Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why Americans Are Less Prepared and More at Risk than the People of Fukushima

If you're one of the 120 million Americans living within a 50 mile radius of a nuclear power plant, you'd better have your "Go-Bag" handy. But then again, if an evacuation is triggered, you may not be able to carry it very far.
Today, an investigative report by the Associated Press, part of their four-part headliner series on nuclear power, slammed the evacuation plans in place around the 104 nuclear reactors in the United States for neglecting to consider growing populations and aging infrastructure, and for relying on counterfactual assumptions.
The AP report cites the example of the densely populated area around the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester County, now a thriving New York City suburb. When the first of its three reactors was built in 1964, Northern Westchester was semi-rural and much more thinly populated. Today, it's a populous commuter zone of winding roads and bottlenecked bridge crossings that jam up at rush hour. About 270,000 residents live in a ten-mile radius around the plant the report found -- more than around other nuclear plant in the US, and many times the number that lived near Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
The meltdown there in March 2011 forced some 70,000-80,000 people living within 12 miles to evacuate. They got out successfully, but that's no indication evacuation would succeed here. Surrounding populations in the US are often denser: Fukushima evacuated only about one quarter of the people that would have to be evacuated in a comparable emergency around Indian Point.
And the US falls far, far short of Japan's high standard of emergency preparedness. Because of its harrowing history of destructive earthquakes and tsunamis, Japan is considered one of the world's best prepared countries, mandating yearly evacuation drills for schoolchildren and more frequent drills throughout the country for the last 50 years. Not so here. We don't bother with actual evacuation drills, just theoretical, table-top ones, possibly because we don't want to prove how impractical our evacuation plans are.
For years, officials of counties surrounding the plant warned about the lack of realism of the Indian Point evacuation plan. There was some outcry about its vulnerability after the 9-11 attacks, but even that did little to change our culture of lax nuclear oversight and lack of emergency preparedness. Even as the 911 commission revealed that Al Qaeda had actively reconnoitered and considered attacking Indian Point, then Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge famously said plant security was the "prerogative" of the private plant owner.
The State Emergency Management Office (SEMO) requires all the Executives of all counties in the emergency zone around Indian Point to sign off on its evacuation plan, then it rubber-stamps the plan and sends it to FEMA. But in 2003 and 2004, under pressure from constituents after 9-11, county officials and SEMO refused to sign. That prompted New York Governor Pataki to commission a $1 million evaluation of the plan from the consulting firm of former FEMA director James Lee Witt. The Witt report said what every resident already knew: evacuating people ten miles around Indian Point in a nuclear emergency was impossible. Pataki subsequently buried the report and ignored recommendations for catastrophic preparation.
After that, the Indian Point evacuation zone was quietly reduced from ten miles to TWO miles, plus an eight-mile wedge shape in the direction of the wind blowing the radioactive plume around (never mind what happens to the wedge if the wind shifts), on the self-serving theory that any radioactivity released in an American reactor accident would be small.
That's a flawed theory. Many nuclear plants around the US contain several times the radioactivity of Fukushima, a recent study finds, in addition to much denser surrounding populations. The fuel pools at Indian Point contain roughly three times the radioactivity of all the fuel pools in the entire six-reactor Fukushima complex combined.
In theory, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission stipulates that an unworkable and outdated evacuation plan is grounds for closing a nuclear power plant. But in practice, the NRC ignores that rule and annually approves the Indian Point plan over local objections.
Westchester County has become more aggressive about advising residents on DIY emergency preparations. They suggest having a waterproof Go-Bag at the ready, filled with about 28 items you can buy yourself, including potassium iodine tablets, medicines, baby supplies, clothing, hygiene items, money, identification papers, sleeping bags, radio, bottled water, and an emergency planning booklet. Headstrong survivor types can always purchase radiation suits, protective gear, Geiger counters or other consumer-type radiation detectors.
But that's no substitute for the NRC taking emergency planning and its mandate to protect public health and safety seriously. While private plant owners get billions in federal subsidies, indemnities and loan guarantees, taxpayers remain without viable evacuation plans and are left on our own to prepare for a nuclear emergency we're told won't happen, because "the US is not Japan." Indeed, we're not in the same position as Japan--ours is worse. Our population density, radioactivity concentrations and cavalier attitude towards nuclear preparedness would make a similar accident here far more serious. And unlike Fukushima, American downwinders would not be able to get away from it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fukushima: The Nail in the Coffin of Nuclear Power?

By Abby Luby

The horrendous nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plants in March was one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents since the 1986 meltdown at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station in the Ukraine.

Horrific images from Japan monopolized the news from huge explosions, raging fires and nightmarish evacuees swathed in face masks. Three of the four Dai-Ichi plants had core meltdowns and days later experts reported that airborne radioactive dust had reached the United States.

Fukushima makes real the dangers of nuclear power and a stunned world reacted. Many governments took action to either close their aging nuclear power plants or stop the construction of new ones. In Germany the coalition government decided that all 17 of the their nuclear power plants would be closed by 2022 and one of Germany’s oldest and largest nuclear facilities, RWE, permanently shut down just last week, caving to political pressure. Joining RWE in shutting down a plant was the utility company Vattenfall Europe. In Italy, a national referendum saw voters overwhelmingly repeal legislation that would allow the construction of new reactors. Switzerland is planning to phase out their reactors; the newer plants expect to be in operation until 2034 and all proposals for new plants will be turned down. Mexico is also considering taking similar action.

Producing electricity from nuclear power is fast becoming unpopular, says a recent Ipsos/Reuters poll. The feedback from almost 19,000 people from 24 countries is that the preferred sources of energy are solar, wind, hydroelectric power, natural gas and coal. Since Fukushima, 62 percent of people around the globe oppose nuclear energy.

Despite Fukushima, other countries are moving ahead with nuclear power, including China, England, India and the United States. China is testing some 28 plants now under construction and wants to have 100 plants up and running by 2020. England just announced last week that it plans to build eight new nuclear power plants and India has a new plant whose construction is slated to start in two years.

Here in the United States the nuclear power renaissance that was in full swing before Fukushima, has slowed. The Obama Administration was pushing for an additional $36 million in loan guarantees to sweeten the deal and encourage utility companies to build more nuclear power plants. Some plants that were slated to receive those loans have now been mothballed. There are, however, new reactors in Georgia and South Carolina poised for construction, pending regulatory approval and financial backing. In Georgia, utility giant Southern Company, who already has two reactors at their Vogtle plant, has been awarded $8.3 billion of guaranteed federal loans to build two more reactors, scheduled to go on line in 2016. Although the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has yet to approve Southern’s application, construction has already started on the site. In South Carolina, SCANA Corporation plans to build two reactors at their Summer nuclear station near Jenkinsville, targeting 2016 as the year to first produce electricity.

But do we need all the electricity produced by nuclear power? A United Nations panel on climate change said that almost 80 percent of the world’s energy supply could be met by renewable energy sources by mid-century. Another study by the Deloitte Center for Energy Solutions report that nine out of 10 businesses and 70 percent of consumers have set goals to lower their electricity costs. The report also said that nearly a third of companies polled have goals to self-generate electricity, whether through solar panels, reuse of wasted heat or other methods.

The Energy Information Administration recently reported that the demand for electricity is down from 2.4 percent a year in the last ten years. The decreased demand was attributed to low-power processors, smarter manufacturing plants, rooftop solar panels and other, alternative technologies that keep usage down.

Indian Point Nuclear Reactors in Westchester, NY

Here in Westchester, studies find that electricity demand is down, decreasing the usage from the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. Although the plant’s owner, Entergy, has applied to extend their operating license for another 20 years, until 2035, the utility company has dropped the output of Indian Point from 875 megawatts in 2010 to 360 megawatts in 2011. The twin reactors at Indian Point produce 2,100 megawatts but Entergy has been selling most of the electricity on power grids serving New England, New York, Mid-Atlantic, Quebec and Ontario. Only about four percent of power from Indian Point feeds Westchester and in New York City.
Since Fukushima, the groundswell of the anti-nuclear movement has grown against the continued operation of Indian Point and other, similar aging power plants around the country. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), in reviewing applications for re-licensing, has said they are adding another level of oversight since Fukushima, which includes an in-depth safety review of all 104 commercial reactors in the United States. The report is due out in early summer.
The NRC has never denied an application for a license extension, but many organizations have contested Entergy’s application with a long list of strong contentions. Most notably, wanting to shutter the plant is Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York State’s Attorney General’s office. It remains to be seen if the NRC will take the lessons learned from Fukushima and apply them going forward.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Angry Crowd Drowns Out NRC

By Abby Luby
Westchester Guardian, June 9, 2011, page 11-12

Cortlandt, NY - - Twenty minutes after the Nuclear Regulatory began their 2010 annual safety assessment of the Indian Point Nuclear power plants, a riled up crowd of over 600 people started to vent their anger, demanding the NRC shut down the twin reactors in Buchanan. Held last Thursday night, the standing room only crowd filled Colonial Terrace’s Banquet Hall with anti nuclear
placards and signs, many waving red letter “F’s” signifying an alternative grade on plant safety.
Prior to the meeting, NRC spokesperson Diane Screnci said that, in light of the Fukushima disasters at the Daiichi nuclear power plants in March, the agency intentionally planned a shortened version of the safety assessment in order to hear public concerns. Unlike previous years, Entergy, the owner of Indian Point, was not sitting opposite the six person NRC panel. Entergy’s Jerry Nappi, said the utility company wasn’t asked to contribute to the safety assessment meeting “But we are here if anyone has any questions.”

NRC Deputy Regional Administrator David Lew

Two press conferences were held prior to the meeting, one by the NRC and the other by anti-nuclear groups. NRC Deputy Regional Administrator David Lew told the media about basic inspection processes since Fukushima. When asked specifically about lessons
learned from the Japanese disaster, Lew said the NRC was just gathering information that would

be later integrated in their review processes.

Interestingly, Lew had Audience and NRC members at the Indian Point annual safety assessment meeting little or no response when asked about the NRC’s inspection report completed last month entitled “Follow Up to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Station Fuel Damage Event.” The report said that hydrogen recombiners in Units 2 had not been tested for a number of years which is a violation of federal regulations. But recombinders in Unit 3 had been
tested, and worked. Hydrogen recombinders eliminate explosive hydrogen - the gas that
exploded and blew up the outer containments of three reactors at the Fukushima. The
NRC neglected to penalize Entergy for not testing Unit 2 recombiners. Lew was unable
to explain the discrepancy.

“There are still lessons to be learned,” he intoned. “When equipment is not inspected we
go back to the fundamental mission to assess the significant issues.”

Lew also fended off questions on evacuation plans, especially since the NRC advised
Americans near the highly radioactive Fukushima plant to evacuate at least 50 miles
away, advice inconsistent with the ten mile safety distance the NRC tells U.S. citizens.
Lew said although the NRC is looking at emergency preparedness, FEMA, (Federal
Emergency Management Agency) has final say on evacuation plans. “At this time, the
issue is not significant enough to look at,” he said. “The NRC doesn’t deal with policy. Our
only mission is to make sure that nuclear power plants are safe.”

Paul Gallay of Riverkeeper addressing the press before the formal NRC Meeting

A large coalition of anti-nuclear groups from
the Hudson Valley and from New York City
held their press conference outside on the
expansive lawn at Colonial Terrace and
included two bus loads of coalition members
from New York City. The organizations,
seeking to close Indian Point included
Citizens Awareness Network, Greenpeace,
Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Indian Point
Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC), New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG),
Riverkeeper and Shut Down Indian Point Now, a new group recently formed in New
York City. Standing in front of the large group brandishing anti Indian Point signs and T-shirts, Gary Shaw from the Croton Close Indian Point group said “When a nuclear plant goes bust, it’s a global issue, not a local issue. The NRC is not doing their job of protecting the public, they are simply enablers of the [nuclear] industry.”

At the formal assessment meeting, the NRC panel of inspectors were frequently
interrupted by jeers and outbursts accusing the agency of neglecting to protect the public
from potential dangers at Indian Point. The panel was forced to break for ten minutes
after which Lew decided to cut the NRC presentation short so the public could speak.
The one standing ovation of the evening was for Westchester Legislator Michael
Kaplowitz, (D, I -Somers), Chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators
Committee on Environment & Energy.

“When regulators insulate and disengage themselves from the people, bad things happen.
You, the NRC, are the only New York body we have to protect us.”
Kaplowitz has repeatedly invited the NRC to join his regular meetings, “Plan, Don’t
Panic,” to address nuclear plant operation and emergency preparedness since the
Fukushima crises. The NRC has refused to attend the meetings, but after hearing
Kaplowitz’s invite again on Thursday night, they told him they would “Take his requests
under advisement.” The crowd, clamoring to their feet chanted “Tell him ‘Yes’!”

Indian Point owner Entergy has applied to extend their operating license for 20 more
years until 2033 and 2035 for each unit.

The application is currently before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board who are considering contentions to re-licensing by Riverkeeper, New York State and Clearwater.
Environmental Director Manna Jo Greene of Clearwater asked the NRC to suspend the
re-licensing process until more is learned about Fukushima. “We need a period of
introspection. We need a moratorium,” she said.

About 30 people from New York City SHARE, Safe, Healthy, Affordable and Reliable
Energy, sat quietly in the back holding small signs in favor of nuclear power. The
organization fears alternative energy sources will drive up the price of electricity.
Over 90 people signed up to speak. Canem Ozyildirim, 24, the representative for the New
York Chapter of Greenpeace, said she was disappointed that few young people were at
the meeting. “My personal goal is to bring people my age to meetings like this.”

Speaking in favor or re-licensing Indian Point was Jerry Connelly, spokesperson for the Coalition of Labor for Energy & Jobs. Connelly turned around to face the crowd. “If the air conditioning goes off here tonight, it’s what you have to get used
to if Indian Point is shut down,” he told the hostile audience. “You will have to change your life style. That’s the way it is.”
The audience at Thursday's Indian Point annual safety assessment New York City resident Chris Williams, who is an author and physics professor at Pace University argued against the plant’s actual electrical output. “We don’t need Indian
Point, we only use five percent of the power. Nuclear power is dangerous and unsafe.”

Former state Assemblyman Jerry Kremer, head of New York AREA, a pro-Indian Point group, addressed the NRC panel. “Every one of you are being abused but somebody has to do the tough job with integrity and honesty – which you do. I respect what you are trying to do.”

Other speakers included famed musician and composer David Amram, Rockland Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, spokespersons for Congresswoman Nita Lowey, Congressman Eliot Engel and US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. When asked about the status of Entergy’s relicensing application NRC project manager Drew Stuyvenberg said it was currently under review by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board for review.

“There will be a legal proceeding and the board controls that. Our staff can’t give a
definitive answer about when that proceeding will be - it might be in December (2011)
or January (2012). But the board has changed the time line before.”

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Indian Point Still Scurtinized in Fukushima's Aftermath

Indian Point Still Scrutinized in Fukushima’s Aftermath

The Westchester Guardian
THURSDAY, May 19, 2011 Page 15

BUCHANAN, NY -- The aging Indian Point nuclear power plant fell under scrutiny after two
members of congress toured the Buchanan facility last week.
Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland) and
Congressman Eliot Engel (D-Bronx/ Rockland/Westchester) visited the
twin reactors accompanied by Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC ) Chairman
Gregory Jaczko on Tuesday, May 10,2011. Congresswoman Nan Hayworth
(R-Mount Kisco) who lives near Indian Point did not tour the plant. Hayworth has
gone on record for keeping the plant open. Lowey balked at the NRC ’s re-licensing
process that will keep the plant open for an additional 20 years.

“We want aging nuclear power plants to be held to the same standard as are new plants that are applying for licensing,” she told a large press core gathered at the plant with the containment domes clearly in the background. Both she and Engel have introduced legislation that would require older plants like Indian Point to be
re-licensed only if they met the same criteria as new plants.

In the aftermath of the tragic destruction at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power
complex in Japan from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, fears have surfaced about
two seismic fault lines under Indian Point. Lowey and Engel want the NRC to evaluate
how an earthquake would impact leaks in the spent fuel pools and the loss of power.
Engel said he wanted to know if Indian Point’s back up systems would keep
the irradiated fuel stored in the spent fuel pools cooled. Indian Point spent fuel pools
currently hold about 1,500 tons of irradiated fuel. In Fukushima, three of the seven
damaged cooling pools lost back up power and released large amounts of radiation after
the tsunami. A problem in 1999 caused the Indian Point reactors to be disconnected
from the grid and battery back up only lasted seven hours.
Lowey said the reactors would not be built where it is today because of the population
density and proximity to New York City and that if there was a disaster at
Indian Point, evacuating 20 million people within a 50-Mile Radius of the plant would
be impossible.

“It would be reckless and irresponsible for relicensing to go forward with an evacuation
plan that we know to be inadequate,” she emphasized. With Jaczko standing next to her,
Lowey questioned the NRC for having a double standard when they advised
Americans near Fukushima to evacuate within a 50-mile radius of the reactors.
“But why do the regulations require only people living within a 10-mile radius
to evacuate if there is an accident at Indian Point?”
Engel said he’s been calling for the closure of Indian Point since the 911
terrorist attacks, when the terrorist jets flew directly over the reactors on their way to the
World Trade Center.

“The world we live in has changed,” he said. “Indian Point should be closed and
my constituents believe it should be closed.”

Both representatives are calling for updated guidelines from emergency agencies who
would respond to a nuclear disaster. Jaczko said that the tour with Engel and
Lowey allowed him to hear their concerns first hand.

“We want to keep an open and transparent dialogue,” he told the press. The NRC
chairman also said the agency’s primary job was to evaluate the aging components of the
plant itself in the re-licensing process. “But we will also look at lessons learned from
what happened in Japan.”

Entergy has applied to the NRC to extend their operating license until 2035.
To date, the NRC has never denied a relicensing application and have approved 66.

Prior to the press conference, antinuclear protesters waiting to talk to
Congresswoman Lowey and Engel were forced off the grounds by state police.
Security for plant owner Entergy asked some 20 protestors to leave claiming Engel
and Lowey were scheduled to speak only to the press. When the protestors refused
to leave, state troopers were called in to escort them just outside the plant gates.
Neither Engel or Lowey stopped to talk to the protestors after addressing the press.
Jackzko however did listen to the protesters while shaking their hands.

The NRC will hold their annual assessment of safety performance of Indian Point
for 2010. The meeting is public and will be on June 2nd at Colonial Terrace,119 Oregon
Road, Cortlandt Manor, NY 10567.

Jaczko talking to protesters after press