[ RadSafe ] Nuclear safety left hanging as crane dangled fuel rods

Sandy Perle sandyfl at earthlink.net
Tue Mar 21 09:59:24 CST 2006


Nuclear safety left hanging as crane dangled fuel rods
Nuclear industry challenged on safety
Officials: No problem at nuclear station in Fairfield County
More radiation found at Casella
Resisting Radiation from Space Travel
Living with Radiation From Chernobyl: Conference April 20 at UN

Nuclear safety left hanging as crane dangled fuel rods
Michigan incident got warning but no fine

Detroit Daily Free Press Mar 18 - The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant 
near South Haven is seeking a 20-year renewal of its operating 
license, which expires in 2011.  

Michigan has three operating nuclear power plants. They supply about 
25% of Michigan's electrical needs.

o Palisades, near South Haven on Lake Michigan's shore, has operated 
since 1971, with a generating capacity of 798,000 megawatts -- enough 
to power 500,000 typical homes.

o Cook Nuclear Power Plant at Bridgman on Lake Michigan's shore has 
two units, operating since 1975 and 1978. Combined, they can generate 
2 million megawatts, enough to power 1.25 million homes.

o Fermi 2 Nuclear Power Plant near Monroe began operations in 1985, 
and has a capacity of 1.1 million megawatts, enough to power about 
688,000 homes.

Meetings scheduled

Public meetings related to the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant's 
proposed license renewal are scheduled for April 5 at 1:30 and 7 p.m. 
at Lake Michigan College, 125 Veterans Blvd., South Haven.

Federal regulators will be available for questions one hour before 
each meeting. The plant seeks a 20-year renewal of its license, which 
expires in 2011.

The worst case

The scariest nuclear accident in Michigan was the 1966 partial 
meltdown of the Fermi 1 nuclear reactor near Monroe that inspired the 
1975 book "We Almost Lost Detroit."

The trouble started when a piece of metal plate dislodged, clogging 
the flow of sodium coolant throughout the reactor.

Plant officials maintained that only 1% of the uranium fuel melted, 
but critics say the plant came close to a runaway reaction that could 
have killed people for miles around the plant.

No radiation was released, but the plant never returned to useful 

A 110-ton load of nuclear waste dangled for 55 hours above a cooling 
pool last October as two workers at a southwest Michigan nuclear 
power plant improperly manipulated a crane that had frozen, federal 
regulators concluded in a recent review of the incident.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission cited the Palisades Nuclear Power 
Plant for a minor safety violation but did not impose a fine -- a 
response considered weak by at least one former federal nuclear 
reactor inspector and several activists who have examined the case.

Under the NRC's worst-case scenario, if the suspended load had 
accidentally dropped, a fire could have ignited, leading to formation 
of a radioactive cloud. The cloud could have put thousands of people 
downwind of the plant -- all the way to Kalamazoo -- at risk of fatal 
radiation poisoning.

Ross Landsman, an inspector with the NRC for 25 years till his 
retirement last year, said that even though the odds of such a 
sequence were infinitesimally remote -- the scenario would have to be 
triggered by an unusual incident such as an earthquake -- the NRC was 
too lenient.

"They have words now to make it seem all right. It's not. This is the 
worst possible place" to have an unsealed cask of nuclear fuel 
"suspended. To me, it's a big deal," he said.

Palisades spokesman Mark Savage disagreed.

"In this case, the fuel was always in a safe condition," he said. The 
14-foot-tall cask had barely broken the surface of the 40-foot-deep 
cooling pool when the crane stopped, he said.

The incident, however, illustrates how the combination of human error 
and equipment failure can combine to whittle away the multiple, 
redundant safeguards that protect the public and plant workers from 
nuclear hazards.

Palisades, the smallest of Michigan's three nuclear plants, produces 
enough electricity to power about 500,000 homes. The Fermi 2 plant in 
Monroe County on the shore of Lake Erie is the closest plant to metro 
Detroit. Palisades and Cook are both in southwestern Michigan along 
Lake Michigan.

The incident, which did not appear on the daily log of nuclear plant 
irregularities compiled by the NRC, was detailed in an NRC quarterly 
report published Jan. 25. The log often notes things as seemingly 
minor as an accidentally tripped alarm.

The load was safely lowered 55 hours after an improperly calibrated 
fail-safe system stopped the load as it was being raised. The 
citation from the NRC was of "minor safety significance" -- a type 
that U.S. nuclear plants typically receive several times each year.

But in its report, the NRC said the workers' actions were neither 
authorized by their supervisors, nor allowed under safety rules, and 
"represented an increase in the risk of a load drop" that could have 
cracked the cooling pool below. A cracked pool could have drained the 
water that cools tens of thousands of spent nuclear fuel rods -- 
creating the possibility of a fire.

A more plausible, though still very unlikely, scenario would have 
been an accident contained to the plant grounds but creating a 
radioactive mess that could have shut down the plant for years, said 

"It would have made a hole in the fuel pool and made a huge mess," he 
said. "Spent fuel rods all over the floor and a cracked pool. It 
would have shut the plant down" for years.

Dave Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project at the Union of 
Concerned Scientists and a former nuclear reactor engineer, said that 
having the waste dangle in the air for more than two days increased 
risks of a serious accident.

"What's most troubling is that workers with years and years of 
experience undertook that action without" authorization, he said. 
"That's shifting the balance from skill and careful thinking to 

Regulators and plant officials say the mechanical safeguards operated 
as they should have.

"I don't want to trivialize it. It clearly had our attention," said 
Jan Strasma, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "But 
there was no threat to health and safety."

The incident at Palisades has few precedents.

In 1995, a 122-ton cask of fuel hung above a cooling pool at Prairie 
Island Nuclear Plant in Minnesota when its brake improperly engaged. 
That load was safely lowered after 16 hours. Other plants have had 
similar problems during practice transfers.

Kevin Kamps, nuclear waste specialist at the Washington D.C.-based 
Nuclear Information and Resource Service, said the lack of public 
notice of the Palisades problem is troubling.

The incident was not included on the NRC's Internet listing of daily 
incident reports, nor on event reports that are filed by plant 
operators with the NRC and available to the public online.

Strasma said the Palisades problem did not fit the criteria for an 
event report, and said that the agency was in frequent contact with 
an inspector on the scene even though it wasn't listed on daily 

The daily reports are informal communications about events as 
significant as radiation leaks and as mundane as inadvertently 
tripped fire alarms and plant management changes.

Strasma acknowledged that far less serious matters than the Palisades 
incident are routinely included in the daily reports, and said 
there's "not a clear-cut answer" why the crane problem wasn't 

Palisades is owned by CMS Energy Corp, which plans to sell the plant 
by the end of 2007.

Nuclear industry challenged on safety

LONDON (Reuters) - The government, in the middle of a six-month 
review of future energy needs, on Tuesday challenged the nuclear 
industry to prove it could guarantee safety if given the go ahead to 
build new power stations.

The government, facing the triple challenge of replacing ageing 
nuclear and coal power stations, safeguarding energy supplies and 
cutting carbon emissions, has been accused of using the review to 
cloak a secret decision in favour of new nuclear.

Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks, whose department is running the energy 
review, has repeatedly denied the accusation and in a speech to the 
British Nuclear Energy Society and European Nuclear Society 
Conference, threw down the gauntlet.

"Today I issue a challenge to the nuclear industry. You are calling 
for greater certainty over licensing. You are calling for shorter 
planning processes. You are calling for the scope of planning 
inquiries to be restricted," he said.

"But my challenge to you then is to show me how this might work in 
practice. How might you achieve these things while still maintaining 
the same high levels of scrutiny and safeguards we have now?"

The nuclear industry, plagued in the past by very lengthy public 
planning inquiries over new stations and deep concern over waste and 
terrorist attacks, has appealed for pre-approval of plant designs as 
a way of short-circuiting the process.

It has also said it has solved the problem of dealing with and 
storing safely its highly toxic waste.

As a further plus, the industry says it is the answer to cutting 
climate warming carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels 
because it produces almost no greenhouse gases.

On Tuesday, Wicks called for proof of the claims and urged the highly 
secretive industry to open up to public debate.

"If this review does find in favour of nuclear it's not simply a 
question of giving it a green light. We would not duck any of these 
difficult questions.

"This is why we are tackling the issue of nuclear waste ... to 
examine some of the risks associated with potential new build and 
their approach to ensuring industry sensibly manages these risks," he 

Officials: No problem at nuclear station in Fairfield County
Jenkinsville March 21 - Around 2:30 on Tuesday morning, sirens 
sounded around the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Fairfield County, 
but officials say there was no problem with the reactor.
Newberry Sheriff Lee Foster says that 911 operators from the Newberry 
County Sheriff's Office immediately contacted the nuclear plant and 
were told that the sirens were set off as part of a test. When the 
sirens continued to sound, 911 operators called back and were told 
the sirens were set off by a computer error.

Foster said that he became concerned about the two different 
responses from the plant. He said there were also strong concerns 
from residents in the area that something was actually wrong. Foster 
said they also were asked if people should take the iodine tablets 
recently provided by DHEC. 

At that point, he says, two deputies from Newberry County were sent 
to the nuclear site. The deputies discovered that everything was 
secure at the plant after talking with plant security.

Foster said that the sirens sounded for about three minutes and 
caused a major alert to those in the area. He said that the 911 
center was inundated with calls for about 30 minutes and that many 
volunteer fire and rescue members began calling on their portable 

Eric Boomhower with South Carolina Electric and Gas Company says 
SCE&G is trying to determine what caused the alarm to sound. He says 
there was no problem with the nuclear station itself.

The sirens are placed in Fairfield, Richland and Newberry counties to 
warn the public if there is a problem at the nuclear power station. 
Boomhower says the utility has more than 100 sirens in the three 
counties to warn the public if there is a problem at the station.

More radiation found at Casella

HOLLISTON -- MetroWest Daily News Mar 21 - Board of Health officials 
are losing their patience with Casella Waste Systems after another 
load of radiation-laden trash was found yesterday at the Washington 
Street station -- and demand a fast fix. "We've had two radiation 
incidents in the last two weeks," Chairman Richard Maccagnano chided 
Casella officials at last night's board meeting. "It's obvious that 
we need to change the radiation protocol." Yesterday afternoon, 
radioactive material was found in trash at the Casella transfer 
station -- the incident was the second this month, and the third 
since January. The trash was stored overnight in a secured garage at 
the Casella station, inside a garbage truck, said company division 
manager Len Landry. Workers discovered radioactive material in a 
truck leaving the station yesterday, just like the previous two 
incidents. Officials from the state Department of Public Health will 
visit the facility today to determine whether radiation is still 
present. If no radiation is found the trash load can leave the 
station. While the low-level radioactive material is not a threat to 
public health, company workers have not identified the source of the 
radiation or where it came from. "We'd prefer not to be digging 
around in the material," Landry said. The town imposed a radiation 
protocol after the January incident, which required Casella to notify 
town officials in case radioactive material was found in the trash. 
"The goal is to catch this going in, so you can turn the truck around 
and send it out," Maccagnano said. Landry said the station's scanners 
are not located properly to detect radiation until trucks depart the 
facility -- due to work being done to the station's truck scale -- 
but those detectors will be relocated once that work is finished. 
Although the Board of Health pushed for the names of companies that 
use the Holliston transfer station to find the source of the 
radioactive waste, Casella attorney Michael Healy said the identities 
of Casella's customers is a "trade secret." Board members Suzanne 
Shannahan and Elizabeth Theiler said it is possible the material 
found yesterday is medical waste from a cancer treatment. Radioactive 
material found at Casella on March 10 was identified as a load of 
diapers. Healy said Casella's Holliston station does not handle waste 
from hospitals. "Material shouldn't be coming from a hospital. I know 
it has, but that's a breakdown at the hospital," Healy said. 
Maccagnano said he wanted faster notification by Casella when the 
company discovers radioactive material in its trash loads. Yesterday, 
radioactive material was found at about 11 a.m., and Casella workers 
alerted the state at 11:15 a.m. But town officials weren't told until 
12:30 p.m., he said. Theiler said the board should hire a radiation 
expert -- funded by Casella -- to review the town's radiation 
protocol and help officials figure out whether there could be a 
common source to the radioactive waste. "All the goodwill in the 
world went into this radiation protocol, and we still have holes," 
Theiler said. In other business, the town has determined former 
Health Agent William Domey did not put the town at legal risk for 
working on site plans after he let his state-issued engineer's 
license expire nearly two years ago. Domey resigned Friday, a week 
after being suspended without pay by the board. "The town doesn't 
appear to be exposed" to problems, said Town Administrator Paul 

Resisting Radiation from Space Travel
Red Orbit Mar 20 - To travel among the stars, we must figure out how 
to survive the harsh radiation of outer space. Studies of radiation-
resistant microbes on Earth provide some illuminating insights.

NASA -- In Star Wars and Star Trek movies, people travel between 
planets and galaxies with ease. But our future in space is far from 
assured. Issues of hyperdrive and wormholes aside, it doesn´t seem 
possible that the human body could withstand extended exposure to the 
harsh radiation of outer space. 

Radiation comes from many sources. Light from the sun produces a 
range of wavelengths from long-wave infrared to short-wavelength 
ultraviolet (UV). Background radiation in space is composed of high-
energy X-rays, gamma rays and cosmic rays, which all can play havoc 
with the cells in our bodies. Since such ionizing radiation easily 
penetrates spacecraft walls and spacesuits, astronauts today must 
limit their time in space. But being in outer space for even a short 
time greatly increases their odds of developing cancer, cataracts, 
and other radiation-related health problems. 

To overcome this problem, we may find some useful tips in nature. 
Many organisms already have devised effective strategies to protect 
themselves from radiation. 

Lynn Rothschild of the NASA Ames Research Center says that radiation 
has always been a danger for life on Earth, and so life had to find 
ways to cope with it. This was especially important during the 
Earth's earliest years, when the ingredients for life were first 
coming together. Because our planet did not initially have much 
oxygen in the atmosphere, it also lacked an ozone (O3) layer to block 
out harmful radiation. This is one reason why many believe life 
originated underwater, since water can filter out the more damaging 
wavelengths of light. 

Yet photosynthesis -- the transformation of sunlight into chemical 
energy -- developed relatively early in the history of life. 
Photosynthetic microbes like cyanobacteria were using sunlight to 
make food as early as 2.8 billion years ago (and possibly even 

Early life therefore engaged in a delicate balancing act, learning 
how to use radiation for energy while protecting itself from the 
damage that radiation could cause. While sunlight is not as energetic 
as X-rays or gamma rays, the UV wavelengths are preferentially 
absorbed by DNA bases and by the aromatic amino acids of proteins. 
This absorption can damage cells and the delicate DNA strands that 
encode the instructions for life. 

"The problem is, if you´re going to access solar radiation for 
photosynthesis, you've got to take the good with the bad -- you´re 
also exposing yourself to the ultraviolet radiation," says 
Rothschild. "So there's various tricks that we think early life used, 
as life does today." 

Besides hiding under liquid water, life makes use of other natural UV 
radiation barriers such as ice, sand, rocks, and salt. As organisms 
continued to evolve, some were able to develop their own protective 
barriers such as pigmentation or a tough outer shell. 

 Thanks to photosynthetic organisms filling the atmosphere with 
oxygen (and thereby generating an ozone layer), most organisms on 
Earth today don´t need to contend with high energy UV-C rays, X-rays 
or gamma rays from space. In fact, the only organisms known to 
survive space exposure -- at least in the short term -- are bacteria 
and lichen. Bacteria need some shielding so they won't get fried by 
the UV, but lichen have enough biomass to act as a protective 

But even with a good barrier in place, sometimes radiation damage 
does occur. The lichen and bacteria hibernate while in space -- they 
do not grow, reproduce, or engage in any of their normal living 
functions. Upon return to Earth, they exit this dormant state and, if 
there was damage inflicted, proteins in the cell work to piece 
together DNA strands that were broken apart by radiation. 

The same damage control occurs with organisms on Earth when they're 
exposed to radioactive materials such as uranium and radium. The 
bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans is the reigning champion when it 
comes to this sort of radiation repair. (Complete repair is not 
always possible, however, which is why radiation exposure can lead to 
genetic mutations or death.) 

"I live in eternal hope of unseating D. radiodurans," says Rothchild. 
Her search for radiation-resistant microorganisms has brought her to 
Paralana hot spring in Australia. Uranium-rich granite rocks emit 
gamma rays while lethal radon gas bubbles up from the hot water. Life 
in the spring is therefore exposed to high levels of radiation -- 
both below, from the radioactive materials, and above, from the 
intense UV light of the Australian sun. 

Rothschild learned about the hot spring from Roberto Anitori of 
Macquarie University's Australian Centre for Astrobiology. Anitori 
has been sequencing the 16S ribosomal RNA genes and culturing the 
bacteria that live quite happily in the radioactive waters. Like 
other organisms on Earth, the Paralana cyanobacteria and other 
microbes may have devised barriers to shield themselves from the 

"I have noticed a tough, almost silicone-like layer on some of the 
microbial mats there," says Anitori. "And when I say "silicon-like," 
I mean the sort you use on window pane edging." 

"Apart from possible shielding mechanisms, I suspect that the 
microbes at Paralana also have good DNA repair mechanisms," adds 
Anitori. At the moment, he can only speculate about the methods used 
by the Paralana organisms to survive. However, he does plan to 
closely investigate their radiation resistance strategies later this 

In addition to Paralana, Rothschild's investigations have brought her 
to extremely arid regions in Mexico and the Bolivian Andes. As it 
turns out, many organisms that evolved to live in deserts are also 
quite good at surviving radiation exposure. 

Prolonged water loss can cause DNA damage, but some organisms have 
evolved efficient repair systems to combat this damage. It´s possible 
that these same dehydration repair systems are used when the organism 
needs to repair radiation-inflicted damage. 

But such organisms may be able to avoid damage altogether simply by 
being dried out. The lack of water in desiccated, dormant cells makes 
them much less susceptible to the effects of ionizing radiation, 
which can harm cells by producing free radicals of water (hydroxyl or 
OH radical). Because free radicals have unpaired electrons, they 
eagerly try to interact with DNA, proteins, lipids in cell membranes, 
and anything else they can find. The resulting wreckage can lead to 
organelle failure, block cell division, or cause cell death. 

Eliminating the water in human cells is probably not a practical 
solution for us to minimize our radiation exposure in space. Science 
fiction has long toyed with the idea of putting people into suspended 
animation for long space journeys, but turning humans into shriveled, 
dried-out raisins and then rehydrating them back to life isn´t 
medically possible -- or very appealing. Even if we could develop 
such a procedure, once the human raisinettes were rehydrated they 
would again be susceptible to radiation damage. 

Perhaps someday we can genetically engineer humans to have the same 
super radiation-repair systems as microorganisms like D. radiodurans. 
But even if such tinkering with the human genome was possible, those 
hardy organisms aren't 100 percent resistant to radiation damage, so 
health problems would persist. 

So of the three known mechanisms that life has devised to combat 
radiation damage -- barriers, repair, and desiccation -- the most 
immediately practical solution for human spaceflight would be to 
devise better radiation barriers. Anitori thinks his studies of the 
Paralana Spring organisms could someday help us engineer such 

"Perhaps we will be taught by nature, mimicking some of the shielding 
mechanisms used by microbes," he states. 

And Rothschild says radiation studies also could provide some 
important lessons as we look toward establishing communities on the 
moon, Mars, and other planets. 

"When we start to build human colonies, we're going to take organisms 
with us. You're ultimately going to want to grow plants, and possibly 
make an atmosphere on Mars and on the moon. We may not want to spend 
the effort and the money to protect them completely from the UV and 
cosmic radiation." 

In addition, says Rothschild, "humans are just full of microbes, and 
we couldn't survive without them. We don´t know what effect the 
radiation will have on that associated community, and that may be 
more of a problem than the direct effect of radiation on the humans."

She believes her studies also will be useful in the search for life 
on other worlds. Assuming that other organisms in the universe also 
are based on carbon and water, we can postulate what sort of extreme 
conditions they could survive in. 

"Each time we find an organism on Earth that can live further and 
further into an environmental extreme, we´ve increased the size of 
that envelope of what we know life can survive within," says 
Rothschild. "So if we go to a place on Mars that has a certain 
radiation flux, desiccation, and temperature, we can say, `There are 
organisms on Earth that can live under those conditions. There´s 
nothing that precludes life from living there.´ Now, whether life is 
there or not is another matter, but at least we can say this is the 
minimum envelope for life."

For instance, Rothschild thinks life could be possible in the salt 
crusts on Mars, which are similar to salt crusts on Earth where 
organisms find shelter from solar UV. She also looks at life living 
under ice and snow on Earth, and wonders if organisms could live a 
comparatively radiation-protected existence under the ice of 
Jupiter´s moon Europa.

Living with Radiation From Chernobyl: Conference April 20 at UN

Newswise Mar 21 - 20 years after Chernobyl, the worst peace-time 
nuclear disaster in history, a large number of exposed immigrants 
from the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia now live in the USA. The rate of 
thyroid cancer among this group is expected to rise dramatically in 
the coming decade. Approximately 100,000 immigrants from these 
affected areas live in Metro New York City.

At this continuing education conference, US physicians (and 
journalists) can learn about radiation-induced thyroid cancer - its 
epidemiology, its unique pathophysiology and a "best practices" model 
for treatment and long-term management. The remarkable faculty 
includes, for the first time in the USA, a number of leading 
international specialists from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, who have 
hands-on experience with the disaster´s aftermath, as well top 
medical experts in endocrinology and oncology from the USA´s foremost 
teaching institutions.

The conference, "Living With Radiation: Diagnosis and Treatment of 
Thyroid Cancer after the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident," will be held at 
the United Nations in New York City on Thursday, April 20, 2006 from 
10 am to 6pm. It is jointly sponsored by The New York Eye and Ear 
Infirmary (NYEEI) and the World Information Transfer, Inc (WITI). 
Course directors are: Daniel Igor Branovan, MD (NYEEI); Christine K. 
Durbak, MD (WITI); Bernard D. Goldstein, MD (University of Pittsburgh 
School of Public Health). 

Faculty include: Prof. Larissa Baleva (Russia); Prof. Volodymyr 
Bebeshko (Ukraine); Prof. Yuriy Demidchik (Belarus); James A. Fagin, 
MD (Univ. of Cincinnati, OH); Jan Geliebter, PhD (New York Medical 
College, NY); Virginia A. LiVolsi, MD (Univ. of Pennsylvania, PA); 
Prof. Vladimir Maltsev (Ukraine); Prof. Olga Oleinikova (Belarus); 
Mark S. Persky, MD (Beth Israel Medical Center,NY); Gregory W. 
Randolph, MD (Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston); Matthew 
D. Ringel, MD (Ohio State University, OH); Prof. Alexander Rumyantsev 
(Russia); Simon Schantz, MD (Beth NYEEI, NY); Ashok R. Shaha, MD 
(Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, NY); Prof. Mykola Tronko 
(Ukraine); Prof. Anatoliy Tsib (Russia); Michael Tuttle, MD (Memorial 
Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, NY) and Samuel A. Wells, MD (Duke 
Univeristy Medical Center, NC). 

Sandy Perle
Senior Vice President, Technical Operations
Global Dosimetry Solutions, Inc.
2652 McGaw Avenue
Irvine, CA 92614 

Tel: (949) 296-2306 / (888) 437-1714  Extension 2306
Fax:(949) 296-1144

E-Mail: sperle at dosimetry.com
E-Mail: sandyfl at earthlink.net 

Global Dosimetry Website: http://www.dosimetry.com/ 
Personal Website: http://sandy-travels.com/ 

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