More Nuclear Regulations with No Added Safety Benefit (Fast Fission Podcast 8)

Get the MP3 Here The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to issue regulations making it a Federal crime to introduce explosives into facilities and installations containing nuclear materials.  The new rules go into affect in April 2010 and specify fines of up to $5,000 and jail time up to one year for anyone who “willfully” introduces firearms or explosives into a facility regulated by the NRC.  The new rule authorizes the FBI and other federal agencies to investigate and prosecute the cases. The new rule also requires the plant and facility owners to post signs warning of the legal consequences of violating the new rule. On the surface it seems like a good idea, right?  Unfortunately, it’s yet another example of regulation without added safety benefit.  Anyone who has ever been in a nuclear facility knows it is illegal to bring weapons and firearms through the gate.  There are already signs posted, and violators of the rules could already be charged and prosecuted under state laws.  According to the NRC, there have been occasions where workers or vendors accidentally brought weapons on site, but never intentionally or with intent to do harm, so I have to wonder what problem they are trying to fix? Several companies and individuals asked the NRC to be more specific regarding the definition of “willful” and “readily visible day and night” signs.  The NRC declined these requests and instead referred to other regulations and standards already in place; for example they deferred to the American Disabilities Act for signage standards, and they left the term “willful” for prosecutors and courts to define.  By the way, although the new rules say the signs are required to be readable at night, the ADA does not provide standards for night readability. If the goal is increased safety, do they really think that a $5,000 fine or a year in jail will be a deterrent to a terrorist or saboteur?  This is nothing more than a “feel good” rule that will increase costs and administrative burdens on nuclear facilities without any benefit what so ever.  Oh, and by the way, the new rule also applies to hospitals, universities, laboratories, and manufacturing facilities where radioactive materials are kept, so everyone can share in the pain and the added...

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Small Reactor Licensing – A Letter to the NRC

The NRC is considering a change to their fee structure for small reactors, and invited public comment.  Here is a copy of the letter I sent. Attention: Rulemakings and Adjudications Staff Subject:  Comments on the Proposed Changes to Licensing Fees for Small Reactors To Whom It May Concern: I graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy with a Bachelors Degree in Marine Engineering with a concentration in Nuclear Engineering.  I have more than 20 years of experience operating nuclear reactors for the US Navy and in the commercial power industry.  I was Engineering Office of the Watch and Plant Engineer qualified at the S3G nuclear prototype, and I have held Senior Reactor Operator Licenses at the Turkey Point and Indian Point nuclear plants.  Having operated both small and large reactors, I can speak from personal experience that small reactors can be designed, built, and operated with equal certainty and safety as large power reactors.  In fact, small reactors have many advantages over large reactors that can be used to increase safety margins if the designer so chooses. Examples include natural circulation, air-cooled decay heat removal, and enhanced security features.  From my informed point of view there is no technical basis for concern that small reactors pose excessive risk to public health and safety. The USA desperately needs new clean, cost-effective, carbon-free energy sources to power our economy and replace our aging energy infrastructure.  Because of the extraordinarily high cost and intermittent operation, renewable sources can not accomplish this task alone.  We need small nuclear reactors to provide industry and investors with a new lower cost, scalable option for adding nuclear generating capacity to our nation’s power grid.  In addition, small reactors could provide process heat in a number of applications in which large reactors are not practical.  With that in mind, I support restructuring licensing fees to significantly reduce or eliminate the cost for small reactors for five reasons: Licensing fees are so high that they are an impediment to investment and innovation. The current fee structure is unfairly biased towards multi-billion dollar nuclear plants with huge power outputs. The current fee structure is biased against nuclear energy in general.  For example, designers and manufacturers of solar, wind, and renewable power plants are not required to pay such high licensing fees nor do they reimburse the government for costs associated with routine regulation and oversight. Nuclear energy has become a critical part of our national economy and should receive equal treatment in our regulatory framework.  Other industries such as the airline industry, the food industry, and the automobile industry are not subject to the same fees and are not...

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Nuclear Expansion Grows Near & Oyster Creek Gets 20 More Years (Episode 64)

Use the podcast player here. President Obama Promotes International Nuclear Fuel Bank At a speech delivered in Prague, Czech Republic this week President Obama advocated establishing an international nuclear fuel bank. The idea is this: countries who pledge not to develop nuclear weapons programs and who do not enrich uranium would have the assurance of a stable fuel supply for their peaceful nuclear energy programs. Countries who posses the ability to enrich uranium under the International Non-Proliferation Treaty would provide the service for the international community. Much of the initial fuel in the bank would come from diluting weapons grade uranium, essentially continuing efforts begun by Russia and the USA to reduce weapons stockpiles. President Obama also indicated support for the fuel bank to be located in Kazakhstan, a proposal that was endorsed by the European Union in March. The EU has already pledged $33 Million for set-up expenses, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would have the lead to set up standards and policies and overseeing operations of the bank. An international fuel bank would eliminate at least one of the obstacles that nations perceive in setting up new civilian nuclear energy programs. If they have no uranium or thorium resources of their own, or no ability to enrich the fuel, they will have to rely on other nations for their fuel supply. As with any commodity with a small number of suppliers, the potential for collusion and political leverage are high. In principle a fuel bank would provide greater assurance that if nations invest to build nuclear power plants they will be able to acquire fuel to run them. Oyster Creek License Renewed for 20 Years This week the Nuclear Regulatory commission granted at 20 year license extension to the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey. The license renewal followed almost four years of safety and environmental analysis and deliberation by the Atomic Safety Licensing Board. Anti-nuclear groups waged a vigorous fight against the plant’s life extension, but in the end they were, according to the board, unable to provide any scientific analysis or evidence to support their claims that the plant is unsafe. The NRC called the Oyster Creek review the “most extensive license renewal review to date.” In addition to the analysis done by the NRC staff and the ASLB, the license extension request was reviewed by the NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards. In the end the NRC commissioners approved the extension on a 3 to 1 vote, the lone dissenting commissioner was Gregory Jaczko. The Changing Face of the NRC Commissioner Jaczko, who holds a PhD in Physics, is considered by...

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