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Monday, November 26, 2012

Millstone draws another safety violation from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Hearing on expanded nuclear waste storage scheduled for just before Christmas
By Will Collette

Last summer, I reported on plans by the Millstone nuclear power plant, located just 20 miles due west of Charlestown, to dramatically increase the amount of high-level radioactive waste that will be stored indefinitely on site, and on problems Millstone had with its cooling water.

The plant, owned by Virginia-based Dominion Energy, hopes to get regulatory approval for its plan to store 3.6 million pounds of radioactive waste in dry cask. Since there is no permanent nuclear waste repository in the US, most nuclear power plants store their waste on site, either in cooling ponds or in casks, or both.

The cooling ponds are not considered safe long-term storage since they could be breached by natural events, accident or sabotage. The disastrous Fukushima power plant accident was caused when the cooling water system for its waste was compromised by last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan, leading to a massive fire that caused exposure and contamination far beyond 20 miles from the site.

On November 19, the NRC cited Millstone for safety violations that occurred during an emergency preparedness exercise it conducted with state and local agencies in the surrounding communities.

The NRC determined that Millstone failed to have adequate steps in place to instruct its staff on procedures to test cooling water for radioactivity.

That safety deficiency was exposed during the emergency drill. Under NRC rules, cooling water must be tested within 15 minutes of the declaration of an emergency. Luckily, this was only a drill. Finding this problem during the drill is exactly why drills are important.

While it’s great to catch problems before anyone gets hurt, this isn’t the first time Millstone has been cited. Plus, this emergency exercise took place while one of the Millstone reactors had to be shut down because the ocean water it used for cooling was too warm.

This latest safety violation is likely to come up when Millstone has its hearing on December 20 on its proposal to expand its radioactive waste storage. Click here. The hearing docket is #265A.

The Connecticut Siting Council will conduct the hearing, which will take place in the Waterford Town Hall from 2 PM to 7 PM. The Council plans to issue its draft decision on January 24th and its final decision five days later.