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NRC Analyst Calls To Close Diablo Canyon, CA's Last Remaining Nuclear Plant 216

Posted by samzenpus
from the shut-it-down dept.
An anonymous reader writes Michael Peck, who for five years was Diablo Canyon's lead on-site inspector, says in a 42-page, confidential report that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not applying the safety rules it set out for the plant's operation. The document, which was obtained and verified by The Associated Press, does not say the plant itself is unsafe. Instead, according to Peck's analysis, no one knows whether the facility's key equipment can withstand strong shaking from those faults — the potential for which was realized decades after the facility was built. Continuing to run the reactors, Peck writes, "challenges the presumption of nuclear safety."
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NRC Analyst Calls To Close Diablo Canyon, CA's Last Remaining Nuclear Plant

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  • In other news... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Mashiki (184564)

    US starts buying more nuclear power from Canada, quickly pulling a Germany. In 5 years, subsidies much like those in Germany will then be gutted, and there will be a mass rush to build new coal and NG power plants until reactors can be refurbished or built anew.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mdsolar (1045926)
      Actually it is wind and hydropower coming from Canada. Should put Indian Point Nuclear out of business. http://westfaironline.com/6503... [westfaironline.com]
      • by Mashiki (184564)

        Here in Ontario, "windpower" accounts for under 1% of our daily generation. Nuclear accounts for ~70-75%, while hydroelectric makes up ~10% give or take a bit.

        http://www.ieso.ca/Pages/Power... [www.ieso.ca]

    • Re:In other news... (Score:4, Informative)

      by geoskd (321194) on Monday August 25, 2014 @05:35PM (#47752215)

      US starts buying more nuclear power from Canada, quickly pulling a Germany. In 5 years, subsidies much like those in Germany will then be gutted, and there will be a mass rush to build new coal and NG power plants until reactors can be refurbished or built anew.

      Almost: Germany has been in a mad rush for quite a while to build solar and wind power production. The whole country is dotted with thousands of wind turbines, and a massive percentage of the country have solar panels to reduce their power demands from the grid. In short, Germany has been preparing for a while to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, and was consequently in a position to abandon nuclear power instead. At their current build rate, in 10 years, they will only need 50% of the fossil fuels they use today, even with the nuclear plants shut down

      The key to their success is that, for Germans, the overriding goal is environmental protection. Its a national obsession (Probably owing to complete lack of available land, and limited fossil fuels). Like Japan, one bad nuclear accident is guaranteed to affect a massive percentage of the population, fossil fuels leaves them too reliant on foreign powers. It means that Germany's only real option is renewable energy sources, and they have the political will and industrial might to make it happen.

      Unlike American politics, the anti-environment sociopaths don't last long in German politics.

      • Germany has been in a mad rush for quite a while to build solar and wind power production.

        Germany has also been in a mad rush to build more coal fired power plants, and Germany is buring more brown coal [spiegel.de] than ever before. Germany's environmental policies have been a disaster. They have sky high electricity rates, are heavily dependent on Russian gas, and are spewing more CO2 than ever before. The only thing they have accomplished is to set an example of what not to do.

      • Re:In other news... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Applehu Akbar (2968043) on Monday August 25, 2014 @07:54PM (#47753149)

        Germany is switching its baseload from nuclear to coal, which has meant digging the world's largest strip mine:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G... [wikipedia.org]
        covering 48 square kilometers. Think of it as an anti-nuclear exclusion zone, like Fukushima but getting bigger instead of being cleaned up..

        But when all the nukes are phased out, Garzweiler won't be enough. This even bigger lignite pit:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H... [wikipedia.org]
        will top out at 85 sq. km when fully developed. Lignite has the approximate energy value, and pollution profile, of damp firewood.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          Germany is reducing the number of coal plants it has: http://energytransition.de/201... [energytransition.de]

          Most of the closures and new builds were announced before Fukushima, and some of the new builds have been either cancelled or mothballed since. The ones that are opening are unlikely to ever make much money, if any.

          The difference between a strip mine and Fukushima is that the mine is planned and will be cleaned up and returned to a re-usable state when finished with, and didn't destroy multiple towns and villages or kill

        • by orzetto (545509)

          Think of [Hambach Tagebau] as an anti-nuclear exclusion zone, like Fukushima but getting bigger instead of being cleaned up..

          Quite ridiculous proposition: you cannot get cancer by entering the mine, nor is it incompatible with human life, and once depleted the mine reverts to normal soil on which you can grow crops. See the map of open-pit mines near Cologne [wikipedia.org] that you mentioned, and compare the satellite images of the same area [google.no]. Notice how the areas of previous development (Frechen, Zukunft-West, Bergheim) h

    • > US starts buying more nuclear power from Canada

      Ummm, only one province in Canada really has any nuclear capacity, and we're shutting it down, slowly but surely.

      A bunch of the reactors are already permanently offline. Another group at Pickering is slated to go in 2017. Darlington is slated for a rebuild starting shortly (but already 300 million over budget).

      The last build was in the 1980s, and the last effort to build a new reactor set at Darlington B was cancelled last year.

      Canada tried nuclear. We're

  • Said closure would cast a great Homer Simpson quote into obscurity:

    "Oh, Diablo Canyon 2, why can't you be more like Diablo Canyon 1?"

  • Not really new. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Monday August 25, 2014 @05:13PM (#47752053)
    This is not a new story, basically a reprint. With that said, if there is any indication the the plant cannot withstand postulated earthquake levels it should be shut down. This was not ignored, and the article does mention that an evaluation was performed based on the new information.

    "In 2012, the agency endorsed preliminary findings that found shaking from the Shoreline fault would not pose any additional risk for the reactors. Those greater ground motions were “at or below those for which the plant was evaluated previously,” referring to the Hosgri fault, it concluded."

    Given our experience with plants holding up extremely well to seismic events and the large margins that are included in seismic design of these plants, the finding is not surprising. Work continues, as it should, to look for anything that could possibly have been missed or not enveloped by the new data.

    The basis for the inspectors complaint is, in large part, not that the plant is not capable of withstanding the quake, nor that the analsyis is faulty or incorrect, but rather that the licensing basis document has not been revised to require a higher peak acceleration design level. It is debateable whether such a would make any difference, since they are already required to analyze for the higher levels. Meanwhile, the concern is being handled through the appropriate processes.
    • There's that newfangled p-wave detector, only costs $80m to build and $12m / year to operate - if the reactor can be rendered safe within 10 seconds after notice of an oncoming quake, I think they've got a customer....

      • Safe before, during, and after. No warning needed. That's the only way.
        • by Zynder (2773551)
          You don't ask for much do you? No wonder nothing gets done anymore since everyone seems to want all or nothing perfection these days.
      • by brambus (3457531)
        Unless their reactor is some really bizarre or shoddy design then yes, reactors can scram in less than 10 seconds: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S... [wikipedia.org]

        In PWRs, the control rods are held above a reactor's core by electric motors against both their own weight and a powerful spring. Any cutting of the electric current releases the rods. Another design uses electromagnets to hold the rods suspended, with any cut to electric current resulting in an immediate and automatic control rod insertion. A SCRAM mechanism is designed to release the control rods from those motors and allows their weight and the spring to drive them into the reactor core, in four seconds or less, thus rapidly halting the nuclear reaction by absorbing liberated neutrons. In BWRs, the control rods are inserted up from underneath the reactor vessel. In this case a hydraulic control unit with a pressurized storage tank provides the force to rapidly insert the control rods upon any interruption of the electric current, again within four seconds.

        Once the rods are inserted, the reactor is deeply subcritical and so due to the exponential nature of nuclear physics the reaction dies away in fractions of a second. Perhaps of interest to you might be to know that Chernobyl's RBMK reactor was neither a PWR nor a BWR. It was a graphite-moderated water-cooled reactor with very serious design flaws that made its

        • SCRAM in 10 seconds is fine. But a SCRAMmed plant does not instantly become safe nor is it considered completely shut down. You still need heat removal for quite some time afterword ( which varies between designs) . That is where the seismic requirements come in. The heat removal systems must withstand the event and remain operational. Every single safety system and backup safety system is required to endure the event.
          • by brambus (3457531)
            I was responding to parent's question of "Can it scram in 10 seconds?". You are of course completely correct that a plant that has been SCRAM'med isn't completely safe yet. I'm by no means a fan of current day water-based pressurized reactor systems, however, it seems so far they've held up really well (not a single civilian power reactor pressure vessel has failed or leaked over the past half century due to external forces - don't know about military ones, those are classified). This of course comes at the
          • by HiThere (15173)

            FWIW, in Fukishima one of the main problems was with the cooling of spent reactor rods that were stored on site. Being SCRAMmed wouldn't help there. And they were a problem even on the reactors that had shut down normally.

            Now Diablo Canyon wouldn't need to worry about corrosion due to using sea water to cool it in an emergency, but just how *would* they cool it in such an emergency?

            • FWIW, in Fukishima one of the main problems was with the cooling of spent reactor rods that were stored on site.

              No, the spent fuel in each of the pools was determined to be just fine, although there were concerns as the event unfolded because access to the spent fuel pools was pretty much non-existent.

            • by Boronx (228853)

              In fact it's the opposite problem: spent fuel pools were ok, but the folks at Fukushima didn't know it and wasted a lot of time and man power trying to correct a non-existent problem. But your point is still good. Without cooling even the spent fuel pool will boil away after awhile (days? weeks?) and the bare fuel could melt down.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          During the 11th March earthquake in Japan a couple of plants experienced problems with their SCRAM mechanisms. Although the rods can in theory fall due to gravity, it only works if the rods don't get stuck due to the violent lateral forces placed on them and the reactor shell. Fortunately enough rods did come down to control the reactors and allow them to be cooled, but it demonstrated the weakness in this design.

          The other issue with earthquakes, which Fukushima and a couple of other Japanese plants experie

          • by brambus (3457531)

            During the 11th March earthquake in Japan a couple of plants experienced problems with their SCRAM mechanisms.

            Yes, that's possible, however the control rod budget is quite oversubscribed, so that even if some of them fail, there should be enough of them to stop the reactor. Should the gravitational system itself fail, it's always possible for the drive mechanism to push them inside after the fact. Lastly, should this fail, modern reactors (such as the AP1000) have on gravitational injection of borated coolant water, which kills the reaction, though takes a little longer and relies on the reactor vessel being intact

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jfmiller (119037)

        Yes, in 1999 (when I last toured the plant) the SCRAM time was 3.5 seconds with control rods fully placed in 0.5 seconds if the emergency circuit is tripped. This happens automatically in the event of a 6.0 or stronger quake. An emergency SCRAM requires 30 to 120 days to restart the reactor. Also like all reactors, it requires time to cool. Because DCNP is located on the ocean it does not require active cooling to safely cool the reactor core after a crash. flooding the core with sea water will probably

    • The basis for the inspectors complaint is, in large part, not that the plant is not capable of withstanding the quake, nor that the analsyis is faulty or incorrect, but rather that the licensing basis document has not been revised to require a higher peak acceleration design level. It is debateable whether such a would make any difference, since they are already required to analyze for the higher levels. Meanwhile, the concern is being handled through the appropriate processes.

      I agree with your conclusion however I took away a different interpretation from TFA: the Hosgri fault was discovered during construction and not properly accounted for in the first place- making the comparison of the Shoreline fault to the Hosgri fault data questionable.

      "Peck wrote that after officials learned of the Hosgri fault's potential shaking power, the NRC never changed the requirements for the structural strength of many systems and components in the plant."

      • I think we are saying the same thing. The 'requirements' are in the form of the licensing basis of the plant. They did the evaluation but did not revise the basis. When the actual fault data was finalized and useful is, however, unclear to me.

        Meanwhile, there is a fleet wide re-evaluation of all sites underway to ensure any new seismic data for each regions/site is evaluated against the plants' existing capabilities.
    • by PopeRatzo (965947)

      Meanwhile, the concern is being handled through the appropriate processes.

      I'm sure officials in Fukushima would have said the same thing on March 10, 2011.

      • A huge difference is that in this case, there is analysis to show the plant can withstand the postulated event. In the case of the tsunami, it was not so, as the plant was never designed to handle a tsunami. The key failing being placing a plant not designed to handle a tsunami in a potential tsunami path.

        Diablo Canyon is designed to withstand an earthquake.
        • by PopeRatzo (965947)

          there is analysis

          There's always analysis. The problem is, who's doing the analysis, what is their agenda, and who's tasked to act on said analysis.

          I don't doubt that nuclear energy could be an amazing boon and used to a much greater extent, safely and profitably. If we could trust the energy industry and government regulators to do the right thing.

          My analysis shows that's not the case, however.

    • The Humboldt Bay reactor closed for the same reason.
    • by MrKaos (858439)

      The basis for the inspectors complaint is, in large part, not that the plant is not capable of withstanding the quake, nor that the analsyis is faulty or incorrect, but rather that the licensing basis document has not been revised to require a higher peak acceleration design level. It is debateable whether such a would make any difference, since they are already required to analyze for the higher levels. Meanwhile, the concern is being handled through the appropriate processes.

      The documentation is the beginning of the process to either revise processes or install modifications. This was the primary issue at Fukushima as the documentation to improve the sea walls was resisted and stopped. This meant the process to improve the seawalls there did not commence planning or other things required to improve the safety of the plant.

      The author probably understands this because he has a deep understanding of reactors and the processes under which they operate. The belief system that surro

      • The fundamental flaw in your response is that the Fukushima units had no design features to deal with a tsunami from the start, so analysis was never part of the equation. If you postulate a tsunami that breaches the wall, then you must analyze the plant to ensure it can withstand, and this was never done. In the case of Diablo, they designed the plant with the ability to withstand an earthquake from the start. They postulated the earthquake, performed the analysis, then obtained new earthquake information
  • So, how much money would be needed for healing and mana potions for this little operation?
    • by Zynder (2773551)
      An insane amount! Have you seen Auction House prices? Diablo Canyon 1 & 2 are great but they really should shutdown Diablo Canyon 3. What a hunk of garbage!
  • Are they really expecting a more than 7.5 magnitude quake there? unlikely in the extreme, USGS says the Shoreline fault that is near the plant might produce a 6.5 quake....so what?

    • by mdsolar (1045926)
      "PG&E research in 2011 determined that any of three nearby faults — the Shoreline, Los Osos and San Luis Bay — is capable of producing significantly more ground motion during an earthquake than was accounted for in the design of important plant equipment. In the case of San Luis Bay, it is as much as 75 percent more."
  • by macpacheco (1764378) on Monday August 25, 2014 @06:05PM (#47752437)

    Per the usual, the simple fact that Natural Gas and Coal accidents/air pollution kills people every day is ignored compared to the remote risk of something happening to a nuclear powerplant.
    If the 3 nuclear reactors in Fukushima Daichi were instead 3 coal thermal boilers, it would have killed hundreds of people in the decades it operated.
    6.5 quake is peanuts for a nuclear reactor.
    Nuclear require an extreme accident to become a hazard to human life, while coal/NG kills every day.
    Even solar and wind kill more per TWh produced than nuclear, perhaps they can cleanup their act and have less work accidents before they can claim solar/wind is safer than nuclear.

    • by brambus (3457531)
      Danger, to a large part, is about perception. Coal and NG kills only a few people at a time, which is highly preferable for politicians, whereas nuclear tends to come in very few and far between big events, so everybody is scared shitless, despite in absolute numbers the threat being negligible (think, by analogy, driving and flying, which has less fear surrounding it and which is safer in actual fact).
      As for a comparison between nuclear, wind and solar, it gets kinda murky. For one, wind & solar don't
    • by mdsolar (1045926)
      You've been bamboozled. Nuclear power is quite deadly. http://www.chernobylreport.org... [chernobylreport.org]
      • And this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        the area around Chernobyl is uninhabitable. Before the accident, 120,000 people lived there. The Fukushima exclusion zone is currently a 30 km radius where all residents Were evacuated and is also a no-fly zone. The US Embassy subsequently advised Americans to keep a 80 km distance. Radiation induced cancers take decades to play out, and the claim that "no one died from Fukushima other than a few plant workers" is complete hogwash, as it's too soon to tell
        • You are drawing a conclusion based on overblown safety procedures.
          It's the same logic that stated Chernobyl would kill a million people.
          The LNT model isn't backed up by data.
          The problem is nuclear regulators have zero incentive to revisit their LNT assumptions.
          The radiation levels in the Chernobyl exclusion zone are similar to those measured in high elevation cities and sky resorts, yet people live there for centuries and they seem to live longer and have slightly lower cancer rates than those living at sea

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      As per the usual, the simple fact that Natural Gas and Coal accidents/air pollution kills people every day is ignored compared to the remote risk of something happening to a nuclear powerplant.

      Not, it is not being ignored. I don't know about the US but in the EU there are very strict regulations governing gas and coal plants, and we are working towards getting rid of them or at least doing full capture of the output.

      Incredibly are governments are capable of doing both things at once. I know, hard to imagine.

      The numbers for harm done by modern western coal plants and especially the number of deaths attributed to solar and wind have been widely debunked anyway. That lame blog post that claimed sola

    • by GroeFaZ (850443)

      Nuclear require an extreme accident to become a hazard to human life, while coal/NG kills every day.

      Uranium mining is hazardous to the miners and local/regional residents because of the radioactivity they are exposed to, uses large quantities of water to reduce airborne uranium dust, and uses a lot of fossil fuel to separate the uranium from the gangue and to transport it to the consuming power plants. Therefore, nuclear also kills every day. It just doesn't usually happen in the country using the nuclear fuel, so it's effectively Somebody Else's Problem, but a problem nonetheless. Nuclear power is NOT ca

  • Diablo Canyon 2 why can't you be more like Diablo Canyon 1

  • Please turn out the lights. Oh, wait...

  • It must be close to the end of design life for a lot of reactor components anyway. A combination of high stress and neutron bombardment is a lot like a combination of high temperature and high stress in the way the effected metal behaves so some parts don't last forever, and replacement can be expensive. I'm not predicting disaster just pointing out a well known problem - when microcracking is detected it can be a few years before it's going to grow into something serious but it's time to set things in mo
  • Which basically means pro-fossil. Don't let the siren song of wind and solar fool you. They both need 100% fossil fuel backup. Shutting down nuclear power plants simply hands energy generation back to coal and natural gas.

    • by mdsolar (1045926)
      Solar and wind back each other up. http://www.engineering.com/Ele... [engineering.com] It's nukes that go out for weeks at a time needing typically fossil replacement energy. Shut them down permanently and wind and solar and hydro will rush in to replace them. Look at Vermont, heck look at California which recently closed another nuke.
      • by greg_barton (5551)

        Sorry, but no. Unreliable renewables go out every day (solar) or completely unpredictably. (solar and wind) They do not back each other up. Your link doesn't even claim that. Vermont and California are not making up for their nuclear shutdowns with renewables. They're using natural gas and coal.

        • by mdsolar (1045926)
          Who should I believe, a respected laboratory, NREL, or some guy on the internet who can't be bothered to do math? Regarding Vermont, HydroQuebec is ready to cover Vermont Yankee. California should be obvious and it doesn't use coal. http://ecowatch.com/2014/03/17... [ecowatch.com]
  • Karen Silkwood. Perhaps the long nightmare is coming to an end.
  • by russbutton (675993) <russ.russbutton@com> on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @01:06AM (#47754347) Homepage
    33 years ago I was the cost analyst for the Diablo Canyon project. I've been inside the thing and earthquake safety was huge in the construction of the plant. It is VASTLY over-engineered for earthquake safety. The original spec was to survive an 8.0 earthquake on the San Andreas fault, which is 30 miles away. The Hosgri fault, which is just off-shore, was unknown at the time the plant was first sited and was only discovered later. The plant was re-engineered to withstand an 8.0 earthquake on the Hosgri fault, which hasn't moved in many thousands of years.

    The real problem with Diablo Canyon, and the rest of the nuclear industry is managing the waste. There is no place to put nuclear waste in this country, so it's just stored on-site. That's crazy. You can't do that forever.

    That being said, my expectation is that we'll continue to see tech advancements in solar and wind generation, and energy storage to the point where large central generation will be a thing of the past.

    • by rrohbeck (944847)

      Oh no, a voice of reason!

    • by mdsolar (1045926)
      The issue does not seem to be the Hosgri fault, three miles away, but rather the "Shoreline fault, which snakes offshore about 650 yards from the reactors." Also, "PG&E research in 2011 determined that any of three nearby faults — the Shoreline, Los Osos and San Luis Bay — is capable of producing significantly more ground motion during an earthquake than was accounted for in the design of important plant equipment. In the case of San Luis Bay, it is as much as 75 percent more." With the of
  • Wouldn't it be keen if Diablo Canyon and the other operating nucleaar plants could rise up on giant clawed feet and saunter over to a state that actually wants a clean source of emissions-free energy.

    It would also be cool if nuclear electricity was shaped a bit differently, perhaps a little series of dips in the sinusoid like tumblers in a lock... that way the grid could reconfigure itself to gather carbon free energy and pool it for use in states that are not driven by anti-nuclear hysterics.

    Then the minio

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