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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Millstone nuclear power plant shut down

Make sure you’ve got your potassium iodide handy
"Informational Forum" on the plant scheduled in Waterford tonight
By Will Collette

To borrow an expression from colleague Bob Yarnall, “Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot!”

Due to record-breaking water temperatures in Long Island Sound, the Millstone nuclear power plant 20 miles due west from Charlestown on the other side of New London had to shut down Reactor #2.

The seawater used to keep Unit #2 cool is too warm to do the job.

This is not something you want to have happen with a nuclear power plant located along the heavily populated south coast of New England.

Judy Benson at the New London Day regularly covers Millstone and has done some fine coverage of this latest problem at the plant. Just last Friday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) granted Millstone an emergency amendment to its license allowing it to use the average of several temperature measurements to determine whether its intake of seawater was sufficiently cool to handle the reactor temperatures.
But even this bending of the rules was not enough to allow Millstone to continue operating, forcing the first shutdown due to high water temperature since this facility began operating in 1975. 
Millstone - 20 miles due west of Charlestown
Ken Holt, spokesman for the plant’s owner, Virginia-based Dominion Energy, told the Day “we don’t want to restart it and then have to just shut it down again if the temperature spikes back up.”
I have reported on Millstone in the past, most recently to note their pending request to dramatically increase the amount of radioactive waste they can hold on-site in long-term storage.

Millstone has also been cited by the NRC for safety violations, even though the NRC goes out of its way to accommodate nuclear plant operators – evidenced by the “emergency amendment” they just granted to Millstone.

Millstone has also been the subject of studies of what might happen if they suffered an accident, such as the one that occurred at the Fukushima power plant as a result of last year’s earthquake and tsunami.

A common disaster scenario is a loss of water in the pools holding nuclear waste. If there is a breach and the nuclear rods are uncovered, they will likely ignite and spread radiation over a wide area – 50 miles radius or more – putting Charlestown right in the danger/evacuation zone. Read some of those disaster scenarios here and here.

In New England, we usually expect to see any hurricanes that make it up the coast to rapidly lose power as they hit our warmer waters. But the record heat and the rise in ocean water temperature could allow a potentially catastrophic hurricane to hit our shore unabated.

It’s fair to note that the millions of gallons of sea water Millstone routinely uses to cool its reactors and then dumps back into the ocean don’t help with ocean water temperature.

I am also concerned what could happen if the nuke took the full brunt of a hurricane whose path to New England shores could be greased by the same warm water that led to Millstone's shut-down. No doubt such a contingency are part of Millstone’s operational plan, but hey, Fukushima was supposedly designed to survive an earthquake and tsunami.

On August 15, Millstone and local town officials will host an informational forum in Waterford to discuss Millstone’s plan for increased storage of waste. The meeting will start at 7 PM at Waterford Town Hall.

From the description of the meeting, it sounds like the plan is for the presentation to be a Dominion Energy dog-and-pony show. But with this recent shutdown, there may be some local residents who want more than the usual PowerPoint show.

Well, at least it’s not a wind farm, the bane and terror of Charlestown.

As Monty Python’s Eric Idle teaches us, “Always look on the bright side of life.” Following that sage advice, I am pleased to pass on the report that at the site of the Fukushima disaster in Japan, scientists are finding a large number of mutant butterflies and moths. 

Sort of like Cliff Vanover's grasshopper sparrows at the old United Nuclear toxic site in Charlestown.

These mutant Japanese butterflies are not Mothra by any means, but specimens of the pale grass blue butterfly with small wings and irregular eyes. But if those eyes start, glowing, watch out!