Thousands Rally against Nuclear Power in DC as TMI Explosion Releases Radioactive Steam
September 21, 2012 Congressmember Dennis J. Kucinich & Michael Winter / USA Today & Myles Snyder / WHTM-TV, ABC 27
As thousands of anti-nuclear activists gathered at the nation's capitol for a three-day rally against nuclear power, a reactor at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant shut down unexpectedly -- for the second time in a month. A loud explosion was followed by a release of radioactive steam. The reactor had been taken offline because of a leak in the cooling system earlier in the month. It was not immediately clear whether the same pump or part failed today.
Kucinich Addresses Coalition of Anti Nuclear Activists
Hundreds Rally On Capitol Hill to End Nuclear Power
Washington D.C. (September 20, 2012) -- Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today addressed an overflowing audience of enthusiastic supporters as he explained the current status of the nuclear industry in the United States. He cited the problematic Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Northern Ohio as an example of the state of the industry.
Good afternoon and thank you for the chance to address you today. It is a privilege to do so. We are here today at one of the most important times in the history of nuclear power. As the industry's proponents work hard to create the myth of a "nuclear renaissance," the truth is that the industry's outlook has never been more tenuous.
The fleet of existing nuclear power plants is aging and they are approaching or have already past their useful life. Already 73 plants across the country have received brand new 20-year licenses on their aging plants. But another 33 are in process or will be applying for 20 year extensions.
At the same time, we are starting to find problems with the plants. In 2002, workers at Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in northwest Ohio, while doing unrelated work, found a large, corroded crater the size of a football in the reactor vessel head next to one of the nozzles. Only three-sixteenths of an inch of steel remained intact at the bottom. Even that began to crack and bulge.
The NRC later found that the plant might have been as close as 60 days from breach. If it did, there would have been a major release of radioactivity. It would have jeopardized the immediate and long-term safety of millions of Americans, not to mention the single biggest source of fresh water in the world, the Great Lakes.
The Government Accountability Office later weighed in on the incident, calling it "the most serious safety issue confronting the nation's commercial nuclear power industry since ‘Three Mile Island.'"
The Department of Justice said that FirstEnergy admitted that they "knowingly made false representations to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in the course of attempting to persuade the NRC that its Davis–Besse Nuclear Power Station was safe to operate beyond December 31, 2001." Why? They put profit before the safety of millions of people.
The cratered reactor head was replaced. It, too, began to fail. FirstEnergy reluctantly agreed to replace it with a new one instead of a slightly used one. To replace the reactor head, they had to cut into the concrete shield building. When they did, they found cracks in the building. Lots of them.
This shield building is the last line of defense in the event of a reactor meltdown because it prevents radioactivity from being released. It is also supposed to protect the reactor from external missiles like a plane. So if it is cracked, the plant is vulnerable.
We watched FirstEnergy and NRC's handling of the cracks, suspecting they would try to minimize the significance of the damage in the building. We found inconsistencies in the stories we were getting from FirstEnergy, the stories the NRC was getting from FirstEnergy, and the stories we were getting from the NRC. Now they are trying to convince us that the cracks which surround the building are the result of a blizzard ….. in 1978 …… and that the cracks are not new, or a result of the aging process.
What is FirstEnergy and NRC's solution to a cracked protective structure? Paint it. I suggest whitewash as an appropriate cover. I have asked for a full investigation by the NRC Inspector General because the NRC has once again shown itself to be more a friend than an impartial regulator of the industry.
Now, thanks to the pressure we have been applying, we have heard that the problem with the cracks in shield buildings may not be restricted to Davis Besse. It may be a problem affecting plants across the nation. If the cracks require repair, it will be extremely expensive; maybe even cost prohibitive. I need help to continue to watch over Davis Besse and other nuclear power plants to make sure their owners are paying more attention to safety than to profits. I want to thank my friends at Beyond Nuclear like Kevin Kamps who have been doing a fantastic job at citizen oversight over Davis Besse.
Just last week, an NRC engineer turned whistleblower when he requested an investigation from the Inspector General along the same lines. He accused the NRC of covering up critical information in a report that exposed how nuclear power plants were vulnerable to flooding.
He specifically discussed a plant in South Carolina that lies downstream of a dam. He said "The probability of Jocassee Dam catastrophically failing is hundreds of times greater than a 51 foot wall of water hitting Fukushima Daiichi."
"And, like the tsunami in Japan, the man-made 'tsunami' resulting from the failure of the Jocassee Dam will -- with absolute certainty -- result in the failure of three reactor plants along with their containment structures." "Although it is not a given that Jocassee Dam will fail in the next 20 years," the engineer added, "it is a given that if it does fail, the three reactor plants will melt down and release their radionuclides into the environment."
Perhaps the biggest problem the nuclear power industry has right now is financial. Private investors don't see it as a good enough investment that the plants can be funded without government help. So nuclear power plant owners are turning to government to guarantee the private loans if the investment goes bad. We're talking about tens of billions of dollars.
One plant alone will need a guarantee in the neighborhood of 8 billion dollars. There is bipartisan objection to such massive subsidies. I offered an amendment to stop this loan guarantee program with my Republican colleague Mr. McClintock from California. It was endorsed by strong environmental organizations as well as extremely conservative organizations. The coalition is growing.
The problems facing nuclear power don't stop there. Nuclear power is even less viable right now because the alternatives are so much cheaper. Financial analysts specifically cite the price of natural gas as one of the reasons the nuclear industry is struggling.
And of course, the horrific meltdowns in Fukushima, which we will hear more about today, reminded us just how vulnerable we – not just in Japan, but all of us -- are.
So the facts are clearly in our favor. Nuclear power should be allowed to fail as an energy source. Unfortunately, facts are not enough. We have to change a mindset and we have to change the game that is rigged.
The mindset doesn't get the attention it deserves. I spent several hours on the House floor trying to stop a new national park that would glorify the most violent acts in history – the unleashing of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The supporters of the bill want the park to pay homage to the Manhattan Project without properly memorializing the unprecedented destruction it has wrought, starting with the bombs. We have to think carefully about what we as a country are memorializing because it speaks directly to who we are as Americans.
And finally, we absolutely must change the game which is rigged. Thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, we are now in a country that is closer to one-dollar-one-vote than one-person-one-vote. And the nuclear industry has copious amounts of money to spend to defend their hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies. Rest assured that as long as they permitted, they will spend that money to defend their ability to contribute without limits to elections and candidates. They wouldn't do it if it didn't work.
So the opportunity to fight nuclear power is now. And it is critical that we seize on it. That's why the events here are so important. Your work is so important. And I'm grateful for you being here to work on issue that is bigger than all of us.
(September 20, 2012) -- A reactor at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant shut down unexpectedly this afternoon because of a cooling problem, a month after it went offline because of a leak in the cooling system, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says.
Update at 4:54 p.m. ET:
The NRC says a cooling pump for Unit One stopped working at 2:16 p.m. ET, triggering the automatic shutdown, as the system is designed to do. An agency inspector was at the plant at the time. The same unit shut down automatically Aug. 22 as it was being taken offline to fix a coolant leak.
Here's some of what the NRC's Preliminary Notification update explained when Unit One went back online Sept. 5: The plant reached cold shutdown on August 23, 2012, and the source of RCS leakage was confirmed to be from micro-cracks in the alloy 600 diaphragm for the upper pressurizer heater bundle.
This heater bundle was subsequently replaced with a bundle that contained a stainless steel, non-alloy 600 heater diaphragm. An NRC specialist inspector, who was deployed to the site, confirmed the source of the RCS leakage and monitored pressurizer heater replacement activities.
The licensee subsequently conducted extent-of-condition inspections on the other two pressurizer heater bundles and no indications of leakage were identified. The inspectors determined that the licensee's post-installation and extent-of-condition inspections were acceptable.
It's not yet clear whether the same pump or part failed today.
The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant shut down unexpectedly this afternoon, releasing steam containing radiation "below detectable levels," a utility spokesman told WHTM-TV. Exelon spokesman Ray DeSantis said that the plant shut down automatically at 2:20 p.m. ET and that the cause was not immediately known.
He did not identify which of the plant's two reactors was involved. DeSantis said the shutdown "presents no risks to public health or safety, and electric customers will not be affected," WHTM writes.
Residents near the plant, outside Harrisburg, Pa., the state capital, reported hearing a loud bang, the station says. A similar noise was heard Aug. 22, TMI's Unit One shut down automatically while being taken offline manually for to repair a heater element on the plant's pressurizer tank, Exelon said at the time.
According to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report, the shutdown resulted from a leak of reactor coolant. Unit Two went back online Sept. 5. The plant's March 1979 accident was the worst involving a commercial U.S. reactor. Here's background on that accident from the NRC and Wikipedia. Exelon Investigating Shutdown at TMI Myles Snyder / WHTM, ABC 27
MIDDLETOWN, Pa. (September 20, 2012) -- A Three Mile Island spokesman says they now know what caused the nuclear power plant to unexpectedly shut down this afternoon. Exelon spokesman Ralph DeSantis said at 2:20 p.m., a reactor coolant pump shutdown causing an automatic shutdown of the whole system. A crew continues to investigate and they hope to have the problem fixed soon, DeSantis said.
Nearby residents heard the loud noise caused by the shutdown and subsequent release of steam. A Three Mile Island spokesman says steam was released this afternoon when the nuclear power plant unexpectedly shut down, creating a loud noise heard by nearby residents.
Steam is always released in the atmosphere when an automatic shutdown occurs, DeSantsi said, adding that radiation levels in the steam were "below detectable levels." DeSantis added that the plant is designed to automatically shut down when necessary.
He said TMI responded as designed and remains in normal shutdown condition while operators investigate the cause. He said the automatic shutdown presents no risks to public health or safety, and electric customers will not be affected.
The incident is the second shutdown at TMI in less than a month. TMI's Unit One automatically shut down August 22 as it was being manually shut down for repairs to a heater element. The power plant returned to service September 5.
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