Sunday, March 30, 2008

News From the Week of March 24, 2008

Indian Point Guards Test Positive for Cocaine & Are Suspended

NRC Endorses Industry Revised Guidance On Conducting Hostile Action-based Emergency Drills

The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant Moves Step Closer to Re-licensing

Major Business Group Opposes Appeal of Power-plant Permit

Indian Point Guards Test Positive for Cocaine & Are Suspended
BUCHANAN, N.Y - (The Associated Press) - Mar 22

Two Indian Point nuclear power plant security guards have been suspended for coming to work with cocaine in their systems, a spokesman for the plants' owner said.
The workers' apparent drug use didn't compromise safety at the plant 35 miles north of midtown Manhattan, Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Neil Sheehan said.
The security guards' suspensions came a month after a construction company supervisor tested positive for alcohol use and was barred from working at the plant.
The security guards - employed by New Orleans-based plant owner Entergy Nuclear - are on paid leave for two weeks. The company fires employees who fail drug tests twice, Entergy spokesman Jim Steets said.
One guard was tested for drugs after leaving her post unexpectedly and failing to respond when commanders radioed her Wednesday; she was found sick in a bathroom, Steets said. The other guard was tested Thursday because he was returning from an absence of more than 29 days; he had been on military leave, according to plant officials.
Federal regulations say there can be no trace of alcohol or drugs in anyone working at a nuclear plant. Only 209 of the more than 70,000 tests of nuclear plant workers and contractors nationwide in 2006 came back positive, according to the NRC.
Steets said the security guards' test results were unfortunate but showed that the plant was succeeding in efforts to make sure workers were fit for duty. The NRC is "satisfied with how the company is handling the situation," Sheehan said.
Another Indian Point security worker got into trouble in August, when the armed guard was found dozing at an inner-ring security gate. The NRC later determined the incident was of "very low security significance."
The plant has about 1,300 employees.
Critics regularly express concern about the plant's safety, but federal regulators have rejected calls to shut it down. Entergy has applied for new licenses that would let Indian Point keep running into the 2030s.

NRC Endorses Industry Revised Guidance On Conducting Hostile Action-based Emergency Drills


The NRC issued a document today endorsing revised guidance developed by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) for how nuclear power plants should voluntarily conduct baseline hostile action-based emergency preparedness drills. The Regulatory Issue Summary (RIS) requires no action or written response by licensees.

Current NRC regulations do not require licensees to use hostile action scenarios in their emergency preparedness drills and exercises. However, in 2005, NEI offered a phased approach for licensees to voluntarily conduct such drills within a three-year period. These "off-year" hostile-action based drills, also called "Phase 3 Drills," are not evaluated by the NRC or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and provide a "no fault" opportunity for licensees to demonstrate responses to the unique challenges
security actions pose to existing emergency preparedness programs. During 2007, nine hostile action-based drills were conducted, and 26 are scheduled for 2008.

The revised guidance being endorsed clarifies the scope and methods of demonstration of key objectives of these hostile-action drills. NRC is working with FEMA to identify proposed changes to emergency preparedness regulations and guidance to incorporate hostile action-based scenarios into biennial emergency preparedness exercises. A copy of the RIS can be found

The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant Moves Step Closer to Re-licensing
MONTPELIER, Vt. (The Associated Press) - Mar 21 - By DAVE GRAM Associated
Press Writer

The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant on Friday moved another big step closer to being to run for 20 years beyond its currently scheduled 2012 shutdown date with the approval of its license renewal application by a Nuclear Regulatory Commission panel.

The federal agency's Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards said it had reviewed a safety evaluation conducted by NRC staff and concurred with the staff that Vermont Yankee, a 650-megawatt reactor in Vernon in the state's southeast corner, could operate safely until 2032.

"The programs established and committed to by the applicant to manage age-related degradation provide reasonable assurance that (Vermont Yankee) can be operated in accordance with its current licensing basis for the period of extended operation without undue risk to the health and safety of the public," the panel concluded.

It also agreed with the staff's call for more analysis of metal fatigue in some plant components, including the nozzles of valves used to move water to and from the reactor.

"Performance of the remaining analyses at least two years before entering the period of extended operation will be a license condition," the panel said in a letter to NRC Chairman Dale Klein. "We agree with the staff's conclusion."

Vermont Yankee spokesman Robert Williams hailed the ruling.

"This is a very positive decision from the ACRS and a major milestone for us," Williams said. "It was an independent look at the NRC's recent safety evaluation and this independent scientific panel agrees that our long-term maintenance and inspection programs will ensure safe operations under a renewed license."

Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear safety expert who has testified in regulatory hearings as a witness for groups critical of nuclear power, took a different view. He said he remains worried that running the plant for an extra 20 years, in combination with the permission it won two years ago to boost its power output by 20 percent, had narrowed safety margins.

The positive ruling from NRC headquarters came the same day lawmakers in Montpelier continued to give headaches to Vermont Yankee owner Entergy Nuclear. In legislative developments:

-The Senate passed a bill that would require Entergy to top off Vermont Yankee's decommissioning fund before spinning the Vernon reactor, as well as five others into New England, New York and Michigan, off to ownership by a newly created company. Supporters of the bill expressed concern that the new company might not have the money to cover dismantling the plant when it eventually shuts down.

-Lawmakers had heard in committee testimony that the decommissioning fund is about $260 million short of current estimates of what is needed. Williams disputed this in an interview Friday, saying the fund's current funding level meets minimum NRC requirements.
-The Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that would set up a new siting authority to find a new location for storage of highly radioactive spent fuel now being stored in dry casks at the plant site in Vernon.

-Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, whose Windham County district includes Vermont Yankee and who has been a fierce critic of the plant, has pushed this measure, saying he wants other parts of Vermont to share the risks of hosting the high-level waste.
Williams took a dim view of this as well. The Vernon site is "licensed for nuclear operations," and is under 24-hour guard, making it "obviously preferable" for storage of high-level radioactive waste, he said.

-Meanwhile, a House committee began taking testimony on a Senate-passed bill calling for a special inspection of Vermont Yankee before it gets a license extension.

Major Business Group Opposes Appeal of Power-plant Permit
VERNAL, Utah (The Associated Press) - Mar 24

The nation's largest manufacturing group is asking the federal government to allow expansion of a coal-fired power plant in Utah.

The National Association of Manufacturers is challenging an appeal by conservation groups, which claim the plant would release nearly 2 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere annually.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a permit Aug. 30, approving the expansion at the Bonanza plant southeast of Vernal. The new generating station is designed to turn waste coal into energy.

The EPA said it did not have to consider the effect of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions. Critics challenged it, citing a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that said the federal agency has the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

The issue at the
Utah plant is over carbon-dioxide emissions.

The National Association of Manufacturers is concerned that including carbon dioxide in EPA approval regulations would bog down the system well outside the energy industry because the gas is so common.

"The EPA has the discretion to interpret what the permit requirements are in respect to carbon dioxide," said Quentin Riegel, vice president of litigation for the group.

NAM, the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a brief last week with the EPA appeals board, saying that considering carbon-dioxide emissions in the permitting process would mean anything from schools to restaurants would need EPA permits.

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