Beyond Nuclear Decries Reckless Decision of Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Give Vermont Yankee reactor 20 More Years to Operate

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Paul Gunter, director, Reactor Oversight, (301) 270.2209 x 3 (o); Kevin Kamps, Radioactive Waste Watchdog, (240) 462.3216; Linda Gunter, International Specialist, (301) 270-2209 x 2 (o)

Beyond Nuclear Decries Reckless Decision of Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Give Vermont Yankee reactor 20 More Years to Operate

Aging, leaking VT plant is “dead ringer” for Fukushima reactors still in crisis

TAKOMA PARK, MD - Beyond Nuclear today decried the reckless decision-making by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on March 21 to grant a 20-year license extension to the Vermont Yankee reactor, the same Mark I design as the severely damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors still in an extremely dangerous state in Japan. Beyond Nuclear is urging the public to write letters and make calls to the NRC and Congress, to whom the NRC is responsible, condemning this outrageous gamble with public safety.

“The accident is not even over in Japan and the NRC chose this week to relicense the reactor that is a dead ringer for the Fukushima reactors that they are still struggling to save,” said Paul Gunter, director of Reactor Oversight at Beyond Nuclear of the decision to relicense Vermont Yankee.

Meanwhile, Beyond Nuclear simultaneously welcomed an Order issued on March 21 by the United States Court of Appeal for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia questioning the wisdom of the NRC decision in April 2009 to extend the operating license by 20 years for the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey. Oyster Creek, owned by Exelon Nuclear, is not only currently the oldest nuclear reactor in the United States (Oct. 1969) but identical to the General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactors in various states of early meltdown at Fukushima. The court is considering a public challenge to the NRC 2009 decision that was granted after four years of litigation opposing the operating license extension for the Mark I Oyster Creek reactor.

Despite the NRC decision, Exelon negotiated a settlement in December 2010 with the State of New Jersey to only operate the reactor for another nine years. The agreement was made to avoid more litigation costs possibly leading to a multi-million dollar retrofit of cooling towers to prevent significant ecological damage to Barnegat Bay which is directly used to cool the reactor with 1.5 billion gallons of water per day.

The Vermont reactor, owned by Entergy, has been showing signs of deterioration with tritium leaks from unmaintained buried pipes carrying radioactive water; a cooling tower collapse; and a fire in the plant’s transformer. The state of Vermont, supported by Governor Peter Shumlin, has voted to close the Mark I reactor on schedule at the end of its current license on March 21, 2012.

“These design problems and breakdowns at Vermont Yankee are all early warning signs that Entergy and the NRC are pushing production margins ahead of safety margins,” Gunter said. “This will ultimately come at the expense of public health and safety. The NRC is demonstrating a rush to judgment when there is no need for it. This decision is not safety driven, it is schedule driven.”

The GE Mark I Boiling Water Reactor design was recognized in 1972 as too vulnerable to containment rupture and radiation release in the event of a severe accident by Dr. Stephen Hanauer, a chief safety scientist in the Atomic Energy Commission. Dr. Hanauer recommended that the safety agency adopt a policy discouraging further use of the Mark I.  In 1985, then NRC senior safety official, Harold Denton, said the Mark I had a 90% likelihood of containment failure in the event of an accident.

Rather than shut down the Mark I fleet, the NRC adopted a voluntary fix that will temporarily vent or defeat the undersized containment under severe accident conditions in order to save it.  Early indications are that just such operations may have significantly failed Tokyo Electric Power Company operators at Fukushima Dai-ichi Unit 2 when a vent failed to open and release hydrogen gas generation which then exploded in containment possibly damaging the vital component.

At Oyster Creek, the carbon steel containment has shown signs of rusting and severe corrosion, a serious safety concern as the steel containment is the component credited for containing an accident.

 “The Mark I was brought on line because the containment was small and so they were cheap and quick to build,” Gunter said.” But given we have known this design is too dangerous since 1972, it is an unacceptable risk not only to still operate them but to extend their operating lives by another 20 years.”Beyond Nuclear today decried the reckless decision-making by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on March 21 to grant a 20-year license extension to the Vermont Yankee reactor, the same Mark I design as the severely damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors still in an extremely dangerous state in Japan. Beyond Nuclear is urging the public to write letters and make calls to the NRC and Congress, to whom the NRC is responsible, condemning this outrageous gamble with public safety.

“The accident is not even over in Japan and the NRC chose this week to relicense the reactor that is a dead ringer for the Fukushima reactors that they are still struggling to save,” said Paul Gunter, director of Reactor Oversight at Beyond Nuclear of the decision to relicense Vermont Yankee.

Meanwhile, Beyond Nuclear simultaneously welcomed an Order issued on March 21 by the United States Court of Appeal for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia questioning the wisdom of the NRC decision in April 2009 to extend the operating license by 20 years for the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey. Oyster Creek, owned by Exelon Nuclear, is not only currently the oldest nuclear reactor in the United States (Oct. 1969) but identical to the General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactors in various states of early meltdown at Fukushima. The court is considering a public challenge to the NRC 2009 decision that was granted after four years of litigation opposing the operating license extension for the Mark I Oyster Creek reactor.

Despite the NRC decision, Exelon negotiated a settlement in December 2010 with the State of New Jersey to only operate the reactor for another nine years. The agreement was made to avoid more litigation costs possibly leading to a multi-million dollar retrofit of cooling towers to prevent significant ecological damage to Barnegat Bay which is directly used to cool the reactor with 1.5 billion gallons of water per day.

The Vermont reactor, owned by Entergy, has been showing signs of deterioration with tritium leaks from unmaintained buried pipes carrying radioactive water; a cooling tower collapse; and a fire in the plant’s transformer. The state of Vermont, supported by Governor Peter Shumlin, has voted to close the Mark I reactor on schedule at the end of its current license on March 21, 2012.

“These design problems and breakdowns at Vermont Yankee are all early warning signs that Entergy and the NRC are pushing production margins ahead of safety margins,” Gunter said. “This will ultimately come at the expense of public health and safety. The NRC is demonstrating a rush to judgment when there is no need for it. This decision is not safety driven, it is schedule driven.”

The GE Mark I Boiling Water Reactor design was recognized in 1972 as too vulnerable to containment rupture and radiation release in the event of a severe accident by Dr. Stephen Hanauer, a chief safety scientist in the Atomic Energy Commission. Dr. Hanauer recommended that the safety agency adopt a policy discouraging further use of the Mark I.  In 1985, then NRC senior safety official, Harold Denton, said the Mark I had a 90% likelihood of containment failure in the event of an accident.

Rather than shut down the Mark I fleet, the NRC adopted a voluntary fix that will temporarily vent or defeat the undersized containment under severe accident conditions in order to save it.  Early indications are that just such operations may have significantly failed Tokyo Electric Power Company operators at Fukushima Dai-ichi Unit 2 when a vent failed to open and release hydrogen gas generation which then exploded in containment possibly damaging the vital component.

At Oyster Creek, the carbon steel containment has shown signs of rusting and severe corrosion, a serious safety concern as the steel containment is the component credited for containing an accident.

 “The Mark I was brought on line because the containment was small and so they were cheap and quick to build,” Gunter said.” But given we have known this design is too dangerous since 1972, it is an unacceptable risk not only to still operate them but to extend their operating lives by another 20 years.”

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Beyond Nuclear aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic.

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