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Sunday
Sep172017

British activists honored with Nuclear-Free Future Award

Martin Forwood and Janine-Allis Smith of Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment were honored on Friday in Basel, Switzerland with the Nuclear-Free Future Award for Education. While they could not be there in person, Beyond Nuclear was honored to receive it on their behalf and made this short film of their acceptance speeches. (More on the full awards coming soon.)

Thursday
Sep142017

Beyond Nuclear letter to the editor in the L.A. Times

The following letter to the editor was published in the Los Angeles Times, written in response to a Sept. 11, 2017 L.A. Times editorial:

To the editor: For 15 years, hundreds of environmental groups have advocated for hardened on-site storage of irradiated nuclear fuel, as close and safely as possible, to the point of generation as a necessary interim measure.
Why ship highly radioactive waste a thousand miles to the east when it could be moved just a few miles? San Onofre’s wastes can be transferred out of the tsunami zone, away from the earthquake faults, across the 5 Freeway, further inland and to higher ground. By moving the dangerous nuclear fuel rods into the heart of Camp Pendleton, there would be the added bonus of many thousands of U.S. Marines to help guard it.
The push to turn the New Mexico-Texas borderlands into a nuclear wasteland is an environmental injustice. The large Hispanic population already suffers significant pollution from oil drilling, natural gas fracking, uranium enrichment and “low-level” radioactive waste disposal.
Kevin Kamps, Takoma Park, Md. 

The writer monitors radioactive waste for the group Beyond Nuclear.

Thursday
Sep142017

Renewable energy growth now far outpaces nuclear energy worldwide

The new edition of the World Nuclear Energy Status Report has been released, with some key insights into the dwindling influence of nuclear energy worldwide. You can read and download the full 2017 report here. Here is a summary of findings in the Report about the worldwide status of renewable energy compared to nuclear energy:

Renewables Distance Nuclear

Globally, wind power output grew by 16%, solar by 30%, nuclear by 1.4% in 2016. Wind power increased generation by 132 TWh, solar by 77 TWh, respectively 3.8 times and 2.2 times more than nuclear's 35 TWh. Renewables represented 62% of global power generating capacity additions.

New renewables beat existing nuclear. Renewable energy auctions achieved record low prices at and below US$30/MWh in Chile, Mexico, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, and the United States. Average generating costs of amortized nuclear power plants in the U.S. were US$35.5 in 2015.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2017 (WNISR2017) provides a comprehensive overview of nuclear power plant data, including information on operation, production and construction. The WNISR assesses the status of new-build programs in current nuclear countries as well as in potential newcomer countries.

The WNISR2017 edition includes a new assessment from an equity analyst view of the financial crisis of the nuclear sector and some of its biggest industrial players.

The Fukushima Status Report provides not only an update on onsite and offsite issues six years after the beginning of the catastrophe, but also the latest official and new independent cost evaluations of the disaster.

Focus chapters provide in-depth analysis of France, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Nuclear Power vs. Renewable Energy chapter provides global comparative data on investment, capacity, and generation from nuclear, wind and solar energy.

Finally, Annex 1 presents a country-by-country overview of all other countries operating nuclear power plants.

Saturday
Sep092017

Beyond Nuclear calls out flaws in nuclear emergency plans during hurricanes

Prior to the onset of Hurrincane Irma, Beyond Nuclear issued a press release pointing out that nuclear emergency plans would not work in the reality of chaos and destruction already caused by a massive hurricane such as Irma. Read the full press release here.

An excerpt:

Two Florida nuclear power plants potentially in the path of Hurricane Irma could exacerbate what is already predicted to become a major disaster for the state because nuclear emergency evacuation plans are unrealistic and likely unworkable in real life conditions, warned Beyond Nuclear, a national anti-nuclear watchdog organization.

The nuclear emergency plans, the group said, do not account for the destruction already caused by mega-storm conditions that could see emergency workers unable to cope with an added radiological disaster. 

“Hurricanes like Irma and Harvey serve as an ominous reminder that the continued existence of nuclear power plants means the risk of an accident that could lead to widespread exposure to radiation and to radioactive contamination that could last decades or longer,” said Paul Gunter, Director of the Reactor Oversight Project at Beyond Nuclear. 

“This would come on top of the terrible devastation already caused by the storm itself,” he added. “Much of the radiological emergency plans presently on paper would never work in reality.” 

Emergency workers could already be evacuated and unavailable for a potential nuclear emergency, as happened around the South Texas Project twin-reactor nuclear plant during Hurricane Harvey. Evacuation routes around the plant were also flooded. If a nuclear emergency had occurred there, nuclear plant workers would have been left to fend for themselves. 

Beyond Nuclear had called for the precautionary “cold shutdown” of STP during Hurricane Harvey which brought unprecedented flooding to the Texas region, a warning the owners chose to ignore, gambling public safety by keeping the reactors running at 100%.

The two Florida nuclear plants, both owned by Florida Power and Light (FPL) are Turkey Point 3 & 4 located 25 miles south of Miami in Homestead, and St. Lucie 1 and 2, perched on low-lying Hutchinson Island south of Vero Beach. To its credit, FPL has said it will close both nuclear plants well in advance of hurricane force winds and storm surge.

But even should the hurricane by-pass the nuclear plants this time, such mega-storms are likely to become more frequent as climate change worsens. A nuclear plant cannot be abandoned by its workforce during a mandatory evacuation, forcing workers to potentially sacrifice their safety and even their lives to prevent a meltdown. More

Thursday
Sep072017

Hurricane Irma bearing down on FL reactors, Hurricane Harvey water recedes from TX nuke 

Turkey Point Units 3 & 4, Homestead, FLThe Texas Gulf Coast cleanup from Hurricane Harvey has just begun and flood waters have receded from the South Texas Project (STP) nuclear power station near Bay City. While the Texas nuclear power plant dodged the bullet, now an extremely dangerous Hurricane Irma is barreling towards Florida. Four Florida Power & Light (FPL) reactors at two nuclear power stations (Turkey Point 3 & 4 and St. Lucie 1 & 2) on the Atlantic Coast are in the projected path of this Category 4 superstorm. Turkey Point 3 & 4, are located in Homestead, FL just south of Miami on the Biscayne Bay. St. Lucie 1 & 2 are on Hutchinson Island between the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Indian River to the west. FPL continues to track Irma's path and in anticipation of receiving hurricane force winds (presently 180 mph) announced that it will shut down the reactors in advance of Irma’s arrival to put the four atomic reactors in cold shutdown, their safest and most reliable condition. Turkey Pint is anticipated to have hurricane force winds by early Sunday morning. 

By contrast with the approach of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, STP nuclear power station made the decision to remain at full power throughout the storm. In fact, STP never experienced sustained hurricane wind levels above the 73 mph threshold that would have required shutdown. The reactors never lost offsite power from the grid that would have automatically shut down the units. However, significant flooding of the STP evacuatoin planning zone did occur including flooding of the reactor site. Bay City, TX, located 12-miles from the STP reactor site is one of the nuclear emergency host recepetion centers.  Matagorda County and Bay City officials had ordered two "mandatory evacuations" on August 24 and 25 disrupting the nuclear emergeny plan in anticipation of Colorado River flooding. The mandatory evacuation was lowered to "voluntary evacuation at your own risk" on August 29.  Bay City and Matagorda County personnel are vital participants in the STP radiological evacuation plan providing emergency workers, police, fire, medical support and evacuation bus drivers. Evacuations routes throughout the county became flooded and impassible. 

Both of the Florida reactor sites are designed for a “probable maximum hurricane” based on a hypothetical super cyclone recurring on a 100-year interval.  Turkey Point 3 & 4 nuclear power station’s plant grade is 18-feet above mean low water and co-located with the oil-fired Turkey Point Unit 1 and natural gas-fired Unit 2.  The reactor units are designed to withstand sustained winds of up to 145 mph and from a probable maximum storm surge of 18.3-feet and with external flood protection to 20-feet. Components vital to safety are protected up to 22-feet with the very important intake cooling water (ICW) pumps protected up to 22.5-feet above the mean low water level. Were these cooling water pumps to be flooded it would force the shutdown of the reactors’ cooling water intake system.

The St. Lucie nuclear power station is situated 19-feet above the mean low water level and designed toSt. Lucie Units 1 & 2, Hutchinson Island, FL withstand a maximum storm surge of 17.2-feet with sustained winds of up to 194 mph.

Nuclear power stations are robust facilities with redundant safety systems. This is because nuclear power is an inherently dangerous technology with potentially unforgiving consequences should a severe accident occur.

The story of a previous hurricane ordeal at Turkey Point reveals that a nuclear power plant is only as strong as its weakest link and how important a role luck may or may not play in protecting public safety and the environment.

On August 24, 1992, Hurricane Andrew made landfall in South Florida at the site of the Turkey Point nuclear power station. Andrew blew in as a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 145 mph and gusts in excess of 160 mph. The decision had been made to shut down the reactors in advance. The hurricane knocked out all electrical power from the grid to reactor safety systems and the site’s emergency diesel generators successfully started up. The nuclear power station would be without offsite power for five days relying upon onsite emergency power to constantly cool the extremely hot reactor fuel protecting it from damage.

Each of the station's diesel generators consumed 100 gallons of fuel per hour, eventually requiring fuel oil shipments to be diverted from emergency facilities also without offsite power including hospitals. Andrew caused extensive destruction to on-site buildings and structures, damaging two 400-foot tall emission stacks for the two fossil fuel generating units. The cracked stack from the Unit 1 oil-fired electricity station threatened to fall on the nuclear power plants’ emergency diesel generator building which was vital in keeping the reactors from melting down during the five days without offsite power.

In addition, wind-driven missiles punctured one of the station’s 12,000 barrel fuel oil tanks just 30-feet from the tank bottom, spilling 110,000 gallons of combustible fuel oil that was then blown onto the nuclear site. As the fuel oil level in the tank fell due to the puncture, transfer pumps from large bulk oil storage tanks received a low-level alarm and automatically started transferring more combustible oil to the damaged tank that continued to flow out onto the reactor site. 

During the passing of the eye of the storm, station personnel managed to get to the power block and stop the oil flow.  However, Hurricane Andrew’s high winds had also blown over a high tower tank onto the nuclear power station’s fire suppression system rendering it inoperable. Given there was no operable fire protection system at Turkey Point, as only luck would have it, there was no ignition of the on-site oil spill. During the storm, the site telephone systems and radio towers were knocked and all offsite communication was lost for four hours and would not be reliable for 24 hours and all roads to the station were blocked by debris for days. 

The decision to shut down nuclear power stations in advance of extreme weather should not be made just on nuclear power plant conditions that a storm may or may not bring.  Operators, regulators and emergency authorities need to factor in the broader impacts to the radiological emergency planning zone that include the closure of evacuation routes and reception/medical facilities and the attrition of radiological emergency responders.