The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is keeping an eye on certain nuclear plants, including Oyster Creek Generating Station, after a petition was filed by advocates concerned about the .
The petition, headed by Beyond Nuclear, an anti-nuclear organization, calls for the immediate suspension of 17 nuclear facilities with General Electric (GE) Boiling Water Reactors Mark 1 units, the same type of reactors at Fukushima that experienced a meltdown following an earthquake and tsunami.
“We should be freezing our Fukushima’s, like Oyster Creek, and not allowing them to operate given all the questions and until all those questions can be answered with confidence,” said Paul Gunter, Director of the Reactor Oversight Project for Beyond Nuclear.
The petition currently has over 6,000 co-petitioners, including the local group Grandmothers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety (GRAMMES). The advocates are also fighting for the 1989 approval of an experimental venting system to be revoked as well as for Mark 1 operators to install emergency backup power for the spent fuel cooling system, Gunter said.
“These are all issues that because of the horrible events that happened in Japan,” said Suzanne D’Ambrosio, spokesperson for Oyster Creek. “Can you compare the entire nuclear industry in the U.S. to the entire I don’t think the comparison is there.”
The design of Oyster Creek and Fukushima are similar but the Forked River-based nuclear plant has been modified and kept up to date, she said.
“Changes have been made over the years to keep it continually safe and keep it in tip top condition and to address industry concerns as they come about. We , the design itself. We saw firsthand a few weeks ago that it can withstand and ,” D’Ambrosio said.
The Petition Review Board of the NRC is considering revoking the approval of the vents currently installed at Oyster Creek, Gunter said. The vents were installed in 1990.
In 1972, several years after Oyster Creek came online, the containment structures of Mark 1 boilers were deemed likely to fail under a severe accident, Gunter said.
“It’s too small. GE built these things in an effort to undercut large dry containment, like Three Mile Island,” he said. “These containments are much less robust. They’re like . They don’t really have a containment that works.”
It was later confirmed that there is a 90 percent failure rate under severe conditions, Gunter said. In 1989 the NRC approved the voluntary installation of vents, which would vent open containment to the atmosphere.
The same vents installed at Oyster Creek, were installed at Fukushima in 1991. When Japan was hit with a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March, those vents had a 100 percent failure rate on three reactors, Gunter said.
“They’re a significant hazard now with continued operation. The NRC unfortunately has refused to shut the plant down until they figure out what they’re going to do about the vents,” Gunter said.
Need for Backup
Nuclear plants receive 100 percent of their power from the electrical grid, Gunter said.
In the event that power is lost, plants are designed to automatically or manually start with an emergency backup power system, he said.
“The backup power systems for safety systems keep a radioactive catastrophe from happening. However, when they go to emergency power, they have a set of priority safety systems which currently only focus on a subset of safety systems for the reactor,” he said.
The electrical power for the fuel pool, sitting on top of Oyster Creek, would shut off, Gunter said.
“Given what we’ve seen at Fukushima, we think that cooling that pool should be the priority of the operator,” he said. “They haven’t factored all the unintended consequences from allowing this water to boil away.”
The petition asks for automatic and manual backup systems to be installed to keep the fuel pool cool in the event of an emergency.
The NRC is considering additional backup systems but said they’ll require the installation of fire hoses, Gunter said.
Flood Planes, Tidal Zones and Storm Surges
Each of the Mark 1 reactors is located next to large bodies of water, Gunter said.
Nuclear plants rely on a large amount of water so they are typically located next to oceans, lakes, rivers, or reservoirs, he said.
Oyster Creek Generating Station is located off of Oyster Creek and is just miles from the Barnegat Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
But many are located on flood planes, tidal zones, or areas prone to storm surges, Gunter said.
The Cooper Station in Nebraska is on a flood plane, he said.
“There is a reevaluation that’s going on right now. We believe that many of these plants are operating well below those safety considerations. There’s no reason why they should be building nuclear power plants on flood planes. But they have. Just like they have built nuclear plants on earthquake faults,” Gunter said.
The NRC formed a Petition Review Board to consider Beyond Nuclear’s petition, spokesperson Neil Sheehan said.
The groups met with the board and NRC staff on June 8, 2011 to further discuss the petition, he said. The Petition Review Board accepted some of the concerns arose by the petition on Aug. 16, 2011.
The NRC will continue to review the back-up electric power to spent fuel pool cooling systems, the reliability of the hardened vent system or direct torus vent system and flooding concerns, Sheehan said.
At this point, action is not required, he said. “The threshold for continued assessment of the concerns is somewhat low at this stage of the review.”
“Of course, these issues are also being evaluated as part of a broader Japan-related review being carried out by the NRC staff. Along those lines, the NRC staff last week provided the Commission with recommendations in response to Fukushima Daiichi that it believes should be acted on ‘without delay,’ ” Sheehan said.
Another meeting with Beyond Nuclear addressing the dangerous containment and failed venting system for Oyster Creek and the other Mark 1 plants is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 7 from 10 a.m. to noon.
Interested members of the public can participate in this meeting via a toll-free audio teleconference. Please call 877-553-7601, passcode 5087356, which will accommodate 100 lines. If this line is busy, please call 866-741-7099, passcode 3340595, which will accommodate another 100 lines. If this line is also busy, please call 866-732-2413, passcode 8181837, which will accommodate an additional 100 lines.
The meeting will also available via webcast at http://video.nrc.gov.
For a copy of the petition, see the attached PDF.
Also attached is a NRC report containing the near-term recommendations of the Japan Task Force and the recommendations NRC staff believe should be implemented “without delay.”