Boxer allows Markey 16 minutes to grill NRC Commissioners
Yesterday, I posted a video clip showing Barbara Boxer berating the five NRC commissioners for 36 minutes during a hearing that lasted a little less than 2 hours. She used her gavel and power over the committee to dominate the session. The only mention she made of time was when she turned to the time keeper and demanded an extra “ten seconds,” ostensibly to make up for time that she lost when she was interrupted by Senator Vitter, who was concerned about the way that she was demanding a “yes, no or I don’t know” answer.
Over the years, I have watched a number of congressional and senate oversight hearings. I cannot remember a single instance in which the committee chairman completely ignored the clock in such a selfish manner.
There was another example during the same hearing of how unfairly Ms. Boxer abuses her chairman power. Ed Markey is a reliable ally for Boxer. Markey is the most junior member of the Senate, having only been seated in June 2013, after winning a special election to replace John F. Kerry in an event with a very low voter turnout. However, when he entered the committee room after the hearing started, Boxer asked him to take the seat next to her. She then proceeded to give him the floor for his opportunity to question the commissioners.
In every hearing I have ever watched, each Senator or Congressman is allotted 5 minutes and that time is kept pretty tightly.
However, this video clip is 16 minutes long and there was never an interruption to remind Mr. Markey that his time had expired.
To answer the points he made:
1. Used fuel pools at U. S. reactor plants are safe. They are are not “dangerously overcrowded.” The pools were built with strict quality assurance requirements and meet stringent seismic standards. Even if the earthquake predictions for a particular area are revised, that does not mean that the pools are vulnerable since they were built with large margins. All of the used fuel pools at Fukushima survived without structural damage, despite being subjected to an enormous earthquake, a large tsunami and a sustained loss of electrical power for the circulating pumps.
2. Dry cask storage is safe. It is not possible for casks to be “safer” than already safe used fuel pools. There are times when it is advantageous for a nuclear plant operator to use dry casks and times when it is advantageous to use wet pool storage. It is not the regulator’s job to determine which safe means of storing fuel a plant owner should use, though the regulator is empowered to review plans and ensure continued compliance with existing safety regulations.
3. A study conducted by Brookhaven National Laboratory under contract to the NRC for regulatory information support shows that spent fuel pools that contain only fuel that has been out of a reactor for more than 17 months can safely hold used fuel even if all of the water is drained by any one of several postulated — but far-fetched — initiating events. Recent NRC analysis indicates that the 17 month critical decay time used in previous studies is quite conservative and that it is more likely to be just a few months. (Note: the 17 months is for PWR fuel, it is 7 months for BWR fuel.)
4. In his response to Markey, Commissioner Apostalakis mentioned questions and commentary submitted by Gordon Thompson that were rebutted by a distinguished member of the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS).
See enclosure 3 of ACRS letter of 20 November 2013 to Ms. Diane Curran.
5. I’m not sure exactly which document Markey was quoting when he kept saying that it was the NRC’s conclusion that the consequences of used pool fires would be significant.
6. Contrary to Markey’s assertion, the longer that decommissioned plants sit there with spent fuel rods in place, the safer those spent fuel rods become. They get cooler and produce less decay heat with every passing minute that increases the interval since they were last used in an operating reactor.
7. Markey made a big deal about the fact that there have been no “new standards” put into place since Fukushima and implied that we know something really bad can happen as a result of that event. He fails to recognize that there were already different standards in place in the US that would have prevented the kind of damage suffered at Fukushima as long as they continue to be enforced. That is the focus of the NRC’s actions, along with additional measures like the nuclear industry’s FLEX program that are not based on new standards, but based on sensible preventive actions that can reduce damage. The industry has a huge incentive to invest in damage prevention and has done so with due haste and analysis.
It must be said that Chairman Macfarlane did an admirable job in answering difficult questions from both Senator Markey and Senator Boxer. Her performance during the hearing and the comments about her leadership from the other commissioners indicate that I may have been wrong to question her management skills at the time of her nomination to her position.
It’s a circus. It’s unbelievable to me that such a small group of technically incompetent people have managed to stifle such an unbelievable technology. I don’t know about you guys, but I feel awfully proud about working on a technology with the capability to end so much suffering. However, I remain very frustrated by the equal (if not unequally against us) playing field given to all “opinions.”
I’m wondering if Macfarlane has learned a few things from the professional staff, and possibly the other better-qualified commissioners, that she didn’t know eleven years ago when she was hanging out with these guys: https://www.princeton.edu/sgs/publications/articles/fvhippel_spentfuel/rAlvarez_reducing_hazards.pdf
If so, kudos to her.
Unfortunately, she still often votes 4-1 against the knowledgable majority, and if any of her 2003 co-authors receive an NRC appointment (two vacancies possible before end of 2014), that will turn the commission into 3-2 anti. Since Dems know they may not have majority in the Senate after January, it may motivate them to pack the commission with their favorites while they have a chance.
That would screw the nuclear renaissance (and any realistic chance for coal/gas substitution) for years.
“Since Dems know they may not have majority in the Senate after January…”
I am praying for that eventuality. I knew that the election of Barack Hussein Obama would be disastrous for commercial nuclear power, and sadly, so has it proven to be. I was called partisan (though I am not Republican either) and a nay-sayer (I do admit to that however) and even worse, a racist (demonstrably untrue given my wife’s race and skin color) because I refused to say one word of support for that “despicatus et contemptus” man.
You want nuclear power to expand? Get rid of Democrats like Boxer and Markey. No more liberal progressivism. The un-finished sentence: “We are progressing!” Towards what? A society where energy, health care and food are all rationed, and everyone is equal at the lowest common denominator except for the elitist politicians, and the corporate executives who kow-tow to their demands? How like Mussolini’s Fascist Italy!
I am disgusted at Boxer and Markey, and always have been with them and their anti-nuclear comrades. I am most assured 100% pro-nuclear and it fills me with great anger to see these disgusting excuses for leaders doing what they are doing.
I guess you’re just gonna ignore my request that you buttress your nattering with some actual credible argument, that specifically outlines how “getting rid of the Democrats” will benefit the nuclear energy sector.
Frankly, Paul, you seem not only partisan, but obssessively so. You cannot make a very convincing argument for your lack of partisanship by being obssessively partisan in your comments. One would think that that should be obvious to you, seeing as how you are participating on a blogsite that prides itself as being cognizant of the importance of supportive evidence and science.
Unless you actually offer credible argument that “getting rid of the Democrats” will advance NE’s future, you are just sputtering unsupported partisan nonsense. Just because you say it is so doesn’t make it so.
By the way, I would not use the term “racist” to describe you. I have seen no evidence of racial prejudice in your comments. However, the term “bigot” seems to fit you like a glove, because you have passed judgement on a huge segment of our population merely by virtue of their party preference. And, like most bigots, your justification for your prejudice is unsupported by facts.
So, please, give us some facts.
The industry line is “nothing to fear from spent fuel pools”. I agree there’s nothing to fear. However, the industry is committed to “excellence in all we do” or something like that, and this requires more than just the minimum necessary to maintain basic safety. I feel more comfortable – and I imagine most folks are more comfortable, even if they don’t express it – and perhaps even if they express the opposite – with spent fuel in passively safe, air-cooled dry casks.
I know it costs money. It also costs money to keep spent fuel in close proximity to other spent fuel in cold, clean spent fuel pools filled with light water that grow more and more full – and perhaps tighter and tighter between each fuel assembly at times – after every refueling outage. Certainly margins of safety are retained, but are they (a) enough? and are they (b) excellent?
In the end I know it all comes down to the bottom line. I would suggest that we can solve the money problem with dry cask storage by paying for it using the (just sitting there) Nuclear Waste Trust Fund. That would be fine since there’s not going to be any repository any time soon. Substituting dry storage casks for Yucca at each plant site could potentially be a permanent solution to spent fuel, or at least a solution for as long as we here live.
By the time the spent fuel is removed from the pool (5 years, as there is no dry-cask-storage design which can accept fuel 5 years old contributes, on average, to less than 10% of the heat load to any spent fuel pool. That’s the facts.
Regarding Markey making a big deal about the fact that there have been no “‘new standards” put into place since Fukushima: the events at Fukushima provided an extreme test of construction and in light of the new information, perhaps LESS STRINGENT standards could now be applicable in certain areas. Maybe Mr. Markey wants that to be the subject of the NRC’s attention. (just kidding, of course)
Rod, thanks for linking to the recent NRC “hearings” or rather scolding sessions.
After seeing this round of Senators’ questions, and the Dec. 2011 hearing (or Inquisition!) was convened in response to the four Commissioners’ letter about Chairman Jaczko’s bullying behavior, it is no surprise that many highly qualified leaders in the nuclear area would now never consider appointments to the NRC.
Indeed, Bill Magwood’s announced move to head the NEA OECD is not only a brilliant move in terms of his career, but also lets him avoid abuse from Congressmen who know little or nothing about nuclear technology, safety, etc., but only know how to rant and rave! Who would aspire to be a Commissioner and put up with such abuse from these pinheads?
The Massachusetts Senator was very concerned about a fire in the fuel pool. The spent fuel is below 40 ft of water in the pools I’ve seen. Pools are made of steel and concrete which don’t burn easily. Now I remember radiolysis which produces hydrogen.
Link – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiolysis
How much hydrogen is produced? How is it handled?
If I remember right you need greater than 5% hydrogen in the air to be able to burn. Is there good ventilation to the outside world around spent fuel pools? This may be a good reason not to have the building too air tight. Maybe a few holes are a good idea.
Is this much more of a problem than a room with a large battery bank as in a substation? A periodic venting van is used there.
Ventilation is continuous and via a monitored and, if necessary, filtered pathway. Building air pressure is maintained negative with respect to outdoors, so any leakage is inward. Therefore small gaps in SF building exterior, as long as they don’t compromise the capability of exhaust fans to provide exterior-to-interior flow path, are not esthetically pleasing, but not safety-related.
Radiolysis of water in SFP is present, but insignificant, especially considering the huge turnover of ventilated air. Here is an evaluation of a special case, with limited applicability to SFPs:.http://sti.srs.gov/fulltext/ms2002728/ms2002728.pdf
It isn’t radiolysis that’s the concern, it’s the zirconium in the clad and other structures. A zirconium fire is spectacular. For those old enough to remember flash bulbs, that was zirconium wire making the brilliant flash.
Rational consideration of the decay heat load and the resulting max clad temperatures is the way to address the “SFP fire” concern. Misguided talk about concrete or hydrogen doesn’t help.
As with any politician, it’s hard to know how much Boxer acts from conviction and how much she acts to please the base of her constituency. As with AGW, the broader problem rests first with the media, who are content to exploit fear to gain market share, secondarily with a dumbed-down public, and lastly with the politicians–who after all do respond to what voters ask for.
How to get educate voters who are soaked in confirmation bias? See how hard it has been to sway the public one iota on AGW, and despair.
See how hard it has been to sway the public one iota on AGW, and despair.
I’m not sure I get your point. I’ve watched the public sway from one side to the other on climate change – most people understood it to be a threat in the 1990s; now it seems that most believe it is not a big concern.
IMO a substantial portion of that switch has been the result of public relations efforts.
Removing spent fuel is a hazardous operation and the risks of doing so should be weighed against the risks of storage in spent fuel pools. Also, I am not certain that the design of the storage casks is settled. Certainly the design will be affected by the length of the storage time anticipated for it. Another important qualification for the storage casks is the ability of the cask to preserve the integrity of the spent fuels rods. They will eventuallly have to be transported to a permanent repository or a reprocessing or transmutation facility. Some favor a multiple purpose storage and transportation cask.
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