06 May 2011

Resistance from Regulators - Nuclear Stress Tests May Be Watered Down

The Marcoule nuclear power plant in Chusclan, France: The governments in London and Paris are said to be resisting moves to introduce terror and cyber attack stress tests on atomic energy sites.
The Marcoule nuclear power plant in Chusclan, France: The governments in London and Paris are said to be resisting moves to introduce terror and cyber attack stress tests on atomic energy sites.
In the wake of Fukushima, EU officials pledged to create stress tests for nuclear power plants that would evaluate the threat posed by natural disasters, terrorism, cyberwar and human error. Now a major German newspaper is reporting that regulators are unwilling to accept stricter scrutiny and the plans are likely to get watered down.
After Japan's nuclear disaster at Fukushima, the European Union announced with great fanfare that it would introduce stress tests for Europe's nuclear power plants to help ensure that a similar catastrophe could not happpen here. It appears, however, that the final plans will be far less ambitious than originally envisioned.
Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper is reporting that the Western European Nuclear Regulators' Association has completed its proposal for the tests. Under the final plan, however, the plants would only be required to undergo stress test inspections for dangers presented by natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis or extreme fluctuations in weather.
At the end of March, leaders of the 27 EU member states agreed at a summit that inspection measures at the 146 nuclear plants within the bloc would be stepped up to include additional accident scenarios. Additional tests would be conducted to consider electricity supplies like those that failed at Fukushima, cooling systems and additional aspects like terrorist attacks, human error or the plants' ability to function safely during unexpected emergency situations. In an interview with SPIEGEL in April, European Union Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger of Germany said: "We will also run simulations of a terrorist attack with an airplane and a cyber attack on the computer system."
'The Question Is Open'
But Western European nuclear regulators are now staunchly rejecting those calls, Süddeutsche Zeitung reported in its Wednesday edition. The regulators reportedly stated in an internal paper that they would only agree to conduct stress tests involving natural disaster scenarios -- and not terrorist strikes or other manmade situations. Instead, they would agree to compose reports on potential threats that would be submitted to the European Commission in Brussels. Neither would independent nuclear experts be given access to the plants under the plan.
European energy ministers discussed the issue during an informal meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday in Gödöllö, Hungary. At the end of the meeting, Hungary, which currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, issued a statement saying that the stress tests would begin in June.
In its report, the Süddeutsche Zeitung cited sources indicating that the ministers appear likely to agree to the regulators' plan, and that the nuclear plants would only be tested for possible natural disasters. Countries that want more stringent tests could do so voluntarily, the newspaper quoted a source close to Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger as saying. On Tuesday, Oettinger said publicly that "the question is open" as to whether stricter stress test measures would be included, admitting there were differences between the 27 member states.
European Commission sources told the newspaper that France and Britain have led the efforts to oppose more stringent stress tests. With France's 59 plants and Britain's 19, the two operate the largest number of nuclear power plants of any countries in Europe. Government officials in Paris and London have already stated that they plan to rely more heavily on nuclear power in the future despite the Fukushima disaster. Officials in London also stated they would not publish the results of the stress tests, which are expected to be completed by December.
The European Commission still feels that even the watered-down plan is better than the status quo. Even under the more limited plan, officials in Brussels will still get access for the first time to construction plans for plants and they would also be provided with a much better general overview of all European atomic power facilities. EU member states will also be required to disclose the conditions stipulated during the permit approval process for construction and operation. Officials described the development as "major progress." After a few more rounds of consultations, a final plan is expected to be introduced on May 12 in Brussels.
Speaking on Tuesday, International Energy Agency Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka told reporters that some older nuclear power plants in the EU may be forced to close earlier than planned as a result of the stress tests.
Efforts to water down plans for more stringent stress tests have sparked criticism in Germany. "We need to test all disaster scenarios, regardless whether they are caused by man or nature," Angelika Niebler, a German member of the European Parliament with Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union party, told the Süddeutsche. Rebecca Harms, who chairs the party group in the European Parliament for the Greens, spoke of a "dangerous lowering" of expectations in the plans. She said Energy Commissioner Oettinger had broken his pledge to make European nuclear power plants as safe as possible and to develop new, uniform standards.
Concerns about Energy Costs
At the same time, a fresh debate has broken out in Germany over higher prices for electricity in the country. After Fukushima, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reversed her government's decision, taken last year, to delay the nuclear phase-out -- which was passed by former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in his government with the Greens -- and extend plant lifespans. In March, Merkel shut down Germany's oldest plants and placed a three-month moratorium on the lifespan extensions.
Now German companies from energy-intensive industrial sectors have rung the alarm bell, warning that energy prices could soon skyrocket.
"We already have the highest electricity prices in Europe," Kurt Bock, who will become CEO of chemical maker BASF on Friday, told reporters this week. "Our demand is very clear: We need affordable energy prices in Germany." He also said that energy supply must be guaranteed, without any shortfalls, 24 hours a day. Bock questioned whether it would be possible to ensure supplies and meet climate protection targets for reducing CO2 emissions. "I don't see any way that we can reconcile these two points with an expedited phase-out" of nuclear power, he said.
However, the question of whether a nuclear withdrawal will automatically lead to an increase in prices is disputed. "We can phase out nuclear energy faster without having an irresponsible rise in energy prices," former United Nations environment chief Klaus Töpfer, who is heading Germany's so-called "Ethics Commission" to study the future of nuclear power, told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper. He said it would also be possible to do so without putting jobs at risk.
With his statements, Töpfer distanced himself from Johannes Teyssen, who heads the major German power utility E.on. The executive, whose company operates nuclear power plants, had recently warned that Germany would only be able to phase out nuclear energy by importing atomic power and fossil fuel-generated electricity from other countries.
Töpfer said: "The fact that the head of a very large company that operate nuclear power plants is representing a position like that isn't surprising. But I don't think it is true."
dsl -- with wires

TEPCO: Seabed radiation 100-1,000 times normal level

Tokyo - Radiation readings from the Pacific seabed off Japan's damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have climbed to between 100 to 1,000 times the normal level, the plant operator said Tuesday.

Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said that high levels of radioactivity were detected in samples taken Friday from the seabed, in places 20-30 metres deep, Kyodo news agency reported.
The plant was damaged by a magnitude-9 earthquake and ensuing tsunami on March 11 and has been leaking radioactive material ever since.
A monitoring system at the Fukushima plant failed in the power outage that took out the plant's cooling systems after the March disaster, depriving authorities of vital information to map radiation contamination, Kyodo reported Tuesday.

The loss of the data feed from the Emergency Response Support System (ERSS) probably delayed the evacuation order around the plant, about 250 kilometres north-east of Tokyo, the report said.
The government was criticized last week for not mapping the potential contamination of the area fast enough, and when it started to do so as late as April, not releasing the information to the public.
About 5,000 data sets were released Tuesday on the website of the Nuclear Safety Commission, mapping the spread of contamination at hourly intervals from early April.
The failure of the ERSS and another impact assessment system, which cost 28 billion yen (345 million dollars) to install and maintain, has raised questions about the disaster readiness of Japan's nuclear sector.
Meanwhile, shareholders of Japan's five electric power companies urged them to close their atomic power stations in the wake of the nuclear crisis.
Some 400 TEPCO shareholders submitted official documents in support of the proposal, public broadcaster NHK reported.
The report did not say whether the petitioners were among TEPCO's approximately 4,500 institutional shareholders, or its more than 596,000 private investors.
Stockholders of at least four other major utilities have made similar proposals, NHK said. The concerned investors said the risks of nuclear power generation were too big for a single company to handle. TEPCO has also been asked by its shareholders to stop investing in a fuel reprocessing plant northern Japan, Jiji Press reported.

03 May 2011

America’s Nuclear Nightmare: Rolling Stone magazine

America’s Nuclear Nightmare

The U.S. has 31 reactors just like Japan’s — but regulators are ignoring the risks and boosting industry profits

The Davis-Besse nuclear generating station in Ohio, 
where a football-size hole overlooked by NRC 
inspectors nearly caused a catastrophe in 2002

Energy Nuclear via the NRC
By Jeff Goodell
April 27, 2011 9:00 AM ET
The meltdown in Japan couldn't have happened at a worse time for the industry. In recent years, nuclear power has been hyped as the only energy source that could replace coal quickly enough to slow the pace of global warming. Some 60 new nukes are currently in the works worldwide, prompting the industry to boast of a "nuclear renaissance." In his 2012 budget, President Obama included $54 billion in federal loan guarantees for new reactors — far more than the $18 billion available for renewable energy.
Without such taxpayer support, no new reactors would ever be built. Since the Manhattan Project was created to develop the atomic bomb back in the 1940s, the dream of a nuclear future has been fueled almost entirely by Big Government. America's current fleet of reactors exists only because Congress passed the Price-Anderson Act in 1957, limiting the liability of nuclear plant operators in case of disaster. And even with taxpayers assuming most of the risk, Wall Street still won't finance nuclear reactors without direct federal assistance, in part because construction costs are so high (up to $20 billion per plant) and in part because nukes are the only energy investment that can be rendered worthless in a matter of hours. "In a free market, where real risks and costs are accounted for, nuclear power doesn't exist," says Amory Lovins, a leading energy expert at the Rocky Mountain Institute. Nuclear plants "are a creation of government policy and intervention."
They are also a creation of lobbying and campaign contributions. Over the past decade, the nuclear industry has contributed more than $4.6 million to members of Congress — and last year alone, it spent $1.7 million on federal lobbying. Given the generous flow of nuclear money, the NRC is essentially rigged to operate in the industry's favor. The agency has plenty of skilled engineers and scientists at the staff level, but the five commissioners who oversee it often have close ties to the industry they are supposed to regulate. "They are vetted by the industry," says Robert Alvarez, a former senior policy adviser at the Energy Department. "It's the typical revolving-door story — many are coming in or out of jobs with the nuclear power industry. You don't get a lot of skeptics appointed to this job."
Jeffrey Merrifield, a former NRC commissioner who left the agency in 2007, is a case in point. When Merrifield was ready to exit public service, he simply called up the CEO of Exelon, the country's largest nuclear operator, and asked him for a job recommendation. Given his friends in high places, he wound up taking a top job at the Shaw Group, a construction firm that builds nuclear reactors — and he's done his best to return the favor. During the Fukushima disaster, Merrifield appeared on Fox News, as well as in videos for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's lobbying group. In one video — titled "Former NRC Commissioner Confident That Building of New U.S. Nuclear Plants Should Continue" — Merrifield reassures viewers that the meltdown in Japan is no big deal. "We should continue to move forward with building those new plants," he says, "because it's the right thing for our nation and it's the right thing for our future."
Such cozy relationships between regulators and the industry are nothing new. The NRC and the utilities it oversees have engaged in an unholy alliance since 1974, when the agency rose from the ashes of the old Atomic Energy Commission, whose mandate was to promote nuclear power. "For political reasons, the U.S. wanted to show something good could come out of splitting the atom," says Robert Duffy, a political scientist at Colorado State University who has written widely about the history of nuclear power. "There was great pressure on the industry to get nuclear plants built quickly." With no effective oversight by the government, the industry repeatedly cut corners on the design and construction of reactors. At the Diablo Canyon plant in California, engineers actually installed vital cooling pipes backward, only to have to tear them out and reinstall them.
But even the lax oversight provided by the NRC was more than the industry could bear. In 1996, in one of the most aggressive enforcement moves in the agency's history, the NRC launched an investigation into design flaws at a host of reactors and handed out significant fines. When the industry complained to Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, a powerful nuclear ally, he confronted the head of the NRC in his office and threatened to cut its funding by a third unless the agency backed off. "So the NRC folded their tent and went away," says Lochbaum. "And they've been away pretty much ever since."
The Japanese disaster should have been a wake-up call for boosters of nuclear power. America has 31 aging reactors just like Fukushima, and it wouldn't take an earthquake or tsunami to push many of them to the brink of meltdown. A natural disaster may have triggered the crisis in Japan, but the real problem was that the plant lost power and was unable to keep its cooling systems running — a condition known as "station blackout." At U.S. reactors, power failures have been caused by culprits as mundane as squirrels playing on power lines. In the event of a blackout, operators have only a few hours to restore power before a meltdown begins. All nukes are equipped with backup diesel generators, as well as batteries. But at Fukushima, the diesel generators were swamped by floodwaters, and the batteries lasted a mere eight hours — not nearly long enough to get power restored and avert catastrophe. NRC standards do virtually nothing to prevent such a crisis here at home. Only 11 of America's nuclear reactors have batteries designed to supply power for up to eight hours, while the other 93 have batteries that last half that long.
And that's just the beginning of the danger. Aging reactors are a gold mine for the power companies that own them. Nuclear plants are expensive to build but cheap to operate, meaning the longer they run, the more profitable they become. The NRC has done its part to boost profitability by allowing companies to "uprate" old nukes — modifying them to run harder — without requiring additional safety improvements. Vermont Yankee, for example, was permitted to boost its output by 20 percent, eroding the reactor's ability to cool itself in the event of an emergency. The NRC's own advisory committee on reactor safety was vehemently opposed to allowing such modifications, but the agency ultimately allowed the industry to trade safety for profit. "The NRC put millions of Americans at elevated risk," says Lochbaum.

 FOR THE REST, Push the link.  This should have been written YEARS ago !

02 May 2011

Nuclear energy needs handouts, can’t cut it in free market

Posted on May 1, 2011 by Russ Wellen 
Americans who favor it claim that nuclear energy makes us less dependent on Middle-Eastern oil with its attendant price spikes (those that aren’t a product of speculation, that is). But nuclear-energy plants don’t do much to ease the national debt. As Jeff Goodell reports in his Rolling Stone piece America’s Nuclear Nightmare (emphasis added)

Since the Manhattan Project was created to develop the atomic bomb back in the 1940s, the dream of a nuclear future has been fueled almost entirely by Big Government. America’s current fleet of reactors exists only because Congress passed the Price-Anderson Act in 1957, limiting the liability of nuclear plant operators in case of disaster. And even with taxpayers assuming most of the risk, Wall Street still won’t finance nuclear reactors without direct federal assistance, in part because construction costs are so high (up to $20 billion per plant) and in part because nukes are the only energy investment that can be rendered worthless in a matter of hours. “In a free market, where real risks and costs are accounted for, nuclear power doesn’t exist,” says Amory Lovins, a leading energy expert at the Rocky Mountain Institute. Nuclear plants “are a creation of government policy and intervention.”

Goodell also points out that without such taxpayer supports as the $54 billion President Obama included in his 2012 budget “in federal loan guarantees for [them] no new reactors would ever be built.”

In other words, nuclear energy is just another industry that wouldn’t exist were it not for the kindness of the government. In fact, it’s not that different from a New Deal WPA project. Of course, once they’re up and running, writes Goodell, nuclear-power plants are “cheap to operate, meaning the longer they run, the more profitable they become.” In other words, the public helps build nuclear power plants and assumes the risk while the industry reaps the profits. Where have we heard that before? Oh yeah, banks.

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Atmospheric radiation leak underestimated

Atmospheric radiation leak underestimated

Data released by the government indicates radioactive material was leaking into the atmosphere from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in early April in greater quantities than previously estimated.
Radioactive material was being released into the atmosphere from the plant at an estimated rate of 154 terabecquerels per day as of April 5, according to data released by the Cabinet Office's Nuclear Safety Commission on Saturday.
The NSC previously estimated radiation leakage on April 5 at "less than 1 terabecquerel per hour."
Iodine-131 and cesium-137 were released into the atmosphere that day at the estimated rates of 0.69 terabecquerel per hour and 0.14 terabecquerel per hour, respectively, the NSC said.
Emissions are converted into iodine-131 equivalents for assessment on the international nuclear event scale (INES), to arrive at the total 154 terabecquerels per day, the nuclear safety watchdog said.
One terabecquerel equals 1 trillion becquerels.
On April 17, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said in its plan for stabilization of the crippled reactors it would not start to get radiation leakage under control until the plan's fourth month of implementation.
This would mean 10,000 terabecquerels of radioactive substances would be released into the atmosphere from the plant during the coming three months, according to simple calculations based on the estimated emission rate as of April 5.
Emissions in that three-month period alone would therefore exceed the level necessary for a Level 6 severity rating on the INES, the globally accepted measure for evaluating nuclear accidents.
The ongoing crisis at the Fukushima plant has been rated a maximum Level 7 on the scale, which was established by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 1992.
The total amount of radioactive material discharged from the plant from March 11 to early April was estimated between 370,000 and 630,000 terabecquerels, according to government sources.
The commission, however, said the figures were estimates only, "with a considerable margin of error." Radiation levels around the six-reactor complex have been slowly falling, it said.
(Apr. 25, 2011)


Welcome to RadiationNetwork.com, home of the National Radiation Map, depicting environmental radiation levels across the USA, updated in real time every minute.  This is the first web site where the average citizen (or anyone in the world) can see what radiation levels are anywhere in the USA at any time (see Disclaimer below).

                        Nuclear Site                 Alert Level = 100 CPM
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Referring to the Map Legend at the bottom left corner of the map, locate Monitoring Stations around the country that are contributing radiation data to this map as you read this, and watch the numbers on those monitoring stations update as frequently as every minute (your browser will automatically refresh).  The numbers represent radiation Counts per Minute, abbreviated CPM, and under normal conditions, quantify the level of background radiation, i.e. environmental radiation from outer space as well as from the earth's crust and air.  Depending on your location, your elevation or altitude, and your model of Geiger counter, this background radiation level might average anywhere from 5 to 60 CPM, and while background radiation levels are random, it would be unusual for those levels to exceed 100 CPM.  Thus, the "Alert Level" for the National Radiation Map is 100 CPM, so if you see any Monitoring Stations with CPM value above 100, further indicated by an Alert symbol over those stations, it probably means that some radioactive source above and beyond background radiation is responsible.
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bulletCompatible Geiger Counter (See models below)
bulletGeigerGraph Software and Data Cable
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In fact, if you become an active participant in this network (instead of just a passive viewer of this website), the GeigerGraph software that you use will incorporate the same Radiation Map as above, but your map will be fully interactive, with zoom capabilities, descriptions of Nuclear Sites and Monitoring Stations, additional Map Layers, including Counties, Airports, Roads, Railroads, Lakes and Rivers, along with the capability to download City Streets for your county.  Plus, in keeping with the elements of a true Network, the GeigerGraph software has its own Chat forum.
Compatible Geiger Counter Models:
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bulletInspector EXP
bulletImages SI models
Most of these models, as well as the GeigerGraph for Networks software, are available at GeigerCounters.com, a web site operated by Mineralab.  Click on the links in the previous sentence to go there.