Groups say new Vogtle reactors need study

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Environmental groups Wednesday contended more scrutiny is needed for unresolved design flaws in the new Westinghouse AP1000 reactors to be constructed in seven sites across the Southeast, including Plant Vogtle in Burke County.

  Georgia Power photo
Georgia Power photo

"The proposed AP1000 containment design is inherently less safe than current reactors," said Arnold Gundersen, a nuclear scientist who authored a 32-page report on behalf of 12 organizations that compose the "AP1000 Oversight Group."

The coalition represented by the oversight group comprises Friends of the Earth, South Carolina's Sierra Club, Nuclear Watch South, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Georgia Women's Action for New Directions, and other groups.

In a conference call with reporters, Gunderson contended the new reactors will be vulnerable to leaks caused by corrosion holes. Such issues have been identified at least 80 times during the past 45 years in conventional reactors, which have a redundant containment system that is not included in the new design.

"If you would imagine a nuclear reactor as a pressure cooker, then its containment would be the leak-tight building surrounding that pressure cooker," he said. "Containment systems are critically important because they are the last line of defense in an accident."

While the containment systems on current reactors are constructed of steel and concrete, and together form multiple barriers to radiation releases, the AP1000 design has no such sealed concrete backup barrier, he said.

"The AP1000 shield building does not collect radiation and trap it as in existing designs. Rather, the AP1000 shield building has a hole in its roof allowing radiation to escape," Gunderson said.

"The AP1000 design uses a chimney effect to draw up contaminated air that leaks out of the steel containment and releases it directly into the environment through the hole in the roof," Gunderson said.

The groups asked that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigate the findings and also suspend licensing activities for plants that would use the new design.

NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said the commission is always open to input throughout the licensing process for nuclear reactors.

"Any individual or group can always submit comments as part of the design and certification process," Burnell said. "It will go into the overall design and certification hopper and once we get to the point where we propose a rule that would certify the design, those comments would be taken into consideration."

The AP1000 reactors, he added, will be subject to frequent and strict inspections that should identify any corrosion issues that could cause problems, Burnell said. "It is, literally, part of the American Society for Mechanical Engineers' codes and standards that govern pressure vessels. The operating procedures would account for those standards."

Burnell also said design differences between existing reactors and the AP1000 design will make it easier to inspect corrosion-prone areas.

"On the AP1000, the gap between the containment structure and the shield building is wide enough to allow regular inspection," he said.

Southern Nuclear, which operates Plant Vogtle for its owners, has confidence in the reactor's design and in the NRC's licensing process, company spokeswoman Beth Thomas said.

"NRC is continuing its standard review process for the Westinghouse AP1000 design," she said. "A great benefit of the NRC's new licensing process is that reviews are completed prior to major construction -- as opposed to the previous licensing process used during construction of current operating plants in the U.S."

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Dixieman
15998
Points
Dixieman 04/21/10 - 01:25 pm
0
0
Oh, environmental groups say

Oh, environmental groups say this. That means it must be true as they are beyond reproach and speak for me. NOT!

SCEagle Eye
921
Points
SCEagle Eye 04/21/10 - 10:47 pm
0
0
Sounds like this reactor

Sounds like this reactor design is in deep trouble. This is the second major flaw that has been revealed. The NRC's review of the "shield building" that covers the steel shell mentioned above has been halted for over six months while Westinghouse redesigns it. Even the NRC issued a news release last October saying that the shield building had not been demonstrated to survive an earthquake or tornado. The review is frozen and delays mount. No surprise at all that the steel containment has serious design questions. They want your money in advance but best to send a lot of aspirin to Westinghouse and Southern Company!

UncleBill
6
Points
UncleBill 04/22/10 - 06:10 am
0
0
Sounds like there is more to

Sounds like there is more to the story that could be printed. The article mainly serves to generate questions which likely already have answers, but are not covered.

Little Lamb
46964
Points
Little Lamb 04/22/10 - 08:16 am
0
0
Good point, Uncle Bill. In

Good point, Uncle Bill. In the past, a journalist would have printed the accusation but also would have printed a statement from the reactor containment designer for his side of the story. Westinghouse is a big company with plenty of “company spokesmen.” I'm sure they would make a statement if asked.

SCEagle Eye
921
Points
SCEagle Eye 04/22/10 - 08:43 am
0
0
We are waiting on the NRC and

We are waiting on the NRC and Westinghouse to say something about the flawed shield building design. Not a peep about this big problem since the unusal October 15 news release by the NRC:
http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/news/2009/09-173.html
How in the world can this design go through 18 revisions and these problems not be caught? Has the NRC been sleeping and Westinghouse taking advantage of that? Looking iffy if the design can be certified.

Riverman1
86961
Points
Riverman1 04/22/10 - 09:29 am
0
0
SCEagleEye, it's going to be

SCEagleEye, it's going to be built. It will help decrease mercury pollution.

Little Lamb
46964
Points
Little Lamb 04/22/10 - 09:48 am
0
0
I've been thinking about this

I've been thinking about this statement from the above article:

"The proposed AP1000 containment design is inherently less safe than current reactors," said Arnold Gundersen, a nuclear scientist who authored a 32-page report on behalf of 12 organizations that compose the "AP1000 Oversight Group."

Perhaps the containment design does not need to be inherently safer than the old containment designs because the reactor design is inherently safer than the old reactor designs. Does that make sense?

Little Lamb
46964
Points
Little Lamb 04/22/10 - 11:45 am
0
0
Activist Arnold Gundersen is

Activist Arnold Gundersen is incorrect when he says:

"If you would imagine a nuclear reactor as a pressure cooker, then its containment would be the leak-tight building surrounding that pressure cooker."

All containment buildings in existence have an allowed leakage rate. None of them is leak-tight.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
BTW, did you notice how Arnold's name is spelled “Gundersen” initially and then “Gunderson” thereafter?

draksig
167
Points
draksig 04/22/10 - 11:53 am
0
0
To Enviromental groups, the

To Enviromental groups, the design flaw in the reactor is the fact that it exists!

J.W.
2
Points
J.W. 04/22/10 - 02:52 pm
0
0
Thank God all these wonderful

Thank God all these wonderful enviromentalist groups weren't around when Henry Ford started mass producing the automobile. I'm sure they would have found an inherent flaw in the design of the internal combustion engine! We'd all still be moving around via horse and buggy. Oh sorry, that wouldn't work either. Horses along with cows, pigs, and most every other living thing "pass gas" thus contributing to green house gas emissions and global warming! When does the ban on pinto beans take effect? I'm sure its coming.

SGT49
2078
Points
SGT49 04/22/10 - 06:39 pm
0
0
Yap yap yap yap... The sky

Yap yap yap yap... The sky is falling, the sky is falling. How many years have they been flapping their gums and we're still here. Like we should listen to the Georgia Women's Action group over Westinghouse? And, Gooberson is a nuclear engineer. Corrosion and containment strength is the expertise of mechanical engineers, not the nukies.

chucktoons
0
Points
chucktoons 04/22/10 - 08:56 pm
0
0
"The AP1000 shield building

"The AP1000 shield building does not collect radiation and trap it as in existing designs. Rather, the AP1000 shield building has a hole in its roof allowing radiation to escape,"

This is not a true statement.

chucktoons
0
Points
chucktoons 04/22/10 - 09:27 pm
0
0
"The AP1000 design uses a

"The AP1000 design uses a chimney effect to draw up contaminated air that leaks out of the steel containment and releases it directly into the environment through the hole in the roof,"

This is also not a true statement. It would be best for everyone if he would get the facts straight before he writes reports for people or talks to reporters who know even less than he does.

SCEagle Eye
921
Points
SCEagle Eye 04/23/10 - 07:55 am
0
0
Can anyone explain why the

Can anyone explain why the AP1000 design review got all the way to October 2009 before Westinghouse was forced to redesign the flawed shield building? Was this due to poor oversight and review by the NRC or some kind of cover-up or ignorance on the part of Westinghouse? Stunning that the review of a critical component of supposedly passively safe reactor has been halted for a long time.

Isn't a nuclear loan guarantee bailout for GA Power, to secure a loan from the federal government, enough big government incentive to get some action on the part of Westinghouse? This big government-corporate collusion diverting our money from "least cost" energy options (energy efficiency and conservation) is one reason people are angry at government, ya know. The philosophy of "take our money and run" must be destroyed.

reader99
0
Points
reader99 04/23/10 - 10:44 am
0
0
Nukes are unsafe, wind

Nukes are unsafe, wind turbines noisy and kill, birds, Coal and Natural Gas create greenhouse gases, Solar power $$$$$ drive you to bankruptcy, Hydro Blow up the dams and save the fish, go back to the stone age........eliminate all humans and the environment will be safe!!!

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