SAFETY QUESTIONS REGARDING POINT BEACH NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

On July 18, 2022,  Physicians for Social Responsibility Wisconsin (PSR WI) and Nukewatch submitted a letter with comments and questions regarding the safety performance of Point Beach Nuclear Plant, Units 1 and 2 to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). PSR WI and Nukewatch received the NRC’s response to the letter on August 17, 2022. PSR WI appreciates the response and communication with the NRC.

Below are PSR WI’s follow-up responses to the NRC's August 17th response

 

EQUIPMENT OVERSIGHT

PSR WI was dismayed by the NRC’s central response that they are not responsible or accountable for several failures at nuclear power plants such as the equipment failures at Point Beach on July 31, 2021,  since problems were with “power-related” equipment and not “safety” related equipment. A power plant is a large system with moving parts that all function together. If a malfunction causes an emergency shutdown of the reactor, then it is a safety concern for the public. What starts out as on the “power-related” side of the plant can easily cascade and cause a domino-effect into the “safety” side of the plant. The NRC appears to have tunnel-vision and is missing critical components that impact the operation and safety of a nuclear reactor as well as the storage of spent fuel onsite. PSR WI is alarmed to find that the NRC only claims responsibility to oversee specific “safety” equipment and we ask the NRC to take a deep-dive into the synergistic effects from power-related equipment. 

FRAUDLUENT & COUNTERFEIT PARTS

PSR WI is encouraged that the NRC did not find any fraudulent or counterfeit parts at Point Beach Nuclear Power Plant, and that the NRC is continuing an analysis of this situation in all US reactors.

 

LESSONS FROM DAUNE ARNOLD NUCLEAR PLANT FOLLOWING DERECHO

In the letter, we asked a question about safety procedures at Point Beach Nuclear Power Plant after learning about the damage and shutdown of Duane Arnold Nuclear Energy Plant following the Iowa Derecho in August 2020. A derecho is an extreme high-wind event and Point Beach lies within the Derecho corridor.

 

The NRC claims that the Point Beach was designed to be safe during a similar event, but was Daune Arnold safe? The NRC stated in their response, “It is also important to understand that Duane Arnold remained safe throughout the derecho event when damage occurred to offsite power lines and non-safety related cooling towers.” This is a misleading statement.  The NRC did state the event at Duane Arnold was of “high risk significance" in a March 2021 document. The damage to offsite power lines led to the use of diesel generators. One of those generators became inoperable due to clogged water screens. Just because there was no direct damage to the reactor, does not mean that the plant was safe. Fortunately and thankfully, workers restored offsite power in time and operators at the plant did their best to manage the situation.

The NRC examined safety equipment in isolation and ignored other realities. PSR WI is concerned about the implications of this type of oversight for Point Beach and all other nuclear sites.

 

Learn more about what happened at Daune Arnold and what it means here

 

LESSONS FROM CHERNOBYL AND ZAPORIZHZHIA

The disconnection to offsite power to maintain the operations of a reactor is critical to safety as evidenced by Duane Arnold but also by Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia during the current war in Ukraine. On March 9, 2022, Chernobyl was disconnected from the energy grid and had to rely on backup diesel generators to operate the cooling and ventilation systems. The generators only had enough fuel to last 48 hours. Fortunately, there was extra backup cooling water, other supplies, and skilled operators that prevented another catastrophe at the site. Workers restored power to Chernobyl on March 13, 2022.

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is also in a precarious situation. As the war continues, news of offsite power disconnections, artillery damage to buildings, and exhausted operators demonstrates the fragility of the nuclear plant and managing the spent fuel on site. We must take away the lesson that safety and stability of a nuclear operation is dependent on many factors that are inextricably linked together. PSR WI encourages the NRC to take a hard look at  ALL the components of a nuclear plant. 

EMBRITTLEMENT - TESTING AND RESEARCH

Embrittlement is the loss of strength, ductility and resistance to cracking. In nuclear reactors, there are steel containers called reactor pressure vessels (RPV) that hold nuclear fuel when the reactor is operating. Point Beach Nuclear Plant Unit 2 was cited by the NRC in 2013 as one of the most embrittled RPVs in the United States. Embrittlement markedly increases the risk that the reactor pressure vessel could crack open if the reactor would need to be suddenly flooded with cold water during an emergency shutdown.

PSR WI is encouraged by the NRC’s statement that they are “reviewing the possibility of acquiring components from the closed Palisades plant for research.” We hope this research can give insight into the status of aging components at Point Beach. 

PSR WI is encouraged that “Point Beach has a Reactor Vessel Material Surveillance Program which includes the removal and testing of reactor surveillance capsules from the reactor to provide data in assessing reactor vessel integrity.” These capsules can provide critical information on the integrity of the materials used at the plant and for the reactors. However, PSR WI will be looking into how frequently this testing occurs.