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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

If you can’t comply, change the rules

Millstone nuclear plant wants federal OK to use hotter water
By Will Collette

I would be very shocked if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not grant Dominion Resources’ request to raise the temperature limit on the water they draw from Long Island Sound to cool the Millstone nuclear power plant, which is just 20 miles west of Charlestown.

Millstone delivers 50% of Connecticut’s power and 12% of New England’s total supply.

Last summer, Millstone became the first nuclear power plant in the US to have to shut down because the sea water used for coolant exceeded what the NRC considered to be the safety limit. Thank you, climate change.

The Associated Press got hold of e-mails between Millstone’s operator and the NRC. Even though the NRC allowed Millstone to use an average of daily temperatures, rather than shutting down any day when sea water exceeded 75 degrees, the average was still almost two degrees too warm and the nuke was shut down for two weeks.

Millstone proposes to use different equipment that might give it another few tenths of a degree edge, or use temperature averaging all summer long.

Millstone’s spokesperson said the operator was planning to ask to have the temperature limit increased by five degrees to 80 degrees.

Nuclear power plants draw water from the ocean and in some cases, rivers, to cool their reactors and their pools containing high-level radioactive waste.

I wrote about a recent report citing the vulnerability of nuclear power plants to the effects of climate change and the increase in severe weather.

When weather causes external power to the plants to fail, as it did during Nemo when power outages caused the short-term shut-down of the Pilgrim power plant in Plymouth, MA, the ability to maintain the flow of cooling water is compromised.

During Hurricane Sandy, three nuclear power plants had to be shut down for the same reason.

Millstone’s problem is, so far, unique but coastal waters up and down the eastern seaboard are quite likely to rise.

While some tout nuclear power as one alternative to climate-changing fossil fuels, nuclear power comes with extreme hazards and health risks that you simply don’t find with most forms of green energy.

If a wind turbine fails, it stops generating power. If a nuclear power plant fails, you have a world of trouble.

I hope the NRC turns down Millstone’s request to bend the rules. If anything, I would prefer to see even bigger safety cushions built into the operating standards for nuclear power plants.

Especially one that’s only 20 miles upwind.