Monday, May 28, 2012

A Tale of Two Plants: NRC Grants License Extensions to Pilgrim and Columbia

In the past week, two of Vermont Yankee's sort-of-sister plants were granted 20-year license extensions by the NRC.  These plants are Pilgrim Station in Massachusetts and Columbia Generating Station in Washington State.

Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim and Columbia Generating Station are all GE boiling water reactors.  Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim are close to the same size and age while Columbia is newer and bigger.

  • Pilgrim Nuclear Generating Station was commissioned in 1972 and is 685 MW, 
  • Vermont Yankee was commissioned in 1972 and is 620 MW. 
  • Columbia Nuclear Generating Station was commissioned in 1984 and is 1150 MW.

Pilgrim Station

Opposition: Local opposition to the Pilgrim license renewal was spearheaded by a group called Pilgrim Watch. The opponents put together a "Freeze Pilgrim" referendum, about  "freezing" the relicensing process until all possible upgrades were done.

Before the referendum, Howard Shaffer debated Arnie Gundersen on this issue, as reported in this blog, and described in a local paperHoward Shaffer's well-organized review of the debate was posted at ANS Nuclear Cafe. Shaffer puts the debate in context.

The "Freeze" Referendum won 3,200 to 2,300.   While Shaffer did a great job with the debate, pro-nuclear people were not organized to go door to door, leaflet the town, etc.  The opponent group was very organized.  Organization pays off.

Licensing: Pilgrim's NRC license was due to expire on June 8.  The NRC spent over six years reviewing the license before it was granted last week, the longest time for a renewal review in agency history.
Neil Sheehan, an NRC spokesman, noted that Pilgrim’s application had been submitted on Jan. 27, 2006, and that the 6 1/2 year review period was the longest of any other renewal application in the agency’s history. He said NRC staff devoted approximately 14,600 hours to reviewing the application.

Chairman Jaczko voted against the renewal, saying that there were still issues about the plant in front of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB). Jaczko further suggested that new rules be enacted  for granting renewal licenses, preventing them from being granted under these circumstances.. For a good review of the issues and votes, I recommend Brian Wheeler's article in Power Engineering Magazine.

Note: As most readers know, Chairman Jaczko recently resigned from the NRC.  But that would be a whole new blog post or three whole new blog posts. Many nuclear bloggers are covering the issue well.  See the latest Blog Carnival at Atomic Power Review for good links!

Local Officials React:  According to the Associated Press, Governor Deval Patrick called the NRC decision "extremely troubling."  Representative Markey didn't like it either (not a surprise there!) The Massachusetts Attorney General's office plans to pursue appeals through the courts "and other appropriate channels."

Columbia Station

According to the NRC website, Columbia Station applied for a renewal license on January 1, 2010 and was granted it on May 22, 2012.  

According to the Bellingham Herald, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire came to the station to congratulate the workers, and "Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., could not attend the event, but they sent videotaped messages."

Also according to the Herald: 
Steve Wright, administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets the power produced at the plant, said it is "an extremely important and valuable asset for the long term."....The license renewal was not an easy test, but with the plant's future now defined, the plant will need to continue its substantial effort to improve performance, he said. "We all want Columbia's performance to be elevated to a level admired by plants across the world," Wright said, drawing applause from workers.

Note: I have a video of Columbia Station up on this blog, and it gathered many comments about the relative ranking of the station compared to other BWRs.

Vermont Dreaming

Two plants, two governors, two license renewals.  One license renewal took over six years, mostly because of contentions, and the state A G is planning to sue (or something).  That was Massachusetts.  The other renewal took a little more than two years, and the plant received bi-partisan support from local officials.  That was Washington state.

I'm dreaming of Vermont being more like Washington state in the future.  After all, both states have hydro power and nuclear power and mountains.  

I can dream, can't I?


jimwg said...

Re: "...The opponent group was very organized. Organization pays off."

Had the nuclear industry not shrugged off anti-nukers and nuclear public education programs from the get-go this would've been nipped in the bud instead of becoming a near-fatal nuclear "hiatus" from TMI, but the industry still hasn't learned that lesson now with post-Fukushimam as sadly shown by the total lack of mentions of handling anti-nukers at the Chicago Assembly. Anti-nukers are playing this as a PR War, and the industry is relying on pro-nuke blogs to carry their grass-roots PR water. You don't need to do the door-to-door canvassing route; I'd like to know whether anyone at VT Yankee ever had the bright idea of buying a half-hour of airtime on VT TV and challenge Arnie and Helen to a live debate with you and Rod and Will and like hard-hitters on it. That would turn VT Yankee's fortune like nobody's business. Individual plants have to take their own PR initiative because the atomic industry and unions are clearly not up to the job of saving their own skins.

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Kit P said...

I do not think there could be two nuke plants more different. Colombia Generating Station is a large BWR almost twice as big as Pilgrim. It has a suppression pool rather than a torus. Colombia Generating Station is cooled with forced draft cooling towers because it situated on the Hanford Reservation which was selected because if was a remote location with few people. There were not very many people because of the harsh semi-arid climate.

Pilgrim is located in a resort area and cooled with sea water. These factors present an entirely different set of engineering and environmental issues.

There is no bi-partisan support from local officials for nuclear power Washington State. Trust me on this, I lived there for 13 years. The governor and senators are elected by the Seattle area which is strongly anti-nuke and anti-agriculture which is how most of the people in the area near Colombia Generating Station make a living. Locally elected officials for nuclear power are mostly republican like Doc Hastings and support local issues like nuclear power.

Just for the record, nuclear power is regulated by the federal government and state officials have not standing. The local population around Colombia Generating Station are very supportive.

The area was considered for a $4 billion enrichment facility but the governor would not even return phone calls. Idaho got the project.

Washington State is like two different states. One part is against how the other makes a living. Look at the picture and tell me how many trees do you see?

I think Colombia Generating Station is the perfect location for a nuke. It is on a nuclear brownfield selected for isolation and ease of defense against military attack. Nobody lives within five miles. Aside from the defense nuclear industry, the closest large business is PNNL and a nuclear fuel fabrication facility.

So Meredith if Vermont was more like Washington State, your governor and AG would live in Albany.

Meredith Angwin said...

James. Somebody has to do more, and we are doing what we can.

Kit P. I have been to Richland (on business with Battelle Northwest back in my EPRI days). Not many trees, for sure. You are correct about the politics, but from my perspective, I love the sight of the governor coming out to congratulate a plant about a license extension. It takes my breath away and makes me green with envy!