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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.

CATCHING THE WIND
Towering turbines on rural ridge lines could signal the future of energy in Idaho
Idaho Statesman
September 3, 2006
Tim Woodward

BONE — Forty-three wind turbines, each as tall as a 20-story building, rise from the rolling hills around Bone and stretch for nearly six miles. Lending an unexpected, European look to this rural corner of southeast Idaho, they evoke Danish landscapes or postcards from Holland.

Steve Rhodes, whose family has ranched and farmed for four generations on nearby Crippled Couple Ranch, admits that the windmills “took some getting used to.”

“They changed the landscape. But now I think they’re kinda pretty. This is something I’ve dreamed about all my life. The wind blows most of the time out here. I’ve always thought somebody ought to do something about it.”

Somebody is. Compared with the mass of a hydroelectric dam or the stacks of a coal-fired plant, the Wolverine Creek Wind Farm looks benign, almost low-tech. Few would guess that the pale gray turbine blades spinning almost silently in the green hills around Bone provide enough electricity to power 12,000 homes.

Idaho’s largest wind farm could be a harbinger of the state’s energy future. A smaller commercial wind farm, Fossil Gulch, is operating near Hagerman, and a project three times the size of Wolverine Creek is projected to be operating near Albion in 2008. Its turbines would dot ridge lines for 18 miles and provide enough power for 40,000 homes. More than 40 other projects large and small are in various stages of planning.

Modern technology has brought wind power from the realm of weird science to mainstream development. Wind power doesn’t pollute, it contributes jobs and tax dollars to rural economies and, unlike coal or natural gas, it has no fuel costs. Demand among prospective developers is great enough that wind turbines are back-ordered two years. Wind farms along the Snake River Plain could soon be as common as potato fields.

Not everyone likes wind power. Albion residents have signed a petition opposing the Cotterel project, which they say would dominate the landscape. Albion’s Jim Wahlgren, chairman of a committee opposed to Cotterel, adds that wind farms are less effective than other methods of energy production because the wind isn’t always blowing.

“A geothermal plant being built in Cassia County will produce half as much power as Cotterel on only eight acres,” he said.

At the Idaho Division of Energy office in Boise, however, principal energy specialist Gerry Galinato says wind is the renewable energy source with the proven technology most likely to affect Idaho’s energy picture in the near future. He ranks geothermal and biomass (converting biological material such as wood waste into energy) second and third.

‘Green’ technology

“Wind is the renewable technology of today,” said State Sen. Curt McKenzie, a Nampa Republican and co-chairman of a committee working to revise Idaho’s energy plan. “And it’s only going to be a more reliable source as we learn how to capture the energy and release it better. Of all the renewable energies, wind is where our largest supply will come from.”

Wind and other renewable sources meet what appears to be a growing desire among Idahoans for green energy. A public outcry over emissions was a factor in the defeat of Sempra Corp.’s proposed coal-fired plant in the Magic Valley this spring, and wind was the energy source of choice in a 2005 Boise State University study of energy policy issues.

Of 534 adults BSU surveyed statewide, 59 percent chose wind as the most desirable source of power. It was the most popular choice, followed by solar and hydro. Natural gas, coal and oil were rated the least desirable.

Idaho’s wind power potential is significant. A Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development study estimates it at 1,800 megawatts of power – three times the 600 megawatts the Sempra plant would have produced. The state ranks 13th among states in potential wind power, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Its ranking would be higher if not for an abundance of sites aesthetically off limits – no one wants wind turbines dotting the White Clouds, Sawtooths, Craters of the Moon or other iconic vistas.

Two wind-energy companies consider Idaho’s resources promising enough to have moved their headquarters here from other states. One is the Exergy Development Group, which has offices in California and Montana but now operates mainly out of Boise.

“Southern Idaho is one big wind machine,” Exergy President James Carkulis said. “It starts in the west and slides up the western slopes to the northeast with few geographical factors to impede it.”

Exergy has utility contracts for 10 wind farms in Idaho with a total of 138 megawatts of power output. They would nearly triple the 75.4 megawatts now produced in the state, almost all of it at Wolverine Creek and Fossil Gulch.

Helping Rural Idaho

Wind farms are built primarily in rural areas, bringing jobs and tax revenues with them. Windland Inc., which moved its headquarters to Boise in 1993, recently completed a four-year federal approval process for its planned 200-megawatt Cotterel Mountain Wind Farm at Albion. Cotterel would provide significant employment during its construction, according to company spokesman Mike Heckler, and up to 15 permanent maintenance and operations jobs paying $30,000 to $60,000 a year.

“Cotterel will increase tax value in Cassia County by 25 percent and require very little in the way of services,” he said. “We won’t need things like another school or another sheriff’s deputy.”

Wolverine Creek, which straddles two counties, went on line late last year and will pay an estimated $719,700 this year to Bonneville County taxing districts. Bingham County will receive roughly a third as much. Wolverine manager Manny Morrell oversaw up to 200 people during construction.

“We used local companies for timber, excavating, trucking, concrete, electrical and engineering,” Morrell said. “The work fueled business at hotels, restaurants, stores – you name it.”

While providing relatively few maintenance and operations jobs – four at Wolverine Creek – wind can be a source of income for local ranchers and farmers on whose land wind turbines are erected. Depending on the amount of power produced, they typically receive a percentage of profits ranging from $4,000 to $7,000 per year per turbine. The turbines’ effect on crops and livestock is minimal.

“I don’t have any on my land,” said Rhodes, whose farm lies a breath of wind away from Wolverine Creek. “But I wish I did.”

Integrating wind

Idaho Power has contracted to include some 300 megawatts of wind power in its system. Senior Vice President James Miller says that’s “about 10 percent of our load, which is more than just about any utility in the country.”

The company’s new resource plan, completed in late August, envisions an additional 250 megawatts of wind over the next 20 years. Some think the company could be doing more.

“That’s pretty puny,” Idaho Energy Division engineer Gerald Fleischman said. “Over 20 years, that’s not nearly enough. If they get all the wind they’re talking about, it would be one of the biggest percentages of any utility in the U.S. But what that really says is that they all should be doing more.”

>From a utility company’s point of view, wind’s biggest drawback is variability: The wind isn’t always blowing. Utilities need stable power they can dispatch immediately to handle peak loads and emergencies.

“If we plan on a certain amount of wind and don’t get it, hydro has to fill the gap,” Miller said.

As more wind farms come on line over a greater geographical area, variability lessens.

Wind is “a wave that goes across the state,” said Brian Jackson, a partner in the small Lewandowski wind farm between Boise and Mountain Home. “If Fossil Gulch is tapering off, wind farms at American Falls might be producing.”

Dozens of projects are contemplated throughout the southern Idaho wind corridor. The degree of interest from potential developers was so unexpected that Idaho Power asked the Idaho Public Utilities Commission for a break to allow the company to study the effects of integrating wind power into its system.

The PUC responded last summer with a moratorium on applications for small wind farms. Commissioners will decide whether to lift the moratorium after analyzing Idaho Power’s wind integration study, which is expected late this month.

The PUC’s decision is likely to be seen as a gauge of Idaho’s openness to utilizing wind. Some wind farm developers say Idaho has a less-than-welcoming environment, with the moratorium and a policy – unique in the United States – to penalize wind farms if the power they provide to utilities is less than 90 percent or more than 110 percent of what they contract to supply.

The commission’s intention, spokesman Gene Fadness said, is to protect rate-payers when wind output is less than projected and Idaho Power has to buy more expensive power. But Jackson said the state is “sending a very clear signal that’s onerous to financing wind projects.”

Despite having more wind, Idaho lags far behind Washington and Oregon in developing it. Demand for the power is substantial, however, whether it goes to Idaho consumers or not. (Wolverine Creek’s power is sold to Portland-based PacifiCorp.)

“If we had the transmission lines, California wouldn’t hesitate to buy all our wind power,” Fleischman said. “If Idaho Power doesn’t want what’s right here in our backyard, fine. Sell it to California.”

Exergy’s Carkulis believes the climate for developing Idaho’s wind resources is “warming up. Wind has become mainstream. It has a pedigree. … The dialogue should be whether we invest inside or outside the state.”

Jackson adds that wind promises the region the same opportunity hydro once
did.

“It’s not a solution, but it’s a stabilizing force in the overall energy
picture,” he said.”

Worries about wind

Not even its most avid proponents say wind energy is perfect. Getting power from wind farms to utility grids in most cases poses a formidable economic challenge. Developers are responsible for building transmission lines, a costly procedure in a business with relatively low profit margins and high risk factors.

Early wind farms in California were bird Cuisinarts, their small, rapidly turning blades killing thousands of birds. Albion residents have expressed concern over the Cotterel project’s potential impact on raptors and endangered sage grouse. In response, Heckler said, Windland spent more than three years tracking the birds with radio monitors and paying people to observe sage-grouse and raptor movements.

“The bottom line is that we sited the turbines around the bird-use areas.”

Turbines have changed over time to lessen threats to birds. Latticed towers that birds use for nesting are giving way to tubular pillars. Rotors are larger and spin more slowly, making them easier for birds to see and avoid.

Some people, like Wahlgren in Albion, object to wind turbines on aesthetic grounds. He contends that they’d dominate the local landscape.

“They should be in isolated areas, not near any town,” Wahlgren said.

Others, like the farmer who lives in their shadow at Bone, think of them as pretty or even majestic.

“Wind is clean energy, and that’s something we all want,” Rhodes said. “I live by a wind farm, and I think they’re a good thing. If I had a choice of things to leave my kids and grandkids, it would be the turbines. The income would help them stay on the farm. I’d a whole lot rather have that than what’s out at the INL. To me, it’s a no-brainer.”