PR:Coalition Alleges Safety Rollbacks at Entergy Nuclear Palisades
For Immediate Release, December 2, 2014
Calls for Permanent Reactor Shutdown, Cites Risk of Brittle Vessel Fracture
Coalition Alleges Safety Regulation Rollbacks at Entergy Nuclear Palisades
Covert, MI— A sudden cooling of the aged and embrittled Palisades Reactor Vessel could cause a core meltdown and a catastrophic release of hazardous radioactivity.
A coalition of environmental groups and concerned local residents has intervened against Entergy Nuclear’s License Amendment Application (LAR) to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) at its Palisades atomic reactor on the Lake Michigan shore in southwest Michigan. The LAR seeks to apply a new safety rule (10CFR50.61a) for "alternate" reactor pressure vessel (RPV) fracture toughness requirements at Palisades. If successful, the intervention could force the permanent shutdown of the 44-year-old nuclear power plant. The coalition cites the risk of catastrophic release of hazardous radioactivity to the environment due to Pressurized Thermal Shock (PTS) fracturing the embrittled RPV, causing a Loss-of-Coolant-Accident (LOCA), core meltdown, and containment failure.
The RPV contains the reactor core and its highly radioactive nuclear fuel. Palisades has long had the worst embrittled RPV in the U.S., caused by neutron radiation bombardment impacting impurities - such as nickel and copper - in the RPV walls and welds. The age-related degradation at Palisades has been so bad, for so long, that the nuclear utility and NRC had previously indicated permanent closure dates as early as 1995. However, that was postponed to 1999, then 2000, 2001, 2004, 2014, April 2017, and now August 2017 thanks to regulatory rollbacks. Entergy has now applied to NRC for another weakening of the rules, to allow continued operation past 2017.
A severe overcooling of the RPV, due to the activation of the emergency core cooling system, combined with sudden re-pressurization, could cause Pressurized Thermal Shock (PTS) – a one-two punch that could fracture the RPV metal at an internal flaw. This kind of RPV breach would cause a Loss-of-Coolant-Accident, and likely a core meltdown. If the containment failed, a catastrophic release of hazardous radioactivity could result.
Sheer Chicanery Keeping Palisades Afloat
Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen provided an expert declaration in his critique of the beleaguered nuclear reactor vessel. “The situation at Palisades reminds me of an ice-fishing shack sitting on the surface of a frozen lake, spring is coming, the ice getting thinner and thinner, and the fisherman does nothing. It is sheer chicanery keeping Palisades afloat,” stated Arnie Gundersen.
For decades, critics have brought the advanced embrittlement at Palisades to the attention of the NRC. Hard to garner meetings with NRC Chairmen and Commissioners have brought no respite, and each time this fragile can has been kicked down the road by an inept regulator. Holland resident Alice Hirt with Don’t Waste Michigan said “I feel like Alice in Atomic Blunderland, hearing Humpty Dumpty tell me we can’t take the metal sample, because if we take the sample, we won’t have any samples left to take. Consequently, they operate the reactor vessel blind to the potential of shattering which would render Lake Michigan and surrounding environs uninhabitable forever. This is criminal negligence.”
Gundersen challenged NRC’s and Entergy Nuclear’s reliance on mere mathematical estimates and extrapolation, rather than readily available, hard physical data. The last metal sample extracted and tested at Palisades was in 2003; the next scheduled is not until 2019.
"Compounding the danger of Palisades' embrittled reactor," said Terry Lodge, attorney for the petitioning groups, "is the sneering contempt Entergy has for the public. They care so little about public safety that they'd prefer to spend millions fighting us to avoid the repair bill. What a stranglehold utility companies have on our government."
Intervenors include Beyond Nuclear (Takoma Park, MD), Don’t Waste Michigan (Grand Rapids), Michigan Safe Energy Future (South Haven), and Nuclear Energy Information Service (Chicago). The environmental intervention petition, and related documentation, is available at: http://www.beyondnuclear.org.
- Kevin Kamps, Beyond Nuclear, +1 (240) 462-3216
- Michael Keegan, Don’t Waste Michigan, +1 (734) 770-1441
- Terry Lodge, environmental coalition attorney, +1 (419) 255-7552
- Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer, Fairewinds Associates, Inc. +1 (802) 865-9955