[ RadSafe ] Nuclear News - FPL told to boost nuclear plant staff at Turkey Point

Perle, Sandy sperle at mirion.com
Wed May 14 12:26:47 CDT 2008


FPL told to boost nuclear plant staff at Turkey Point
McCain tries to ease nuclear-power worries
Deadline looms in labor talks at Pilgrim Nuclear Station
Nuclear plant concerns
France: Can't rule out nuclear damage in China
After 35 years French nuclear tests still rankle
Re-energising the UK nuclear industry

FPL told to boost nuclear plant staff at Turkey Point

Palm Beach Post May 14 - Staffing shortages at Florida Power & Light Co.'s Turkey Point nuclear plant prompted the head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to deliver a blunt message Tuesday at the Miami-Dade County plant: Get your worker levels up.

In what he described as the most stern in-person warning of his two-year tenure, Commission Chairman Dale Klein told FPL management he didn't think the plant employed enough nuclear plant operators - the workers who man the reactor controls and monitor plant operations 24 hours a day.

FPL needs to hire about 10 more operators who are licensed by the NRC and about 20 more non-licensed operators at Turkey Point, he said. The shortage of those employees has meant lots of overtime for the reactor operators on the job, and the NRC has fielded complaints about their excessive hours.

Overall, the plant looked clean and is operating very well, said Klein, who spent about five hours there Tuesday. But it's not meeting the NRC's expectations in terms of manpower, and the agency wants to avoid any fatigue-related problems at the plant.

"Turkey Point, unfortunately from my perception, got behind the curve on hiring and training," Klein said. "They didn't start hiring soon enough. They didn't have a program that was strong enough to prevent people from leaving."

Similar complaints about overtime and staffing have emerged at FPL's St. Lucie Nuclear Plant , but Klein said he did not think the problem was as significant there. At that plant, some workers say overtime of more than 1,000 hours a year is not uncommon.

Licensed operators at St. Lucie have expressed concern that, if staff levels get much lower, rolling brownouts could result because one of the nuclear reactors would have to power down. But little has changed, and they continue to work the draining 12-hour shifts confined in the control rooms.

"We're going to end up getting violations because we don't have enough people to run the place," one veteran St. Lucie operator, who requested anonymity, said in March.

For both sites, FPL has been ratcheting up operator recruitment, said FPL spokesman Dick Winn.

"We're very aware of the fact that we have staffing issues that we need to be dealing with," Winn said.

By late 2009, the utility could have 31 new licensed operators and 25 more non-licensed operators at Turkey Point, provided all of the students complete their 18 months of training.

It now has 43 licensed and 47 non-licensed operators at the plant, Winn said. Licensed operators man reactor control rooms, and non-licensed operators generally work elsewhere at the plant.

Starting Oct. 1, 2009, a new "fatigue rule" approved by the NRC in March will beef up requirements for days off and breaks between shifts for operators and other plant personnel, making the new hires even more essential.

Though FPL, owned by FPL Group Inc. (NYSE: FPL, $64.72) of Juno Beach, has not received any cited violations related to the manpower issues at Turkey Point, some non-cited violations have been reported, Klein said. None of the issues has been related to fatigue, "but we don't want to get there," he said.

The NRC did cite FPL twice this year for violations related to its security force.

FPL paid the first fine, for $208,000, for failing to properly equip its armed responders. It asked for an extension on the second, a $130,000 penalty linked to claims that guards slept on the job.

FPL plans to apply to the NRC next year for approval to build two new reactors at Turkey Point - bringing the plant's total to four - and Klein said the commission will make sure the company's staffing levels are adequate for the new units.

The company also is working to upgrade the two existing Turkey Point reactors and two St. Lucie reactors so they will produce more power.

"Because the antenna has been raised on the issue of staffing," Klein said, "we'll be watching it."

McCain tries to ease nuclear-power worries

Seattle Times - Republican John McCain said he understands Washington's skepticism about nuclear energy, given the contamination at Hanford, the worst bond default in history and nuclear power plants left unfinished.

"Obviously, the people of this state and America need assurances that nuclear power will be an energy source that will be clean, that we will have ways of addressing the spent nuclear fuel and that we will make sure that we don't repeat the mistakes of the past," McCain said Tuesday at an environmental roundtable near North Bend.

Speaking at a panel discussion his campaign organized, the presumed Republican presidential nominee promoted nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels that are linked to climate change.

Tuesday's meeting at a Seattle Public Utilities education center was part of a two-day Northwest swing aimed at boosting McCain's environmental credentials and distancing himself from President Bush.

"I will be a president of the United States for the environment," McCain declared.

But not everyone was convinced that more nuclear power is a good idea - at least not right away.

"I don't think the federal government has really done a good job of managing the waste here," Bruce Williams, chairman and CEO of HomeStreet Bank, told McCain. "At least for some of us in this state, we'd like to see that get taken care of before creating more of it."

Williams is also vice chairman of the Cascade Land Conservancy and a donor to Democratic political campaigns.

The Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland is the nation's most contaminated nuclear site. The federal government agreed in 1989 to clean it up, but a contractor has been struggling to design and build a $12.2 billion plant to convert millions of gallons of radioactive waste into glasslike logs for long-term disposal underground.

The plant isn't expected to be finished until 2019.

The state's nuclear history also includes the massive bond defaults associated with the Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS). In the late 1970s the utility planned to build five nuclear power plants, but ran into problems with rising costs and concerns about safety. In 1983, it halted construction and defaulted on $2.25 billion in bonds - the biggest municipal-bond default in history.

Two partially finished WPPSS plants at Satsop are now part of a business park.

McCain told Williams that if Europe can successfully manage nuclear power, so can the United States.

Nuclear-powered ships have traveled safely around the globe for 60 years, McCain told the room of about 100 people, including press, gathered for the meeting.

"We ought to be able, as a nation, to address the issue of transportation of the spent nuclear fuel, the storage of it, whether it'll be reprocessed," he said.

In an interview Tuesday, Rep. Jay Inslee, a Democrat and leading advocate for clean energy, said it's cheaper to invest in wind power or more efficient use of electricity than to build more nuclear power plants.

Inslee said he doesn't think nuclear will be a good option until there is a dependable way to dispose of the waste.

And nothing in Europe gives him confidence that will happen soon.

McCain touted France's use of nuclear power, but Inslee pointed out that the French government stores the waste above ground.

"We really have to find a long-term disposal system that Americans have confidence in," he said.

After the panel discussion and a brief news conference, McCain headed into a steady downpour for a tour of the Cedar River Municipal Watershed.

He walked along the top of Masonry Dam with Washington State Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland and Ralph Naess, an education program manager for Seattle Public Utilities. The city gets 70 percent of its drinking water from the mountain lake backed up behind the 1915 dam.

Tuesday night he was scheduled to attend a campaign fundraiser in Bellevue.

McCain began his Northwest jaunt in Portland, where he delivered a speech on global warming and laid out his plans to reduce greenhouse gases. His call for more nuclear power is a key to that plan.

The Arizona senator landed at Boeing Field on Tuesday amid a protest from members of Boeing's machinists union. The machinists are unhappy with McCain's backing of an Air Force decision this year to award an aerial refueling tanker contract to the European consortium Airbus rather than to Boeing.

McCain said he never favored one company over another during the bidding process. But he led an investigation that unraveled the original 2001 Boeing tanker contract and led to prison time for a Boeing executive and a former Pentagon official.

McCain said he never worked against Boeing but wanted to ensure the selection process was open and fair.

"My first obligation to the taxpayers of America is the careful stewardship of their dollars and not to have them wasted in a corrupted process," he said.

But the environment was at the top of McCain's agenda this trip.

During the panel discussion, he asked REI Chief Executive Officer Sally Jewell what she would want out of a McCain administration.

She told McCain that the outdoor outfitter is converting 10 stores to solar power this year, "in sunnier markets than the one you're presently sitting in." Some states have tax incentives that make converting to solar financially viable, she said, but not the federal government.

"There isn't anything significant that helps us make the right decisions," Jewell said.

McCain, delivering what he called some of his trademark "straight talk," said he is wary of subsidies. He said that ethanol subsidies have distorted the market.

And he said the solar industry was given too many subsidies after the 1970s gas crisis and "we turned out to have some pretty shoddy material."

Deadline looms in labor talks at Pilgrim Nuclear Station

PLYMOUTH (AP) - The operator of Pilgrim Nuclear Station says it may run the plant with replacement workers if a contract deadline passes with no new labor agreement.

Representatives for New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. were negotiating in Plymouth today with representatives of Utility Workers Union of America Local 369.

They're seeking a new contract for nearly 300 Pilgrim workers to replace a pact that expires at midnight. Spokesmen for both sides say differences remain on issues including wages and benefits.

Union members began voting today on whether to authorize leaders to call a strike if talks break down. Results are expected tonight.

Entergy spokesman Dave Tarantino says more than 100 replacement workers were prepared to keep the plant running if no contract deal was reached.

Nuclear plant concerns

Hearldsun.com May 15 - The devastating earthquake has raised concerns over the stability of dams, nuclear power plants and infrastructure in the afflicted mountainous area.

Heavy rains could compound the damage by triggering mudslides and adding to pressure on weakened dams.

One of the worst-damaged cities is Dujiangyan, site of multiple dams and weirs that irrigate about three million hectares in the fertile Sichuan plain.

The quake caused the 760-megawatt hydropower generating unit at Zipingpu, 9km upstream of Dujiangyan, to collapse, the provincial government said.

"If Zipingpu develops a serious safety problem, it could bring disaster to Dujiangyan city downstream," where half a million people live, the Ministry of Water Resources said.

French nuclear experts said damage to nuclear facilities close to the earthquake's epicentre could not be ruled out, though it was unlikely China's four nuclear power plants had been badly damaged.

France: Can't rule out nuclear damage in China

French nuclear watchdog can't exclude possibility of damage to China's nuclear facilities

PARIS (AP) -- France's nuclear protection watchdog said Tuesday that it did not know yet whether there had been any damage to Chinese nuclear facilities near the region hit by the devastating earthquake in western China.

Without specifying precise numbers, the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety said China's government has research nuclear reactors and others used to produce reactor fuel in Sichuan province, where the magnitude 7.9 quake struck.

The institute said "some" of the facilities were less than 60 miles from the earthquake's epicenter.

"Given the strong acceleration observed at 70 kilometers (44 miles) from the epicenter ... it is not possible at this stage to exclude damage to these installations," the institute said.

But it expressed more confidence about the state of China's four nuclear powered-plants generating electricity because all are more than 600 miles from the quake's epicenter.

"It is probable that these reactors suffered no notable damage," the institute said, but added that confirmation was needed following inspections requested by Chinese authorities.

The four electricity-producing sites -- Lingao, Daya Bay, Qinshan and Tianwan -- are all in eastern China.

After 35 years French nuclear tests still rankle

In 1973 New Zealand sent two warships to Mururoa Atoll to protest against French nuclear tests. As the 35th anniversary approaches, IAN STUART of NZPA spoke to two men who were on the frigate Otago.

Nearly 35 years after France thumbed its nose at world opinion and held a series of nuclear tests on Mururoa Atoll in the South Pacific, David Barber's view has not changed.

It was a fundamentally wrong thing for France to do and nothing since had altered that opinion, Barber told NZPA.

His reporting of the crimson red nuclear bomb cloud which rose over Mururoa at 8am on July 21, 1973 flashed around the world.

On the world news stage it was the biggest story of the time.

For Barber it was the highlight of 50 years of reporting -- a career which included the Vietnam war.

It was also the first Government-sponsored nuclear protest by any country.

The frigate Otago had three weeks earlier sailed from Devonport naval base in Auckland, on the orders of Prime Minister Norm Kirk.

Labour cabinet minister Fraser Coleman and two journalists were on board.

At the time Mr Kirk said the voyage was to publicise what was happening in "this remote part of the world so as to stimulate world opinion still further and attract wider support for the rights of small nations".

The Otago was not going to try to stop the tests, nor would the ship or its crew be put in any danger.

The voyage was intended to put the French in the harsh, unremitting, glare of the international spotlight Barber said, in a new book by Gerry Wright, an officer on Otago.

The book, Mururoa Protest, is to be launched at the Napier RSA this weekend at the 35th anniversary of the voyage.

For Barber the voyage came very close to being aborted well before the frigate sailed.

His coverage of the Vietnam War as an NZPA reporter had upset some in the defence forces and the message was sent to Mr Kirk's office that "Barber wasn't acceptable".

Mr Kirk's office gave the message to NZPA but the response was swift and uncompromising from John Hardingham, then the editor of the New Zealand Herald and the chairman of NZPA.

"Hardingham said the Government doesn't decide who NZPA sends on this assignment and if Barber doesn't go then no one from NZPA will go."

For Mr Kirk the mission was a publicity exercise. He wanted world coverage and without NZPA he knew he might not get it.

Defence chiefs were told by the prime minister's office Barber would go, no debate.

As the ship was about to depart, defence minister Arthur Faulkner told Barber the Government had every confidence he would do an honest job.

After several weeks at sea Otago was only 21 nautical miles from the atoll when the French exploded a nuclear bomb in the atmosphere, slung beneath a large balloon.

Barber said he and New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation journalist Shaun Brown and television cameraman Wayne Williams, were on the bridge of Otago, but he had no fear they were putting themselves in danger from radiation fallout.

The ship had sent up weather balloons and knew which way the wind was blowing. The protest frigate was in the best place.

"I never felt we were ever going to be in any danger because the French didn't want us to be in any danger either.

"If the wind had suddenly turned I guess we would have gone like bats out of hell to get out of the way," he said.

>From the bridge Barber watched the blast.

He wrote at the time that "after the initial flash an orange-red fireball erupted through a layer of cirro-cumulus cloud over Mururoa, spreading out about 1200 feet across and burning at an estimated 46 million degrees centigrade at its centre.

"The expected mushroom cloud then began to form, rising to 10,000 feet in the sky. It developed a perfect mushroom shape, quite round at the top after five minutes, but two minutes later began to break up and drift away in the atmosphere."

The story was on front pages around the world.

While most the ship's company was inside the ship when the explosion happened, operations officer Lieutenant Commander Gerry Wright's task was to measure the size of the mushroom cloud and determine the yield.

Standing in the door of the ship's operations room he used a sextant to measure the height and width of the cloud and estimated it had a yield of 5.4 kilotons, about half the size of the bomb dropped by America on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War 2.

He said they never felt at risk.

The ship was fitted with a wash down system which washed all the upper decks if they had sailed through a radiation cloud. It was also fitted with "very, very good" radiation detection gear from the National Radiation Laboratory.

In case of a major emergency, medical assistance was available from the French.

He said like all the crew on both frigates, Otago and Canterbury, which relieved Otago, they were doing their job and following orders.

Mr Wright, a naval veteran who witnessed the British nuclear tests at Christmas Island in 1957, said sending a warship to protest at another country's bomb tests was "mind boggling".

"The whole world just went ape," he said.

Mr Wright said about 40 sailors from both Otago and Canterbury were expected at the reunion at the Napier RSA weekend when he would launch his book, Mururoa Protest.

Re-energising the UK nuclear industry

Peter Bleasdale

Nuclear power has a key part to play in providing the UK with reliable, low carbon electricity in the future, argues Peter Bleasdale. In this week's Green Room, he says a new National Nuclear Laboratory will provide the research and training needed after decades of neglect and decline.

In nuclear research and development, personnel numbers declined dramatically from about 9,000 in 1980 to just 1,000 a few years ago

The UK government confirmed in January that it was in the country's long-term interest that nuclear power should play a role in providing Britain with clean, secure and affordable energy.

So why is nuclear power back on the national agenda? While there is no perfect answer and no perfect energy source, each method of generating electricity has advantages and disadvantages.

Like every other country, the UK is faced with the challenge of developing an energy programme that balances environmental issues, such as carbon emission reduction, with energy demand, security of supply and economics.

Secure supplies are especially important as even short lived power cuts can cause massive disruption. Nuclear is a traditional base-load supplier with high global reliability.

In the past, nuclear has been seen as a high-cost option when compared with other methods of electricity generation.

But a range of independent studies now show that full nuclear life-cycle costs are competitive with other sources. This competitiveness improves further when factors such as desirability of meeting policy objectives of cleaner, more secure power sources are taken into account.

Back to school

Bearing all of this in mind, UK ministers now believe it to be in the public interest to allow energy companies the option of investing in new nuclear power stations.

Sizewell B nuclear power station (Image: AFP)
The UK has not built a nuclear power station for more than a decade

These stations are more efficient than those they will replace and they must have a key role to play as part of the UK's energy mix.

The White Paper, Meeting the Energy Challenge, also restated the intention of establishing a National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL).

It will have the aim of providing the technologies and expertise to ensure the industry operates safely and cost effectively.

Ministers believe that the energy sector faces challenges in meeting the need for skilled workers in research and development, design, construction and operation of new nuclear power.

The NNL will be aligned with national policy on skills and will support and work alongside the newly created National Skills Academy for Nuclear (NSAN). The NNL's role will be vital in building nuclear scientific skills.

In nuclear research and development, personnel numbers declined dramatically from about 9,000 in 1980 to just 1,000 a few years ago.

Nexia Solutions, which the NNL will be based around, has already taken action to address the skills decline by working closely with the academic sector.

The NNL will safeguard and develop key scientific and technical skills and facilities that cannot be reliably supplied by the external marketplace.

It will build a technology skills pipeline back into industry, and will also have national and international influence in marketing and selling skills and technologies overseas.

One example of the NNL's innovative work already playing its part is the "RadBall", developed by Dr Steven Stanley, a research technologist.

In essence, it collects information about where, how much and the kind of radiation in inaccessible areas, removing the need for people to access the location.

The information gathered through a polymer-based "crystal ball" device is then turned into meaningful data by using new software.

Waste worries

While nuclear power is a tried-and-tested carbon free technology, and new stations are better designed and more efficient than those being replaced, it's true that many countries, including most of Western Europe, decided to suspend new development in the recent past.

Sellafield nuclear processing facility (Image: BNFL)
The quantity of nuclear waste is extremely small when compared to overall national volumes of all toxic wastes

Concerns about the economics of new stations, the possibility of accidents, slow progress in dealing with nuclear waste and the historical link between nuclear energy and weapons resulted in a loss of confidence among politicians and the public.

With the UK being challenged to balance its commitments to tackling climate change while at the same time meeting rising energy demand and keep the lights on, nuclear generated electricity has returned to the energy agenda alongside other low carbon technologies.

But, before new nuclear stations are given the go ahead, the government will have to be satisfied that effective arrangements are in place to manage and dispose of the waste they produce.

All wastes can have a negative effect if released into the surrounding environment, but the amount of waste produced from nuclear power are very small by industrial standards and modern nuclear power stations are much more efficient than earlier examples.

Proportionally, the volume of radioactive waste needing to be managed will not increase very much, whether or not there is a future programme of nuclear power stations.

In supporting the resurgence of the nuclear industry in the UK, the function of the NNL is very clear - to provide the skills and technologies to support all aspects of a successful nuclear industry now and into the future

The quantity of nuclear waste is extremely small when compared to overall national volumes of all toxic wastes.

Given the diversity of the nuclear programme, radioactive waste can vary in the amount of radiation it gives out so it is categorised into low-level, intermediate-level and high-levels.

A nuclear power station produces around 100 cubic metres of solid radioactive waste each year (about the volume of a lorry) and more than 90% of this is low-level.

Already there are significant volumes of historic wastes safely stored, and a programme of new reactors in the UK will only raise waste volumes by up to 10%.

Unlike fossil fuel waste, which is released into the atmosphere and ground, nuclear waste is carefully managed and contained.

In its role to provide the experts and technologies that support the nuclear industry in operating safely and cost effectively in the short and longer term, the NNL will deliver technological solutions that help deal with waste issues now and plans for the processing and management of waste in the future.

The NNL is closely involved in waste research and will provide close support for future waste management plans and strategies.

Disposal in a geological facility is a seen as the most viable long term solution and the right approach for managing waste from new nuclear power stations and legacy waste.

Safety first

The nuclear industry spends millions of pounds each year on safety to meet its own extremely stringent requirements and also those of several external regulating and advisory bodies.

The safety record of nuclear power reactors in the UK and in most of the world is excellent.

In the UK, before a nuclear power station is licensed, its owners must demonstrate that it is safe and prove that the likelihood of uncontrolled radioactivity escaping is, literally, less than one in a million for every year of the reactor's life.

Designers must also assume that human operators can make mistakes, so in traditional nuclear designs all protective systems must be duplicated or trebled.

More recently, the focus has moved towards "passive safety". Instead of relying on valves, pumps and other engineered features, designers are increasingly using the forces of nature - gravity or the fact that materials expand when they get hotter - to ensure safety.

Such an approach reduces the cost of building the reactor and increases the reliability and predictability of how the plant behaves under both normal and abnormal circumstances.

The NNL will also play a key role in supporting the licensing process for new nuclear reactors and other regulatory requirements in the UK.

It will also play an ongoing and crucial technology role in all aspects of nuclear new build and operation.

In supporting the resurgence of the nuclear industry in the UK, the function of the NNL is very clear - to provide the skills and technologies to support all aspects of a successful nuclear industry now and into the future.

Dr Peter Bleasdale is managing director of Nexia Solutions, a wholly owned subsidiary of BNFL Group, that will be developed into the National Nuclear Laboratory

Sander C. Perle 
Mirion Technologies, Inc.
Dosimetry Services Division 
2652 McGaw Avenue
Irvine, CA 92614

+1 (949) 296-2306 (Office)
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