Public Citizen Opposes North Anna Relicensing; Cites Security and Safety Concerns

Oct. 18, 2001

Public Citizen Opposes North Anna Relicensing;
Cites Security and Safety Concerns

Louisa, Va. ? The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) should not relicense the North Anna Nuclear Power Plant because aging reactors are more likely to experience breakdowns and questions remain about nuclear plants? vulnerability to attack, Public Citizen told the agency today.

Public Citizen made the statement today while testifying at an NRC meeting in Louisa, Va. The North Anna Nuclear Power Plant is owned by Virginia Electric and Power Company and is situated on the North Anna River about 60 miles northwest of Richmond. The first reactor (Unit 1) came online in 1978 and is currently licensed to operate until 2018. A second reactor (Unit 2) was added in 1980 and is licensed to operate until 2020. Relicensing the plant would extend the lifetime of each reactor for an additional 20 years.

Public Citizen contends that U.S. nuclear reactors were not designed to operate safely beyond their original 40-year license period and that safety risks increase as reactor components age. Extreme temperatures, a corrosive chemical environment and intense radiation bombardment within operating nuclear reactors can cause components to thin and crack, compromising their structural integrity. The reactor pressure vessel can become brittle over time, increasing the risk of a catastrophic explosion. Steam generator tubes ? part of the cooling system ? also cause concern because when they deteriorate, dangerous radiation leaks can occur.

In fact, earlier this year, North Anna Unit 2 was shut down due to excessive leaking from the reactor coolant system. The owner attributed this failure to aging.

Further, each operating nuclear reactor generates about 20 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste annually. Relicensing North Anna would add 800 metric tons of waste over 20 years to the nation?s mounting radioactive waste stockpile, which already poses health, safety and environmental concerns.

“Irradiated fuel rods remain dangerously radioactive virtually forever,” said Hugh Jackson, policy analyst for Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “It is grossly irresponsible to generate more of this toxic waste when there is no known way to dispose of it.”

The federal government has proposed building a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but that dump could not accommodate the additional volume of waste from relicensed reactors. Further, Public Citizen and other organizations oppose the Yucca Mountain project because of concerns about transporting waste to the site and the potential for environmental disaster and the release of radioactivity at the dump.

Jackson also told the NRC that it must consider the vulnerability of nuclear plants to attacks before permitting them to run for an additional 20 years.

“This proposal is all-around objectionable and is particularly inappropriate considering current unresolved security issues at nuclear power plants,” Jackson said. “In light of current concerns, it is more urgent than ever before to reduce our dependence on nuclear power and begin a transition towards a safe energy future. Relicensing North Anna is a step in the wrong direction.”

Jackson also criticized the NRC for not responding to requests that public meetings and rulemakings be postponed since the agency last week blocked access to its Web site after citing security concerns. The calendar of public events was not available on the Internet from Oct. 11-16, and information about regulatory processes and specific plant activity still was not posted on Wednesday.

“By blocking access to its Web site, the NRC gave the impression that its public processes were suspended,” Jackson said. “It is ridiculous that the agency has not rescheduled this hearing. The basic information necessary to fully participate still is not readily available to the public.”

Public Citizen wrote a letter to the NRC and issued a press release regarding the agency?s Web site.

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