Davis-Besse 'vulnerable'

Nuclear power stations in Ohio are no safer today than they were before Japan’s nuclear crisis two years ago.
Melissa Topey
May 3, 2013

 

This was the message from Dave Lochbaum, of The Union of Concerned Scientists, during a recent talk at the University of Toledo.

Lochbaum’s group is an independent nonprofit, its sole agenda to protect the environment. Lochbaum is a widely recognized expert on the nuclear industry, and his group touts its commitment to scientific logic.  

The chief problem in today’s nuclear industry: widespread vulnerability on many fronts. 

“All of the reactors in Ohio today are as vulnerable as Fukushima was on March 10, 2011,” Lochbaum said.

Fires pose the greatest danger to nuclear power plants in the U.S, with earthquakes a close second. 

Lochbaum has been critical of U.S. nuclear plant operators and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency that oversees these power plants. Facility owners often fail to comply with regulations, and the regulatory commission often fails to enforce the regulations, allowing some facilities to go decades without meeting new safety standards, Lochbaum said. 

He cited an example: In 1980 and then again in 2004, the regulatory commission issued updated fire-protection regulations. To this day, about 40 nuclear plants still have not met these regulations. 

“All of the reactors in Ohio are adequately protected against fire and earthquakes — unless a fire or earthquake happens,” Lochbaum said.

Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Carroll Township, just west of Sandusky, has a documented history of problems with fire protection systems.

Perry Nuclear Power Plant, about 30 minutes east of Cleveland, has the same problems, as well earthquakes hazard issues, Lochbaum said.

Both plants are under a higher level of attention from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Lochbaum said.For obvious reasons, fire can be a tremendous hazard at a nuclear power plant. It can disable power and controls for primary safety systems and their backups, much as the tsunami waters did in March 2011 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan.  In November 2011, there was a fire in an electrical panel in an axillary building at Davis-Besse. The fire burned itself out, but the incident was caused by water leaking from a valve on a water pipe, then onto an electrical panel. It arched the system and started the fire, according to regulatory commission data. 

Earthquakes pose similar risks because they can damage components, such as piping, and they can also trigger fires in pipes carrying flammable gases or liquids. The contents of a ruptured pipe can be ignited.  

And too often, Lochbaum said, people think an earthquake can’t hit where they live. Earthquakes can happen anywhere, unexpectedly. 

The industry’s workplace dynamics may potentially be exacerbating problems, too, if not outright stymieing any solutions.  

In 2012, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Office of the Inspector General hired the risk-management consultant Towers Watson to conduct a survey. Of about 3,000 employees who responded to the study, 51 percent felt they’d been retaliated against for expressing safety concerns.

Lochbaum said the regulatory commission is capable of serving as the industry’s watchdog, but it too often does not live up to its potential. The bar is set high when it comes to industry standards, he said, but the regulatory commission allows companies to “limbo” under these safety measures.

Officials at one local energy company — a big player in the nuclear game — said they take safety very seriously. 

“As operators of nuclear power plants, safety is FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company’s top priority,” said Jennifer Young, spokesperson for FirstEnergy. “FENOC plants are designed to criteria much more stringent than that of non-nuclear facilities, and (they) meet or exceed federal regulations for safety systems.” 

FirstEnergy’s plants incorporate many features to protect plant equipment, while also providing substantial operational and safety margins to counter a wide variety of events, including earthquakes and fires. These systems and the equipment are regularly inspected and tested to ensure they continue to provide adequate protection, Young said.

Viktoria Mitlyng, a spokeswoman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said her agency works hard to make sure the nuclear industry is safe.

It can be complicated for some facilities to adapt to new regulations, and it sometimes takes longer than expected, Mitlyng said. In the interim in such cases, power plants must have a temporary plan in place to ensure the public is safe.“One of our cornerstones of safety is making sure employees are free to raise concerns,” Mitlyng said.

If an employee feels uncomfortable discussing safety concerns at a given facility, they can file an anonymous complaint with the regulatory commission.

“Their identities are protected,” Mitlyng said.There have been investigations into the safety culture, or lack thereof, at facilities, including decades ago at Davis-Besse, and more recently at Palisades Nuclear Plant in Michigan. Mitlyng challenged any notion that the regulatory commission cannot be a watchdog. 

“We have strict regulations, and we make sure they are adhered to,” she said.

Lochbaum disagrees.

“Allowing millions of people to be subjected to undo risk is not in their job descriptions,” Lochbaum said. 

Without public outcry or a significant nuclear disaster in the U.S., the regulatory commission isn’t likely to hasten its correction of these safety problems, he said.

Former U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich said Lochbaum is right.

“Dave Lochbaum knows very well what he is talking about,” Kucinch said. 

Many nuclear plants are aging long past their intended lifespan and they should not be relicensed, Kucinich said. 

There are serious safety concerns the Nuclear Regulatory Commissions is not addressing, he said. 

“If they were not owned by the industry, we would see Davis-Besse shut down,” Kucinich said. “Davis-Besse is a ticking time bomb. The only question is when.”

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The Union of Concerned Scientists has issued some key recommendations for the nuclear industry to prevent severe accidents or mitigate the effects: 

• Extend regulations to include the prevention and mitigation of severe incidents. Require reactor owners to develop and test emergency procedures for situations in which there’s no power for an extended period.
•Modify emergency planning requirements to ensure everyone is protected, not just people within the 10-mile planning zone. 
To make nuclear reactors safer:
•The Nuclear Regulatory Commission should enforce fire-protection regulations.
•The commission should establish timely goals for resolving safety issues. Some plant owners have had decades to meet regulations, but still have yet to do so.
•The commission should require new reactor designs to be safer than existing reactors.

Comments

SamAdams

We should all be VERY worried. Earthquakes and tidal waves are SOoooo common in the Lake Erie area! Hah.

In general terms, existing nuclear power plants aren't dangerous because they're nuclear power plants. They're BECOMING dangerous because they're OLD. And certain scare-mongers and the otherwise ignorant have been more than a little successful in preventing the construction of newer, safer plants. Apparently, they'd rather burn coal or see brown-outs, black-outs, or rationing before they'd consider anything that has the word "nuclear" involved.

Licorice Schtick

Denial is so much more convenient than solving a difficult problem.

They ARE dangerous because they're OLD.

The plan everywhere is the same - to operate the plant until they can't any more, and then file for bankruptcy. There are inadequate reserves for decommissioning obsolete plants. The People will be stuck with a gazillion dollar bill.

Nuclear power pays neither the risk costs nor the decommissioning costs it imposes on society.

MrSandusky

Fear sells, what else can you say?

Nor'easter

If all these anti-nuclear people would live according to their claims, stop using power, and return to an agrarian lifestyle there would be plenty of power for the rest of us. Time for Kucinich to crawl back into his cave along with the rest of his cronies.

queenjhb

hi,

Eph 2 8-10

The sky is falling, the sky is falling......

Justme...

"The chief problem in today’s nuclear industry: widespread vulnerability on many fronts." I read the entire article looking for something more specific...nothing more forthcoming.

Statealltheway

I'm kind of on the fence about this...I can see how the comments about "fear sells" and "the sky is falling" are true -- some people love to worry and make a stink about nothing, just for the sake of being heard. But on the other hand...

What if something does happen?? These plants are growing older and older -- Davis Besse has a track record of close calls and problems. It only takes one slip for this to go horribly wrong -- next thing you know, there's a 30mile "dead zone" around Davis Besse. Could you imagine having to abandon your home a never come back?? Could you imagine Cedar Point sitting vacant and crumbling to the ground?? My point is, we live in a beautiful place and we need to take all steps to protect it...I'd rather be overkill with safety on these power plants than have something happen.

gene44870

well recieved and approved , You have hit the nail right on the head , but thats one thing you have to think about is closing the death plants and stop it while theirs a chance of reversing the damage that has taken place
No one cant prove to me that the plant has not damaged the lake . if their are cracks and a bunch of people that dont care enough to make sure that all safety steps possiable are being done , then what makes us say that the lake is not damaged in one way or the other ?

Kimo

Not to worry about the waste pilling up out there.
Give them another twenty years or so and it will become the "Keller Building" of Ottawa County.
Never concern yourself with a bill you don't intend to pay, just pass it on to future generations.
It's the American way......

your master

It is better that we experience 1000 Fukushima than for even $1 be spent on this mess!

Really are you ...

No worries the outer shell is still cracked from the winter storm of 1978. I took a tour, and listened to a lecture from a few of the engineers, a couple of years ago. Because of the extensive rules, regulations, and guidelines they have to follow that it could take up to a year to replace even a valve.

Kimo

Taking a "tour" would make one an expert on nukes.

Given that.... Have you told your grandchildren about the waste they will have to clean up?

Really are you ...

No. Nowhere near an expert on Nuclear Power Generating Power Plants or "Nukes." An engineer there referred to Davis-Bessie as a "Nuke Plant." Watch the Chernobyl Disaster on youtube, nothing good can come out of nuclear radiation for thousands of years. There is pretty much nowhere to hide from radiation either. Eventually the foods we eat will be contaminated by things growing at the beginning of the food chain that absorbed the radiation through rain water. Fukushima Daiichi nuclear radiation has already been spread around the world. Why spread the word of possible dangers of this stuff now?

SummerhomenSomrnot

Between Davis Beese, the 'once in awhile' floods around here, an occasional tornado touch down, and whatever else that would qualify an evacuation,we each have our own Bugout Bag packed and ready to rolllll ;-)

gene44870

The only way to make these plants safe is to close them and not reopen them .
I am a firm believor that the cancer cluster in Clyde is somehow related,
not to mention the way the lake is and you all have to remeber that all streams have to conect to a lake or bay , and where is the D.B plant?
Right on the bay or lake , really dont make no difference cause they both connect .
I think that there should be other ways to power your lights , computer and so forth other then using something that can change the north coast to something that we can not live in .

herbie_hancock

You obviously have no idea how these plants even work. Davis Besse IS NOT the same kind of plant as Fukushima. The waste is NOT "piling up", its approximately the spent fuel is the size of a cut up pencil. And they have already identified the cause of the "cancer cell" in Clyde (hence a $750 million lawsuit) and it was most certainly not a nuclear power plant. These plants do take the recommendations from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission VERY seriously, failure to do so leads to multi millions in fines if a procedure or precaution is not adhered to. As for their "bad track record" its mostly a bunch of little things (like the crack) that the local papers have blown wayyy out of poportion because its a "nuclear" power plant. The biggest mark on their record was caused by one engineer years ago who didn't do his job. He was fired, civily fined nearly $75,000 and lost his license, making him an example for everyone else in the industry. Until someone comes up with a more efficient/cost effective/reliable way of producing energy, nuclear power will be around.

DGMutley

Was that 1/4 inch before or after they scraped the corrosion away?

Restless1

Just another prof who wants his name out there. "Publish or Perish" is the law in our Universities. That's what keeps them on the payroll.

eriemom

The Union of Concerned Scientists is neither a Union or College entity. They provide information to the body politic and the public.

KURTje

Nor'easter as one who creates I have the joy of paying a low propane usage fee. Got to keep the fatties @ the top huge. Can you use their "clean" water?

DGMutley

Low propane?

Contango

"They (UCS) provide information to the body politic and the public."

Correction:

They provide socialistic, left-wing funded "mis-information" in order advance a politically oriented agenda.

CO2 levels are rising on Mars; evidence of an underground advanced Martian civilization? :)

DGMutley

Fukushima. Why, being right on the ocean, would engineers put the emergency generators in a low-lying area where they could be flooded out in a tsunami? There’s a question as to whether it is even safe to live in Japan now.

I am pro-nuclear. It’s a lot safer than folks dying from emissions.

eriemom

Evidence of rock decay, out-gassing, and phase change of CO2. Much of it sublimation.

Really are you ...

Just to throw this out there. There are ways to produce electricity in a persons home for generations to come. This power producing device can be placed in a vehicle, of any size, and be driven with 0 MPG for generations to come, no plugging in to recharge is required. This device has zero emissions, environment and people friendly, and will solve the electrical generation problem for our future generations to come. It does not use any of the current methods of electrical generation or electrical storage. That is for the here and now, but all of those nuclear power plant rods will have to still sit in cooling pools of water for thousands of years.

Really are you ...

Electricity is all around us all the time. Electricity is neither created nor destroyed, it is induced. You have to know how to harness it.

KURTje

Yes mutley

DGMutley

Did the price of propane come down recently? It was sky-high; wasn't it?