Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Shutting Down an Ancient Nuke


With its October decision to end the 39-year-old Kewaunee nuclear power experiment on Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan shore, Dominion Resources has shown the over-hyped “nuclear renaissance” to be a “reactor reassessment.” Calling its decision final, Dominion said it will close the pressurized water reactor permanently next spring, store tons of ferociously radioactive waste onsite indefinitely, and send its workforce of 655 to unemployment lines in “phased layoffs.” Dominion’s chief job creator Thomas Farrell, unable to find a buyer for the clunker said the closure is “based purely on economics.”

The industry’s early advertising dream of electricity “too cheap to meter” has become a radiation nightmare too costly to quantify. Initial shutdown expenses for the creaking, leaking 39-year old monster — waste management and reactor dismantling, containerizing and transporting to dump sites — are roughly predictable. According to the Associated Press, Dominion, which bought Kewaunee in 2005 for $220 million, will “record a $281 million charge in [2013’s] third quarter related to the closing and decommissioning.” But that’s just the earnest money. Literally endless expenditures will be required to keep Kewaunee’s radioactive wastes contained, monitored and out of drinking water for what federal appeals courts have declared is the required minimum — 300,000 years.

The Green Bay Press-Gazette reported that Dominion has 60 years to see that Kewaunee’s giant footprint is “returned to a greenfield condition.” Just don’t dig under that “greenfield” Virginia. In August 2006 radioactive tritium was found to have been leaking for an unknown period, from unidentified pipes somewhere beneath the reactor complex. With a radioactive half-life of 12.5 years, those unnumbered tankers of tritium will be part of Kewaunee’s groundwater for at least 125 years.

Considering Wisconsin’s nuclear power history, Kewaunee’s extremely hot and highly radioactive waste fuel will need expensive management for decades. The La Crosse Boiling Water Reactor near Genoa, Wis. was closed in 1987, and 25 years later its deadly waste fuel is still there, on the banks of the Mississippi.

Governor Scott Walker announced his disappointment with Kewaunee’s termination and said it “highlights the need to decrease unnecessary federal regulations.” Walker’s de-regulation agenda has caused disasters like Three Mile Island and Fukushima, and wouldn’t save nuclear power in any case because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) rules are hardly ever enforced.

According to a year-long investigation of reactor aging problems by the Associated Press last year, when operators are found violating federal rules, the NRC routinely just weakens the requirements. (Jeff Donn, AP, “Safety rules loosened for aging nuclear reactors,” June 20-28, 2011) For example, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the industry and regulators said unequivocally that U.S. reactors were built to operate for a maximum of 40 years. Today they insist the nukes can run for 100 years. True to form, the NRC rubber stamped a 20-year license extension for Kewaunee in March 2011 — like it’s done previously with 71 other 40-year-old reactors.

The AP’s four-part series found that such relicensing often lacks independent safety reviews, and that paperwork of the NRC sometimes matches word-for-word the language used in a reactor operator’s application.

As reactors age, the AP investigation showed, wear and tear, corrosion and radiation-caused “imbrittlement” of high-pressure steam tubes increase the frequency and likelihood of accidents. Kewaunee won its license extension in spite of a string of age-related accidents and outages that put the public and the Great Lakes in harm’s way: a 2009 emergency shutdown caused by improper steam pressure instrument settings; a 2007 loss of main turbine oil pressure; an emergency cooling water system design flaw found in 2006; a possible leak in Nov. 2005 of highly radioactive primary coolant into secondary coolant which is discharged to Lake Michigan; a simultaneous failure of all three emergency cooling water pumps in Feb. 2005, etc.

As author and senior Greenpeace consultant Harvey Wasserman concluded, “The real worry is that one or more of these old reactors might just blow before we can get it decommissioned. In that light, the shut-down of Kewaunee and the rest of its aging siblings can’t come soon enough.”

John LaForge has been on the staff of the nuclear watchdog group Nukewatch since 1992, and edits its Quarterly newsletter.

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future