obama + nuclear legislation

the following articles are largely about obama’s legislation passed in his home state of illinois, the state with the largest number of nuclear power lants, and the hq of exelon corporation.






Inside N.R.C.
September 18, 2006
NRC approves resumption of tritium discharges at Braidwood station

BYLINE: Steven Dolley, Washington

SECTION: Pg. 7 Vol. 28 No. 19

LENGTH: 1501 words

Exelon has received NRC approval to resume radioactive discharges from operations at its Braidwood station in Illinois into the river at the plant site.

The revelation of leakage from this pipeline and its breaker valves last November prompted NRC review, spurred state and federal legislation, and led to a voluntary industry initiative to prevent and manage liquid radioactive discharges that may threaten groundwater (INRC, 15 May, 1).

In a September 1 letter to the NRC, Braidwood site vice president Thomas Coutu said that “Exelon must resume discharging tritiated water from plant operations via the blowdown line starting October 1, 2006″ in order “to ensure continued safe plant operation and to avoid the necessity of implementing” temporary onsite storage of such water.

Coutu said that “Exelon has implemented substantial measures to ensure the integrity of the circulating water blowdown line so that liquid radioactive effluents will be safely discharged” in accordance with Braidwood’s operating license. These measures include taking all but three of twelve vacuum breaker valves out of service; operating the line at positive pressure to ensure the valves are sealed when the line is operational; installing impermeable membranes in the vaults surrounding the valves to contain any leakage; installing a continuous moisture detection system to immediately alert the control room of the presence of water in the vaults; and installing 21 monitoring wells and implementing weekly visual inspections of the blowdown line.

Similar measures have been in place at Exelon’s Byron station since that plant resumed tritium discharges in April, Coutu said. Also, tritium from the groundwater remediation project at Braidwood (but not from current plant operations) has been released through the blowdown line “with all of the above measures in place since June 11, 2006, with no releases of water other than into the Kankakee River,” he said.

NRC staffers inspected the leakage prevention measures at Braidwood earlier this year and “have observed that the measures have been effective, to date, through our observations of those remediation activities,” NRC Region III Administrator James Caldwell said in a September 7 letter to Exelon Nuclear President/CEO Christopher Crane. Additional procedures implemented by the company in response to an NRC notice of violation regarding historical leaks from the valves “provide added assurance that any leakage will be adequately resolved and assessed,” Caldwell said.

“Based on the actions described … and inspected by the NRC, adequate measures appear to be in place for detection, response, and assessment of liquid radioactive material released through the blowdown line to assure the health and safety of the public and the environment,” and the NRC staff “have no further questions regarding your plans,” Caldwell said. “Notwithstanding, you are ultimately responsible for ensuring compliance with the requirements contained in [federal regulations] and the Braidwood license when performing liquid radioactive discharges to the environment,” he said.

“NRC resident inspectors and regional staff plan to closely monitor the utility’s preparations for normal radioactive releases through the blowdown line and to inspect representative release activities as they occur,” NRC’s Region III office said in a September 8 preliminary notification.

A temporary system of 20 storage tanks at Braidwood that held tritiated water while the line was closed has been dismantled after the water was “processed and stored in permanent tanks for use in plant operations,” NRC said.

UCS scores industry efforts

In a September 12 letter to James Dyer, director of NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists said that industry had failed to meet its self-imposed July 31 deadline for implementation of key elements of its voluntary groundwater initiative (INRC, 21 Aug., 6). Lochbaum said that “the promised completion date … for baseline information to be provided to the NRC was clearly missed for 26 reactors, reinforcing the public’s lack of confidence in this non-binding, unenforceable” initiative.

Jay Thayer, vice president of operations at the Nuclear Energy Institute, said in a September 12 interview that Lochbaum’s allegations were untrue. NEI received all required documentation from its members by July 31, including groundwater questionnaires, site-specific action plans, and communications protocols, he said.

Letters conveying each power reactor site’s questionnaire to the NRC, some of which were sent after July 31, “were simply those same companies documenting the initiative with the NRC,” rather than a part of the initiative itself, Thayer said. He suggested that Lochbaum “might be confusing” those letters “with an NRC license requirement or an order.”

In his letter, Lochbaum cited NRC regulations (10 CFR Part 20) which, he said, “require your licensees to post conspicuous warning signs with the text CAUTION, RADIATION AREA in each accessible area where individuals could receive a dose in excess of 0.005 rem in one hour or in each area containing more than 10 times the quantity of radioactive material specified in appendix C to 10 CFR Part 20, unless said area is cleaned up within 8 hours.”

Lochbaum asked Dyer, “[D]oes the NRC believe all of its power reactor licensees have complied with the posting requirements” for all the events documented in the industry groundwater questionnaires, and “if so, why?”

Thayer said that the radioactive spills and leaks documented in the questionnaires (INRC, 4 Sept., 6) “are orders of magnitude,” and possibly “six orders of magnitude” below the level at which posting is required by regulations. Operators “wouldn’t be posting these areas as radiation areas because they wouldn’t be producing a dose to any individual onsite or offsite. They’d be extremely small, probably not measurable,” he said. “We’d never have a dose” at or above 0.005 rem per hour “outside of the power plant. It wouldn’t be allowed,” Thayer said.

Senate committee approves Obama bill

Notification of state and local officials within 24 hours of any unplanned radioactive discharge from nuclear power facilities could be required under proposed federal legislation that unanimously passed the Senate Environment and Public Works committee September 13. Introduced by Senator Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat who represents the congressional district in which the Braidwood plant is located, the bill would require the NRC to develop new notification requirements within two years. The state of Illinois passed similar legislation earlier this year (Nucleonics Week, 15 June, 9).

The Nuclear Release Notice Act of 2006, S. 2348, would require the NRC within two years of the bill’s enactment to “promulgate regulations that require civilian nuclear power facilities” licensed by the agency “to provide notice of any release to the environment of quantities of fission products or other radioactive substances.” The bill says the commission shall “consider requiring licensees of civilian nuclear power facilities to provide notice of the release” within 24 hours to the commission and state and county officials “if the unplanned release exceeds allowable limits for normal operation,” “is not subject to more stringent reporting requirements” in existing regulations, “enters the environment,” and may cause drinking water contamination which exceeds US Environmental Protection Agency limits.

“This common-sense bill will help ensure that state and local officials are notified within 24 hours if a leak occurs, and that concerned parents and citizens won’t have to rely on the federal government or an image-conscious corporation to get information,” Obama said in a September 13 statement.

In a July 10 letter to Obama, NRC Chairman Dale Klein said, “I personally support the notification aspects of the bill, but recommend consideration of some modifications.” Klein said that “‘immediate’ notification may not be feasible” for “some unplanned releases that are very small with little risk to the public,” where “it may take a while to determine if a release has occurred.”

NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said in a September 14 e-mail that “the agency is satisfied with the bill’s language.”

NEI spokeswoman Melanie Lyons said in a September 14 e-mail that industry does not disagree with the intent of the Obama bill. “In fact, the industry’s communication protocol already meets what we understand would be required by the legislation,” she said.

However, “we do not believe that a federal law on this issue is necessary,” because all nuclear plant releases are “well below” NRC radiation safety limits and current regulations “already include requirements for prompt reporting of significant releases” and annual reporting of all radioactive releases, Lyons said. Also, the industry initiative requires “prompt notification of state and local officials and the NRC,” she


Chicago Tribune (Illinois)
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune News Service
March 17, 2009 Tuesday
In U.S., nuclear waste has nowhere to go

BYLINE: By Michael Hawthorne, Chicago Tribune


LENGTH: 1066 words


CHICAGO _ In a pool of water just a football field away from Lake Michigan, about 1,000 tons of highly radioactive fuel from the scuttled Zion Nuclear Power Station are waiting for someplace else to spend a few thousand years.

The wait has gotten longer. A lot longer.

President Barack Obama‘s proposed budget all but kills the Yucca Mountain project, the controversial site where the U.S. nuclear industry’s spent fuel rods were supposed to end up in permanent storage deep below the Nevada desert. There are no other plans in the works, meaning the waste for now will remain next to Zion and 103 other reactors scattered across the country. 

Obama has said there are too many questions about whether storing waste at Yucca Mountain is safe, and his decision fulfills a campaign promise. But it also renews nagging questions about what the nation should do with the radioactive waste steadily accumulating in 35 states. 

With seven nuclear plants, Illinois relies more heavily on nuclear power and has a larger stockpile of spent fuel than any other state. In addition to Lake Michigan, plants storing waste are sited along the Illinois, Rock and Mississippi rivers.

Customers of ComEd and other nuclear utilities have shelled out $10 billion to develop the Yucca Mountain site, in spare-change-sized charges tacked on to electric bills. Most of that money will have been wasted, and experts forecast that billions more will be spent on damage suits from utilities that counted on the federal government to come up with a permanent burial ground.

During his confirmation hearings, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the waste can remain at plant sites safely while another plan is worked out. Reversing course from previous administrations satisfies critics in Nevada, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but triggers another round of political maneuvering and regional bickering in Congress.

“We are drifting toward a permanent policy of keeping extremely toxic waste next to the Great Lakes, and that cannot stand,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who echoed industry officials in calling for an independent panel of scientists and engineers to find a solution. Obama also is calling for more study. 

More than 57,000 tons of spent fuel rods already are stored next to reactors, just a few yards away from containment buildings where they once generated nuclear-heated steam to drive massive electrical turbines. More than 7,100 tons are stored at the seven Illinois plants, including the Zion facility in Chicago’s northern suburbs.

The lack of a permanent solution poses a serious challenge to the industry’s plans to build more than 30 new reactors. Existing nuclear plants already produce 2,000 tons of the long-lived waste each year, most of which is moved into pools of chilled water that allow the spent _ but still highly lethal _ uranium-235 to slowly and safely decay.

But containment pools never were intended to store all of the spent fuel that a reactor creates. The idea was that the cool water would stabilize the enriched uranium until it could be sent to a reprocessing plant or stored in a centralized location.

Instead it keeps piling up. And though industry officials insist the waste is safely stored in fenced-off buildings lined with concrete and lead, there always have been concerns that a leak or a terrorist attack could create an environmental catastrophe. All of the nation’s nuclear plants are located next to a lake or river, and many are close to highly populated areas.

As power companies run out of space in their containment pools, they increasingly are storing the waste above ground in concrete and metal casks; the Zion plant’s spent fuel rods eventually are to be moved into casks a little farther away from Lake Michigan.

“We continue to ask the federal government to provide a clear solution for what the long-term storage of spent fuel will be,” said Marshall Murphy, spokesman for Exelon Nuclear, the owner of all seven Illinois plants.

Until now, the solution was Yucca Mountain, a dusty mountain of volcanic rock about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas that Congress chose in the late 1980s as a permanent repository. Federal officials spent the past two decades _ and billions of dollars _ preparing to bury spent fuel in a series of fortified tunnels drilled into the mountain.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission still plans to hold hearings about the Yucca Mountain project, but without further funding the project will be a very expensive hole in the ground.

The repository’s apparent demise is part science and part politics. Recent studies have shown that water flows through the mountain much faster than previously thought, raising concerns that radioactive leaks could contaminate drinking water supplies. More than anything else, though, the project is opposed by two of the nation’s most powerful politicians: Obama and Reid. 

Industry critics say the government’s inability to come up with a permanent burial ground for highly radioactive waste is another reason why the U.S. should wean itself from nuclear power.

“President Obama made the absolutely correct decision,” said Dave Kraft, director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service, an industry watchdog. “Unfortunately for the nation it comes about 15 years and $10 billion too late.” Yet Obama also has vowed to take another look at nuclear power as part of the nation’s response to climate change. Industry leaders are billing their plants as a low-carbon alternative to coal-fired power plants, which now provide about half of the nation’s electricity but are leading sources of heat-trapping carbon dioxide.


Chicago-based Exelon Corp., the parent company of ComEd and Exelon Nuclear, is seeking to extend the life of its reactors, most of which were built in the 1970s. It also wants to build a new reactor at the Clinton Power Station south of Downstate Bloomington.

Company officials have said that won’t be possible without an alternative to Yucca Mountain.


(c) 2009, Chicago Tribune.

Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at http://www.chicagotribune.com.proxy.cc.uic.edu/

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services




IPS (Latin America)

January 15, 2009 Thursday
Democratic President-elect Barack Obama faces a hungry nuclear industry;
ENERGY-US: ObamaFaces Hungry Nuclear Industry

BYLINE: Matthew Cardinale

LENGTH: 1162 words


At least 31 new plants have been proposed throughout the United States, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) website. Twenty-six of these are already going through the NRC’s environmental impact review and site approval process.

Obama has included reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil and promoting alternative energies as key components of his campaign platform.


'I will set a clear goal as president,' he said in his Democratic nomination acceptance speech. 'I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power.' He added that he would also use solar, wind, biofuels, and water as sources of energy.

'Nuclear power represents more than 70 percent of our non-carbon generated electricity. It is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power as an option,' Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden wrote in their energy plan.


'However, before an expansion of nuclear power is considered, key issues must be addressed including: security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage, and proliferation.'

This assumes that nuclear fuel and waste storage are the only problems with nuclear power, however.

As previously reported by IPS, nuclear power also uses vast amounts of water and releases low levels of radioactive pollution, which one study has correlated with increased cancer rates in Burke County, Georgia.

'One thing I haven’t seen them point to, which is the real sticker on this, is the problem of economics. The nuclear executives that want to build don’t want to use their own money. You see them hat in hand here in Washington [seeking] loan guarantees. I can’t see Congress doing that given we’re in the hole financially,' Jim Riccio, a nuclear policy analyst for Greenpeace, told IPS.

The Green Party of the United States said in a statement that it 'rejects President-elect Barack Obama‘s reckless support for new nuclear power plants, as such an agenda poses unacceptable health and environmental risks and would be fiscally irresponsible in the extreme.'


Many of the companies which are applying for new plants have done so under President George W. Bush’s 2005 energy bill, which created government incentives for nuclear expansion and simplified the plant approval process.

'It is crucial for the new administration to continue with these and other efforts to shape a comprehensive energy policy that recognises the value of nuclear energy and other low-emission electricity sources,' Frank Bowman of the Nuclear Energy Institute said in a press release.

'We must recognise as a nation that we cannot reach our energy goals without the reliable, affordable and carbon-free electricity that nuclear power plants generate to power our homes, businesses, telecommunications, military and transportation infrastructure,' Bowman said.

It is unclear whether Obama plans to continue to support government incentives or deregulation for nuclear power. Obamavoted for the 2005 bill, which included tax breaks for oil companies, although he later said he did not support everything in the bill.



Obama appears unlikely to throw the nuclear industry under the bus entirely, however. He was one of the most supportive candidates in terms of nuclear power during the Democratic primary and he has given mixed messages at best regarding his stance on the issue.


'I actually think we should explore nuclear power as part of the energy mix,' Obama said during the CNN/Youtube Presidential Debate on Jul. 23, 2007. 'There are no silver bullets to this issue… But we’re gonna have to try a series of different approaches.'


Obama was asked again about nuclear power during a meeting with the Editorial Board of the Keene Sentinel newspaper in New Hampshire, on Nov. 25, 2007.


'I’m not somebody who says nuclear is off the table no matter what because there’s no perfect energy source,' Obama said.


'There are a whole set of questions and they may not be solvable, and if they’re not solvable I don’t want to invest in it,' Obama continued. 'But if they are solvable, why not? I don’t think there’s anything we inevitably dislike about nuclear power. We just dislike the fact that it might blow up and radiate us and kill us; that’s the problem.'


Riccio believes that Obama is aware of the problems with nuclear power, even if he did not address all of them on the campaign trail. 'Why on the campaign trail would you open yourself to an attack from McCain and say you oppose nuclear power?' Riccio said.


Obama has also been accused by former Illinois constituents of selling out their interests to the nuclear industry while he served as a U.S. senator.


Obama was criticised by residents of Godley, Illinois, who turned to Obama for help after they learned in December 2005 that the nearby Exelon nuclear power plant had been leaking tritium, a radioactive by-product, into the water supply without notifying residents.



The magnitude of the leak did not exceed federal guidelines, but residents were still concerned.

Obama had at first responded to the residents by filing a bill in the U.S. Senate on Mar. 1, 2006, the Nuclear Release Notice Act of 2006, which said it 'shall require' all nuclear power plants to 'immediately notify the Commission, and the State and county in which the facility is located, of [any] release.'


The nuclear industry immediately opposed the bill. The Nuclear Energy Institute attempted to preempt the bill’s requirements by offering voluntary disclosure by plants.

After opposition by Exelon executives, Obama changed the provision in the bill entirely, from requiring disclosure by plants, to encouraging the NRC to require disclosure by plants for some leaks smaller than the existing government limits.


But it allowed the NRC to decide which of those leaks, if any, would be required to be disclosed. The bill, S. 2348, never made it out of the Senate.

'When trying to get the nuclear industry to do anything, compromise seems to be in the cards,' Riccio said.

When asked about his support of nuclear power at a campaign stop in Iowa on Dec. 30, 2007, Obama misled audience members about the outcome of the bill.


'The only nuclear legislation that I passed has been to make sure the nuclear industry has to disclose whether they emit anything that might be radioactive and share that with state and local communities. I just did that last year,' Obama said.

 However, this is not true; Obama had stripped the bill of language requiring disclosure and it never passed the Senate.

 Incidentally, Exelon executives and employees had given over 269,100 dollars to Obama‘s congressional and presidential campaigns by February 2008, making the industry one of Obama‘s biggest donors early in his campaign, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics.</ © 2009 NoticiasFinancieras – IPS – All rights reserved



Crain’s Chicago Business
March 16, 2009
Springfield takes aim at nuke ban;
Bills to allow new plants pick up steam in Legislature



LENGTH: 673 words

Lawmakers are moving to lift the two-decade ban on new nuclear power plants in Illinois, as the desire to create jobs trumps worries about storing radioactive waste.

Committees in both legislative houses passed bills in recent weeks that would allow construction of nuclear power plants in Illinois for the first time since the 1980s. Legislators barred new reactors in 1987 after a string of mishaps at plants operated by Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison Co. Floor votes are expected soon on the bills, which have strong support from labor unions.

“The Republicans are definitely going to support it, and I think we’ll get significant support on the Democratic side, too,” says Senate Majority Leader James Clayborne, D-Belleville, a sponsor of one of the bills.

While a spokesman for ComEd parent Exelon Corp. says the company has no plans to build a plant here, the action would enable Illinois to participate in a potential nuclear power renaissance as likely greenhouse-gas restrictions give nukes an edge over coal-fired plants. 

Bills to lift bans on new nuclear plants are pending in six other states, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kentucky and California. There are 17 applications to build reactors on file with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. None of those applicants has committed to building a plant, however.

“I’m just trying to keep Illinois in the running,” says state Rep. JoAnn Osmond, R-Antioch, sponsor of the House bill.

Exelon has kept a low profile on the bills, but the company’s growth strategy revolves around its fleet of nuclear power plants, the largest in the country.

Union leaders pushing for repeal of the ban see the potential for new jobs. “If the moratorium is lifted, (Exelon) may refocus on Illinois,” says Brian Loomis, assistant business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local representing more than 5,000 ComEd and Exelon Nuclear workers.

exec pay on table

Other energy-related proposals percolating in Springfield include legislation backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, his daughter, that would restrict pay for utility executives. The bill would bar utilities from passing through to consumers the costs of salaries exceeding the Illinois governor’s annual compensation, currently less than $200,000. In 2008, ComEd CEO Frank Clark received $3.2 million in cash and stock, and the company’s top five execs all got $1.5 million or more.

As for utilities, they’re pushing a bill to boost rates yearly by the amount owed by customers who don’t pay their bills. Currently, utilities get reimbursed for their bad-debt expenses only through irregular rate filings, and those costs are rising as the economy declines.

The various proposals, including an environmentalist-supported bill requiring natural-gas utilities to achieve gas-usage reductions over the next 10 years through energy-efficiency programs, will be subject to negotiations between utilities, the attorney general’s office, environmentalists and consumer groups.

storage solution?

An obstacle to nuclear plant construction has been the lack of a national repository for radioactive waste, which is stored at plant sites in containment pools and concrete casks. The Obama administration has all but eliminated funding for the only spot under consideration for a high-level nuclear waste dump, Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

“As it stands today, the problem is only getting worse, and the solution is farther off,” says Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago, which opposes lifting the ban.

Worries about the economy and global warming, not to mention the support from clout-heavy unions, could outweigh environmental concerns. For example, Ms. Madigan, who had been opposed, now is open to the legislation if lawmakers give the state the authority to approve the location of any new plants, says Ann Spillane, the attorney general’s chief of staff.

Contact: sdaniels@crain.com


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