Contact: Jim Warren
August 5, 2008
Legal Challenge Filed Against New Nukes at Shearon Harris
NC WARN says power bills would soar, and Progress Energy is
cutting corners on safety and security – just as with the existing plant
DURHAM, NC – A watchdog group has filed legal action against plans by Progress Energy to build two nuclear reactors in Wake County, citing unresolved design problems, weakened safety and security protections, faulty cost estimates and other deficiencies that would lead to soaring power bills and threaten public safety. NC WARN also said the Progress application violates federal law by failing to provide analysis of numerous risks, water usage and alternatives to the plants. Moreover, the group says, the new reactors can and must be scrapped in favor of urgently needed climate protection.
The legal motion, filed late yesterday with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), challenges pervasive industry propaganda on numerous fronts, NC WARN says. The new reactor design by Westinghouse remains years from completion, although the company submitted it to the NRC as “complete” in 2002. Most of the problems have unfolded just this year, are already causing delays, and include major operating systems and components such as steam generators, control rooms and reactor buildings. The design problems could cause cost overruns and threaten public safety.
Also in contrast to pro-nuclear PR, the NRC plans to allow new nukes to use weaker reactor buildings than most existing plants, less redundancy in safety systems, and to defy the National Academy of Sciences’ 2005 warning against dense packing of “spent” fuel rods in cooling pools. NC WARN’s motion explains that while multiple federal studies confirm that reactors, spent fuel buildings and a host of other plant components are vulnerable to devastating attacks, the NRC did not require new designs to correct known weaknesses. All these shortcomings are attributable to cost, the group says.
“Progress CEO Bill Johnson has a lot of gall,” said NC WARN member Judy Elzinga of Apex. “His corporation has left the public vulnerable to a radiation accident for all these years while claiming safety is their top priority. Now we find out his new plants would cut corners too.”
One of the eleven legal contentions argues that federal law prohibits new units at Harris because the existing plant has violated fire safety regulations for 16 years and plans to remain in noncompliance for years longer as it seeks a relaxed, less expensive approach to fire protection. The NRC recently confirmed that fire-related events represent half the overall risk of meltdown at U.S. reactors, and NC WARN says many of the challenges that have plagued the industry for two decades remain unresolved with the AP1000. Highlights of the NC WARN filing:*
- The AP1000’s highly touted “passive emergency cooling system” tank is on top of the reactor building – outside of the containment structure and thus vulnerable to attack.
- New Harris units would create significant greenhouse gas emissions and preempt faster means of emission reductions such as energy efficiency, without displacing any coal-fired power.
- Progress grossly underestimates the costs and risks of the proposed Harris reactors and grossly overestimates the costs of their alternatives.
- Recent studies for the NC legislature and Duke Energy, and testimony by numerous experts, prove that feasible energy efficiency programs could negate the need for new plants. Industry data shows that new nukes would create a large excess of regional supply for decades.
- Harris would use up to 180 million gallons of water per day – four times more than Raleigh, and the application does not analyze the impacts of climate change and associated drought.
- The Harris application cannot be approved without a full review and upgrade of emergency planning, reflecting current and forecasted population growth and changes in land use.
- Progress has nowhere to dispose of tons of irradiated “spent” fuel, but the company makes the claim that waste from solar and wind energy is worse than that of nuclear plants.
“Progress Energy and Duke Energy are the GM and Ford of this decade,” said Audrey Schwankl, an NC WARN member in Pittsboro. “They’re going backward with dated technologies even as others are profiting by showing the way forward. The people of North Carolina want to move ahead, and these utilities need to either join us or get out of the way.”
NC WARN director Jim Warren noted that the problems identified in the legal filing were found in only 60 days, the time allotted to potential interveners by the NRC. He said NC WARN and others expect to find more problems among the thousands of pages of technical documents.
Warren added: “Many politicians have leaped to support Progress’ plans without even looking at the costs and benefits. We’re urging genuine leaders to look into the list of problems with this project, insist that Progress Energy answer all the tough questions – and not hide behind legal maneuvers to avoid debate.”
Summary: NC WARN’s Legal Challenge vs. Progress Energy’s
Application for Two New Nuclear Units at Shearon Harris
August 5, 2008
NC WARN has filed legal action challenging Progress Energy’s application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct and operate two new nuclear reactors at the Shearon Harris plant in Wake County, NC. The application fails to comply with multiple requirements under both the Atomic Energy Act (AEC) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Note that the problems identified in the eleven contentions below were found in the 60 days allotted to potential interveners by the NRC. Much more will be exposed in the future.
The proposed Harris expansion would waste time and money urgently needed to avert climate catastrophe, would risk billions of public dollars, and the plants would endanger more than 2.2 million people living within 50 miles of the proposed reactors.
TC-1, DESIGN PROBLEMS: Costs and safety impacts cannot be assessed by Progress Energy, the NRC or other parties because the AP1000 design remains years from completion, the plant design suffers from numerous weaknesses, and major modifications will continue well into the future.
Therefore, the Harris application is far from complete. The AP1000 is experimental in nature and has never been constructed even on a demonstration scale, increasing the risk both financially and in terms of safety, since technology failures are generally higher during the break‑in phase.
Westinghouse continues to struggle with the most significant elements of the proposed reactors, i.e., the design and operational practices, since submitting the AP1000 to NRC as “complete” in 2002. A majority of the design flaws and scheduling delays have unfolded in 2008, and involve major components including the steam generators, control room, cooling systems and reactor building.
Apparently due to cost‑cutting pressures, the NRC seeks to allow the AP1000’s “passive” design to operate with less redundancy in safety systems and lower tolerance for equipment failures than required at operating plants. NRC also declined to require passive safety systems to use active systems as backups, and the NRC does not require the double containment structure required of new reactors being built in Europe. (See more on design weaknesses below)
TC-2, FIRE SAFETY ISSUES ARE UNRESOLVED: Progress Energy has relied on inoperable and inadequate fire safety systems for at least 15 years at Harris – as confirmed recently by the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the NRC Inspector General – and plans to remain in noncompliance for years longer.
The NRC recently confirmed that fire-related events represent approximately half the overall risk of meltdown at U.S. reactors.
Given Progress Energy’s history – including the current pursuit of relaxed fire protection regulations – NC WARN anticipates similar noncompliance at the proposed Harris reactors. This is in part because many of the fire protection challenges that have plagued the industry for two decades remain unresolved with the AP1000.
For example, Westinghouse postulates that only one fire is assumed to occur within the plant at any given time. Given the unresolved risk of “multiple spurious actuation” of safety equipment, this false assumption is not a reasonable basis for assessing risk for the AP1000.
Therefore, as a matter of law, the decision on licensing the proposed Harris reactors should be denied until the existing plant is fully in compliance with fire regulations.
TC-3, AVIATION ATTACKS ARE UNANALYZED: Progress Energy fails to satisfy NEPA because it did not evaluate the consequences of a successful attack by the deliberate crash of a fuel-laden and/or explosive-laden aircraft and the resulting impact, explosion, fire and equipment failure. Multiple studies by the national labs confirm that attacks on reactor and spent fuel pool buildings and a variety of other plant components can be devastating, but the NRC did not require new designs to correct known vulnerabilities.
Despite the acknowledgment by the NRC and other federal agencies that nuclear power plants are potential targets, the agency would allow new plant designs that do not correct vulnerabilities to systems – among them the reactor, spent fuel pools, primary and backup cooling, water intake, electric switchyard and cooling tower which, if attacked, could lead to serious core damage if not total meltdown.
Regarding the most highly publicized new feature of the AP1000, the so‑called “passive emergency cooling system,” much, if not all, of any advantage afforded by this experimental system is outweighed by location of the emergency water supply on top of the reactor building – outside of the containment structure. Therefore, in many attack scenarios, the backup cooling system could be rendered inoperable.
TC-4, FIRES, ATTACKS, & WEAKENED CONTAINMENT: Significant fires caused by deliberate malicious acts are credible, potentially devastating, and must be fully analyzed. This is particularly important since NRC has not required the hardening of vital structures and in fact has allowed Westinghouse to weaken the reactor building compared to most currently operating plants.
The fire protection regulations are not designed for and are not adequate to deal with fires in multiple rooms that could easily result from an aircraft crash. No other equipment damage is presumed to occur, other than the components within that area damaged by the single fire itself.
An Argonne National Laboratory study states that if only 1% of the fuel of a fighter plane were involved in an impact, “the blast environment will be equivalent to the detonation of approximately 1000 lb. of TNT. …Therefore, the claim that these fire/explosion effects do not represent a threat to nuclear power plant facilities has not been clearly demonstrated.”
As explained by the Union of Concerned Scientists, “The designers of these reactors have also weakened defense‑in‑depth – presumably to cut costs. For example, these two designs have less robust containment systems, less redundancy in safety systems, and fewer safety‑grade structures, systems, and components … Westinghouse considered using a more robust containment structure but rejected it as not cost‑beneficial.”
TC-5, HIGH RISK STORAGE OF “SPENT” FUEL: The proposed high-density storage of highly-radioactive spent fuel runs counter to the National Academy of Sciences’ warning of “enormous potential consequences” due to the likelihood of a self‑propagating fire if cooling water is lost and spent fuel assemblies are exposed to air. It is clear that cost is the driving factor for Progress Energy and Westinghouse.
In 2005, the NAS confirmed longstanding concerns by independent scientists and citizen groups who insist that waste storage pools at existing plants should be returned to their original, low-density configuration, and that all waste more than five years old be moved into hardened dry storage separated by berms or bunkers.
NAS warned that knowledgeable terrorists might choose to attack spent fuel pools because buildings housing spent fuel pools are vulnerable to a variety of attacks, and the spent fuel pools often contain inventories of medium and long‑lived radionuclides that are several times greater than those in individual reactors.
The shift to the riskier, albeit less expensive, high-density racking appears to have been undertaken as a cost-cutting measure in recent revisions to the AP1000 design; low-density racking requires approximately twice the amount of pool space as does high‑density racking for the same amount of spent fuel.
Harris is the only U.S. plant with four spent fuel pools, which already contain well in excess of ten times the cesium 137 released by the 1986 Chernobyl accident; adding two more waste pools – with all six to be packed with waste indefinitely – unnecessarily increases risks to the public.
The Harris application violates NEPA because it does not analyze the consequences of high‑density storage in the two new pools.
TC- 6 – RELIABILITY OF URANIUM FUEL SUPPLY: The application fails to credibly discuss the reliability of uranium fuel supply when asserting that building new nuclear power reactors are a means of achieving a reliable and cost‑effective supply of electricity.
A worldwide shortage of uranium production in recent years – compared to usage – is being made up by short-term stopgaps such as consuming former stockpiles, reprocessing of nuclear weapons uranium, longer reactor cycles and changes in the enrichment process.
The cost of electricity generated from a power plant that has no fuel is effectively infinite, and therefore NC WARN’s members as ratepayers are in grave risk of increased power costs if uranium fuel is unavailable.
EC- 1 – UNDERESTIMATED COSTS AND ALTERNATIVES: The cost of new plants at Shearon Harris precludes the use of less risky energy efficiency, cogeneration and renewable energy sources that can entirely displace the need for the new reactors. In violation of NEPA, Progress Energy grossly underestimates the costs and risks of the proposed Harris reactors and grossly overestimates the costs of their alternatives.
The estimated cost of $2.2 billion per reactor in the application is outdated and grossly below current estimates for reactors with the same design. The estimated costs of plants in the Southeast have soared in recent years; they are currently in the range of $8 -10 billion apiece, excluding subsidies, and are expected to increase.
Progress’ cost estimate does not reflect subsidies such as taxpayer liability for accidents nor the cost of high-level waste disposal, currently approaching $1 billion per reactor. And it omits the cost of thousands of acres to be flooded under a larger Harris Lake, the land taken for new transmission lines, relocated roads and bridges, and other infrastructure.
Because new nuclear construction remains a highly risky venture, Progress and its legislative allies shifted most of the risk to state ratepayers last summer. Meanwhile, Wall Street refuses to finance new plants without 100% taxpayer backing.
The costs and impacts of renewable energy alternatives are particularly inaccurate in the application, which contains the absurd claim that the waste impacts of wind and solar are greater than that of a nuclear power plant.
Recent studies commissioned by the NC legislature and Duke Energy, and testimony by numerous experts, all prove that feasible energy efficiency programs could negate the need for new plants. Industry data shows that new nukes would create a large excess of regional supply for decades.
EC- 2 – NEW HARRIS PLANTS WOULD MAKE GLOBAL WARMING WORSE: New units at Shearon Harris would create significant greenhouse gas emissions and pre-empt faster means of emission reductions such as energy efficiency, cogeneration and renewable energy sources – without displacing any coal-fired power generation.
If Progress commits to new nuclear plants, it will continue to thwart efforts for widespread energy efficiency and clean power, so as to ensure the viability of its expensive nuclear gamble.
In violation of NEPA, the Harris application contains no analysis of greenhouse gas emissions that would be a direct impact of the proposed Harris reactors. Construction would require the production of massive amounts of cement, steel, copper and other raw materials and components, all of which would contribute to climate destabilization.
Also, the application must include an analysis of the emission of greenhouse gases in all steps of the energy-intensive fuel cycle, including the many transportation links involved with uranium processing such as mining, milling, conversion, enrichment, re‑conversion and fuel fabrication, prior to shipment to the Harris site. It must also include emissions caused by transporting and disposal of low and high level radioactive wastes.
EC-3 – WATER REQUIREMENTS UNANALYZED: The application does not identify plans for meeting water requirements with sufficient detail to determine if there will be adequate supply during adverse weather conditions such as droughts. Nor does it analyze the environmental impacts for withdrawals during either normal and adverse conditions, or the potential impacts of elevated water temperatures on reactor safety.
If two new units were built, the Harris facility would then use up to 180 million gallons of water per day – more than four times the present usage of Raleigh.
The NRC staff has declared the application lacks analysis of the environmental impacts caused by changing water levels at Harris Lake and a proposed intake on the Cape Fear River.
No reliable analysis of the environmental impacts, ranging from biotic life to the increased chance of a major reactor accident due to heat impacts, from the proposed Harris reactors can be accomplished without solid scientific information in the COLA.
Annual temperatures in the Southeast region are projected to continue increasing, while droughts have become more common. In the application, Progress Energy makes a commitment not to withdraw water from the Cape Fear during low flow periods, yet these are often the times that coincide with summer peak demand.
EC-4 – DEFICIENCIES IN EMERGENCY PLANNING: The Harris application cannot be approved without a full study of the current and forecasted populations, and the ability of the evacuation plan to provide “reasonable assurance” of adequate care in case of a radiological emergency.
In 1987 when the existing Harris reactor was licensed, there were only 15,000 people living in the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone; currently there are at least four times that many. Also, there are now 2.2 million people living within the 50-mile Ingestion Pathway.
Local governments, such as the Town of Holly Springs, have expressed concern about roads and bridges that would be removed if Harris Lake were expanded.
In his analysis of the region surrounding Harris, Dr. Steve Wing of the UNC School of Public Health expressed concern that there are numbers of children, women of childbearing age, senior citizens and nursing home residents who may have special difficulties in the event of an evacuation and may be more susceptible to radiation emissions and other hazards during relocation.
The Orange County Board of Commissioners commissioned a study of regional emergency planning. In October 3, 2006, they concluded “there is no coordinated emergency management and evacuation planning for the portion of the ingestion pathway beyond the area defined by the ten-mile radius around Shearon Harris.” Other local governments have expressed the same concerns.
EC-5 – NO DISPOSAL OF HIGH-LEVEL WASTE AVAILABLE: Progress Energy does not have any place to dispose of the irradiated “spent” fuel generated by the proposed Harris reactors. Even if the Yucca Mountain repository ever opens, it lacks capacity even to accommodate the spent fuel from the currently operating reactors.
In violation of NEPA, the application does not analyze the environmental implications of the lack of disposal options, nor of those posed by indefinite storage at the Harris site. It must be assumed that spent fuel may be stored at Harris for an indefinite period of time, with cumulative risk of accident or malicious acts increasing over time.
The DOE is now estimating that the cost of the Yucca repository will be in excess of $90 billion, up from the $56 billion estimates in 2001, and after 25 years, the potential opening date has again been delayed until 2020.