FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Shutting Down an Ancient Nuke

by JOHN LaFORGE

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.

More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
November 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jonathan Cook
From an Open Internet, Back to the Dark Ages
Linda Pentz Gunter
A Radioactive Plume That’s Clouded in Secrecy
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Fires This Time
Nick Alexandrov
Birth of a Nation
Vijay Prashad
Puerto Rico: Ruined Infrastructure and a Refugee Crisis
Peter Montague
Men in Power Abusing Women – What a Surprise!
Kristine Mattis
Slaves and Bulldozers, Plutocrats and Widgets
Pete Dolack
Climate Summit’s Solution to Global Warming: More Talking
Mike Whitney
ISIS Last Stand; End Times for the Caliphate
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Darkness, Part Two
James Munson
Does Censoring Undemocratic Voices Make For Better Democracy?
Brian Cloughley
The Influence of Israel on Britain
Jason Hickel
Averting the Apocalypse: Lessons From Costa Rica
Pepe Escobar
How Turkey, Iran, Russia and India are playing the New Silk Roads
Jan Oberg
Why is Google’s Eric Schmidt So Afraid?
Ezra Rosser
Pushing Back Against the Criminalization of Poverty
Kathy Kelly
The Quality of Mercy
Myles Hoenig
A Ray Moore Win Could be a Hidden Gift to Progressives
Gerry Brown
Myanmar Conflict: Geopolitical Food Chain
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: Robert Redford’s Big Game in Nairobi
Katrina Kozarek
Venezuela’s Communes: a Great Social Achievement
Zoltan Grossman
Olympia Train Blockade Again Hits the Achilles Heel of the Fracking Industry
Binoy Kampmark
History, Law and Ratko Mladić
Tommy Raskin
Why Must We Sanction Russia?
Bob Lord
Trump’s Tax Plan Will Cost a Lot More Than Advertised
Ralph Nader
National Democratic Party – Pole Vaulting Back into Place
Julian Vigo
If Sexual Harassment and Assault Were Treated Like Terrorism
Russell Mokhiber
Still Blowing Smoke for Big Tobacco: John Boehner and College Ethics
Louis Proyect
The Witchfinders
Ted Rall
Sexual Harassment and the End of Team Politics
Anna Meyer
Your Tax Dollars are Funding GMO Propaganda
Barbara Nimri Aziz
An Alleged Communist and Prostitute in Nepal’s Grade Ten Schoolbooks!
Myles Hoenig
A Ray Moore Win Could be a Hidden Gift to Progressives
Graham Peebles
What Price Humanity? Systemic Injustice, Human Suffering
Kim C. Domenico
To Not Walk Away: the Challenge of Compassion in the Neoliberal World
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Giving Thanks for Our Occupation of America?
Christy Rodgers
The First Thanksgiving
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “We Were Eight Years in Power”
David Yearsley
On the Road to Rochester, By Bike
November 23, 2017
Kenneth Surin
Discussing Trump Abroad
Jay Moore
The Failure of Reconstruction and Its Consequences
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Trout and Ethnic Cleansing
John W. Whitehead
Don’t Just Give Thanks, Pay It Forward One Act of Kindness at a Time
Chris Zinda
Zinke’s Reorganization of the BLM Will Continue Killing Babies
David Krieger
Progress Toward Nuclear Weapons Abolition
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail