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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Problems at local nuke plant go from bad to worse

While local windbags go nuts over wind power, new problems occur at nuclear plant only 20 miles upwind from Charlestown
By Will Collette
Make sure you have your atomic soap
in case something goes wrong

My colleague Tom Ferrio covered the extraordinarily crazy May 4 Charlestown Town Council budget meeting. At that meeting, some of our more unhinged local denizens proclaimed their desire to give away town property, the $2 million parcel the town bought to block a wind turbine project, and set aside another $2 million just in case somebody at some time in the future might even think about putting large wind turbines in Charlestown.

These same Charlestown Citizens Alliance loonies were, of course, not present the next day at the May 5 meeting in Waterford, CT just 20 miles west on I-95. There, Millstone Nuclear Power plant officials were confronted by elected officials in towns neighboring the plant about recent revelations of serious – even “willful” – breaches of safety and security protocols.

These recently reviewed violations were so serious that the federal EPA and state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) called on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to conduct a closed-door briefing for Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy and his staff "in order to address our serious concerns related to the continued safe operation of Millstone."

Pretty strong words coming from an environmental regulator, but of course the state DEEP is more likely to be worried about such violations than the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NRC’s main priority is to keep the reactors operating and the energy flowing.

Millstone’s problems are not only the steady stream of violations concerning the safe operation of their cooling pumps, but also recently revealed concerns about security flaws that make the plant vulnerable. Even worse, there appear to have been deliberate acts by Millstone staff to cover up these problems.

When a wind turbine goes bad, it might break a blade or it might make a noise that annoys Mike Chambers or Ron Areglado.

When a nuclear power plant goes bad, you can have a radioactive hot zone of 50 miles or more as we saw after the Fukushima power plant melted down after Japan’s 2011 earthquake. Charlestown is only 20 miles down wind of Millstone. Plus, as we should have learned from past accidents, when things go bad at a nuclear power plant, they can go bad very quickly.

Officially, the NRC considers us to be in the “ingestion pathway zone.” Just under 3 million people live within 50 miles of Millstone.

Fukushima’s reactors melted down when the quake knocked out their cooling pumps. Millstone’s persistent problems are with its cooling pumps.

The NRC cited Millstone for a “willful” violation when Millstone changed a safety report so that they left out information making the report, in the NRC’s terms, “not complete and accurate.” In other words, bullshit. The report was part of Millstone’s application for a license amendment.

I believe it was part of its request to be allowed to use warmer ocean water to cool its reactors. During the summer of 2012, Millstone had a two week shut-down when the waters of Long Island Sound topped the NRC’s safety standard. The license amendment simply increased the “safe” temperature. Not known: whether this “willful” violation voids the license amendment.

Indeed, the NRC may be forced to act. They have sent a notice to Millstone’s Virginia-based owner Dominion Energy saying that the NRC is “interested in understanding (Dominion’s) plans for restoring compliance with its licensing basis in light of the changes … apparently made through improper implementation … (of the change) process.”

I would hope the NRC is more than just “interested.”

One guy who is more than just “interested” is Connecticut DEEP director Rob Klee who said he believes Millstone’s recent multiple violations present "potential significant public health and safety implications."
Millstone’s two operating reactors (Unit One was shut down due to multiple equipment failures in 1998) are Connecticut’s single greatest source of energy. None of Rhode Island’s power comes from Millstone.

In a statement, Connecticut Governor Malloy said Dominion "needs to fully cooperate with federal regulators in this probe."
"Any deviation from [NRC standards]— anything that puts residents at risk — is simply unacceptable to me and unacceptable for the State of Connecticut."

Here’s the reaction you’ll get if you were to ask Charlestown Town Council President Tom Gentz about the hazards to Charlestown residents if Millstone goes bad: “Huh?”