Skip to comments.AP IMPACT: US nuke regulators weaken safety rules
Posted on 06/20/2011 10:55:40 AM PDT by Hunton Peck
LACEY TOWNSHIP, N.J. Federal regulators have been working closely with the nuclear power industry to keep the nation's aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them, an investigation by The Associated Press has found.
***[Snip 12 paras]***
Commercial nuclear reactors in the United States were designed and licensed for 40 years. When the first ones were being built in the 1960s and 1970s, it was expected that they would be replaced with improved models long before those licenses expired.
But that never happened. The 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, massive cost overruns, crushing debt and high interest rates ended new construction proposals for several decades.
Instead, 66 of the 104 operating units have been relicensed for 20 more years, mostly with scant public attention. Renewal applications are under review for 16 other reactors.
By the standards in place when they were built, these reactors are old and getting older. As of today, 82 reactors are more than 25 years old.The AP found proof that aging reactors have been allowed to run less safely to prolong operations. As equipment has approached or violated safety limits, regulators and reactor operators have loosened or bent the rules.
Last year, the NRC weakened the safety margin for acceptable radiation damage to reactor vessels for a second time. The standard is based on a measurement known as a reactor vessel's "reference temperature," which predicts when it will become dangerously brittle and vulnerable to failure. Over the years, many plants have violated or come close to violating the standard.
As a result, the minimum standard was relaxed first by raising the reference temperature 50 percent, and then 78 percent above the original even though a broken vessel could spill its radioactive contents...
(Excerpt) Read more at news.yahoo.com ...
And another thing: old reactor sites have become de facto permanent nuclear waste storage facilities.
Absolute BS, stopped reading right there. The current Administration is intent on shutting down all current production, they just don't have the authority to do so but they are trying.
The list-serve propaganda arm of the Democrats is not qualified to do any "investigation" on anything. Certainly nothing technical.
You can thank the Democrats for that.
This is just about the greatest collection of journalistic irresponsibility that I’ve ever had to read.
I’m so furious I could spit!!!
The only thing (and I mean THE only thing) in this article that has any merit is the mention of the incident at Davis-Besse.
It’s what the AP tries to, but can’t completely, gloss over that makes this story interesting (at least to me): that the real reason for problems with nuclear and other energy sources is environmentalist obstructionism. The Greenies are making the world a more dangerous place for people and other living things.
Nuke power is on the decline. Has been for over 20 years (Iowa State shut down their program about that time).
I have an extensive database of plant component aging and I see no show-stoppers that would prevent these facilities from running for at least another 20 years beyond the original 40 year license, and probably another 20 years after that. The MSM has no idea what the original 40-year license timeline was based on. Does anyone here know (I do)?
Only in nations that are also on the decline.
Meanwhile, among our global competitors --- Over 60 power reactors are currently being constructed in 15 countries plus Taiwan notably China, South Korea and Russia.
I don’t. Maybe after giving folks a while to chime in with their guesses, you could give us the answer....
“AP hit piece”
No mention that nearly all of the steam generator have been replaced with material that has no experience of cracking AT ALL in operation (under extreme laboratory conditions it can crack). No mention that the inspection techniques are way better. No mention that we developed 50 years of experience. No mention that plant safety is radically improved.
And to suggest that the NRC and nuclear plant operators have developed a friendly relationship is akin to saying that the Department of Fish&Wildlife have developed a close relationship with hunters.
The 40-year license life was based on similar regulations for hydroelectric dams. Because in the mid-1950s, no one had any idea of what to expect. We’ve had 50 years to learn, and we are applying our knowledge to IMPROVE safety, not to skirt around it.
Here’s an analogy to go with this horrible article:
Back in 1909, the state of Washington introduced an automobile speed limit of one mile in five minutes (12mph) in “thickly settled areas and business districts”, and at one mile in two-and-a-half minutes (24mph) for rural areas.
By the 1950s, it had risen to 50 mph.
The speed limit is now 70 mph on certain Washington interstate highways.
Has the government recklessly conspired with operators of motor vehicles? Have regulations been relaxed at the whim of drivers?
Or have the roads improved? Or have the cars improved? Do we now have a better idea of what is dangerous and what can be safely driven at a higher speed?
The AP would have you believe that we should all keep our speed below 24 mph.
Good analogy. Thanks.
I should of stated “In the US”.
If sandbags are required to keep nuclear reactors safe, there might be some design problems.
So they designed the use of sand bags into their emergency planning ?
No, they allowed for the possibility of a 500-year flood. Name me one other industry that does that. Name me one other industry that engineers a nine-fold safety redundancy. And please, spare us the “But no other industry can wipe out all life in the known universe and unravel the space-time continuum!” crap. That isn’t going to happen.
Here is the response from the Nuclear Energy Institute to this hit piece:
June 20, 2011
Older Nuclear Plants Face Same Safety Checks as New Ones, Despite Impression Left by AP Story
A story from the Associated Press, US Nuke Regulators Weaken Safety Rules, claims that accommodations by the NRC are significantly undermining safety at older U.S. nuclear power plants. In fact, industry actions and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulatory standards continue to ensure safe operations at all U.S. nuclear power plants. The U.S. regulatory approach features a clear dividing line between the industry and an independent regulator that has at least two inspectors at every plant site every day.
Below, we take a deeper look at the AP article and present the facts.
Aging reactors have been allowed to run less safely to prolong
U.S. commercial nuclear reactors no matter how old they areincluding those up for license renewalmust demonstrate to the NRC that they will manage aging issues effectively, ensuring equipment functionality and plant safety.
U.S. nuclear power plants are subject to a rigorous program of NRC oversight, inspection, preventive and corrective maintenance, equipment replacement, and extensive equipment testing. These programs ensure nuclear plant equipment continues to meet safety standards, no matter how long the plant has been operating.
Because these sustained maintenance programs exist, the date that a nuclear plant starts operating is not a reliable indication of its age or condition.
Some nuclear plant components are replaced on fixed schedules, while others are used until they show wear and then are replaced. These aging management activities will continue for as long as the plant operates.
Plants constantly replace and repair equipment and components with moving parts, such as pumps and valves. Even massive multi-ton components like reactor vessel heads and steam generators are replaced when needed to maintain high levels of reliability. In 2009 alone, the nuclear energy industry invested approximately $6.5 billion in steam generators and reactor vessel heads, in equipment modifications necessary to uprate plants and in other capital projects.
Despite the many problems linked to aging, not a single official body in government or industry has studied the overall frequency and potential impact on safety of such breakdowns in recent years.
The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations maintains a database of operational issues in the nuclear energy industry and tracks and trends them. Every utility that operates a nuclear power plant has access to this information for review and corrective action as needed.
Established by the nuclear power industry in December 1979, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations is a not-for-profit organization headquartered in Atlanta. Its mission is to promote the highest levels of safety and reliability in the operation of commercial nuclear power plants in the U.S.
[There are] rising fears that these accommodations by the NRC are significantly undermining safetyand inching the reactors closer to an accident that could harm the public and jeopardize the future of nuclear power in the United States .
Contrary to the speculation in the article, there has not been a single safety-significant event since 2002, according to NRC reports to Congress. The NRC annually reports to Congress the number of abnormal occurrences that have taken place at U.S. nuclear power plants. The agency defines an abnormal occurrence as an unscheduled incident or event that the NRC deems significant from the standpoint of public health or safety. The total number of abnormal occurrences throughout the U.S. nuclear energy industry over the seven years spanning fiscal 2003 to fiscal 2009 (the 2010 report has not been issued) is zero.
NEI Rapid Response Team
NEI Rapid Response quickly reacts to activist and media misstatements about nuclear energy and sets the record straight about clean, reliable and affordable nuclear energy.
If you have any feedback on NEI Rapid Response, please email us at RapidResponse@nei.org. We look forward to your comments and will respond promptly. For past Rapid Responses, click here.
Nuclear Energy Institute - www.nei.org
1776 I Street, NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20006-3708 Tel: 202.739.8000
We are talking about the Nuclear Power Industry. Not the Bread Baking Industry. The fact that they need sand bags illustrates that they had not put in permanent barriers to protect the plant from known historic flood levels.
And please, spare us the But no other industry can wipe out all life in the known universe and unravel the space-time continuum! crap. That isnt going to happen.
When you return to Planet Earth, please let us know.
So the US should not have demanded that Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant improve its flood defenses a year or two ago ?
They have barriers. The reactor containment is watertight. They have backups for backups for backups of diesel generators. They have nine-fold redundancy in backup power. That indicates planning ahead for a 500 year flood. What, is a factor of nine redundancy not enough for you? How much is enough? I think I know the answer you'd give (no matter how much you put in, it isn't adequate, because it's nuclear).
Sounds like you're the one living on another planet, or maybe under a rock somewhere.
Back when commercial nuclear plants were first being licensed, the only thing comparable to them were the large coal-fired stations. These coal-burning plants had an amortization schedule of 40 years, which was thought to be a rough guess as to how long they would last. So, based on the amortization schedule for coal plants, the 40-year license for nuclear plants was established. It was not based on technical data, such as steel embrittlement, because as we know today that in itself indicates a much longer operable lifetime, probably closer to 60 or maybe 80 years. I know. I have analyzed the steel specimens from surveillnace capsules pulled from operating nuclear plants. The rate of embrittlement of the PV steel as a function of accumulated neutron fluence is quite a bit lower than originally anticipated. 40 years is actually a low estimate for useful life.
Now, before the FR anti-nuke Luddites start up with their crap ("Well...well...well, if it wasn't based on technical data, why couldn't it be more like 20 years, or 10 years?! Huh? Huh?! HUH?!"), let me say that this is exactly why surveillance programs were established for nuclear plant steel, using test specimens made from the original batch of steel used to fabricate the vessel itself. These specimens are encapsulated in special containers mounted inside the pressure vessel, so they receive the same neutron irradiation as the pressure vessel itself. The surveillance capsule also contains neutron dosimeter materials so the precise neutron fluence can be physically measured, along with thermal monitors so the maximum temperature experienced by the materials can be inferred. This allows derivation of the material strength of the steel, its ductility, susceptibility to cracking from longitudinal and lateral shear stresses, and the determination of operating curves for heatup and cooldown rates to avoid thermal shock.
The strength of the materials that make up the pressure boundary of the plant are precisely known throughout it's operating lifetime. There are no other comparable surveillance programs in any other industry. No one else does these kinds of things. Certainly not the aviation industry, whose products are routinely stressed in ways that often lead to catastrophic failure and loss of life. Definitely not the natural gas industry, whose infrastructure has failed catastrophically and killed hundreds of people. And for sure not the chemical industry, whose history is one of leaking containers and toxic releases that have resulted in tens of thousands of deaths. Yet the nuclear industry does all of these safety-related programs, research, engineering, and for its trouble it is vilified in the media and the blogopshere, while nary a word is said about the actual, confirmed fatalities among the public caused by everything else.
Well, thank you for that. I had no idea when I posted this thread that so much information would come out of it, but I’m glad it did.
For several years as a kid, including the time around the Three Mile Island incident, I lived in Lynchburg, VA, home of Babcock & Wilcox’ headquarters and naval nuclear fuel plant, and grew up around engineers. I remember the frustration some of them had at the misinformation that was so widespread about what they did.
Fort Calhoun is in the middle of a 500 year flood. The present system of aqua dams (they are not using sandbags) seems to work quite well
Dry on one side and flooded on the other
Do you think that Fort Calhoun bought these aqua dams at the last second, with all the flooding going on in ND/SD/NE? No, this is part of their flood defense, and they are prepared to take on another 10 feet of flooding.
They have installed these dams around every critical area. They have offsite power sources ready, if necessary, to keep the spent fuel pool cooling running. I have weekly communications with Fort Calhoun...they are even prepared to handle six simultaneous upstream dam bursts.