Posted by: roger6t6 | November 21, 2013

NRC Probes Indian Point Security

Indian Point 1 - 3


By Roger Witherspoon


          The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is investigating possibly major lapses in security at the Indian Point nuclear power plants, including the prospect that criminal elements are using parts of the plants’ emergency drills for their own terrorist training.

Records show that for more than a decade, officials at Indian Point have largely ignored instances where their internal security communications system was compromised and blocked by outside individuals. Whether the deliberate jamming of security communications is a decade-long prank or the result of individuals or groups using Indian Point safety drills as opportunities to test their own ability to cause mayhem during a terrorist attack is not known.

But the fact that deliberate jamming by “an individual or group of individuals” was first reported in 2003 by James Lee Witt in his analysis of emergency planning on behalf of the State of New York and has continued intermittently to the point where it forced the cancellation of emergency drills in November 2012 has prompted an investigation by the NRC.

Indeed, those who have hacked into Indian point’s security have lately become so brazen that they have recorded instructions made by plant security officials at the beginning of drills, and then jammed the network’s receivers by replaying those instructions over and over, according to participants, thus blocking any further use of the compromised security network. And the electronic intruders were apparently operating within a mile or two of the plant site.

The latest allegations were the most potentially explosive in a series of failures outlined by two former security officers – Lt. Skip Travis and Lt. Jason Hettler – in a suit filed in U.S. District Court in August against Entergy Nuclear , which owns the twin Indian Point plants in Westchester County some 25 miles from Manhattan. A spokesman for Entergy declined to discuss the subject.

There is no evidence in the public NRC record that there have been any problems with security operations or drills at the plant site in bucolic Buchanan, along the banks of the Hudson River about 10 miles south of West Point. The agency’s January, 2013 evaluation of Indian Point 2 and 3 gave the plants “green” or top ratings in every category, including security. (  )

Indeed, despite a litany of complaints against the security operation at the plant, the NRC has noted but done little about problems delineated in the suit, including:

  • The falsification of work logs and fitness for duty reports, thus allowing security personnel to exceed the maximum permitted work hours per week despite being fatigued.
  • Jeopardizing the effectiveness of Force on Force drills by informing the security personnel of what routes the “invaders” would take to attack the plant.
  • A faulty perimeter detection system, which made it impossible for defenders to know where “terrorists” were breaking into the plant site and where they were on the grounds.  As a result of being technologically blind during a drill monitored by the NRC on October 11, 2011, the suit states “all of the ‘terrorists’ successfully breached the perimeter and the identified target sets located inside of Indian Point and succeeded in causing a total nuclear meltdown. Not one terrorist was killed by any security personnel during the drill.”
  • A combination of faulty detection equipment and internal communications allowed “terrorists” to succeed in in reaching all of their targets in an NRC-monitored, Force on Force drill in April, 2013. Hettler and Travis contend that had the April drill “been an actual terrorist attack, the 20 million individuals who live and work in the 50-mile radius meltdown zone would have perished.”
  • An absence of backup power for the internal communications system. As a result, the security force could not communicate during station blackout conditions.

Agency spokesman Neil Sheehan said in an email note that “the NRC is aware of the issues raised in the filing. The agency is evaluating all of the plant safety and security issues described in the lawsuit that are under our jurisdiction. The NRC has an extensive plant oversight program to ensure that facility’s owner adequately adheres to federal safety and security requirements.”

Ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks the NRC  has had strict rules regarding what is public and what is considered “safeguard” information that cannot be released. According to the official 9/11 Report, Indian Point was scouted and selected as a backup target to  the  twin towers of the World Trade Center, whose upper floors may have been obscured had the region been blanketed with rain or fog. The Hudson River Flyway serving the region’s airports, on the other hand, begins just 500 feet above the water. The twin domes of Indian Point, jutting more than 300 feet in the air in the middle of a bend in the river, would be hard to miss even in bad weather.

Security issues in general and cyber security in particular are subjects that are not discussed with the public by NRC officials. Sheehan added, however, that “I would just note that part of our Reactor Oversight Process involves cyber security reviews. Via those reviews, we would be able to follow up on any earlier problems, including a company’s root cause evaluation of an issue.”

He could not, however, comment on whether or not the FBI or any other federal law enforcement or security agency had been consulted about the issues raised at Indian Point. A spokeswoman for the FBI said the agency does not confirm or deny participation in any investigations.

Manhattan Phone Booth

There has never been public acknowledgement of any NRC probe into the jamming revealed by the 2003 Witt Report (  ) . There was widespread criticism at the time of Entergy’s response that the jamming was irrelevant because the leaders of the radiation detection teams had a roll of quarters and could find pay phones to call in their findings. That low tech work-around is no longer available.

Andrew Spano

Andrew Spano

Andrew Spano, who was the Westchester County Executive at the time, said in an interview this week that “Entergy has always handled these drills as if they were just something the company had to do. I don’t think they ever took them seriously.  I’m not surprised at their current equipment problems. You can never underestimate either incompetency or equipment failure.”

The most extensively documented evidence of jamming disrupted a three-day drill held November, 2012 and monitored by NRC security evaluators. Part of the problem, recalled Hettler and Travis during a lengthy interview, lay in the fact that Entergy devises the scenario for the “surprise attacks” and the NRC monitors how well the teams react to the script as it unfolds. Under NRC rules, the participants are not to have any advance knowledge of the script, including where the attackers will break in, how many there are, or what their targets are.

“The drill was messed up from the start,” said Travis. “The operators had the script with all of the events, and they kept jumping the gun and getting ahead of the script by sending us to defend an area before the ‘attack’ had occurred. We had to start over three times.”

It was during the fourth try at defending Indian Point from an invading team of terrorists that the jamming began.  “Someone was going over the frequency and playing back the drill sergeant’s voice,” said Travis. “Someone had recorded our earlier conversations and was playing the traffic back on our frequency. They halted the drill and did radio checks, thinking someone on the post was playing fictitious voices over the radio.

“But someone taped those checks and then played it back, jamming us again. Obviously the person was hearing our entire drill in real time and knew everything that was happening. They looked at the electronic identifier of the incoming signal, and could not identify it. It was not coming from anyone on the base.  So we cancelled the drill.”

This wasn’t the first time signals had been jammed. It has occurred frequently enough that Entergy security officials have their own name for it: “spoofing.”

The problem lay with the antiquated equipment used by the security teams. “I have been on many shifts where there was jamming,” explained Travis, a 25-year security veteran and a crew leader at Indian Point. “You can’t tell anyone where to move because the system is jammed. Our consoles were not the type where you could hit a button and override the incoming signal.  The radio communications in our bay stations are the originals that were installed when they built the plants 40 years ago.

“As a result, whoever is on the air owns the airwaves. If an individual opens his mike and tapes it open he owns the frequency till the battery goes dead. You can’t cut in. You can’t cut him off.”

Entergy updated some of the communications equipment towards the end of 2012, added Hettler.  “But we continued to have bleeding, where one radio’s frequency bleeds over into another frequency. As a result, anyone with a 1,000 Megahertz Jammer – the kind you can buy publicly – can drown out all of the security frequencies at Indian Point. And you don’t even have to be onsite to do it.”

The problem of outside jamming is compounded by the failure of the plant site’s ARINCS detection system, the former security officers said.

“Within the first 15 minutes of going ‘hot’ the system crashed 14 times,” said Travis, “and it has been a failed system since that first night. It crashes whenever there is inclement weather – it’s a nonstop problem with respect to that.”

In their suit, the two security officers state that “between February 2011 and May 2013, ARINCS has had tens of thousands of ‘total failures’ wherein the ARINCS computer system froze, surveillance cameras froze, alarms failed to detect movement on the perimeter fence, alarms failed to sound, etc. and ARINCS continues to fail on a regular basis presently.”

The combination leaves security guards at Indian Point effectively deaf and blind.

Phil Musegaas

Phil Musegaas

Phil Musegaas, program director for Riverkeeper, an environmental group seeking to close the twin reactors, said Entergy’s tolerance of continued jamming is a serious issue that needs to be immediately addressed.

“It’s appalling,” Musegaas said. “This is a situation where you should assume the worst and get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible when you consider the stakes we are dealing with.

“In any other industry, if there were similar problems in their critical infrastructure, the plant would be shut down and an independent investigation would be conducted and they wouldn’t be allowed to operate until their security was proven to be effective. At this point, what is going on there sounds like a laughable situation.

“It would be laughable if it weren’t so serious and so dangerous.”

Gregory Jaczko: Shut Indian Point down

Gregory Jaczko: Shut Indian Point down


By Roger Witherspoon


          The former head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said yesterday that emergency plans for a catastrophic event at the Indian Point nuclear power plant are not designed to ensure that residents will escape unhealthy doses of radiation and it would be best if the plant closes down.

Gregory Jaczko, who led the five-member Commission during the triple meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima  Daiichi  nuclear station and resigned last year after intense clashes with the industry and the other four Commissioners, said in a wide-ranging interview that:

  • Emergency plans for Indian Point only teach officials how to make the best decisions in a bad situation and minimize the extent of contamination for those within 10 miles of the Hudson River site. The plans will do nothing to protect the 21 million people living within 50 miles, including New York City, northern New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and western Connecticut.
  • With the exception of Allison M. Macfarlane, his replacement as NRC Chair  (     ), the four commissioners “were brought onto the Commission because they were more interested in looking at the impact of regulations on the industry rather than on the possible impact on the safety of the public.”
  • The agency’s risk assessment, which undergirds its regulatory structure and determines what practices are safe, is seriously flawed because of a basic assumption that worst case scenarios cannot happen. As a result, there is little thought given to the consequences of accidents – even though it is certain that some will occur.
  • Because the consequences of a meltdown at Indian Point are incalculably catastrophic, it would be best if the plant were closed.
Indian Point

Indian Point

“I’ve seen a lot of plants over the years battle states,” said Jaczko in his first extended interview since resigning in 2012 (  ) . “Ultimately, time and effort would be better spent working out a way to shut down Indian Point. Clearly there is a potential for severe accidents at the plant.

“Those accidents have the potential to contaminate areas beyond Westchester County. That’s not to say Westchester alone should suffer that kind of consequence.  I think the best scenario would be to sit down with the State, with all the stakeholders, and work out a plan to shut it down. They should work out a plan in a coordinated manner to find reasonable alternatives for replacement power; you could successfully transition the workforce into other work and other things.

“The idea of litigating for years and years only creates animosity  and creates further antagonism towards the plant and towards the people and undermines confidence in the whole process.”

Jaczko will be in New York City Tuesday and in Boston Wednesday to participate in the third international forum on the lessons learned by the ongoing catastrophe at Fukushima and the implications for local nuclear communities. The forum Tuesday, beginning at 9 AM at the 92nd Street Y, will include Naoto Kan, Prime Minister of Japan during the first year of the ongoing Fukushima disaster; Peter Bradford, an NRC Commissioner during the Three Mile Island partial meltdown and former member of the Public Service Commissions of both New York and Vermont; nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen; and consumer advocate Ralph Nader. The panel will be moderated by Paul Gallay, head of the environmental group, Riverkeeper, which is challenging the operation of Indian Point in state and federal legal proceedings.

Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan

Wednesday’s session will be at the Massachusetts State House, sponsored by civic groups and citizens concerned about operations at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant.  Jaczko, Kan, Bradford and Gunderson held their first forum, sponsored by Friends of the Earth, last June in San Diego, host community to the San Onofre nuclear power plant (  ). It has subsequently shut down.

For Kan, closing reactors is a mission, almost atonement for the calamity caused by the meltdowns at Fukushima. Kan, speaking through an interpreter, said part of what drives him involves the sheer scale of the nuclear disaster to hit his land.

“Fukushima Daiichi has old reactors, just like Indian Point,” said Kan in a late night interview. “And you have an even larger population around Indian Point than we did around Fukushima.  I wanted people living in the vicinity of Fukushima to get out of there as quickly as possible. That was my thinking. I ordered an evacuation from five kilometers around the plant, then 10 kilometers, then 20.

“And all the while I thought about how this would affect them. What is going to happen to those people in their future? They are going to lose their homes and lose their jobs and lose their way of life. Everything they depended on will be destroyed. I felt really bad for those people who had to leave everything – who lost everything.

“As head of state, the responsibility of not being able to prevent this from happening was a really great burden.”

The numbers themselves were frightening to him. There was a fear, at one point, that if the spent fuel pool in Fukushima Unit 4 caught fire, or the three remaining Daiichi spent fuel pools, they could have to evacuate 160 to 200 kilometers – a mass movement affecting 40 percent of the nation’s population and a third of the land.

“Japan, as a country, would cease to function. The only way to ensure that this kind of accident doesn’t happen is to not have nuclear power plants.”

But the image of the evacuation which haunts him most involves one collapsed housing complex where survivors were found trapped under the rubble. “There was a rescue mission and there was no power and it got dark,” Kan recalled. “So the rescue team left to regroup and return in the morning.

“And during that night I ordered a wider evacuation, and the lines overlapped – the rescue team couldn’t go back.  It was a very small area where the recue and the evacuation change came together, and initially I didn’t grasp how they overlapped. I didn’t have a clear picture of those two operations.”

The trapped residents waited for help which didn’t return, and died under their homes.

“We ended up leaving people behind in some areas,” said Kan ruefully, “and I feel a grave responsibility for having done that.  These were people who could have been rescued had it not been for the reactor accident.  It was double pain for me.”

The twin reactors at Indian Point, which generate about 2,100 Megawatts of electricity, have dwindled in significance to the region during the past decade as the free market in electricity and improved transmission networks have provided reliable competition at lower prices.  The latest blow to the plants’ bottom line came Sept. 28, when its contract to provide 200 megawatts to the New York Power Authority expired (  ).  NYPA provides the electricity under long term contracts for the municipal buildings, street lights, public housing, airports, and subways and Metro North trains for New York City and neighboring Westchester County. There is now no nuclear generated electricity powering the lights on Broadway’s Great White Way.

According to the New York Independent System Operator, which runs the grid, Indian Point 2 is no longer needed but some 750 Megawatts of electricity will be needed at some point if Indian Point 3 shuts down in 2016. That deficit can be made up through conservation, new transmission, and new power generation. The state Public Service Commission is currently examining alternative power sources for when Indian Point closes (  ).

Jaczko’s major clashes while leading the NRC dealt with the manner in which the agency provided oversight to the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors and how it assessed safety.

“Everyone knows there is a small but real probability of a severe accident in a nuclear reactor,” Jaczko said. “That’s never been a question… That’s just a fact.

“I think one of the problems with risk assessment has been that it was originally developed by people in the nuclear industry to give an objective assessment of risk,” he said. But the more the industry learned about risk, the more concerned they got about the possible public antipathy to having such technology in their midst.

“As there became a real possibility of a catastrophic event,” he continued, “people wanted to put some context to that. The context was that there may be these very horrible things that happen, but it’s not like it’s going to happen every day. It’s a very unlikely occurrence, so we need to find a way to think about these things called risk – both the consequences and the probability.

“Over time, what has largely happened is people have dropped the consequence piece in risk assessment and focused more and more on the probability. Things then become issues that are ‘not of concern’ from a regulatory perspective because the probabilities are low – regardless of what the consequences may be.  You hear talk about one in a 10 million probability, and that’s longer than the lifetime of earth, so it’s not something we should worry about.

“But you need to look at both things. Some things are so catastrophic that even though the chances are low but the consequences are so high that you have to consider them.”

But his experience dealing with the Fukushima disaster convinced him that the routine dismissal of problems because of “low probabilities” was wrong. “Some things are so catastrophic,” he said, “that even though the chances of occurrence are low, the consequences are so high that you have to consider them.

“And that’s the problem. There are two approaches: one, you put your head in the sand and pretend the accidents can never happen, or, two, you acknowledge that they are going to happen and try to do something about them.  Unfortunately, there are too few in the industry and certainly I think on the Commission itself who are in that latter camp. And that’s a real problem.”

Prior to Fukushima, it was an article of faith in the nuclear industry that it was impossible to have multiple meltdowns occurring simultaneously. There were no plans for such an event and no emergency scenarios considering it. Plans at sits with more than one plant, such as Indian Point, always assumed that working systems at one plant could be used to help stabilize the stricken plant.

At Fukushima in March, 2011, the fuel in three reactors melted down and at least partially escaped the reactor and its containment. The fourth reactor was empty for refueling, and its radioactive core was in the spent fuel pool. The roofs of all four buildings, however, were blown off by exploding hydrogen gas. On talk shows that week, recalled Jaczko, industry analysts predicted the crisis would be over in a few days.

“There is a mindset in the nuclear industry that these things can’t happen,” he said. “Which gets to the issue that the accidents that happen are the ones you haven’t predicted. If you had predicted it, you would know how to make it go away. There was a mindset that this kind of thing doesn’t happen because plants just don’t have severe accidents. That mindset was completely wrong, unfortunately.

“Here in the United States there are so many people associated with this industry who believe these kinds of things will never happen. That is clearly wrong. They will happen. It’s just a question of when and how severe it is going to be.”

Svinicki, Apostolakis, Magwood, and Ostendorff

Svinicki, Apostolakis, Magwood, and Ostendorff

Jaczko drew criticism from his fellow Commissioners – William Magwood, Kristine Svinicki, George Apostolakis, and William Ostendorff – and the industry when he urged evacuating all Americans living within 50 miles of the stricken Japanese reactors. There were some 70,000 Americans in Japan, primarily military personnel and their families, who were exposed to varying levels of radiation as a result of the catastrophe (  ). In America, the NRC requires plant operators to develop emergency plans for just the 10 mile radius around each plant. They have to note food and water sources within a 50 mile radius, though they do not have to make any plans involving those who live and work in that region.

The emergency plans for Indian Point were first criticized by James Lee Witt & Associates, who were hired by the State of New York in 2003 to evaluate their effectiveness. Witt, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, concluded that the plans could not work in such a congested region (   ).

But Jaczko said there is a common misperception about the purpose of the plans: evacuation is not the goal.

“Part of the challenge,” Jaczko explained, “is that there is no standard as to what it means to be effective. The plans are specifically designed to figure out how you   make decisions in the event of an incident.   The way FEMA and the NRC work, an effective plan holds that if there is a catastrophe on Friday afternoon in rush hour in the middle of a rainstorm that if you put people out in cars to leave the people will probably be stuck for hours and hours and hours.

“An effective plan, then, would be to shelter in place. People think that by effectiveness you will limit the amount of exposure of people to radiation. But that is not really what the standard is. The standard is limited exposure, not no exposure. The plans are tested and give you good information to make the best decisions possible given whatever the conditions are.

“Under some conditions, people may get small amounts of doses of radiation that they wouldn’t get under other conditions. The plans are about how to make the best decisions in whatever scenarios you have. There is no standard or requirement that in the event of an accident you have to have a plan in place that ensures that no member of the public gets a dose greater than 100 millirems, or some designated figure. That is simply not the case.”

And there are no plans to protect anyone past the 10 mile radius around Indian Point.  In reality, that would include all of New York City; New Jersey as far south as Newark Airport and west to the Delaware Water Gap; Pennsylvania’s Pocono resort region; and Connecticut from the New York line to Hartford, the capital.

The public, he said, is wrong to think the purpose of emergency plans is to protect residents from harmful radiation.  “It is an area of miscommunication with the public,” he said. “But the industry doesn’t want to tackle that issue because then they have to deal with the reality  of what the potential exposures are to the public, and they are loathe to deal with that  because some people don’t find those discussions acceptable.”

TEPCO Pix - Fukushima Reactors 3 and 4 - 3-20-11

Posted by: roger6t6 | August 26, 2013

Nuke Plant to Run on Expired Operating License

Indian Point 1 - 3 

By Roger Witherspoon

Federal regulators have granted a special exemption to the Indian Point 2 nuclear power plant in New York, allowing it to become the first in the nation to generate electricity with an expired operating license.

The action by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not grant the plant its long-sought, contentious, 20-year operating license extension. But the Commissioners’ action does let the plant continue operating as long as it uses the expired license as an operational guide and updates both its safety analysis and the management program for ageing equipment and systems (  ) .  The original 40-year operating license for Indian Point 2 expires at midnight, September 28. The license for its sister nuclear plant, Indian Point 3, expires in December, 2015. Entergy has not sought an exemption for this second plant.

While permission to continue operating after the license expired was expected, the formal approval ends some of the uncertainty surrounding the operation of the controversial plants. But it will provide little help to the deteriorating balance sheet of Entergy, owners of the Indian Point plants, who are having trouble finding and retaining customers on the wholesale electricity markets as long as the future of the nuclear plants remains unsettled.

The twin reactors on the Hudson River, about 25 miles north of the Manhattan,  produce about 2,100 megawatts, but sell only 560 megawatts into the New York City-Westchester County service area of the state’s electric grid. That is about 5% of the 13,000 megawatts the region consumes on a summer day. Indeed, the Independent System Operator, which runs the grid, states in its current Power Trends assessment that Indian Point 2 can be shut with no impact on either daily electrical needs or system reliability.

The ISO projects that there would be a deficit of some 750 megawatts, however, if Indian Point 3 shuts down at the end of 2015 and the shortfall is not filled either through conservation measures, improved transmission capabilities, or new generation. The Princeton-based NRG Energy has already submitted a proposal to the Public Service Commission to provide 1,040 megawatts of electricity from new, combined-cycle natural gas plants in Astoria, Queens.

The most notable fiscal blow to Indian Point came from the New York Power Authority, which provides electricity for municipal government operations in New York City and Westchester County, as well as the subways, street lights, schools, and LaGuardia and Westchester Airports. The company notified Entergy last fall that is not renewing its contract for electricity from Indian Point.  That decision ends a 40-year association between the utility and Indian Point.

NYC Subway

NYC Subway

NYPA built and operated Indian Point 3, and sold it to Entergy in 2000 along with a seven-year contract to purchase all the electricity from the 1,000-Megawatt plant.  But NYPA has been phasing out its reliance on Indian Point as the state’s grid has matured and other reliable sources of electricity became available. The current contract, which ends next month, buys only 200 megawatts from Indian Point

Consolidated Edison, which built and operated Indian Point 2, sold it to Entergy in 2001 when it was transitioning from a monopoly utility with its own power plants, to the present transmission company whose power lines carry all of the electricity in the NYC/WC electric grid. ConEd has some 4 million residential and 200,000 business customers in the region. Like NYPA, ConEd initially purchased all of the electricity produced by Indian Point 2, but has been phasing out its reliance on the plant in recent years. Its current contract calls for just 350 megawatts from its former nuclear power plant. ConEd will purchase 550 megawatts under its new contract next month, and Entergy is desperately seeking buyers for its remaining 1,450 megawatts.

“To our knowledge,” said Bill Hunger of Moody’s Investors Service, “the ConEd contract is the only publicly disclosed contract for the Indian Point units. The Con Ed contract is unit contingent, which means Entergy has no obligation to provide power if the reference unit is not running for essentially any reason.

“While the units can continue to operate beyond their respective license expiration dates until an NRC decision is reached, it would be risky (and credit negative) for Entergy to contract the plants on a firm basis beyond the license dates, because power prices are highly volatile.  While the Con Ed contract seems to show that unit contingent contracts are available, they are generally less lucrative than firm contracts.”

Moody’s currently gives Entergy a Baa3 rating, which is its lowest level above junk bond status.

Indian Point 2 can continue operating on its expired license under a federal procedural law which was intended to prevent plants from being shut down solely due to bureaucratic delays. The law provides for a “period of timely renewal” which allows plants which have met all of their requirements to continue operating until the agency completes its review.

The NRC requires plants seeking a new license to apply at least five years prior to its expiration. That is generally sufficient for the agency’s review of the plant operator’s plans to monitor its ageing equipment. Most of the 72 nuclear plants which have received extended, 20-year licenses from the NRC earned their approvals in 18 months to two years.

Oyster Creek

Oyster Creek

The only previous exemption was given to AmerGen Energy Company, the operators of the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Ocean County, New Jersey in December, 2004. AmerGen was jointly owned by Exelon, the Chicago-based nuclear company, and British Energy. But BE ran into financial difficulties and sold its share of Oyster Creek to its American partner at the end of 2003. It took several months before the financial and legal issues were worked out and Exelon could actually assume complete control and prepare a formal license renewal request, less than five years before its license would expire.

The NRC approved the exemption, though it proved to be unnecessary. Oyster Creek’s 20 year license extension was granted April 8, 2009, just one day before it would have expired  (  ).

Opposition from civic groups is rarely sufficient to significantly block the relicensing of a nuclear power plant, since litigation is extremely expensive and opponents have to take on both the plant’s operating company and the NRC, whose stated goal is to relicense all of the nation’s nuclear plants.

What has made the relicensing of Indian Point the nation’s most protracted was the groundswell of public support generated by a coalition of environmental and grass roots organizations. That support, in turn, made closing the plant an issue for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The Governor has charged the state Public Service Commission and NYPA with developing a comprehensive alternative to the Indian Point plants and a process for eliminating disruptions caused by the shut down or any other four reactors in the state.  The James A Fitzpatrick plant, which is also owned by Entergy, is believed to be losing money and has been plagued with equipment breakdowns.

Eric Schneiderman

Eric Schneiderman

Schneiderman’s aggressive environmental unit has six attorneys working full time on legal challenges to Indian Point, as well as funds to hire a battery of experts in nuclear power operations to assist them. Schneiderman successfully challenged the more than 200 exemptions to fire safety standards that the NRC granted Indian Point, requiring the agency to prepare a detailed impact assessment of the decreased fire safety.

More significantly Schneiderman, joined by the Attorney Generals of Vermont and Connecticut, won a federal court challenge to the NRC’s Waste Confidence Rule (  ) allowing plants to store spent nuclear fuel for a century.  The U.S. Court of  Appeals held that the  NRC must file an Environmental Impact Assessment of possible future damages caused by such on-site storage ( ).

It will take the NRC at least two years to develop a comprehensive EIS for the more than 2,000 tons of highly radioactive waste stored at Indian Point. This is the primary cause of the delay in processing the license past its expiration date.

Regardless of what decisions the NRC makes, Indian Point will be shut down if it cannot meet state environmental standards governing its use of Hudson River water in its cooling system.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has ruled that the once-through cooling system used at Indian Point violates the Clean Water Act and must be replaced with a more efficient, recirculating water system. A closed cycle system like the one used at Entergy’s  Vermont Yankee plant – which the state DEC has recommended – resembles a four-story radiator and cuts water use and fish mortality by 95%.

The plants seven massive pumps draw some 2.5 billion gallons of Hudson River water daily into the plant’s heat exchangers, dumping hotter water back in to the river – almost double the daily water usage of the region’s 9 million residents. In the process, billions of fish are sucked in to the plant and killed each year.  Entergy is currently fighting the ruling in protracted hearings before a DEC administrative law judge.

San Onofre

San Onofre

By Roger Witherspoon



The Attorney Generals of New York and Vermont have joined the fight against California’s San Onofre Nuclear power plant in an effort to stop federal regulators from erasing all record of a judicial ruling that the public has a right to intervene before major amendments are granted to an operating license.

William Sorrell

William Sorrell

If the five-member Nuclear Regulatory Commission grants the request of their staff to vacate the ruling of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board and expunge the record, it will eliminate a precedent that affects power plant operations and regulatory practices around the country. In particular, it will affect the six-year fight in New York to shut the Indian Point power plants 25 miles north of New York City; and Vermont’s ongoing effort to shut the Vermont Yankee power plant.

Eric Schneiderman

Eric Schneiderman

The cross country battle now being waged by NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell is an uphill fight against one of the most powerful professional staffs in the US government and an agency that has a unique view of its own independence.

“The Commission has stated that it is not bound by judicial practice, including that of the United States Supreme Court,” stated Schneiderman and Sorrell in a brief filed June 24 with the NRC challenging the staff request.

In practice, the NRC has taken the position that US Supreme Court decisions on procedural rules that apply to federal judicial proceedings are advisory, and the Commissioners are not bound to follow them. That position creates difficulties for civic groups, environmental organizations, or states seeking to challenge the operation of local nuclear power plants before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, the NRC’s judicial review body.

“Four years ago,” said David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “an ASLB in California ruled against the staff in a challenge to the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. The staff opposed requiring the plant to assess the possible impact of a deliberate commercial jet crash into the plant, saying it was speculative. The board ruled that since there have been terrorist attacks using commercial jets, that the challenge was not speculative and should be allowed.

“The Commissioners then ruled that the Board’s decision applied only to Diablo Canyon and could not be applied to anyplace else.  If they had won that case, I’m sure they would have said it was a precedent and used it everywhere. But since they lost, they made it unique.”

World Trade Center

World Trade Center

It is the issue of hiding loses before a judicial tribunal by the NRC staff and then forcing states and civic groups to litigate the same issue at each and every power plant that has drawn fire from Sorrell and Schneiderman.

The fight at San Onofre, in which the Board ruled decisively against the NRC staff, was over the most contentious issue in nuclear power regulation:  the ability of the staff to bypass federal laws by permitting “de facto” amendments to the plant’s operating license.

The regulatory process for nuclear power plants is extraordinarily exacting.  The operating license contains the exact “design basis” blueprints for the reactor and every safety and support system. It also delineates the maintenance schedule and types of procedures used to assure that critical systems function effectively over decades of intense use despite high pressures, intense heat, and concentrated radiation.

“Congress has commanded that licensees may not, under penalty of law, deviate from the terms of their reactor operating licenses,” stated the ASLB in their decision against San Onofre and the NRC staff.

That strict provision is not a mindless bureaucratic intrusion.  Should anything go wrong in a system at a nuclear plant at any time, staff or inspectors should be able to go immediately to the license blueprints and support documents to check on the last known condition of that system and its expected behavior under various stresses. If the actual systems differ markedly from the license  blueprints staff could not, in an emergency, quickly pinpoint what is going wrong since there would be no way to know what a properly working system should look like.

For that reason, any change to the license’s “design basis documents” is a major production. But the NRC staff has, at times, granted changes to licenses through the issuance of Confirmatory Action Letters, which recognize and approve these license alterations.

But by issuing the CALs, the NRC staff bypasses a series of agency regulations and federal laws mandating the involvement of the public by posting the proposed license change in the federal register, soliciting comments, and holding formal public hearings. The use of the CAL alternative is not intended to run roughshod over the law and public participation.  It is intended to allow for minor changes and updates which recognize improvements in technology – like upgrading from manually operated to powered seats in a car – but are not significantly different.

The fight at San Onofre, however, stemmed from the use of the CAL process to allow Southern California Electric to design an entirely new and different type of steam generator and, when it failed, to run the defective generators at just 70% strength, using an experimental program. SCE did not know if the plan would work, but the company and NRC staffs were confident the equipment could be closely monitored to prevent a disastrous loss of coolant accident.

Steam generators are massive, 85-foot-tall, heat exchange systems which cycle the superheated, radioactive, pressurized water from the core of the nuclear reactor through nearly 10,000, thin tubes and then back into the reactor (  ).  Clean, uncontaminated water flows over these tubes, instantly boils and turns to steam, which then drives the massive turbines that generate electricity. If the tubes fail, pressurized radioactive reactor water escapes, and this could lead to loss of reactor coolant and a meltdown – the most serious type of nuclear accident.

Tubes in the newly designed steam generators at the two San Onofre power plants began failing at an alarming rate because of unexpected vibrations which banged the tubes together. It was a situation which had never been encountered, and it was only a theory that the generators could safely operate at reduced power.

Despite the novelty of the proposal and the uniqueness of the problem, the NRC staff and SCE insisted that the changes were minor. That position was challenged by Friends of the Earth and the Natural Resources Defense Council (  ), asserting that such changes required a formal license amendment with public hearings.

The ASLB agreed  (  ), stating the proposed operating plan for the damaged equipment “is a radical deviation” from the plant’s design basis documents which, “if implemented…would grant SCE authority to operate beyond the scope of its existing license…”

Rather than go through public hearings about the safety of the new steam generators, SCE decided to permanently shut San Onofre.

But the NRC was not content to lose.

“The ASLB ruling is very critical of the way the NRC staff has handled the regulatory process,” said Damon Moglen, director of the Climate and Energy Program at Friends of the Earth. “One of the implications of the ruling, other than their hurt egos, is that the NRC staff’s power to make significant judgments about reactor safety is limited.

Damon Moglen

Damon Moglen

“And according to their way of seeing the world, it means proscribing the staff’s ability to make serious decisions in-house. In this case, it means outside of public view, outside of public involvement, and outside of public adjudicatory proceedings.”

The NRC has actively sought to renew the 40-year licenses of all 100 reactors for an additional 20 years. So far, the agency has approved 72 renewals, and most of these were granted following a review of two years or less. Vermont Yankee’s license extension was approved in March, 2011 – less than a week after four identical reactors were destroyed in meltdowns and explosions in Fukushma, Japan. Approval came despite objections from the State, which has been in federal court challenging the plant’s operations. None of Vermont’s utilities will buy electricity from Vermont Yankee, which is losing money while selling electricity on the open market through the integrated grid stretching from Maine to Ohio.

New York State, augmented by the environmental groups Riverkeeper and Clearwater, has been fighting against the relicensing of Indian Point for the past six years. Several of their court battles were waged around NRC staff decisions favoring the twin reactors and blocking public participation. The staff granted, for example, some 275 “exemptions” from fire safety regulations.

And in a July, 2011 ASLB hearing, the state successfully challenged an NRC staff position that an economic analysis of the environmental impact and public hearing about a catastrophic meltdown at Indian Point – which has 21 million residents within a 50 mile radius – was unnecessary because the resulting environmental impacts of widespread radioactive contamination “are small … and thus are not relevant”      ( ).

Indian Point

Indian Point

In the view of the two Attorney Generals, any ruling which preserves the right of states and citizens to intercede in serious safety decisions should be preserved.  The U.S. Supreme Court has held since 1970 that past decisions should not be lightly overrule or ignored so that there is consistency to the law.

Past rulings should be respected as precedents, the Court held, partly because of “the importance of furthering fair and expeditious adjudication by eliminating the need to relitigate every relevant proposition in every case…”

But forcing individual fights at every plant is what the NRC staff wants.

“The NRC has never met a renewal license that they didn’t rubber stamp,” said Moglen. “And every one of those reactors getting a license renewal is going to need a steam generator replacement. In San Onofre, the NRC was asleep at the wheel; the regulator screwed up.

“Either California Edison knowingly misled the NRC and the agency failed to understand that or, alternatively, the agency accepted Edison’s fallacious arguments that the steam generators were the same and looked the other way.  In either case, this is a story of massive regulatory failure, a failure to protect the public and regulate the industry.

“There is now a precedent stating that the staff cannot approve such a radical change in steam generators without a license amendment and public participation. So in other states where there are going to be replacements, or where there were major safety changes which the NRC dealt with in house, people may now say ‘wait a minute.’ So now the staff wants to vacate it. They want to pretend it didn’t happen.”

If the agency’s commissioners go along with the staff, it will be difficult for state officials to challenge such practices. Spokesmen for the Commissioners said no date has been set for the release of their ruling on the staff’s request.

“Vacating decisions makes them difficult or sometimes impossible to find,” said Vermont assistant attorney general Kyle Landis-Marinello. “If that decision is vacated, then all of that work of that tribunal was for nothing.  You basically will have parties down the road lose the ability to access the ASLB judges’ analysis and argue if their reasoning should apply to other proceedings.

“We think it is important that when there are decisions that increase public participation like the ASLB decision does, then those decisions should stay on the books. It makes it harder for the next state or environmental group to argue for greater public participation in NRC proceedings if it is vacated.”

David Lochbaum

David Lochbaum

David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has been an advisor to both the nuclear industry and the NRC, said the practice of vacating adverse decisions works against the interests of the regulatory agency.

“It would be nicer if they fixed the problem rather than pretend it didn’t happen,” Lochbaum said. “If they are a learning organization as they claim they are, they would learn their lessons rather than make the public fight the argument over and over again.  But they keep losing case after case and they don’t connect the dots because they either erase the dots or pretend they don’t exist. That’s not a learning organization.

“Judicial reviews are an outside arbiter looking at practices and finding strengths and weaknesses. A true learning organization, which is what the NRC and other regulators ought to be, would learn from adverse rulings and apply them so they don’t keep making those kinds of mistakes. Instead, the NRC seems bent on pursuing a sort of Nuclear Groundhogs Day, where they keep making the same mistakes over and over again.”



By Roger Witherspoon


          The large black sailor was naked in the middle of a roped-off area below decks, and he was none too happy.

“He kept saying ‘Not my boots, too. My wife just bought them for me.’ But they made him take them off anyway, and he was just there, naked. Then they made him scrub,” recalled Maurice Enis, navigator of the USS Ronald Reagan, one of the Navy’s newest aircraft carriers.

“They gave him this really abrasive stuff that we use to clean the hull of the ship. It’s sort of like liquid sandpaper. And he had to scrub all over while everyone watched. Then he walked over to the sink and rinsed it off, then came back and stood while they ran the Geiger counter over him. He had to keep doing it till the Geiger counter was quiet.

“Then it was my turn.”

There was a dark turn to Operation Tomodachi, the massive search and rescue effort launched March 11, 2011, off the northern coast of Japan which had been ravaged by an earthquake and giant tsunami. The combined natural disasters left some 20,000 Japanese dead and the coastal infrastructure destroyed. Tomodachi, the Japanese word for “friend”, was an 80-day mission requested by the Japanese government and coordinated by the US State Department and the Department of Defense.  The DoD quickly mobilized its 63 Japanese bases and called in the USS Ronald Reagan, carrying 5,500 sailors and Marines, along with its Strike Group consisting of  four destroyers – The Preble, McCampbell, Curtis Wilbur, and McCain – the Cruiser USS Chancellorsville, and several support ships (  ).

TEPCO Pix - Hydrogen Explosion 3-15-11

          But the rescue mission quickly detoured down a dangerous, uncharted path. The earthquake had cracked Unit 1 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors, and the tsunami had knocked out all power to the safety systems controlling Units 1 through 4.  Control of the mission was expanded to include the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy.

The fuel in Units 1 through 3 was quickly melting down. The fuel in Unit 4 had been offloaded to the spent fuel pool – which was located above the reactor itself – due to a planned refueling. By March 15 explosions had blown the roofs off and the walls out of all four reactor buildings and radiation was spewing into the air.

          There was no power to circulate water in any of these buildings, so the Japanese had to improvise. They borrowed high powered pumping trucks from the Americans and poured water onto the buildings, let it run through the spent fuel pool and reactors, and out the bottom, where it flowed into the ocean.  All the while, however, the Tokyo Electric Power Company and the Japanese government sought to minimize the radiological disaster. TEPCO would declare there was little or no radiation when, in fact, contamination was high and out of control.

          There were some 70,000 American service members and their families in Japan and Defense officials were worried that they might all have to be evacuated. Family members were evacuated from Yokosuka Naval Air Base, 188 miles south of Fukushima, when radiation was detected in increasing amounts there. It was that detection which convinced American officials that the Japanese were not being honest. By calculating the amount of radiation that must have been released in order for Yokosuka to be threatened, NRC officials correctly deduced that despite Japanese assurances, the reactors had been breached.

          But the overriding concern was for the Americans in the land based installations – the men and women of Operation Tomodachi were overlooked. And at times, they were just two miles off the coast of Fukushima as helicopters went back and forth, seeking survivors and transporting food and supplies.

          The Americans at sea were on their own.


A Growing Fear

For Quartermaster Enis, the wait for decontamination was a completely unexpected turn of events. The quartermasters had two main responsibilities: navigating the ship, and operating the signal flags attached to the mast, which let others in the fleet know what the flagship was doing. Enis had been ordered to bring down the American flag, which had been flying atop the mast for two weeks, and bring it to the Captain’s quarters.

“I brought it down,” he said, “and folded it respectfully and tucked it under my right arm, next to my body. I carried it inside, put it away, and thought nothing of it.”

After dinner, he was walking past a sensor “and the alarms all went off,” he recalled. “And they began yelling at me not to touch anything or anyone and to go straight to the decontamination area.”

Maurice Enis - navigator - USS R Reagan - Hawaii

There was a line in the cordoned-off “decon” area with men and women waiting to be checked. But Enis didn’t have to wait – he was already marked and was ushered to the front, where a tableau was playing out under the watchful eyes of the Reagan’s executive officer and senior medical officer. The naked sailor in the center of the room was given a towel to cover himself and left. They called Enis.

“They had told us that there was no radiation,” said Enis. “When they started putting up the stations along the ship to check for radiation they didn’t say why they were there. They checked my boots and nothing happened. Then they checked my hands and the machine goes crazy.

“The guy doing the checking freaked out and said to ‘Step away from him!’ Next thing I know, I got plastic bags on my arms and they are telling everyone to get away from me. I almost had an anxiety attack because they were treating me like I had the plague. They weren’t touching me. They were yelling commands to where I had to walk and what I had to do. I had to scrub my hands and my right side with this gritty paint remover and it took off a couple of layers of skin.”

Enis was not told, then or later, exactly what his radiation reading was.  They did say his was the highest level recorded among personnel on the ship. At that time, however, the radiation level was not his main concern. Fear of the unknown consumed his attention.

The officers were watching him and barking orders. His fellow sailors – men and women – silently watched him from the edges of the decon station while waiting their turn to be checked for radiation.

“It was pretty embarrassing,” said Enis. “You’re half naked and getting yelled at and scrubbing in front of all sorts of people and I’m scared because they are not telling me what is going on. The way they acted, I thought I must be in real trouble. And it scared the crew. None of us were experts on radiation. You ask yourself are you going to die? Are you going to get cancer? Are you going to be shipped off? I didn’t know if my skin was going to bubble up or something. I didn’t know anything.”

scrubbing the deck of contaminated USS R Reagan

          The Navy had been assured that radioactive particles could be washed away with soap and water. That was partly true. Particles emitting alpha rays, the weakest sort, could be washed away from smooth surfaces. Those emitting beta rays, which are stronger, can also be washed away as long as there are no breaks in the skin providing pathways to enter the body. The abrasive paint-removing soap used by the Navy, however, removed the top layers of skin.  In addition, the carrier’s flight deck is not made of smooth plastic or glass. Merely scrubbing would not remove particulates from such porous surfaces.

The Reagan’s crew had been assured that there was no radiation to worry about over the open ocean and, as the ship’s navigator, Enis had been led to believe that the radiation was a distinct plume that they could avoid.  It was now apparent that the radiation cloud was everywhere, and avoiding it would not always be possible.

On the quarter mile long deck there was another alarming note.


“I had a digital watch,” said quartermaster Jaime Plym, “and it suddenly stopped working.  Somebody made a crack that radiation would do that. There were five or six of us on deck and everyone looked at their watches – and all the digital watches had stopped. There was one that was real expensive, and it wasn’t working either.

“We were laughing at first. But then that petered out and we just sort of looked at each other because it wasn’t funny anymore.”

And those who worked below decks had even less information to go on. The jet mechanics, said Jennifer Micke, had most of the aircraft parts brought down to them for testing. There was limited access to the huge hangar elevators.

“They set up a hatch watch,” Micke recalled, “which was people from the air squadrons sitting in folding chairs and making sure no one went on deck through the catwalk.  They were to enter and exit only through the front of the ship because they wanted to reduce the level of contamination in the rest of the ship.

Jennifer Micke

Jennifer Micke

“So they would pretty much sit there all day and yell at people who went the wrong way.”

Micke knew the jets on the flight deck were in a radioactive environment.  “Every time we came off the flight deck,” she said, “some guy would have to scrub your boots and toss them in a pile and take them away. When you were going up on deck you would put on a pair of boots over your regular boots so they would have to throw those away. Then we had the chemical, biological, radiological suits that we had to put on.

“We were issued masks and canisters, but we never ended up actually using them.”

How well these precautions worked is an open question. An aircraft carrier is a complex industrial town and, at any given time, major and minor pieces of equipment are broken.  Some of the damage came from normal wear and tear, and other damage came from accidents.

During Operation Tomodachi, the effectiveness of putting rags under the doors to limit the spread of air-borne radiation was compromised by the fact that there were broken doors, broken door jams and seals and, in some places, water-tight doors which had been removed and taken to the Reagan’s machine shop for repairs. On paper the USS Ronald Reagan was a series of closed compartments. In reality, it was more of a floating catacomb with the air flowing freely through it.

Nothing to Worry About


          The official position of the US Navy is that there was very little radioactive contamination of any of its personnel.  The Defense Department created the Tomodachi Medical Registry ( )    over a two year period, compiling the medical records of  some 70,000 military personnel and their families who could have been exposed to varying amounts of radiation during the crisis in Japan.

          The Registry was completed in December, 2012. One month later, the Department concluded that their estimates of the maximum possible whole body and thyroid doses of contaminants were not severe enough to warrant further examination. The Registry, the only epidemiologically valid way to determine over time if there is a pattern of illnesses which could be traced to that exposure, was abandoned.

          Overlooked, however, is the fact that the Navy’s Registry, as a tool to accurately chronicle medical anomalies among the 70,000 contaminated Americans, was flawed in its inception. The Navy did not conduct a thorough medical examination of each person to establish an accurate baseline of their health. Instead, the Registry is an amalgam of all their latest health records.

          In practice, that meant there was no real way to know what the actual baseline health condition was for each individual. Without that baseline, Veterans Administration physicians could not tell if the development of a tumor, or asthma, or cyst inside the body or on the skin represented a radical departure from the patient’s condition at the time of exposure to radiation or if the condition predated Operation Tomodachi. Without that baseline or an active registry showing similar medical issues among many service men and women, there is little chance for veterans to successfully claim that exposure to radiation lay at the root of their health problems.

          The decision that the Americans in Japan were probably safe was not unreasonable. Ed Lyman, a nuclear physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, who is

Ed Lyman - Nuclear Physicist

Ed Lyman – Nuclear Physicist

writing a book on the meltdowns with nuclear safety engineer Dave Lochbaum and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Susan Stranahan, said that both government and independent researchers have tried to calculate the level of contaminants from the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi.

          “The consensus was it wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” said Lyman. “It would be hard to see that anyone could have acquired a serious dose in that short a period of time. The dose rates were only high enough, from what’s publicly known, to cause that kind of injury fairly close to the plant grounds to have lasting health effects.

          “Still, I am always in favor of collecting data.  Five years may not be enough time for radiation –induced cancer to appear in most cases. But more data is always better.”

          Others are more skeptical.

   Arnie Gundersen -- Nuclear Engineer       “I had no faith in the Registry to begin with,” said Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer and specialist in the spread of radiation in the environment. “With the atomic bomb survivors from the military program in the Utah desert, the registry that the Defense Department put together was bogus. The exposure they got was much greater than the Defense Department calculated.

          “Knowing that the Defense Department has a history of putting people into harm’s way and then minimizing the exposure, I had no faith in this latest effort.”

          Gundersen said he is “disappointed, but not surprised” that the Tomodachi Registry has been shelved. “It’s pretty clear that those on the Ronald Reagan got higher exposures than their commanding officers are claiming. Too many people had common symptoms that I can’t attribute to mass hysteria.

          “One of the big uncalculated numbers are from the noble gasses. These blew over the carrier and they didn’t stick, but they are inhaled by personnel when you see the guys swabbing the decks to clear out particulates.  That was a bad sign. You are not supposed to get particulates 100 miles offshore.  So what the hell did the sailors breathe in? Their lungs have to have the same crap that was on the deck and in the water, and none of the Defense Departments exposure assessments take into account the hot particles in the sailors’ lungs.”  (  )

          And those who participated in Operation Tomodachi know that there are problems.

Collateral Damage


“My health started going south at the beginning of last year,” said Micke, the F-18 structural mechanic and hazmat coordinator on the USS Reagan. “On March 30, I was standing in formation during the change of command in California, and I passed out for the first time.

Jennifer Micke

Jennifer Micke

“They told me I was just dehydrated, so I sat there in the medic area and drank a bottle of water. Then, on April 29, I passed out once more and this time they took me to the emergency room and I told them I had a headache.

“They said ‘Maybe you hit your head’. So they did a cat scan and came back and said ‘We found this mass in your brain’. I’ve had two surgeries since then and I’m out of the Navy.”

Technically, what the doctors found was a level 2, Oligoastrocytoma   cancer (  ) in Micke’s frontal lobe. It is a pernicious, incurable cancer which lodges in the area of the brain responsible for coherent speech. Removing the bulk of the growth leaves a cavity which, in some cases, can collapse and cause collateral damage.

After Micke’s second surgery last fall she was informed that “it’s not active right now. The parts they left up there are just sitting there, dormant.   I know they are up there, and it’s not as bad as it could be since they aren’t doing anything and it doesn’t hurt.

“I go back to the hospital every two months to have it checked. It’s pretty stressful, but it’s definitely livable.”

Living means she is back where it all began, on her parents’ farm in Thorp, Wisconsin, waiting for the next eruption of her cancer.  “At this point,” said Micke, “I have so many doctors’ appointments that it is difficult to really do anything as far as getting a job 5 days a week. I don’t have a car so my parents are driving me everywhere.”

Micke has reconciled herself to living with the unpredictable. “My future plans haven’t changed severely,” she said. “I still plan on going to college, getting a good job, and continuing life. As for the cancer, it’s a part of me, like living with your hand. You  come to terms with it and live with it.

“You live for today and be yourself and enjoy life for as long as you can.”

She is part of the group suing TEPCO for misleading the American government about the conditions of its reactors and the true release of radiation, which she blames for her condition.

“I’m just mainly doing it so it doesn’t happen to anybody else, just so somebody is held accountable,” she explained.  “Hiding stuff messes with people’s lives in the long run, and I don’t want to see this happen to anybody else.

“As for the Navy, I don’t see where they could have done much more. It’s not something you train for. They did the best they could with the information they had.  And I have great memories of the people I worked with, and the places I’ve been.”

To some degree, Micke is fortunate that she passed out and was diagnosed while still in the Navy. At the moment, her medical expenses are being covered. But that may change.

“The doctors have not determined yet if it is service connected,” Micke said.

Since the Defense Department has pre-determined that radiation did not cause any illnesses among its personnel and has cancelled the Tomodachi Medical Registry – which is the only epidemiological way to determine patterns of health problems – Micke may yet become a Navy veteran with an incurable cancer and no health care.

Ageing Fast


       Michael Sebourn -- Radiation Officer 2   Michael Sebourn had seen a lot of parts wear out during 17 years as a naval aircraft mechanic. Many of the helicopters he serviced at Atsugi saw heavy use and parts were replaced to ensure safety and maximum performance. But during Operation Tomodachi helicopter parts – particularly the radiators and air ducts – were replaced after just about every flight because of the huge amounts of radioactive particles they sucked into the engine.

“You couldn’t put the radiator back in,” said Sebourn. “It had to be replaced. We dumped it into a barrel full of water and soap and set the barrel behind a barrier, like a police line. Then every day we would take measurements to see if any of the radiation was seeping through.

“The barrels gave off radiation, and it takes years and years for the radioactive material to decay on its own.  We would take off our Tyvek suits and cut them off and put them into the barrels, too. Everything that had seals or were dirty had to go into the barrels, since that’s what the radiation sticks to.  The more we put into the barrels, the more the radiation grew. It seemed to feed on itself.”

That was a hectic 80-day period in the spring of 2011 which Sebourn thought was behind him forever.  He was wrong. His eight-year-old son, Kai, got mysteriously ill in May, 2011.

“He went through vomiting fits and missed three weeks of school,” said Sebourn. “They had a rule then that if you threw up you were sent home, and he would throw up 10 – 15 times a day.  He didn’t feel bad, but he couldn’t stop vomiting.

“Eventually they just wrote it off as stress.  He still has those episodes and they never have been able to evaluate why he does it.”

But Sebourn was fine, until last year.

“In March of 2012 I got some medical problems which the Navy doctors couldn’t explain,” he said. “The right side of my body is at 40% to 50% of its normal strength.  I’ve had two MRIs, had X-rays, ultrasound, and they can’t figure out what is wrong with me.

“My arm, chest and shoulder are sore and I’m getting disproportionately big on my left side, which is odd since I’m right handed and use that side more.”

Neither he nor Kai received genetic counseling or monitoring. After 17 years of service the Navy covers only Sebourn’s health care for five years, “and after that I’m on my own. Once you get out of the military you are still covered for a little while, but your family members are not.”

And after those five years are over? “That’s a wonderful question,” said Sebourn, who continues to get weaker on his right side, as if that part of his body is ageing prematurely.

“I understand that the Tomodachi Registry for the 70,000 servicemen and family members was supposed to help with that, and if we came down with health problems 10 or 15 years down the road we would be eligible for health care since it is related to our service.

“But at the last moment DoD scrapped the program, so I don’t know what will happen to us.”

Part of his reason for joining the suit against TEPCO was to ensure that the nuclear power company took responsibility for the damage it caused, and covered future health care needs.

“I’m not upset with the Navy about the radiation – they had no idea what was going on because we had never dealt with this. The navy never lied to us. The navy did the best they could. We were all flying blind.”

Navigating the Bureaucracy

As the USS Ronald Reagan and its attendant Strike Force 7 sped away from Japan at the conclusion of Operation Tomodachi, navigators Plym and Enis felt a sense of relief. It was over and they were told by radiation inspection teams that they were safe.

“They didn’t test us for any internal contamination or anything,” said Plym.  “They just ran a machine over our skin. They never did any blood tests or any other type of tests.”

“We were out there for 80 days,” said Enis, “and towards the end  I realized I had a small lump on my lower jaw.  I went to see if I could get it checked out, but by then the radiation expert had been flown off the ship.

“After that, I started getting bad stomach ulcers and two more lumps appeared – one on my lower thigh, and one between my eyes.”

The Reagan headed for Peugeot Sound for a year of decontamination and general overhaul. Enis, who had enlisted for just four years, enrolled in Olympic College in

Enis & Plym at Olympic College

Enis & Plym at Olympic College

Bremerton, Washington, to productively pass the time while waiting for Plym, who had signed up for a five year tour.

“One of the big things you say in the navy,” Enis recalled, “is when I get out I’m gonna let my hair grow, and have a big beard.  That’s because while you’re in the Navy you have to have that skin-tight face and hair.

“Well I grew out my hair and had a goatee, and then my hair started falling out. I rarely comb my hair now because if I do, gobs of it come out on the comb.  And I find my right hand shakes when I’m writing.”

Enis, a strapping six-foot two –inch athlete was MVP of Olympic’s college football team, and his time in the 400-meter dash was within two seconds of the 2012 Olympic qualifying time. Now, he has trouble finding the energy to make it through the day.

“I’m only 25,” he said, “and my body is breaking down. I shouldn’t be hurting like I’m hurting now. I went out of my way to take care of my body, and now it’s like switches are being turned off inside me. It makes me feel like an old man, and I don’t like it.

“I don’t know what radiation may have done. But I know I didn’t bring this upon myself.”

He has been informed by the Navy that they “lost” his medical records and, there is no way to trace his current problems to his service on the USS Ronald Reagan. His medical needs, therefore, will not be covered.

For Plym, the problems at first seemed to be a nuisance. “My menstrual cycle completely went away for the six months,” she said. “They gave me a hundred million

Jaime Plym

Jaime Plym

pregnancy tests because they couldn’t figure out why it stopped.  But I wasn’t pregnant.

“Then, six months later, it came back so heavily I went to the emergency room because I was hemorrhaging and losing so much blood I was fainting.”

It is, she said, a recurring phenomenon with no apparent medical explanation. A normal menstrual period suddenly morphs into rapid, uncontrolled bleeding requiring medical intervention in a hospital. In March, 2012 she developed asthma and had the first of six bouts of bronchitis before she left the Navy in December.

The Navy does not consider gynecological problems to be service related. The possibility that inhaling radioactive particles might affect Plym’s lung problems was ruled out when the Defense Department decided that there were no health problems caused by participation in Operation Tomodachi.  So she, too, has no health insurance.

The former navigators have settled in Jacksonville, Florida and are attending St. Johns River State College with the hope of transferring to the University of North Florida. Both have fond memories of their Navy years.

“Part of me wants to believe that the Navy wouldn’t deliberately do something to hurt the crew,” she said.  “I remember the few bits of news we got during that period, and the Japanese said there was no danger from the power plant, the radiation didn’t leak out and they had it all under control.

“The Japanese lied, and I put the blame on them.”

Enis, however, is a torn. “The Japanese lied to our government,” he said. “And a part of me wants to think that the Navy wouldn’t do that to the crew, that they wouldn’t put us in a dangerous situation like that on purpose.

“But then, there’s a part of me that says they just did.”

Enis & Plym - Hudson Riverside Park

Enis & Plym – Hudson Riverside Park

–Winifred Bird contributed reporting from Japan

–Roger Witherspoon writes Energy Matters at

A Lasting Legacy of the Fukushima Rescue Mission;

Part 1: Radioactive Contamination of American Sailors

Part 2:  The Navy Life — Into the Abyss 

Part 3:  Cat and Mouse with a Nuclear Ghost 

Related Posts:

Japan’s Throwaway People and the Fallout from Fukushima 

White House Moves Swiftly to Replace NRC’s Jaczko

USS Ronald Reagan

USS Ronald Reagan



By Roger Witherspoon

          For several days, the winds from the destroyed nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi crashed head on into the myth of the radioactive plume.

It is the most enduring falsehood of commercial nuclear power, promoted heavily by both the industry and its watchdog, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It is a myth with two conflicting premises:

Projected Fukushima Plume 3-11-11

Projected Fukushima Plume 3-11-11

  • Radioactive gasses spewing from a stricken reactor or spent fuel pool have an inherent property which holds them in a tight, thin stream which prevents widespread contamination.
  • At 10 miles the plume disperses like steam from a teapot, leaving traces that are either too small to measure or are so minute as to be “below regulatory concern.”


The contradiction between being tightly bound and widely dispersed is never challenged. It was most clearly enunciated at a public hearing April 8, 2002, in White Plains, New York, on the evacuation plans for the two Indian Point reactors, located about 30 miles north of Manhattan, owned by Entergy Corp. There was no dissent from NRC officials as Entergy’s Larry Gottlieb said, glibly, “the easiest way to avoid a radioactive plume is to cross the street.

“It’s kind of like someone pointing a gun at you and all you have to do is step to the left or right to get out of the pathway of the bullet. That’s all you have to do.”

During the frenetic first week after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami destroyed the infrastructure of Japan’s northeast coast, killed some 20,000 people, and set four of the six Fukushima Daiichi reactors on an irrevocable path to meltdowns, officials from the U.S. Departments of Defense, State, and Energy, as well as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission clung to the notion that the situation was manageable as long as the “plume” held true to the myth and blew out to sea.

That was paramount to DoD, which had 63 military installations throughout the Japanese islands containing some 60,000 men and women and their families. It was a relief, therefor, when the aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan reported March 13 that its sensors were picking up radioactive material on its flight deck, 130 miles off the coast.

Projected Fukushima Plume 3/12/11

Projected Fukushima Plume 3/12/11

According to the NRC Status Report, “The measureable radioactivity was consistent with the venting of the Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 reactor. The Navy also collected air samples having activity above background from the ‘plume’. Analysis, the report states, would show the Reagan contaminated with “iodine, cesium and technetium, consistent with a release from a nuclear reactor.”

 And that was good, because the plant operator, TEPCO, maintained that the reactors were under control and radiation stemmed from planned venting of built-up gasses, not from a complete meltdown. As long as the radiation was staying in a plume blowing out to sea, there would be no need to evacuate all the American bases, or the millions of residents in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

In reality, Fukushma Unit 1 began to meltdown as a result of the earthquake, before the tsunami hit and destroyed all backup power.  The molten core of the reactor would melt through the reactor vessel and containment, crashing into the water below the reactor and sending radioactive steam surging out of the damaged building. Monitoring stations, which were not analyzed till January, 2013, found radiation rose more than 700 times the background levels at least an hour before the venting. Officials assumed the Reagan detected a controlled plume which, in fact, had not yet been created. Instead, the ships were in a radioactive cloud which had not been anticipated.

What TEPCO did not say – and what American officials overlooked in that hectic period – was the fact that the venting did not work.

“The difference between Chernobyl and Fukushima,” said nuclear safety engineer Arnie Gundersen, “was that the fire at Chernobyl sent the radiation high into the atmosphere and it was widely dispersed.  There was no fire at Fukushima. You had those beautiful venting towers, but the vents were inoperable because there was no power to activate the industrial fans.

     “So the radioactive steam just rolled out and over the countryside like ground smog. About 80% of it blew out to sea.”

And the discrete plume was a myth. The Reagan and its attendant warships constantly attempted to dodge a solid plume when, in reality, there was a spreading cloud continually overhead and increasing amounts of contaminated  currents all around them. 

Radiation Spread from Fukushima 3/11/11 - 3/24/11

Radiation Spread from Fukushima 3/11/11 – 3/24/11

By March 16, after explosions had destroyed the buildings housing Fukushima Units 1-4, Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs, officials at the NRC and DoD were increasingly upset with the Japanese government for relying on TEPCO for information rather than taking charge.

Asahi Shimbun, the Japanese newspaper, reported that an internal report on the issue sent to Campbell and   “secretly circulated among top State Department officials on that day contained one word – ‘FUBAR’—or Fu**ed Up Beyond All Recognition.” (  ). Among those receiving the report was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

          The NRC was also focused on preventing contamination on land. They were baffled when radiation was detected at the Yokosuka naval base 180 miles south of Fukushima, because all of their models were designed to show the radioactive “plume” going out to sea. What was lost in the concern over the millions of Japanese and thousands of Americans on land was the impact of the radiation going out to sea, where the USS Reagan’s strike group was providing search and rescue assistance under Operation Tomodachi.

          In the midst of a disaster, that oversight was understandable. “I would have been in the same camp,” said David Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “I would have known there were people on land and, vaguely, out to sea. But given the choice of which way the wind was blowing, I would have had a sigh of relief that it was blowing offshore.

          “Somewhere the light should have gone off that there was a Navy out there. But it didn’t.”

          And the sailors of Operation Tomodachi were on their own.

The Nuclear Guessing Game Begins 

          In the military, information is amassed at the top, and then parsed out in pieces on a need to know basis.  As the crisis developed off the coast of Fukushima, it was decided that most navy personnel needed to know very little. That stratification of knowledge was evident on the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, and accompanying Strike Group 7 was deployed to conduct search and rescue operations along the stricken Japanese coast. The navigators had to be given enough information to work with.

Jaime Plym - navigator plotting course for USS R Reagan

“We knew there was a leak of radiation on land,” said navigator Jaime Plym, “and common sense meant it would be close to shore. Most of the time our ship was about two miles from shore because our helicopters were going back and forth.”

“In our position as navigators,” added Maurice Enis, “they let us know more about what was going on. But they didn’t want to cause a panic and get the crew scared. So they didn’t put out much information about the radiation leak.

“But we had to plot it on the charts, and guess what the danger zones were, and how far the plume clouds were going to travel. We didn’t know for sure, but we had sensors going off in the Pilot House on the bridge, and the actual helo guys they were sending out were doing testing of the air. “

In an effort to dodge a radioactive “plume” the admirals and captains in the carrier strike force ordered the navigators to plot the exact location of the Fukushima Daiichi plants. Then they plotted a nautical “T” from the plant site, by drawing a line 50 miles straight out to sea, and then crossing it with a line stretching 25 miles north and south of that spot. Lines from the end of the T back to the nuclear plant formed a triangle which the Navy assumed contained and confined the radioactive plume.

“They were just guessing,” said Plym. “We were supposed to avoid the triangle, but there were times where we had to go through the plume to deliver supplies to the Japanese, and aid and food and water. We just couldn’t or didn’t have the time to go all the way out and around the triangle and come back on another side.

“When we pulled into shore to give them supplies it was pretty much in the plume area. We were only two miles off the coast and even if we were outside the triangle that they had us draw, we did pass through the triangle.”

But the triangle wasn’t their only problem.  Frequently, helicopter or jet pilots would return with data showing radiation in the area, and the ship would take a detour from the unseen menace.

“We stayed offshore about 80 days,” said Enis, “and the way it worked was we would stay close to shore and then sail away. It was a cat and mouse game, depending on which way the wind was blowing.  We were never sure where it was. Then came the first scare, and we found there was radiation when the Japanese had told us there was none. So we went on lockdown and had to carry around gas masks.”

Navigator Enis in Hazmat suit

Navigator Enis in Hazmat suit

Yet the lack of concrete information and the lack of trust in the Japanese led to a ship full of rumors and fears. Transcripts of conference calls centered in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Emergency Operations Center reveal that the captain of the Reagan was ordered to take hourly readings of radiation and send them to the American Embassy for processing.  The ship was contaminated with cesium, iodine, and technetium, all products of nuclear reactors. The Defense Department did not want to rely on information from the Japanese government or TEPCO.  Navigators like Enis and Plym were given some information from the data collected by the pilots.

“We could actually see certain parts of the sea chart where radiation was actually found,” said Enis. “And to try and navigate through that was nerve wracking. There was no absolute way for us to know how much radiation was out there, though, because we were still being told by the power company that we shouldn’t worry.

“For the rest of the ship, who didn’t even know what we knew, there was just word of mouth and rumors.”

When the helicopters and jets returned from their missions they were met by personnel in radiological suits who would scrub the craft down with soap and water. They never knew if it was useful.

“I was aggravated the whole time,” said Plym.  “It doesn’t matter what is happening, because it’s not like you can say ‘Forget this! I’m going home!’ So you turn into a zombie and say OK, I’m going to wash now and it will be all right.  But we were scared the whole time we were over there.

“None of us knew anything about radiation. We were thinking we’re going to grow extra arms! It was funny. We talked about those that used to make the digital watches, and how they all died of cancer and wondered if that would be us. We didn’t really know. We went back and forth between freaking out and ignoring it.”

In a sense, the military discipline helped the sailors work through their fear.

“You get an order and you follow it,” said Enis. If they tell us to spray the ship to clean it, we do that and think we’re cleaning it. But if someone at the top was given wrong information about cleaning radiation from the ship, then we were pretty much going in circles.

“So you think of the greater good that  you’re doing – especially when you see entire houses floating by the ship and wonder if there is a family dead inside. And you think about the small children on land and how happy they are when the helos come to give them food. You focus on that more than on your own self or your own fears.”

Mechanics and Hot Engines 

Jennifer Micke

Jennifer Micke

There were no windows below decks on the Reagan, where Jennifer Micke and her crew worked to keep the F-18 jets in top condition. The Reagan, with a crew of 5,500, was five times larger than Thorp, Wisconsin, the little farming community where Micke grew up on a dairy farm down the road from her grandparent’s farm. It had been expected that, one day, she’d have a farm of her own a bit further down the road.

“We went on a family trip to the Osh Kosh Airplane Museum when I was in high school,” said the 22-year-old jet mechanic. “And that got me hooked on aircraft. I chose the Navy because I wanted to be on a boat, and the Air Force didn’t feel like fun.
She actually signed up in 2009 during her senior year at Thorp High School and left after graduation for the Navy’s Great Lakes training center. She was 18.

“Boot camp was terribly easy,” she said in an interview from her parents’ living room. “It was definitely the experience of a lifetime.  In high school I played golf and was a solid C student. Honestly, they were trying to teach me a bunch of stuff I really didn’t care about.

“Once I got into Navy school I was tops of my class. I was class leader. I was awesome. In the Navy, they were teaching me stuff I had a passion for and really enjoyed. We had a metal fabricating course and the mock section of a wing. And they would knock a huge hole in the side of it and we had to patch it and make it air worthy again.

“I enjoyed that a lot! That’s not like milking cows. Not at all!”

She came out of the school a certified air frames mechanic and was flown to San Diego to join the USS Reagan. “When I first saw the Reagan, I was expecting it to be bigger. I saw it pull up to the dock and said ‘that’s it?’ The movies made it look like this huge thing. How in the hell does a plane land on this thing? I was quite shocked.”

Under normal conditions, one doesn’t feel confined on a ship a quarter of a mile long. But everything changed for the rescue mission. “Once we started Operation Tomodachi,” Micke said, “it was very limited as to who went up on deck.  We went up for mandatory inspections of the planes bolted to the flight deck. Otherwise, everything was brought down to the hangers and had to be passed by Geiger counters.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“I remember having to wear everything – rubber gloves, goggles, and we were supposed to be wearing aprons.  We were issued masks and canisters, but we never ended up actually using them. They were considered dirty jets because of the radiation. We would take the brakes off and take them over to a special area to be tested because they were dirty. We had cleanup routines we went through and washed everything over and over to the point where you could stop testing and setting off alarms.

“For every panel we took off, we had to turn a part in and take it to someone for testing. If the radiation was higher than allowed, you had to call other people to take care of it. It made the work more difficult.”

There were no manuals on how to keep radiation from spreading through the ship – inevitably, particles clinging to clothes or shoes, or blown in with the air would contaminate interior sections and set off alarms.  The sailors, said Micke, improvised:

“The method of keeping radiation out, to keep it from seeping under the doors, was to stuff all the door jams and cracks with rags and there were signs all over the place saying ‘Do Not Remove Rags’. I thought that was pretty interesting.

“I was always scared.”

It was interesting, but ineffective.

Up on the captain’s bridge it became clear that the ship was contaminated. It had snowed and sailors had a snowball fight – till the sensors revealed that the snow itself was contaminated, having scrubbed skies of radioactive particulates. Turning on the high pressure hoses, which take water from the sea, to clean off the decks only made matters worse.

“TEPCO, the nuclear plant operator, was telling our representatives that they weren’t leaking radiation at all. But the entire ship got contaminated.  They made the entire crew get chemical, radiological, and biological warfare suits. Then we had to use gas masks in case the air was contaminated.

“We ran out of water for a day and had to cut out showers. They had to pretty much discharge all the water we had in our tanks and scrub out the tanks. They couldn’t do that till we were way out to sea.”

F-18s Above USS R Reagan in South Pacific

          The problem lay in the ship’s water system, which relied on uncontaminated ocean water.

“We make our own water using desalinization plants on board,” explained Plym. “So they had to get rid of all the water throughout the ship and keep testing till it was clean.  That was hard. We had been getting water from the ocean and the ocean was contaminated. And on ship, water was in everything. “

Cleaning an aircraft carrier while on maneuvers is not a simple task. “You pretty much have to lock down the ship,” said Enis , “then scrub down anyone who is infected, and scrub down all the tools and everything in each section. Then you go through three checkpoints to make sure there is no radiation in you or on you before you can go to the clean part of the ship.”

And power on the carrier was reduced because the Reagan’s own nuclear power plant needed clean water for its cooling system, which was essential for the actual power generating turbine. Contaminating the “clean” side of the nuclear power plant would make it impossible for sailors to work there.

“They just shut off all the water and drained it till all the contamination was gone from the ship,” said Enis.

          –Winifred Bird contributed reporting from Japan


A Lasting Legacy of the Fukushima Rescue Mission

Part 1:

Radioactive Contamination of American Sailors

Part 2:

The Navy Life – Into the Abyss

Part 4 

Living with the Aftermath



By Roger Witherspoon


          To the US Government, Operation Tomodachi was just another big humanitarian aid and rescue mission in which the nearest Navy fleet and  many land-based personnel rushed to the aid of an ally in need. In this case, the northeast coast of Japan had been flattened by a massive earthquake and tsunami which destroyed infrastructure and killed some 20,000 citizens.

          Operation Tomodachi – named after the Japanese word for Friend – began as a large logistical exercise. It seemed that way to the American sailors, both land based and in the USS Ronald Reagan Aircraft Carrier Strike Group. The view from Washington was that Operation Tomodachi would enhance the long ties between allies.

Then everything changed.

The nuclear fuel in reactors 1,2, and 3 at Fukushima Daiichi overheated and melted down, creating a hydrogen cloud in the process which exploded, spiking radiation readings on detection monitors across Japan.  Hydrogen from Unit 3 migrated through a shared venting system into Unit 4 and blew off its roof as well, exposing the spent fuel pool and its 1,500 bundles of fuel rods containing a lethal mix of cesium, iodine and plutonium.

Greg Jazcko - Senate Hearing- 3-11Transcripts of meetings and conference calls hosted by Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko showed steadily increasing concern as newer data contradicted previous data and measurements of radiation from the Navy differed markedly from the information coming from the Japanese government and TEPCO, the giant utility which owned the stricken reactors. (   NRC’s Operation Center Fukushima Transcript  )

The NRC itself was flying blind. The agency had believed it was virtually impossible to have multiple meltdowns at the same site. As a result, their emergency models all involved the healthy plant using its working systems to control critical systems in the stricken plant until the problems were solved. Jaczko had publicly urged calm and for Americans in Japan to follow the guidelines of the Japanese government. NRC press releases in the United States all stated prominently that there was no danger from radioactive fallout.

But the transcripts tell another story.

On March 14 Jaczko’s conference call was interrupted by  Jack Grobe, Deputy Director for Engineering  in the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, with bad news:

“JACK GROBE: Okay, guys, I apologize for bothering you, but things are degenerating quickly. This reminds me of the drill. […]

what’s really troubling is that we, we have had that wind shift — the Chairman’s here, by the way — we’ve had that wind shift and the wind is out of the northeast blowing towards the southwest. That’s inland and towards Tokyo. And there’s an aircraft carrier in the port just south of Tokyo. It’s about 180 miles from the site, about 10 miles southwest of Tokyo, and they’re measuring on the order of 10 to 20 millirem over a 12-hour period total effective dose and roughly five to 10 times that, thyroid. […]

JACK GROBE: The, the answer is the dose rates don’t seem to be consistent either with what would be released or with the timing that it would take for a plume to get 180 miles away from the site to the southwest.

MIKE WEBER: Yeah, well, that’s what I struck me when you told us what’s going on.

JACK GROBE: Yet, but the, the feedback through Trapp from the admiral is that they used multi* instruments and confirmed this in multiple ways [BLACKED OUT]


JACK GROBE: They do operate nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, so they must have a level of competence that’s fairly decent. […]”

 This was new territory, and they could not trust data from the Japanese.

For the Americans in Operation Tomodachi, this meant they would be improvising throughout the crisis. They faced the dual needs to conduct search and rescue missions in a devastated landscape with little functioning infrastructure while guarding against unseen contamination from the stricken reactors.

To officials at the Defense and State Departments, and Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Operation Tomodachi was a successful, limited duration event in which the military worked in a civilian humanitarian mission. It was requested, logged, and finished.

But military operations are carried out in real time by people implementing orders from half a world away who have to live with the consequences of making the mission succeed.

          And for some of the Americans sent into action, Operation Tomodachi would mean the end of a career and dream of service in the US Navy, and the start of a new life laced with anxiety.

The Junkie’s Kid


          Michael Sebourn was just another kid nobody wanted, from a neighborhood nobody cared about, with a future leading towards jail or death and a life nobody would have missed. Then he met the US Navy.

“My mother was a drug addict and my father was killed when I was 18 months old trying to rob a drug dealer,” he said. “We lived in the housing projects in Charleston, South Carolina. My stepfather was abusive and spent all the money my mother made on drugs and alcohol. I was malnourished and underweight.”

At age five he was sent to live with his grandparents, who died two years later. He moved in with an aunt in Gary, Indiana, a poor white kid in a predominantly poor, black part of a decaying city.Michael Sebourn -- Radiation Officer (2)

“I never thought I would ever be able to accomplish anything,” Sebourn said.  “I knew college was out of the question because I was poor. I worked in a factory for a while after high school, but that didn’t work out and I was homeless for three months, living out of a truck and driving to Wal-Mart parking lots to sleep.”

He moved back in with his aunt. He had a bad attitude, made bad choices, and “had a couple of run-ins with the law. I needed something new. I had nothing going for myself at all and I wanted a fresh start. I asked my aunt if I should join the military and she ran into the kitchen and got her car keys and said ‘let’s go’. Two days later I was gone.”

He did well in the Navy’s Great Lakes training station and when he was offered a choice of assignments, it turned out to be administrative. “Something clicked,” he said of his entry into the Navy in 1993. “I got my pride back. I got a sense of worth and I started succeeding. I decided serving in the Navy was something I needed to do.

“It was the first time I felt I had a home. It was the first time I felt I had a family.”

It would not be his only family.

He landed in Japan 17 years ago, loved it and stayed at the Navy’s Misawa naval air base, working his way up to head mechanic for the helicopter squadrons based there. He married a Japanese woman and, eventually they had a son. He was half a world and a full life away from the drug dens of South Carolina. He was a Navy man.

The Athlete and the Musician


          Maurice Enis was a tall, strapping kid from the frost belt of Rochester, Minnesota whose world revolved around sports and physical fitness. “I was running track at Century High School in Rochester,” he recalled, “doing the 400 and 200 meters and wanted to continue.

Maurice Enis - navigator - USS R Reagan - Hawaii “My coach was an ex-Marine who had traveled the world, competing for the military.  It sounded like a great life and I wanted to compete for the Navy, too. When I was 19, we went down to the recruiting station and talked about the opportunities they had, and I enlisted.   It was 2007, but there was a lot of crying at home because my Mom was afraid I would get hurt because of the war and 9/11. But I told her that this is what I want to do with my life.

“And it was good. It saved me, in a way. I was aimless and it taught me a lot more about my time and what you can do and accomplish.  Being deployed, you have no time to do anything extra. Every minute of the day is accounted for. When you get out and have 24 hours to play with, I can accomplish so much more now because I can manage my time and I learned how to prioritize.

“I really did grow up in the Navy. They didn’t have track and field in the Navy anymore, so I chose navigation and general quartermaster. There is the old school way, navigation using different celestial bodies, and the new way, which is all math and computers. You learn to use all the different navigation systems that we have. You apply it to the paper nautical charts and use the satellites and you can actually figure out exactly where we are in the water.”

He also fell in love.

Jaime Plym came from as far away from the snow as one can get without swimming in the Caribbean, which she also enjoyed. She grew up in St. Augustine, Florida, one of the nation’s oldest cities and went on to attend Jacksonville University for two years as a music major, playing bass clarinet.

I decided I wanted music in my life,” Plym said, “but I didn’t want it as my job. I quit school and just worked as a pre-school teacher in Gainesville.  I wanted to go back to school, but I had been on a music scholarship and I didn’t have the money for any other major.”

She felt aimless, and went home and loafed on the beach as 2007 drew to a close.  She had a brother who was in the Marines and decided she, too, could join the service. “But I wanted to be out to sea,” she said. “I wanted to be on a big ship.”

Plym and Enis were in the same class at the Great Lakes training center and came together at the end. “I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do,” she said. “They told me about quartermaster, which meant we worked at the command center and were responsible for navigation. I signed up for it.”Jaime Plym - Puget Sound Naval Station

Navigation is critical, especially on an aircraft carrier. Other naval craft can move and shift to be in the most favorable position regarding the wind and the currents, with their navigators finding the best and quickest routes to take. That is especially important if there is danger approaching, like a slow moving radioactive cloud.

Navigators on an aircraft carrier do not have that luxury. Their quarter-mile deck slowly rolls side to side, and up and down in accordance with the sea. They must find the smoothest spot and hold it for the duration of the mission, regardless of what comes. After the aircraft leave the deck, the ship must remain at that spot so they can find their way back.

That makes dodging dangerous winds and radioactive currents problematic.

But they didn’t know that when they graduated from the training camp and began life as quartermasters and navigators on the USS Ronald Reagan, head of a carrier battle group plying the South Pacific.

“We had a lot of fun,” said Plym. “We were friends at first, and then we started dating.”

On March 11, 2011, the USS Ronald Reagan and Carrier Strike Group 7 were headed for port in South Korea as a tsunami struck the northeastern coast of Japan.

“We knew right away they were going to redirect us to go to Japan and provide aid,” Plym said. “We were there by 5 AM the next morning.

Maurice & Jaime  - on board the USS Reagan

“We didn’t know about the reactors,” said Enis. “We didn’t have outside contact like the internet or cable to know what was going on on land.  We just knew there was a major crisis. We had no idea about the nuclear plants till they notified the captain of a possible radiation scare. That’s when we found out that there might be a possible radiation leak.

Something New: Radiation


Operation Tomodachi began with the request for help from the Japanese Embassy to Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs who quickly turned to Gregory Jaczko, then chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who would regularly brief President Barak Obama on the escalating difficulties on land.

What had begun as a rescue mission was being increasingly complicated by spreading radiation from Unit 1 at the six-reactor, Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear complex. At least three other reactors were in danger of failing, including the spent fuel pool of reactor Unit 4, holding 1,535 bundles of irradiated fuel.

TEPCO Pix - Hydrogen Explosion 3-15-11

On March 12, as the USS Ronald Reagan and Carrier Strike Group 7 arrive two miles off the coast, Fukushima Unit 1 blows up. Unit 3 will explode March 14, and the hydrogen gasses migrating through a shared vent will also destroy the containment building at Unit 4, exposing the spent fuel pool to the air. Unit 2 will explode March 15. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) will announce that most of the fuel in Units 1,2, and 3 are intact. They are not. They have fused into a molten mass and are oozing through the bottom of their destroyed reactors.

The Japanese government, not wanting to acknowledge that the situation was getting out of control, did not activate its military, the Special Defense Forces, to airlift water to the stricken Unit 4 and continuously drop it on the spent fuel to keep it from exploding in a nuclear fuel fire. According to Asahi Shimbun, a leading Japanese newspaper which obtained the communications between Tokyo and Japan’s embassy in Washington, Mullen sent a cable to Ichiro Fujisaki, Japan’s ambassador to the US, stating that the SDF should be used to cool the reactors:

“The U.S. military believes the No. 4 reactor is in danger. It feels every step should be taken to cool the reactor, including using the SDF,” the cable said. “The United States has made various preparations to deal with the nuclear accident. The president is also very concerned…” ( )

At the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Jack Grobe is leading a crisis team in the 24-hour Operations Center in nearly constant conference calls with Jaczko and a team in Japan. Their previous scenarios – including the long held belief that it was impossible to have multiple meltdowns in a single nuclear complex, and that the containment structure would stop radiation from spreading from a reactor to the environment – have proved explosively wrong and their scenarios for keeping people safe from spreading radiation are being called into question.

The NRC’s redacted transcript of those conversations shows that after the explosion at Unit 4 Grobe says in exasperation “The projections on releases with the containment intact are completely insignificant now.

“I mean, this is beginning to feel like an emergency drill where everything goes wrong and you can’t, you know, you can’t imagine how these things, all of them, can go wrong.”TEPCO Pix - Fukushima Reactors 3 - left -  & 4 which exploded 3-15-11

But the NRC released several daily press releases, all reassuring the public that there was no danger to the public.

And on the high seas and at the American naval installations, the sailors of Operation Tomodachi were on their own.

–Winifred  Bird contributed reporting from Japan


Next: Part 3

Cat and Mouse with a Nuclear Ghost




By Roger Witherspoon


          The Department of Defense has decided to walk away from an unprecedented medical registry of nearly 70,000 American service members, civilian workers, and their families caught in the radioactive clouds blowing from the destroyed nuclear power plants at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan.

The decision to cease updating the registry means there will be no way to determine if patterns of health problems emerge among the members of the Marines, Army, Air Force, Corps of Engineers, and Navy stationed at 63 installations in Japan with their families. In addition, it leaves thousands of sailors and Marines in the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group 7 on their own when it comes to determining if any of them are developing problems caused by radiation exposure.

The strike group was detoured from its South Pacific duties and brought to Fukushima for Operation Tomodachi,which was named using the Japanese word for “friend.” It was an 80-day humanitarian aid and rescue mission in the wake of the earthquake and massive tsunami that decimated the northern coastline and killed more than 20,000 people. The rescue operation was requested by the Japanese Government and coordinated by the US State Department, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Departments of Defense and Energy. In addition to the USS Ronald Reagan with its crew of 5,500, the Strike Group included four destroyers – The Preble, McCampbell, Curtis Wilbur, and McCain – the cruiser USS Chancellorsville, and several support ships (  ).

TEPCO Pix - Hydrogen Explosion 3-15-11

It was the participants in Operation Tomodachi – land based truck drivers and helicopter crews, and carrier based aircraft and landing craft – who were repeatedly trying to guess where the radioactive clouds were blowing and steer paths out of the way. It was unsuccessful on more than one occasion, according to Defense Department records and participants, resulting in efforts to decontaminate ships travelling through contaminated waters and cleansing helicopters only to send them right back into radioactive clouds.

So far, more than 150 service men and women who participated in the rescue mission and have since developed a variety of  medical issues – including tumors, tremors, internal bleeding, and hair loss – which they feel were triggered by their exposure to radiation. They do not blame the Navy for their predicament, but are joined in an expanding law suit against the Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO, for providing false information to the US officials about the extent of spreading radiation from its stricken reactors at Fukushima. And the decision by the Defense Department to abandon the registry leaves them on their own. (  )

Jobs are compartmentalized at sea explained Navy Quartermasters Maurice Enis and Jaime Plym, two of the navigators on the carrier Reagan. Few of those on board knew there were dangerous radioactive plumes blowing in the wind and none knew what ocean currents might be contaminated. They did know there were problems when alarms went off.

“We make our own water through desalinization plants on board,” said Plym, a 28-year-old from St. Augustine, Florida. “But it comes from the ocean and the ocean was contaminated.  So we had to get rid of all the water on the ship and keep scouring it and testing it till it was clean.

“You have a nuclear power plant inside the ship that uses water for cooling, and they didn’t want to contaminate our reactor with their reactors’ radiation.”Jaime Plym - navigator plotting course for USS R Reagan

But avoiding it was not easy. It meant going far enough out to sea where there were no contaminated currents, washing down the ship and its pipes, and then going back towards shore.

“We could actually see the certain parts of the navigation chart where radiation was at, and to navigate through that was nerve wracking,” said Enis. “The general public, like the ship, didn’t really know where it was or what it was and relied on word-of-mouth and rumors. We have more information, but there was no absolute way for us to know how much radiation was out there because we were still being told by the (Japanese) power company that we shouldn’t worry.

Maurice Enis - navigator - USS R Reagan - Hawaii

“We stayed about 80 days, and we would stay as close as two miles offshore and then sail away. It was a cat and mouse game depending on which way the wind was blowing. We kept coming back because it was a matter of helping the people of Japan who needed help. But it would put us in a different dangerous area. After the first scare and we found there was radiation when they (the power company) told us there was none, we went on lockdown and had to carry around the gas masks.”

When it came to getting timely information on radiation, the Americans on land were just as much at sea. Gregory Jaczko, then Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, urged the evacuation of all Americans within 50 miles of the stricken reactors.  And the Defense Department evacuated women and children from the Yokosuka Naval Base, located about 185 miles south of Fukushima, after sensors  picked up increases in background radiation.

Information was hard to come by, exacerbated by the rigidity of the Japanese bureaucracy. Two nuclear experts at the Union of Concerned Scientists, David Lochbaum, who has worked as a consultant for the NRC and industry, and Ed Lyman, a nuclear physicist, have examined thousands of government emails and cable traffic during a confusing period where the data base shifted by the hour and concrete information was hard to come by.

“After the explosion in Fukushima Daiichi Unit #4 the Japanese were not able to get enough water into the building to keep the spent fuel pool cool,” Lochbaum said. “So the US airlifted a concrete pumper truck all the way from Australia to an American naval base in the northern part of the island. And the Japanese would not let it leave the base because it wasn’t licensed to travel on Japanese roads. Given the magnitude of their problems, that seemed to be the wrong priority.

“But the Japanese culture is more like a symphony, where everyone follows the conductor’s lead. Whereas American society is more like a jazz ensemble where everyone is playing together, but improvisation is prized.”

The inability to get cohesive, trustworthy information from the Japanese hampered the American rescue effort.

Michael Sebourn -- Radiation Officer (2)

Michael Sebourn, senior chief mechanic for the helicopter squadron based at Atsugi,  about 60 miles from Fukushima, recalled that  “after the earthquake and tsunami we were given one day notice to pack up the command and go to Misawa, Japan Air Base to provide relief efforts to the Sendai and Fukushima areas. All of the other squadrons were evacuating to Guam. There was a big possibility that the base at Atsugi would be shut down and we would never be returning. We were told to put our names and phone numbers on the dashboards of the cars because we would probably not get them back.

“We were in Misawa  3 ½ weeks, working every day, flying mission after mission after mission to pick  people up, rescue people, ferry supplies and things like that. There were a few nuclear technicians scanning individuals coming back from missions. Many times they would cut off their uniforms.”

Sebourn was sent to Guam for three days of intensive training and became the designated radiation officer. It wasn’t easy.

“This was a completely unprecedented event,” he said. “We had never dealt with radiation before. We were completely brand new to everything and everyone was clueless. We had had drills dealing with chemical and biological warfare. But we never had any drills dealing with radiation.  That was nuclear stuff and we didn’t do nuclear stuff.  The aviation guys had never dealt with radiation before. We had never had aircraft that was radiated. So we were completely flying blind.”

There were rules for Sebourn’s group of mechanics. They scanned the returning helicopters for radiation, and then removed any contaminated parts and put them in special containers filled with water and stored on an isolated tarmac. It began snowing in Misawa so the group moved back to their base at Atsugi, closer to Fukushima. Sebourn tracked varying radiation levels in units called Corrected Counts Per Minute on their electronic detectors.

“Normal outside radiation exposure is between five and 10 CCPM,” he said. “And that’s from the sun.  At Atsugi, the background readings were between 200 and 300 CCPM in the air. It was all over. The water was radiated. The ground was radiated. The air was radiated.

“The rule was if there was anything over a count of 500 you needed special gloves. Over 1,000 CCPM and you needed a Tyvek radiation suit. And if it was over 5,000 you needed an entire outfit – suit, respirator, goggles, and two sets of gloves.  You couldn’t put a contaminated radiator back into the helicopters – they had to be replaced. I remember pulling out a radiator and it read 60,000 CCPM.”

But in the end, the safety equipment may not have been enough.

The Tomodachi Medical Registry, developed over a two year period and completed at the end of 2012, was a collective effort of the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Veterans Affairs launched at the insistence of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. ( )

It was an exhaustive registry essential to develop a medical baseline from which to determine if there were any long lasting repercussions from exposure to radioactivity – particularly iodine and cesium – spewing for months from the Fukushima Daiichi reactor units 1 through 4 into both the air and the sea.

The Registry was unparalleled in its depth. The Defense Department’s 252-page assessment of radiation doses the 70,000 Americans may have been exposed to  is broken down by a host of factors, including proximity to Fukushima, the type of work  being done and its impact on breathing rates, changing weather patterns, sex, size, and age. In the latter category children were divided into six different age groups, reflecting their varying susceptibility to radiation. (  ).

In addition, the report states “over 8,000 individuals were monitored for internal radioactive materials and the results of those tests were compared with the calculated doses.”

In the end, however, the Department concluded that their estimates of the maximum possible whole body and thyroid doses of contaminants were not severe enough to warrant further examination.

Navy spokesman Lt. Matthew Allen, in a written statement, said “The DoD has very high confidence in the accuracy of the dose estimates, which were arrived at using highly conservative exposure assumptions (i.e., assuming individuals were outside 24 hours a day for the 60 days in which for environmental radiation levels were elevated and while breathing at higher than normal rates).

“The estimated doses were closely reviewed by the Veterans’ Advisory Board on Dose Reconstruction and by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements who both agreed that the methods used to calculate the estimates were appropriate and the results accurate. In addition the dose estimates were consistent with the estimates made by the Japanese government and by the World Health Organization.”

Defense Department spokeswoman Cynthia Smith added that as a result of the agency’s decision that there was no serious contamination, “There are no health surveillance measures required for any member of the DoD-affiliated population who was on or near the mainland of Japan following the accident and subsequent radiological release from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station beginning on or about March 11, 2011.”

But there are skeptics of the Defense Department’s blanket conclusion that there was not enough radiation poured into the environment to warrant continuous monitoring of the men, women, and children living and working there.

David Lochbaum - Senate testimony“Radiation does not spread in a homogeneous mix,” said Lochbaum. “There are hot spots and low spots and nobody knows who is in a high zone or in a low zone. Who knows what the actual radiation dose to an individual is? There are no measurements of what they consumed in water and food.

“This is the Navy’s best attempt to take a few data points they have and extrapolate over the entire group. They took a lot of measurements, but those represent just a point in time. It’s like taking a strobe light outside to take a picture of a nighttime scene.  Every time the strobe flashes you will get shots in spots of the area. But do you really capture all of the darkness?”

–Winifred Bird contributed reporting from Japan



By Roger Witherspoon


William Holston was obviously exasperated.

For nearly two hours he had fielded the brunt of increasingly detailed queries from the three Administrative Law Judges, on the adequacy of a deliberately vague set of guidelines to oversee the operations of the Indian Point nuclear power plants for the next 20 years.  And though Entergy had four of its own experts on the extended witness stand, most of the judges’ queries were directed at the chief examiner for the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The hearing in Tarrytown was focused on the Aging Management Plan (AMP) put forth by Entergy Nuclear, owner of the twin reactors on the Hudson River, which is intended to document how the company will ensure its 16,000 feet of buried pipes will be safe if the Indian Point operating licenses are extended 20 years by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Entergy insisted they would be able to detect corrosion and leaks if they occurred anywhere in the more than three miles of pipes – many carrying radioactive liquids – even though some of it was locked in concrete underneath the foundations of permanent buildings.

It was complicated by the fact that when Entergy applied for a license extension in 2007, the company asserted there were no buried pipes subject to aging management review because they did not carry radioactive liquids.  But a leak of thousands of gallons of water containing radioactive material in 2009 proved them wrong.

As a result, the New York Attorney General contended that, for all intents and purposes, “Entergy’s AMP for buried pipes contains virtually no enforceable provisions or specific commitments. Any specific details Entergy has offered have come in the form of documents which will not become part of the license and are unenforceable.”

“I’m looking for specificity in the planning,” said Chief Judge Lawrence McDade. “There is inadequate information from an engineering standpoint about what they are going to inspect, how they are going to inspect, and where they are going to inspect.

“Is there any document that would show that level of specificity aside from general guidance that they will inspect selected piping once every 10 years?”

“Those procedures will be determined by what they find,” said the NRC’s Holston. “This plant is going to have 30 inspections over the 20 year period, and if they find corrosion they will do another 12 at selected sites. We could ask them to commit to spreading them out over time, but that is not necessary.”

“Why not,” asked the chief judge. “Shouldn’t they have guidance as to how they will go about examining them? Something that says it will be done at five month intervals, 10 month intervals, or some sort of guidance? Shouldn’t that part of the documentation that can be checked for compliance?”

“That’s not needed,” said Holston, a towering, six-foot, five-inch marathon runner who still has his Merchant Marine, ramrod erect bearing. “I have 30 years’ inspection experience. I’m pretty comfortable with what Entergy provided me. At a minimum, inspections cost $100,000, and no plant is going to wait till the last minute, and put $4.2 million into one years’ worth of inspections.

“We could specify that since you are doing 30, make sure X amount are done in two year intervals. But that isn’t necessary.”

McDade, who had been leaning forward on the judge’s dais, sat back, paused thoughtfully, and said “Entergy has a big investment and they want it to work well. If they are going to do an inspection, they want it to be meaningful. But in viewing whether or not their plans are adequate, how can we do that without knowing what it is they are going to do?”

That exchange provided a microcosm of the nation’s longest running, most complicated battle of efforts to extend the life of nuclear power plants. So far, the NRC has issued 20 year license extensions to 71 of the nation’s 104 nuclear power plants. The four in neighboring New Jersey – Salem 1&2, Hope and Oyster Creek – were each relicensed in just two years. The difference, however, is that in New York, the state itself is challenging the new licenses.

NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

            But the hearings have made clear that the environmental unit of Attorney General Schneiderman’s office is not just going up against Entergy: they are also openly fighting against the staff of the nation’s nuclear regulatory agency, which has recommended renewing their 40-year operating licenses for another two decades. The license for Indian Point 2 expires at the end of 2013, and the license for Indian Point 3 expires two years later.

The license extensions have been challenged by New York, and the environmental groups Clearwater and Riverkeeper.  New York’s challenges, or contentions, are backed up by Connecticut Attorney General Robert Snook, whose office is also represented at the legal proceedings.

Collectively, the contentions challenge different aspects of Entergy’s plans for ensuring the safe operation of the twin nuclear reactors over the next 20 years and the maintenance of the spent fuel pool for decades after the plants finally retire. Under current NRC rules, the highly radioactive fuel rods could sit at the plant site for a century after the plants shut down, whether or not Entergy, as a company, is still in existence and capable of taking care of them.

The key hurdle for the opponents is the conviction of the professional staff at the NRC that the plants can be safely operated for another 20 years and the licenses should be granted.  The final decision is up to the five appointed members of the Commission itself. But the staff has enormous authority within the agency.

Earlier this year, for example, the staff of the Office of New Reactors, headed by Michael Johnson, recommended approval of the construction and operating license for the new AP-1000 reactor at the Vogtle plant site in Georgia. It is the first new nuclear power plants constructed in a generation and culminated more than six years of analysis in which the staff rejected more than 20 safety systems and innovations in the new reactor as unworkable.

Greg Jazcko - Senate Hearing- 3-11  Since it could take a decade for the plant to be built and begin operating, then NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko wanted the license to have “binding obligations that these plants will have implemented the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident before they operate.”

The Chairman directed the staff in February to prepare language for the full Commission to consider reflecting that condition. Johnson refused on the grounds that it cast aspersions on the hard, detailed work the staff had done over the preceding six years, and the ability of the staff to monitor any new developments and incorporate them in the inspection process.

Jaczko resigned shortly after the unprecedented rejection by his staff, and Johnson was promoted to Deputy Director of the entire agency, a move roundly criticized by many nuclear watchdog groups.

David Lochbaum - Senate testimony

“People who think that Johnson and the other professionals are in the pocket of the industry are mistaken,” said David Lochbaum, of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “These are professionals with a Navy background who are confident in their ability and used to putting a lot of trust in their various systems.

“They are not the type who can be pushed around by industry. Their views, however, often coincide.”

Indeed, Johnson, his boss, Director William Borchardt, and Victor McCree, head of Region 2 which includes all southern reactors and oversight of all new reactor construction, came out of the nuclear program at the Naval Academy. It is that military mindset and professionalism at the civilian regulatory agency which most confounds opponents of Indian Point.

“I have become increasingly aware of this alignment between what should be an oversight agency and the nuclear industry they regulate,” said Manna Jo Greene, environmental director of Clearwater.

“It’s disappointing to see New York State having to protect the well-being of its citizens from a federal agency whose job it should be to primarily protect the public.  It is so extreme that there have been times during the pre-trial hearings when it seemed that Entergy was being more reasonable and generous and amenable to negotiations than the NRC staff. . There were things that we requested or Riverkeeper requested, or New York State requested, motions that were filed, that the NRC was more in opposition to than Entergy.”Manna Jo Greene - on the Clearwater

The allied views of the NRC staff and Entergy will face their stiffest test beginning today when hearings resume in Tarrytown. New York, led by Assistant Attorney General John Sipos, is challenging the proposed exclusion of transformers from the purview of the Aging Management Program.  It is the most contentious issue of 12 being reviewed by the judicial panel, and the one with the most far reaching implications.

Transformers are huge pieces of equipment which change the voltage of electricity and, according to the state’s brief, “are intended to function passively, just as electric cables and water-carrying pipes do.”

There are four to 12 transformers at a nuclear power plant, some increasing the voltage and others decreasing the voltage. Not all are involved in powering safety-related systems. The State contends “they have the critically important function of providing power to equipment that is necessary for accident prevention, accident management, and accident mitigation at nuclear power plants.”

But precisely because they are passive, it is extremely difficult to know when their components are wearing out. There are no “leaks” of electricity, as if they were pipes, and they transmit all the electricity they are supposed to transmit until something breaks. At that point, they don’t transmit anything.

It is the state’s contention “that failure to effectively manage the aging of electrical transformers could compromise the integrity of the reactor coolant pressure boundary, the capability to shut down the reactor and maintain a safe shutdown condition, or the capability to prevent or mitigate the consequences of accidents.”

Because these are passive systems, it is difficult to predict when they will fail. NRC records show that there have been 88 transformer failures at nuclear power plants since 1983. There have been 18 transformer failures in the past five years, including explosive failures at Indian Point 2 and 3.

During Superstorm Sandy, a transformer blew up at Entergy’s FitzPatrick nuclear power plant upstate New York and oil spreading into various conduits proved too difficult for the plant’s resident fire brigade to handle. The local fire department had to be called in to extinguish the blazes.

Still, it is the position of both Entergy and the NRC staff that there is no need for an Aging Management Plan for transformers. If they break, that can be dealt with at that time. Both the NRC staff and Entergy opposed the inclusion of the transformer issue in the formal ASLB hearings. But the judges ruled that “neither Entergy nor Staff provided any legally binding justification to exclude transformers from an aging management review.”

Now, however, Entergy and the NRC staff are seeking to reclassify transformers – which have no moving parts – as “active” pieces of equipment because the electricity changes voltage as it goes through it.

That is a novel definition of an “active” piece of equipment.

New York, in its brief, contends “if Staff and Entergy’s interpretation carried the day, pipes, containment domes, electrical cables … to name only a few, would be considered active systems because things inside them change…

“…the electric current is no more a part of the transformer than is the water in a hose a part of the hose, or the water in a steam generator a part of the steam generator, or the electricity flowing in a cable part of the cable.”

If the three judge panel ultimately agrees with the NRC staff and Entergy, much of the Indian Point infrastructure – from its three miles of inaccessible, underground pipes to the reactor dome itself – could be exempt from a mandatory oversight program.

Replacement  IP2 Transformer







Indian Point

By Roger Witherspoon


The two utilities providing electricity to New York City and Westchester County have been ordered by the State Public Service Commission to plan for a future without electricity from the Indian Point nuclear power plants.

In the first concrete action taken by a state agency to move towards a non-nuclear energy future in the lower Hudson River Valley, the PSC ordered Consolidated Edison and the New York Power Authority “to develop and file a contingency plan to address the needs that would arise in the event the Indian Point units shut down.”

The order from the state’s regulatory body is a major step towards implementing a series of recommendations generated by state agencies under direction of Gov. Cuomo, who is seeking to close those nuclear plants, as well as assessments from independent agencies about the feasibility of closing the plants.

With this order, the PSC is following through on recommendations in the Governor’s New York Energy Highway Blueprint to push for development of upgrades in transmission capabilities to add 1,000 megawatts of electricity to the NYC/Westchester County portion of the state’s electric grid. That would more than cover any possible shortfalls in electricity needed in the region by providing access to large amounts of electricity generated in the northern and western portions of the state.

The Blueprint recommends the Department of Public Service “invite developers and transmission owners to file notices of intent to construct projects that would increase the capacity for transfer of electric power between upstate and Central New York and the lower Hudson Valley and New York City, thus relieving existing bottlenecks.”


NY PSC Chairman Garry BrownIn a statement following the PSC action, Commission Chairman Garry Brown said “a growing, vibrant economy requires an energy production and delivery system that provides a stable foundation companies need to invest in their facilities and workforce, to expand operations and hire new workers.

“In addition to strengthening the economy, the Energy Highway will enhance New York State’s investment in clean energy production.”

A byproduct of improving the state’s electricity transmission network is that it would encourage development of wind farms in the rural Great Lakes region at the state’s western edge, with the power being sold to the thirsty, New York City region in the southeastern tip of the state.

In addition, closing Indian Point would end the damage to the Hudson River caused by using billions of gallons of river water daily to cool its equipment – a process which kills billions of fish annually and violates the Clean Water Act.

ConEd transmits all the electricity used in the NYC/Westchester County service area of the state’s electric grid. The company has some 3.1 million residential customers and 200,000 commercial and industrial customers of its own. Prior to the deregulation of the electricity market in 1999, ConEd owned Indian Point 2, which produces a maximum of 1026 megawatts and whose license expires September 28, 2013.

NYPA, a state agency which owns and operates several upstate hydro plants, owned Indian Point 3, which can generate a maximum of 1040 MW and whose license expires December 12, 2015.  NYPA provides electricity – using its own power plants and electricity purchased under contract – to municipal customers. It is NYPA that is responsible for providing about 1,900 megawatts of electricity that keeps the MTA’s trains running, the street lights on, the schools and public housing lit, and LaGuardia and Westchester Airports operating. JFK Airport has its own power plant.

The plants were sold to Entergy in 2000. At that time, since deregulation was new and it was not known how effective the marketplace would be in ensuring a supply of affordable electricity, the sale required Entergy to sell the full output of the two nuclear plants to NYPA and ConEd for seven years. The ensuing contracts, however, reduced the role of Indian Point in powering the region since both utilities found cheaper electricity supplies elsewhere, and Entergy sought customers in an integrated grid stretching from Maine to Ohio.

Indian Point now provides less than 5 percent of the electricity used daily in the NYC/Westchester County region. ConEd’s current contract with Entergy calls for only 350 megawatts and NYPA’s contract calls for  just 200 MW.  The region uses about 13,000 MW during a summer day and 9,000 MW daily in winter. NYPA has already announced that when its current contract with Entergy expires next year, it will not be renewed.

“The current contract won’t be extended,” NYPA spokesman Paul DiMichelle said last month. “Energy prices are so low that we would go into the marketplace and purchase power as needed. There is an excess supply out there, and that would be the most cost effective way to handle power needs on behalf of our customers.”

3D Electric powerlines over sunrise

NYPA’s conclusion that the nuclear plants on the Hudson River are not necessary are in line with the latest Reliability Needs Assessment (   ) from the ISO that there is more than enough electricity available in the near future . While the plants’ contribution to the daily electrical needs of the NYC/Westchester County portion of the grid are small, the loss of the full 2,000 MW could affect pressure in the electrical system and overall reliability if not balanced in some way.

“If Indian Point 2 closed at the end of 2012 (when its license expires) it would not be a problem,” said ISO vice president Tom Rumsey in an interview last month. “Between 2013 and 2016 if one reactor went away we don’t foresee a megawatt shortage. We believe there would be adequate resources. Beginning in 2017 there would be a gap of 250 megawatts and that gap would continue to increase by 250 megawatts annually thereafter.”

The ISO analysis stated that any shortfall in power needs could be made up by a combination of new generation, electricity conservation, and new or expanded transmission capabilities. This week’s action by the PSC is directly aimed at addressing the increased transmission issue. Increasing access to 1,000 megawatts of electricity would more than offset the deficit created by the shutdown of the two plants.

The decision by the PSC commissioners, which is to be released in a formal order this week, directs the two utilities to  solicit actual proposals from companies which have submitted letters of interest to the state to  build or upgrade transmission facilities benefitting the lower Hudson River Valley region. According to the Energy Highway Blueprint, companies have contacted the state with preliminary plants for some 6,000 MW of new generation or upgrades to Alternating Current transmission lines, and another 5,700 MW to 7,000 MW of Direct Current, high power transmission lines “to terminate in the Hudson Valley or New York City.

“These responses demonstrate that the private sector is positioned to support proposed potential Reliability Contingency Plan for the Indian Point Energy Center.”

ConEd and NYPA are to look for projects which could begin construction in 2013 or 2014 and be completed by 2016, when both plants could be shut down. Entergy has applied to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to extend the operating licenses of the twin reactors for an additional 20 years each. The license extension is being challenged by NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, as well as the environmental groups Riverkeeper and Clearwater.  These challenges, called “contentions”, are currently being heard before a three-judge panel of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board in a series of hearings set to resume December 10 in Tarrytown.


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