Watchdogs Warn of High-Level Radioactive Waste
Security Risks at Fermi 2 Atomic Reactor
Monroe, Michigan – On Monday, environmental watchdog organization Beyond Nuclear, and several of its members living near the Fermi nuclear complex, defended their site specific contentions against security vulnerabilities of dry cask storage for high-level radioactive waste near the Lake Erie shoreline. They filed an appeal to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) of a recent Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ruling that their intervention and request for a hearing lacked appropriate standing. The August 31 citizen appeal, the August 21 licensing board rejection of standing, the initial May 7 citizen intervention spelling out security contentions in detail, and all other proceeding documents are posted at http://www.beyondnuclear.org/radioactive-waste/.
“It’s mind boggling that the NRC licensing board ruled we lack standing, when several of our intervenors live within just six to eight miles of the proposed high-level radioactive waste storage facility,” said Michael Keegan of Monroe.
“We’re concerned that Fermi’s current and proposed high-level radioactive waste storage facilities are vulnerable to catastrophic radioactivity releases due to explosive and incendiary attack,” said Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear, based in Takoma Park, Maryland. “We’re calling for hardened on-site storage as an interim measure, to fortify the casks against such radiological risks.”
The intervenors cited a 1998 test conducted at the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. A TOW anti-tank missile was fired at a high-level radioactive waste dry cask storage container. The container was breached, creating a pathway for deadly radioactive poisons to escape. Each dry cask storage container at Fermi would hold the long-lasting radiological equivalent of hundreds of Hiroshima atomic bombs. A fire could loft volatile radioactive poisons, such as human muscle seeking Cesium-137, into the atmosphere, to fall out miles downwind, the intervenors contend.
“Lake Erie is the drinking water supply for millions downstream in the U.S. and Canada and is being placed in jeopardy,” Keegan added. “The shallow western basin of Lake Erie is the most biologically productive and fragile part of the Great Lakes. But because of myopic planning by Detroit Edison, driven by greed, this is precisely where this high-level radioactive waste would be stored for up to 140 years.”
“There's a disturbing history of structural problems with the Holtec dry casks which DTE intends to use to store some of the most dangerous material on Earth, irradiated nuclear fuel," said Terry Lodge, Toledo-based attorney for Beyond Nuclear and its members. "High-level radioactive waste will remain deadly for tens of thousands of years, so there is zero margin for error, such as sloppy construction, welding defects, design flaws, or missing quality assurance, which risk radioactivity leaking into the environment."
An artist’s rendition of Holtec dry storage cask is also posted at http://www.beyondnuclear.org/radioactive-waste/.
Industry whistleblower Oscar Shirani documented extensive quality assurance violations associated with the design and manufacture of Holtecs earlier this decade. His concerns were echoed by NRC’s former Midwest dry cask storage inspector, Dr. Ross Landsman.
The intervenors pointed to a major security breach at Palisades nuclear plant in southwest Michigan on the Lake Michigan shore to bolster their arguments that Detroit Edison’s and NRC’s secretive security arrangements likely leave much to be desired. In 2007, Esquire magazine revealed that the chief of security at Palisades was a pathological liar, exhibiting violent tendencies, who had faked his credentials, but avoided detection by the company as well as the NRC for years. U.S. Congressman Ed Markey (Democrat-Massachusetts), Chairman of the powerful House Energy and Environment Subcommittee, wrote letters expressing grave concern about the Palisades security breach to the Chairman of NRC. The potential for “insider sabotage” is a central element in the controversy swirling around dry cask storage of high-level radioactive waste at Fermi 2.
The intervenors also demanded the construction of a “wet well,” or water storage pool, at ground level. They argued that once irradiated nuclear fuel is lowered by crane from the current storage pool, located five stories up, adjacent to the Fermi 2 reactor itself, there is very little likelihood of that waste ever being returned to the elevated pool. A ground level wet well is a basic safety requirement in the event of accidents, attacks, or age-related degradation compromising the integrity of the dry casks over the decades to come.
Citizen group loses ruling on opposition to waste plan
by Charles Slat , last modified September 03. 2009 11:02AM
A citizens' group said it will continue opposing plans to store radioactive fuel in casks on the grounds of DTE's Fermi 2 nuclear power plant, despite a federal panel's ruling that they failed to show how they could be harmed if such a storage facility was created.
Beyond Nuclear, a Maryland group whose members include several Monroe County residents who live near the plant, is seeking better security and safety measures for the planned outside storage facility, citing the potential harm caused by cask failure or terrorist attacks.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's three-member Atomic Safety Licensing Board said that although Beyond Nuclear members argued that the facility "could adversely affect my health and safety and the integrity of the environment in which I live," they lacked "legal standing" in the matter because they didn't adequately substantiate their allegations of potential injury they might suffer from such a storage facility at Fermi 2. The federal officials also suggested that creating the cask storage system, in fact, would make fuel storage safer at the plant.
"It's mind-boggling that the NRC licensing board ruled we lack standing, when several of our intervenors live within just six to eight miles of the proposed high-level radioactive waste storage facility," said Michael Keegan of Monroe, a Beyond Nuclear member.
Construction already has started on the base of the outside storage area for tons of highly radioactive used fuel from the Fermi 2 reactor. The company is expected to take delivery later this year of the first of 12 casks. It plans to begin moving fuel from a spent-fuel storage pool inside the reactor building to the casks sometime in 2010.
DTE said it will invest about $62.5 million in a system of 20-foot-tall casks that will ease crowding in the storage pool alongside the Fermi reactor. Nuclear plants around the country have been storing their highly radioactive used nuclear fuel in casks as space in the reactor storage pools has dwindled and progress toward developing a single, centralized federal storage facility has stalled.
Beyond Nuclear asserts that the casks could be vulnerable to terrorists using anti-tank weaponry and that the configuration of the Fermi 2 plant should require a back-up fuel storage pool be developed next to the cask storage area because it would be difficult to put spent fuel back into the plant if there was an outside accident or breach because the fuel pool storage is on the fifth floor of the Fermi 2 reactor building. It also argued that the casks should be inside a hardened storage facility and not out in the open.
The ASLB said the only option it would have would be to withdraw the NRC order allowing the creation of the facility. "But the Commission's order is intended to reduce the possibility of a terrorist attack at the Fermi site, thus, rescinding the order will not likely redress petitioners' injuries," the ASLB said. "In fact, it will more likely aggravate those injuries, or at least maintain the status quo. Because petitioners fail to explain why they will be better off in the absence of the Commission's order, petitioners have failed to demonstrate that a hearing will redress their injury."
Terry Lodge, a Toledo attorney representing Beyond Nuclear, said there are unanswered questions about the cask storage facility being planned. "What we're saying is that the NRC has never made any order except this one regarding the decision to move to dry cask storage by DTE," he said. "There's not really a formal opportunity to demand a full searching kind of inquest into what they intend to do in terms of security arrangements. I don't think the NRC's mere decision to require a change in license at Fermi to to incorporate better technology equates to a security improvement.
They've made no showing that there will be an improvement."