Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Emergency Planning and Fuel Pools: The Little Fire That Wasn't There

stairs at a lighthouse
The man on the stair

Yesterday, upon the stair, 
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today.
I wish, I wish he'd go away.

The fire that wasn't there

In the early days after the tsunami, quite a few people looked at the explosion above Fukushima Daiichi Fuel Pool 4 and decided that the fuel pool must be burning.  Later, it became clear that the explosion was due to hydrogen generated in Unit 3, and that the fuel pool was fine. Well, mostly fine--it had debris from the roof that fell in on it.  At any rate, the fuel pool was not burning and it will not burn in the future. Currently fuel bundles are being removed from that pool.

However, the more strident nuclear opponents keep up the rhetoric that the Fuel Pool 4 has burned, is still burning, or is about to burn any moment. The opponents are noisy, but they are wrong.  Fuel Pool 4 is the little fire that isn't there.

Meanwhile, back in Vermont: Emergency Planning

Vermont Yankee will close later this year. When it shuts down, it will transfer fuel from the reactor to the fuel pool.  Then, after a period of about five to seven years, Vermont Yankee will transfer all the  fuel from the fuel pool into dry cask storage. In other words, for several years, the fuel pool will be in full operation.

Entergy has calculated that the danger of a fuel pool fire will be somewhere between highly-improbable and completely-impossible after the fuel has cooled in the pool for about a year. Therefore, Entergy has requested permission from the NRC  to stop funding the Emergency Planning Zone, starting fifteen months after reactor shutdown and fuel off-loading.

As you can imagine, the powers-that-be in Vermont are totally against the NRC allowing Entergy to stop funding the Emergency Planning Zone.  I think they believe in the scaremonger-version of the Unit 4 pool at Fukushima.  Governor Shumlin's appointee, Chris Recchia, is chair of the Vermont Department of Public Service. In Washington, Recchia testified about emergency planning. He said that “Vermont was not well served by NRC’s past decisions and current approach to decommissioning. We essentially negotiated with one hand tied behind our back."

Meanwhile, in Washington: Committee Meetings and Bills
Senator Sanders

Chris Recchia was in Washington to testify about before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.  Senator Barbara Boxer of that committee did her best to get a witness from the NRC to say that the spent fuels at San Onofre were dangerous and the fuel should be moved to dry casks as soon as possible (maybe sooner).   But Washington has gone beyond mere committee meetings.

Senator Sanders, Boxer and Markey have introduced legislation to have nuclear plants consult with states within fifty miles of the plant before the plants can submit a decommissioning plan to the NRC.

Back to Vermont: Money

Vermont has often expressed its eagerness to have the plant fully decommissioned as soon as possible.  Our politicians get visibly upset at the idea of letting decommissioning funds grow over time.  However, it also seems to be anathema to them that the NRC will decide on the danger level of the fuel pool. The politicians want a major state seat at the table, deciding on danger levels according to their personal criteria.

Vice President Mike Twomey of Entergy tried to bring some reason to this process. He noted that keeping up the Emergency Planning Zone activities would cost about $20 million a year.  This money will come out the decommissioning fund. Taking this money from the fund in the early days would slow the growth of the fund, and therefore slow the beginning of full decommissioning.  In other words, the politicians cannot have their cake (continued funding for the emergency zone) and eat it too (quick decommissioning). As Twomey said, this funding is "not a free option."

Back to Vermont: Safety 

Volunteer firefighters in Georgia
This is all about politics, by the way, not safety.  If you ask first-responders from the Brattleboro area if the fuel pool is the most important of their concerns, they would say "no."  The trains running through southern Vermont carry all sorts of cargoes, including acid, poisonous industrial chemicals, flammable materials, etc.

Possible train wrecks are a major concern to local first responders.

I believe that first responders can always use more funding.  However, funding the Emergency Planning Zone isn't what they need, or what the people of Vermont need for safety.  It may be what some of our elected officials need for re-election, however.

 The Little Fire That Wasn't There

Vermont has to stop posturing about fuel pools, and look at the real problems the state is going to have. The state is especially going to have problems without Vermont Yankee funds (Clean Energy Development Fund, Lake Champlain clean-up, Emergency Planning Zone funding for first-responder equipment in southern Vermont) to bail them out.

The state has to let go of worrying about the man-who-isn't-there, and look at the problems that actually exist.


UPDATE:  Description of the three bills being introduced by Boxer, Sanders and Markey. First bill requires EPZ planning to continue until fuel is moved to dry cask, second requires all fuel in dry casks within seven years of shutdown, and third gives local and state reps a "meaningful seat at the table" about decomm planning.  


Notes on the post itself:

Poem: Antigonish, 1899

Fuel Pool:

Oak Ridge Researchers Show Fukushima Unit 4 Fuel Pool Never a Danger: Rod Adams at Atomic Insights

History of the Unit Four Fuel Pool: Les Corrice at Hiroshima Syndrome

NRC Releases Spent Fuel Pool Study: Allison Dunne at WAMC

Fuel pools, with video of pool 4: At Yes Vermont Yankee

Howard Shaffer on used fuel: testimony at Vermont legislature: At Yes Vermont Yankee

Vermont Wants Emergency Planning to Continue

Senators review nuclear decommissioning: Pat Bradley at WAMC (This includes the Recchia quote about "one hand tied behind our back.")

Panel Questions Experts on Closed Reactor Risks: Matt Wald at New York Times (this includes the $20 million a year quote from Twomey)

State wants Entergy to continue emergency planning after shutdown: Tom Brown at Vermont Digger.


Howard Shaffer said...

Great post.

The NRC did a thorough study of Fuel Pools at Decommissioning plants, NUREG 1738, released in February 2001. It investigated all possibilities, including loss of all water and a fire. It found that even with a radioactive release, the public would be safe. It also found that in all cases there are may hours to days for action to be taken to restore water.

jimwg said...

Re: "Boxer and Markey have introduced legislation to have nuclear plants consult with states within fifty miles of the plant before the plants can submit a decommissioning plan to the NRC."

We saw ploys like this coming light-years ago. This FUD "legislation" is ripe/intended for royal abuse by anti-nukers; suppose the range can be expanded by "wind studies" or whatever to 100 miles or 200 miles? A sly way of retarding building nuclear plants across state lines. Can ANS or NEI wire the media there and on the West Coast the facts of the matter?? Don't let Boxer and the Governor to go unchallenged!!!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Engineer-Poet said...

It would be wonderful if there was a mechanism to make the "intervenors" prove that their objections are reasonable, and that they understand the calculations behind the safety evaluations.  They should be put on the spot, preferably during public comment sessions.  If they fail, they should be designated "vexatious" and disqualified from any further comment or intervention.

The "vexatious" status should be applied to organizations and their management, directors and legal counsel as well as individuals.

Imagine disqualifying the Vermont PSB, the legislature and the governor himself!

Anonymous said...

Another mechanism I would like to see put in place is that any person, or group, or agency, or political body, if they "want a seat at the table" for decommissioning planning, be required to contribute a reasonable sum to the decommissioning fund to cover any costs that might be incurred from their "input". IOW, put up or shut up. The plant owners had to establish the initial capitalization of the fund, so its only fair that those who want on the bandwagon after the fact should put something in the kitty. If they don't, then they should butt out.

Leslie Corrice said...

Well met, Well met. The SFP crap is a direct result of post Fukushima FUD, straight out of the Arnie Gundersen/Helen Caldicott School of antinuclear doom-prophecy. The other garbage surrounding Vermont Yankee is a prime example of how mindless, irrational extremism, using a convenient, short-term, politically-expedient excuse (Fukushima) can be used to the detriment of everyone except the politicos who are behind the charade.

Anonymous said...

Jim G (and everyone):

I hope this comes as good news for you (you may be more a Republican and less a pro-nuke) but Jerry Brown is one of those old anti-nukes who has come around and now supports nuclear energy.

From the Wall Street Journal, "The View From California: Gov. Jerry Brown on tax credits, nuclear energy and the need for boundaries" (March 26, 2012)

MR. THOMSON: How have your views on nuclear changed? Would you describe yourself as pronuclear now?

GOV. BROWN: Certainly I'm more skeptical of everything, even of my own ideas.

Nuclear's got issues, but it's good for greenhouse gases. It's pretty reliable. So, I'm open to it. I want to make stuff work. I want to deal with stuff. And you've got to try many paths, because a lot of them don't work.

I'd definitely say nuclear is a serious technology that serious people have to think about, and I certainly would include myself in that group."


As a Democrat, I may not be a fan of Jon Kyl, Louie Gohmert, or Pat Sajak, but if they said they thought the climatologists were doing valid work on carbon dioxide forcing of climate, I'd still be happy, and I'd congratulate them if I was in a position to do so.

Barbara Boxer is a more complicated case. She was pro-nuke until a couple of major nail-biter primary threats underwritten by establishment enviros. I'm gathering information on her record so I can determine how committed she is and in which direction, and the history of her positions on it -- though yes, I'm quite aware of her work against SONGS.

There are several politicians who are anti-nuclear for purely political reasons. The moment they know they have a constituency to back them up, they'll be evangelists.

Before anyone scorns this process, keep in mind: "When your guy does it, it's political pandering and cowardice; when OUR guy does it, it's Conscience, Courage, and being a Champion of the Voters."

Politics is ... hard.

Mitch said...

No wishy-washy here, Gov. Brown. You're either for or against it. If you've turned around for nukes then start by whipping out your magic Obama pen and jot down saving SONGS as a vital ecology energy asset before it gets scrapped!

Atomikrabbit said...

This NRC response (rebuttal?) to the 2005 NAS SFP report so often quoted by antis is here: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/congress-docs/correspondence/2005/domenici-03142005.pdf