APR: your source for nuclear news and analysis since April 16, 2010

Saturday, December 17, 2011

APR - December 17, 2011

Beginning with this post, Atomic Power Review will have a new post format intended to give readers a clear update of events accumulated over several days or a week. This new feature appropriately is called APR (no secret what that stands for) and is intended to be a simple review of events. Detailed posts with specific titles and covering specific events will continue. Fully detailed posts concerning the Fukushima Daiichi accident recovery will continue as well. Readers should also note that the APR Twitter feed (seen in a black background box on the right side of this page) serves as a good quick update news ticker - I often tweet things I do not post here. Further, I would always point readers to the auto-updating blog roll on the right, on which you can see the title of the newest post at a number of highly important nuclear energy blogs.

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JAPAN UPDATES ... This week, the Japanese Prime Minister announced that the Fukushima Daiichi plant's three damaged reactors had officially reached a state of "cold shutdown." This simply means that the reactors' temperatures overall are under 100C, and that the release of contamination to the environment is controlled (practically halted at No. 1 plant, whose reactor building is fully covered) to limit offsite radiation field exposure health risk to none above normal or background. While many sources are saying that this announcement is simply an arbitrary one designed to make it look as if the recovery is progressing faster than it is, the fact is that this step was actually announced in the recovery road map at the beginning as an important one and, now that it has been reached, or in other words the conditions to declare it satisfied, it's been announced and simply means the things I have described. The brief take on this is that the damaged cores are considered reliably cooled and that radiation exposure off site is negligible. It does not mean that all of a sudden a vast improvement has been achieved and should not be taken as an implication of this.

TEPCO has announced that it may take up to 40 years to fully decommission the plants. This writer recalls that two competing consortiums were working to win a contract bid on the decommissioning, and that the going estimate at that time (some months back) was approximately 30 years. That figure was also used again in the Japanese press recently, but now it appears that at least informally TEPCO is beginning to push the estimate out a bit.

Site operations at Fukushima Daiichi continue as before, very largely. TEPCO has experienced repeated but small leaks on its water cleanup equipment, prompting a stern warning from NISA and causing NISA to require TEPCO to essentially recertify its equipment and procedures. Readers may recall a prior APR post where I mentioned a discussion Dan Yurman and I had about the plant.. and you can be sure TEPCO will be patrolling the equipment in entirety on foot more often than every 20 to 24 hours, which we both agreed was just totally inadequate.

TEPCO has made the observation that it is experiencing a fairly recent net intake of 200 to 500 tons per day of ground water into the plant buildings, and that this is adding to the total accumulation of water that must be processed and stored.

UNITED STATES.... Perhaps the most encouraging news anywhere on the nuclear front is the report this week carried by a number of media and blogs that the Westinghouse APR1000 plant now has a majority of favorable votes in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and that licensing for these plants is probably imminent. Two plants are actually under construction now at Plant Vogtle, Georgia (at least the foundation work is underway.) Combined construction and operating licenses for the two Vogtle plants, and two to be built at Virgil C. Summer station in South Carolina, may be issued by the end of the year after the full Commission vote.

Vastly more prominent in the news this week, unsurprisingly, was the House Oversight Committee hearing which included investigation into the letter sent to the White House Chief of Staff by all four NRC Commissioners, accusing NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko of quite a number of inappropriate behaviors that essentially (if true) amount to harassment and development of a hostile work environment. Certain allegations were also made that imply Jaczko's behavior may be worse toward women, and the behavior was said to extend not just to the four Commissioners but to senior NRC staff as well. He was also accused of withholding and/or controlling information provided to the Commissioners. Those are essentially the accusations; I have an opinion piece about this posted on this site which you can read by clicking here.

That debacle briefly behind, Jaczko is now in Japan and will visit the Fukushima Daiichi site. Jaczko was quoted on NHK TV as saying that the achievement of cold shutdown status is a milestone.

OPINION.... This writer feels that the action being taken by certain Republican members of the House of Representatives (read about it here) is probably a very good idea. The allegations made by the four Commissioners (Svinicki, Ostendorff, Apostalakis and Magwood) against Chairman Jaczko are serious and constitute abuse of power if true. Jaczko showed no remorse and admitted no wrongdoing, which makes it only clearer that his attitude is one of complete rigidity. Further, it was practically proven during the questioning that Jaczko thinks he is better suited to judge on safety issues than the other members. These however aren't the most troubling issues.

After the Fukushima Daiichi accident, Jaczko assumed emergency executive power over the NRC - a fact that some Commissioners claim not to have known about until some time after he did so. This essentially removes the commission vote format and makes the Chairman essentially President/Chairman/CEO of the NRC. The problem with this is that the operating regulations state pretty clearly that this is to be done only when the emergency taking place is at a facility that the NRC regulates. NRC doesn't regulate anything in Japan; NISA does. So why did Jaczko assume power? It's a good question, and so good that the legal counsel for the NRC couldn't answer it directly in the afternoon Oversight Committee hearing. Frankly, this writer thought that the counsel's answer was garbage and probably legally unsupportable given the letter of the rule covering executive control of the NRC.

Because there may be some wiggle room or ambiguity, several House members have decided to float around a bill to limit the NRC Chairman's position to just that - and not autocratic overlord. We can only hope, given an increasing amount of data on what might be an agenda for Jaczko, that this bill or else a rewriting of the 1980 act that directs the NRC's management scheme will be enacted.

OTHER NEWS AND NOTES.

Atomic Power Review is proud to have been added to the link list at AREVA North America's fine blog, found by clicking here. We've naturally reciprocated the link. Since this site is a manufacturer (reactor vendor and a lot more, actually) site the blog posts vary widely in their scope but they can't be beaten for direct, accurate information "straight from the horse's mouth" as it were.

Another interesting site I myself just found this week is Nuclear Australia. I will be contacting the owner for link exchange. This blog doesn't update as frequently as some, but the posts are very interesting- the most recent as of now concerning coal plants' radiation emission is noteworthy.

In relation to the aforementioned AP1000 plant.. Westinghouse has, just this week, opened a new part of their website devoted to demonstrating the AP1000's capabilities in the face of a Station Blackout, or SBO event. This new visually stimulating presentation can be found by clicking here. Were anyone to have questions about whether or not real thought has been put into long-term SBO conditions, these presentations answer them.

Finally, a note on video: The full House Oversight Committee hearing with Chairman Jaczko and the other four NRC Commissioners is listed as a 'favorite' at the APR YouTube Channel.

5:50 PM Eastern Saturday December 17, 2011
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW © Will Davis

1 comment:

  1. I have a feeling the groundwater leakage into the Daiichi turbine buildings is going to become a significant problem. 500 (metric) tons per day is about 132,000 gallons. Since Tepco apparently can't release ANY water to the ocean until the fishermen give the okay, Tepco will need to build even more storage capacity. Perhaps they will just have to evaporate it all away with their "evaporation apparatus"?

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