Saturday, April 20, 2013

Former US NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko: "All 104 nuclear power reactors now in operation in the United States have a safety problem that cannot be fixed"

From New York Times (4/8/2013), right after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission effectively shelved the idea of filtered vent:

Ex-Regulator Says Reactors Are Flawed

WASHINGTON — All 104 nuclear power reactors now in operation in the United States have a safety problem that cannot be fixed and they should be replaced with newer technology, the former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Monday. Shutting them all down at once is not practical, he said, but he supports phasing them out rather than trying to extend their lives.

The position of the former chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko, is not unusual in that various anti-nuclear groups take the same stance. But it is highly unusual for a former head of the nuclear commission to so bluntly criticize an industry whose safety he was previously in charge of ensuring.

Asked why he did not make these points when he was chairman, Dr. Jaczko said in an interview after his remarks, “I didn’t really come to it until recently.”

“I was just thinking about the issues more, and watching as the industry and the regulators and the whole nuclear safety community continues to try to figure out how to address these very, very difficult problems,” which were made more evident by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, he said. “Continuing to put Band-Aid on Band-Aid is not going to fix the problem.”

Dr. Jaczko made his remarks at the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington in a session about the Fukushima accident. Dr. Jaczko said that many American reactors that had received permission from the nuclear commission to operate for 20 years beyond their initial 40-year licenses probably would not last that long. He also rejected as unfeasible changes proposed by the commission that would allow reactor owners to apply for a second 20-year extension, meaning that some reactors would run for a total of 80 years.

Dr. Jaczko cited a well-known characteristic of nuclear reactor fuel to continue to generate copious amounts of heat after a chain reaction is shut down. That “decay heat” is what led to the Fukushima meltdowns. The solution, he said, was probably smaller reactors in which the heat could not push the temperature to the fuel’s melting point.

The nuclear industry disagreed with Dr. Jaczko’s assessment. “U.S. nuclear energy facilities are operating safely,” said Marvin S. Fertel, the president and chief executive of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s trade association. “That was the case prior to Greg Jaczko’s tenure as Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman. It was the case during his tenure as N.R.C. chairman, as acknowledged by the N.R.C.’s special Fukushima response task force and evidenced by a multitude of safety and performance indicators. It is still the case today.”

Dr. Jaczko resigned as chairman last summer after months of conflict with his four colleagues on the commission. He often voted in the minority on various safety questions, advocated more vigorous safety improvements, and was regarded with deep suspicion by the nuclear industry. A former aide to the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, he was appointed at Mr. Reid’s instigation and was instrumental in slowing progress on a proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles from Las Vegas.

Dr. Jaczko visited Fukushima last summer. Maybe it was that visit that influenced him. If you haven't seen the NHK documentary of that visit, see my post from December 30, 2012. In the documentary, he seemed to be genuinely touched by the devastation in Namie-machi, and by the people's lives destroyed by the nuclear accident.


Anonymous said...

"just suddenly came to him.." they had these failure issues..needed replacement $$$ BUT in the media now after he was dumped last year. Did he have a one year NDA? He better remember Matt Simmons and his death in a hot tub accident. Truth is not the friend of the nuclear lobby. Not saying a crime, or crimes..proof is hard to come by......

Anonymous said...

Totally agree! The nuke-nuts are dangerous in many ways.

Stock said...

The tide is turning. Let the poly-ticks know that we know too.

Bali Hotels said...

Very nice post, i love it

Anonymous said...

Smaller npps, even assuming they address the meltdown-upon-loss-of-power issue of conventional npps, still leave us with a huge amount of nuclear waste.
Nuclear generation is not a power generation technology, it is an excuse for stockpiling nuclear weaponry while at the same time filling the pockets of the utilities with public money.

Anonymous said...

It is worthwhile to remember the Windscale accident in Britain. This was a nuclear reactor that was intended to make fuel for nuclear weapons at the height of the cold war. Metallic uranium was used and it caught on fire. Ever since, uranium oxide has been used to eliminate the risk of a uranium fire. In the later stages of construction, Sir John Cockcroft insisted on installing filters in the stacks. These filters then became known as the "Cockcroft follies." After the accident, "vegetative sampling" showed that the filters effectively trapped particulates, while letting gases through. Consequently, the radioactive releases were much smaller than they otherwise might have been. According to Wikipedia, Windscale released about 22 TBq of Cesium 137, compared to 79,500 TBq for Chernobyl and 35,000 TBq for Fukushima, atmospherically.

The experience with Windscale should make any reasonable person, including any reasonable supporter of nuclear power, insist that filters be installed.

Having said that, however, Dr. Jaczko bears tremendous responsibility for his illegal shutdown of Yucca Mountain. If there is ever any loss of life due to an accident involving stored nuclear waste at over 100 sites around the country (or a terrorist attack), he should be given the worst punishment possible. Storing nuclear waste in a safer depository, after Fukushima and after recent terrorist attacks showed that there is still a terrorist threat, is a no-brainer. There is no question that Yucca Mountain is safer than the current ad-hoc storage arrangements. The opponents of Yucca Mountain have done a disservice to the public by insisting that it be absolutely safe. As for the argument that a depository would result in a renewal of nuclear power investment, I would point out that Yucca Mountain was also supposed to be the depository of waste from the Cold War, some of which poses a greater risk than power plant waste.

In closing, the nuclear power industry is a capital intensive industry, just like railroads. You either make huge profits or huge losses. I cannot think of a better time to make large capital investments for environmental purposes than now, when capital costs are still a bargain. It isn't going to stay that way forever.

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