UCS Nuclear Power Safety Briefing, 11-13-2012


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David Lochbaum, Rob Cowin and Sean Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists present a webinar on nuclear power safety issues on November 13, 2012.

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  • Thank you everyone for taking time out of your day to join us and for your involvement on this critical issue of U.S. nuclear power safety.It is important to emphasize the scope of this briefing and discussion. This call is about our efforts to improve nuclear safety at the country’s 104 operating reactors. We will be limiting our remarks to those issues, such as spent fuel and fire protection and flooding, that our campaign is focused on. We do not intend to discuss broader nuclear power questions such as the future of nuclear power, economics, or issue such as new technologies or fuel sources that we know many of you care about.
  • We will begin with Dave Lochbaum, Director of the UCS Nuclear Power Safety Project and one of the country’s most well-regarded nuclear safety advocates.We wanted to talk with you about what we are up to. This will be an abridged list, as we have a few other issues that won’t be covered due to time constraints. The issues we cover today were picked because they are high priorities and they typify our approach to addressing some of these nuclear power safety issues. Hopefully the common issues of how we address these issues and try to get them resolved will come through.
  • There are 104 nuclear power reactors currently licensed to operate in the U.S. Those 104 reactors appear in 31 different states. The graphic on the webinar is from our UCS web tool called the nuclear power information tracker. It allows you to select and slice-and-dice data based on different parameters on the right hand side – elevated spent fuel pools, fire protection problems, and so on. If you go online to the nuclear power information tracker, then click the question mark to the extreme right, it provides additional information on what that issue is and what we are doing to get it resolved.
  • One of our key issues is fire protection problems. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) currently has a list of 47 reactors, roughly half the U.S. fleet, that do not comply with federal safety regulations regarding fire protection. It’s not an academic exercise, the NRC has testified to its commissioners that the fire hazard comprises roughly half of the circumstances that could lead to a meltdown at a typical U.S. reactor. The reason the fire risk is so large is that it represents the potential for disabling safety systems and their back-ups. That’s not an academic or speculative case – in March of 1975 a worker using a candle to check for an air leaks started a fire at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama that burned for nearly 7 hours and did disable all of the safety systems and their backups on one of the reactors – and most of those systems on a second reactor. That day, heroic operator actions was the only thing that prevented an even worse disaster. After that accident, the NRC adopted fire protection regulations designed to prevent another ‘Browns Ferry’ or worse, yet thirty-some years later half the fleet doesn’t meet these regulations including the three reactors at Browns Ferry – which is unacceptable.We are trying to get focused attention on this problem so that the industry and the NRC will work off of these problems and bring the number of reactors not in compliance to as close to zero as it can get before these vulnerabilities are exploited. We’re working, as Rob may allude to in his talk, with Capital hill. Senator Boxer, one of the chairs of an oversight committee of the NRC, is also concerned about this issue and trying to push the agency to resolve this sooner rather than later.
  • Since the mid 90’s, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has known of 27 reactors where the protection against earthquakes is nota s great as the earthquake hazard around these facilities. So, there’s roughly a quarter of the U.S. fleet operating for decades knowing they are not protected against earthquakes that may happen in their part of the country. In recent years, the NRC has taken some steps to address this issue and have the plants look at the hazards, the protections, and close any gaps that they may have. At the moment, this is still a safety I.O.U.
  • There are 8 reactors not in compliance with fire regulations and with earthquake protection less than earthquake hazards. So, those 8 plants have pre-existing conditions that make them even more vulnerable to a very bad day. There’s a possibility that these vulnerabilities will never be exploited – there will never be an earthquake, there will never be a fire in these plants – but that puts the Americans living around these plants under protections due to luck rather than skill.We would like to factor luck out of the equation to the extent that we can.Again, we not asking for any more. There are laws that are on the books that protect Americans from nuclear plant hazards – we want those laws enforced rather than just on the books.
  • More recently, the NRC has identified a problem affecting 34 reactors, or roughly one-third of the U.S. reactors. We are currently working to add this to our nuclear power information tracker, so we cannot yet show you where they are located on our tracker. The problem deals with a concern that came up about three years ago. The NRC learned that some of the dams upstream of nuclear power plants could fail at a higher potential or higher frequency than was envisioned when these plants were built in the 70’s and 80’s. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission prioritized these plants. Near the top of the list was the Fort Calhoun plant in Nebraska, which last June was actually an island for a while inside the Missouri River as the river overflowed its banks and challenged the plant. Luckily, the NRC in fall of 2010 had required that owner to take steps to shore-up a 5 foot gap between what it was protected against and what it was supposed to be. The floodwater as of June 2011 went into the gap. But for the NRC’s actions, Fort Calhoun may have come out of it worse than it did. It’s good that they addressed it there, but there are 33 other plants that have homework to do to better protect themselves against known flooding hazards.
  • Lastly, this diagram shows an unabridged list of every nuclear plant in the country that has completely implemented all of the lessons learned from Fukushima. None of the reactors have taken the steps yet. All of them have plans to, but none have taken these steps.The Nuclear Regulatory Commission did commission a task force to look at Fukushima and draw what lessons it could from that event that would be applicable to plants in the United States. They roughly came up with about 34 recommendations. In March of this year, they issued the first of a series of orders to plant owners to go out and take some steps to better protect themselves against loss of power, or earthquake events, or flooding events. Again, those are still works in progress and the schedule for this is multi-years. Our hope is that if our plants are ever stricken by a challenge, that this occurs after these safety measures have been implemented and not before because a safety I.O.U. protects no one.
  • Basically, our approach is that these are issues that the NRC knows about, they know which plants are short of where they need to be. It’s often said that the squeaky wheel gets the oil, so we are squeaking as often and as loud as we can to try and get all of these known problems resolved as quickly as possible - not just some of the problems at some of the plants. Americans don’t deserve to have reactors operating with pre-existing vulnerabilities.Even if the plants meet all of the safety regulations, and all of the safety problems are addressed, there is still a chance that an accident could occur and cause a large amount of harm to a big portion of the country. When reactors operate with known safety problems, then the likelihood of that disaster only rises. So our goal in these issues and some of the other issues that we are not talking about during this webinar is to get the NRC to not only set the safety bar and watch as one or more reactors limbos beneath it, but we want to end that nuclear limbo and have all of the plants be on the right side of the safety bar.
  • Last year, Sean had a media campaign that basically said by not getting all of the nuclear plants above the safety bar, it is a recipe for disaster. And that is exactly right. If you look at the disasters at Chernobyl or Fukushima, and Three Mile Island in this country, they weren’t surprises. In each case, there were known vulnerabilities that were tolerated until some day their luck ran out. The stakes are too high for us to rely on luck to protect Americans.
  • We will now turn it over to Rob Cowin, our Washington Representative for Clean Energy who represents your interests in the corridor of Washington, D.C. as we navigate through an exceptionally difficult political landscape.In recent history, we don’t feel that Congress has done enough to exercise their oversight authority over the NRC or to legislate on important nuclear safety improvements. In fact, what we’ve seen is that Congress has been more interested in going in the opposite direction – lots of support for streamlining the process for licensing new reactors, for example, or allocating new resources for nuclear construction and development rather than more emphasis on safety. Also, questioning the impact that regulations have on industry profitability rather than the focus on public safety. So that has been the recent track record that has been somewhat troubling, but we do think things are slowly changing. For example, this last year there have been attempts to legislate on comprehensive nuclear waste management largely using the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) recommendations. There have been hearing every three months by the Environment and Public Works (EPR) Committee, holding the NRC accountable on the progress being made or lack of progress on post-Fukushima recommendations. We’ve seen greater engagement by committee leaders on specific nuclear safety issues, so there has been some positives. What I would like to do is talk about the lay of the land post-election, especially with respect to the committees of jurisdiction over nuclear power safety issues and the outlook of progress on our two key issues – fire safety protection enforcement and dry cask storage.
  • Starting with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I want to provide some context. The outgoing chairman, Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), did attempt to legislate a comprehensive bill based on the BRC’s recommendations on nuclear waste storage. Ultimately, that did not receive a vote. There was a hearing on the bill, and it was Sen. Bingaman’s attempt to check that box – they ultimately could not reach agreement with many committee members to move the bill – even to the point where it would receive a vote in committee. There has been an attempt to do something on that.
  • There will be big changes in the ENR committee, we will have a new chairman – hopefully Ron Wyden from Oregon. The ranking member, Lisa Murkowski, will remain in her current position. We’re hopeful with chairman Wyden, he does have a good track record on nuclear safety and interested in the issues. He was one of the first congressional members to go over to Japan post-Fukushima and was very concerned about the aftermath.We are excited – we believe Sen. Wyden has the opportunity to be a real nuclear safety champion. He is certainly interested in support of accelerating the transfer of spent nuclear fuel to dry casks from overcrowded pools.
  • Here is a breakdown of what we believe to be the 113th Congress, as far as the ENR Committee goes. This committee has a long history of doing bipartisan work. The nuclear issue, as far as safety is concerned, should not be a partisan issue and we are hopeful that we can reach out to members on both sides to be able to make some progress – especially with respect to accelerating the transfer of spent fuel from pools to dry casks.This committee has jurisdiction over waste.
  • The environment and public works committee has actually been the most important committee with respect to nuclear safety – they’ve done a lot of hearings, especially post-Fukushima. They have jurisdiction over the NRC and the chairwoman, Senator Boxer (D-CA), has shown real leadership making sure there has been consistent oversight in the form of hearings. She has brought the NRC Commissioners in and asked them as many questions to keep them on task in regards to implementation of the post-Fukushima recommendations.
  • Depending on what happens with certain other Senators, we won’t really know what the leadership of this committee will be like until further down the road. A lot of it depends on what happens with Senator John Kerry, there’s a possibility Sen. Boxer could leave to chair the Foreign Relations Committee, there’s a possibility Sen. Carper could leave to chair the Homeland Security Committee. Sen. Carper has been a champion for the NRC in its current form.Senator Lautenberg, who has been an excellent champion on nuclear safety, has the possibility to share the important subcommittee of jurisdiction – which has jurisdiction over the NRC. He has expressed interest in working with us on the dry cask issue. I will also mention that Sen. Boxer has publicly noted several times of her concern over the lack of fire protection enforcement and this has helped to raise the volume of the issue as well, publicly. We’ve been fortunate to have good leadership out of this committee.
  • The EPW tends to be a more partisan committee, and it doesn’t necessarily have the same history of working in a bipartisan fashion as the ENR committee does.
  • As far as Appropriations, we are doing anything in order to secure our nuclear waste and make the country safer. A lot of that comes down to appropriations. We’ve had a good relationship with Chairwoman Feinstein (D-CA), who is the chairwoman of the Energy and Water Appropriations Committee. She is very interested in safeguarding waste in California – primarily in getting the waste out of California, but also knows of the earthquake concerns and understands that we must do a better job in securing the nuclear waste first. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who is a supporter of nuclear power, is somebody we could potentially work with on nuclear safety.
  • Of course a lot of this comes down to House Leadership and unfortunately it has been a bit of a platform within the Republican party of not supporting any type of legislation on nuclear waste that does not include a restart of Yucca Mountain Federal Repository. We are hoping that issues like accelerating spent fuel into dry casks won’t be held up in this process.We think, to the extent that it is divorced from the Yucca Mountain issue, there’s a real opportunity to get something done in the House.
  • The committee of jurisdiction will remain largely the same. Gene Green (D-TX) and John Shimkus (R-IL) will lead these committees.
  • Henry Waxman is also in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, with jurisdiction. As the ranking member, he has been a big advocate of nuclear safety. We hope to continue to work with him.
  • Lastly, I’ll just mention that somebody who we haven’t been able to reach out to, but we are going to make every effort to do so, is Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), the head of the Energy and Water Appropriations Committee in the House. He is often a moderate voice, and given New Jersey’s strong history on public safety with respect to concerns about nuclear power and things like clean air, we are hoping that we might be able to make some in-roads with him on the nuclear safety issues in the House.Regarding the Obama Administration, as supporters of nuclear power they understand the need to be vigilant about nuclear safety and the waste issue. The waste is a very big unsolved challenge – I think the BRC was appointed in good faith to give the administration some good ideas about how they would put together a comprehensive waste management strategy. Like many other commissions historically, there has been some concern that they were largely ignored. Obama’s administration is currently putting together a blueprint that will ultimately be modeled after the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendations. I think they are trying to swallow the whole enchilada here and we would like to see current spent fuel management to be part of this integrated process whereby they recognize that this will take many, many years. Regardless of what happens, we think it’s important that the American people be as safe as can be now with respect to the waste stored at these plants . We are working with the administration to get them to realize that the acceleration of spent fuel from these pools to these casks is an incredible safety advantage and it’s something that must be done as part of the integrated process – whatever that process ends up being.
  • I will turn it over to Sean Meyer, Manager of Strategic Campaigns of our Global Security Program:I am going to talk about how you can get involved with us and our campaign to promote nuclear power safety. Additionally, I will talk about some of what we have been up to and what we have in mind for state-based advocacy efforts in the months ahead.
  • First, I would like to provide some context. Can anyone cite an instance during the 2012 election when they heard any candidate talking about nuclear power safety? Probably not – and moreover there seems to be a bipartisan consensus in Congress, and Washington more generally, not to focus or worry too much about an issue that could seriously impact over 100 million people who live within 50 miles of a US nuclear reactor. The mindset continues to be one of ‘let’s bury our heads in the sand and insist that what happened at Fukushima could never happen here.’ Or ‘pretend that all could be done is being done’ – which Dave Lochbaum just told you is far from the truth. We know that’s not true, it can happen here. And we know there is much that can be done to make the public safer.Be assured that it would immediately become a front-burner issue of there was a serious accident. And, indeed, you would think that this is the kind of issue where you could forge greater bipartisan consensus – because in some sense it should be non-controversial. Who could oppose improved public safety?
  • So that’s where you come in and this is the key message that I wish to convey:It is our job to make the responsible parties in Washington care, to take this seriously, to act proactively, and maintain a bright spotlight on the issue and a constant drumbeat of pressure.We feel very strongly that if we do that, the NRC, Congress, and the Administration may well conclude that they should go ahead and do their job. Dave provides a very convincing case, doesn’t he? Fully backed-up by strong facts – but we know all too well that facts, while very important, often play a secondary role in policymaking. And like so many issues, nuclear power has a lot of passions attached to it – for both those who strongly advocate for it and those who are adamantly opposed to it.That said, I have no doubt that we have many participating in this briefing who would like to see UCS spend more time supporting or opposing nuclear power but for now we see a very critical role that we are playing that promises clear benefits to people in the short-term.So what do we mean by a bright spotlight and a constant drumbeat of pressure?The spotlight is really about keeping a public discussion going – through letters to the editors, op-eds, public events, getting the media and local/state officials engaged and educated. I am continually reminded of the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill and how quickly that disaster fell off the radar screen with politicians and the public in general moving on. I know that many of you who live in communities with nuclear plants are doing great work to keep these concerns alive – every time there is an event at the plant that is an opportunity to engage with the local media and officials to remind these folks about the safety concerns at the plant.And there are other opportunities, such as meetings that the NRC hosts in these communities, or town hall meetings with members of Congress, or articles in the newspaper that provide opportunities for letters to the editor, or as we hope congressional legislation that could provide the hook for local organizing.
  • I want to put special emphasis on certain types of state-based activities that we will be encouraging – getting municipal, county, and state officials involved. And you, as their constituents, are the ones who can best do that – as well as educated and engage them.Washington actually pays attention to state legislators, governors, mayors, city councilors, county commissioners, and other local and state voices. There are relationships between these officials and their federal colleagues that can be tapped as we seek out champions. Additionally, your local officials have the ability to get media coverage that you as a citizen might not be able to attract.And they should care because it is their communities that face the risks. There is a great deal of precedent for this type of activity and we just want to channel our resources so we might break through the clutter in Washington.
  • Coming back to the notion of a constant drumbeat – what we have in mind are letters, statements, resolutions, and other public and private correspondence to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Congress, and the Administration from both your local officials and you.But local officials won’t care or act either unless you insist on it. That means calling and writing them, educating them, meeting with them, and going to them with very specific requests. For example, you might ask them to write/sign a letter to Congress urging them to make the accelerated transfer of spent fuel to dry cask storage a key element of the next nuclear waste bill. Another idea could be a letter to the NRC demanding they set a hard deadline for when U.S. reactors must be in full compliance with the fire protection regulations that Dave talked about.Yet, as Rob told you some of our “asks” are not yet known and so our approach is going to have to be flexible. If there is movement in Congress on nuclear waste, we will want to press these officials hard to speak up and to encourage your congressional delegations to champion dry cask storage.But by no means are we suggesting that the Congress is the only path to achieving some of our goals. Indeed, local officials should be encouraged to weigh in directly with plant owners on these issues and encourage them to act responsibly. These officials may demand plant owners to commit to full compliance with fire protection regulations or to act without an NRC mandate to accelerate the transfer of spent fuel from dry casks for the simple reason that it is the right thing to do.There’s also other local and state opportunities that may arise. For example, in Connecticut right now the owners of the Millstone plant have an application into the CT siting council concerning their dry cask storage and this proceeding will provide a great organizing hook. In New York, we continue to work with the comptroller’s office to develop shareholder resolutions that the have filed with a number of utilities who operate nuclear plants. And we are starting to have conversations with some state legislators about ways that they might be able to use their taxing authority to incentivize dry cask storage versus the less safe wet storage.At some point, we envision a high-level state or letter from a number of governors to Congress and the NRC on some of these key issues. Our strategies will need to be flexible depending on the state and who we are working with in the state and whether we can get some of the local and state officials to play a leadership role.
  • We are grateful that you are taking time out of your day to be with us today – that underscores your commitment.You may recall that with the invitation for this webinar we also asked you if you would be willing to have a brief phone call with our organizing staff. Many of you indicated interest and those calls are now being set up.The key here is that we want to work with folks in tailored ways – depending on your time and interests. We want to help you make those connections with the local officials, or work with you on the op-eds or letters to the editor. At key times, we would also like to ask you to engage directly with congressional staff to apply that pressure I talked about in ways that can be quite meaningful. We really do see this as old-fashioned organizing and are committed to taking the time to give you the facts and tools you need to be an effective, confident citizen advocate.
  • For the coming year, we have a three-person organizing staff – Sean Meyer, Bettina Fest and Christian O’Rourke – working on this full-time. We hope to get to know many of you well and to be in regular email and phone contact.We have discussed the idea of scheduling some local organizing visits – mostly on the East Coast due to proximity – where we can gather interested folks in a community to sit down together. And, importantly, we rely on you as the people on the ground who know your community best and what will and won’t work.Let me just also mention that we appreciate that your interests do not have to align exactly with ours. Some of you are working on re-licensing battles or new reactor fights and other pressing safety issues that may not be atop focus for us.To us, that’s good and we will support you with our technical expertise, as Dave has done with so many local groups over the years. We will do whatever else we can to support you as concerned, engaged citizens.
  • If you have any questions, or would like to be more involved in our campaign, please contact us at nuclearsafety@ucsusa.org!
  • UCS Nuclear Power Safety Briefing, 11-13-2012

    1. 1. Welcome to theNuclear Power Safety BriefingDave LochbaumRob CowinSean Meyer November 13, 2012
    2. 2. What We’re Up ToDavid LochbaumDirector, Nuclear Safety Projectwww.ucsusa.org November 13, 2012
    3. 3. 104 Reactors Licensed to OperateFrom: UCS’s web tool called the Nuclear Power Information Tracker
    4. 4. 47 Outside Fire Safety RegulationsFrom: UCS’s web tool called the Nuclear Power Information Tracker
    5. 5. 27 Have Earthquake IssuesFrom: UCS’s web tool called the Nuclear Power Information Tracker
    6. 6. 8 May Shake and BakeFrom: UCS’s web tool called the Nuclear Power Information Tracker
    7. 7. 34 Have Flooding IssuesThis Safety Issue will beadded to Tracker in thevery near future.
    8. 8. None Have Fixed Fukushima
    9. 9. What We’re Up ToSafety IOUs protect no one.The squeaky wheel gets the oil.We are squeaking as often and as loud as we can to get ALLreactors to comply with fire protection regulations, ALL reactorsto resolve known earthquake issues, ALL reactors to resolveknown flooding problems, and ALL reactors to expeditiously andeffectively implement lessons learned from Fukushima.The NRC must not set the safety bar and then watch reactorslimbo beneath it. We seek to end this nuclear limbo.
    10. 10. Rob CowinWashington Representative for Clean Energy Will Congress Act to improve nuclear power safety?
    11. 11. ENR LeadershipRanking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) (left) with Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Oregon)
    12. 12. ENR Members, 113th Congress Majority Minority•Ron Wyden, Oregon, Chairman •Lisa Murkowski, Alaska, Ranking Member•Tim Johnson, South Dakota •John Barrasso, Wyoming•Mary Landrieu, Louisiana •Jim Risch, Idaho•Maria Cantwell, Washington •Mike Lee, Utah•Bernie Sanders, Vermont •Rand Paul, Kentucky•Debbie Stabenow, Michigan •Dan Coats, Indiana•Mark Udall, Colorado •Rob Portman, Ohio•Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire •John Hoeven, North Dakota•Al Franken, Minnesota •Dean Heller, Nevada•Joe Minchin, West Virginia •Bob Corker, Tennessee•Chris Coons, Delaware•Martin Heinrich, New Mexico?
    13. 13. The next EPW Chair?Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) Sen. Carper (D-DE) (left) with Sen. Lautenberg (D-NJ)
    14. 14. EPW Members, 113th Congress Majority Minority•Barbara Boxer, California, * •David Vitter, Louisiana, Ranking Member•Max Baucus, Montana •Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma•Tom Carper, Delaware * •John Barrasso, Wyoming•Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey * •Jeff Sessions, Alabama•Ben Cardin, Maryland •Mike Crapo, IdahoClean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee Chairman? •Lamar Alexander, Tennessee•Bernie Sanders, Vermont •Mike Johanns, Nebraska•Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island •John Boozman, Arkansas•Tom Udall, New Mexico•Jeff Merkley, Oregon•Kirsten Gillibrand, New York•Potential vacancy Asterisk denotes potential EPW committee chairperson in the 113th Congress.
    15. 15. Energy & Water Appropriations LeadershipFormer NRC Chairman Jaczko (left) with Chairwoman Feinstein Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
    16. 16. Eric Cantor, (R-VA) House Majority leader (left); John Boehner (R-OH), Speaker of the House
    17. 17. House Environment and Economy Subcommittee LeadershipRanking Member Gene Green (D-TX) (left) and Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) at Yucca Mountain
    18. 18. Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA)
    19. 19. House Energy & Water Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-NJ
    20. 20. Sean MeyerManager of Strategic Campaigns Global Security ProgramHow You Can Get Involved & Work With Our Campaign
    21. 21. Congress Copeswith Nuclear Safety
    22. 22. Don’t Let ThemIgnore the Problem
    23. 23. Elevating State Voices
    24. 24. Old-fashioned advocacy still works best.
    25. 25. • Sean Meyer• Bettina Fest• Christian O’Rourke nuclearsafety@ucsusa.org