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Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015 at 6:46 AM
Nuclear Shutdown News chronicles the continuing decline of the US nuclear industry, and the people working for better energy alternatives.
As I was gathering information for this issue, one word kept popping up: Entergy.
Entergy is a gigantic energy corporation whose highrise headquarters renders the skyline of downtown New Orleans.
Among its holdings are 11 nuclear power reactors, making it the nation’s second largest nuclear power company, after Chicago’s Exelon.
At the turn pf the century Entergy went on a nuke plant spending spree, buying up a half dozen aging reactors at bargain basement prices, as nuke plants go.
Those included Pilgrim in Cape Cod (purchased in 1999); Fitzgerald and Indian Point 2 & 3 in New York (2000); Vermont Yankee (2002); and Palisades in Michigan (2007).
The point of these purchases, of course, was to boost corporate profits. But, as time would tell and this issue will illustrate, Energy’s scheme would come with other prices that are coming due now.
On December 29 of last year, as multiple sources reported, Energy permanently shut down its Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. VY started up in 1972, and so was several years past the 40 year mark US nuke plants were designed to operate until when it closed for good.
After Entergy took over Vermont Yankee in 2002, things went steadily downhill. A radioactive lake developed under the plant, and Entergy lied about its knowledge of it. The rad lake leaked into the nearby Connecticut River, which flows south into Massachusetts. No nukes protesters besieged VY, and marched on its local corporate headquarters in nearby Brattleboro, VT.
For its part, the state of Vermont refused to allow Entergy to operate VY for another 20 years and ordered it to permanently shut down the plant ASAP.
Entergy fought back in federal court and won the right to push VY along for another 20 years, but in vain. Vermont Yankee simply wasn’t the money maker it once was, and so Entergy eventually came to terms with the state of Vermont and agreed to a permanent shutdown for VY.
This was a great victory for the Nuke Free Movement. And following on the shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear plant in southern California in 2013, the lights are growing dimmer in nuclear power corporate offices across the nation every day.
Vermont Yankee’s problems, however, are far from over. It’s not clear if Entergy will pay for all the costs of VY’s shutdown and dismantlement, as it’s supposed to.
And, on February 11, MASS Live reported: “Cancer causing isotope found in groundwater near Vermont Yankee.” This article related how the Vermont Department of Health had found Strontium 90 “at a level less than accepted as safe by the Federal Government, but higher than expected” near the plant.
Strontium 90 is created by the detonation of nuclear weapons, as well as the operation of nuclear power reactors. It is not found in nature. Rising levels of Sr 90 resulting from atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the ‘50s and ‘60s led to passage of the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963.
One consequence of Vermont Yankee’s shutdown is that its reactor will no longer be producing Strontium 90 and the many other radioactive poisons that nuke reactors routinely emit into the environment.
The Associated Press reported on January 9 that, at Entergy’s Indian Point 3 reactor, “Alarm failure forces partial shut down at New York plant.” Indian Point is 35 miles north of New York City.
According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “A faulty alarm system that would warn of low levels in a water tank forced workers to begin a shut down.
“Cold weather affected a heater at Indian Point 3’s water storage tank. The heater’s failure meant two alarms weren’t working.”
The article reported that the tank is important because it would be used to pump water into the reactor during an accident, water that might be used to prevent a nuclear meltdown.
In another example of Entergy bad energy, nola.com reported that things weren’t so jolly at Entergy’s River Bend nuke plant in Louisiana on Christmas morning. The River Bend reactor, located 24 miles northwest of Baton Rouge on the Mississippi River, is nearly 30 years old, and has always been owned by Entergy, unlike Vermont Yankee.
On this usually festive morning, the nuclear plant “automatically shut down,” nola.com reported, “due to the failure of an electrical circuit for a valve controlling one of the turbines that generates electricity” at the plant.
This accident didn’t directly involve the nuclear reactor, but after the shutdown ‘water levels in the reactor reached an overly high 54 inches. That resulted in pumps that feed water to the reactor shutting down.”
As at Indian Point, without water covering the reactor fuel to keep it cool when the reactor is shut down, River Bend was on the way to meltdown.
“When the water level dropped below 51 inches, workers attempted to restart one of the feedwater pumps, and it failed to start. Workers then used an alternative pump to take the failed pump’s place but another valve and another pump failed, “and monitoring equipment indicated that the water level in the reactor had dropped to an extremely low 8.1”
Fortunately the plant workers “manually restored the water level in the reactors to its normal height,” thus avoiding disaster.
But the multiple failures prompted the NRC to send a special inspection to another beleaguered Entergy nuclear plant.
On January 31, the Boston Globe reported that Entergy’s 42 year old Pilgrim nuclear reactor on Cape Cod was also “under review” by the NRC “following an unplanned shutdown during last week’s blizzard.”
The Globe also reported “the outage was related to the blizzard” and was “blamed for the shutdown of two major lines carrying electricity from the plant. Officials said the problem was similar to one that occurred during a 2013 blizzard.”
On February 5 WBUR reported the Pilgrim “lost power during last week’s blizzard and had to rely on [diesel powered] generators to run the nuclear plant’s safety systems.”
Before the storm, Pilgrim Watch and another watchdog group had asked Entergy to shut down Pilgrim as a precautionary measure, but they were ignored.
But on February 15, as another blizzard approached, Cape Cod Today reported that Entergy had already shut down Pilgrim “in preparation of potential loss of offsite power and the grid’s inability to accept the power Pilgrim generates.”
As for the NRC, it declared, “The decision to shut down Pilgrim was a voluntary action on the part of Entergy. It was not an action sought or required by the NRC.”
And, Reuters reported on February 4, a “New York judge rule Entergy cannot stop hearings to shut down Indian Point for part of the summer to protect fish in the Hudson River.”
The proposal is to shut down Entergy’s two Indian Point reactors for at least 42 days between May 10 and August 10 annually during the peak of fish migrations in the river. Indian Point takes in up to 2.5 billion gallons from the river daily, and later releases it back at warmer temperatures.
This causes thermal stress that kills many newly born fish. New York’s environmental agency and environmental activists want Entergy to build cooling towers to reduce this thermal stress. But Entergy claims this is too costly.
The judge’s decision allows the battle over implementing the summer shut down policy at Indian Point to continue.
On February 19, Dr. Ernest Sternglass died at age 91. Dr. Sternglass was a pioneer in linking radioactive emissions from nuclear weapons detonations and nuclear power “routine” emissions to the development of health problems such as cancer, infant mortality, low birthweight babies, and premature deaths.
In particular, Dr. Sternglass’ book, Secret Fallout: From Hiroshima to Three Mile Island, is a brilliant and highly influential work. Without it, it’s highly unlikely there would be a Nuclear Shutdown News.
Dr. Sternglass was also a founding member of the Radiation and Public Health Project (www.radiation.org), which carries on his work.
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