The Tennessee Valley has three nuclear power plants with six reactors which have already left our children over 7 million pounds of highly radioactive spent fuel waste. Now the TVA plans to complete construction of Watts Bar 2 and begin construction on Bellefonte reactor unit 1. Bellefonte is often referred to as the "zombie nuclear plant" because construction began in 1974, was halted in 1988, TVA requested withdrawal of its nuclear construction permit in 2005, Bellefonte was stripped and cannibalized by TVA with no NRC records or oversight 2006-2008, then in 2008 TVA requested an unprecedented reinstatement of the previously cancelled 1974 license, which NRC inexplicably granted – thereby circumventing more modern safety standards. In addition, Bellefonte has experienced multiple reactor containment tendon failures, is in an earthquake zone and on a sight with Karst terrain and sink holes, and has an issue with reverse currents at the river intake and outputs (unknown issues when the license was granted in 1974). Before the Bellefonte reactor can even begin to operate, the plant will have exceeded its 40 year design life. Clearly, the TVA is trying to circumvent requirements for modern nuclear construction permits – to resurrect the dead plant and patch it together like a nuclear Frankenstein.
Browns Ferry is the same 1960s design as the Fukushima Mark 1 plants, and has the same raised spent fuel cooling pools with only sheet metal roofs overhead – like the ones we saw exploding at Fukushima. The difference is that the Japanese (and Europe) move their highly radioactive spent fuel into more secure dry storage casks after 5 years, whereas TVA keeps using the cheaper cooling pool storage for 88% of its Browns Ferry waste. As a consequence, there are over 3 million pounds of spent fuel in the raised Browns Ferry cooling pools, exposed to tornadoes from overhead. (see our Dangers page)
Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences
In 1982, Congress published a Sandia National Laboratory study commissioned by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), "Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences" (the CRAC-2 Report). The study determined the costs of worse-case meltdowns for reactors all over the country – in deaths, illnesses, and money.
Valley residents need to know the possible consequences of a meltdown for our people. What other industry would be allowed to risk the health and safety of citizens in these numbers? It should be noted that no insurance company will cover your property for a nuclear accident. More importantly, this study was done before multiple international studies on health effects of low dosage exposures – for those exposed to routine radioactive releases living near the plants and for less severe accidents. Women and children are the most vulnerable, with childhood leukemia fatalities doubling in power plant neighborhoods.(See Radioactive Poison page)
Here are Sandia Lab'''''''s damage estimates for Tennessee Valley nuclear power plants, based on 1982 populations and 1982 dollars:
Nuclear Plant Peak Early Peak Early Peak Deaths Property
Reactor #s Fatalities Injuries from Cancer Damage
#1,2&3 @ Browns Ferry 54,000 126,000 11,400 $209.4 billion
#1&2 @ Sequoyah 58,000 122,000 9,400 $195.4 billion
#1 @ Watts Bar 5,000 11,000 4,000 $86.6 billion
Reactors under construction:
#2 @ Watts Bar 5,000 11,000 4,000 $83.3 billion
#1 @ Bellefonte 3,600 7,700 4,500 $86.1 billion
TORNADOES CUT POWER TO BROWNS FERRY NUCLEAR PLANT – PUBLIC MISINFORMED
Within two months of Fukushima, the Tennessee Valley came terribly close to our own disaster. On April 27, 2011, the most powerful tornado known to man, a Category EF-5 tornado roared by over three million pounds of highly radioactive so-called 'spent fuel stored in raised cooling pools at Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant – cooling pools with no overhead containment, only warehouse style sheet metal roofs.
Spent fuel is a misnomer, since this is enriched, highly-irradiated fuel that has increased its potency during its 18 month use in the reactor. After that, it must be held in cooling pools for five years before it can be moved into safer dry storage casks. The problem is that U.S. nuclear utility companies don'''t spend the money to move the fuel into dry casks, like Japan and Europe do, and fuel cooling pools in America are reported to be holding four times their designed pool capacity. At Browns Ferry on April 27, the Category EF-5 tornado swept next to the cooling pools, and even after the danger of a direct hit had passed (which could have sucked up radioactive water into the tornado and spread it across the valley), the problem of lost power coming into the plant remained. (See our Dangers page).
In a gruesome irony that became clear at Fukushima, even after an emergency shutdown the reactors must be cooled for several hours to several days and the cooling pools must have water and an ongoing source of power in order to remain safe. Cooling pools must have power to circulate and cool the water at all times. If they lose power or are damaged and sustain a water leakage, they can heat up and boil off the remaining water – then comes the danger of fuel rod damage, since Fukushima showed us that the zirconium-clad rods are highly flammable. When the zirconium melts, the rods become exposed and we have the very real danger of high-volume nuclear meltdowns.
As a result of the tornadoes, power was out over most of north Alabama for 7 to 10 days. TVA spokesmen told the press and public that everything was good at the plant and that the Browns Ferry emergency systems "performed as they were designed to do". It is true that the control rods were able to insert in between the fuel rods in the reactors, but TVA was required to file multiple Event Reports with the NRC explaining what went wrong after the tornadoes hit. (NRC Event Numbers 46793, 46801, 46805) Despite TVA claims to the contrary, the emergency systems definitely did not perform as designed.
1. Only 12 of 100 required off-site warning sirens actually worked after the tornadoes and subsequent power loss to the reactors and cooling pools.
2. Two of 8 emergency diesel generators were inoperable on April 27 and a third had to be shut down on April 28.
3. On April 27, the Reactor Unit 3 "B" Main Steam Isolation Valve unexpectedly indicated "intermediate" – either an indicator problem or an emergency cooling system valve malfunction (cited recently by the NRC with a “red finding” for Reactor #1).
4. On April 28, an electrical part failure resulted in a loss of Shutdown Cooling on Reactor Unit 1 for 47 minutes.
5. On May 2, Reactor Unit 1 "received an 'A' Emergency Generator output breaker trip for unknown reasons," resulting in a loss of Shutdown Cooling on Reactor Unit 1 for 57 minutes.
6. The Browns Ferry GE Mark I Fukushima-style nuclear power plant is an antiquated analog system and does not have full digital monitoring. As a result, the manually controlled cooling water levels dropped too low and caused an additional SCRAM warning – because the operators were "distracted" by the numerous events.
Fukushima proves that an unthinkable confluence of catastrophes can happen; and by its very nature, nuclear power is unstable and cannot be fully protected. Although America has so far avoided the disasters suffered by Japan, Browns Ferry on April 27, 2011 was an extremely close call. How many warnings do we need before the TVA takes deliberate actions to protect Valley citizens by installing overhead containment on Brown's Ferry' spent fuel cooling pools and moving fuel into dry cask storage as soon as possible?
The TVA has chosen to spend money on contracts with multi-national nuclear contractors rather than taking steps to secure the masses of high-level radioactive fuel waste exposed to tornadoes in the Tennessee Valley. TVA has found it more convenient and less expensive to just leave the highly radioactive spent fuel rods in cooling pools rather than securing them in dry casks. The NRC has been complicit by not requiring movement into hardened dry cask storage or requiring overhead containment of cooling pools. A National Academy of Sciences study, commissioned by Congress and the NRC in 2005, recommended spent fuel be moved from cooling pools into dry storage after 5 years – but no change has occurred. As of 2011, the TVA had accumulated over 3,000 metric tons of highly radioactive spent fuel, which is about 7 million pounds, in cooling pools in the Tennessee Valley. As concerned citizens, we at MATRR believe we must protect the families of our valley and speak up on this subject.
Leading expert, Dr. Helen Caldicott, estimates lung cancer and leukemia will begin showing up from the radiation exposures at Fukushima in 2 to 5 years, and solid cancers in another 15 to 17 years (see Fukushima Dangers video) . Japanese Prime Minister Kan will probably go down in history as the man who saved Japan in the 21st century by forcing Tepco utility not to abandon the plant but to fight to provide power and coolant to the three reactor meltdowns and the damaged cooling pool. Prime Minister Kan aptly called radiation poisoning “the invisible enemy“. If there were required dye markers for radiation releases (in the same way that odor markers are required for natural gas and propane), contamination would be more containable – but the industry fears the public might change its mind about nuclear power and its routine (and sadly cumulative) radiation releases if the poisons were visible.
Browns Ferry – 3 Reactors, Multiple Problems
Designed in the 1960s and built in the 1970s, all three Browns Ferry reactors had a very poor operational record during the first 10-15 years of TVA operation. There continue to be a high number of Reportable Events, including what was considered at the time to be a very high number of SCRAMS (automatic shutdowns) of all three reactors. The negative impact of SCRAMS is that they cool the reactor far more quickly than normal shutdowns, thermally shocking the reactor containment structure. These thermally induced stresses reportedly weaken and cause premature aging and metal fatigue of the Reactor Pressure Vessels, which are already near their 40 year design life. Thus, all three reactor containment structures at Browns Ferry may have been prematurely aged during their early use and may now be in a weakened state.
A paper published by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) entitled “Hazards of GE Boiling Water Reactors in the United States” reveals very disturbing weaknesses in the three Browns Ferry GE Mark I Boiling Water Reactors (BWR) that raise serious concerns regarding the lasting integrity of the Reactor Pressure Vessels and questions the adequacy of the system design. Some of the issues included the following:
In 1972, before Browns Ferry became operational, Dr. Hanauer, the Atomic Energy Commission safety official responsible for reviewing the Mark I system, recommended that the pressure suppression system be discontinued and that no more systems of this type be given construction permits. The report says his boss, Joseph Hendrie, agreed with the recommendation, but rejected it on the grounds that “it could mean the end of the nuclear power industry in the U.S.” In 1976, three General Electric (GE) nuclear engineers working on the system publicly resigned their prestigious positions citing dangerous shortcomings in the GE Mark I design. In 1986, Harold Denton, the top NRC safety official, stated that the WASH 1400 Safety Study revealed a 90% probability of the Mark I containment failing in the case of a significant malfunction. These are all very serious concerns about the safety, integrity, and reliability of these systems.
A 1993 NRC report (not related to above studies) confirmed that “age-related degradation in Boiling Water Reactors will damage or destroy vital safety related components inside the reactor vessel BEFORE the forty year license expires“ [emphasis added]. It was determined that the reactor vessel cracks were the result of the deterioration of Type 304 Stainless Steel due to exposure to chronic radiation, heat, corrosive chemistry, and fatigue. Recently, the forty year license for each reactor has been extended another twenty years beyond design specifications, to give it a total life of sixty years, greatly increasing the likelihood of critical component failure.
Three of the Mark I reactors at Fukushima exploded when hydrogen escaping from the reactor pressure vessels built up in the secondary containment structures and blew the reactor buildings apart. The secondary containment – sheet metal structure above the cooling pools – is seriously insufficient in both size and strength. The highly controversial “hardened vent” modification (added to all 23 Mark I U.S. and the Fukushima reactor pressure suppression systems) reportedly failed to relieve pressure on all three Fukushima reactors, resulting in the buildup of hydrogen gas in the reactor pressure vessel. The massive pressure from the hydrogen gas buildup escaped through the weakest part of the reactor vessel (the removable head where fuel is reloaded) into the secondary containment and exploded.
The NIRS report explains how the core shroud provides the sealed containment that enables re-flooding of the fuel rods in case of a loss–of–coolant–accident. “Extensive cracking of circumferential welds on the core shroud have been discovered in a growing number of U.S. and foreign BWRs [boiling water reactors]. A lateral shift along circumferential cracks at the welds by as little as 1/8 inch can result in the misalignment of the fuel and the inability to insert the control rods coupled with loss of fuel core cooling capability. This scenario can result in a core melt accident.” This raises serious concerns about the lasting containment integrity of all three Browns Ferry reactors.
There is seriously insufficient overhead containment of the cooling pools in the Mark I reactors. TVA is storing over three million pounds of highly radioactive spent fuel in raised pools at Browns Ferry with only sheet metal, warehouse–style protection overhead. The Tennessee River Valley is a tornado corridor, and the 1968 Mark I design tests for tornado safety make poorly supported assumptions and reach questionable conclusions in their report, APED-5696. Therefore, there is sufficient reason to consider the lack of overhead containment of cooling pools a hazardous design defect for this region.
All of these stated defects and on–going problems, in combination, raise considerable cause for concern among valley residents – and for action on the part of the TVA. We call on the TVA to establish, publish and implement a schedule for removal of spent fuel from the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant cooling pools into more secure dry cask storage facilities. And we call on the NRC to fulfill their mandate to protect the public (not the finances of the nuclear industry) by shutting down these extremely dangerous GE Mark I reactors.
Browns Ferry Fact Sheet prepared by Stewart Horn, PhD. and Garry Morgan for BEST/MATRR (3/2012)
Browns Ferry Nuclear fuel cooling pool. The dome is the reactor vessel head, the dark walls are the sheet metal overhead 'containment'. The radioactive pools are vulnerable to tornadoes.
Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant
1973 -- Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) applies to Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for Bellefonte nuclear construction permit.
1974 -- NRC nuclear construction permit issued to TVA and building begins.
1975 & 1976 – A series of eight rock anchor heads (for the containment of Bellefonte reactor units 1 & 2) failed and broke into several pieces during construction installation. They were to be coupled to the vertical tendons as a direct tie between the containment structure and the rock foundation material. They were all removed and replaced with different steel anchor heads coated for temporary environmental protection.(SSINS:6835 IN 85-10, pg.2)
1985 -- After failure of the same parts at Farley Units 1 & 2, an NRC study on containment begins, "The containment system of a nuclear power plant provides a key part of the overall plant's engineered-safety features. The structure serves as the final barrier against release of any radioactive fission products to the environment and consideration of public safety is one of the primary criteria in providing such a barrier."
1985 -- Construction halted on Unit 2, then 55 percent complete.
1988 -- Construction halted on Unit 1, then 88 percent complete. Approximately $4 billion was spent on projects.
1992 -- Engineering work resumed to prepare for restart of construction.
1994 -- Stone & Webster estimates finishing Bellefonte will cost another $2.6 billion; engineering work halted.
1996 -- TVA studies option of converting plant to combined-cycle, natural gas.
1998 -- Gas conversion option dropped; TVA offers plant to the Department of Energy to make bomb-grade tritium. DOE picks existing TVA plants to produce tritium.
2001 -- Texaco proposes using Bellefonte as site for coal gasification plant. Chattanooga financier Franklin Haney offers to finance completion of Bellefonte as a nuclear plant.
2002 -- Texaco drops proposal; TVA turns down Haney offer.
2004 -- TVA enters into talks with other utilities and joins NuStart to pursue new plant design for site.
2005 -- NuStart picks Bellefonte as site for Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear plant; TVA requests withdrawal of construction permit for original plant.
September 14, 2006 -- NRC withdraws construction permits for Bellefonte Reactor Units 1 & 2. TVA sells stainless steel tubing, pipes at Bellefonte for scrap metal. Other equipment transferred to other plants.
2008 -- TVA decides to consider reviving Bellefonte units 1 and 2, and requests unprecedented reinstatement by NRC of a cancelled nuclear construction permit. NuStart decides to build Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear plant in Vogtle, GA.
February 2009 -- Nuclear Regulatory Commission reinstates previously cancelled 1974 construction permit (with one Disapprove and three Approve/Disapprove votes). One vote to Disapprove reinstatement of the previously cancelled permit and 3 votes Approve permit reinstatement from "Cancelled"" to ""Terminated Status" and 3 Disapproved "Deferred Status" votes for original reactor permit. There is no authority nor precedence for the NRC reinstatement of a cancelled permit.
August 17, 2009 -- Bellefonte "Unit 1 Reactor Building Containment Vertical Tendon V9 experienced a failure of the rock anchor/tendon anchor coupling. . . . The time of failure was identified based on a loud noise bang reported by several individuals. Initial investigation failed to reveal the source of the noise. The failed tendon was discovered on August 24, 2009. . .Unsafe conditions previously precluded an inspection of the failed coupling for proper installation or component specific damage. The failed tendon coupling was inspected on 11/23/2009 . . . ." (NRC Event Report # 45559)
December 10, 2009 -- 108 days after tendon failure, TVA filed the required within 60 days NRC Event Report # 45559.
February 2010 -- NRC upgrades construction permit for Bellefonte to "Deferred Status." This circumvented modern nuclear safety standards for reactor construction permits.
May 2010 -- TVA issues its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement recommending TVA finish Unit 1 reactor. This Supplemental EIS circumvented significant safety information about the unstable Karst terrain, earthquake data, USGS data on local sink holes, as well as river flow and hydrological conditions at the Bellefonte site.
August 18, 2011 -- TVA board votes to pursue construction of Bellefonte reactor Unit 1. The plan was to finance the construction of this nuclear plant by selling, then leasing back Watts Bar 1, an existing nuclear plant near Chattanooga, estimated to raise rates for rate-payers.
2013-2020 -- Work on completing Unit 1 reactor at Bellefonte could proceed. Cost estimated at $4.5 billion in addition to the $4.2 billion already spent = $8.6 billion and counting.
References- News article from Chattanooga Times Free Press, May 25, 2010 "TVA Eyes Older Nuke Option" and NRC/TVA Reports compiled with narrative by Garry Morgan.
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