Nuclear Refurbishment: Did You Know?

What you may not know about nuclear refurbishment: Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is requesting an unprecedented 13-year license for the continued operation and “refurbishment” of the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station. In the past, licenses OPG has received have always been for 2-5 years, maximum. This request will come before a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) hearing in early November of this year.

Unfortunately, it seems most people know very little about the nuclear industry & how it actually operates. The technology involved is complex, to be sure. However, one requires neither a detailed understanding of nuclear reactor technology, nor a degree in rocket science, to understand these basics:

  • Nuclear energy is fraught with potential dangers, & accidents are possible at any nuclear facility
  • Accidents result in catastrophic widespread, long-lived consequences to human beings & everything else that constitute what we've come to call “the environment”
  • Nuclear waste is unimaginably toxic & so extraordinarily long-lived we cannot even properly get our minds around the time frames involved.

This posting will provide readers with a few facts about refurbishments that they simply might not otherwise hear about.

Refurbishment is a nice, innocuous-sounding word ... but what it actually means is, re-build. The 4 Darlington reactors have reached the end of their intended shelf life, & now their operators (a very large number of people paid very large salaries indeed) want to rebuild them. They could also be decommissioned, i.e., shut down, instead; that too is an option.

The estimated cost of the Darlington rebuild is somewhere between $8 & $14 billion, according to not-yet-final figures projected by OPG. This massive and wildly expensive rebuild project is anticipated to take part over many years. At public expense.

BUT … every nuclear project in Ontario has gone over-budget (and past projected deadlines). According to the Ontario Clean Air Alliance all past nuclear projects have gone over budget by 2 ½ times. In this case, then, the eventual cost could reach $32 billion. Taxpayers’ money.

Nuclear refurbishments create a lot of NEW nuclear waste. Unfortunately, after 70 years of nuclear waste creation, no safe solution has yet been found for the storage of these 70 years’ worth of nuclear wastes. The (now former) head of OPG (the $1.8 million/year Tom Mitchell), said at a nuclear waste industry conference in September 2011, The amount of nuclear waste in the world is expected to grow due to refurbishments, new build activity and the decommissioning of reactors.” Mr. Mitchell referred to the handling of nuclear waste as a “values-based activity” (a rather subtle way of saying there is plenty of money to be made from it). * Plenty of information about the waste issue here.

In 2009, during refurbishment work at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, hundreds of workers were exposed to plutonium-laden dust. No satisfactory explanation has ever been given as to why this was not prevented, or why the workers had not been provided with respirators. When asked at a Joint Review Panel hearing on the proposed DGR (DNA’s 2013 presentation can be found here) CNSC staff scientist Patsy Thompson said “Bruce Power has a healthy safety culture for the following reasons: the alpha-event was unforeseen for reasons that I don’t have right now; there was no evidence that there was a potential for this event, so it’s not something that Bruce Power or its employees decided to ignore;” [transcript, pg 159]

This is an … explanation??

In Québec, when it was learned how costly the refurbishment of the Gentilly-2 reactor was going to be, the plant was ordered by the Québec government to be shut down. Hydro-Québec’s François Bilodeau had admitted at a nuclear industry ‘Waste Management, Decommissioning and Environmental Restoration for Canada’s Nuclear Activities’ conference held in Toronto in September 2011 that the refurbishment was expected to create 5 times as much nuclear waste as already existed at the facility.

While so self-evident as to surely not even really need stating, there is no plan in place for the additional wastes that will be created if this refurbishment proceeds (or for the 70 years’ worth of waste already in existence & also lacking anywhere to be safely & reliably secured and stored). The Pickering and Darlington Nuclear Generating Stations are already host to a grand total of 1,112,860 used fuel bundles (Pickering has 667,639: 406,315 “wet” & 261,324 “dry” – or did as of June 30, 2013); & Darlington has (or rather had, as of June 30/13) 445,221 (338,510 wet; 106,711 dry). You can locate these figures in this NWMO document (in a table on pg. 3). All dressed up, as it were, & just ... absolutely no place to go.

So, in Quebec the refurbishment costs & waste quantities led to an end to nuclear power in that province, while in New Brunswick, greater-than-anticipated quantities of refurbishment-created nuclear wastes at Point Lepreau led to the shipping of some to Tennessee, where it was to be incinerated … & the ash later returned to Canada.

** I learned these facts while attending a nuclear industry conference on ‘Waste Management, Decommissioning and Environmental Restoration for Canada’s Nuclear Activities’ held in Toronto from September 11-14, 2011. Learned lots at this conference!

From the final program provided to attendees (on pg. 25), “In short, Point Lepreau GS [Generating Station] has been challenged during the outage due to the amount of low and intermediate level waste that has been generated compared to that which was expected, which has driven the need to develop a new waste management strategy in the middle of the outage. The paper [New Brunswick Power Nuclear’s Charles Hickman was to present] presents an overview of pre-outage waste handling, what process changes and schedule changes occurred during the outage, and provides a discussion of the operational and financial consequences of those changes. Key issues highlighted the paper include for adequate provision of waste management facilities during large outages, the importance of ensuring that contractors have a stake in waste minimization activities, and long term waste management implications that need to be considered for large outages.” (Conference program)

Nuclear waste is a very, very serious problem (& that is a very serious understatement!) - one to which there is as yet no solution anywhere in sight. Not here, not "there," not anywhere on the planet!

To many people, it seems like a really good idea (& time) to stop creating any more of it.

At the very least, speaking up about the lack of wisdom of granting OPG a 13-year license for the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station seems a highly advisable course of action. More to come on this topic soon.

More Information:

 

Relevant Quote:

“While we may learn from the past, we don’t seem to learn much.” – Ronald Wright in A Short History of Progress

* more relevant quotes on this page

 

Environment groups urge release of disaster scenarios report

** watch the 14-minute news conference here!

Environmental groups urge release of nuclear disaster scenarios report

The Canadian Press

Published Wednesday, August 19, 2015 10:29AM EDT

OTTAWA - Environmental groups are urging the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to release a study on nuclear disaster scenarios that they say was suppressed.

The commission released a study last year looking at health and environmental consequences of accident scenarios, following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, but the groups say it wasn't released in full.

Greenpeace, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility and other environmental organizations say emails obtained through access to information requests show management at the nuclear commission censored the original draft.

Related Stories

Canadian nuclear power plants completing upgrades prompted by Fukushima They say the original study analyzed the impacts of a Fukushima-scale accident at the Darlington nuclear plant, 70 kilometres east of Toronto, but that wasn't included in the version released to the public.

The groups cite an email from the director of the Darlington regulatory program division that says it would become a "focal point of any licence renewal" and would be used "malevolently" in a public hearing.

The nuclear commission is holding a hearing today in Ottawa on Ontario Power Generation's application to extend the operating life of four aging Darlington reactors and the environmental groups want the Fukushima-scale analysis released before public submissions are due next month.

 

News Release

Aug 19 2015

(Ottawa) ‐ Environment groups are asking the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) today to release a suppressed study detailing the weaknesses of offsite emergency response at the Darlington nuclear station in the event of a Fukushima‐scale accident.

“The CNSC has betrayed the public trust by concealing a study revealing risks to Toronto. The study should be released so these hazards can be addressed transparently and appropriate emergency plans put in place,” said Shawn‐Patrick Stensil, a senior energy analyst with Greenpeace.

The CNSC is holding a hearing today in Ottawa on Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) application to extend the operating life of the four aging Darlington reactors 60 km east of downtown Toronto. The procedural request asks for the suppressed accident study to be released by next month so its findings can be used in public submissions to the second round of public hearings scheduled for November.

“Following the Fukushima disaster citizens asked the Commission to assess whether emergency response in the Toronto could cope with a major accident at Darlington. It is alarming the CNSC would withhold objective information on the public safety risks,” said Theresa McClenaghan, Executive Director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA).

In 2014, the CNSC did release an accident study and claimed it responded to public concern. But according to Access to Information, the public study is profoundly different from the original draft censored by CNSC management. The censored study analyzed the impacts of a Fukushima‐scale accident at Darlington, but when apprised of the results, senior management instructed staff to redraft the study to consider a much smaller accident.

“This is yet another example of how CNSC isn’t accountable to Canadians or objective on nuclear risks. It is past time for the next government to clean up the CNSC by insisting that they put the public interest above that of the nuclear industry,” said Dr. Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR).

The groups that filed the request include CELA, CCNR, Durham Nuclear Awareness, Greenpeace, New Clear Free Solutions, Northwatch, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) and Sierra Club Canada.

‐ 30 ‐

Information:

Mary Ambrose, Communications Officer, Greenpeace, 416‐930‐9055 Dr. Gordon Edwards, President, CCNR, 514‐839‐7214 Theresa McClenaghan, Executive Director, CELA, 416‐662‐8341 (cell) Shawn‐Patrick Stensil, Senior Energy Analyst, Greenpeace, 416 884 7053 [Eng/Fr]

 

Related Blog Posts

 

Fukushima: What Really Happened?

A detailed account of what took place at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant beginning on March 11, 2011 is provided in the book Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster, by David Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman, Susan Q. Stranahan and the Union of Concerned Scientists (The New Press, 2014). On the Union of Concerned Scientists' Web site there is a detailed description of what the book covers.

You'll find reviews of the book here and here. (Of course, if you do a search on the book’s title, you’ll encounter more than just these two.)

The book is pretty well-indexed, so readers can look up words/phrases such as “beyond design basis” or “sea wall” or “potassium iodide” or “complacency and overconfidence” & find all the pages on which the particular topic is mentioned. There is also a glossary of terms.

As the list below indicates, the book goes into much detail about earthquake & tsunami research (both what was known & what was ignored), how the Japanese nuclear regulator operates, how TEPCO (owner/operator of the reactors at Fukushima) operated in the years before the disaster & then during the early days of the disaster, how the media in Japan operate, how emergency planning broke down, etc. etc.

Covered very thoroughly indeed, toward the end of the book, is how the U.S. NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) operates – which, as it happens, has a major bearing on how the Japanese regulator operates.

Much of what this book reveals is enough to cause nightmares, or at the very least, some lost sleep – especially if you live in the neighbourhood of an aging nuclear reactor –  or 10, as we do here in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

A list of important things covered in the book:

  • Emergency exercises are good mostly for PR purposes
  • Emergency plans fell apart badly in Japan
  • "Defense in depth" is not something that can be relied upon
  • How information about genuine risks (earthquakes, tsunamis) is swept under the carpet
  • "It can't happen here" has basically been the nuclear industry/nuclear regulators' mantra ever since the Three Mile Island accident (March 1979)
  • Regulatory agencies cannot be counted on to regulate
  • Risk analysis is not a real science & is essentially meaningless
Direction sign to Nukes
Direction sign to Nukes

Topics the book covers

  • Information about Japan’s history of earthquakes & tsunamis & technology related to predicting/preparing for them
  • A day-by-day accounting of the accident’s progression in the early days: quite detailed & technical
  • Explanation of what is meant by “design basis” & design-basis accidents
  • U.S. NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) involvement, including specifics about NRC head Gregory Jaczko (including his 2012 resignation)
  • Related information about U.S. reactors of similar design (General Electric boiling water reactors or BWRs)
  • Corruption at TEPCO
  • Collusion between nuclear industry & government
  • Manipulation of public opinion to favour nuclear energy
  • Revolving door between regulator & nuclear industry
  • Infrequency of inspections by the regulator (NISA)
  • Falsified reports, repairs that were not made, employees fired for reporting problems (** hair-raising information in Chapter 2)
  • Reliance on computer modelling vs. actual reality (i.e., ignoring evidence of possible tsunami if computer model says it is unlikely)
  • Communication manipulation (& “bungled communication”) during early days of crisis (Chapter 3) – among TEPCO officials, between various groups, to the public
  • No monitoring of quantity of radioactivity being released (Ch. 3)
  • “Lackadaisical attitude” toward robustness of spent fuel pools (Ch. 3)
  • Description of the lamentably poorly-thought-out care of spent fuel storage
  • Dangerousness of crowded fuel pools at U.S. reactors
  • Evacuation of U.S. citizens within 50-mile radius
  • Safety of dry cask storage at site during earthquake & tsunami (pg. 83)
  • “Sluggish” response of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (p.105)
  • Media coverage: choppy, contrast between the foreign & the domestic (Ch. 5) which gave TEPCO a “free ride” (p. 107)
  • Explanation of Japanese “press clubs” (p. 110)
  • Bungled gov’t handling of radiation exposure/health risks (p. 108)
  • Public’s loss of trust in government due to not being told the truth (p. 111)
  • U.S. & its 31 boiling water reactors – questions about U.S. safety with respect to earthquake risks
  • Evacuees’ situation (some “forced to relocate 6 times or more”) – pg. 117
  • Futaba Hospital: bungled evacuation. Patients who died (pg. 118)
  • Iitate: symbol of breakdown of gov’t response (25 miles /40 km from plant. Gaps/failures in emergency planning: zones arbitrary, evacuations far beyond 10K necessary, people evacuated in direction plume was going, hospital patients abandoned & then died. Etc. Failure to trust data saying plume going that way. Early awareness of it being a “hot spot” – yet a long delay in evacuation) (pg. 118, Ch. 5)
  • Three Mile Island: March 1979: lessons NOT learned – Davis-Besse 1977 incident (Ch. 7)
  • 2011 incidents at 2 U.S. nuke plants (Fort Calhoun-flooding & North Anna-earthquake)
  • Value (or not) of biennial emergency exercises – pg. 154 (Ch. 7)
  • Nearly 160,000 evacuees (pg. 157, Ch. 8)
  • Fallout contamination (pg 159, Ch. 8)
  • Anti-nuclear protests at prime minister’s office in Tokyo (pg. 163, Ch. 8)
  • NRC safety measures discussions (pg. 167, Ch. 8)
  • Japan’s PM goes anti-nuclear (pg. 171, Ch. 8)
  • More NRC safety discussions
  • TEPCO bailouts
  • Gregory Jaczko's resignation (Pg. 177, Ch. 8); Allison Macfarlane replaces him
  • “It can’t happen here” myth at the NRC (Chapter 9)
  • Inadequacy of reliance on “design-basis” accidents/rules (pg. 188, Ch. 9)
  • The problems with risk analysis & “probabilistic risk assessment” (PRA) – pg. 192
  • The issues with GE Mark 1 Boiling Water Reactors (pg. 195, Ch. 9)
  • U.S. loose rules emulated by Japanese regulator (pg. 202, end of Ch. 9)
  • NRC manipulations to present nuclear as safe; unbelievable! (Ch. 10)
  • The SOARCA (State-of-the-Art Reactor Consequence Analyses fiasco): “Science” manipulated, obfuscated; this must be read to be believed! (Ch. 10)
  • Proposed nuclear re-start in Japan & associated citizen protest (Ch. 11)
  • Back to business as usual at the NRC (Ch. 11)
  • Re-org of Japanese regulator (pg. 240, Ch. 11)
  • Great map of evacuation zones illustrating the lack of “neatness” of where fallout goes, & where evacuations are necessary (pg. 242, Ch. 11)
  • Political scene in Japan – Abe re-elected (pg. 243, Ch. 11)
  • Finger-pointing after the accident, including TEPCO blaming first Mother Nature, then the regulator for not being strict enough (pg. 244, Ch. 12)
  • “It can’t happen here” mindset, both in Japan – & the U.S. (pg. 247)
  • Casual attitude of politicians in U.S. (pg. 247)
  • Fires at U.S. reactor, new regs, regulations NOT enforced (pg. 247-8, Ch. 12)
  • Other examples of problems at U.S. reactors (pg. 249)
  • Defense-in-depth both “a blessing and a curse” (pg. 250); its strengths & limitations
  • Problems with evacuation in Fukushima situation (pg. 251)
  • Various things that were not planned for in emergency planning (pg. 251)
  • NRC’s 2011 NTTF (near-term task force, immediately post-Fukushima) & how NRC task force recommendations for change in U.S. regulation came to naught (pg. 252-3)
  • NRC refusal to address beyond-design-basis accidents (pg. 252-3)
  • Industry’s FLEX (“diverse and flexible mitigation”) strategy: how this prevented necessary changes at the NRC & avoids dealing with stubborn risks/issues (255-6)
  • NRC’s continued defense of 10-mile planning zones in spite of lessons from the experience proving inadequacy of this approach (pg. 256, Ch. 12)
  • NIRS (Nuclear Information and Resource Service) proposal re: U.S. planning zones for emergency measures, i.e. evacuation, potassium iodide (pg. 256, Ch. 12)

** Conclusions: the NRC needs to make big changes in safety analysis

“In the end, the NRC must be able to tell the American public, “We’ve taken every reasonable step to protect you.” And it must be the public, not industry or bureaucrats, who define “reasonable.” (pg. 260, Ch. 12)

This document provides a lengthy compilation of quotations from the book. Many more pithy & informative quotations could have been included if recording all these quotes were not so time-consuming!

This is a very important book.

Why this posting now?

The problems that this book details about the intransigence of the nuclear regulatory agencies have not begun to be solved. The problems of collusion among regulators & industry & governments have not begun to be solved.

Since most "average citizens" (& even politicians) seem unaware that these problems exist (while those in power who do know, deny them), rassling with & solving them will be a very great challenge indeed.

In Durham Region (& of great interest across the entire Greater Toronto Area), we’re about to witness an expensive hearing process involving Ontario Power Generation (OPG)’s request to Canada’s nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), for a 13-year license for the aging reactors at Darlington (hearing to take place in early November).

People need to understand the kinds of problems that led to the Fukushima disaster that are laid out so very thoroughly in this book.

“Fukushima Daiichi unmasked the weaknesses of nuclear power plant design and the long-standing flaws in operations and regulatory oversight. Although Japan must share the blame, this was not a Japanese nuclear accident; it was a nuclear accident that just happened to have occurred in Japan. The problems that led to the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi exist wherever reactors operate.” (from the introduction to the book)

The Fukushima disaster was not caused by the earthquake or the tsunami; it is a man-made disaster that could happen anywhere there are nuclear reactors.

Toshimitsu Homma of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency stated in April 2013 at an international conference on Emergency Management (held in Ottawa) that the most important lesson of Fukushima was that before the accident, “There was an implicit assumption that such a severe accident could not happen and thus insufficient attention was paid to such an accident by authorities.”

** Note: same deal here in Ontario! Emergency planning predicated on a minor accident, not a major one. Plans = utterly inadequate. Recent editorial from Japan regarding evacuation issues there.

“The earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 were natural disasters of a magnitude that shocked the entire world. Although triggered by these cataclysmic events, the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cannot be regarded as a natural disaster. It was a profoundly manmade disaster – that could and should have been foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.” – Kiyoshi Kurokawa, Chairman of The official report of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (Pg. 9)

“A “manmade” disaster: The TEPCO Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and TEPCO, and the lack of governance by said parties. They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly “manmade.” We believe that the root causes were the organizational and regulatory systems that supported faulty rationales for decisions and actions, rather than issues relating to the competency of any specific individual. (see Recommendation 1)” — from The official report of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (pg. 16)

“The Commission has verified that there was a lag in upgrading nuclear emergencypreparedness and complex disaster countermeasures, and attributes this to regulators’ negative attitudes toward revising and improving existing emergency plans.” – from The official report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (pg. 19)

** Other recent, relevant posts on this blog:

2 outstanding (& related) articles:

P.S. on October 17/15: On October 14th, DNA donated copies of the Union of Concerned Scientists' book to each of Durham Region's eight municipal Councils (& the Regional Chair) & reminded them all of inadequate nuclear emergency planning as well as the untruth of the "It Can't Happen Here" myth. Media article here. Copies were also later given to the Premier of Ontario & to the Minister of Community Safety & Correctional Services (the provincial ministry in charge of emergency planning).