Scientific Concepts

Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds on a Carbon Free, Nuclear Free World

In preparation for the New York City People’s Climate March, Fairewinds’ Arnie Gundersen spoke to staffers from the United Nations about why nuclear power is not a viable solution to the issue of climate change. Following the New York City UN presentation, Arnie traveled to Westchester County, New York regarding the Entergy-owned Indian Point reactors that are located only 26 miles north of New York City. In the Westchester County presentation, Arnie identified that the Fukushima disaster was not unique to Japan, but in fact could happen at any nuclear power plant in the United States. This is that presentation.

Remember, radiation knows no borders.

“I wanted to talk today about my experience on the Public Oversight Panel in Vermont where we evaluated Entergy in Vermont and how the similarities are just astounding with Indian Point and Entergy here in New York State. So I wanted to spend 10 minutes or so on that experience.

“First of all, Entergy had a corporate strategy at the turn of the century to buy old nuclear plants. As those things go, the plants were cheap – a real bargain. They bought Vermont Yankee for less than $200 million. A new plant of that size was probably something on the order of $10 billion. So it was an enormous discount. (9:27) Between 2002 when they bought the plant and 2007, they made a boatload of money. The market was high, the economy was flying and there wasn’t a lot of fracked gas on the market to drive electric prices down. And they never reinvested that in the power plant. Their stock prices took off; their stockholders were very well compensated, and their executives were even more well-compensated. That turned, of course, with the market collapse and the economy collapse and the load collapse.

“Since then, most of Entergy’s fleet of plants – we call them merchant plants because they don’t sell directly – they’re not utilities any more – are either marginally making money, like perhaps Indian Point, or definitely losing money like Vermont Yankee and Fitzpatrick. So the strategy that made Entergy successful at the beginning of the 20th Century is now dragging it down in the last five years. It is a very investor-focused organization. If you think you’re a stakeholder, you’re not. The only people they really care about are their investors.

“In 2008, they tried to spin off these merchant plants in a marketing faux pas that will go down in history. They called the spin off SpinCo and thankfully, New York State and Vermont saw through it. It was woefully undercapitalized. It was roughly 90 percent roughly. They counted on all six plants operating all the time in order to pay the interest on the money. So their execs and their stockholders were going to make a boatload of money and then the SpinCo would have to survive on the fact that every one of these plants had to keep running. If one broke or had a protracted outage, there wasn’t enough money to pay the debt. So, to New York State’s credit and to Vermont’s credit, they dug in our heels and prevented SpinCo from moving forward. Eventually it became obvious to everybody else it was a bad idea. But the execs that came up with that brilliant idea are still there.

“So the first point is that it’s a company designed to increase shareholder value and if they call you a stakeholder and they call their employees stakeholders, it’s just not true. What I learned when I was on the panel was that they have a unique way of distributing funds for the six nuclear plants that are in their merchant fleet and the six are Indian Point, two here, Fitzpatrick, Palisades, Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim. The company decides how much money is available for maintenance. It’s not like everybody puts in their request and they get what they ask for. The company decides what’s available. And then the executives from each of these plants go into a room and argue until they divide up the pie as equitably as they can – given the pie is too small for their needs. We found this out when I was on the oversight panel at Vermont Yankee.

“In 2009, there were 5 of us: Peter Bradford, who is quoted here and a former NRC commissioner, but was also in charge of the Public Service Commission here in New York State for years. So Peter and I, a former nuclear engineer for the state, a professor at Penn State and Dave Lochbaum were on this panel. We looked into problems at Vermont Yankee. One of the points that we highlighted was that they weren’t spending enough money on maintenance. We put that in writing in 2009. In 2009, we had 80 problem areas at Vermont Yankee and we determined that if they nailed those 80 areas, they could run for another 20 years. So only an antinuclear – I’m the only anti-nuke person I know who’s ever signed a report saying you can run for 20 more years. However, in 2009 we signed a report saying you could run for 20 more years, but oh, by the way, we think you’re not spending enough money on maintenance. Entergy portrayed that as these granola crunchy Vermonters were saying that, but it wasn’t true.

“Entergy commissioned another group of experts to look at Indian Point. (14:29) And these were 12 hand-picked people from Entergy. They came to the same conclusion about Indian Point. They said you’re not spending enough money; the physical condition of the plant has an adverse affect on morale. If you went into the plant – and I don’t know if anybody’s been there, but there’s a pipe that runs up the side of the containment that’s designed to release the radiation in the event of an accident. Entergy never painted it. It was this rusty thing hanging down. And the panel said, as you drive in to work every day, you see that and as a maintenance person, it’s going to affect your outlook at plant maintenance. So it wasn’t just us granola eating crunchies up in Vermont, but their own hand-picked experts that came to the same conclusion.

“So after the panel dissolved, I was appointed by the Senate, but the joint fiscal committee in Vermont asked me to stay on and see if they were making any progress about knocking out these 80 problem areas. Something didn’t smell right and I just knew that they weren’t telling us the truth about these underground pipes. I testified at a Joint Fiscal Committee about the underground pipes and three months later, I said we were lying to the panel. We didn’t tell you the truth because Entergy didn’t tell us the truth. Peter Shumlin was now governor, nonetheless, he was still president of the senate and he put it on the agenda. He wanted to talk about that in January. Before the agenda ever materialized the plant developed this underground leak that suddenly elevated the issue to astronomical terms. So Shumlin and others brought us back and the panel looked at this thing again and we determined that the problem – the reason this pipe failed was that the company was too cheap. So it was the oversight panel which in ’09 had the broad concern and then in 2010 had a narrower concern that there is a real safety concern when you’re too cheap. Underground pipes can burst and this is a classic example.

“We essentially had three reports: two from the oversight panel and one from Entergy’s own hand-picked panel. This was not the way you’d want to run a nuclear business. And what was Entergy’s response? They cut their staff by 10 percent. They cut their staff by 10 percent. So again, this is a stockholder-focused organization. Safety second, I think is their motto. So moving on, it’s clear to me that they will say Vermont Yankee was shut down for economic reasons, but it was really the citizen involvement for a long, long time that led them to choose Vermont Yankee. It could have been Pilgrim, it could have been Fitzpatrick or Palisades, both of which are single-unit plants. But it was Vermont Yankee because citizen involvement pushed them to the point that they just wanted to make it go away. So I encourage you to stay at it, your involvement in day-to-day activities here, always looking over their shoulder is a big factor in any business decisions they’ll make.

“You know, the town of Vernon is where Vermont Yankee is and it was shocked when Vermont Yankee shut down. It was as if they went through a divorce. But they promised us 20 years and they only gave us one. I had told the Senate the year before, this is not a 20-year marriage. To you, to the people who want that nuclear plant, it’s a 20-year marriage. But to Entergy it’s 20 years of one-night stands. Every day they make a decision, is there enough money to run another day. When we looked at their the resource allocation – it was can we keep the plant fixed enough to run another 18 months. Their horizon on making repairs was can we make it good enough to run for another 18 months because 18 months is to the next refuel. There’s never any attempt to make it good enough to run for 60 years. The goal is can we put enough Band-Aids on to get this plant to run for another 18 months. I found that appalling, but it is the way Entergy does business; not just with Vermont Yankee, but with Pilgrim, Indian Point, Fitzpatrick.

“So please know that the organization you are dealing with has that incredibly short-term focus when in fact nuclear safety requires a much longer event horizon. Entergy has problems, not just at Vermont Yankee pipe or here with the frequent shutdowns, fires and transformers and things like that, but also at Palisades another one of their plants in Michigan with numerous problems. This one I’ll tell you about: they have a tank that sits above the control room and it leaks.

“It’s a safety-related thing. It shouldn’t be leaking, period, but it’s above the control room. And it drips into the control room. And when [NRC] Chairman Jaczko (20:09) was there, they actually were collecting the drops in a bucket, and the NRC didn’t tell Chairman Jaczko that the tank on the roof of the control room was leaking water into the control room. Fitzpatrick up in upstate New York is a single-unit plant and has a condenser that’s leaking like a sieve. And for years, they just kept putting another Band-Aid on. And this year, they finally committed to replacing it with a new condenser, largely – not because they wanted to – but because Dave Lochbaum at the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote a scathing letter to the NRC saying this plant is not safe and unless you replace that condenser you are basically creating a serious safety hazard. That’s what it takes to push them over. And Pilgrim has had a tritium leak for as long as I can remember and they never seem to be able to find it. One wonders if they really want to. So it is a systemic problem within the merchant fleet at Entergy.

“The last two things I’d like to mention before handing the mic over to Tim is that the problems here – in my opinion, the two big problems are not new. When I was a VP in the industry, I had a group of emergency planners. And this was 1982, 83, 84. And we knew then that the worst plant in the country was Indian Point. So for us to be suddenly stumbling on the notion that the emergency planning at Indian Point is a problem – no, the industry has known for almost 30 years now that Indian Point is the worst plant in the country as far as evacuation plans. And the reasons are obvious. You have a river on one side and all the roads essentially go north/south. There’s nowhere to run to the east or to the west. And the roads that do go north/south are small, two-lane highways. So emergency planning has been known within the industry as the Achilles heel of Indian Point for 30 years.

“The other piece of that is the seismic issues. There’s something in the industry called CDF, which stands for core damage frequency. Indian Point has had the highest core damage frequency of any power plant in the country due to seismic events. So forget the plants in California. The worst plant as far as the chance of a radioactive release in the event of a seismic event has always been since, again, the late 80’s, Indian Point. So experts within the NRC have always had it right at the top of the list and it really took Fukushima to push the NRC to cause something to begin to move on that. I suspect they’ll analyze the problem for 7 or 8 years and when they realize how bad the problem is, they’ll shut the plant down rather than making the appropriate fixes.

“I just came off a study for Friends of the Earth; in the last 10 years, there’s been 12 nuclear plants involved in earthquakes. There were 7 at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, which is in Japan. It’s on the Sea of Japan side of Japan. They had a really serious earthquake in 2007. I was over there speaking in 2012, and one of their seismologists said to me that this would be our last warning. Then we had Fukushima. But the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa earthquake was worse than the accident – worse than what the plant was designed for, and worse than they ever expected in 10,000 years, and yet it happened in 30 years. So there are seven plants, three of which never started back up again. Twenty-five hundred different items were damaged by the earthquake and the entire site was shut down for three years, and like I said, three of the plants were never started up. A couple started up a year later and a few just started up right before Fukushima Daiichi.

“So when you hear experts say that the worst that can happen at Indian Point is a .15 G ground acceleration earthquake – those are the same experts that say Kashiwazaki-Kariwa was well built, too. So the first earthquake involving seven nuclear plants was the one at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa. And every plant experienced ground acceleration that was worse than that they thought would occur in 10,000 years; and of course, it happened in 30 years. The next one is Fukushima, obviously, and the ground acceleration in the buildings at Fukushima was worse than they ever expected to occur in 10,000 years. And yet it happened in 30 years. And there is seismic damage at Fukushima. The releases weren’t due to the seismic damage, but there are numerous items that were destroyed by the earthquake before the tsunami ever got there. The last earthquake is an east coast earthquake. It’s in North Anna, and that’s the one that caused the crack in the Washington monument. I’m sure you felt it here; we felt it in Vermont a couple of years ago. And that was a .12 earthquake. It exceeded what the plant was designed for on a 10,000-year timeframe. So an earthquake that wasn’t supposed to happen in 10,000 years happened in 30 years here, too. So the experts that are telling you that Indian Point is well designed at .15 are the same ones that told you that North Anna can withstand – the worst that North Anna can expect is a .12.

“The last piece I’d like to leave you with – North Anna is an old plant like Indian Point, similar design, not quite the same. It was designed to a .12 based on the standards of the 60’s, when the plant was designed. That’s North Anna 1 and 2. North Anna 3 is a new plant that was proposed before the earthquake at North Anna, the new seismic requirement for North Anna 3 was a .54 earthquake – four times higher than the old plant had originally been designed for. Yet the NRC didn’t go back and tell North Anna 1 and 2 that they should make the appropriate modifications since the earthquakes been a lot worse. So when you hear they’re going to reevaluate the earthquakes here at Indian Point, there’s not enough experts to do it quickly and we need time, that’s baloney. I had 70 structural engineers working for me when I was a senior VP. It’s just the industry doesn’t want the results to be known quickly, because it pays for them to limp along a couple more years and squeeze a couple more bucks out of this plant before they shut it down.

“The last thing the panel concluded is that no plant has ever run 60 years. The oldest nuclear plant ever has run is 47 years before it was shut down. So if you have an expectancy that Indian Point is going to run 60 years based on licensing promises, the history of nuclear power is that no plant has ever made it beyond its 47th year before it shut down. Again, it’s not a 20-year marriage; it’s 20 years of one-night stands. With this, I think I’ll hand it off to Tim,”.

To visit the website for Arnie Gundersen’s organization Fairewinds, click the link below:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s