As Fukushima Worsens, US Approves New Nukes | Common Dreams

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As Fukushima Worsens, US Approves New Nukes

Nuclear Regulatory Commission OKs New Nuclear Plants in South Carolina

- Common Dreams staff

Despite reports this week that the Fukushima nuclear situation may be even worse than previously thought, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has given approval today for two combined licenses for two nuclear reactors in South Carolina, only the second time in the last three decades that new nuclear plants have been approved in the nation.

The Vogtle nuclear power plant, which was given the first license since the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in 1979South Carolina Electric & Gas Co., a unit of SCANA Corp., and Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s state-owned electric and water utility, will begin construction on the reactors in Fairfield County, S.C. at the Summer nuclear power site.

The NRC’s decision to approve the license passed by a 4-1 vote, with the lone dissent vote coming from NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko due to safety measures raised by the Fukushima disaster. Jaczko wrote in his dissent, “I continue to believe that we should require that all Fukushima-related safety enhancements are implemented before these new reactors begin operating.”

The nuclear reactors will use Westinghouse’s AP1000 design. But in November nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen warned of several unreviewed safety concerns with this design and said that Westinghouse’s assumption of zero probability of reactor and/or spent fuel cooling failure “is a blatant manipulation of a safety code designed to protect public health and safety.”

In February the NRC also voted to extend licenses to build two nuclear reactors at the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia.

Earlier this month, Amy Goodman noted that “Democrats and Republicans agree on one thing: they’re going to force nuclear power on the public, despite the astronomically high risks, both financial and environmental.”

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U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission: NRC Concludes Hearing on Summer New Reactors, Combined Licenses to Be Issued (pdf)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has concluded its mandatory hearing on the South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) and Santee Cooper application for two Combined Licenses (COL) at the Summer site in South Carolina. In a 4-1 vote the Commission found the NRC staff’s review adequate to make the necessary regulatory safety and environmental findings, clearing the way for the NRC’s Office of New Reactors (NRO) to issue the COLs.

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The Hill: Regulators approve construction of nuclear reactors in South Carolina

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted 4-1 to approve a license allowing construction and conditional operation of two new reactors at Scana Corp.’s Virgil C. Summer nuclear power plant in Fairfield County, S.C. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko was the lone vote against approving the license. [...]

Friday’s decision is a major victory for the nuclear power industry, which has struggled for years to receive the necessary regulatory approvals to build new reactors.

In his dissent, Jaczko reiterated his long-standing call for the commission to include in the license a requirement that the plant operator – in this case Scana subsidiary South Carolina Electric & Gas – comply with all post-Fukushima safety standards. [...]

“I fully support the decision by my colleagues to include this license condition and I consider this important progress in incorporating the lessons from Fukushima,” he wrote in his dissent. “However, I continue to believe that we should require that all Fukushima-related safety enhancements are implemented before these new reactors begin operating.”

Jaczko was also the lone dissenting voice in February when the commission approved the Vogtle license. At the time, he raised similar concerns about incorporating the lessons learned from the Fukushima disaster into the license.

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POWERGRID International: NRC approves COLs for SCE&G, Santee Cooper Nuclear Units

About 1,000 workers are currently engaged in early-site preparation work at the V.C. Summer construction site. The project will peak at about 3,000 construction craft workers over the course of three to four years. The two units, each with a capacity of 1,117 MW, will then add 600 to 800 permanent jobs when they start generating electricity. The two AP1000 nuclear reactors will be fabricated by Westinghouse.

V.C. Summer Station is about 20 miles northwest of Columbia, S.C., and includes the now-decommissioned Carolinas-Virginia Tube Reactor unit. The plant comprises one 1,000 MW Westinghouse 3-loop pressurized water reactor currently licensed to run through 2042.

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Common Dreams: Experts: Radiation at Fukushima Plant Far Worse Than Thought
Water at surprisingly low levels; damage “worse than expected”

Radiation levels inside Fukushima’s reactor 2 have reached fatally high levels, and levels of water are far lower than previously thought, experts say today.

The current radiation levels are so high that even robots cannot enter. Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) says that new robots and equipment will need to be developed to deal with the lethal levels of radiation.

TEPCO spokesperson Junichi Matsumoto told the Associated Press, “We have to develop equipment that can tolerate high radiation” when locating and removing melted fuel during the decommissioning.

At ten times the lethal dose, the radiation levels are at their highest point yet.

At the current level of 73 sieverts, the data gathering robots can only stand two to three hours of exposure. But, Tsuyoshi Misawa, a reactor physics and engineering professor at Kyoto University’s Research Reactor Institute, told The Japan Times, “Two or three hours would be too short. At least five or six hours would be necessary.” He added that “the shallowness of the water level is a surprise, and the radiation level is awfully high.”

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Amy Goodman: Big Nuclear’s Cozy Relationship with the Obama Administration

Super Tuesday demonstrated the rancor rife in Republican ranks, as the four remaining major candidates slug it out to see how far to the right of PresidentBarack Obama they can go. While attacking him daily for the high cost of gasoline, both sides are traveling down the same perilous road in their support of nuclear power.

This is mind-boggling, on the first anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, with the chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission warning that lessons from Fukushima have not been implemented in this country. Nevertheless, Democrats and Republicans agree on one thing: they’re going to force nuclear power on the public, despite the astronomically high risks, both financial and environmental.

One year ago, on 11 March 2011, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami hit the northeast coast of Japan, causing more than 15,000 deaths, with 3,000 more missing and thousands of injuries. Japan is still reeling from the devastation – environmentally, economically, socially and politically. Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister at the time, said last July;

“We will aim to bring about a society that can exist without nuclear power.”

He resigned in August after shutting down production at several power plants. He said that another catastrophe could force the mass evacuation of Tokyo, and even threaten “Japan’s very existence”. Only two of the 54 Japanese power plants that were online at the time of the Fukushima disaster are currently producing power. Kan’s successor, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, supports nuclear power, but faces growing public opposition to it.

This stands in stark contrast to the United States. Just about a year before Fukushima, President Obama announced $8bn in loan guarantees to the Southern Company, the largest energy producer in the southeastern US, for the construction of two new nuclear power plants in Waynesboro, Georgia, at the Vogtle power plant, on the South Carolina border.

Since the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, and then the catastrophe at Chernobyl in 1986, there have been no new nuclear power plants built in the US. The 104 existing nuclear plants are all increasing in age, many nearing their originally slated life expectancy of 40 years.

While campaigning for president in 2008, Barack Obama promised that nuclear power would remain part of the US’s “energy mix”. His chief adviser, David Axelrod, had consulted in the past for Illinois energy company ComEd, a subsidiary of Exelon, a major nuclear-energy producer. Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel played a key role in the formation of Exelon. In the past four years, Exelon employees have contributed more than $244,000 to the Obama campaign – and that is not counting any soft-money contributions to PACs, or direct, corporate contributions to the new Super Pacs. Lamented by many for breaking key campaign promises (like closing Guantánamo, or accepting Super Pac money), President Obama is fulfilling his promise to push nuclear power.

That is why several groups sued the Nuclear Regulatory Commission last month. The NRC granted approval to the Southern Company to build the new reactors at the Vogtle plant despite a no vote from the NRC chair, Gregory Jaczko. He objected to the licenses over the absence of guarantees to implement recommendations made following the Japanese disaster. Jaczko said, “I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima never happened.”

Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, one of the plaintiffs in the suit against the NRC, explained how advocates for nuclear power “distort market forces”, since private investors simply don’t want to touch nuclear:

“They’ve asked the federal government for loan guarantees to support the project, and they have not revealed the terms of that loan guarantee … it’s socializing the risk and privatizing the profits.”

The Nuclear Information and Resource Service, noting the ongoing Republican attack on President Obama’s loan guarantee to the failed solar power company Solyndra, said:

“The potential for taxpayer losses that would dwarf the Solyndra debacle is extraordinarily high … this loan would be 15 times larger than the Solyndra loan, and is probably 50 times riskier.”

As long as our politicians dance to the tune of their donors, the threat of nuclear disaster will never be far off.

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Nuclear Expert Cites New Concerns about Westinghouse Reactor Design Based on Fukushima Disaster:

DURHAM, N.C. – November 10 – Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen has documented at least six areas of unreviewed safety concern involving the Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear plant design based on the ongoing Fukushima disaster, and he says these problems require full technical review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission before the plant design can be “certified.” Today public interest groups filed his report – which expands on problems identified by a federal task force – with NRC commissioners who are considering a final vote on the plant design without responding to a long list of problems raised earlier by experts within and outside the industry.

The report was commissioned by NC WARN and Friends of the Earth, who say the NRC staff has avoided resolving the earlier problems – along with others the NRC’s Fukushima Task Force said apply to new reactors – in order to meet the nuclear industry’s AP1000 construction schedule. In a legal motion accompanying today’s report, the groups say federal regulations require correction of the multiple problems during the design certification phase – not after full construction of the AP1000 begins in Georgia and South Carolina.

Gundersen, of Fairewinds Associates, reports multiple “failure modes that the NRC and Westinghouse have not considered … impacting the ability of the Westinghouse passive design to cool” the reactor and spent fuel pools. The former nuclear industry senior vice-president says Westinghouse’s assumption of zero probability of reactor and/or spent fuel cooling failure “is a blatant manipulation of a safety code designed to protect public health and safety.”

“Fukushima Unit 4 released enormous amounts of radiation when its spent fuel pool cooling system was shut down during the tsunami – and the lessons learned from this disaster must be applied in the design phase of the AP1000,” Gundersen said during a press conference today. “This same sequence is possible on the AP1000, but the NRC and Westinghouse-Toshiba have factored a zero percent chance of such an accident occurring.”

As Fukushima Worsens, US Approves New Nukes | Common Dreams.

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