Seventy Years of Nuclear Fission: Short on Confidence; Long on Waste

By: Tuesday January 29, 2013 12:55 pm

On December 2, 1942, a small group of physicists under the direction of Enrico Fermi gathered on an old squash court beneath Alonzo Stagg Stadium on the Campus of the University of Chicago to make and witness history. Uranium pellets and graphite blocks had been stacked around cadmium-coated rods as part of an experiment crucial to the Manhattan Project–the program tasked with building an atom bomb for the allied forces in WWII.

 

Hurricane Sandy Brings Wind, Rain and Irony to US Nuclear Plants

By: Monday October 29, 2012 10:30 am

The Calvert Cliffs nuclear reactor is again in the line of fire, as are numerous other plants. Hurricane Sandy will likely bring high winds, heavy rain and the threat of flooding to nuclear facilities in Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

San Onofre: One Leaks, the Other Doesn’t… Yet

By: Friday February 3, 2012 2:29 pm

For those who thought that, with the new year, nuclear power had turned a page and put its “annus horribilis” behind it–as if the calendar were somehow the friend America’s aging reactors–let’s take a quick look at January 2012.

The War on Gregory Jaczko: Attempt at NRC Coup Evidence of Bigger Problems

By: Wednesday December 14, 2011 4:15 pm

Readers of this space know that the pace of safety reforms for America’s nuclear facilities, especially in the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima disaster, has been alarmingly slow. The recalcitrance–if not active hostility–exhibited by the nuclear operators and their government handmaidens borders on the criminal. So, it might sound more than a little bit shocking to hear that the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, is now under attack. . . for trying to implement new safety standards too quickly.

That’s not how House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) is putting it, of course. In doublespeak that would make Orwell proud, Issa has written to the White House, issued a report, and fallen just shy of calling for Jaczko’s head.

Gregory Jaczko Has a Cold

By: Saturday December 10, 2011 11:11 am

Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, made some comments to the press earlier this week. Jaczko, it seems, is worried. He believes, as noted in an Associated Press story, that “U.S. nuclear plant operators have become complacent, just nine months after the nuclear disaster in Japan.” The NRC head thinks that a slew of events at over a dozen domestic nuclear facilities reveal the safety of America’s reactors to be something less than optimal.

To be clear, safety concerns at any kind of plant, be it a soda bottler or a microchip manufacturer, are probably not trivial, but when the safe and secure operation of a nuclear facility comes into question–as the aftermath of Chernobyl or the ongoing crisis in Japan will tell you–it ratchets up concern to a whole different level. So, when the man who more or less serves as the chief safety officer for the entirety of the nation’s nuclear infrastructure says he’s worried, many, many other people should be worried, too.

The Party Line – December 2, 2011: Nuclear’s “Annus Horribilis” Confirms Its Future Is in the Past

By: Friday December 2, 2011 3:45 pm

In the immediate aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami that triggered the horrific and ongoing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power generating station, President Barack Obama went out on a bit of a limb, striking a tone markedly different from his fellow leaders in the industrialized world. Speaking about Japan and its effect on America’s energy future–once within days of the quake, and again later in March–the president made a point of reassuring Americans that his commitment to nuclear power would stay strong. While countries like Germany and Japan–both more dependent on nuclear power than the US–took Fukushima as a sign that it was time to move away from nuclear, Obama wanted to win the future with the same entrenched industry that so generously donated to his winning the 2008 election.

But a funny thing happened on the way to winning our energy future–namely, our energy present.

NRC Gives OK for Restart of Damaged North Anna Nuclear Plant

By: Friday November 11, 2011 5:02 pm

In what feels like a Friday news dump that goes to 11, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given its approval to restart Dominion Virginia Power’s North Anna nuclear power facility. The decision came late in the day on a holiday–Veterans Day, 11/11/11.

The Party Line – September 30, 2011: No Will, No Way: Nuclear Problems Persist, But US Fails to Seize Fukushima Moment

By: Friday September 30, 2011 4:55 pm

As September drew to a close, residents of southwest Michigan found themselves taking in a little extra tritium, thanks to their daily habit of breathing. The tritium was courtesy of the 40-year-old Palisades Nuclear Generating Station in Covert Township, which suffered its third “event” (as they are politely called) in less than two months, and was forced to vent an indeterminate amount of radioactive steam.

The reactor at Palisades was forced to scram after an accident caused an electrical arc in a transformer in the DC system that powers “indications and controls“–also known as monitoring devices, meters and safety valves.

While it is nice to see rectors shut themselves down when a vital system goes offline, remember that “turning off” a fission reactor is not like flicking a light switch. Shutting down a reactor is a process, and the faster it is done, the more strain it puts on the reactor and its safety and cooling systems. And even after fission is mitigated, a reactor core generates heat that requires a fully functional cooling system.

The Party Line – September 9, 2011: Shaken, But Still Not Stirred

By: Friday September 9, 2011 4:01 pm

Sunday, September 11, will of course be the tenth anniversary of a tragedy that fundamentally changed America in ways we are still trying to understand. But this 9/11 is also a day for other anniversaries, ones that will likely get little, if any, recognition in the US.

The Party Line: Earthquakes, Hurricane Highlight Serious Flaws with Nuclear Power and Its Regulation

By: Friday September 2, 2011 3:22 pm

Spent fuel storage casks move in an earthquake. Hurricane Irene scrams a Maryland reactor and floods a backup generator. Radioactive sludge is rapidly accumulating at Japanese sewage plants. And yet, US nuclear regulators still see no need for quick action to improve safety regimes.

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