Senator Feinstein deserves better staff support. Crystal River concrete NOT age related issue
Apparently, someone on Senator Feinstein’s staff believes that the concrete delamination (cracking) issue at Crystal River was an age-related issue. With that incorrect knowledge of the situation, they decided that it could be used to publicly discredit the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s cooperation in an industry-led initiative to extend the operating lives of nuclear plants beyond the 60 years that 81 of them have already been licensed to operate.
Whoever suggested to the Senator that she ask that question with that context is providing poor staff support and putting their member in a potentially embarrassing position. They are violating the trust that she puts in them to keep her well-informed and to help prioritize her time and attention.
Does Crystal River’s Concrete Problem Conflict With Extended Plant Life?
During the February 24, 2016 Senate Energy and Water appropriations committee hearing, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) — the ranking member of the committee — asked a question about the Crystal River containment dome concrete cracking.
Here is a clip of the senator’s question and the commissioners’ responses.
Chairman Burns attempted to answer Senator Feinstein’s question. He can be forgiven for not getting it quite right; he was not at the agency during much of the time that the issue was current and he is a lawyer, not a technical expert.
Commissioner Ostendorff provided a much more complete response while Senator Feinstein listened intently and asked good questions to clarify her understanding. In his role as a commissioner, Ostendorff did not point any fingers, but he made it clear that there was a procedure related issue. What he left out was the fact that the failed task is not something done routinely for any plant, but it is a task that has been done successfully by experts at dozens of plants. Though there may be a counter-example, the procedure is generally done only once or twice in the lifetime of a nuclear plant.
The concrete cracks (aka delaminations) did not slowly develop or even suddenly appear while the plant was operating. Company employees who were attempting to make an access hole created the cracks. They were making the hole so that they could replace the plant’s steam generators. Those major components are too large to extract from the containment of that particular plant design — a B&W 177 — through any installed access points.
While making the hole, the workers used an inadequate procedure to loosen (de-tension) the reinforcing steel bars running through the concrete. Dozens of plants in the United States have created containment access holes, replaced steam generators and successfully closed the holes without any similar issues.
At Crystal River, Progress Energy determined that steam generator replacement work was routine enough to be done in house, without hiring the expertise of contractors that specialized in that complex task. They decided the extra $15 million that the specialists bid over their own internal estimate was important.
The people working for the plant owner broke the concrete structure that surrounds the steel containment. The decision makers who chose to do the job in house put their workers into a bad situation without the proper support or training. The cracks had nothing to do with concrete aging or the performance of large, passive components.
The situation eventually led Duke Energy — which had purchased Progress Energy after its workers had damaged the plant and after the company’s initial repair efforts had been unsuccessfully attempted — to choose to permanently close the facility.
There was no clear path to a successful repair and there was a large workforce employed at the non-revenue generating facility.
“Sea Story” – Suggesting Member Questions for Hearings
Most Americans aren’t familiar enough with the congressional hearing process to understand that the questions posed are prepared well in advance by staff members for the congressman or senator that asks the question. Since each member has a very limited amount of time for asking questions during a typical hearing, the process of selecting the questions for the member to ask can be rather intriguing.
In some cases, a member has one or more staff members with particular expertise in the hearing subject matter and has knowledge of a politically important issue that is worth questioning. There is also a process that is not well publicized, but is well known among denizens of “The Hill” for constituents to encourage the staff to suggest particular questions. It is possible for those questions to be part of a deal with unspoken terms and conditions.
I’ve been involved in a few such deals, some in my position as an agency staff member with a particular request we wanted publicly discussed and one in May 2005 as the head of Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.
Since the AAE engagement doesn’t involve any agreements with an employer regarding confidentiality, I can share it with you.
One of my business associates had a close friendship with a senior staff member for a Senator with a seat on a committee that had influence on the DOE budget. On a strictly friendship basis and because he had a personal non-financial interest in our intriguing project, he agreed to help us craft a question about the DOE’s support for high temperature gas reactor fuel development and testing.
The budget line supporting the on-going program had been reduced in the FY2006 budget request. That reduction would stretch an already lengthy timeline and affect our technology development plans.
As a result of the question being asked at the hearing, I was contacted within a day or so by Bill Magwood’s office and invited to give him and his staff a presentation explaining our interest in the program. I gathered my team of part-time associates and partners and provided brief to a fairly crowded room of interested attendees whose attention had been captured by our inserted question.
Much later, I was later told that there is a “going rate” in the six figures for getting a member to ask that kind of question, but ours had no dollars or deals associated with it.
I agree that she needs new, better staff, but what do you expect when the only qualification to be on her staff is being terrified of firearms?
Well, Brian, it could be worse.
Remember this gem from Congressman Hank Johnson?
Heh … Yeah, I remember that. I can’t tell whether he’s trying to be silly or is actually serious. Poor Mr. Johnson has some serious health problems.
Johnson and Sheila Jackson Lee are two living, breathing arguments for IQ tests for elective office. If the voters are dumb enough to elect morons, they deserve to be un-represented.
I agree there should be some standard for cognitive functionality to hold elective office, especially at the federal level. As it is, these peoples’ votes count as much as an elected official who is informed and up to date on the subject matter. Our system has devolved to the point of where voters seem to elect those who promise them more material benefits (at the expense of productive citizens) instead of those who are capable of sifting the pros and cons of an issue and forming a position based on reason and logic.
It is even more aggravating that Senator Feinstein asked such a question when a simple Google search using the keywords “crystal river containment delamination” would have given her staff 3,000 hits complete with explanations, reports, pictures, presentation slides, etc. Took me all of 10 minutes to find and read the most relevant items from this search to understand the gravity of this screw-up.
This is why I choose to blame the staff for poor support of their member. It isn’t terribly reasonable to assume a mature senator like Senator Feinstein would be doing her own Googling, but she should be furious that her staff didn’t take the ten minutes it would have required to more effectively prepare her for the hearing.
Agreed. We are on the same page. While it would be nice if Senators would do that, its not going to happen (another issue I have with today’s politicians – elitism). Sorry if that was not clear enough.
I guess by your definition, I’m an elitist. There are many reasons why people who earn positions of greater responsibility and oversight hire other people — often much younger and less experienced — to handle details. A society with abundant opportunity for all is not going to be a flat society with equal outcomes for all. There are enormous differences in ability, drive, determination, and age. It’s actually quite a good thing for society that we are not all equal, even if we strive for the ideal of being BORN equal.
I only oppose the vast inequality that arises artificially out of differences in inherited wealth, access to familial networks, gender and membership in historically favored or disfavored clans.
Your forgot the big one: the development of large corporations that
a) have considerable market control and corresponding margins,
b) nil shareholder control of executive compensation, This has been
delegated to a board of directors that in turn is effectively controlled
In such a situation, there is no reason to expect that an executive’s
income is a good measure of his economic value to society.
Actually, you are probably not an elitist in my definition. While this is moving away from the topic of the article, you can delegate too much to others to handle all of the details. The end result is you forget to ask the right probing questions or take a little bit of your own time to double check what your staff gave you.
Since you and I were both officers in the nuclear US Navy, I am sure you and I had plenty of situations where we depended on others to handle the details but having gone through the “doing” part every once in a while, even as an officer, was important to know what we were getting was proper and accurate.
In the Senator’s case and many other politicians and bureaucrats in DC, they have become elitist because in their view they are too good, too important for handling the “details”, especially on what the average citizen goes through. Thus they become isolated from the citizenry they are suppose to serve. Not a good trait of a leader in my book.
There is probably a lot more we could discuss, but I have to go do my home chores.
A cracked containment structure takes down a plant with BRAND NEW STEAM GENERATORS…….. the USA is GODDAMN IDIOTIC!!!! Still blows my mind.
That’s ALMOST as idiotic as having a single U-tube leaking at a rate of 75 gallons per day (when the tech spec limit for continued operation is 150 gallons per day) taking down TWO 1000 MWe plants with otherwise brand new steam generators and a just completed 2% power uprate package for both units.
It continues to boggle my mind how badly our side’s lawyers were played by those serving the other team.
Our “Solons” don’t even read the laws they vote on. Laws which are written by interchangeable, revolving door staff/lobbyists.
If Aging Concrete is such a terrible, un-resolvable safety problem, maybe we better tear down:
* 1/2 the hydro dams in the country
* All old skyscrapers
* All old concrete bridges
Etc. . .
Oh, wait, those can be fixed and restored? So why can’t nuclear plants?
What Jeff said! Total double standard for all things nuclear.
You said it. An example would be Hoover Dam, which is 80 years old. That is about twice the age of the oldest currently operating plant in this country, which I think is Oyster Creek. OCNGS is our pal Bas’ favorite whipping boy. Rarely does Bas post without throwing in a gratuitous smear of Oyster Creek. Anyway, if people out there are worried about concrete aging, they’d better go after things like Hoover or Grand Coulee Dam.
If you think you could ask a better question, then what is your suggested replacement?
History suggests at least two percent of nuclear plants have “catastrophic failures” (Ostendorff) of other equipment during replacements of aging plant equipment, causing them to be permanently shutdown for financial reasons; What is the acceptable level of incompetence like this at nuclear power plants? How do we know that similar fubars do not occur without being detected? Does the NRC have sufficient funding and qualified staff to catch less obvious mistakes such as the leaking reactor vessel head at Davis Besse, before they become more serious?
Crystal River 3 “was licensed to operate from December of 1976 to February 20, 2013.” or about 36 years.
Is it true that Crystal River 3 replaced the reactor vessel head in 2003, after about 26 years, because, “The old head had cracked and had leaked small amounts of boric acid, causing corrosion. Rather than try to weld the crack every few years, the company decided it would be cheaper to replace the head?”
Were the steam generators being replaced in 2009, after about 32 years, because they were were old?
Why were the plants not designed for such replacements without requiring advanced knowledge of structures?
Can you imagine any similar failures, at PV solar plants, which if undetected could lead to failure of safety systems to perform as intended?
You’re wearing out your welcome. I have answered question after question from you, yet you keep asking more that indicate a fixed position in opposition to using nuclear energy. You’re apparently not here because you are curious and want to learn, or here because you want to constructively engage in conversation about how to solve problems. My assessment is that you are simply here to argue with people with whom you always plan to disagree.
In other words, you are acting in a troll-like fashion. You may stay if you change your actions, but if you have already made your decision about nuclear energy’s value in comparison with all other alternatives, please go find another place to spread your message.
Frankly, I can’t imagine a PV solar plant lasting 20 years, much less 30.
Remember that we are now filling in a database of operational information about Generation II reactors that now have a significant operating history. This was not available to us prior to now. We could make estimates and projections based on use of similar apparatus in other applications, but a lot of it was first of a kind. The Generation I systems were primarily adaptations of marine systems (e.g., Shippingport), but the larger-scale Generation II systems were a fairly new breed. So much of what the industry has had to deal with involved issues that were not obvious when the initial designs for Generation Ii systems were proposed and deployed. All of what we have learned is or will be incorporated in Generation III systems and beyond, as needed if the overall system requires it. In fact, a lot of people were ahead of the game on this. One of my last projects as a graduate student (back in the early ’80s) was a design course wherein each student would come up with their own power plant design. Mine was an LWR unit with all replaceable components, including the pressure vessel and all BOP systems.
Can I think of a better question? Yeah, one that doesn’t make the two following ridiculous and indefensible statements:
1) That the (relentless and singular) goal should be preventing meltdowns from happening, even though (as we saw at Fukushima) they cause few if any deaths.
(This in a world where fossil fueled power generation causes ~1000 deaths PER DAY, increased fossil fuel use being the main thing that results from a relentless effort to prevent meltdowns, at any cost.)
2) Suggesting that the San Onofre operator did the “responsible” thing by electing not to continue operating the plant, and to use fossil fuels instead (despite the fact that fossil fuels are orders of magnitude more dangerous and harmful).
We trying to do something about global warming or not?
Trying to prevent core damage is a very good goal, if for no other reason than core damage can be expensive.
Not. I’ve been pointing this out for years now.
The biggest players who are fighting against “global warming” are either trying to sell you something or are trying to use this issue to secure their place in politics and further their agendas that have nothing to do with “saving the planet.”
There’s a lot of mis-information out there. From today’s NR:
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