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Thursday, October 12, 2006
Associated Press

LAS VEGAS – The Energy Department is reconsidering building a rail line through western Nevada to the site of a proposed national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, officials said.

The north-south route dubbed the Mina Corridor was examined in the 1990s but shelved after the Walker River Paiute Indians refused access to their reservation. The tribe reconsidered this year.

The Energy Department has said it favored plans to build a 319-mile east-west rail line from Caliente, near the Utah border, across rural Nevada to the nuclear dump site, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The so-called Caliente Corridor route could cost $2 billion.

Department officials notified state and local leaders and members of Congress that the plan to take another look at the Mina route would be published Friday in the Federal Register. A draft notice obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal said the Mina coordor would be shorter, cross fewer mountain ranges and utilize existing rail bed.

“These potential advantages would simplify design and construction,” the department said.

The Energy Department plans to continue preparing an environmental impact statement on the Caliente corridor, with informational meetings about the rail plans planned in November in several Nevada towns.

Draft versions of both studies would be released by the summer, department and Yucca Mountain project spokesman Allen Benson said in Las Vegas.

Walker River Indian tribal leaders reversed policy and agreed in May to let the government map a new rail line through their reservation. The tribal chairwoman said the tribe was reserving a final decision on allowing nuclear waste shipments.

The state of Nevada opposes the repository plan. However, Bob Halstead, a transportation consultant for the state, said a north-south
corridor appeared to make more sense and could cost less than the Caliente route.

There currently is no rail line to the Yucca site, which Congress and the Bush administration picked in 2002 as the place to entomb 77,000 tons of radioactive waste now being stored at nuclear reactors in 39 states. The project has been stalled by funding shortfalls and questions about quality control work du

Los Angeles Times
October 16, 2006

The U.S. Energy Department cannot meet its own post-Sept. 11 security standards to repel a terrorist force at the Ft. Knox of uranium, a Tennessee facility that stores an estimated 189 metric tons of bomb-grade material, agency officials acknowledged.

The material is stored in five masonry and wood frame buildings at the Y-12 facility, a key part of the nation’s nuclear weapons infrastructure at the Oak Ridge site near Knoxville.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, a part of the Energy Department, is building a secure facility to warehouse the material that is due to be completed in 2009. Until then, the Energy Department has given itself an “extension,” or waiver, on meeting security requirements at the site.

At risk in an attack is terrorists gaining access to highly enriched uranium and then within minutes improvising a crude but powerful nuclear device.

The problems at Y-12 were disclosed in a report by the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington group that has pushed the Energy Department to strengthen security at all U.S. nuclear weapons sites.

Officials at the Y-12 facility acknowledged that they are not meeting the current security requirements, but they rejected the concerns raised by the organization.

Y-12 spokesman Steven Wyatt said the security force could effectively defend the site and prevent terrorists from constructing a weapon.

“There are better odds that an asteroid would hit Oak Ridge than the likelihood that terrorists would have the access and time to build and detonate” an improvised device, Wyatt said.

At the site, the department has 527 guards.

To meet the federal security standard would have required a force of 800 guards, said Peter Stockton, one of the key authors of the report.

Audit finds excessive bonuses at INL
DOE inspection cites lab’s contractor; other officials defend subjective nature of awarding fees
Idaho Statesman
The Associated Press
September 20, 2006

IDAHO FALLS — The contractor running the Idaho National Laboratory has received more than $2 million in overly liberal bonus money, an audit has found.

The audit by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General found that Battelle Energy Alliance received the money in reward fees since February 2005 when it took over operations at INL, the 890-square-mile federal nuclear research area in eastern Idaho.

The audit, released in August, also found that goals set by the department were months late, and on some occasions came after the work was done.

Officials at the department acknowledged that due dates had been missed, but said deciding whether reward fees were reasonable was subjective.

“It may be impossible to ever consistently meet the expectations of the (inspector general) regarding fee allocations,” Dennis Spurgeon, the department’s assistant secretary for nuclear energy, said in a written response.

The audit report cited seven cases of bonus fees that were too large. Four of the cases gave Battelle a “sales commission” for getting new projects.

The contractor, in one case, could earn $499,000 for getting $100,000 worth of work.

In another example, the audit found that the cost of completing some steps to establish the Center for Advanced Energy Studies would be $220,000 for labor. But Battelle could earn $600,000 for completing the steps.

John Lindsay, a Battelle spokesman, said the report on the Center for Advanced Energy Studies work was unfair because the collaborative work with the state, universities and others was not considered.

Battelle, in a written response, also said that the fees were based on the value of the work to the government, and that the fees were a good value to the department and taxpayers.

The audit blamed the department for releasing performance plans months after the fiscal year started.

At least one performance deadline had passed by the time the department had told Battelle of its priorities.

New York Times, September 18, 2006
Reactors Prone to Long Closings, Study Finds
By MATTHEW L. WALD

An analysis of nuclear reactors by a safety group has found that they are prone to costly, lengthy shutdowns for safety problems regardless of their age or the experience of their managers. The finding could have implications for companies considering building new
reactors.

The analysis, by David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists, counted 51 times that a reactor had been closed for a year or more. Thirty-six of those shutdowns were to restore an adequate level of safety by fixing flaws in equipment, procedures or training; 11 were to replace major components required for operations and safety; and 4 were for damage recovery. In all, of the 130 power reactors ever licensed, 41, were closed for at least a year. Ten were closed twice.

Mr. Lochbaum said the most common reason for a shutdown was for an “attitude adjustment” for workers and managers, so they would be more attuned to safety. He said he was surprised by some of his findings, which are scheduled to be released Monday. “I expected that the first plant off an assembly line would have been challenged, or troubled, but that there was a learning curve, and the fourth or fifth or sixth plant for a company would have avoided these problems,” he said. “But it wasn’t the case.”

But a vice president of the industry’s trade association, Marvin Fertell of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said that the industry had, in fact, learned from its errors, and that only experienced operators would build new plants. And at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Stuart A. Richards, deputy director of the division of inspection, said his agency had improved its inspections, to focus on “risk-significant areas,” and was now able to find problems more promptly.

Extended shutdowns would be a bigger problem for future plants because, in the past, electricity customers of regulated utilities paid for them. But some of the reactor construction projects now being considered would be built as “merchant” plants, with no guaranteed income, only revenue from power sales.

The heart of the problem, Mr. Lochbaum said, is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not good at assessing the ability of a reactor staff to keep the plant in good physical condition and maintain training and other requirements. As a result, he said, plants operate until serious problems accumulate and force a shutdown.

“This is the wrong way to do business, from a safety standpoint and an economic standpoint,” he said in a telephone interview.
Mr. Fertell, of the industry trade group, agreed.

The only reactor currently in an extended shutdown is the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Browns Ferry Unit 1, in Alabama. It last ran in 1985. The shutdown of more than a year that ended most recently was at Davis-Besse, near Toledo, Ohio, where workers found that an acid used in the plant, boron, had corroded a 70-pound chunk of steel in the reactor’s vessel head,
leaving only a half-inch stainless steel liner.

Early in the era of commercial nuclear power, analysts theorized that shutdowns were what was known in the industry as “teething problems” and that with experience, reactors would run more smoothly. But most of the shutdowns came after the reactors were 10 years old. The Davis-Besse plant was more than 23 years old when it was closed in 2002. It was closed for more than two years. Besides the hole in the reactor head, engineers later found that crucial pumps that used water for lubrication were prone to break down because of debris in the water. Discovery of decades-old design problems is common during lengthy shutdowns.

While Mr. Lochbaum, a longtime adversary of the nuclear industry, is often critical of the companies that operate reactors, he said regulators were the problem in this area. The rules require reactors to have Corrective
Action Programs to keep track of physical and procedural problems, and each lengthy shutdown is an indication that the program itself is flawed, he said. Regulators monitor the physical condition of reactors, he said, but are not good at observing the quality of the corrective programs.

For example, the commission gave high marks to the program at Davis-Besse less than a year before inspectors found that operators had let acid eat through six inches of steel, bringing the plant close to a catastrophic rupture.

Mr. Richards said he had not seen the report but acknowledged errors by the commission in handling the Davis-Besse case. But he said N.R.C. inspections had been improved using a new process, of which the Corrective Action Program itself was a major component.

And, he said, the commission had previously penalized reactors for accumulations of minor violations, adding them up to count for a major problem; now it focuses only on major problems.

Mr. Lochbaum said that after a reactor was shut down for one reason, other problems were often discovered. In an extended shutdown at the Crystal River plant, in Florida, workers found design defects even though the plant had been running for nearly 20 years. He said the problems included that, in an emergency, the pumps would not have worked as intended and piping would have exposed workers and the public to radiation.

“Did the plant’s owner bring in busloads of smarter workers after the N.R.C. put the reactor on notice?” Mr. Lochbaum asked in the report. The problem, he said, was that perception by the inspectors that plant management was competent was blinding them to problems at the reactors.

But Mr. Fertell, of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said an extended reactor shutdown often became “a monster can of worms.” “You were basically under a magnifying glass,” he said, with inspectors finding issues faster than management could resolve them.

Apr 2 2012

Space Solar Idaho

Space Solar Idaho
By Karl Grossman
September 2006

For years NASA insisted it couldn’t be done. Beyond the orbit of Mars, NASA said, solar energy could not be used to generate electricity for onboard power on space devices. So the agency used the extremely dangerous nuclear substance, plutonium, as
fuel in electric generating systems—and people on Earth were put at great risk in the event of an accident. In the last several years, NASA moved to expand its space nuclear program. And, the Department of Energy—which provides the plutonium-fueled systems to
NASA—announced it was going to consolidate the production of plutonium for them at Idaho National Laboratory.

Now, suddenly, it turns out that plutonium power is not necessary even beyond the orbit of Mars. NASA concedes: solar power will do just fine. As the leading space industry trade magazine, Aviation Week & Space Technology, recently reported: “Budget and technical realities have led NASA to put its once-ambitious space nuclear power plans on a slow track, but
development in solar power generation should allow new scientific probes beyond Mars to operate without nuclear energy. The U.S. space agency is already planning a solar-powered mission to study the atmosphere of Jupiter, and has looked at sending probes as deep into space as Neptune using only the Sun’s energy for spacecraft and instrument power…It is all but certain the next U.S. deep-space missions will be solar-powered.” Neptune!

The piece went on describe the new giant solar energy systems that will be used to harvest solar energy at record efficiencies vast distances from the Sun.

Jeremy Maxand, executive director of Idaho’s nuclear watchdog, the Snake River Alliance, which has been challenging using INL to produce plutonium, says: “It’s good to see plutonium space batteries following in the steps of the now demoted planet Pluto. We’ve said since day one that plutonium is unnecessary and dangerous, and that we can do the same job a better way, and now we’re seeing what that better way is—solar.”

And, as in space so goes the Earth below. Maxand notes: “The window of opportunity to fool the public into going nuclear, in energy and space travel, is quickly closing. While DOE and big nuke contractors like Lockheed Martin are rushing to secure funding and policy to keep nuclear around, alternative energy developers are running laps around the nuke industry, building manufacturing plants and putting up wind farms faster than the government can finish a plutonium draft environmental impact statement.”

The nightmare of nuclear power has taken a huge toll—and has stood to cause even more illness and death. There have been the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters, and numerous near misses.

Of 28 U.S. space missions using plutonium, there have been three accidents, the worst in 1964 in which a plutonium-powered satellite fell back to Earth, breaking up and spreading the toxic radioactive substance widely. Dr. John Gofman, professor emeritus of medical physics at the University of California at Berkeley, has long linked that accident to an increased rate of lung cancer on Earth.

There have been dangerous NASA schemes such as the plutonium-fueled Cassini mission. In 1997, NASA launched its Cassini probe, which carried more plutonium than ever put on a space device; and in 1999, Cassini was hurtled back at Earth in a “flyby” to increase its velocity so it could get to Saturn. If there was what NASA called an “inadvertent reentry” of Cassini into the Earth’s atmosphere during the “flyby” just a few hundred miles up, it would disintegrate and “5 billion…of the world population…could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure,” NASA admitted in its Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission.

Opponents said solar could substitute for plutonium on Cassini. No way, said NASA. Cassini made it past, but six weeks later NASA’s Mars Climate Observer on a “flyby” of Mars came in too low—one NASA team calculated altitude in feet, another in meters, and the “human error” screw-up caused it to crash. It could have been Cassini.

What’s going to happen now concerning plutonium production at INL?

Probably, DOE will claim it’s important to continue another use—a so-called “national security” use—of the especially nasty isotope of plutonium, Plutonium-238, to be fabricated at INL.

What DOE is referring to is the use of plutonium in surveillance devices the U.S. has through the decades left in far-flung areas of the world.

Here, too, solar panels could harvest the needed energy safely. And, post-9/11, scattering plutonium-fueled surveillance devices around the planet is asking for it. All it would take is “a terrorist with a Phillips head screwdriver” to take plutonium from one of these devices and fabricate a super-dirty bomb, as Maxand has pointed out.

As to the safety record of these systems, most of it is hidden in secrecy but an illuminating book, just-published, is An Eye at the Top of the World by Pete Takeda. It reports now how the CIA installed a plutonium-powered surveillance device in the mid-1960s in the Himalayas, which was subsequently swept away by an avalanche. The device fell and sunk into a glacier and was lost.

The plutonium it contained is now “moving ever closer to the source of the Ganges River”—a sacred river for a billion people.
We don’t need plutonium in space, at INL, or spreading into the Ganges.