Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Duxbury Reporter - Duxbury selectmen to send letter to NRC

Letter to papers below

To Filter or Not to Filter That is the Question

Pilgrim, like other GE Mark I reactors in the U.S., is the same design as the failed Fukushima reactors.  Almost forty years ago, the NRC identified a serious design flaw in these reactors - in certain accident scenarios where hydrogen and or steam pressure builds up the containment would fail because the suppression chamber (enclosed area around the reactor core) is too small. Fukushima proved NRC’s earlier prediction correct, Units 1, 2 and 3 exploded and released unfiltered toxic radiation.

A supposed “fix” - a direct torus vent (DTV) to relieve excess pressure - was recommended and put into place at Pilgrim and other reactors, including Fukushima’s.  But three major problems remained. First, the vents were not filtered. Not having to pay for filters saved the industry money, but left the public’s health and property at risk because a release through the vent would be highly radioactive.   The second problem is whether plant operators will open the vent when appropriate to do so  At Fukushima the fear of what an unfiltered release would do to those in the area surrounding the plants resulted in the operators delaying opening the vents, and increased the risk of catastrophic explosions and the widespread uncontrolled release of radioactivity. Finally, and another lesson learned from Fukushima, when the operators finally tried to open the vents, they failed.  The vents did not have a rupture disc - relatively thin sheets of steel that break and allow venting automatically when the pressure reaches a specified level, without the need for human intervention or moving parts.

Following Fukushima, the NRC asked its technical staff to advise the Commission whether to require filters. After months of study, the staff recommended that Pilgrim and all operators of GE Mark I and Mark II reactors in the United States be ordered to install high capacity radiation filters on containment vents.  Such filters are already deployed throughout Europe, and having learned its lesson the hard way, they are soon to be installed in Japan.  Not surprisingly, the nuclear industry is adamantly opposed to spending the money to install filters.  The Commission will begin its deliberation process and is expected to vote in early 2013 whether to accept their staff’s recommendation.

The Commission decision should be a no-brainer. Reactors like Pilgrim are already required to filter the releases that occur daily in the course of normal operation.  There is no satisfactory explanation for the fact that nuclear power plants such as Pilgrim are not required to filter releases in the case of a severe accident when the amount of radiation and threat to workers and the public is by far the greatest. Direct Torus Vent filters are readily available. They have been tested for over 3 decades of use in Sweden, and are in use today throughout Europe.

Whether or not to require filters has a simple answer when you think about it. We are required to filter our car’s tail pipe emissions but Pilgrim is not required to filter its dangerous radioactive emissions in a severe accident. It makes no “sense” but a lot of “cents” to the industry.

How the NRC Commissioners vote early in January depends on whether they listen to industry or you. Consider emailing the Commissioners at reminding them that the Commission was formed to protect public health and safety not industry’s pocketbooks.

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