Nuclear power plants when they began being constructed were not seen as running for more than 40 years because of radioactivity embrittling metal parts and otherwise causing safety problems. But in recent decades, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has extended the operating licenses of nuclear power plants from 40 years to 60 years and then 80 years, and is now considering 100 years.
“It is crazy,” declares Robert Alvarez, a former senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Energy and a U.S. Senate senior investigator and now senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and is an author of the book Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation.
“There is no empirical evidence” to support the notion that nuclear plants can have a century-long life span, says Alvarez. There “is no penciling away the problems of age” of nuclear power plants which operate under high-pressure, high-heat conditions and are subject to radiation fatigue. “The reality of wear-and-tear can’t be wished away.”
“Who would want to ride in a 100 year-old car?” he asks.
Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Oversight Project of the organization Beyond Nuclear, says: “The new construction of nuclear power plants is proving to be more expensive and more dubious than ever before. So, the nuclear industry and the NRC are in the process of developing a plan to get these existing aging and inherently dangerous machines to run for 100 years.”
The NRC was to repost the report, but it was then “scrubbed clean of dozens of references to safety-critical knowledge ‘gaps’ pertaining to many known age-related degradation mechanisms described in the original published report,” says Gunter. “The NRC revision also scrubbed Pacific Northwest National Laboratory findings and recommendations to ‘require’ the harvesting of realistic and representative aged materials from decommissioning nuclear power stations—base metals, weld materials, electric cables, insulation and jacketing, reactor internals and safety-related concrete structures like the containment and spent fuel pool—for laboratory analyses of age degradation. The laboratory analyses are intended to provide ‘reasonable assurance’ of the license extension safety review process for the projected extension period.”
However, Beyond Nuclear had downloaded and saved a copy of the original report which you can view here.
And you can view what Gunter terms the “sanitized version” of the report which has the same title but is dated March 2019. It’s here.
The omissions start with what is headed “Abstract” in the original 2017 report. The “Abstract” states: “As U.S. nuclear power plants look to subsequent license renewal (SLR) to operate for a 20-year period beyond 60 years, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the industry will be addressing technical issues around the capability of long-lived passive components to meet their functionality objectives. A key challenge will be to better understand likely materials degradation mechanisms in these components and their impacts on component functionality and safety margins. Research addressing many of the remaining technical gaps in these areas for SLR may greatly benefit from materials sampled from plants (decommissioned or operating). Because of the cost and inefficiency of piecemeal sampling, there is a need for a strategic and systematic approach to sampling materials from structures, systems and components in both operating and decommissioned plants.”
But in the 2019 version of the report, this “Abstract,” among other material, is gone.
The late Alvin M. Weinberg, long-time director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and a major promoters nuclear technology, in 2004 published an essay in the journal Technology in Society titled: “On ‘immortal’ nuclear power plants.” He wrote about that a nuclear power plant could operate “100 years or more.” Earlier Weinberg coined the term “nuclear priesthood” for scientists being in a leading role in what he called the “Faustian bargain” of using nuclear power.
The link to the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. NRC webinar on January 21 is on its announcement which states that the “NRC is seeking public dialogue.” The meeting’s agenda on the announcement lists several time segments for “Open Discussion…Including General Public.” The announcement is here.
Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, and is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet, and the Beyond Nuclear handbook, The U.S. Space Force and the dangers of nuclear power and nuclear war in space. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.
Read more at Inviting Nuclear Disaster