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The tangled web – well-being of communities has become dependent on the nuclear weapons industry


Nuclear disarmers can’t forget the communities that rely on military spending Tricia WhiteMatt Korda | October 28, 2020  If Russia were to launch a nuclear attack against the United States, what would the targets be? You might guess the most likely targets would be major cities like Washington D.C. or New York City, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But would you have also guessed Great Falls, Montana (population: 58,505) and Cheyenne, Wyoming (population: 65,165)? These small communities are part of the United States’ “nuclear sponge”—areas in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming that house the US arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and that are supposed to “soak up” hundreds of incoming nuclear warheads. Should an attack on the United States ever occur, these Midwestern states would be the first to go. And, somewhat counterintuitively, the majority of residents in these communities want to keep it that way.

It is difficult to overstate the degree to which ICBM-hosting communities rely on retaining their missiles. Missile bases like Minot in North Dakota, F. E. Warren in Wyoming, and Malmstrom in Montana are directly responsible for between eight and thirteen percent of their respective local labor forces. Additionally, the indirect economic benefits—a by-product of everyday activities like grocery shopping or school registration—certainly boost those numbers even further.

Recognizing that ICBMs could function as an economic insurance policy for local communities, politicians jockeyed to bring nuclear missiles to their states during the early stages of deployment in the 1960s.

In one particularly infamous case, Missouri Sen. Stuart Symington wrote to General Thomas Power, head of Strategic Air Command to ask, “Dear Tommy, why can’t we have one of the missile bases in Missouri?” Symington, previously the first Secretary of the Air Force, was heavily tied to weapons contractors, and his then-unique position at the intersection of business, politics, and the military prompted President Eisenhower to issue his prescient warning about the dangers of the “military-industrial complex.”

Today, this type of politicking has organized itself into the Congressional ICBM Coalition—a bipartisan collective of lawmakers from the three ICBM host states plus Utah, where ICBM sustainment and replacement activities are headquartered at Hill Air Force Base. The coalition’s members are extremely well-funded by contractors like Northrop Grumman, which spent more than $162 million on lobbying from 2008 to 2018. In a fantastic return on investment, Northrop Grumman was recently awarded a $13.3 billion contract to manufacture a replacement for the aging Minuteman III, the only land-based, nuclear-armed missile in the US arsenal. 

These weapons contractors are not just funding politicians, however. They also work in concert with local community leaders to sustain and modernize the ICBM force ad infinitum. In response to potential base closures throughout the 1990s, many ICBM communities formed coalitions via their Chambers of Commerce to advocate for their neighboring bases to stay open. Today, community-led organizations like Task Force 21 (Minot), the Montana Defense Alliance (Malmstrom), and the Wyoming Wranglers Committee (F. E. Warren) meet with Pentagon officials, weapons contractors, and their Congressional representatives to advocate on behalf of their respective bases.

It’s especially notable just how integrated these groups are with their local communities: they offer career opportunities in schools, allow weapons contractors to host community events when new project bids are occurring, and guide local businesses through the ins-and-outs of subcontracting for Northrop Grumman, Boeing, or Lockheed Martin. Since many of the organizations’ activities are in turn sponsored by these corporations, it’s effectively a win-win for everyone involved.

However, these intimate relationships between local communities, corporations, and politicians come with serious ramifications. In a cruel twist of irony, it means that in order to protect their livelihoods, community leaders are encouraged to ensure that their respective cities remain—now and forever—ground zero for a future nuclear attack.

These communities are also expected to lobby on behalf of an ICBM replacement program that is dangerous, unnecessary, and very expensive. Not only do ICBMs serve little strategic purpose in a post-Cold War environment, but they are also the only weapons in the US nuclear arsenal that force the president to make potentially catastrophic decisions within mere minutes. For these reasons, as well as their astounding $264 billion estimated life-cycle costs, several nuclear experts—and a majority of both Democrats and Republicans—agree that the Pentagon should hit pause on the ICBM replacement program while officials examine cheaper life-extension options for the current arsenal. Many even argue the United States should eliminate the ICBM leg of the nuclear triad altogether. 

Additionally, as Gretchen Heefner, a professor at Northeastern University, articulates in her book The Missile Next Door, “By insisting that new missions be found for old bases, that more money be spent to upgrade facilities and fortify defenses, Americans [have] long stopped resisting militarism and instead embraced it as an economic necessity.” And who could blame them? If the Minuteman ICBMs were to be phased out, the futures of Minot, Malmstrom, and F. E. Warren Air Force Bases—and the communities that serve them—would be thrown into jeopardy. Heefner quotes one ICBM community’s Chamber of Commerce president on the indirect impacts of such closures: “A lot of people probably won’t realize the impact until their soccer coach is gone and their Bible teacher is not here or their teacher’s aide is gone.” “Nothing so aptly demonstrates the dependency of American municipalities on the military,” Heefner concludes, “as the threat of its abandonment.” To that end, organizing to keep their nuclear ICBMs is a form of community self-defense, albeit one with far-reaching consequences.

This presents a challenging conundrum for the nuclear expert community. It is easy to advocate for the phaseout of the ICBM force by only examining the costs and benefits on paper. In fact, such a phaseout is a realistic and worthwhile security goal, but it may come at the cost of American jobs and rural towns.

If disarmament advocates really want to push for the retirement of the US ICBM force, we need to come prepared with answers to the economic problems it would have on these “nuclear sponge” communities. Is Congress willing to offer a guaranteed income to the constituents who will lose their jobs? Will there be an equivalent of the Paycheck Protection Program? How does a community that loses its predominant industry rebuild its economy, especially in the aftermath of a devastating pandemic? Without answers to these questions, disarmament could be the very thing that destroys them—long before a nuclear missile ever strikes American soil.

October 29, 2020 Posted by | business and costs, health, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Big questions on the costs and safety of NuScale’s little nuclear reactors

NuScale Faces Questions on Nuclear Reactor Safety and Financing Its First Project

The first small modular reactor to receive federal approval must still grapple with design changes and safety concerns if it’s to be built by 2030. GreentechMedia

JEFF ST. JOHN OCTOBER 27, 2020   NuScale Power wants to build the first small modular nuclear reactor complex in the U.S. by decade’s end and has pointed to recent federal safety approvals and a cost-sharing arrangement with its first prospective public utility customers as advancing that goal.

But its reactor design faces significant safety questions that were not resolved by a Nuclear Energy Commission (NRC) review completed in August. Those include potential problems with the system that automatically shuts down its reactors in case of emergency, casting doubt on key safety claims from the Portland, Oregon-based company, critics say.

The nature of NRC’s review will leave the resolution of these key safety issues to be completed later this decade.

This could prove problematic for NuScale’s first project, the 12-reactor Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Over the past two years, the project has seen expected costs double from $3 billion to $6.1 billion and its completion date moved from 2026 to 2030, putting pressure on parent company Fluor Corp. to keep further cost increases in check and secure financial backers for the project.

NuScale won’t complete key safety reviews for its reactor design until later this decade. These design changes and safety reviews will be the responsibility of the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), the first customer for 213 megawatts of the 720 MW the CFPP will produce, under a combined construction and operating license process. This could open up the CFPP to technical and legal challenges after significant investments in the project have already been made, critics warn.

UAMPS, a division of the Utah state government serving wholesale electric services to communities across the Intermountain West, has seen three cities vote to depart the 33-city consortium planning to agree to buy power from the CFPP in the past few months and is facing an October 31 deadline to commit to its role in the project.

And while the Department of Energy has issued a $1.36 billion, 10-year cost-share pledge to UAMPS, that funding will require future congressional appropriations in order to become reality. …..

Other U.S.-based SMR developers include Bill Gates-backed TerraPower and X-Energy, which have recently received financial support from DOE with the goal of building their first working units in the next seven years. Others include Hyperion Power Generation and Terrestrial Energy. ……

Safety questions on emergency shutdown

One of the most pressing unresolved safety issues deals with NuScale’s system to prevent overheating or meltdown during emergencies, according to the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS), which reviews reactor designs for the NRC.

NuScale’s reactor must submerge its fuel in water carrying boron, an element that absorbs neutrons and slows the fission chain reactions that generate heat and radioactivity. That water can be boiled away during emergencies, meaning that redundant safety systems are required that are capable of replacing it.

NuScale has said its system can reintroduce boronated water into the reactor without pumps that might lose power during an emergency, by venting steam into a surrounding containment vessel and condensing it back into water to inject into the core. But a March ACRS review noted that boron could be left behind as water turns into steam, yielding condensed water without enough boron to slow the chain reactions that could lead to overheating or core meltdown.

NuScale submitted design modifications to add boron to that reintroduced water supply. But in an April meeting, ACRS member Jose March-Leuba noted that the new design requires a series of 10 valves to operate without fail to solve the problem it’s geared to address, which he characterized as “10 single failure points.”

The ACRS told the NRC in a June letter that it “cannot reach a final conclusion on the safety of the NuScale design until the issue of the potential for a reactivity insertion accident” — a sudden increase in fission that cannot be halted — “is resolved to our satisfaction.” ………

Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that the ACRS finding casts doubt on “one of the major selling points for this reactor, which is that it can passively shut down without any operator actions.”

NuScale has relied on its passive safety claims to argue that it should be exempt from other nuclear reactor safety requirements, such as maintaining emergency evacuation and planning zones within a 10-mile radius of the site and employing a security force to prevent sabotage attempts. Integrating these safety requirements into its projects may push NuScale’s power costs beyond the $55 per megawatt-hour it has targeted, he said.

“Nuclear safety is not just design. It’s the whole set of measures,” Lyman said.

Uncertain path to approval, unclear financing future

NuScale’s recent safety approval from the NRC is not as comprehensive a stamp of federal approval as the company had planned to obtain by now.

In March testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, NuScale CEO John Hopkins said that parent company Fluor Corp. and investors have spent about $500 million to prepare a “design certification application,” which was submitted in 2016 and expected to be complete by September.

But NuScale’s recent approval from the NRC is not for a design certification application, Lyman said. Rather, it’s a “standard design approval,” which comes with less stringent rules for NRC review and allows future design changes. But it opens up NuScale’s design to future legal challenges that a design certification approval would not, he said.

NuScale also plans to increase the size of its reactor units from 50 MW to 60 MW units, which will require a separate design approval review, Lyman said. Meanwhile, NuScale’s original design certification, “when it’s approved, may never actually be used.” ……

these uncertainties have complicated the picture for UAMPS, which has pushed back its deadline for finalizing its licensing agreement with NuScale from September until October 31. UAMPS could be facing more than $100 million in commitments under its yet-to-be-finalized agreement. ….

Broader challenges for small modular reactors

In a September report, M.V. Ramana, a professor of disarmament and human security at the University of British Columbia, highlighted other risks facing NuScale. Those include further delays in licensing and certification, as well as the potential that design changes and increased safety requirements will raise the cost of power from NuScale’s reactors, which is already higher than the prices being set by new wind and solar energy today. Adding batteries or other forms of energy storage to renewables may prove a less costly solution to providing reliable zero-carbon electricity than NuScale can, he wrote.

Ramana also questioned the financial stability of NuScale’s parent company, engineering and construction giant Fluor, which has seen its share price drop about 80 percent over the past two years amid mounting financial losses and federal investigations into its accounting practices.

Fluor has invested $643 million into NuScale alongside $314 million in DOE funding, Hopkins told Congress in March. But it will need to bring more financial backers on board in the decade to come.

As for the DOE cost-share agreement, Lyman said it’s dependent on future congressional budget approvals that may not emerge. “The bottom line is, without a large subsidy, it would not be economical for them to buy this power.” ………

October 29, 2020 Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, USA | Leave a comment

Santa Susana Field Laboratory site- historically radioactively polluted, but risks never being cleaned up

Yes, Santa Susana is a ‘landmark’ — as a historic environmental disaster,  By MICHAEL HILTZIK,  BUSINESS COLUMNIST OCT. 27, 2020

One thing is certainly true about NASA’s curious effort to place 2,850 acres above the Simi Valley on the National Register of Historic Places: The parcel is certainly a landmark.

Among the points in dispute is what makes it so.   To several local Native American tribes, including the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, the Ventura County site’s cave drawings and rock shelters bespeak a cultural heritage dating back centuries.

The time has come for us to make sure that we hold the polluters accountable for their legacy….We will make sure the site gets cleaned up and we will exercise our legal authority in pursuit of that.

To environmentalists and the site’s neighbors, it’s historic for the extent of its contamination by chemical and nuclear research performed there during the Cold War.

The Santa Susana Field Laboratory site is “one of the most toxic sites in the United States by any kind of definition,” Jared Blumenfeld, head of the California Environmental Protection Agency, told me. “It demands a full cleanup.”

Just such a cleanup should have been started years ago. The three entities controlling portions of the site — Boeing Co., the U.S. Department of Energy and NASA — reached agreements with the state in 2007 and 2010 binding them to restoring the site to “background” standards.

The term means removing contaminated soil and buildings so thoroughly that the area would be as pristine as if the polluting activities had never occurred.

That work was supposed to be completed by 2017. Yet much of it has not even started — and it may be thrown into further doubt by NASA’s nomination of the site to the historic register.

Why the cleanup has been stalled isn’t entirely clear, although one obstacle has been the state’s failure to complete an environmental impact report for the cleanup.

The report is a highly technical document on which public comments are still being collected, according to Meredith Williams, director of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, which is overseeing the process. Williams says the document is now expected to reach completion next spring or summer.

Instead of establishing the government’s responsibilities conclusively, the 2007 and 2010 agreements became part of the battlefield trod over by state and federal agencies. As recently as Sept. 28, the DTSC crisply informed NASA that its published plans for a reduced cleanup violate the agreement.

The state agency “strongly urge[d]” NASA not to issue a formal announcement of the plans. Four days later, NASA did so anyway.

Santa Susana deserves to be recognized as another example of how powerful interests manage to dodge their responsibilities to clean up after themselves by exploiting legal delays and loopholes, to the detriment of local communities.

It’s on a par with the successful effort of Exide Technologies to avoid paying for the cleanup of pollution it caused around its battery recycling plant in Vernon, which we recently chronicled. That case involved a private firm. This one is even worse, because the entities dodging their responsibilities include agencies of the federal government.

The historical nomination by NASA, says Daniel O. Hirsch, a former environmental faculty member at UC Santa Cruz who has been following the Santa Susana saga for some 40 years and serves as president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, an anti-nuclear group, could save Boeing, NASA and the Department of Energy hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup expenses.

“The only people who would lose would be the public,” Hirsch says. “They would continue to face elevated cancer risk from contamination” migrating from the site.

The tribes have said in video statements that a historical designation need not interfere with the cleanup, but such a classification will give them a say in how it proceeds.

To understand the gravity of the situation — and why local residents remain agitated about the delay’s implications for their health — let’s consider the site’s noxious condition.

Over a period of 75 years, the Santa Susana Field Lab hosted what the Natural Resources Defense Council says were “hundreds of nuclear and rocket testing buildings and structures,” emitting radioactive isotopes including plutonium-239.

The soil and water table were contaminated by PCBs, heavy metals, tricholoroethylene “and a witches’ brew of other poisons,” as the NRDC put it.

Nuclear reactors at the lab suffered at least four major accidents between 1959 and 1969, including one partial meltdown, two episodes of fuel damage and a separate release of radioactive gases. The government typically kept these incidents secret for weeks, sometimes longer. 

In a 2007 paper, researchers at the University of Michigan found the incidence rate of certain cancers, including thyroid, bladder and blood system cancers, to be more than 60% higher for residents living within two miles of the site in 1988-95 than for those more than five miles away.

The document that NASA filed this summer nominating the site for the National Register of Historic Places glosses over this history as though it never happened.

Absurdly, the nomination states that despite the activities of the government and Boeing, the area is “in a state similar to when the [tribes’] ancestors used and occupied the area.”

This summer, NASA nominated the lab site for inclusion on the national landmark registry, under the name Burro Flats Cultural District, citing its rich tribal history. A 12-acre portion of the site, encompassing the Burro Flats painted cave and a parcel traditionally used by Native Americans to observe the winter and summer solstices, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974. NASA asserts that its archeological research justifies expanding the landmark to encompass the entire laboratory site.

Then, on Oct. 2, the agency formally announced that it was considering a scheme to clean up the site to only a fraction of what is required by the 2007 and 2010 agreements. That flouted the state’s Sept. 28 warning not to do so, lest it result in “necessary actions to enforce” the agreements.

The historical nomination is opposed by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Committee to Bridge the Gap generally because they see the move as subterfuge through which NASA can slink away from its cleanup responsibilities.

Given this chronicle, it’s hardly surprising that any action by the government inspires skepticism.

“NASA and the DOE have a mixed history, to be polite, and the neighborhood distrusts them immensely,” says Sam Cohen, a legal advisor to the Chumash tribe.

“It’s going to take years to clean up the land,” Cohen says. “We need to be at the table at the beginning or we’re going to be disappointed at the end.”

There are, as it happens, plenty of grounds for distrust. One is that the boundaries of the nominated land correspond exactly to the Santa Susana Field Lab property lines, even though it’s rare that any historical site be chosen with regard to ownership boundaries.

Another is that the proposed designation tracks suspiciously closely to a provision in the 2010 agreement reached by the federal government and the state, exempting from cleanup “Native American artifacts that are formally recognized as Cultural Resources” — which is what NASA is requesting.

These factors and others prompted the NRDC and Committee to Bridge the Gap to warn the state Historical Resources Commission, which must rule on any federal nomination to the historical register, that NASA’s move is “an attempt by the Trump administration to breach the SSFL cleanup agreements.”

Yet the commission bulled ahead, debating the issue at a meeting Aug. 14. At that meeting tribal representatives supported the nomination while a representative of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, Hirsch and members of Hirsch’s group all spoke against it.

A NASA representative told the commission, however, that the proposed designation wouldn’t affect the cleanup at all. “NASA continues to be committed to a cleanup at Santa Susana Field Lab,” she said. The commission, apparently mollified, endorsed the designation unanimously.

But NASA’s critics noticed that the NASA representative, Rebecca Klein, chose her words carefully. “She said they were committed to ‘a cleanup,’” Hirsch observes. “She didn’t say they were committed to the 2010 agreement.”

NASA told me by email that the cleanup standards embodied in the agreement are not “scientifically and technologically achievable.” The standards cannot be met “even if we backfill all removed soil with the store-bought topsoil many of us use in our own yards and gardens,” agency spokeswoman Shannon Segovia told me. The agency says its proposed cleanup would remove up to 90% of the contamination as the agreement requires but involve removal of 70% less soil.

CalEPA’s Blumenfeld says the decision of how to perform the cleanup isn’t up to NASA. “The 2007 and 2010 agreements are legally binding and don’t leave a lot to the imagination,” he says. “They’re very descriptive and prescriptive to infinitesimal levels of detail.”

He adds that the government’s approach to Santa Susana is oddly bifurcated. The Department of Energy, which is largely responsible for the nuclear cleanup, has been relatively cooperative, having started to dismantle the radioactively contaminated buildings on the site.

NASA, however, “is in the camp of trying to spend as little money as possible to do as little work as possible.” It may see its historical nomination as a tool to undermine the 2010 agreement, “but it’s not going to achieve that,” Blumenfeld says.

As for Boeing, which inherited its share of the cleanup in 1996 when it acquired Rockwell International’s aerospace and defense businesses, also has dragged its feet, but its responsibility is currently subject to court proceedings.

All this leaves unexplained how ironclad legal agreements could be flouted with impunity for a decade or more. In the past, blame has settled upon the Brown administration for failing to pursue the cleanup aggressively.

Blumenfeld says that era is over. He says all the parties should understand that “we’re very serious about implementing the legally binding agreements and about our regulatory authority. … There’s this bizarre time in history that we’re trying to explain no longer exists where NASA feels like they get to set the cleanup standards and Boeing feels they get to set the cleanup standards.”

For years, he says, “there was the sense by the polluters that trying to push back would save money on the cleanup.” Polluters shirking their cleanup responsibilities is nothing new, he adds.

“The time has come for us to make sure that we hold the polluters accountable for their legacy. … We will make sure the site gets cleaned up and we will exercise our legal authority in pursuit of that. That hasn’t been the message that they’ve heard for the previous 10 years, but we’re changing it.”

Will that happen? Let’s hope that we don’t have to wait another 10 years to find out.

October 29, 2020 Posted by | environment, USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Columbus, Cincinnati, take legal action to block Ohio’s nuclear  power plant bailout law

October 29, 2020 Posted by | Legal, USA | Leave a comment

Two more cities opt out of Utah’s dubious small nuclear reactor project

October 29, 2020 Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, USA | Leave a comment

World climate at the crossroads – much depends on USA election result

Guardian 26th Oct 2020, Among the myriad reasons world leaders will closely watch the outcome of a fraught US presidential election, the climate crisis looms perhaps largest of all. The international effort to constrain dangerous global heating will hinge, in large part, on which of the dichotomous approaches of Donald Trump or Joe Biden prevails.
On 4 November, the day after the election, the US will exit the Paris climate agreement, a global pact that has wobbled but not collapsed from nearly four years of disparagement and disengagement under Trump.
Biden has vowed to immediately rejoin the Paris deal. The potential of a second Trump term, however, is foreboding for those whose
anxiety has only escalated during the hottest summer ever recorded in the northern hemisphere, with huge wildfires scorching California and swaths of central South America, and extraordinary temperatures baking the Arctic.

October 27, 2020 Posted by | 2 WORLD, climate change, election USA 2020 | Leave a comment

Hope for nuclear arms control with Russia? 

October 27, 2020 Posted by | politics international, Russia, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Joe Biden calls climate change the ‘number one issue facing humanity

Joe Biden calls climate change the ‘number one issue facing humanity’, CNBC, OCT 24 2020

    • Joe Biden declared climate change the “number one issue facing humanity” and vowed a national transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy that he says will create millions of new jobs.
    • Biden has a $2 trillion plan that puts the U.S. on a path to zero carbon pollution from the electricity sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050.
    • Scientists say that Biden’s transition plan is required to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.
    • Climate change has fueled record-setting wildfires in the U.S. West and one of the most active Atlantic hurricane seasons this year………
    • “Climate change is the existential threat to humanity,” the former vice president said. “Unchecked, it is going to actually bake this planet. This is not hyperbole. It’s real. And we have a moral obligation.” ……

Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, has boasted a $2 trillion plan that invests significantly in clean energy in the transportation, electricity and building industry, cuts fossil fuel emissions and improves infrastructure.

Biden’s plan also puts the U.S. on a path to zero carbon pollution from the electricity sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050. Coal and natural gas comprise more than 60% of the electricity sector, according to the Energy Information Association.

“It’s going to create millions of jobs … We can’t be cavalier about the impact it’s going to have on how we’re going to transition to do all this,” Biden said of his plan on the podcast. “But I just think it’s a gigantic opportunity, a gigantic opportunity to create really good jobs.”

Scientists say that Biden’s transition plan is required to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.  …..

Trump has denied the science of climate change and reversed more than 70 major environmental regulations during his four years in office, with nearly 30 more in progress.

But climate change has been a top issue of the 2020 presidential election, especially among younger voters…….

Biden leads on climate change by an enormous margin, with 58% to 19% of registered voters saying the former vice president would address the problem better than President Trump, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. …..

    •  and this year is set to be one of the five hottest in recorded history.

October 26, 2020 Posted by | election USA 2020 | 1 Comment

Trump government’s dangerous plan to deregulate disposal of radioactive trash

Trump team pushes nuke dumping, by Staff Report • October 25, 2020   Many Americans alarmed over the deadly coronavirus pandemic, a worsening climate crisis, an economic disaster on par with the Great Depression, or the White House’s surrender of Afghanistan to the Taliban would sleep better if they had assurances the radioactive waste disposal is as secure as it could possibly be… but President Donald Trump is still in charge so there’s no such luck.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is finalizing a year-long drive to functionally deregulate disposal of massive amounts of radioactive waste.

NRC’s  plan would allow commercial nuclear reactors to dump virtually all their radioactive waste, except spent fuel, in local garbage landfills, which are designed for household trash not rad-waste, according to comments filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Friday marked the end of public comments for an NRC “interpretative rulemaking” that would, in effect, abrogate longstanding requirements that virtually all such waste must be disposed of in licensed radioactive waste sites meeting detailed safety standards and subject to NRC inspection and enforcement.

Instead, the Trump administration wants to allow the NRC to grant generic exemptions for unlicensed waste handlers.

NRC declares its “intent” that these newly exempt disposal sites would be limited to “very low-level radioactive wastes” – a term undefined by statute – which NRC considers to be “below 25 millirem per year.”

“NRC’s definition would allow public exposure to the equivalent to more than 900 chest X-rays over a lifetime,” explained Lisa McCormick. “This new approach creates a cancer risk twenty times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable risk range, thousands of times the risk goal for Superfund sites, or enough radiation to cause every 500th person exposed to get cancer.”

McCormick, a progressive Democratic activist in New Jersey, says the rule change is “the worst thing to do as dozens of America’s 104 nuclear power plants come to the end of their operation.”

“Once an exempt entity accepts radioactive waste, it enters a regulatory black hole, with no one  accountable for it,” stated PEER Pacific Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that NRC’s plan eliminates the need for radiation monitoring, health physics personnel, design standards, and NRC inspections – all now required of licensed operators.  “Unlicensed radioactive waste dumps could operate in ways that endanger communities free from any NRC oversight.”

NRC’s cryptic justification merely indicates that the plan “would provide an efficient means by which the NRC may issue specific exemptions for disposal” but ignores impacts that would –

  • Transform many municipal dumps into radioactive repositories, with no safeguards for workers, nearby residents, or adjoining water tables;
    • Allow unlicensed radioactive waste dumps to expose the public to 2.5 times higher levels of radiation than the NRC now allows for licensed low-level radioactive waste sites, thus creating a strong incentive to send all the radioactive waste to unlicensed dumps; and
    • Eliminate the public’s ability to find out radioactive waste is being dumped near them.

    At present, the U.S. has 104 commercial nuclear power plants, many of which are beginning, or will soon start, the decommissioning process.

    Removing the need for licensed sites to handle the staggering amounts of debris from old reactors would be a major cost savings for that industry.

    “One of New Jersey’s oldest nuclear power plants just came off line and it poses a drastic problem for the people and environment” said McCormick.

    “NRC’s deregulation will make it nearly impossible to trace recycled radioactive waste flowing through the stream of American commerce,” added Ruch, noting that it may also create a market for the U.S. to import radioactive waste for cheaper disposal. “This plan would plunge the U.S. into the wild, wild West of radioactive waste disposal, on a par with a Third World natio

October 26, 2020 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Safety of SanOnofre nuclear waste storage is disputed

Dust-UPS Continue Over Radioactive Waste Storage at San Onofre   The most recent dispute centers on the green light the California Coastal Commission gave Edison on July 16 to remove the cooling pools where spent fuel rods were submerged for several years to begin cooling down. October 25, 2020 by EarthTalk  By Sarah Mosko

The decommissioning of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) has been riddled with controversies since it was shuttered in 2013, undermining public confidence in Southern California Edison’s management of highly radioactive nuclear waste which will be stored on-site for the foreseeable future.

In 2018 for example, a whistleblower exposed how a 54-ton canister loaded with radioactive waste nearly plummeted 18 feet because of a design flaw and human error, prompting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to cite Edison with the most serious violation ever imposed on a spent fuel licensee.

The most recent dispute centers on the green light the California Coastal Commission gave Edison on July 16 to remove the cooling pools where spent fuel rods were submerged for several years to begin cooling down. Edison argued the pools aren’t needed anymore because the rods have all been transferred into dry storage canisters.

Each of SONGS’s 123 canisters holds roughly the same amount of Cesium-137 as released during the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

At issue is this: If a canister were to begin degrading, creating risk of radiation release, returning it to the cooling pools is the only means whereby the contents could be repackaged into a new canister. Nonetheless, Edison convinced the Coastal Commission that an untested, unapproved nickel “cold spray” overlay technology could be applied to patch degrading canisters, making the cooling pools unnecessary.

NRC spokesperson David McIntyre confirmed that NRC has neither evaluated nor approved any method for fixing a canister. The only sure solution is to replace the canister. Many nuclear safety advocates in Orange and San Diego counties are outraged, believing Edison, the Coastal Commission, and NRC are gambling public safety on unproven repair methodology piggy-backed on already inferior dry storage canisters that need to last far longer than originally intended.

This situation is only partly due to the federal government’s failure to construct a mandated permanent national repository for storing the country’s highly radioactive nuclear waste, leaving U.S. nuclear plants saddled with storing spent fuel on-site indefinitely.

Objections to eliminating the pools revolve around this specter of stranded radioactive waste remaining on-site for the foreseeable future, with no means to repackage it, together with concerns about the canisters Edison chose and SONGS’s beachfront location.

Inferior Storage Canisters

SONGS uses two models of thin-walled (5/8 inch thick), welded shut, stainless steel canisters (Holtec and Areva). They are warranted only for manufacturing defects and for just 10-25 years. Thick-walled casks (10-19 inch) with bolted lids, as survived the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, are standard throughout most of the world.

Nuclear safety advocates point to evidence thin-walled canisters are vulnerable to cracking yet can’t be inspected for tiny cracks which can grow through the canister wall. They are critical of NRC for ignoring established safety codes for nuclear pressure vessels used for storage and transport of nuclear waste (American Society of Mechanical Engineers, ASME N3) when they approved SONGS’s canisters which can’t be inspected by proven methodology (liquid penetrant).

Instead, Edison applied a robotic camera in 2019 to eight Holtec canisters to characterize the extent of canister scraping/gouging incurred during downloading into their holes in the in-ground concrete storage pad. Because of the small clearance between a canister and the guide ring at the mouth of the hole, canisters are routinely scraped/gouged, potentially initiating cracking.

Edison admitted their improvised camera technique doesn’t qualify as a formal inspection, yet the NRC accepted Edison’s conclusion that damage to the canisters during downloading poses no current credible threat.

Thin-walled canisters also fail to block gamma or neutron radiation so require additional individual thick concrete containers for storage and thick metal containers for transport. The unsealed steel lined concrete containers require air vents for convection cooling.

Marine Environment

SONGS is situated within 50 miles of 8 million people, sandwiched between the ocean and the I5 Freeway, and accessible to terrorist attack from either side. A mysterious two-night swarm of drones over the Palo Verde nuclear plant in Arizona last September highlights vulnerability to malfeasance.

SONGS sits 108 feet from shore in a known earthquake zone, creating risks of flooding from sea level rise and shaking and tsunamis from earthquakes. The in-ground pad holding the Holtec canisters already sits just 18 inches above the water table.

October 26, 2020 Posted by | safety, USA | Leave a comment

US urges countries to withdraw from UN nuclear ban treaty

US urges countries to withdraw from UN nuke ban treaty,  By EDITH M. LEDERER, October 22, 2020, UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States is urging countries that have ratified a U.N. treaty to ban nuclear weapons to withdraw their support as the pact nears the 50 ratifications needed to trigger its entry into force, which supporters say could happen this week.The U.S. letter to signatories, obtained by The Associated Press, says the five original nuclear powers — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — and America’s NATO allies “stand unified in our opposition to the potential repercussions” of the treaty……..

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize-winning coalition whose work helped spearhead the nuclear ban treaty, told The Associated Press Tuesday that several diplomatic sources confirmed that they and other states that ratified the TPNW had been sent letters by the U.S. requesting their withdrawal.

She said the “increasing nervousness, and maybe straightforward panic, with some of the nuclear-armed states and particularly the Trump administration” shows that they “really seem to understand that this is a reality: Nuclear weapons are going to be banned under international law soon.”

Fihn dismissed the nuclear powers’ claim that the treaty interferes with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as “straightforward lies, to be frank.”

“They have no actual argument to back that up,” she said. “The Nonproliferation Treaty is about preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and eliminating nuclear weapons, and this treaty implements that. There’s no way you can undermine the Nonproliferation Treaty by banning nuclear weapons. It’s the end goal of the Nonproliferation Treaty.”

The NPT sought to prevent the spread of nuclear arms beyond the five original weapons powers. It requires non-nuclear signatory nations to not pursue atomic weapons in exchange for a commitment by the five powers to move toward nuclear disarmament and to guarantee non-nuclear states’ access to peaceful nuclear technology for producing energy………

“That the Trump administration is pressuring countries to withdraw from a United Nations-backed disarmament treaty is an unprecedented action in international relations,” Fihn said. “That the U.S. goes so far as insisting countries violate their treaty obligations by not promoting the TPNW to other states shows how fearful they are of the treaty’s impact and growing support.”

The treaty was approved by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly on July 7, 2017 by a vote of 122 in favor, the Netherlands opposed, and Singapore abstaining. Among countries voting in favor was Iran. The five nuclear powers and four other countries known or believed to possess nuclear weapons — India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel — boycotted negotiations and the vote on the treaty, along with many of their allies…………

October 26, 2020 Posted by | politics international, USA, weapons and war | 1 Comment

Shadow of $25 billion Nuclear Plant Vogtle hangs over Georgia Public Service Commission elections

Nuclear costs loom over races for Georgia PSC races
Public Service Commission must deal with $25 billion Plant Vogtle’s impact on electric rates,
News 4 Ajax, Jeff Amy, Associated Press,  25 Oct 20,  ATLANTA – The shadow of two nuclear reactors that Georgia Power Co. is building near Waynesboro hangs over two statewide elections for the Georgia Public Service Commission. Although the reactors are now getting so close to completion that they are likely to enter service, whoever is elected will have to deal with the $25 billion project’s ultimate impact on customer bills.

Electric customers statewide and even in Jacksonville will help pay for Plant Vogtle, as Georgia Power has contracts to provide power from the plant around the Southeast.

The five-person utility regulatory body is currently all Republican, with two members up for reelection this year. ………..

Amid rising costs, the plan to add a third and fourth nuclear reactor at Plant Vogtle survived a cost-overrun scare in 2018 with the heavy support of the state’s Republican establishment. Georgia Power, the largest subsidiary of the Atlanta-based Southern Co. is now building the only new nuclear plants in the U.S.  ………

October 26, 2020 Posted by | business and costs, politics, USA | Leave a comment

And again, it’s delay delay at the costly Vogtle nuclear project

October 26, 2020 Posted by | business and costs, USA | Leave a comment

USA government puts out a financial lifeline to the failing nuclear industry

Nuclear Energy Granted A State-Sponsored Lifeline In The U.S. Oil Price By Haley Zaremba – Oct 24, 2020  For the past several decades, the United States has been the poster child for the ailing state of the nuclear industry. The nuclear sector in the U.S. is plagued by aging infrastructure, mounting debts, dependence on government handouts, and the staggering cost of maintaining spent nuclear fuel. What’s more, it’s had to compete with the homegrown shale revolution, and expensive nuclear is simply no match for the tidal wave of cheap shale oil and gas that came flooding out of the West Texas Permian Basin.The United States has long been the single-biggest generator of nuclear power in the world, accounting for a whopping third of global nuclear energy production. However, that status will likely soon be stripped away as the United States has seen one nuclear plant after another shutter after struggling and failing to stay in the black, at the same time that other nations have pushed their nuclear programs forward with rapid rates of expansion. China, in particular, has invested huge sums into building up its nuclear program, and is on track to overtake France and then the United States to become the new biggest nuclear power producer on the planet.

But the winds of change could soon be blowing for U.S. nuclear. Last month the nuclear sector got a small but certainly not insignificant state-sponsored lifeline when the the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that “it would be awarding more than $65m in nuclear energy research, crosscutting technology development, facility access, and infrastructure awards.” According to reporting by PowerTechnology, “the awards fall under the department’s nuclear energy programs – the Nuclear Energy University Programme, the Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies, and the Nuclear Science User Facilities.”

And now, just this week, there’s even better news for U.S. nuclear power. “After hemming and hawing for decades, the United States is taking some big steps in developing advanced nuclear reactor technologies,” Forbes reported on Wednesday. The article is referring to yet another major announcement from the DOE that took place just last week. The department will be awarding $80 million each–and that’s just in initial funding–to two different teams under the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). The DOE has planned for an additional $3.2 billion in investment over the next seven years, an impressive sum that will be matched by the private sector within the nuclear industry. One of these teams is to be led by Bill Gates’ brainchild TerraPower in a joint effort with GE Hitachi. The other will be spearheaded by X-energy. …….

October 26, 2020 Posted by | business and costs, politics, USA | Leave a comment

The Atlantic raised the big question. In a crisis, do Americans want Trump’s finger on the nuclear button?

The Atlantic’s endorsement of Joe Biden raises a sobering point all Americans should consider. Daily Kos, Dartagnan Community, Friday October 23, 2020   “……….   —The Atlantic reminds us that the person in charge of this country’s nuclear arsenal matters.

In most matters related to the governance and defense of the United States, the president is constrained by competing branches of government and by an intricate web of laws and customs. Only in one crucial area does the president resemble, in the words of the former missile officer and scholar Bruce Blair, an absolute monarch—his control of nuclear weapons. Richard Nixon, who was president when Major Hering asked his question, was reported to have told members of Congress at a White House dinner party, “I could leave this room and in 25 minutes, 70 million people would be dead.” This was an alarming but accurate statement.

When contemplating their ballots, Americans should ask which candidate in a presidential contest is better equipped to guide the United States through a national-security crisis without triggering a nuclear exchange, and which candidate is better equipped to interpret—within five or seven minutes—the ambiguous, complicated, and contradictory signals that could suggest an imminent nuclear attack. These are certainly not questions that large numbers of voters asked themselves in 2016, when a transparently unqualified candidate for president won the support of 63 million Americans..
The presidency is much more than a “position” to be filled from time to time. As we have all bitterly learned from the pandemic, the implications of a manifestly unfit president are profound and potentially lethal to millions of Americans. To provide someone proven to be as erratic and delusional as Donald Trump with the power to end all of our lives by initiating (or reacting to) a potential nuclear attack is simply insane. Americans may not have known exactly what they were putting into the Oval Office in 2016, but there is no such excuse now. We’ve all seen the movie, and it ends in death.
That crisis—or something close to it— is bound to come, whether we want to acknowledge it or not.  So Americans need to ask themselves who they really trust to make that call when it happens, and whether they really want those fat little fingers so close to that red button. ·

October 24, 2020 Posted by | election USA 2020 | Leave a comment