Radiation Safety

 
  • Will Diablo Canyon survive the next big earthquake?

    Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant

    As aftershocks of the 6.0 Napa earthquake that occurred Sunday in California continued, the Associated Press this week revealed a secret government report pointing to major earthquake vulnerabilities at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plants which are a little more than 200 miles away and sitting amid a webwork of earthquake faults.

    It’s apparent to any visitor to the stretch of California where the two Diablo Canyon plants are sited that it is geologically hot. A major tourist feature of the area: hot spas. “Welcome to the Avila Hot Springs,” declares the website of one, noting how “historic Avila Hot Springs” was “discovered in 1907 by at the time unlucky oil drillers and established” as a “popular visitor-serving natural artesian mineral hot springs.”

    Nevertheless, Pacific Gas & Electric had no problem in 1965 picking the area along the California coast, north of Avila Beach, as a location for two nuclear plants.

    It was known that the San Andreas Fault was inland 45 miles away. Then, in 1971, with construction underway, oil company geologists discovered another earthquake fault, the Hosgri Fault, just three miles out in the Pacific from the plant site and linked to the San Andreas Fault.

    In 2008 yet another fault was discovered, the Shoreline Fault—but 650 yards from the Diablo Canyon plants.

    The Shoreline Fault, and concerns about the vulnerability of nuclear plants to earthquakes in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster, are integral to a 42-page report written by Dr. Michael Peck, for five years the lead inspector on-site for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission at Diablo Canyon.

    Peck’s report was obtained by the Associated Press, which has done excellent journalism in recent years investigating the dangers of nuclear power, and the AP issued a story Monday on the report.

    In the report Peck writes: “The new seismic information resulted in a condition outside of the bounds of the existing Diablo Canyon design basis and safety analysis. Continued reactor operation outside the bounds of the NRC approved safety analyses challenges the presumption of nuclear safety.”

    He also states: “The Shoreline [Fault] Scenario results in SSC [acronym in the nuclear field for Structures, Systems and Components] seismic stress beyond the plant SSE [Safe Shutdown Earthquake] qualification basis. Exposure to higher levels of stress results in an increase[d] likelihood of a malfunction of SSCs. The change also increases the likelihood of a malfunction of SSCs important to safety…”

    Peck notes that the “prevailing” NRC “staff view” is that “potential ground motions from the Shoreline fault are at or below those levels for which the plant was previously evaluated and demonstrated to have a ‘reasonable assurance of safety.’”

    He disagrees and says that the NRC staff “also failed to address the Los Osos and San Luis Bay faults,” faults that the Shoreline Fault are seen as potentially interacting with, and that “new seismic information” concludes that “these faults were also capable of producing ground motions”

    Also, he says: “The prevailing staff view that ‘operability’ may be demonstrated independent of existing facility design basis and safety analyses requirements establishes a new industry precedent. Power reactor licensees may apply this precedent to other nonconforming and unanalyzed conditions.”

    “What’s striking about Peck’s analysis,” says the AP story, “is that it comes from within the NRC itself, and gives a rare look at a dispute within the agency. At issue are whether the plant’s mechanical guts could survive a big jolt, and what yardsticks should be used to measure the ability of the equipment to withstand the potentially strong vibrations that could result.”

    The AP story also says, “Environmentalists have long depicted Diablo Canyon—the state’s last nuclear plant after the 2013 closure of the San Onofre reactors in Southern California—as a nuclear catastrophe in waiting. In many ways, the history of the plant, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco…and within 50 miles of 500,000 people, has been a costly fight against nature, involving questions and repairs connected to its design and structural strength.”

    Calling the Peck report “explosive,” the environmental group Friends of the Earth this week described it as having been “kept secret for a year.”

    Said Damon Moglen, senior strategy advisor at Friends of the Earth: “Inspector Peck is the canary in the coal mine, warning us of a possible catastrophe at Diablo Canyon before it’s too late. We agree with him that Diablo Canyon is vulnerable to earthquakes and must be shut down immediately.”

    Moglen said: “Given the overwhelming risk of earthquakes, federal and state authorities would never allow nuclear reactors on this site now. Are PG&E and the NRC putting the industry’s profits before the health and safety of millions of Californians?”

    “Rather than the NRC keeping this a secret,” Moglen went on, “there must be a thorough investigation with public hearings to determine whether these reactors can operate safely.”

    Peck is still with the NRC, a trainer at its Technical Training Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

    Michael Mariotte, president of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, commented Monday that in “plain English” what Peck’s report acknowledges is: “The NRC does not know whether Diablo Canyon could survive an earthquake, within the realm of the possible, at any of the faults around Diablo Canyon. And the reactors should shut down until the NRC does know one way or the other. Of course, if the reactors cannot survive a postulated earthquake, the obvious conclusion is that they must close permanently. The question is whether the NRC will ever act on Peck’s recommendation or whether the agency will continue to sit on it until after the next earthquake.”

    Mariotte also says: “The irony is that this should have been the big news a year ago; Peck wrote his recommendation—in the form of a formal Differing Professional Opionion—in July 2013. And the NRC still hasn’t taken action or even responded to it.”

    In his report Peck also states that the NRC is supposed to be committed to a “standard of safety” and “safety means avoiding undue risk or providing reasonable assurance of adequate protection for the public.”

    Meanwhile, PG&E has not only been insisting that its Diablo Canyon plants are safe, despite the earthquake threat, but has filed with the NRC to extend the 40 year licenses given for their operations another 20 years—to 2044 for Diablo Canyon 1 and to 2045 for Diablo Canyon 2.

    An analysis done in 1982 by Sandia National Laboratories for the NRC, titled “Calculations for Reactor Accident Consequences 2,” evaluated the impacts of a meltdown with “breach of containment” at every nuclear plant in the U.S.—what happened at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plants as a result of an earthquake. For the Diablo Canyon nuclear plants, it projected 10,000 “peak early fatalities” for each of the plants and $155 billion in property damages for Diablo Canyon 1 and $158 billion for Diablo Canyon 2—in 1980 dollars.

    The post Will Diablo Canyon survive the next big earthquake? appeared first on Enformable.

     
  • NRC approves radwaste rule; ends reactor licensing moratorium. Magwood phones it in.

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    The Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners today approved its controversial replacement for its “waste confidence” rule that was slapped down in 2012 by a federal court and also approved a resumption of new reactor licensing and license renewal activities.

    The new replacement rule essentially gives up on the notion of “confidence” that a permanent high-level radioactive waste repository will be built in any foreseeable time frame and instead expresses the agency’s support for the concept that “continued storage” in the absence of a permanent repository–even for millenia–is just A-OK with them.

    The votes on the two actions were both 4-0, although NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane dissented on part of the final version of the “continued storage” rule.

    Controversial NRC Commissioner William Magwood, in probably his last official NRC action, didn’t even bother to attend the meeting. Instead he phoned in to a conference line to cast his votes in favor of both actions. Maybe he was at the airport waiting for his flight to Paris where he begins his new job as chief of the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency on Monday. Or maybe he was just packing for the trip….

    In a statement on the vote, NIRS’ Executive Director Tim Judson said “For two years we had hoped that logic would prevail: but no such luck. An irrational, industry-dominated NRC has affirmed carte blanche to dirty energy corporations: ‘go ahead, produce as much highly radioactive waste as you want; tell us it is safe and we, the NRC, will believe you.’ This decision today makes it impossible for NRC to claim that it is independent. We agree with grassroots activists in nuclear power communities who have decided that this is a Con Job. NRC has done nothing to increase our confidence in its performance as a regulator of safety.”

    The full NIRS statement is available here.

    The NRC’s “continued storage” rule almost certainly will be challenged in court on numerous grounds and by numerous parties. But in the meantime, the NRC has now lifted its moratorium on reactor licensing activities. In practical terms, there are no new reactor license applications that have been particularly inhibited by the moratorium, so unless some utility decides it really wants to press ahead with a new reactor, there will be little change there. The major license renewal case underway is that of Indian Point in New York, and the NRC is expected to resume activity on that case quickly. But the battle over Indian Point is being waged on several fronts and the NRC long has been expected to approve license renewal for those reactors. So it’s not clear the NRC action will have a profound effect there either.

    NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane

    In her partial dissent, Macfarlane expressed concern about the failure of the Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) underpinning the rule to address what would happen in the event institutional controls over long-term waste storage collapsed–a not unreasonable position given the eons that radioactive waste is lethal and must be strictly overseen. She noted that the NRC staff acknowledged that even a temporary loss of institutional control “would have impacts similar to spent fuel storage accidents” and that a permanent loss of control “would be ‘a catastrophe to the environment.’”

    But the staff decided not to analyze or effectively address these possibilities in the GEIS.

    Macfarlane also said that the GEIS should be a living document–revised every ten years to take into account changing circumstances.

    And Macfarlane pointed out that when waste is stored on-site, as the GEIS essentially presumes, the costs are borne by the utilities. The Nuclear Waste Fund, which currently is blocked from receiving more funds by the Department of Energy, goes for a permanent repository and is far short of anticipated costs in any event. Macfarlane wrote that while “funding near-term storage is not a crisis,” the NRC, and the GEIS, should recognize the “genuine reality” that the federal government–i.e. taxpayers–will pay for the long-term storage of radioactive waste.

    The decision on the continued storage rule, including Commissioner comments (although one page of Macfarlane’s dissent is missing at this writing), is here.

    The Commission Order on resuming licensing activities is here.

    An NRC press release on the votes is here.

    Michael Mariotte

    August 26, 2014

    Permalink: http://safeenergy.org/2014/08/26/nrc-approves-radwaste-rule/

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    Filed under: Inside Washington, Radioactive waste Tagged: high-level radioactive waste, NRC, NRC Chair Macfarlane, NRC Commissioner William Magwood, on-site radwaste storage, reactor licensing

     
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  • Former top NRC inspector says shut Diablo Canyon

    The Diablo Canyon reactors near San Luis Obispo, California

    The Diablo Canyon reactors near San Luis Obispo, California

    The big news today is that the former top Nuclear Regulatory Commission on-site inspector at the Diablo Canyon reactors, Michael Peck, has recommended to the NRC that those reactors be shut down until their ability to withstand earthquakes is fully assessed.

    The weekend’s earthquake in the northern Bay Area of California just adds impetus to Peck’s position.

    The irony is that this should have been the big news a year ago: Peck wrote his recommendation–in the form of a formal Differing Professional Opinion–in July 2013. And the NRC still hasn’t taken action, or even responded to it.

    The problem is that there are several major earthquake faults around Diablo Canyon. And not only has our understanding of earthquakes evolved dramatically since construction of the first reactor at Diablo was authorized in 1968, but at least two major faults–the Hosgri and the Shoreline faults–hadn’t even been discovered then.

    The Hosgri fault was discovered in the mid-1970s, the Shoreline–just 650 yards from the reactors–not until 2008.

    According to the Associated Press, which broke the story today,

    The NRC says the Hosgri fault line presents the greatest earthquake risk and that Diablo Canyon’s reactors can withstand the largest projected quake on it. In his analysis, Peck wrote that after officials learned of the Hosgri fault’s potential shaking power, the NRC never changed the requirements for the structural strength of many systems and components in the plant.

    And the NRC has done only a preliminary assessment of the possible effects of the Shoreline fault.

    Diablo’s owner, Pacific Gas & Electric, claims the reactors would withstand any possible earthquake from any of the faults, but given that this is the same utility that built the second unit at Diablo in a mirror image of its blueprints, it doesn’t hold a lot of credibility.

    Peck, on the other hand, who still works for NRC but not at Diablo, does have credibility. In his opinion, which Friends of the Earth posted here, Peck writes,

    The new seismic information resulted in a condition outside of the bounds of the existing Diablo Canyon design basis and safety analysis. Continued reactor operation outside the bounds of the NRC approved safety analyses challenges the presumption of nuclear safety.

    Specifically, Peck says the existence of the Shoreline fault requires an amendment to Diablo Canyon’s operating license–along with the detailed analysis such an amendment would require:

    Incorporating the Shoreline scenario into the FSARU [Final Safety Analysis Report Update] will require an amendment to the Diablo Canyon Operating License. A license amendment is required because the change results in more than a minimal increase in the likelihood of a malfunction of a structure, system, or component (SSC) important to safety than previously evaluated in the FSARU. A license amendment is also required because this change represents a departure from the FSARU method of evaluation used to establish the seismic SSE design basis. PG&E previously submitted a license amendment request to modify the plant design bases and safety analysis to accommodate the new seismic information. However, this request was not accepted by the NRC for review. The staff‘s conclusion of a “reasonable assurance of safety” does not provide an acceptable basis for not enforcing existing NRC quality assurance, safety analysis, and license requirements. The staff’s corrective action also failed to address the Los Osos and San Luis Bay faults. The new seismic information concluded that these faults were also capable of producing ground motions in excess of the current plant SSE design basis.

    As for the Hosgri fault, Peck writes:

    Neither the HE [Hosgri Evaluation] nor the LSTP [Long Term Seismic Program] contain design bases limits, conditions, or assumptions used in the bounding SSE [Safe Shutdown Earthquake] safety analysis. Comparison of the new ground motions only against the HE and LSTP failed to demonstrate that all plant technical specification required SSCs are capable of meeting the specified safety functions established at the higher ground motions….

    While Peck writes in the usual NRC bureaucratic language, what he is saying can easily be summed up in plain English: The NRC does not know whether Diablo Canyon could survive an earthquake, within the realm of the possible, at any of the faults around Diablo Canyon. And the reactors should shut down until the NRC does know one way or the other. Of course, if the reactors cannot survive a postulated earthquake, the obvious conclusion is that they must close permanently.

    The question is whether the NRC will ever act on Peck’s recommendation, or whether the agency will continue to sit on it until after the next earthquake.

    Michael Mariotte

    August 25, 2014

    Permalink: http://safeenergy.org/2014/08/25/former-top-nrc-inspector-says-shut-diablo-canyon/

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    Filed under: nuclear safety Tagged: Diablo Canyon, earthquakes and nuclear power, Michael Peck, NRC, Pacific Gas & Electric

     
  • How table salt may help scientists understand public radiation exposures after a radiation release

    Mortons Iodized Salt

    Radiation safety workers in Fukushima, Japan have helped a doctoral student at Lund University in Sweden demonstrate that ordinary table salt can be used to measure radiation exposures.

    The radiation safety workers carried small packets of salt in light-tight containers while they worked as well as traditional dosimeters.

    By taking advantage of optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), scientists can use the light produced by a special blue LED to determine the radiation dose.

    When analyzed, the measurements taken from the salt dosimeters corresponded with measurements gathered from the traditional dosimeters.

    The findings may help health physics experts validate models and help estimate public exposures after significant radiation releases.

    Despite the fact that scientists have thought of using salt as a dosimeter or radiation detector since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986; today, generally only personnel in rescue teams responding to a radiation release or nuclear emergency carry dosimeters.

    While this is useful in monitoring the dose received by emergency personnel, it does little good in helping estimate the dose received by the public, or determining the amount of shielding that may have been provided by different structures.

    The research conducted by Maria Christiansson at Lund University showed that a linear dose response could be found in the interval 1-100 mGy and that the salt dosimeter would provide detection limits down to about 0.2 mGy.

    Christiansson showed that salt in packages which kept light out could be relied upon to store the OSL signal for several months.

    Source: Lund University

    The post How table salt may help scientists understand public radiation exposures after a radiation release appeared first on Enformable.

     
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