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$Billions for companies dismantling nuclear stations – but looming costs and dangers for the rest of us?

Dismantling nuclear plants is a gold mine for some, but at what risk to you?  

Thomas C. Zambito, Rockland/Westchester Journal News June 19, 2019 
Shutting down nuclear plants is set to become a multi-billion dollar business. If that business fails, critics say, your tax dollars – and possibly your safety – could be on the line. Learn more in our USA TODAY NETWORK Northeast project, The Nuclear Option

The nuclear power industry is shrinking by the day.

Some 20 reactors at 15 power plants across the U.S. have plans to shut down or are in the midst of being decommissioned, a process that traditionally takes decades.

Now, a new crop of companies — fed by Wall Street speculators — are claiming they can cut that time to at least eight years, as they eye the $60 billion set aside in trust funds to handle the messy work of shutting down nuclear reactors.

Two firms, Holtec International of Camden, New Jersey, and its rival, New York-based NorthStar Group Services, together with their partners, have been on a buying spree in recent years, snatching up power plants across the nation with the promise of quicker teardowns.

A quicker-to-finish timeline appeals to folks who live near power plants in communities that for decades could count on balancing their budgets with the tax revenue they generated.

Safety sacrificed for speed?

But watchdog groups, politicians, scientists and experts on decommissioning nuclear plants are questioning whether safety will be sacrificed for speed, as profit-seeking companies rush to finish one job so they can move on to the next.

There are also worries that the trust funds will be bled dry before the job is completed, leaving taxpayers — and anyone who pays for electricity —  footing the bill.

“If the decommissioning fund goes bankrupt and the job isn’t completed, they walk away and leave the cleanup to the states,” said Tim Judson, the executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service.

In February, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey voiced her concerns in a petition to intervene in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s review of the pending sale of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth to Holtec.

The proposed deal puts the health and safety of our residents at risk,” Healey said. “We’re intervening to protect the public and ensure that the transaction does not leave our state’s taxpayers on the hook for any of the costs of safely decommissioning the plant, and managing spent nuclear fuel.”

Big money at stake

With so much money at stake, things are moving quickly:

  • On May 31, Pilgrim shut down. A day earlier, Duke Energy announced it had a contract with Accelerated Decommissioning Partners (ADP), a joint venture between NorthStar and Orano USA, to dismantle its Crystal River plant in Florida. ADP says the job will be finished by 2027.
  • Holtec has pending deals to buy Indian Point in New York’s Hudson Valley and Oyster Creek on Barnegat Bay, with plans to tear them down. Oyster Creek shut down in the fall and Indian Point will shut down in 2021. Indian Point’s trust fund totals $1.85 billion and Oyster Creek’s is nearly $1 billion.
  • Holtec and its partners also have a pending deal to buy Palisades Nuclear Generating Station in Michigan. If the deal goes through, Holtec will own six reactors in four states.
  • Northstar, meanwhile, purchased Vermont Yankee from Louisiana-based Entergy in January and is already moving ahead with demolition following a lengthy state and federal approval process.

It’s the largest number of shutdowns since the 1990s, when some of the industry’s earliest reactors powered down.

Lessons learned

In recent years, Entergy and Exelon, the owners of Indian Point and Oyster Creek, have faced economic challenges that forced them to reconsider their investment.

The cheap price of abundant natural gas has made it difficult to compete in the energy market.

And fears of a mishap like the partial meltdown that occurred at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island in 1979, coupled with disasters at Fukushima and Chernobyl — the focus of a recent series on HBO — have contributed to the chorus of political opposition.

Several other struggling nuclear power plants might have shut down if they hadn’t secured state bailouts to keep them operating. In upstate New York, the state agreed to divert billions of dollars in ratepayer money to subsidize three power plants — Nine Mile Point and James A. FitzPatrick in Oswego County and R.E. Ginna near Rochester.

And in April, New Jersey regulators approved $300 million a year in subsidies so Newark-based Public Service Enterprise Group can keep operating three nuclear reactors at the Salem and Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Stations in Lower Alloways Creek. The money will come out of ratepayers’ electricity bills.

Industry proponents view the latest downturn as part of the natural business cycle.

Rod McCullum, who specializes in decommissioning issues for the Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade group for power plant owners, says last year the nation’s 98 nuclear reactors had one of their best years ever.

Over each of the past three years, energy generated by nuclear power in the U.S. has been around 805 million megawatt hours, up from about 790 million megawatt hours in 2013.

McCullum noted, however, that several older plants are being phased out as more efficient, less costly reactor designs become available.

Georgia Power is building two nuclear reactors in Augusta, a rare event in the nuclear power industry over the past 20 years.

“The nuclear industry in the future will be very different,” McCullum said. “There are a lot of advanced nuclear designs on the table and over time we will be shutting down and decommissioning the older plants. You’re starting to see a wave of that now.”

New players in the decommissioning industry

Decommissioning is not new. Several plants were decommissioned in the 1990s at places like Rancho Seco in Sacramento County, California, and Maine Yankee in Wiscasset.

What’s new are two key changes.

First, companies are forming consortiums dedicated to dismantling. Holtec has partnered with SNC-Lavalin, a Canadian company that specializes in demolitions, to create a subsidiary called Comprehensive Decommissioning International. And NorthStar, which has experience knocking down large hotels and casinos, is teaming with a company whose experience is in the nuclear industry.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the lessons learned in Maine and other sites provide a road map for how to do the job more efficiently, McCullum said. In prior years, the prevailing thought was to remove the fuel from the reactor, place it in either a cooling pool or canisters and leave the plant intact while radiation decayed. Such a process could take up to 60 years.

Not so today.

“The idea now is it’s a better use of the trust fund to get the plants down as fast as possible,” McCullum says. “That’s why you’re seeing these business deals.”

These newly formed companies use a “rip and ship,” which saves time and limits worker exposure to dangerous levels of radiation.

“They used to decontaminate the floor drains and it was hard to do,” said Bruce Watson, who heads the NRC’s decommissioning branch and has overseen shutdowns at Maine Yankee and Rancho Seco. “Now you go up, you hit it with a hammer, break the concrete, yank the pipe out and put it in a low level waste bin. You don’t waste your time cleaning it. You just measure it and put it in the bin.”

Holtec has yet to do a decommissioning but is no stranger to the nuclear industry. It manufactured a wet storage system used to store spent fuel once it’s removed from the reactor.

The company began manufacturing dry storage canisters in 1994. The canisters are built from stainless and carbon steel and more than two feet of cement is added to the interior once they arrive at the power plant.

Its decommissioning plan calls for moving spent fuel out of cooling pools as soon as possible so workers can get to work tearing down contaminated buildings without unnecessary exposure to radiation. And it has applied to the NRC for permission to use a cask that will allow workers to move hotter fuel into canisters after less than three years in a cooling pool.

By taking the spent fuel out of the pool faster it gives you the added benefit of making it almost a fully industrial decommissioning process,” said Joy Russell, Holtec’s senior vice president for business development.

Holtec has plans for an underground repository in southeastern New Mexico to hold some of the 80,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel that’s been building up at the nation’s nuclear power plants over the past six decades. Federal officials say it’s enough to fill a football field 20 meters deep.

If successful, the plan could help resolve the nation’s nuclear fuel problem while making Holtec a lot of money.

“Holtec engineers have come up with a solution that puts that used fuel below the ground, away from the reach of terrorists, away from risks to humankind in any form,” Holtec’s owner, Krishna Singh said at a 2017 event in Camden.

The occasion was the grand opening of a state-of-the-art factory built on the shores of the Delaware River, where Holtec manufactures the mammoth steel canisters that will entomb spent nuclear fuel for hundreds of years.

“If it (the New Mexico repository) becomes a reality then we will need to build 10,000 canisters,” Singh said. “That will employ thousands of people for many, many, many years.”

Like Holtec, NorthStar’s partners, Waste Control Specialists, have plans to build a storage site out West. Theirs will be in Texas, not far from the site where Holtec has decided to build.

The sites would, in theory, serve as interim storage facilities until the U.S. Department of Energy secures a permanent repository for the nation’s nuclear waste. Efforts to create a final resting ground at Yucca Mountain north of Las Vegas have stalled.

Stranded nuclear waste

As a result, nuclear power plants have sued the federal government for leaving nuclear waste stranded at their facilities.

At the end of 2016, the Department of Energy said the federal government had already paid out $6.1 billion to the owners of spent nuclear fuel and owes another $25 billion. The amount of waste is growing by 2,200 metric tons a year and is expected to hit 140,000 metric tons over the next 50 years, the Government Accountability Office says.

The NRC will have to sign off on the repository proposals, a process that could take several years.

“The companies specializing in decommissioning don’t share their strategies with us, including whether they are interested in managing the near- and long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel, including at interim repositories they hope to build,” said Watson. “But we will be closely reviewing all of those plans both at plant-specific and holistic levels.”

In May, Holtec cleared a significant hurdle in its effort to build its New Mexico facility when the NRC’s Atomic Safety Licensing Board rejected a challenge from environmental groups.

But the plan has a long way to go.

For one, the federal government will have to sign off on the transportation routes chosen to get spent fuel to New Mexico from power plants across country, whether by rail, truck or barge.

And Holtec will have to raise the money for the project. Russell said the company has already spent about $8 million on its efforts to secure an NRC license but will need much more to build.

“We haven’t made that jump yet to say we will build the facility,” Russell said during a May interview at Holtec headquarters in Camden. “As far as the construction goes, Holtec looks for funding from either the Department of Energy or utilities or some other source to begin the construction. That still has to be figured out and we’re actively working on it.”

If the funding comes through, construction would begin in 2021 and the first shipment of spent fuel would arrive in 2023.

The weight of power

Reactors in the U.S. have generated approximately 80,000 metric tons of nuclear waste.

That’s about about eight times as heavy as the Eiffel Tower.

About 14,700 metric tons of used nuclear fuel sits in storage in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

That’s roughly three-fifths the weight of the Statue of Liberty. 

In the meantime, back home, Holtec has been forced to answer difficult questions about how it secured some $260 million in tax incentives from New Jersey’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) to build its technology campus in Camden.

On June 7, the Concerned Citizens of Lacey sent a letter to the NRC asking the federal agency to hold off on any decisions regarding Oyster Creek’s license transfer to Holtec until New Jersey state officials resolve questions raised by the award.

Earlier this month, ProPublica reported that New Jersey had put a hold on tax credits to Holtec.

“Holtec continues to have interactions with the EDA,” the company said in a statement. “No notice has been received by Holtec indicating that the tax credits are frozen.”

And in September Singh issued an apology after he made what some considered disparaging comments about Camden’s workforce in a published interview.

Singh immigrated to the U.S. from India in the late 1960s and received degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. In 2007, he donated $20 million to his alma mater to help fund a nanotechnology center that bears his name.

Singh’s expertise is in heat transfer, put simply the process of turning hot things cold and hot things hotter. In the lobby of Holtec’s Camden corporate offices plaques recognize some of his 60 patents.

Focused on the work ahead

Russell says the company remains focused on the work ahead.

“We’re going to show the world that we can safely decommission and safely manage spent fuel storage at these sites and instill confidence in the rest of the country that nuclear is a viable option,” Russell said.

“At a time when other companies in our industry and in the U.S. in general are rolling up their carpet and closing their shops and heading overseas, we’re not,” Russell added. “We’re investing in nuclear.”

The Camden factory is the size of eight football fields and resides on a site that was home to New York Shipbuilding Corp., which shut down in 1967 after building warships for the Navy with a workforce that at its peak numbered 30,000.

The factory will eventually be used to build Holtec’s modular nuclear reactors, smaller than the type currently used at power plants and less reliant on water sources. That has led some to speculate whether Holtec is looking to put the reactors into use at the nuclear power plants it plans to purchase.

For now, though, the reactors are being marketed overseas.

“That’s why we built this factory here because we fully intend to bring that small modular reactor to market,” Russell said. “Unfortunately, we don’t see a market in the United States but we have signed a memorandum of understanding with a Ukraine nuclear utility and so we’ll likely build our first small modular reactor in Ukraine.”

It houses machines capable of bending steel plates seven inches thick, giant spinning lathes and an X-ray machine that insures every weld is leak free. On the factory floor are canisters destined for power plants across the county and overseas to Slovenia. This report is brought to you by USA TODAY Network Northeast, a group of network news organizations based throughout New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Virginia.


June 20, 2019 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Democrat Elaine Luria joins Republican politicians in Bill to fast track advanced nuclear energy

Luria calls for national effort on advanced nuclear technology    Dave Ress  Contact Reporter Staff writer

Which is why Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Norfolk, has proposed a bill meant to fast track advanced nuclear energy. And, as seems to be emerging as a pattern, she’s enlisted Virginia colleagues from the across the aisle — Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland County, and Rep Denver Riggleman, R-Nelson County — as co-sponsors.

“As an engineer who operated nuclear reactors on aircraft carriers, I know that ensuring a thriving civilian nuclear industry is vital,” Luria said. “Nuclear energy must be part of any solution to transitioning to a clean energy future because nuclear power provides over 55% of our carbon-free energy.”

The bill would:

*set a strategy for nuclear science and engineering research and development;

* provide for at least two advanced nuclear reactor demonstration projects, to be completed by the end of 2025;

* let federal entities arrange power purchase agreements for up to 40 years, to make it more feasible for nuclear plant operators to venture into this line of business;

* start a pilot program for a long-term nuclear power purchase agreements for new nuclear technology;

* require the Department of Energy to provide a source for fast-neutron research;

* launch a program to supply reactors with High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) fuel.

* set up scholarships and funding for students pursuing studies in nuclear science.

“We need an all-the-above energy strategy, and nuclear energy is an important component of that,” Wittman said.

Riggleman said “This bill will help position the United States as a global energy leader in a responsible and bipartisan way.”

Dave Ress, 757-247-4535,

June 20, 2019 Posted by | politics, USA | Leave a comment

America’s 80,000 metric tons of nuclear waste and counting- it’s a heavy burden for taxpayers

June 20, 2019 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Cancers caused by unnecessary radiation treatment to children in 1940s and 50s. No warning was given

A generation of Canadian children was given radiation treatment and never warned of the cancer risks   Itai Bavli
PhD candidate in Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies (Public Health and Political Science), University of British Columbia  June 20, 2019
  On February 9, 2001, the Vancouver Sun published an article about Nancy Riva who lost her two brothers and was diagnosed with cancer as a result of thymus radiation treatment they received as children — in the belief that this would prevent sudden infant death.

Riva and her brothers were born in Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) in the late 1940s and underwent radiation treatment at the hospital as babies.

Radiation treatment for benign illnesses (that is not for treating cancer), like Riva’s inflamed thymus gland, was a standard medical practice worldwide during the 1940 and 1950s. The treatment was considered to be safe and effective for non-cancerous conditions such as acne and ringworm as well as deafness, birthmarks, infertility, enlargement of the thymus gland and more.

In the early 1970s, medical research confirmed the long-standing suspicion that children and young adults treated with radiation for benign diseases, during the 1940s and 1950s, showed an alarming tendency to develop thyroid cancer and other ailments as adults.

In our recent paper, published in the American Journal of Public Health, Shifra Shvarts and I have explored how health authorities in the United States responded to the discovery of the late health effects of radiation treatment.

Over two million people are estimated to have been treated with radiation in the U.S. for benign conditions. We show how an ethical decision at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago in 1973 to locate and examine former patients, who had been treated with radiation in childhood, led to a nationwide campaign launched in July 1977 by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) — to warn the medical community and public about the late effects of radiation treatment in childhood for a variety of diseases.

U.S. campaign promotes thyroid checkups

Media coverage of the Chicago hospital’s campaign had a snowball effect that prompted more medical institutions to follow suit (first in the Chicago area and later in other parts of the U.S.), resulting in the NCI’s campaign.

Hundreds of thousands of pamphlets were distributed in shopping centres across the U.S., asking people who had undergone radiation treatment to go to their family doctor for a thyroid checkup. In addition, television presenters opened their programs with warnings; notices were published in newspapers.

Meanwhile in Canada, an unknown number of patients, like Riva and her brothers, were treated with radiation. Interviewed by the Vancouver Sun in 2001, Riva wanted to raise public awareness about this issue, encouraging people who might have been treated with radiation as children to have their thyroid checked.

According to VGH’s officials, quoted in the article, locating former patients was logistically impossible. Spokeswoman Tara Wilson told Vancouver Sun reporter Pamela Fayerman:

“Under the Hospital Act, records only have to be maintained for 10 years after a patient’s last hospital admission, so it’s unlikely we would have these birth records, although people can still phone the hospital to check.”

No systematic investigation in Canada

Riva’s story raises the question of why the Canadian health authorities did not launch a campaign to warn the public, as happened in the United States. Early detection of thyroid cancer saved lives.

The U.S. campaign was known in Canada. On July 14, 1977 a Globe and Mail article titled, “U.S. increasing efforts to warn million potential cancer victims,” described the national program to alert the public of the late health effects of radiation treatment.

Moreover, in an article published in Annals of Internal Medicine in February 1978, two University of Toronto professors of medicine, Paul Walfish and Robert Volpé, discussed the long-term risk of therapeutic radiation and described the efforts made by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare to educate the American public about the late effects of the treatment.

To date, there has been no known attempt to systematically investigate how many children underwent radiation treatment in Canada for benign conditions and what has been done to alert the public and the medical community of the risks. From Riva we learn that in 2001 patients were still looking for advice.

Had the Canadian health authorities effectively warned the public of the long-term risk of radiation treatment, illnesses and deaths may have been prevented.

Perhaps some still could?

June 20, 2019 Posted by | Canada, radiation, USA | Leave a comment

Maine Yankee nuclear station stuck with decades’ worth of spent nuclear fuel

Decades later, Maine Yankee plant stuck with spent nuclear fuel as feds pick up $10M tab  


Thomas C. Zambito, Rockland/Westchester Journal News June 19, 2019  The 11-acre site on a peninsula off the coast of Wiscasset, Maine, is home to what may be the nation’s most expensive storage facility.

At a cost of $10 million a year, the owners of the shuttered Maine Yankee nuclear power plant pay armed guards to watch 60 cement and steel canisters loaded with decades’ worth of spent nuclear fuel, each weighing 150 tons.

When Maine Yankee stopped producing power in 1996, folks in Wiscasset figured it would be a few years before that spent fuel would be shipped to Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert, where the federal government was preparing an underground repository for the nation’s nuclear waste.

That never happened. Twenty-three years later, Wiscasset is still waiting.

“For 20 years we’ve heard, ‘Oh, it’s all going to Yucca Mountain, don’t worry about it,'” said Benjamin Rines Jr., a longtime Wiscasset selectman who was around when Maine Yankee was built in 1972. “Well, you know what happened to all of that, and here we are.”

Maine Yankee wrapped up its decommissioning in 2005, one of the first at a nuclear power plant in the U.S.

Early on, the company faced major hurdles. Maine Yankee was forced to take on the job of removing fuel from the reactor and dismantling buildings itself after the contractor it hired could not finish the $250 million job.

But the effort is still considered an achievement in a nuclear power industry that once saw decommissioning as a 60-year job.

Maine Yankee leads the way

Techniques used at Maine Yankee are now being applied by a new generation of decommissioning companies that have promised to match the eight years it took Maine Yankee to tear down its plant.

A hot-spot removal program used radiation detection equipment to identify for removal any pipes and valves with high levels of radiation, so workers would be spared exposure to dangerous doses of radiation.

And in 2004, explosives were used to demolish the plant’s 150-foot containment dome, the first time that was done at a nuclear power plant, according to Maine Yankee. It created 25 million pounds of rubble.

Three miles of pine forest separate Paul Berkowicz’s ranch-style home from a cluster of towering canisters on a concrete pad containing one of mankind’s most dangerous substances.

For decades, the 68-year-old retired educator has lived and worked near the Oyster Creek Generating Station, the nation’s oldest operating commercial nuclear power plant until it stopped energy production in September.

But while the plant’s decommissioning was labeled a success, efforts to redevelop portions of the 800-acre site on which it stood have fizzled. And many don’t see any prospects ahead until the spent fuel is gone.

The spent fuel installation sits behind a chain-link fence on the 180-acre Bailey Point Peninsula, where the plant’s reactor was located. The canisters there are said to be warm enough in winter to melt snow.

“The surrounding communities are stuck with a spent fuel installation, which is safe and secure, and I don’t think anybody doubts that, but it’s an impediment to any future use of this property,” said Don Hudson, the chairman of Maine Yankee’s Community Advisory Panel. “Once it’s out of there, then you can imagine a number of things happening.”

Maine Yankee donated 200 acres to the Chewonki Foundation for use as a nature preserve and walking trails as part of a 1999 settlement agreement, which allowed Maine Yankee to increase charges to ratepayers so it could move ahead with the decommissioning. And some 430 acres were eventually sold to a developer who specializes in “challenging” properties.

So far, though, there has been no development.

$472M in payouts

A 2007 referendum proposal to build an energy plant that turned coal into gas was shot down by voters.

In the interim, the owners of Maine Yankee and two other Yankee plants decommissioned in Connecticut and Massachusetts have won some $472 million after suing the federal government for failing to create an underground repository for the nation’s nuclear waste, as it had promised.

Yucca Mountain was supposed to be ready by 1998, but those efforts stalled amid political opposition from Nevada lawmakers and environmentalists.

As part of the 1999 agreement, Maine Yankee sued the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to recover the money ratepayers had, through the years, kicked in for the plant’s decommissioning.

“Had they [the DOE] met their obligation, all of the fuel would have been gone by 2004 and Maine Yankee as a single-asset company would have been out of business by 2008,” said Eric Howes, the director of public and government affairs for Maine Yankee.

Public pension funds invested with J.F. Lehman
J.F. Lehman’s $883 million fund received at least $126.5 million from variouspublic employee retirement funds that may have invested in nuclear decommissioning projects through J.F. Lehman & Co.

Economic challenges

With Maine Yankee no longer making electricity, Wiscasset was left with a gaping hole in its budget.

The town took in nearly $12 million a year in taxes from Maine Yankee, more than 90 percent of its tax base. In 2005, the year the decommissioning was finished, the total was $1 million and last year it was closer to $700,000, according to town figures.

Taxes had to be raised. Municipal jobs went unfilled. And the village started charging for sewer service.

Similar scenarios have played out in towns across the U.S. — in places like Zion, Illinois, and Vernon, Vermont — when nuclear power plants shut down, leaving communities with economic challenges.

Wiscasset was helped by long-term investing ahead of the shutdown that left some $12 million in reserve, money used years later to keep taxes down, said Rines, the selectman.

“It was always the thought of the town that we would put it away for a rainy day when we needed it, and the rainy day showed up a lot quicker than we thought,” said Rines, 66.

Wiscasset remains a busy pass-through for travelers using Route 1 on the way to Boothbay and Bar Harbor. Some will stop in at Sarah’s, where “The First Ingredient is Love,” or Red’s Eats across the street for a lobster roll.

Maine Yankee’s spent fuel is located some 5 miles away, past car dealerships, Big Al’s Fireworks and a welcome sign that announces Wiscasset as “The Prettiest Village in Maine.”

After the plant shut down, Hudson, then the director of the Chewonki Foundation, was asked to lead Maine Yankee’s community advisory panel. The company arranged for Hudson and others to visit Yucca Mountain to see the underground rail tunnels where Maine Yankee’s spent fuel would be sent to cool down.

“It’s out in the middle of a vast desert about as far away as you can be from anywhere,” Hudson said. “If we can’t put it there, I don’t know where we’re going to put it.”

These days, the panel meets just once a year. Its primary business is drafting a letter to federal lawmakers urging them to back legislation written to aid towns stuck with nuclear waste.

“We write the delegation, we reference the bills, we encourage them,” Hudson said. “We’re basically the cheerleaders for moving this stuff along, and we’re trying to give them the moral courage and public support that says, ‘We’re with you. We know this is really difficult. We encourage you to tackle it.’ ”

June 20, 2019 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

For investors cleaning up old nuclear stations looks lucrative: for tax-payers, it’s different

Investors see huge profits from old nuclear plants, but it could cost taxpayers  


Christopher Maag, North Jersey Record,  June 19, 2019  Shutting down nuclear plants is set to become a multi-billion dollar business. If that business fails, critics say, your tax dollars – and possibly your safety – could be on the line. Learn more in our USA TODAY NETWORK Northeast project, The Nuclear Option

Some of the nation’s richest investors are betting they see profit where no one else does: tearing down America’s aging nuclear reactors.

Among them is one of the most recognized names from the Reagan Administration, former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman.

Lehman’s plans are shrouded in secrecy. The hedge fund that bears his name does not disclose basic information about its finances.

But an examination of deals made by the hedge fund since 2017 to raise money and acquire firms, makes it clear the company sees a pot of gold for the taking — some $60 billion accumulating in trust funds owned by nuclear power plants — all of it bankrolled by ratepayers.

“We believe that the profitability potential remains high,” said Daryl Walcroft, a lead adviser at the accounting firm PwC, which recently released a 20-page report titled “Ready, set…shut down!” to lure new investors.

If they succeed, investors will control a brand-new industry. If they fail, as some independent experts predict, those investors — including public employee pension funds for teachers, police and firefighters — could lose hundreds of millions of dollars.

Past projects blew their budgets by up to half a billion dollars, forcing ratepayers to cover the costs. Current projects may be even riskier, as companies saddle the trust funds with new cleanup costs that federal rules never envisioned, and do not allow.

Such deals may enable big investors like Lehman to take their profit and walk away, leaving “taxpayers to bear the financial burden and responsibility for finishing the work,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a petition to federal regulators.

For years, power companies supervised reactor cleanup themselves. Nearly every project was a financial failure. In some cases the cost approached $1 billion, double the original estimate.

“I would say all of the early projects went over budget,” said Scott State, CEO of NorthStar Group, a company that deconstructs buildings.

Industry leaders like State believe they can decommission a nuclear plant faster and cheaper, and share the savings with their investors as profit.

“They’re taking on a big risk that they can do a big job,” said Tom LaGuardia, an engineer widely regarded as the world’s top expert on decommissioning costs.

The New Model


To some people, a closed nuclear plant is a dangerous place contaminated with radioactive waste.

To investors, each reactor is a pot of gold.

Federal law requires electricity companies to save money in trust funds for the eventual closure and cleanup of nuclear reactors. Fund totals ranged from $286.6 million for Beaver Valley reactor 1 in Pennsylvania to $1.5 billion for Diablo Canyon reactor 2 in California, according to 2016 tallies from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the latest available.

Nationwide, trust fund balances topped $60 billion in 2016, the NRC found. They grew to $70 billion by 2018, according to The Callan Institute, which advises fund managers. And the total may soon rise to $90 billion, according to PwC, a major accounting firm formerly known as PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

And unlike virtually every other big construction project, companies decommissioning nuclear plants get paid upfront, before work even starts.

“Having pre-funded work is very good,” said State, of NorthStar.

Powerhouses including the PwC accounting firm also see profit opportunity in teardown deals.

“(T)he growth of this market is accelerating more quickly than predicted,” according to the company’s recent report. “Already, we are seeing qualified decommissioning specialists and institutional investors clamoring through various deals to own” decommissioning companies.

Here’s what that clamor looks like. After serving as President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman founded J.F. Lehman & Co., a hedge fund that invested $1.9 billion primarily in defense and aerospace industries, according to the company’s website.

In 2016, J.F. Lehman & Co. sought to raise $700 million. It attracted more than 48 investors, including “leading public and private pension funds” who together invested $883 million, more than 25 percent above Lehman’s original plan, according to a Lehman press release.

Investments included $40 million from the Teachers’ Retirement System of Oklahoma. Another $36.5 million came from three public employee retirement funds in Connecticut. The public employee retirement fund in Montgomery County, Maryland invested $23 million, the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System invested $14.6 million, and the retirement system for municipal police in Louisiana invested $12.5 million, according to the funds’ annual reports, for a total of at least $126.6 million. Together, these funds own $75.9 billion in assets.

Three months after Lehman announced it had beaten its fundraising goal, in June 2017, it gained a foothold in the decommissioning industry by acquiring NorthStar. The following month, it announced a partnership with a company now called Orano, which specializes in nuclear teardowns. In January 2018 Lehman bought Waste Control Specialists, which owns radioactive waste disposal sites in Texas.

The deals allow Lehman’s companies to save money at every step of decommissioning, said State, who is CEO of both NorthStar and Waste Control Specialists.

“We own and control everything we need to do this work,” State said.

Important details about Lehman’s companies remain unknown, including how much cash each keeps for emergencies. Even less is known about Holtec’s decommissioning venture Comprehensive Decommissioning International, which is co-owned with SNC-Lavalin, a large Canadian engineering firm.

The company is secretive about its finances, refusing to disclose basic information about its revenue, assets or ability to handle contingencies. “Both Holtec and SNC-Lavalin supplied the capital for establishing CDI,” Joe Delmar, a Holtec spokesman, said by email.

Potential pitfalls


The financial success or failure of decommissioning a nuclear reactor hinges on one thing: the size of its trust fund.

“The most unique risk in this market has to do with the health of the trust fund,” said Walcroft, lead adviser on American infrastructure projects for PwC.

In Holtec’s application to buy Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Massachusetts, and in NorthStar’s application to buy the Vermont Yankee plant, both companies said they expect each reactor’s trust fund to pay for the entire project.

“I am telling you they will get it done with the trust fund because they’re really good,” said Rod McCullum, senior director of used fuel and decommissioning at the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s powerful trade group.

Consultants, financial experts and three federal agencies are not so confident. Plant owners must prove their trust funds meet the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s minimum formula, which the commission estimates will generate enough money to clean up a nuclear plant’s radioactive contamination.

But the commission’s own Office of Inspector General, as well as the Government Accountability Office and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, together published four reports since 2011 finding the formula — created in the early 1980s — is so old that it consistently underestimates the amount of money needed.

“The NRC estimate is still low,” said LaGuardia, who said he has completed cost estimates on 90 percent of all decommissioning projects in North America.

Moreover, Holtec and NorthStar plan to use trust funds in ways the NRC never envisioned. According to federal rules, trust money may be used only to clean up nuclear contamination. Other jobs, like managing spent reactor fuel and removing asbestos or lead, must use other money.

“It comes from their own money, their own profits,” said Richard Turtil, a senior financial analyst for the NRC.

That’s not what NorthStar and Holtec have in mind. At Pilgrim, Holtec requested an exemption allowing the trust fund to cover $541 million in spent fuel management and site restoration costs. NorthStar requested a similar exemption at Vermont Yankee for $425 million. Both companies stated the funds will have sufficient money to cover the additional work, and provide them with profits.

“This very substantial amount — over a billion dollars — in Pilgrim’s [trust fund] will be sufficient to cover the estimated cost of decommissioning and spent fuel management, as well as site restoration,” Holtec said in a filing to the NRC.

Some current and former regulators disagree. If granted, the exemption “poses a significant risk that insufficient funds will exist” to clean the site, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey told the NRC.

“Certainly, I think the funds are sufficient to cover the cost of the cleanup,” Gregory Jaczko, former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said in May at a Congressional briefing. “But I’m not sure that they’re sufficient to cover the costs of the cleanup and a very nice level of leftover benefit for the company.”

Blowing budgets?


Finally, there’s the question of cost overruns. The cost to decommission Yankee Rowe nuclear plant in Massachusetts was estimated at $370 million in 1994. By the time it was finished in 2003, costs rose by an extra $266 million, according to book co-authored by LaGuardia. At Connecticut Yankee the final bill was $931 million, more than double original estimates.

“Almost invariably in the work I’ve done, the costs were greater than expected,” said Julia Moriarty, senior vice president of The , which advises nuclear fund managers.

Work accidents and changing government rules caused many projects to run over-budget, LaGuardia said, but the biggest driver of cost increases is finding pockets of previously unknown contamination.

Companies learned from these mistakes, State and Delmar said. Teardown experts now perform more intensive site studies; avoid cutting apart reactors with tools like grit sanders that spread contamination around a site; and often control the final disposition of nuclear waste. This means they can simply “rip and pitch” waste into trucks or trains bound for disposal sites, State said, rather than spend valuable workers’ time decontaminating materials on-site.

“They’re getting smarter now, and they’re doing site characterization first,” LaGuardia said. “They know the risks. If they’re not comfortable with their cost estimating method, they’re not going to be in this business.”

Site studies remain imperfect, however.

“Site conditions are never known with absolute precision,” Warren K. Brewer, a decommissioning expert, told the Vermont Public Utilities Commission.

All construction companies build cushions into their plans to cover unexpected costs. At Vermont Yankee, NorthStar set aside 10 percent of the trust fund’s $500 million for contingency and profits, far below standard industry practice, according to Brewer and Gregory Maret, another expert hired by the state.

Even small changes in site conditions or state regulations could increase costs by up to $200 million, Brewer found, enough to overwhelm the contingency fund.

“That’s a very risky business play,” LaGuardia said of NorthStar’s plan.

Eventually NorthStar and its partners committed $200 million in additional financial assurances, said Dan Dane, a financial expert involved in the negotiations.

Holtec’s contingency at Pilgrim is even smaller. The company will set aside 17 percent of Pilgrim’s projected $1.3 billion trust fund for surprises, it told the NRC.

But as Healey found, Holtec plans to spend all but $3.6 million of the $1.3 billion in its trust fund on basic decommissioning work.

“In other words, its contingency allowance covers costs it expects to incur,” Healey wrote in her petition. “Holtec’s attempt to account for contingencies and uncertainty risk is woefully deficient.”

The buck stops where?


Leaders of decommissioning companies are confident they can avoid the failures of the past.

“Does that mean every project will go perfectly? No,” State said. “But I don’t lose any sleep thinking we aren’t going to be able to do these projects in precisely the way we say we expect we can.”

Consultants think failure is an option, however.

“I think the vast majority will do just fine,” said Moriarty, who has monitored nuclear funds for 20 years. “I think there will be cases where they run into problems.”

If even a handful of decommissioning projects goes broke, current and future public employees in at least five states stand to lose $126.6 million in investments. In its report, PwC advised investors to consider, “Do I have the financial capability to manage the nuclear decommissioning trust fund as required by the NRC — or to make up the difference if it falls short?”

If investors can’t step up, some worry it will fall to “taxpayers to bear the financial burden and responsibility for finishing the work,” Healey told the NRC.

“If they go bankrupt,” Moriarty said, “I assume the taxpayers are on the hook.”


Data reportreFrank Esposito contributed to this report.

June 20, 2019 Posted by | business and costs, USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Pentagon ‘s new ‘war-fighting’ doctrine alarms nuclear weapons experts

Nuclear weapons: experts alarmed by new Pentagon ‘war-fighting’ doctrine, Guardian, Julian Borger in Washington 20 Jun 2019

US joint chiefs of staff posted then removed paper that suggests nuclear weapons could ‘create conditions for decisive results’ The Pentagon believes using nuclear weapons could “create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability”, according to a new nuclear doctrine adopted by the US joint chiefs of staff last week.

The document, entitled Nuclear Operations, was published on 11 June, and was the first such doctrine paper for 14 years. Arms control experts say it marks a shift in US military thinking towards the idea of fighting and winning a nuclear war – which they believe is a highly dangerous mindset.

“Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability,” the joint chiefs’ document says. “Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.”

At the start of a chapter on nuclear planning and targeting, the document quotes a cold war theorist, Herman Kahn, as saying: “My guess is that nuclear weapons will be used sometime in the next hundred years, but that their use is much more likely to be small and limited than widespread and unconstrained.”

Kahn was a controversial figure. He argued that a nuclear war could be “winnable” and is reported to have provided part of the inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr Strangelove.

The Nuclear Operations document was taken down from the Pentagon online site after a week, and is now only available through a restricted access electronic library. But before it was withdrawn it was downloaded by Steven Aftergood, who directs the project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists.

A spokesman for the joint chiefs of staff said the document was removed from the publicly accessible defence department website “because it was determined that this publication, as is with other joint staff publications, should be for official use only”.

In an emailed statement the spokesman did not say why the document was on the public website for the first week after publication.

Aftergood said the new document “is very much conceived as a war-fighting doctrine – not simply a deterrence doctrine, and that’s unsettling”……..

The doctrine has been published in the wake of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from two nuclear agreements: the 2015 joint comprehensive programme of action with Iran, and the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty with Russia. The administration is also sceptical about a third: the New Start accord that limits US and Russian forces strategic nuclear weapons and delivery systems, which is due to expire in 2021.

Meanwhile, the US and Russia are engaged in multibillion-dollar nuclear weapon modernisation programmes. As part of the US programme, the Trump administration is developing a low-yield ballistic missile, which arms control advocates have said risks lowering the nuclear threshold, making conceivable that a nuclear war could be “limited”, rather than inevitably lead to a global cataclysm.

The last nuclear operations doctrine, published during the George W Bush administration in 2005, also caused alarm. It envisaged pre-emptive nuclear strikes and the use of the US nuclear arsenal against all weapons of mass destruction, not just nuclear.

The Obama administration did not publish a nuclear operations doctrine but in its 2010 nuclear posture review it sought to downgrade the role of nuclear weapons in US military planning.

It renounced the Bush-era plan to build nuclear “bunker-buster” bombs, and ruled out nuclear attack against non-nuclear-weapon states, but it did not go as far towards disarmament as arms control activists had wanted or expected.

June 20, 2019 Posted by | USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Safety of San Onofre’s nuclear wastes

Is It Safe To Store Nuclear Waste At San Onofre? The Science Behind It, kpbs,  June 19, 2019

June 20, 2019 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Investigative journalism lives- when it comes to the issue of nuclear decommissioning

Meet the nuclear plant project reporters Rockland/Westchester Journal News  June 19, 2019

A team of veteran reporters from the USA TODAY NETWORK’s Northeast Metro Group teamed up to investigate who is getting the billions of dollars set aside to clean up the nation’s closed and decommissioned nuclear plants and how that process is being handled.

A team of veteran reporters from the USA TODAY NETWORK’s Northeast Metro Group teamed up to investigate who is getting the billions of dollars set aside to clean up the nation’s closed and decommissioned nuclear plants and how that process is being handled.

With the nuclear power industry shifting into decommissioning mode, the nation’s plants are facing closure, leaving a raft of questions and concerns in its wake.

Our reporters who tackled the project:

Tom Zambito has been an investigative reporter with The Journal News/lohud and the USA TODAY NETWORK since August 2015.

In a 33-year career, Zambito has had stints at The Record, the New York Daily News, Newsday and the Star-Ledger ( His current focus is transportation and energy.

Zambito’s work has been recognized with more than three dozen writing awards, among them honors from press associations in three states as well as Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), The Associated Press, the Deadline Club, the American Bar Association, the National Press Club, the New York City Police Department Emerald Society and the Society of the Silurians.

Amanda Oglesby is an Ocean County, New Jersey, native who covers the environment for the Asbury Park Press and the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey. She has covered the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant, the Pine Barrens and other news for the Press since 2008. She is a Rutgers University graduate who studied journalism and environmental policy before starting her reporting career. In 2014, she was one of two Gannett reporters who were finalists in the Deadline Club’s “Public Service Award” for their work on the Asbury Park Press’ “Heroin at the Shore” series.

Christopher Maag is a columnist for The Record. His columns focus on the overlooked characters of New Jersey and the Northeast, bringing readers into the lives of a chopper-riding chihuahua, a convicted drug cartel strategist and the farmer whose field overlooks the Lincoln Tunnel. Formerly a regular contributor to The New York Times and TIME, he has written for daily newspapers, monthly magazines and alternative news weeklies, winning awards for writing and investigative reporting. A graduate of Columbia University School of Journalism, he lives in Queens.

Samantha Ruland is the Pennsylvania issues reporter for the York Daily Record and USA TODAY NETWORK. During her time at YDR, she’s worked to understand and report on the issues that affect the people of central Pennsylvania and beyond, while keeping a close eye on legislation in Harrisburg. She was part of a team of reporters whose work received first place in public service by the Pennsylvania Associated Press Media Editors contest for chronicling the ongoing child sexual abuse by priests in the state.

Frank Esposito is a data reporter for The Journal News/lohud and the USA TODAY NETWORK. He writes about technology and systems running awry and what happens to the people caught in their path. Frank was part of the team that won the New York State Associated Press Association First Amendment award for coverage of the governor of New York’s political donations. He studied international political economics and journalism at Penn State University.

June 20, 2019 Posted by | investigative journalism, USA | Leave a comment

60 years to decommission the notorious Three Mile Island nuclear site

Closing TMI: How to secure the infamous nuclear power site and why it might take 60 years

Sam Ruland, York Daily Record June 19, 2019    The mountainous cooling towers atop the island floating in the Susquehanna River have become part of the landscape in Middletown, Pennsylvania.

Three Mile Island, an icon of the industry and the site of America’s worst nuclear disaster, was once a popular tourist destination as travelers made their way through central Pennsylvania.

But the visitor center at TMI has been closed for years now, and the billowing steam from the iconic towers will soon fade to nothing as the plant awaits its doomed fate.

Exelon Generation plans to shut down the Three Mile Island reactor by the end of September after a $500 million proposal to rescue Pennsylvania’s nuclear power industry failed to gain support.

When it closes, TMI’s Unit 1 reactor will be as stagnant as its parallel, Unit 2, which has been sitting inactive since its partial meltdown in 1979. But even as operations cease, the towers could loom large for decades — it could take nearly 60 years and $1.2 billion to decommission the Dauphin County plant, with nuclear waste sitting in storage between the two units’ cooling towers.

Exelon Generation filed a report with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission in April, outlining a tentative schedule for the decommissioning activities and expanding on what a future without the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant would look like.

Here are some highlights from the original proposal along with updates from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

Will TMI really take 60 years to decommission?

It could. Federal regulations give plant operators up to 60 years to clean up a site after the plant closes.

According to Exelon’s Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report, the company has chosen the SAFSTOR method for decommissioning the plant. It’s one of the three federally allowed options for decommissioning a nuclear power plant in the United States and is also known as the “deferred dismantling” method.

“Radioactive decay occurs during the SAFSTOR period, thereby lowering the level of contamination and radioactivity that must be disposed of during decontamination and dismantlement,” Exelon said.

It also leaves time for the trust fund to pay for the dismantling to grow.

How can TMI’s owners accelerate the decommissioning process?

Companies such as Holtec International and Westinghouse Electric Co. are interested in buying up closing plants so they can disassemble them promptly and keep what is left in the decommissioning trust fund when the process is complete.

These specialist companies typically plan to decommission and restore the plant site more quickly than the industry-standard plan that could span more than six decades. In some cases, Holtec has said it can decommission a plant in eight years.

But Exelon said it has no plans to sell the plant, meaning it plans to handle the decommissioning itself using the SAFSTOR method.

Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said most U.S. nuclear plants now on a fast-track decommissioning schedule originally opted for the SAFSTOR method before reaching deals with specialist companies.

What happens to the fuel and other radioactive materials?

Unit 1’s nuclear fuel would immediately be removed from the reactor after shutdown. Exelon plans to build an independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI) to hold spent fuel in the middle of the current plant, between the two units’ cooling towers. The uranium fuel rods would cool in spent fuel pools until being moved to dry storage canisters that will be installed on site in 2022.

But if Exelon sticks to its SAFSTOR approach, the reactor’s cooling towers and other major components would remain standing until 2074. And by 2078, all radioactive material would be safely stored or removed from the site.

So really, $1.2 billion?

That’s what Exelon expects the cost of the total decommissioning and restoration of Unit 1 to be. And if you thought that was a lot, the damaged Unit 2, owned by FirstEnergy Corp., is expected to cost an additional $1.27 billion to fully decommission.

Where does that money come from?

The decommissioning’s $1.2 billion cost would be financed from a trust fund the power plant’s customers have paid into since the plant became operational in 1974.

Unit 1’s fund has almost $670 million in it currently. Exelon spokeswoman Liz Williamson said the trust fund should fully cover the expected cost of $1.2 billion for decommissioning.

If there were a shortfall in the fund, Exelon would be responsible for the rest.

The decommissioning of the damaged Unit 2 reactor, TMI Unit 2, would be paid from a separate trust fund, which has accumulated to about $834 million.

How many people will lose their jobs because of this?

Once the plant is shutdown, employment at TMI will plummet from the current staff of about 650 to 300 employees by the end of year as the plant becomes a storage site.

And when the on-site dry storage building is completed in 2022, employment will drop again to about 56, with most of the remaining jobs being focused on security.

At this rate, the final cleanup and restoration of the site may not be complete until 2079— a century after its infamous disaster.

June 20, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, USA | Leave a comment

Concern over longterm safety of Holtec’s plan for Oyster Creek’s nuclear wastes

Oyster Creek shutdown in NJ could leave high taxes, giant casks of dangerous radioactive waste  


Amanda Oglesby, Asbury Park Press, June 19, 2019   Three miles of pine forest separate Paul Berkowicz’s ranch-style home from a cluster of towering canisters on a concrete pad containing one of mankind’s most dangerous substances.

For decades, the 68-year-old retired educator has lived and worked near the Oyster Creek Generating Station, the nation’s oldest operating commercial nuclear power plant until it stopped energy production in September.

Since the plant’s opening a half-century ago, residents of Lacey Township relished the high-paying jobs and the low taxes the plant helped provide.

With decommissioning, nuclear jobs will dry up. Property taxes are expected to spike. And, for the foreseeable future, the town’s 30,000 residents will be left with the plant’s dangerous legacy — the stored canisters, or casks, containing radioactive waste.

It’s not what Berkowicz expected when he purchased his home here in the 1970s. He believed the plant’s radioactive waste, which can sicken and kill, would be removed from Lacey. In reality, towns across the United States, Lacey included, will likely be stuck with the waste for decades to come.

“I’m not anti-power plant or anti-nuclear power,” said Berkowicz as he sat as his dining room table. “I’m anti- having hundreds of places where you’re storing this thing that will be poisonous for 1,000 years.

“Nobody would have agreed to have a power plant anywhere, in any community, if they were going to have the next generations live with the waste,” he added.

A national problem

Across the nation, residents of communities where nuclear plants are closing face similar concerns. At least 15 nuclear power plants are scheduled to close, or are being taken apart, across the United States.

The company looking to dismantle Oyster Creek, Holtec International, is also applying to purchase and decommission Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, New York, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and the Palisades Power Plant in Covert, Michigan.

As the nuclear industry shrinks, its spent radioactive fuel — waste totaling more than 80,000 metric tons, or enough to fill a football field about 20 meters deep — will be left behind in towns like Lacey.

Just how big is nuclear power?
The United States currently has 98 commercial nuclear reactors operating at 60 plants in 30 states.
Those 98 reactors feed approximately 20% of the nation’s electricity consumption.

How the material will be stored and for how long are questions vexing plant neighbors, public officials and environmentalists in communities even hundreds of miles from the closing plants.

High stakes are attached to the answers.

More than 138,000 people live within 10 miles of Oyster Creek.  Lacey Township is a middle class, suburban community in central New Jersey, about 35 miles north of Atlantic City.

Situated in an environmentally sensitive region, the plant lies along the eastern edge of the Pinelands National Reserve, a 1.1 million-acre expanse of unique pine forest that spreads across 22 percent of New Jersey.

Oyster Creek also sits on the western shores of Barnegat Bay, a 660-square-mile body of brackish water that is one of the region’s top tourist attractions, behind its miles of sandy ocean beaches.

Underneath Oyster Creek runs another integral natural asset, the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer. This 3,000-square-mile, 17 trillion-gallon aquifer provides drinking water and agricultural irrigation for most of south New Jersey.

These sensitive environmental jewels have not deterred Holtec, based in Camden, New Jersey, from seeking to buy the power plant from owner Exelon Generation. Holtec has applied to dismantle the facility — and to do so decades sooner than first envisioned by Exelon .

Holtec’s work — and profits — would be funded by the plant’s $1 billion trust fund, a decades-old pot of money reserved for the tedious process of decommissioning.

Some environmentalists warn the company will be challenged to both quickly and efficiently demolish Oyster Creek, while at once protecting the environment and the health and safety of workers and the public.

“Decommissioning… has been pretty limited to date,” said Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Oversight Project at Beyond Nuclear, a group that advocates abandoning nuclear power in favor of other power sources. “It’s not like we have experience in this.”

From decades to years

Holtec proposes taking down Oyster Creek, and other plants it’s preparing to purchase, in a mere eight years, thanks to new technology and streamlined processes.

Exelon first proposed a 60-year decommissioning.

Gunter worries that a push for quick profits could eclipse caution and safety concerns.

“With an accelerated number of plants that are being decommissioned, we could possibly see broader risks,” he said.

Key to Holtec’s speedier plan is an expedited process for removing spent nuclear fuel from the plant and putting the material into storage casks.

The Holtec design allows hot fuel to be loaded into the casks in under 3 years of storage in cooling pools, instead of the minimum 5 years.

But are they safe?

Holtec says its casks are designed to last 300 years, although the Nuclear Regulatory Commission only licenses casks for 40 years, with the expectation companies will apply for renewals periodically.

The casks “are very safe. They do require that people continue to monitor,” said Robert S. Bean, associate director of the Center for Radiological and Nuclear Security at Purdue University.  “These facilities will not be allowed to put the stuff in casks and walk away.”

Edwin Lyman, acting director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nuclear safety watchdog, isn’t as confident the casks will hold up.

“As materials and facilities age, unexpected things crop up,” said Lyman. He added that Holtec’s claims that its casks are designed to last 300 years are “totally unproven.”

Yet, Lyman said cask storage is the safest place for spent fuel.

Are the casks safe?

Casks are a technology Holtec has worked to perfect since it began manufacturing them in 1992. They are designed not only to contain radiation, but to withstand disasters like missile strikes and explosions, said Joy Russell, senior vice president of business development for Holtec.

Not everyone is sold on the technology.

Putting nuclear fuel into casks before it has properly cooled is “dangerously premature,” said Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar of nuclear, environmental and energy policies at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank based in Washington.

“It’s called faith-based safety,” said Alvarez, who previously served as a staff expert to the U.S. Senate on the United States’ nuclear weapons program. “It’s basically taking a gamble on the basis of no technical support.”

James Conca, an environmental scientist and expert in nuclear waste disposal, said missteps involving nuclear energy garner outsize attention.

“It’s kind of frustrating,” he said. “Nuclear has the worst rep, and there’s reasons for that, but it’s actually quite safe.”

Casks are hardly new to communities built up around nuclear plants.

Across the United States, more than 90,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel is awaiting disposal, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Of that, more than 80,000 metric tons are from the nation’s fleet of commercial reactors.

In New Jersey, more than 3,117 metric tons of nuclear fuel have been left from more than 60 years of energy generation, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. New York has more than 4,314 metric tons. Pennsylvania, home of the notorious Three Mile Island nuclear plant, has more than 7,000 metric tons.

With no permanent repository established, casks are the only long-term solution for storage.

Radiation, asbestos among concerns

Forty-five miles north of Midtown Manhattan, on the north side of Indian Point nuclear plant, 45 stone-gray casks hold the leftovers of decades of nuclear power generation, on a cliff overlooking the Hudson River.

The canisters, standing 11 feet wide by 22 feet high, serve an integral function in the afterlife of a nuclear plant, entombing dangerous radioactive elements like Cesium-137, Strontium-90 and Plutonium-239, fuel bi-products created inside the reactor vessel.

Inside the cask
Casks hold dangerous radioactive elements like Cesium-137, Strontium-90 and Plutonium-239, fuel bi-products created inside reactors, which remain dangerous for generations.

Here’s what they do to people.


Cesium 137
Can burn skin, cause radiation sickness and damage tissue. In high doses, it can cause cancer.
Is absorbed like calcium within the body and can lead to bone cancer, bone marrow cancer, and cancer in the tissues near bones.
Plutonium 239 and 240
Both remain dangerously radioactive for thousands of years. If inhaled, plutonium particles can scar the lungs, damage bones, liver and spleen and cause cancer. Source: CDC and EPA reports

Nuclear safety experts say these thick concrete and steel vessels are safer than holding spent fuel within the reactor core or cooling pool, where the risk of accident or fire is a slim, but real, possibility.

Cesium-137 can burn skin, damage tissue and cause radiation sickness for generations. Strontium-90 is absorbed by human bones and can cause cancer. Plutonium-239 can scar lungs, damage bones and organs and cause cancer. It remains dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years.

The fuel gives off heat for years after it is removed from the reactor core.

The casks at Oyster Creek were nearly 20-degrees hotter than the air around them when measured in 2002, according to a monitoring report filed with the NRC.

Some radiation does escape the thick walls of the casks — about 1.5 millirems per hour of gamma radiation or less, and about 1 millirem per hour of neutron radiation, according to the report.

These are small doses. For comparison, a chest X-ray emits about 10 millirems and a full body CT scan about 1,000 millirems, according to the NRC. The average person receives a radiation dose of about 620 millirem a year, half of which is from cosmic rays and the Earth’s natural radiation.

“From a cask, the risk is not that great, compared to the things we worry about, (like) the reactor core itself,” said Bean.

But nobody sees storage casks as a lasting solution to the nation’s nuclear waste dilemma.

The federal government had originally promised to dispose of the material in a repository to be built at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The plan fell apart due to geological concerns and political pressure.

Instead, fuel has been accumulating at plants across the nation.

Berkowicz, the Lacy resident, wants to see action.

“All of these states (with nuclear waste) should get together,” he said. “What are you going to do with this virtually eternal poison?.. You’ve got to do something with it.”

Lacey Mayor Timothy McDonald wants more help from Washington in charting the long-range future of Oyster Creek, such a staple of this community that an atom is incorporated into the municipal seal.

And radioactive waste is not what most worries McDonald.

“I’m more concerned with the tearing down of the buildings,” he said. Filled with decades worth of radioactive materials, Oyster Creek is also contaminated with asbestos, according to decommissioning documents.

Without the proper precautions — special containment systems, worker gear and sawing equipment, for example — the worry is dangerous dust and debris could sicken workers or contaminate the environment.

Some say faster is preferred

Yet McDonald and municipal officials support the plant being razed sooner rather than later.

A speedier decommissioning would give town officials hope for the eventual re-purposing of the sprawling property.

“The faster we can get this thing down, and get to redoing the property down there, the better off Lacey Township is, but we have to do it safely,” he said.

If the sale of Oyster Creek to Holtec goes through, Holtec spokeswoman Caitlin Marmion said the company would take every precaution to protect workers, public health and the environment.

“Stringent environmental standards will continue throughout the decommissioning process,” she said in an email.

“All radiation is completely removed from materials prior to any open-air demolition. Managing fugitive dust and debris during deconstruction is a key part of the planning and mandatory for the protection of workers, the community and the environment,” Marmion said.

Berkowicz isn’t convinced that residents near the plant have nothing to fear. He worries less about decommissioning than what will be left behind after the plant is gone: Holtec says 63 towering casks of radioactive spent fuel will remain.

 “It’s a deadly poison,” Berkowicz said.

June 20, 2019 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Attacks Gundersen – Again!

June 20, 2019 Posted by | civil liberties, Resources -audiovicual, USA | Leave a comment

Nuclear Energy Leadership Bill introduced in USA House

Bipartisan House Members Introduce Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, Bill set for referral to the chamber’s energy, science committees, Morning Consult,   BY June 18, 2019 

House members have introduced an identical companion to the Senate’s premier nuclear legislation, opening the bill up for conversation in the chamber.

Reps. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) co-sponsored the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, along with Reps. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) and Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), who chairs the Energy Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee — to which parts of the bill will likely be referred.

The House introduction shows enthusiasm for advanced nuclear energy in both chambers and will allow for discussion to move forward on NELA simultaneously in both the House and Senate, said Ryan Fitzpatrick, deputy director of the Clean Energy Program at the think tank Third Way. “Getting that conversation moving is a good thing for a timely process towards an actual passage.”

Among other directives in the measure, the Energy Department would have to create a national strategy for nuclear energy, demonstrate advanced nuclear reactor concepts and make an initial supply of high-assay low-enriched uranium fuel available, which is required by some new reactors.

Much of the nuclear industry is hoping for the bill’s enactment as a third win for the sector, which celebrated passage of two advanced nuclear energy measures last Congress. “The three pieces of the legislation together really will help push forth the advanced reactor industry,” said Everett Redmond, senior technical advisor for new reactor and advanced technology at the Nuclear Energy Institute trade group.

The bill has powerhouse support in the Senate, where it was introduced by Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and has 17 co-sponsors to date, including committee ranking member Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

Luria said Tuesday that she had learned about the measure before it was introduced in the Senate………

June 20, 2019 Posted by | politics, USA | Leave a comment

USA’s National Nuclear Security Administration finds 3 problems with modernising nuclear arsenal

Government watchdog finds 3 issues disrupting US nuclear modernization efforts, Defense News Kelsey Reichmann 20 June 19, WASHINGTON — The U.S. agency responsible for making explosive materials used in nuclear weapons is facing challenges that could impact the country’s planned modernization of its nuclear arsenal, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

June 20, 2019 Posted by | USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

US Defense Dept published Doctrine on Nuclear Operations, then removed it

Secrecy News. DoD Doctrine on Nuclear Operations Published, Taken Offline Jun.19, 2019,   

The Joint Chiefs of Staff briefly published and then removed from public access a new edition of their official doctrine on the use of nuclear weapons. But a public copy was preserved. See Joint Publication 3-72, Nuclear Operations, June 11, 2019.

The document presents an unclassified, mostly familiar overview of nuclear strategy, force structure, planning, targeting, command and control, and operations.

“Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability,” according to one Strangelovian passage in the publication. “Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.”

The document might have gone unremarked, but after publishing it last week the Joint Chiefs deleted it from their public website. A notice there states that it (JP 3-72) is now only “available through JEL+” (the Joint Electronic Library), which is a restricted access site. A local copy remains publicly available on the FAS website.

June 20, 2019 Posted by | secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA | Leave a comment