industry Ministry inspected the plant later on Monday. Senior vice minister Kazuyoshi Akaba says the situation is deplorable. […]
Two years after the disaster at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant in Japan — called the “worst accidental release of radiation to the ocean in history” – a fish with staggering levels of radiation has reportedly been found in the vicinity of the plant.
According to French newspaper Le Monde, the fish was caught last Friday. It reportedly contained more than 2,500 times the legal limit for radiation in seafood. The AFP writes:
[Plant operator] Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said caesium equivalent to 254,000 becquerels per kilogramme — or 2,540 times more than the government seafood limit — was detected in a “murasoi” fish. The fish, similar to rockfish, was caught at a port inside the Fukushima plant, a TEPCO spokesman said.
The find is a stark reminder that fears of radiation continue to haunt the island nation years after the nuclear catastrophe rocked Japan’s waters. Read on →
PLYMOUTH — The tsunami that wracked the west coast of Japan in March of 2011 was still being felt in Plymouth in 2012.
While the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station finally succeeded this year in attaining official approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a 20-year extension of its license to operate – a review that lasted a record six years – that review and the disaster in Fukushima also resulted in renewed scrutiny of its operation by an assortment of established and new environmental watchdog groups.
Before Fukushima, Duxbury-based Pilgrim Watch, with its stalwart founder, Mary Lampert, was the lone local critic of the plant and its owner, Louisiana-based Entergy Corp.
Today, Pilgrim Watch is still a leader but has joined forces with what is being called the Pilgrim Coalition. Keep reading…
In 10 Years, Peak Cesium Levels Off West Coast Could Be 10 Times Higher Than at Coast of Japan
We’ve extensively documented the fact that ocean currents bring Japanese radiation to the West Coast of North America, and that – rather than adequate ocean dilution – there could be “pockets” and “streams” of highly-concentrated radiation.
Joke F Lübbecke of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and 3 scientists from the GEOMAR Research Center for Marine Geosciences poured tracer dye into coastal waters off of Fukushima, and monitored its progress as it traveled to the West Coast of North America, to find out what might really happen.
Fukushima Reactor 4: The Most Important Story Nobody’s Talking About
“It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of Japan and the whole world depends on No. 4 reactor.” — Former Japanese Ambassador to Switzerland Mitsuhei Murata to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
It’s the most important story nobody’s talking about: the continued dire situation at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, ravaged by a massive earthquake and Tsunami last March.
Judging by the official position of the Japanese Government – which maintains the worst of the catastrophe has passed, declaring the plant now “stable” – and drying up of mainstream media coverage, it’s easy to see how most of the world has been lulled into a false sense of security about Fukushima.
But in recent months, increasingly troubling reports from high-ranking Japanese and American politicians, diplomats and nuclear experts have been trickling into the blogosphere and alternate media like the irradiated water still seeping from the plant into the Pacific Ocean.
The Union of Concerned Scientists recommends safety and security measures that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other government agencies can require to help prevent a nuclear disaster and reduce the damage if one does occur. Entergy should abide by these 23 specific recommendations:
“Nuclear power is an inherently hazardous technology; there’s no way to make it perfectly safe. But we can make it safer.”Union of Concerned Scientists
To protect our health and safety, these are among the fixes that need to be addressed as a condition of Pilgrim’s continued operation:
- Require plant owners to install reliable, fail-safe containment vents, equipped with filters that would reduce the amount of radioactivity released to the atmosphere during a reactor accident.
- Accelerate the transfer of spent fuel to dry cask storage; return the pool to its original, safer, low-density design.
- Power cables must qualify to be in moisture; generators must store at least 14 days of fuel. Require reactors to be able to handle sustained loss of normal and backup power.
- Modify emergency plans, including methods for radiation dose assessment and communications to cope with the sustained loss of normal and backup power supplies. Pursue emergency issues such as delivering equipment through off-site impediments (e.g. failed bridges, blocked roadways) and competing for emergency resources.
- Expand Emergency Planning Zones around reactors in accordance with site-specific parameters (e.g. include all of Cape Cod) and make potassium iodide available beyond 10 miles. Require Entergy to provide sufficient funding for proper implementation in affected communities.
- Improve security at Pilgrim to protect against potential attacks from the air, water, and land.
- Develop procedures for severe accidents exceeding the level presently thought possible, integrating them with those for anticipated accidents and terrorist attacks.
- Replace the once-through cooling system. Require plant owners to upgrade methods for adding water to a spent fuel pool during an accident and to install instruments to monitor pool temperature and water levels.
- Implement real-time radiological and meteorological monitoring off-site.
- Identify ways to prevent hydrogen explosions in the containment and building. Develop ways to improve protection against seismically induced fires and floods. Re-evaluate the seismic and flooding risks to reactors, upgrade protections against both, and upgrade seismic monitoring instrumentation.
- Demonstrate full compliance with all NRC fire regulations. NRC Commissioner Jaczko stated in July 2008, “I don’t think there is one plant right now that is in compliance with those regulations.”
- Meet current specifications for newly built reactors and provide sufficient funds for decommissioning.