Entries in Nuclear Power Plant (7)


Flood Waters Breach Berm at Nebraska Nuclear Power Plant

ABC News(MINOT, N.D.) -- A berm at a nuclear power plant in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska collapsed early Sunday morning, allowing Missouri River flood waters to reach containment buildings and transformers and forcing the shutdown of electrical power.

As of Sunday night, backup generators were cooling the nuclear material at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station.  The plant has not operated since April, and officials say there is no danger to the public.

Nevertheless, federal inspectors are on the scene, and the federal government is so concerned that the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is headed to the plant.

Meanwhile, there was no protecting thousands of homes in Minot, North Dakota, where massive flooding of the Souris River hit its peak Sunday, flooding more than 4,000 homes.

There is some good news: The river in Minot peaked two feet lower than expected.  However, it is nearly 13 feet above flood stage and it is expected to stay near that level for days.

"It could be two to four to six weeks, or more, before the water actually goes back into it's banks ... [and] before [residents] get to come and see their houses," Brig. Gen. Bill Seekins of the North Dakota National Guard told ABC News during a tour through the flooded areas.

Seekins described the scene as "almost apocalyptic."

Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman said the devastation may be even greater than expected.

"I think we're going to reach probably 4,500 [homes] before this is all done, where we've got a lot of water on these homes," Zimbelman said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Tornado Hits Virginia Nuclear Plant

Ablestock/Thinkstock(SURRY, Va.) -- Electricity was lost at a Virginia nuclear power plant that was brushed by an apparent tornado, but officials say the situation is safe.

The twister hit the Surry Nuclear Plant's switchyard connecting it to off-site power, but the plant’s two reactors were untouched.

“No one really knows what would happen if a very powerful tornado hit a nuclear power plant directly,” said nuclear policy expert and ABC News consultant Joe Cirincione, and that’s because it has never happened before.

Dominion Virginia Power says underground backup generators kicked in, ensuring a constant flow of coolant, and a safe shutdown.

“Unlike the reactors at Fukushima, many of the backup power systems at U.S. reactors are shielded in one way or another,” Cirincione said, but he warns that even the strongest plant couldn't withstand a direct hit.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Records Show 56 Violations at U.S. Power Plants in Past Four Years

Mario Tama/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Among the litany of violations at U.S. nuclear power plants are missing or mishandled nuclear material, inadequate emergency plans, faulty backup power generators, corroded cooling pipes and even marijuana use inside a nuclear plant, according to an ABC News review of four years of Nuclear Regulatory Commission safety records.

And perhaps most troubling of all, critics say, the commission has failed to correct the violations in a timely fashion.

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has very good safety regulations but they have very bad enforcement of those regulations," said David Lochbaum, a nuclear scientist with the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists.

There are 104 U.S. nuclear power plants.

Lochbaum and the Union of Concerned Scientists found 14 "near misses" at nuclear plants in 2010. And there were 56 serious violations at nuclear power plants from 2007 to 2011, according to the ABC News review of NRC records.

At the Dresden Nuclear Power Plant in Illinois, for instance, which is located within 50 miles of the seven million people who live in and around Chicago, nuclear material went missing in 2007. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission fined the operator -- Exelon Corp. -- after discovering the facility had failed to "keep complete records showing the inventory [and] disposal of all special nuclear material in its possession."

As a result, two fuel pellets and equipment with nuclear material could not be accounted for.

Two years later, federal regulators cited Dresden for allowing unlicensed operators to work with radioactive control rods. The workers allowed three control rods to be moved out of the core. When alarms went off, workers initially ignored them.

"This event is disturbing," Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists said. "In August 1997, the NRC issued information...about a reactivity mismanagement problem at Exelon's Zion nuclear plant," which was retired the following year.

"It was an epoch event in the industry in that other plants owners noted it and took steps to address [the issue]. Yet, a decade later, Exelon's Dresden plant experiences an eerily similar repetition of the control-room operator problems."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Trace Amounts of Japan's Radioactive Fallout Found in US Rainwater

Michael Blann/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The damage at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan has had a residual effect felt all the way in the U.S., with rainwater here showing trace amounts of radiation.

It seems that the very lightly contaminated rain is turning up coast-to-coast, with radiation showing up in Nevada and other Western states and as far East as North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

One of the radioactive by-products found in U.S. rain is in iodine-131, which briefly caused Japan to institute a ban on tap water in Tokyo and other prefectures.  However, there are no such worries here, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

In fact, the risk to the public is so low that the EPA says that Americans are exposed to far more radiation when they take an international airline flight.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


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


Indian Point Near New York City on List of High-Risk Nuclear Plants

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The crisis in Japan has reignited intense debate among lawmakers about the safety of U.S. nuclear power plants, and nowhere more so than at Indian Point, where two aging reactors located just 24 miles north of New York City.

"We are using up our reservoir of good luck," said Richard Brodsky, a former New York State legislator who last week lost a lawsuit over the level of insulation required around electrical cables at Indian Point.  "The chances of an accident at Indian Point are small but the consequences are so dramatic."

An analysis by the Daily Beast Thursday ranked reactors at the Buchanan, New York plant as the most dangerous among 65 U.S. nuclear facilities, based on risk of natural disaster, safety performance and the surrounding population.

Also ranking high on the list were San Onofre in San Clemente, California; Limerick in Limerick, Pennsylvania; Dresden in Morris, Illinois; and Diablo Canyon in Avila, California.

Diane Screnci, a spokeswoman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, rejected the list, saying the NRC doesn't do risk rankings. "Currently, the operating nuclear power plants in the U.S. remain safe, with no need for immediate action," she said by e-mail.

Screnci said that even though "overall seismic risk estimates remain small," the NRC has identified 27 reactors "where we need to complete additional analysis. That's being done. The Indian Point Units are two of those."

Some politicians aren't satisfied with the promise of additional analysis. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wednesday called for Indian Point to be closed, pointing out that Reactor 3 at Indian Point sits on the Ramapo Fault.

Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat whose district includes parts of New York City and Westchester County, pointed out that the planes that attacked the World Trade Center flew over Indian Point and said its license should not be renewed.

But another local congresswoman, Rep. Nan Hayworth, a Republican, says the plant should stay online. "It is a crucial source of carbon-clean power," she said.

And having toured the plant and spoken to people in the community, she added, "I have not heard anything that makes me think Indian Point's continuing operation poses a threat."

"The plant is built to withstand an earthquake far worse than this area has ever experienced," said Jerry Nappi, a spokesman for Indian Point.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japan's Nuclear Crisis: US Safe From Radiation, Say Engineers

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As radiation levels continue to rise in Japan while engineers keep struggling with the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, many people in the U.S. are wondering if the danger could spread to American shores.

To those who might worry, nuclear engineers and meteorologists said the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii, is safe.

"These releases from the plant, because they're not elevated, because they're not getting up high in the atmosphere, they won't travel very far," said Kathryn Higley, director of the department of nuclear engineering at Oregon State University.  "There are so many factors in our favor.  Rain will knock it down.  There are 5,000 miles of ocean between us and Japan.  It will be diluted, it will mix with sea spray, long before it gets remotely close to us."

The high-aititude winds over Japan are primarily out of the west, which is good news for Japan in a worst-case scenario if there were a large release of radiation into the air.

And in a worst-case scenario, where radioactive particles would be carried long-distance by upper-level winds, Edward Morse, a nuclear engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, told ABC News in an email that "we will get some fallout on the West Coast two to three days after its release in Japan."  He added that "the levels will not be threatening to life and health but they will be observable."

"If any radiation were to make it here, it would be merely background levels,"said Jere Jenkins, the director of Radiation Laboratories at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.  "Nothing for people on the West Coast or people in the United States to be concerned about."

Higley said she has been spending a lot of time over the last few days urging calm.

"We have monitoring capability here in the U.S. that is extraordinarily sensitive.  We can detect radiation that is like a hundred-thousandth of what you get from a regular X-ray, and we don't expect to see even that."

"For the stuff to travel, it has to be picked up by the wind," she said, "higher-level winds that have global distribution.  And that's just not happening.  This is a little like a campfire -- the smoke is all near the ground."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio