Anti-nuclear groups lose on Limerick, widen activism at four other plants

  • Limerick twin units get 20 year license extensions
  • Green groups critical of three Entergy plants
  • Anti-nuclear activist wants to pull the plug on Davis-Besse power agreement

Exelon’s Limerick Units 1 & 2 have had their operating licenses extended for 20 years as a result of a decision by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The action comes after a two-year hiatus while the agency struggled with a policy for managing spent nuclear fuel.

Two days after the NRC issued its “waste confidence decision” in late August, the final environmental impact statement, which is part of the plant’s relicensing application, was posted on the NRC website.

For Limerick 1 & 2, their licenses now run until 2044 and 2049 respectively providing 2,345 MW of power to the Philadelphia, PA, region. Both units at GE BWRs. Exelon submitted the license renewal application in June 2011.

Anti-nuclear groups have long sought to bottle up nuclear licensing decisions by citing the lack of a spent fuel policy. Now with the rule in place, there are 17 more licensing decisions which will start moving again in terms of the NRC’s deliberations on the various actions requested by the nation’s nuclear utilities

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) had challenged the relicensing effort by claiming that the severe accident measures put in place by Exelon weren’t good enough. However, the NRC rejected NRDC’s claims saying they weren’t specific and declined to stop the relicensing process from moving forward.

It takes a minimum of 30 months for a nuclear utility’s application to renew a reactor’s license to be processed and for the NRC to issue a decision. Often it takes longer because anti-nuclear groups throw whatever they can against the wall to see if it will stick, and sometimes something does. This time it didn’t.

Pitch forking the dead

At Vermont Yankee despite having forced the closing of the reactor, Green groups aren’t done with their attacks on the industry in that state. Now three groups in three states have filed an emergency petition with the NRC claiming that staffing levels at Vermont Yankee post closure are insufficient relative to safety of the spent fuel pool. According to the groups, Entergy’s emergency response plan for the spent fuel pool needs more work.

The groups also filed claims about safety issues at Entergy’s Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts and its Fitzpatrick plant in New York.

At Pilgrim a self-appointed “watchdog group” called Pilgrim Watch said in the emergency petition that cost-cutting measures were affecting safety. The group alleges that the plant is beset by “intruders” which would indicate a security issue. Last May four anti nuclear protesters were arrested for breaching plant boundaries. Last week all four got jail time of 15-30 days. The local judge called their trial a circus.

The Pilgrim plant has had a series of security issues cited by the NRC. While most are not described in detail, one involves a weather tower being out of service.

It isn’t uncommon for plants to receive multiple “green” or “low security significance” inspection findings, “but five is above the normal average,” NRC Spokesman Neil Sheehan told the Cape Cod Times in January 2014.

At Fitzpatrick, the Syracuse, NY, based Alliance for a Green Economy claimed that a leaking cooling system posed higher than expected radiation readings for workers at the plant.

The cooling system at the FitzPatrick nuclear plant in Oswego County, NY, has had issues with leaks. In fact, according to news media reports, the leaks occured often enough that plant operators had to reduce power 11 times during the first three months of 2014 so that workers could plug them.

Earlier this year the NRC put the plant on notice, but it did not cite the leaks as a major safety issue. However, the NRC also said the condenser was overdue for an overhaul. The condenser at FitzPatrick was last replaced in 1995. In response Entergy said it would do so during the next fuel outage.

“Entergy had earlier opportunities to recognize the degradation of the main condenser tubes and to act to address that,” said Neil Sheehan, an NRC spokesman, in an email to a Syracuse newspaper. “There were condition reports internal to the plant in 2007 and 2009 that indicated the condenser was nearing its end of life.”

According to an Energy press release release for August 24, 2014, the work of “retubing” the condenser took place, as promised, during a scheduled fuel outage.

In its press statement Energy said;

“The new condenser tube material was selected for its long-life expectancy and resistance to environmental erosion and corrosion conditions. The life span for the retubed condenser is projected to exceed the station’s extended period of operation.”

In 2008 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved FitzPatrick’s renewed operating license allowing the reactor to operate an additional 20 years beyond the original license, to 2034.

For all three sets of allegations, Entergy claims the groups that filed the emergency petition “are raising unnecessary alarm.”  Kelle Barfield, a spokesperson for Energy, told the Bloomberg wire service on 10/24 that the utility “would do nothing to compromise safety of our employees or the communities where we operate.”

Pulling the plug at Davis-Besse?

In a new tactic anti-nuclear groups are trying to stop the Ohio Public Utilities Commission (PUC) from approving power purchase agreements for First Energy’s Davis-Besse plant. If successful, the lights will go out in Toledo and for a very large geographic area around that city.  However, that prospect hasn’t stopped anti-nuclear veteran activist Chris Williams from crisscrossing the state labeling the power purchase agreement a “bailout” for the utility and specifically for Davis-Besse.

Much of the controversy over First Energy’s request to the PUC has to do with its fossil fuel generating capacity. Industrial users and consumer groups are complaining that the company is seeking a guaranteed rate of return in a deregulated market.

Rate hearings are complex proceedings filled with lawyers, accountants, and engineers from the utility and from its customers. Typically, the process takes time. It winds up with the PUC making a determination that it documents for the record as meeting the requirements of state law taking into account the request of the utility, the needs of the utility’s customers, and market conditions. The Ohio PUC’s decision is expected in April 2015.

Plant safety issues are not on the table at the PUC hearing since that type of oversight is in the domain of the NRC. Yet, Williams is talking about safety issues that were discovered and resolved at Davis-Besse more than a decade ago. If he had his way, the reactor would be shut down. But First Energy has proved to the NRC it can and does operate the plant safely.

Davis-Besse is also applying to the NRC for for a 20 year license extension. That action is moving through the required stage gates at the NRC. A final supplemental environmental impact statement is expected to be issued later this Fall.

See prior coverage on this blog Update on Davis-Besse 09/07/14.

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Dan Yurman ~ For breaking nuclear news follow me on Twitter @djysrv or http://www.twitter.com/djysrv ~ Welcome Page for Neutron Bytes Blog ~ https://neutronbytes.com/2014/08/31/welcome-post/ Email me: djysrv@gmail.com ~ Mobile via Google Voice 216-369-7194 ~ Header Image Credit: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap110904.html ** The content of this blog is protected by copyright laws of the U.S. "Fair use" provisions apply. The RSS feed is for personal use only unless otherwise explicitly granted **
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