There is a climate crisis upon us. Polar ice is melting. Sea level rise is happening. Time is running out. Emergency solutions are the only option — energy supplies that can come on fast and sustainably.

Sadly, some in the U.S. Congress would rather bury their heads in radioactive quicksand, sinking our money into nuclear energy research at national laboratories that have sought but failed to find illusory atomic answers for decades.

The House and Senate are re-introducing near identical versions of the “Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act of 2017,” which promises to throw our money down the nuclear rabbit hole rather than direct major funding to renewable energy solutions that are already addressing climate change quickly and effectively but should be supported and accelerated before it’s too late.

The Act states as its purpose “To enable civilian research and development of advanced nuclear energy technologies by private and public institutions, to expand theoretical and practical knowledge of nuclear physics, chemistry, and materials science, and for other purposes.” It passed the House last year but stalled in the Senate.

In reality, it is another futile tilt at the so-called “advanced reactor” windmill, when real windmills would actually do the job far faster, more safely and cheaply and without all the attendant risks of tinkering with radioactive materials and perpetuating a deadly waste problem into eternity.

The bill states it would authorize research, modeling and simulation of “advanced nuclear reactor concepts” that are “inherently safe.” This chimera has been chased for decades and inherent safety won’t be found in the designs the national laboratories are pushing, such as the sodium-cooled reactor, proven to be literally explosive.

So-called new generation “fast reactors” are another old idea from an old research establishment, the Argonne National Laboratory, which would be delighted to be on the receiving end of this latest transfusion. Argonne’s first attempt at a fast neutron reactor was canceled by the U.S. Congress in 1994.

A new documentary, The New Fire, (a singularly odd choice of title given the subject), celebrates the excitement of eager young scientists determined to invent the better nuclear mousetrap. But back in 1996 the National Academy of Sciences already acknowledged that the development of a reactor that could recycle its own waste would have very high costs and marginal benefits and would take hundreds of years — time we definitely do not have.

The thrill of theoretical experimentation in the laboratory may be exciting for young engineers. But they shouldn’t get our money. Nor should we hand these aspiring atomic alchemists the mandate to cure climate change. That race is already being won by renewable energy research and implementation. It is in this field where the real “innovation” lies and where Congress should be directing their mandate and funding dollars.

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JANUARY 23, 2017, UCS By Dave Lochbaum

To many, the acronym NRC stands for Nuclear Regulatory Commission. At times, NRC has been said to stand for Nobody Really Cares, Nuclear Rubberstamp Committee, and Nielsen Ratings Commission.

In regard to Larry Criscione, it may stand for Nuclear Regulatory Crusader.

(Source: NRC)

Larry is an engineer working for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Last year, Larry received the Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage from The Safeek Nader Trust. Joe Callaway established the award in 1990 to recognize individuals who, with integrity and at some personal risk, take a public stance to advance truth and justice.

In March 2011, the three operating reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan melted down after a tsunami generated by a large earthquake flooded the site and disabled primary and backup power supplies to emergency equipment. In public, the NRC denied that reactors operating in the U.S. were vulnerable to such hazards.

In private, the NRC knew otherwise.

Flooding Risk at Oconee

In June 2010—nine months before Fukushima—the NRC issued a Confirmatory Action Letter to the owner of the Oconee nuclear plant in South Carolina requiring more than a dozen measures be taken. The measures were intended to lessen the chances that the Jocassee Dam fails and to increase the chances that the three operating reactors at Oconee survive should the dam fail anyway.

An evaluation showed that if the dam—located about 21 miles upriver from Oconee—failed, the site would be inundated with about 12.5 to 16.8 feet of flood water. The site was protected by a flood wall about seven feet tall, so it mattered little whether the actual depth was 12.5, 13, 14, 15, or 16.8 feet.

The NRC estimated that if the dam failed and flooded the site, there was a 100 percent chance that all three reactors would meltdown.

But the NRC issued the Confirmatory Action Letter secretly and did not tell the public about the hazard it required Oconee’s owner to lessen. After Fukushima tragically demonstrated the hazard posed by flooding, the NRC continued to cover-up measures taken and planned to lessen the flooding vulnerability at Oconee.

Larry and the OIG

So, Larry sent a 19-page letter dated September 18, 2002, to the NRC Chairman chronicling this history and asking four things:

  1. The NRC’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) should review the documents related to flooding at Oconee and the associated federal regulations to determine …read moreRead More

The good—the very good—energy news is that the Indian Point nuclear power plants 26 miles north of New York City will be closed in the next few years under an agreement reached between New York State and the plants’ owner, Entergy.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has long been calling for the plants to be shut down because, as the New York Times related in its story on the pact, they pose “too great a risk to New York City.” Environmental and safe-energy organizations have been highly active for decades in working for the shutdown of the plants. Under the agreement, one Indian Point plant will shut down by April 2020, the second by April 2021.

They would be among the many nuclear power plants in the U.S. which their owners have in recent years decided to close or have announced will be shut down in a few years.

This comes in the face of nuclear power plant accidents—the most recent the ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan—and competitive power being less expensive including renewable and safe solar and wind energy.

Last year the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant in Nebraska closed following the shutdowns of Kewanee in Wisconsin, Vermont Yankee in Vermont, Crystal River 3 in Florida and both San Onofre 2 and 3 in California. Nuclear plant operators say they will close Palisades in Michigan next year and then Oyster Creek in New Jersey and Pilgrim in Massachusetts in 2019 and California’s Diablo Canyon 1 in 2024 and Diablo Canyon 3 in 2025.

This brings the number of nuclear plants down to a few more than 90—a far cry from President Richard Nixon’s scheme to have 1,000 nuclear plants in the U.S. by the year 2000.

But the bad—the very bad—energy news is that there are still many promoters of nuclear power in industry and government still pushing and, most importantly, the transition team of incoming President Donald Trump has been “asking for ways to keep nuclear power alive,” as Bloomberg news reported last month.

As I was reading last week the first reports on the Indian Point agreement, I received a phone call from an engineer who has been in the nuclear industry for more than 30 years—with his view of the situation.

The engineer, employed at nuclear plants and for a major nuclear plant manufacturer, wanted to relate that even with the Indian Point news—“and I’d keep my fingers crossed that there is no disaster involving those aged Indian Point plants in those next three or four years”—nuclear power remains a “ticking time bomb.” Concerned about retaliation, he asked his name not be published.

Here is some of the information he passed on—a story of experiences of an engineer in the nuclear power industry for more than three decades and his warnings and expectations.

THE SECRETIVE INPO REPORT SYSTEM

Several months after the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania in March 1979, the nuclear industry set up the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) based in Atlanta, Georgia. The idea was to …read moreRead More