Nuclear power plants appear to be sites of COVID-19 super-spreader events, but government regulators are ignoring the problem. So says a coalition of safe-energy advocates who have been tracking the situation. The groups obtained copies of social media reports by workers at one plant, describing unsafe working conditions, over 200 COVID infection cases, multiple hospitalizations, at least one death, fears for their safety, and a lack of concern by corporate management.

As the nation begins to experience the expected second surge in the COVID-19 pandemic, the coalition is calling for federal action to address coronavirus risks on nuclear sites, and the pandemic’s impacts on the safety and security of the nation’s 94 operating nuclear reactors.  They have addressed these concerns in a list of recommendations which they provided members of Congress and state officials, urging immediate action.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has utterly failed to do its job during this pandemic,” asserts Tim Judson, director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) in Takoma Park, MD. “The Agency has refused to undertake any measures to protect workers from the coronavirus, and has not even required the industry to report COVID infection rates. All we know is what concerned workers are reporting, and it is alarming. Congress must act now to prevent more COVID-19 outbreaks in nuclear power plants.”

The urgency for action on these recommendations was highlighted as reports of COVID-positive nuclear plant workers from reactor sites around the country came in.  At one reactor site earlier this year – Fermi unit-2 outside of Detroit, operated by Detroit Edison – over 240 workers reportedly tested positive.  Private Facebook posts from workers at the site spoke of “worse conditions I’ve ever experienced,” and questioned “just how hell can you maintain social distancing, constantly cleaning hands, and keep mask on all the time during an outage at a nuke plant.”

Several other nuclear sites have had similar reports of high COVID infection rates: over 800 workers at the Vogtle reactor construction site in Georgia; 89 workers at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station in Mississippi; and dozens of quarantined workers at the Limerick Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania. In stark and unexplained contrast, the Salem Nuclear Power Plant, operated by PSEG Nuclear in New Jersey, reportedly conducted outage work in the spring with no positives for COVID. The true extent of coronavirus spread within the industry is unknown because NRC has not required any reporting or protective measures.

Nuclear reactors require non-stop monitoring and maintenance.  In addition they need to replenish part of the nuclear fuel needed for the heat-producing chain-reaction every 18 months to two years.  When these operations occur, it is not uncommon for 800-1,200 temporary workers and contractors from all over the country to descend on a reactor site for weeks at a time to conduct the maintenance and refueling.

“The refueling and maintenance operations needed to keep nuclear reactors up to safety standards also mean that hundreds of out-of-state workers will be coming to states trying desperately to contain the COVID pandemic through quarantines, partial lock-downs, and other means of keeping people from close contact with each other.  These conditions are near impossible to achieve during such work outages,” Paul Gunter, reactor oversight project manager at Beyond Nuclear in Takoma Park, MD, points out.

While recognized as a serious concern by the NRC, the agency tasked with insuring the safety and health of the public and the environment from radiation hazards, the agency has taken a direction of allowing nuclear plant operators to skip some maintenance and training activities to reduce the possibility of increased COVID infection at the reactors.

“Using nuclear power puts us on the horns of a serious health and safety dilemma,” observes David Kraft, director of the Chicago-based Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS). “If the current COVID outbreak worsens, or becomes ‘cyclic to permanent’ as some experts warn, nuclear utilities and regulators will be forced to regularly choose between spreading the pandemic by bringing workers from out of state into areas of quarantine to keep the reactors operating, or eroding safety by skipping maintenance and training exercises to observe regional quarantines.  Neither is a desirable choice,” Kraft warns.

“Because the NRC has a long and well-documented history of ignoring public input, we are turning to Congress for quick and more assertive action,” NIRS’ Judson points out. “If during the pandemic these reactors cannot be operated safely and according to existing regulations without constantly moving regulatory goalposts, then to protect the public they must be shut down unless and until they can be,” Judson asserts.

The safe-energy groups agree that three immediate action steps must be taken:

  1. Orders from governors and state agencies with pre-emptive authority on the issues of public health should be respected and deferred to in responding to orders for quarantine, isolation and lockdown during the COVID pandemic. Federal regulatory agencies and nuclear utilities must coordinate their actions directly and transparently with state governments attempting to halt the spread of COVID in their respective states.
  2. Calls for oversight:

The appropriate House and Senate committees dealing with nuclear issues must convene hearings on “best practices” in dealing with nuclear facility operation during a COVID, or any kind of pandemic.

  1. Get all Agencies to fully perform their mandates:

The appropriate House and Senate committees dealing with nuclear issues must convene hearings to examine in detail the response of NRC and OSHA to the effects of the pandemic on operation of nuclear facilities, and the effects on local communities; and the Administration must require these agencies to fully discharge their official duties as current regulations stipulate.

 

Examples of COVID-19 Concerns at U.S. Nuclear Reactors:

 Workplace safety concerns:

Just as with the meat packing industry, reports of large numbers of workers being infected with COVID have emerged:

  • Over 240 plant workers were reported to have tested positive at the Fermi 2 reactor outside of Detroit during its recent refueling outage, at least 12% of the workforce at the site. Private Facebook posts from workers spoke of “worse conditions I’ve ever experienced.”
  • Over 800 workers at the Vogtle reactor construction site in Georgia have tested positive, amounting to more than 10% of the 7,000-person workforce.
  • At least 89 workers reportedly tested positive at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station in Mississippi, by the end of April.
  • It has been reported that first two case of COVID in Piketon Ohio, location of the Portsmouth Piketon Gaseous Diffusion Plant came from two workers at the Portsmouth plant. One of these workers was known for giving the COVID-19 to a family of seven. Piketon now has 10 deaths, and 761 reported cases.
  • NRC has modified reactor staff work regulations to allow utilities to quarantine essential plant personnel onsite if necessary, and permit them to work up to 84 hours per week over a 14 day period – a recommendation advised as potentially dangerous by the guidelines of the National Safety Council, OSHA, and the CDC.

Community Safety concerns:

The small and typically rural communities surrounding nuclear plants have unique safety concerns:

  • Because of their small size, local medical and hospital facilities are limited in their ability to deal with any major outbreaks.
  • Hundreds of workers from out of state will be passing through, dining, shopping and lodging in these communities which will have limited screening, testing and contact-tracing abilities available to them – if these workers are even identified at all engaging in these activities.
  • Even if transient workers are isolated at reactor sites, they will be passing through communities and interacting with the local population and economy.
  • Pennsylvania State Senator Katie Muth said, “Thus far, Exelon has provided an inadequate pandemic response plan, withheld information from county and state officials, and failed to prioritize the safety of its employees, contract workers, community first responders, as well as all residents of the 44th senatorial district and entire region,” Senator Muth wrote. “This is grossly irresponsible as Exelon has brought at least 1,400 workers to the epicenter of Pennsylvania’s Covid-19 pandemic.” (Source: April 1, 2020 letter to Exelon management)

Concerns with the current Regulatory Response:

The various federal agencies that would be most likely involved in dealing with COVID outbreaks relating to nuclear plants have responded in inconsistent and incomplete ways.  Worse, they often seem content to foist seemingly safety-related responsibilities to other agencies, abdicating their own roles in reactor facility safety.

  • To date there has been no assessment as to whether, in the midst of the pandemic, reactor emergency plans would suffice to limit the spread of radiation after a severe accident.
  • No statistics are being kept by NRC regarding numbers of positive COVID-19 test results at reactors; the nuclear industry maintains a national database of nuclear maintenance workers, but has not made it available to track the movements of workers from plant to plant and health data such as date of last test and results.
  • “NRC spokesperson Scott Burnell said that, the NRC’s statutory authority only extends to protecting public health and safety ‘from radiological consequences, and that sets a boundary on our authority‘ and that ’OSHA’s [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] guidelines cover worker safety in regard to Covid-19.’” (Nuclear Intelligence Weekly, April 9, 2020). To date, OSHA has not indicated that it is tracking coronavirus impacts on the nuclear industry, and has provided no numbers as to the number of COVID positives at nuclear reactor sites.
  • “As NRC and industry increase work hour limits for nuclear workers and defer reactor safety inspections, maintenance and repairs as social distancing precautions, emergency preparedness must be strengthened with compensatory measures for the increased risk to public safety,” said Paul Gunter of Beyond Nuclear. “Civilian populations in radiological evacuation planning zones (EPZ) are already sheltering-in-place from the viral threat,” he said. “Disaster medicine professionals, principally the American Thyroid Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, strongly recommend that reactor operators, federal and state civil defense authorities be required to provide everyone, particularly infants, young children and pregnant women,  within the ten-mile reactor emergency planning zone radius with the immediate predistribution by direct delivery of potassium iodide (KI) tablets for the prophylactic protection from the radioactive iodine that would be released in a simultaneous severe nuclear accident,” he said.
  • As of April 2020, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which in the US is the sole authority for determining the adequacy of offsite emergency plans and preparedness, has so far not conducted any emergency planning reviews for nuclear power plants to assess whether they would suffice in the event of a severe accident. Such reviews are required during a “pandemic outbreak” or when “other events occur or are anticipated that may impact the ability to effectively implement offsite EP plans and procedures,” according to a longstanding memorandum of understanding (MOU) between NRC and FEMA, governing offsite emergency preparedness.

 

“Best Practice” Recommendations for COVID Response at Nuclear Facilities

Transparency and Reporting

  • NRC must require that each reactor site and nuclear facility submit regular reports on COVID testing and infection rates.
  • NRC must require licensees to submit the COVID-19 protocols and procedures, share them with state and local health agencies, and publish them online.
  • NRC must post summary data for each reactor site on infection, quarantine, hospitalization, mortality, and positive test rates, in real time.
  • Local and state governments and health departments must also be notified.
  • Licensees must establish robust contact tracing for all employees and contractors. NRC must establish a central database to track employees and contractors who work at multiple reactor sites, and make the data available to contact tracers and state and local health agencies

Maintenance Response:

  • In order to avoid incremental erosion of the nuclear industry’s oft-touted boast of “defense in depth,” and also to avoid the possibility of serious nuclear accident through neglect as has historically been demonstrated, inspections, maintenance and repair at reactors should not be skipped, deferred, or given exemptions.  To paraphrase former NRC Region III inspector Ross Landsman, “This is the kind of thinking that crashes space shuttles.”
  • If the maintenance and repair cannot be safely conducted, the reactors need to shut down until such time as these activities can be conducted.

Recommendations for Onsite COVID Response:

  • Workers’ health and safety must come first in the work environment. All CDC guidelines must be observed to the maximum extent possible, including but not limited to keeping social distancing; wearing masks; necessary disinfecting of probable contaminated surfaces, public areas like restrooms, changing rooms, food rooms, vending machine areas, locker areas, stairs and elevators, radiation detectors, security checkpoints, and especially the control room.
  • Daily temperature checks for incoming workers – regular employees and sub-contractors — should be conducted, and records kept for all employees and contractors entering or remaining at the plant site.
  • Isolated testing facilities must be maintained onsite, and workers regularly tested.
  • Should a worker or contractor arrive at a reactor site and test positive, they should be:
    • Immediately quarantined, and refused further entry into the facility.
    • Be reported to local public health authorities, or county EMA and state Department of Health should none exist locally.
  • Quarantine areas should be established for essential workers identified as COVID positive (e.g., reactor operators), who will need to remain onsite for the safe operation of the reactor and spent fuel areas. Should a need for some kind of quarantine be determined, it seems that the universal standard for this is a minimum of 14 days.
  • Temporary, quarantined screening area should be established in the outer area of the reactor site, to conduct the screening activities described below, before an incoming contractor can gain access to either the temporary lodgings, or the reactor areas in which s/he will be working.
  • Onsite temporary lodging trailers and facilities should be established for dedicated and exclusive use by all incoming contractors for the time they will be performing their maintenance and refueling duties and obligations.
  • Contractors should remain onsite at the above described temporary lodging facilities for the entire duration of their work at the reactor site; they should not be permitted to leave the site for the duration of their contracted work, only at final exiting.
  • To be granted entry to a reactor site, all individual contractors arriving at a reactor site must provide the following documentation:
    • Whereabouts for the past 14 days
    • Last reactor site worked at, and jobs/activities conducted, signed by an authorized personnel from that previous site, with contact information for that site personnel signing the document.
    • Written documentation of any previous COVID test results obtained within the past 14 days prior to arrival at the new reactor site.
    • A list of all states and towns passed though and stayed in, and a list of any temporary accommodations used (hotels, motels, camp grounds) or other stops made (restaurants, highway rest stops, any shopping, etc.) for the previous 14 days.

Recommendations for Offsite Response:

  • Reactor utilities should be required to notify all communities within the 10-mile EPZ of their intention to conduct any maintenance activities requiring the use of off-site contractors and personnel, no less than 21 days in advance of the work.
  • Prior to the arrival of any contractors, reactor utilities should institute cooperative measures and response plans between local town, county and state health departments and facilities, for dealing with anticipated COVID-positive individuals.

Recommendations for NRC and other Agency Responses:

  • Provide for immediate reevaluation and reversal by the Task Force of NRC exemptions to lift work-hour limits for reactor power operations  from 72 to 86 hours per week during the pandemic, due to the increased levels of fatigue on (a) workers’ vulnerability to COVID-19 and (b) radiological health and safety.
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission should coordinate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide for immediate preparation of required Disaster Initiated Reviews (DIR) of the impact of the pandemic on emergency response  plans at all reactor sites and fuel cycle facilities.
  • NRC should establish a secure and confidential national contractor personnel data base, accessible by the appropriately identified reactor site screening personnel, that can collect and collate the health information gathered by the reactor site screening personnel (see above “Onsite” Recommendations). This will help reduce spread of COVID from workers going from site to site to do their work.
  • NRC should be ordered by Congress to maintain a data base that identifies all positive COVID test results at all U.S. reactors. Those numbers should be publicly available.
  • NRC should adopt a temporary procedure and emergency rule that considers the COVID pandemic, and any such future health epidemics/pandemics, as “fitness for duty” (FFD) related, and therefore affecting the safe operation of the reactor site; and be obligated to implement all pertinent FFD procedures in relation to the pandemic.
  • The Federal and State disaster authorities (FEMA; state disaster response agencies, etc.) should be ramping up best practices for offsite radiological emergency preparedness around every U.S. nuclear power station as a reasonable response to a pandemic.
  • Given the unpredictability of COVID outbreaks, and current guidelines for response to radiological emergencies that run counter to CDC social distancing guidelines (e.g., rendezvousing at identified evac reception centers and evacuation sheltering facilities, obtaining KI pills at central sites, etc.), potassium iodide (KI) pills should be pre-distributed by direct delivery to every household and business within the 10-mile EPZ, in the event that “shelter in place” orders are in place to deal with COVID spread.

Congressional Briefing: “Decommissioning Nuclear Power Plants: What Congress, Federal Agencies and Communities Need to Know”

WHEN:   Monday, July 16 2018   |   2 PM – 3:30 PM Eastern

Live webcast will be streamed at: www.eesi.org/livecast

WHERE: Room HC-8, U.S. Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.

WHO:

  • Mayor Al Hill, of Zion, Illinois, home of the decommissioned Zion Nuclear Power Station
  • Robert Alvarez, Senior Scholar, Institute for Policy Studies; former Department of Energy Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary for National Security and the Environment
  • Geoffrey H. Fettus, Senior Attorney for Energy & Transportation, Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Kevin Kamps, Radioactive Waste Specialist, Beyond Nuclear
  • Bob Musil (moderator), President and CEO of the Rachel Carson Council; former Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility

Contact: Dave Kraft, Director, Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS), (773)342-7650 (o); neis@neis.org

Amaury Laporte, Environmental and Energy Study Institute, (202) 662-1884 alaporte@eesi.org

WHAT:

Illinois has more reactors (14) and high-level radioactive waste (>10,000 tons) than any other state. As the Nuclear Age draws to a close and we enter the Age of Decommissioning, we find huge technical misunderstanding and regulatory inadequacies about what constitutes environmentally responsible action to dismantle these inevitably closing reactors, and deal with the radioactive waste storage, transport and disposal problems they leave as their legacy. The Illinois community of Zion has already experienced firsthand the devastating effects of decommissioning done wrong or thoughtlessly.

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to a briefing on the urgent need to safely decommission nuclear power plants, which are increasingly shutting down. The United States is facing a significant wave of nuclear plant closures for which it is unprepared. Most of the existing U.S. reactor fleet will inevitably close over the next two decades, as plants near the ends of their operational lifespans. Decommissioning is the process of dismantling the closed plant and securing or removing radioactive waste while lowering the site’s residual radioactivity to safer levels. Getting decommissioning right is critical to communities’ health and safety, while getting it wrong could pose an existential threat.

Leading scientists, policy experts, NGO advocates, and local elected officials with experience of decommissioning will speak at the briefing. It will cover the impacts of decommissioning, current decommissioning options, waste storage vs. transport, thorny unsolved problems and best practices, financing and liability, a just transition for communities and workers, how communities and states can and can’t weigh in on these issues, and how they should inform the fast-changing legislative and regulatory landscape.

 

This briefing is co-sponsored by Beyond Nuclear, Ecological Options Network, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS), Nuclear Resource and Information Service (NIRS), Riverkeeper, Safe Energy Rights Group, Unity for Clean Energy (U4CE), and others.

Contact Amaury Laporte at alaporte@eesi.org, (202) 662-1884

** NEIS was founded in 1981 to provide the public with credible information on the hazards of nuclear power, waste, and radiation; and information about the viable energy alternatives to nuclear power. For more information visit the NEIS website at: http://www.neis.org

S.1903 – The Stranded Act Of 2017

NEIS would like to commend IL Sen. Tammy Duckworth and IL Rep. Brad Schneider for introduction of S.1903 and H.R. 3970 respectively – the “Stranded Act of 2017;” and acknowledge State Sen. Melinda Bush and Zion Mayor Al Hill for their tireless efforts to obtain much deserved community compensation for the storage of 1,000+ tons of high-level radioactive waste (HLRW) in the community of Zion. Reactor communities nationwide which have become de facto high-level radioactive waste storage sites deserve some measure of economic and enhanced safety compensation for the continued risks they accept for being compelled to store this hazardous substance indefinitely, and for the negative economic consequences this storage brings to the communities.

The provisions found in Sen. Duckworth’s S.1903 are an excellent first step towards rectifying this economic injustice brought about by previous Congress’ indifference towards and politicization of the Nation’s high-level radioactive waste disposal problem. S.1903 wisely recognizes that the creation of “orphaned” HLRW through inevitable and unpredictable reactor closures is a national problem, requiring a uniform national solution.

As a commendable first step, S.1903 also realistically addresses the fact that ultimate, environmentally responsible HLRW disposal will continue to take time – if done properly, and not out of political expedience; and that these communities deserve compensation for conditions they did not create, but are forced to endure.

While an admirable first step addressing economics, NEIS hopes and urges that equally necessary subsequent actions will come from the Congress to protect our communities from continued HLRW abuse and potential radiologic accidents. While S.1903 addresses the economic harm done by de facto HLRW storage in a community, these communities equally need much better environmental protection for as long as the HLRW remains. Congress should next mandate “hardened on-site storage” (HOSS) for these dangerous materials to safeguard the public and environmental health and safety of these communities. Both the nuclear industry and the federal NRC vigorously resist this enhanced but deserved safety measure on the excuse of “cost.” In the case of Zion, for example, one wonders what the “cost” of replacing Lake Michigan – the drinking water supply for 16 million people – would be should a serious accident occur at the spent-fuel dry-cask pad that will remain in the Zion community for well beyond the 7 year period for economic compensation found in S.1903.

The temptation to want all spent-fuel to be quickly but imprudently moved out of reactor communities should not justify establishing expensive and alleged temporary “centralized interim storage” (CIS) facilities to take these wastes. Nor should that desire become the political rationalization to revisit re-opening of the now closed and demonstrably flawed Yucca Mt. site in Nevada. Both of these so-called “solutions” are driven more by political expediency than by sound public policy, environmental protection or science.

This nation truly needs a permanent deep-geological disposal facility for its high-level radioactive wastes. Contaminating new communities to establish alleged “temporary” storage sites, and opening a deficient Yucca Mt. facility do not serve the best long-term interests of the nation, only the short-term needs of the nuclear industry and its allies in public office. A new site selection process is needed to provide the best scientific solution to the spent-fuel problem. Playing musical chairs with the wastes, or sending it to a politically expedient hole in the ground somewhere “away” fails to provide this solution, and will only serve to delay opening a truly best solution for HLRW disposal.

 

 

TWO NEIS TV SHOWS FROM CAN-TV CHICAGO

CAN-TV presents two shows sponsored by NEIS from the “Where Are the People: The Human Toll of the Nuclear Age, from Fermi to Fukushima” week, taped in Chicago as part of the observance of the 75th anniversary of the first human controlled nuclear chain reaction, Dec. 2, 2017.

1.)   “The Human Toll of the Nuclear Age: Fermi to Fukushima,“ a half-hour in-studio show featuring Arnie Gundersen, chief engineer at Fairewinds Energy Education Corp of Vermont, Dr. Norma Field, professor emeritus at University of Chicago Dept. of East Asian Studies, interviewed by NEIS director Dave Kraft.

Watch Now >

This show will also appear on the CAN-TV cable network channels on the following dates and times:

Sunday, December 17th, 8:00 PM, CAN TV27

Monday, December 18th, 11:00 AM, CAN TV27

2.)   “Where Are the People? A look at the human toll of the Nuclear Age, from Fermi to Fukushima,” a 2-12 hour presentation with powerpoints by Arnie Gundersen and Norma Field, hosted by Dr. Yuki Miyamoto of DePaul University, Dept. of Religious Studies, on Dec. 2, 2017.

 

This show will also appear on the CAN-TV cable network channels on the following dates and times:

Wednesday, December 13th, 6:00 PM, CAN TV27

Thursday, December 14th, 9:00 AM, CAN TV27

 

NUCLEAR HOT SEAT WEIGHS IN:

These events were also taped by Libbe HaLevy, host of the weekly internet show, “Nuclear Hot Seat,” who later interviewed both Arnie and Norma.  Here are links to the recent Nuclear Hot Seat shows from NEIS’ week of programs:

Dec. 8, 2017:  SPECIAL: U-Chicago Atomic Propaganda Orgy Decoded by Fairewinds’ Arnie Gundersen & NEIS – Errors, Omissions & Lies, Oh My! – NH #337

Dec. 13, 2017:  Nuclear Reactors/Climate Change Lies: Gundersen Busts Nuke Industry’s PR Ploy – NH #338

More shows based on interviews from this week of events will air on Nuclear Hot Seat in the future.

NEIS extends heartfelt thanks to Arnie Gundersen, Dr. Norma Field, Dr. Yuki Miyamoto, Libbe HaLevy, and our friends at CAN-TV Chicago, Chicago’s “jewel in the crown” of public media.

Please listen and enjoy these shows. We’re working for you, and proud of it!!

 

 

CHICAGO–  Two Better Government Association (BGA) reports on nuclear safety a year in the making document the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) systematic pattern of disregard for assertive and responsible regulation, and co-optation by the industry it is charged to regulate, asserts Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS), a Chicago-based safe-energy, nuclear power watchdog organization.

“These BGA reports document and confirm contentions NEIS has made for decades to Illinois state and federal officials and elected representatives,” notes David A. Kraft, director of NEIS.  “In particular, NEIS raised these concerns with over 40 state officials and legislators we talked to during the past three years leading up to the Exelon nuclear bailout of 2016, only to be met with a thunderous round of indifference,” Kraft continued.

The two BGA reports are the second and third installments of a BGA series on nuclear power issues in Illinois.  The first appeared on November 17, 2017, and demonstrated NRC’s indifference to chronic radioactive leaks at nuclear power reactors in Illinois and nationally.  The current installments describe a chronic pattern of NRC indifference to regulation, capitulation to nuclear industry – in Illinois, read EXELON – demands, and agency intimidation of whistle-blowers.

“When the chief regulatory agency in the nation develops an allergy to regulation, the notion of ‘nuclear safety’ is reduced to a fiction existing only on paper,” asserts Kraft.  “In short, because of this abdication of regulatory responsibility, and compounded by the 2016 Exelon bailouts, Illinois is now left flying naked on nuclear safety for the next decade,” Kraft observes.

With “nuclear bailout mania” sweeping the country to prop up old, uneconomic nuclear reactors that would otherwise close, coupled with an indifferent or complicit NRC’s pre-emptive authority over the states on nuclear safety matters, the public is left totally undefended against nuclear power mishaps, accidents and catastrophes as long as these reactors continue to operate.

“NEIS is sending an open letter to the Illinois delegation to Congress, and to members of Illinois State Government – as well as candidates for Governor — demanding reform of this untenable situation,” Kraft states.  “In particular, states like Illinois with operating nuclear plants have an immediate and vested interest in forcing their delegations to Congress to enact massive reforms of the NRC at the very least; and granting states the binding authority to set safety standards higher than those of the NRC at best, “ Kraft urges.

While urging Congressional and Illinois state legislative action in its letter, NEIS also warns, “we feel that the potential for reducing Illinois to the status of “Belarus of the Midwest” via nuclear accident now calls for [immediate action].  We have politely asked for reform for three decades; the BGA reports (and last year’s Exelon nuclear giveaway) indicate that things have only gotten worse.

“Silence is tacit approval, if not complicity.  Given that all parties are now informed of the problem, and in a most public manner, backed up by credible witnesses, any future indulgence of NRC’s or any other agency’s lax enforcement of nuclear safety makes all now-informed parties complicit and personally responsible for any future harm resulting from nuclear incidents and accidents in Illinois.”

2018 is an election year.  Nuclear safety reform should be an important issue in the most nuclear-reliant state in the nation, NEIS contends.

“NEIS intends to hold such parties publicly accountable for Illinois nuclear safety moving forward by all legal means available,” the letter concludes.

Exelon operates 11 reactors in Illinois, and owns three that are permanently closed.  If it were a nation, it would be the 11th largest nuclear power in the world.  The four oldest reactors at Dresden and Quad Cities – mentioned often in the BGA reports — are the same design and older than the four reactors that melted down and exploded at Fukushima, Japan.

 

LINKS TO THE BGA REPORTS OF DEC. 20, 2017:

Story 1: Nuclear Regulator Downplays Safety Warnings

Story 2: 687 Cases, 0 Upheld. The Feds’ Record Overseeing Nuclear Whistleblowers

LINK TO THE NOVEMBER 17, 2017 BGA REPORT:

https://projects.bettergov.org/power-struggle/

 

NEIS Director Dave Kraft (l.) receives award from Beyond Nuclear’s Kevin Kamps at ANA Days in Washington.

CHICAGO– Local nuclear expert David A. Kraft, Director of Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS) headquartered in Chicago, received a national award from the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA) and Beyond Nuclear on May 23, 2017 on Capitol Hill. The ANA hosted a reception to honor leaders in the movement to stop unnecessary nuclear weapons research and production, clean up radioactive wastes and address the needs of those contaminated by nuclear facilities.

Kraft was awarded the Judith Johnsrud Unsung Hero Award “for nearly four decades of diligent dedication in the belly of the beast, and his good humored, visionary work for a nuclear-free world, demonstrating tireless determination despite daunting odds.”

Kraft co-founded Nuclear Energy Information Service in 1981, to provide the public with reliable information about nuclear power and radiation hazards, and energy alternatives to these risks. He has long served as director of Illinois’ nuclear power watchdog, in the state with more atomic reactors and commercial high-level radioactive waste, than any other.

The Unsung Hero award was named after Dr. Judith H. Johnsrud, a geographer who dedicated more than 50 years of her life to the opposition of nuclear power in all its phases and forms. Johnsrud, a founding board member of Beyond Nuclear, passed away in 2014.

Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear presented the Unsung Hero Award. “Dave’s sense of humor often shines through, as with Alms for Exelon street theater, complete with collection buckets,” said Kamps in his remarks. “NEIS worked long and hard to expose, and oppose, the largest U.S. nuclear utility, robbing its own ratepayers, gouging households and businesses for $2.35 billion on their electric bills, to keep several dangerously old, financially failing reactors operating another decade.

“Dave’s bridge building with the climate and environmental justice movements is an example to follow, as is his outreach to youth and diverse communities.”

The Unsung Hero Award highlights the vital role that Dave Kraft and NEIS continue to play in the arena of nuclear power and nuclear waste in the state, the region and the nation. NEIS is taking the lead on several keys issues facing Illinois and other states with nuclear power plants: proper decommissioning of aging power plants, fighting the bailouts of money-losing nuclear plants, just transitions for reactor communities that will be impacted by plant closures, and best practices for storage of spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive wastes that are being stored in reactor communities.

The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability is a network of three dozen groups working on issues of nuclear weapons production and radioactive waste cleanup. Scores of ANA activists traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in over 100 meetings with Trump Administration and Congressional leaders as part of the 29th annual “DC Days,” May 22 to 24, 2017.  Beyond Nuclear is a national nuclear industry watchdog group.

View the Award Presentation Video

 

It’s not nearly as much ironic as it is emphatic that on the same day Exelon Corporation announced that it might close the economically unviable Three Mile Island 1 reactor in Pennsylvania, SCANA is reported to have suggested that it might only complete one of two “next-generation” reactors it had proposed for South Carolina.  Add to that the recent Westinghouse (and by extension, Toshiba) bankruptcy and the message is clear: nuclear of the past can’t compete in the present, and apparently has no future either.  In short – the Nuclear Age is over.

But old bad habits die hard, especially when they are funded by somebody else’s pocketbooks, like, say, powerless ratepayers who have no choice.  And Exelon is not about to give up on its nuclear jones when there are plenty of ratepayers left to fleece.

Exelon is playing the same ‘nuclear hostage crisis’ game of, “Give us a bailout, or we’ll kill your local economy!” in Pennsylvania that they played in Illinois – and which they ironically opposed in Ohio when utility bailouts competed against Exelon’s corporate interests.  This nuclear extortion – dare we say ‘terrorism’? – game was successfully used in New York as well, and threatens to spread like some form of radioactive ebola to other states and their legislatures.

The threat of job and tax base loss to the reactor communities inspires local political leaders dependent on that largesse to lobby like crazy in state legislatures for nuclear bailouts – especially in election years, as we learned in Illinois.  And while these are legitimate concerns needing to be addressed, nuclear bailouts are not the answer.  There are other, more practical and economic ways to soften the blow of losing a “company town” employer and preserving a tax base that can support essential public services like schools and police/fire departments until local economies can rebound from the loss of an Exelon-sized employer.

One way is to establish “just transitions” funds for reactor (and we would suggest, coal) communities PRIOR to closures, threatened or real.  These would be escrowed funds set up that would become available only upon termination of a reactor operating license, to be used to preserve essential public services, and mitigate economic impacts through job re-training and attracting and establishing replacement business and industry.  The funding mechanisms are negotiable, and numerous; and would involve the utility, the community, and possibly the state.

The point is – the utility would no longer be in a position to put the economic gun to the puppy’s head to force the state legislatures to grant an unwise bailout.

But if bailouts are the “answer” (and if they are, what on earth was the question?), then be sure to bailout the right party.  It is the affected communities that need the bailout, not for-profit private corporations.  No state constitution requires the legislature to insure the profitability of private corporations; that’s why corporations have boards of directors.  The legislatures supposedly are to represent the interests of the people – like the ~4 million ratepayers in Illinois who are now forced to pay Exelon Corporation $230 million per year, for the next ten years, and get nothing back in return for this coerced ‘investment.’

In Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said he supported the Exelon bailout because, “closing the plants would have “devastated the two communities.” If he really and truly believed that, then he should have worked to bail out the potentially devastated communities, not the hugely profitable Exelon corporation.

In Illinois NEIS made this suggestion public in our testimony before the legislative energy committees, suggesting that Gov. Rauner provide funding for the Clinton and Quad Cities communities affected by Exelon’s closure plans, not profitable Exelon.  Instead Governor Rauner decided to increase the Exelon bailout period from the original six years to ten!

If one were to amortize the $2.35 billion Illinois electric rate hike bailout over the 1,500 direct jobs Exelon claims would be lost if it had closed the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear stations, Governor Rauner and Exelon are now forcing Illinois ratepayers to pay $1.57 million per job “saved.”  We could have bought these workers out cheaper, closed the reactors, and prevented the production of ~900 tons of high-level radioactive wastes over the next 10 years those uneconomic reactors will operate.

It is time to end the Exelon ‘nuclear hostage crisis.’  There are now plenty of blueprints available illustrating the folly of nuclear bailouts, and ways to avoid them.  Given the End of the Nuclear Age, one can only hope that Pennsylvania legislators will realize by now that it’s stupid energy policy to mortgage your energy future by bailing out the past.

Today’s Chicagoland press accounts of the arrest of two alleged ISIS supporters — Yusuf Abdulhaqq and Schimento – aka Abdul Wali – show the pair holding the ISIS flag while standing in front of the “Welcome” sign for Illinois Beach State Park in Zion.

What is perhaps most disturbing is what is NOT being reported about this incident:  that those dramatic photos were taken a ten minute walk south of the 1000+ tons of high-level radioactive wastes (HLRW) being stored at Exelon’s Zion Nuclear Power Station, currently undergoing decommissioning.  [See:  Google Maps]

These wastes are the accumulation of the entire lifetime output from the now-closed reactors.  They are currently being stored in what are called “dry-cask” canisters, and are extremely hazardous should they be released into the environment by “accident”, or terrorist intent.

Because the federal government  long ago reneged on its pledge to permanently dispose of these high-level radioactive wastes  in a deep geological disposal facility back in 1998, currently all such HLRW from every reactor in the nation is being stored onsite at those reactor sites, with no place to safely go.  This transforms communities with closed reactors into de facto high-level radioactive waste storage dumps.

Since 2002 the safe-energy and environmental community has advocated that these “orphaned” wastes be stored in much safer configurations, employing what is known as “hardened onsite storage” (HOSS).  This method would utilize the currently used “dry-cask” canisters, but in a much more robust configuration to minimize conceivable hazards.  Both the nuclear industry and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have repeatedly rejected this proposal as “too expensive.”  Our organization suggested this method be utilized at the decommissioned Zion reactor site; but again, this was rejected by Exelon and its contractor

Given that these wastes sit only a few hundred yards from the drinking water supply for 16 million people known as Lake Michigan, one can rightly ask – how much is the Lake worth, by comparison?

While it is tempting to urge for quickly moving such wastes out of Zion, the reality is that 1.) there is no place for the wastes to go; and 2.) placing 1,000 tons of high-level radioactive wastes on our crumbling roads and rails, and possibly our fresh waterways without first preparing and greatly improving that infrastructure would be more dangerous and irresponsible.  If these wastes represent a hazard sitting still at Zion, they represent an even greater hazard at 40-60 mph on our roads and rails, as the recent March 15th derailment of rail cars carrying molten sulfur in Lake Forest amply demonstrate.

NOTE: a March 9, 2017 report by The American Society of Civil Engineers gives Illinois  “D” and “D-“ rating for its roads and transit lines, respectively – and that’s higher than the national average!

Federal proposals to create “centralized interim storage” (CIS) sites around the country to take these orphaned wastes are equally problematic, since they would first require presently hazardous transportation of the wastes, and because they would create even more radioactively contaminated sites requiring clean-up at a future date when the federal government opens a final disposal facility.  At that point the wastes would have to be transported a second time to the disposal facility.  It is also not widely known that a June 2012 study from Oak Ridge National Lab indicates that Illinois would be the optimal location for the first of such CIS facilities.  The first such site would not likely be ready to accept wastes for the next 8 to 10 years; and given the demonstrated pace at which the federal government moves, might itself become a de facto permanent storage site indefinitely.

NOTE:  One estimate done for the Zion wastes alone at a CIS over a 40-year period shows it would cost between $153-$289 million.

So – what should be done now?  NEIS again recommends that,

1.) since the radioactive wastes represent a clear hazard, and

2.) there is no place to responsibly send the HLRW to, that

3.) local communities that have become de facto HLRW dumps are given maximum protection in the meantime by storing the HLRW in “hardened onsite storage” facilities onsite at the reactor sites, and

4.) that these communities receive compensation for the economic damage that being an unwilling de facto HLRW dump has done to their communities.  From there we can resurrect a responsible and science-based investigation to identify an appropriate final disposal facility.

Insures continued nuclear risks and radioactive waste generation.

CHICAGO–  Governor Bruce Rauner signed the Exelon nuclear bailout bill into law today, insuring over the next 10 years a legislatively mandated  $2.35 billion rate hike, and the production of nearly 900 tons of additional high-level radioactive wastes and the other risks that nuclear power poses for Illinois.

“What a terrific Christmas gift for the children and future of Illinois,” quips David Kraft, director of Chicago-based Nuclear Energy Information Service.

“The issues of radioactive waste and continued nuclear risk were all but absent in the discussions related to the Exelon nuclear bailout bill,” notes Kraft.  “Exelon was brilliant in distracting everyone with issues they knew would be flops, like the demand charge, so that the main goal – bailing out failed nuclear reactors — would be achieved, and serious issues like nuclear waste and reactor safety would be avoided,” Kraft observes.

Illinois has more operating reactors than any other state – eleven, with three permanently closed.

As a result it also stores the most high-level radioactive waste (HLRW) in the form of the “spent” reactor fuel – over 10,000 tons as of current inventory.  All HLRW ever created at these reactors is stored at the reactor sites, with no place to go for disposal at present.

Continued nuclear risk is also a concern.  The now bailed out Quad Cities reactors are among the oldest reactors in the country, and are the same design and older than the reactors that melted down and exploded at Fukushima in Japan in 2011.  Concerns have also been raised about the earthen dam that creates the vital cool pond for the downstate Clinton reactor, also now bailed out.

Continued reactor operation means more radioactive wastes will be created, with no place to go; more radioactive emissions  — yes, nuclear reactors are NOT emissions-free! – into the air and water, and continued vulnerability to nuclear accidents and potential disasters.  To paraphrase nuclear engineer David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “One ‘bad day at the office’ can ruin an entire economy for decades.”

“Governor Rauner has demonstrated either total ignorance or total disregard for these critical safety issues,” Kraft asserts.  “That’s no way for a chief executive to run the most nuclear-reliant state in the U.S.,” he concludes.

“If one were to amortize the $2.35 billion electric rate hike bailout over the 1,500 direct jobs Exelon claims would be lost if it had closed the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear stations, Governor Rauner and Exelon are forcing Illinois ratepayers to pay $1.57 million per job “saved.”  We could buy these workers out cheaper, close the reactors, and stop the production of 900 tons of high-level radioactive wastes over the next 10 years,” Kraft points out.

NEIS will be pressing for future action on radioactive waste management and decommissioning; and on creating a “just transitions” program to prevent future economic crises from reactor closures.

 

 

35-year old environmental, safe-energy group sends strongly worded letter to legislators advising rejection of corporate “wealth transfer”

 CHICAGO–  In a strongly worded letter to state officials warning of “no rational basis for the Exelon nuclear bailout,” a 35-year old Illinois environmental organization today urged legislators to reject the proposed bailout.

Calling it “a ‘wealth transfer’ of billions of dollars from [Illinois] ratepayers to Exelon’s shareholders,” Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS) stated that, “this nuclear bailout is not defensible from an environmental, jobs, business or any other rational standard,” referencing testimony and supportive documents it provided the Illinois House Energy Committee last week at a hearing on November 16th.

Recent developments in negotiations among representatives of the environmental community, Exelon and ComEd have resulted in a radically altered legislative proposal which has jettisoned some of the more controversial “deal breaker” elements of the proposal, including ComEd’s proposed “demand charge” basis for setting rates, radically changing solar net metering, and a bailout for financially distressed coal plants (many of which were slated for closure).  However, the core elements that started the whole process over 2 years ago remain:  the proposed Exelon bailout of money-losing nuclear reactors, and the fixing of the Illinois renewable energy portfolio standard.

“We believe that not only is Exelon not deserving of a bailout for its own business failures, but the Legislature itself has failed to do its ‘due diligence’ in the matter before taking the easy way out and letting Exelon undeservedly pick ratepayers’ pockets,” maintains NEIS director David A. Kraft.

Kraft points out that, while the legislature in 2014 approved a seven month, four-agency ‘study’ of the POTENTIAL negative effects of reactor closure on Illinois (HR1146), it failed to examine the other negative implications of approving a nuclear bailout.  “When is the legislature going to approve an equally thorough examination of the detrimental effects on the renewable energy and energy efficiency community in Illinois – which currently supports ~5 times more jobs in Illinois than ALL of the Exelon reactors combined – of a multi-billion dollar nuclear bailout, a 10-year legislatively imposed rate hike?” Kraft asks.  “Those 114,000 Illinois workers would like to have that question answered, too.”

Additionally, the NEIS correspondence notes six other alternatives to a nuclear bailout and major ratepayer rate hike that the legislature, and presumably Exelon, have ignored.  “We infer that for legislators and Exelon, it’s simply easier to bilk ratepayers than to get Exelon to do the hard but essential business work to find ways to improve its own profitability,” the NEIS letter asserts.

The letter to state officials also corrects an often repeated fallacy that reactors once closed cannot re-open.  This falsehood has often been used by Exelon representatives and state and local officials to urge quick, if imprudent, actions to bailout the nuclear plants.

“Our correspondence with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) confirms that there is no legal obstacle preventing a nuclear utility from petitioning the NRC to re-open a reactor whose operating license has been terminated,” Kraft points out.  “This information may come as a startling revelation to the local and state officials who have been told otherwise,” Kraft notes.

The text of the letter, NEIS’ testimony before the Illinois House Energy Committee and supportive documents it references will be available on the NEIS website by 4 p.m. Central time, Nov. 23, 2016.  Copies can be request in advance by e-mail.

NEIS concluded its remarks to state officials by stating, “if you really want renewable energy and energy efficiency to be a part of Illinois’ energy future, have the courage to vote on these issues separately from the issue of the Exelon bailout.  To act otherwise is simply to capitulate to economic extortion – both bad energy policy and bad business practice.”