Entries in Nuclear Energy (3)


New York Attorney General Demands Earthquake Study On Nuclear Plant

Mario Tama/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman demanded Friday that federal nuclear regulators investigate the earthquake readiness of a nuclear power plant just north of New York City before they renew its license to operate. The Indian Point Energy Center, 24 miles from the city in Buchanan, N.Y., has been leaking water from a safety lining since 1993.

"It is beyond troubling that at the same time the federal government acknowledges increased seismic safety risk at some nuclear power plants in this country, it refuses to fully and openly assess these specific risks to Indian Point as part of its relicensing process," said Schneiderman at a press conference Friday, a week after a massive earthquake damaged nuclear reactors in Japan. "While the possibility of an intense earthquake is low, the potential for harm is so catastrophic that it has to be taken into account. . . . We are adamant that the relicensing of Indian Point not go forward until seismic risks are evaluated."

In 2007 Entergy, the Louisiana-based company that runs Indian Point, applied for a 20-year license extension for its operating reactors. The decision from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is expected in 2013. In a letter to the NRC, Schneiderman declared that the agency must amend its regulations to include seismicity in the scope of its licensing review.

Entergy says the site can withstand a 6.0 quake. Two fault lines intersect just north of Indian Point, but the biggest earthquake in New York in the past 70 years measured 5.8 and occurred near the Canadian border.

Both Schneiderman and his predecessor as attorney general, current New York governor Andrew Cuomo, have been harsh critics of the plant because of the potential danger it poses to those living nearby. More than 20 million people live within 50 miles of its two operating reactors. Cuomo ordered a state safety review of the plant Thursday.

In a move that may complicate the relicensing, the state has denied a request for water-quality certification of the plant, saying that the cooling plants "do not and will not comply with existing New York State water quality standards."

Schneiderman said he is also concerned about the spent fuel rods that are currently in a decommissioned reactor on site. "We know from Japan that there is long-term risk from nuclear waste stored at Indian Point," said Schneiderman.

An NRC spokesperson declined to comment to ABC News about Schneiderman's statements, but said that the agency would respond to the Attorney General's letter after reviewing it.

Fed Official: 'Insane' To Have Reactors So Close To NYC

Indian Point, where the first reactor was licensed in 1962, has been controversial for decades. In 1979, Roberty Ryan, director of the NRC's Office of State Programs, told a presidential commission, "I think it is insane to have a three-unit reactor on the Hudson River in Westchester County, 40 miles from Times Square, 20 miles from the Bronx."

"I'm sorry," said Ryan. "I just don't think that that's the right place to put a nuclear facility."

More than 30 years later, Indian Point has become the focal point of government and scientific community pressure to repair or shut many of the nation's aging and leaking plants. Indian Point is one of dozens of U.S. plants with licenses scheduled to expire by 2015.

On Thursday, the Union of Concerned Scientists called new attention to the leak at Indian Point , which is in a lining in the refueling cavity that is meant to stop leakage of radioactive materials in the event of an earthquake.

"NRC inspectors at Indian Point recently found that the liner has been leaking 2 to 20 gallons per minute since at least 1993 and that the plant owner has not yet delivered on repeated promises to fix the leak," said the activist group in a report. "That means the device installed to prevent leakage after an earthquake is leaking before an earthquake even occurs."

"By allowing this reactor to continue operating with equipment that cannot perform its only safety function, the NRC is putting people living around Indian Point at elevated and undue risk," the report says.

A spokesperson for Entergy said the container that is leaking is only filled during refueling, which occurs every two years, and leakage from the structure is captured and pumped out.

"This is something we have been aware of and the NRC is aware of, and there are no safety issues with it," the spokesman said. "There is no leak of fuel."

Indian Point Safety Issues

But Indian Point's safety issues have not been confined to a single leak. In 2005, Entergy reported leakage in the spent fuel pool of reactor two, resulting in the emission of strontium and tritium. There was leakage from the spent fuel pool in reactor one in 2008.

In 2009, 100,000 gallons of water contaminated with trace amounts of tritium leaked out through a broken pipe. Indian Point is one of about two-dozen plants in the U.S. that have reported tritium leaks. The NRC noted that the amount of tritium was well below the level allowed to be released.

In 2010, the state denied Entergy's request for water-quality certification at the plant, saying that Indian Point's two operating units violate state law and the federal Clean Water Act because they kill close to 1 billion marine organisms annually, including an endangered sturgeon, while consuming 2.5 billion gallons of water per day.

Even skeptical scientists acknowledge, however, that so far, the environmental concerns at Indian Point and other aging reactors around the country fall short of the potential for catastrophe.

"The chances of a disaster at a nuclear plant are low," the Union of Concerned Scientists noted. "When the NRC finds safety problems and ensures that owners address them -- as happened last year at Oconee (Georgia), Browns Ferry (Alabama), and Kewaunee (Wisconsin) -- it keeps the risk posed by nuclear power to workers and the public as low as practical. But when the NRC tolerates unresolved safety problems -- as it did last year at Peach Bottom (Pennsylvania), Indian Point, and Vermont Yankee -- this lax oversight allows that risk to rise. The more owners sweep safety problems under the rug and the longer safety problems remain uncorrected, the higher the risk climbs."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Environmental Groups Question Obama's Support for Nuclear Industry

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Just as President Obama was publicly addressing the fallout from the cascading nuclear power plant disaster in Japan Thursday, the CEO of one of the largest nuclear power suppliers in the U.S. was lined up to speak at a closed-door gathering of top fundraisers for President Obama's reelection.

James E. Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy, the nation's third largest nuclear energy supplier, was asked to lay out his fundraising plans for the 2012 Democratic National Convention, an effort he is undertaking as the host committee co-chair. The evening before, he was among those invited to join a discussion of the president's re-election fundraising plans at a private dinner in downtown Washington, D.C.

"It's troubling," said Dan Hirsch, a nuclear safety advocate in Southern California. Obama "is cozying up to large financial interests that might become donors and who wish our policy to be blind to the implications of this catastrophe."

Since his earliest days in the U.S. Senate, President Obama has had a close relationship with the nation's nuclear energy suppliers, and he brought his support for nuclear power with him to the White House. In his 2010 State of the Union address, he laid out his ambitions without ambiguity, calling for "building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country."

Obama has not only championed nuclear power, he has set aside millions of dollars for loan guarantees aimed at helping spur that new construction. His 2012 budget proposal calls for an additional $36 billion to triple the amount of money used to guarantee loans for nuclear plants.

So far one proposed plant in Georgia has been given a loan guarantee, completing a process that requires independent regulators to sign off on the design.

The White House points out that nuclear energy is just one piece of its portfolio as the president attempts to address global warming and curtail greenhouse gas emissions -- but that it accounts for 70 percent of the carbon-free energy currently being produced. And administration officials have long rejected suggestions that Obama is influenced by donors, noting that the president has had so many donors, supporters can be found on either side of just about any contentious issue.

"The administration's energy priorities are based solely on how best to build a 21st century, clean energy economy," said Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman. "That policy is not about picking one energy source over another, in fact it is about setting a bold but achievable clean energy goal, and providing industry the flexibility on how best to increase their clean energy share."

That includes, he said, the "responsible development of a broad range of energy sources -- including renewables like wind, solar, and homegrown biofuels, as well as natural gas, clean coal, and nuclear power."

Still, Obama's contact with top executives in the nuclear industry, in particular, has attracted criticism from some quarters of the environmental community -- even from those who otherwise support him. The bulk of that attention has been focused on the nation's top nuclear supplier, the Exelon Corporation.

Exelon is a Chicago-based energy giant that has invested heavily in Obama's campaign, with two executives serving as top fundraisers in 2008, and more than $200,000 in contributions coming from the company's employees. Since the inauguration, Exelon Chairman John W. Rowe's name has appeared at least twice on White House visitor logs for appointments with then chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel, and USA Today reported that he was tapped by the Obama White House to help lobby Congress on climate change legislation.

Another major utility, Duke Energy, also has been building a record of support for Obama. In addition to overseeing the Democratic convention host committee, Rogers is also personally a donor, and his company recently agreed to guarantee a $10 million line of credit to help get convention planning underway -- an arrangement first reported by the Charlotte Observer last week.

Both Democratic National Committee officials and Will Miller, who is acting executive director of the committee overseeing the convention, said Duke Energy's offer to back the line of credit was intended to help Charlotte win in its bid to host the convention, and had nothing to do with the president.

"They thought it was good business to help secure the convention, which is good for the region," said Will Miller, acting executive director of the committee overseeing the convention. "Duke was interested in helping the bid and said they'd be glad to put up credit security to help enhance the bid."

Duke Energy spokesman Tom Williams said Rogers's efforts are less about supporting Obama's reelection than they are about economic development for Charlotte, N.C., where the convention will be held. "He has supported both Republicans and Democrats," Williams said. "Duke supported the effort to attract the Republican convention in 2000. This is all about promoting Charlotte."

That said, Williams acknowledged the company does have a policy agenda in Washington, and has not been shy about pursuing it. Among the company's goals are climate legislation -- backed by the president -- that includes efforts to promote nuclear energy. They also support Obama's efforts to promote federal backing for nuclear plant construction. The company is considering building two reactors in South Carolina.

Some environmentalists tell ABC News the overlap of Obama's agenda and the industry's has at times made them uneasy. Now, scenes of smoldering nuclear reactors in Japan have heightened their concerns that the nuclear industry may have too much sway with this administration.

"Unfortunately, I think they have committed themselves to this position," said Dave Hamilton, the director of the Sierra Club's global warming and energy program. "Even today, they seem resolute."

The president addressed the Japanese disaster and the fears it has stoked in the U.S. during remarks to the press on Thursday. From a podium in the Rose Garden, the president announced he has ordered a comprehensive review of the safety of domestic nuclear plants.

Obama reiterated his belief that nuclear power remains "an important part of our own energy future." He repeated a message that has been offered by the nuclear industry in recent days, saying that U.S. "nuclear power plants have undergone exhaustive study and have been declared safe for any number of extreme contingencies."

"When we see a crisis like the one in Japan, we have a responsibility to learn from this event, and to draw from those lessons to ensure the safety and security of our people," he said.

Williams, the Duke Energy spokesman, said the company agrees. "We need to continue to develop and advance it and learn from what happened in Japan," he told ABC News, adding, "You're not going to be able to address climate change without nuclear energy."

The president's remarks brought a different reaction from the group Friends of the Earth. "President Obama has talked a lot in the past about humility, but his continued support for dangerous new reactors looks more like hubris," said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth U.S. "It's irresponsible and puts the public at risk."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Does Japan Crisis Put US Nuclear Energy Push at Risk?

Tom Brakefield/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Fears of a possible nuclear reactor meltdown and radiation leak in Japan could endanger enthusiasm on Capitol Hill for the U.S. nuclear power industry, even as President Obama and Republicans have both expressed support to boost the controversial energy source.

Obama announced about a year ago more than $8 billion in federal loan guarantees to build the first U.S. nuclear power plant in 30 years, and called investments in nuclear energy "a necessary step."

His 2012 budget provides $36 billion in loan guarantee authority for nuclear power plants and $853 million to support nuclear energy, including research and development of a variety of nuclear technologies, such as small modular reactors.

Republicans have also been on the forefront pushing nuclear energy. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, late last year vowed to double the United States' nuclear power infrastructure by building 100 new plants in the next 20 years.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., has introduced a bill that would triple current megawatt capacity, by 2040, and pave the way for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to issue operating permits for 200 new nuclear reactors.

But some observers say the situation in Japan, where a series of nuclear reactors are deteriorating in the wake of last week's earthquake and tsunami, could prompt U.S. decision-makers to rethink nuclear energy policy.

The situation in Japan is also likely to worsen public perception about nuclear power plants. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted in January 2010, slightly more than half supported building nuclear plants in general, but far fewer, 35 percent, said they'd support construction of a nuclear plant within 50 miles of their own home.

Greg Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the agency will consider down the road what changes, if any, to consider in the wake of the events in Japan but expressed confidence in the U.S. nuclear infrastructure.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio