By John LaForge
With its October decision to end the Kewaunee nuclear power experiment on Wisconsinâ€™s Lake Michigan shore, Dominion Resources has shown the over-hyped â€œnuclear renaissanceâ€ to be a â€œreactor reassessment.â€ 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 â€œphased layoffs.â€ Dominionâ€™s chief job creator Thomas Farrell said the closure is â€œbased purely on economics.â€ Will those free market economic forces continue to slow and stop the new nuclear experiment in dangerous energy in the U.S.?
Too Cheap to Meter
The industryâ€™s early advertising dream of electricity â€œtoo cheap to meterâ€ has become a radiation nightmare too costly to quantify. Initial shutdown expenses for the creaking, leaking 39-year-old monster â€” waste management and reactor dismantling, containerizing and transporting to dump sites â€” are roughly predictable. According to the Associated Press, Dominion, which bought Kewaunee in 2005 for $220 million, will â€œrecord a $281 million charge in [2013â€™s] third quarter related to the closing and decommissioning.â€ But thatâ€™s just the earnest money. Literally endless expenditures will be required to keep Kewauneeâ€™s radioactive wastes contained, monitored and out of drinking water for the length of time the federal appeals courts have declared is the required minimumâ€” 300,000 years.
The Green Bay Press-Gazette reported that Dominion has 60 years to see that Kewauneeâ€™s giant footprint is â€œreturned to a greenfield condition.â€ Just donâ€™t dig under that â€œgreenfield,â€ 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 the groundwater for at least 125 years.
Considering Wisconsinâ€™s nuclear power history, Kewauneeâ€™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 Kewauneeâ€™s termination and said it â€œhighlights the need to decrease unnecessary federal regulations.â€ Walkerâ€™s sort of de-regulation agenda has caused disasters like Three Mile Island and Fukushima, and wouldnâ€™t save nuclear power, in any case, because the Nuclear Regulatory Commissionâ€™s (NRC) rules are hardly ever enforced.
Trying to Stretch Reactor Life
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. For example, in the â€˜60s and â€˜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 very same reactors can run for 100 years. True to form, the NRC rubber-stamped a 20-year license extension for Kewaunee in March 2011 â€” like itâ€™s done previously with 71 other 40-year-old reactors.
The APâ€™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 operatorâ€™s application.
As reactors age, the AP investigation showed, wear and tear, corrosion and radiation-caused â€œimbrittlementâ€ 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 harmâ€™s way, including: 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 November 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 February 2005, etc.
As author and senior Greenpeace consultant Harvey Wasserman concluded, â€œThe real worry is that one or more of these old reactors might just blow before we can get it decommissioned.Â In that light, the shut-down of Kewaunee and the rest of its aging siblings canâ€™t come soon enough.â€ Caveat emptor, America.Â Â Î¦
John LaForge of Luck, Wisconsin, has been on the staff of the nuclear watchdog group Nukewatch since 1992, edits its Quarterly newsletter, and writes for PeaceVoice.
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