Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Kid Tires of Election Immersion

Pioneer Peak Sunrise

This was taken by my longtime friend, Gene Horner, from his home this morning.  It is Pioneer Peak and the Knik River valley.  Click to enlarge.

Halloween Song: Lucid Nation - Last Day of Pretend

I've been a follower of Lucid Nation since two of the band's founders, Tamra Spivey and Ronnie Pontiac, interviewed me for Newtopia Magazine, back in late 2004.

The lyrics and performers:

A song about Halloween, war and the loss of innocence.
Last Day of Pretend

It's getting dark early
autumn is in the air
it's funny how everybody seems
to love a good scare

ferris wheel in the park
unstable table full of food
arcade games and prizes
but nothing can change the mood

cuz James is going off to war
and Pam doesn't understand what for
and Blair can't care anymore
and nothing is like it was before

Jack o'lantern candle glow
dancing on bags of candy
rustling costumes at sundown
dogs barking all over town

last year of pretend
no more paper skeletons
glow in the dark skulls
and sheet ghosts can't threaten

cuz James is going off to war
and Pam doesn't understand what for
and Blair can't care anymore
and nothing is like it was before

and John says Eric's doing crack
but Eric says John is doing smack
and Tara told me she got attacked
and she ain't never coming back

Broken pumpkins and splattered eggs
TP'ed trees under cloudy skies
paper wrappers in the wind whisper when
the last ember dies say your goodbyes~
Tamra Spivey: vocals
Ronnie Pontiac: guitar and synth
Justin Citron: guitar, bass
Rob Cournoyer: drums
Lita Penaherrera: piano

Recorded by Darren Carter
Mixed by Phoenix LaFollette and Ronnie Pontiac
RealFeel by Rob Fraboni

As NRC Lifts the Oyster Creek Nuclear Alert, More Questions Arise

--- by Gregg Levine

[note:  Since Gregg wrote his article early Wednesday, the NRC has lifted the alert at the Oyster Creek nuclear power station]

New Jersey’s Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station remains under an official Alert, a day-and-a-half after the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission declared the emergency classification due to flooding triggered by Hurricane Sandy. An Alert is the second category on the NRC’s four-point emergency scale. Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the federal regulator, said that floodwaters around the plant’s water intake structure had receded to 5.7 feet at 2:15 PM EDT Tuesday, down from a high of 7.4 feet reached just after midnight.
Water above 6.5 to 7 feet was expected to compromise Oyster Creek’s capacity to cool its reactor and spent fuel pool, according to the NRC. An “Unusual Event,” the first level of emergency classification, was declared Monday afternoon when floodwaters climbed to 4.7 feet.
Though an emergency pump was brought in when water rose above 6.5 feet late Monday, the NRC and plant owner Exelon have been vague about whether it was needed. As of this writing, it is still not clear if Oyster Creek’s heat transfer system is functioning as designed.
As flooding continued and water intake pumps were threatened, plant operators also floated the idea that water levels in the spent fuel pool could be maintained with fire hoses. Outside observers, such as nuclear consultant Arnie Gundersen, suspected Oyster Creek might have accomplished this by repurposing its fire suppression system (and Reuters later reported the same), though, again, neither Exelon nor regulators have given details.
Whether the original intake system or some sort of contingency is being used, it appears the pumps are being powered by backup diesel generators. Oyster Creek, like the vast majority of southern New Jersey, lost grid power as Sandy moved inland Monday night. In the even of a site blackout, backup generators are required to provide power to cooling systems for the reactor – there is no such mandate, however, for spent fuel pools. Power for pool cooling is expected to come either from the grid or the electricity generated by the plant’s own turbines.
As the NRC likes to remind anyone who will listen, Oyster Creek’s reactor was offline for fueling and maintenance. What regulators don’t add, however, is that the reactor still needs cooling for residual decay heat, and that the fuel pool likely contains more fuel and hotter fuel as a result of this procedure, which means it is even more at risk for overheating. And, perhaps most notably, with the reactor shutdown, it is not producing the electricity that could be used to keep water circulating through the spent fuel pool.
If that sounds confusing, it is probably not by accident. Requests for more and more specific information (most notably by the nuclear watchdog site SimplyInfo) from Exelon and the NRC remain largely unanswered.
Oyster Creek was not the only nuclear power plant dealing with Sandy-related emergencies. As reported here yesterday, Nine Mile Point Unit 1 and Indian Point Unit 3–both in New York–each had to scrambecause of grid interruptions triggered by Monday’s superstorm. In addition, one of New Jersey’s Salem reactors shut down when four of six condenser circulators (water pumps that aid in heat transfer) failed “due to a combination of high river level and detritus from Hurricane Sandy’s transit.” Salem vented vapor from what are considered non-nuclear systems, though as noted often, that does not mean it is completely free of radioactive components. (Salem’s other reactor was offline for refueling.)
Limerick (PA) reactors 1 and 2, Millstone (CT) 3, and Vermont Yankee all reduced power output in response to Superstorm Sandy. The storm also caused large numbers of emergency warning sirens around both Oyster Creek and the Peach Bottom (PA) nuclear plant to fail.
If you thought all of these problems would cause nuclear industry representatives to lay low for a while, well, you’d be wrong:
“Our facilities’ ability to weather the strongest Atlantic tropical storm on record is due to rigorous precautions taken in advance of the storm,” Marvin Fertel, chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based industry group, said yesterday in a statement.
Fertel went on to brag that of the 34 reactors it said were in Sandy’s path, 24 survived the storm without incident.
Or, to look at it another way, during a single day, the heavily populated eastern coast of the Unite States saw multiple nuclear reactors experience problems. And that’s in the estimation of the nuclear industry’s top lobbyist.
Or, should we say, the underestimation? Of the ten reactors not in Fertel’s group of 24, seven were already offline, and the industry is not counting them. So, by Fertel’s math, Oyster Creek does not figure against what he considers success. Power reductions and failed emergency warning systems are also not factored in, it appears.
This storm — and the trouble it caused for America’s nuclear fleet — comes in the context of an 18-month battle to improve nuclear plant safety in the wake of the multiple meltdowns and continuing crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility. Many of the rules and safety upgrades proposed by a US post-Fukushima taskforce are directly applicable to problems resulting from Superstorm Sandy. Improvements to flood preparation, backup power regimes, spent fuel storage and emergency notification were all part of the taskforce report–all of which were theoretically accepted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But nuclear industry pushback, and stonewalling, politicking and outright defiance by pro-industry commissioners has severely slowed the execution of post-Fukushima lessons learned.
The acolytes of atom-splitting will no doubt point to the unprecedented nature of this massive hybrid storm, echoing the “who could have predicted” language heard from so many after the earthquake and tsunami that started the Fukushima disaster. Indeed, such language has already been used — though, granted, in a non-nuclear context — by Con Edison officials discussing massive power outages still afflicting New York City:
At a Consolidated Edison substation in Manhattan’s East Village, a gigantic wall of water defied elaborate planning and expectations, swamped underground electrical equipment, and left about 250,000 lower Manhattan customers without power.
Last year, the surge from Hurricane Irene reached 9.5 feet at the substation. ConEd figured it had that covered.
The utility also figured the infrastructure could handle a repeat of the highest surge on record for the area — 11 feet during a hurricane in 1821, according to the National Weather Service. After all, the substation was designed to withstand a surge of 12.5 feet.
With all the planning, and all the predictions, planning big was not big enough. Sandy went bigger — a surge of 14 feet.
“Nobody predicted it would be that high,” said ConEd spokesman Allan Drury.
In a decade that has seen most of the warmest years on record and some of the era’s worst storms, there needs to be some limit on such excuses. Nearly a million New York City residents (including this reporter) are expected to be without electricity through the end of the week. Residents in the outer boroughs and millions in New Jersey could be in the dark for far longer. Having a grid that simply survives a category 1 hurricane without a Fukushima-sized nuclear disaster is nothing to crow about.
The astronomical cost of restoring power to millions of consumers is real, as is the potential danger still posed by a number of crippled nuclear power plants. The price of preventing the current storm-related emergencies from getting worse is also not a trivial matter, nor are the radioactive isotopes vented with every emergency reactor scram. All of that should be part of the nuclear industry’s report card; all of that should raise eyebrows and questions the next time nuclear is touted as a clean, safe, affordable energy source for a climate change-challenged world.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Has Exelon gone into Coverup Mode at the Oyster Creek Nuclear Plant? Using Fire Hoses to Cool Spent Fuel Pools?

According to the SimplyInfo research team, the Nuclear Regulatory Agency and Exelon are not answering their questions about how the spent fuel pools at the oldest working commercial nuclear reactor in the United States are currently being cooled, while working under a state of emergency, and with the regular cooling water intakes completely flooded:
Oyster Creek nuclear plant has been under alert for over 14 hours now with little for details on what is going on at the plant. The NRC reported via email in the last hour that Oyster Creek remains under alert due to high water at the intakes.
“At Oyster Creek, the Alert was declared at approximately 8:45 p.m. An alert is the second-lowest level of emergency classification used by the NRC. The Alert was preceded by an “Unusual Event” at about 7 p.m. when the water level first reached a minimum high water level  criteria. The water level rose due to a combination of a rising tide, wind direction and storm surge. While the water level has dropped since peaking earlier today, the Alert will not be exited until the level is below the specific criteria for the intake structure, which is where water from an intake canal is pumped into the plant for cooling purposes.  Oyster Creek was shut down for a refueling and maintenance outage prior to the storm and the reactor remains out of service ‘ – via NRC email
Repeated attempts to get answers out of the NRC or Exelon about this situation have been unanswered. The questions are, is the intake service water system working currently or not working currently? This service water system is the only method for cooling the spent fuel pool as it feeds the heat removal system similar to Fukushima Daiichi.
They do have the ability to replace water that evaporates or boils off with water on site and as Exelon told Reuters “fire hoses” as a last resort to at least keep water on the fuel.
Fire hoses – that’s the ticket.
Gregg Levine, firedoglake‘s resident nuclear plant expert, has been trying to keep up with this while experiencing his own power outages and shortages, as he lives in the area swept by Hurricane Sandy:
Jesus. I worked half the night on battery power and a mifi card, and the stuff I wrote (post upcoming) already needs an update.
OK, new post is already in need of updates, but it is hard to stay up to speed with limited electronics. I post and will revisit, technology permitting.
Like me and others, Gregg is not impressed with fire hoses to cool these huge spent fuel pools:
If hoses desperately pouring water on endangered spent fuel pools remind you of Fukushima, it should. Oyster Creek is the same model of GE boiling water reactor that failed so catastrophically in Japan.
The NRC press release (PDF) made a point–echoed in most traditional media reports–of noting that Oyster Creek’s reactor was shut down, as if to indicate that this made the situation less urgent. While not having to scram a hot reactor is usually a plus, this fact does little to lessen the potential problem here. As nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen told Democracy Now! before the Alert was declared:
[Oyster Creek is] in a refueling outage. That means that all the nuclear fuel is not in the nuclear reactor, but it’s over in the spent fuel pool. And in that condition, there’s no backup power for the spent fuel pools. So, if Oyster Creek were to lose its offsite power—and, frankly, that’s really likely—there would be no way cool that nuclear fuel that’s in the fuel pool until they get the power reestablished. Nuclear fuel pools don’t have to be cooled by diesels per the old Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations.
A site blackout (SBO) or a loss of coolant issue at Oyster Creek puts all of the nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste at risk. The plant being offline does not change that, though it does, in this case, increase the risk of an SBO.
The amount of fuel in Oyster Creek’s spent fuel pools is related by the NRC in terms of millions of curies, rather than in dead weight.  At about 112 million curies of radioactive material, it is 43rd of the list of such waste storage sites at commercial reactors in the USA, with the reactors at Millstone Connecticut having about 420 million curies.
The American Nuclear Society, at their blog, the ANS Nuclear Cafehas downplayed the danger posed by the current emergency at Oyster Creek:
Exelon has re-confirmed to the American Nuclear Society by telephone and e-mail that Oyster Creek does in fact have numerous, redundant cooling systems for the spent fuel including closed-loop and service water systems. Exelon tells us that if required, two locomotive–sized diesel engines are ready and standing by should offsite power be lost, to provide power to those two backup systems during the refueling outage should an extended LOOP scenario arise.
Exelon has, as expected by many, declared an Unusual Event at Oyster Creek due to the rising water levels. Below are excerpts from Exelon’s press release on this declaration
No mention of fire hoses in the ANS blog entry.
Good work by Gregg Levine on this.  Frankly, I’d trust him before the pro-industry American Nuclear Society.
Any day disaster of the week.
With these reactors aging rapidly, their recertification process overly politicized, and climate change creating more and more situations annually that involve severe coastal and river flooding and inundations, we can expect more need for fire hoses at N reactors in our future.

Several Nuclear Plants Impacted by Hurricane Sandy

Oyster Creek Nuclear Reactor - New Jersey - the oldest operating civilian reactor
Here is an early rundown of the impact of Hurricane Sandy on several of the nuclear plants in the areas hit Monday:
Oyster Creek had service water pumps at risk due to high water from Sandy. This included the cooling water for the spent fuel pool cooling system. As of 2:53am EST Exelon did not know if the service water pumps had been impacted. Media contacts at Exelon, owner of Oyster Creek are promising an update shortly. We will pass on any new information as soon as we get it. 
Oyster Creek; 36 of 43 emergency warning sirens in the emergency planning zone have failed in the last 24 hours. 
Nine Mile Point; SCRAM due to load reject. The reactor was running at 100% when the fault caused the reactor into emergency automatic shutdown. 
Indian Point; Lost offsite power to unit 3, causing a SCRAM from 100% power. Unit 2 still running 100% 
Peach Bottom; Lost 31 of 97 warning sirens for the emergency planning zone due to Sandy. 
Nine Mile Point; Lost one grid power line causing emergency diesels to kick in. 
Salem Unit 1; Scram from 100% power after cooling water intakes were blocked by storm debris and high water from the storm. 
Changed power status: 
Indian Point #3: 0% (from 100%)
Limerick #1 48% (from 100%)
Limerick #2 27% (from 100%)
Millstone #3 73% (from 100%)
Nine Mile Pt #1 0% (from 100%)
Salem #2 0% (from 100%)
Vermont Yankee 89% (from 100%) 
via NRC reporting
Writing at firedoglake about the Oyster Creek plant, Gregg Levine notes

Oyster Creek is the oldest operating commercial reactor in the US. It is a GE boiling water reactor of similar design to the ones that failed in Fukushima, Japan during 2011′s Tohoku earthquake, though Oyster Creek is actually older. As Sandy moved up the coast, fears were raised about several nuclear facilities in the storm’s path. The NRC had issued no specific directives in advance of the hurricane, though extra inspectors were dispatched to threatened plants early on Monday.
Particular concerns were raised about Oyster Creek. The reactor is currently offline for maintenance, which means all the reactor fuel, along with generations of used fuel, is in the plant’s spent fuel pools. The plant itself is not generating any electricy, and so is dependent on external power. If the power were to fail, there would be no way to circulate cooling water through the pools.
Backup diesel generators typical to this design power the heat transfer from the reactor, but the so-called “defense in depth” backups for the spent fuel pools are the plant’s own electrical output and power from an external grid.
Flooding of the coolant intake structure further complicates matters. Oyster Creek does not have a cooling tower (like those seen in classic pictures of Three Mile Island). Safe temperatures are maintained by taking in massive amounts of water from a nearby source (in this case, Barnegat Bay). Water must continue to circulate in and out of the facility to keep temperatures at safe levels.
Another question would be whether floodwaters would carry additional radioactive contamination into Barnegat Bay as they recede.
In the NRC press release on Oyster Creek (PDF), the regulator also noted (with apparent pride) that no reactors had been shut down because of Hurricane Sandy. However, at least one reactor, Millstone 3 in Connecticut, had reduced output in anticipation of the storm

I Voted

I voted yesterday afternoon at the Division of Elections office on Bogard Road in Wasilla.  I was surprised how many other voters were there.  I'll be working 16 hours on election day, so this proved to be very convenient.

With three people helping at the registration tables, I had to wait in line.  The election workers told me there had been a steady stream of early voters since late morning.

I knew two of the three election workers closely from our kids' activities together in years past, so there was a lot to talk about after I voted.

I voted for Dr. Jill Stein for president, Rep. Sharon Cissna for the U.S. House, and had to write in Alaska House and Senate slots, as there was nobody from my party running against the GOP primary winners.

In all my years of voting since 1968, I have never voted for an incumbent president.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Brings Wind, Rain and Irony to US Nuclear Plants

--- by Gregg Levine (originally published today at firedoglake)
With Hurricane Sandy projected to make landfall hundreds of miles to the south and the predicted storm surge still over 24 hours away, New York City completely shuttered its mass transit systemearly Sunday evening. By 7 PM, all subway service was halted for only the second time in history. The fear, according to state authorities, is that heavy rainfall or the expected six-to-eleven-foot increase in tide levels would flood subway tunnels, stranding trains at various points across the 842 miles of track.
Fearing similar flooding, the Washington, DC, Metro is also expected to suspend service for all of Monday.
Twelve hours after NYC shut down its subways, at 7 AM Monday, with Hurricane Sandy lashing the Mid-Atlantic coast with heavy rain and 85 mph winds, at least a half-dozen commercial nuclear reactors lie in the storm’s projected path–and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has yet to issue any specific orders to the facilities it supposedly oversees. In fact, check out the NRC’s twitter feed or look at its website, and the only reference you will find to what has been dubbed “Frankenstorm” is the recently posted cancellation notice for a public hearing that was supposed to convene on Tuesday, October 30.
The subject of that meeting? The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station.
Fort Calhoun nuclear plant, flooded in 2011, still offline
The Fort Calhoun plant sits on the Missouri River, on the eastern edge of Nebraska, near the town of Blair. Fort Calhoun’s single pressurized water reactor was shut down for refueling in April of last year, but floods during the summer of 2011 encircled the facility and caused a series of dangerous incidents. A breach in water berms surrounded transformers and auxiliary containment buildings with two feet of water. Around that same time, a fire shut down power to Fort Calhoun’s spent fuel pools, stopping the circulation of cooling water for 90 minutes and triggering a “red event,” the second most severe classification. Outside of its reactor, the Nebraska facility is home to approximately 800,000 pounds of high-level radioactive waste. To this day, Fort Calhoun is offline and awaiting further evaluation by the NRC.
That a hearing on a flooded plant has been postponed because of the threat of flooding near NRC offices seems like the height of irony, but it pales next to the comparison of safety preparedness measures taken by New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority for a subway and the federal government’s approach to a fleet of nuclear reactors.
That is not to say that the NRC is doing nothing. . . not exactly. Before the weekend, regulators let it be known that they were considering sending extra inspectors to some nuclear facilities in Sandy’s path. Additionally, regional officials stressed that plant operators were doing walk downs to secure any outside equipment that might become a sort of missile in the event of high winds. It is roughly the equivalent of telling homeowners to tie down their lawn furniture.
And it seems to be understood, at least at the nuclear plants in southern New Jersey, that reactors should be shutdown at least two hours before winds reach 74 mph.
To all that, the NRC made a point of assuring the public that reactor containment buildings could withstand hurricane-force winds, or any odd piece of “lawn furniture” that might be hurled at them.
That’s nice, but hardly the point.
Containment breech is always a concern, but it is not the main issue today. A bigger worry are SBOs–Station Black Outs–loss-of-power incidents that could impede a plant’s capacity to cool its reactors or spent fuel pools, or could interfere with operators’ ability to monitor everything that is going on inside those areas.
As reported last year, Hurricane Irene caused an emergency shutdown at Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant when aluminum siding torn off by high winds shorted out the main transformer and caused an explosion, damaging structures and equipment. Calvert Cliffs was one of the facilities that had chosen not to reduce output or shutdown in advance of Irene–especially alarming because just days before that storm, plant operators had reported trouble with its diesel backup generators.
Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant
Irene caused other problems, beyond loss of electricity to millions of consumers, public notification sirens in two emergency preparedness zones were disabled by the storm.
In sum, storm damage triggered a scram at a plant with faulty backup generators. If power had not been restored, backup would have failed, and the rising temperatures in the reactors and fuel pools would have necessitated an evacuation of the area–only evacuation would have been hampered because of widespread power outages and absent sirens.
The worst did not happen last year at Calvert Cliffs, but the damage sustained there was substantial, and the incident should serve as a cautionary tale. Shutting down a nuclear reactor doesn’t prevent every problem that could result from a severe storm, but it narrows the possibilities, reduces some dangers, and prevents the excessive wear and tear an emergency shutdown inflicts on an aging facility.
Calvert Cliffs is again in the line of fire–as are numerous other plants. Hurricane Sandy will likely bring high winds, heavy rain and the threat of flooding to nuclear facilities in Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Given last year’s experiences–and given the high likelihood that climate change will bring more such events in years to come–it might have been expected that the NRC would have a more developed policy.
Instead, as with last year’s Atlantic hurricane, federal regulators have left the final decisions to private sector nuclear operators–operators that have a rather poor track record in evaluating threats to public safety when actions might affect their bottom line.
At the time of this writing, the rain in New York City is little more than a drizzle, winds are gusting far below hurricane strength, and high tide is still over ten hours away. Hurricane Sandy is over 300 miles to the south.
But Gotham is a relative ghost town. The subway turnstiles are locked; city busses are nowhere to be seen.
At the region’s nuclear facilities, however–at North Anna, Hope Creek, Salem and Oyster Creek, at Calvert Cliffs, Indian Point and Millstone–there is no such singular sense of better-safe-than-sorry mission.
In New York, it can be argued that the likes of Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have gone overboard, that they have made decisions based not just on safety, but on fears of political fallout and employee overtime. But in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s northeast region, there is no chance of that kind of criticism–one might even say there is no one to criticize, because it would appear that there is no one in charge.