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Captured by the industry it’s supposed to govern, the NRC has approved 149 reactor ‘power uprate’ applications and has denied exactly one. Power uprates boost the output of old reactors beyond what their original licenses permit. It’s done by packing reactor cores with extra fuel rods and, feeling lucky, running them harder.http://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/10/31/bowling-nuclear-meltdowns-and-throwing-gas-fire. Actually the US NRC is up to 156 nuclear reactor uprates now. 20 have been Post Fukushima and 11 of those have been extended nuclear power uprates. The most recent and highest is for a nuclear reactor from 1974.

NASCAR Full Throttle US Army-Mil Photo Cropped
US Army-Mil, Full-Throttle Drag Racing Trophy, Photo Cropped

Not only has the US relicensed most of its aging nuclear reactors for 60 years, it has actually uprated-upgraded some to gun at higher throttle. One of the largest output increases is a recent one for the 1974 Peach Bottom Nuclear Reactor, now 40 years old. While one might ponder if it would be wise to drive a car of that age in the passing lane of a US Highway or of the German Autobahn, for nuclear reactors the risks are not individual ones and are not only more permanent, more widespread, but the nuclear reactors age more quickly than cars due to degradation caused by neutron bombardment embrittlement, stress corrosion cracking, boric acid corrosion and increased pressures. The new nuclear reactors under construction have been called down by regulators over concrete and rebar quality issues, so risk being radioactive lemons.

Peach Bottom Nuclear Reactor Units 2 and 3 c. 1974 (USDOE)
Photo of Units 2 and 3 c. 1974

Drag Racing in Saskatchewan, home to Cameco Uranium (Photo By Philtre CC-BY-SA-3.0[1])
Drag Racing in Saskatchewan, home to Cameco Uranium Photo By Philtre CC -BY-SA 3.0

Ford Model from 53 years ago (1961) – Reactors licensed for 60 years
Ford Consul 1961 Public Domain via Wikipedia

Ford Mustang from the Year that the Peach Bottom Nuclear Reactor went online. Would you race this on the Autobahn?
1974-78 Ford Mustang, Public Domain via wikipedia
1974-78 Ford Mustang

2015 Ford Mustang

The 2015 Ford Mustang, 29 January 2014, 20:39:24, A. Bailey, CC-BY-SA 3.0
Photo Credit: A. Bailey, CC-BY-SA-3.0 [2]
Note that Henry Ford’s father was born in Cork Ireland. Ireland has no nuclear reactors.

From the NRC’s Slick Nuclear (Marketing?) Brochure brought to you by the US taxpayer and those who hold the US debt: China, Japan, Belgium and others: http://www.treasury.gov/ticdata/Publish/mfh.txt

Nuclear Reactor Ages NRC 2014
Nuclear Reactor Uprates 2014 graphic
Nuclear Reactor Map by NRC 2014 Relicensing http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/sr1350/v26/sr1350v26-sec-3.pdf
US NRC Reactor Power Upgrade List top
Reactor Power Uprate post Fukushima http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/licensing/power-uprates/status-power-apps/approved-applications.html (Red box added to show post-Fukushima).

US NRC: “Background on Power Uprates

Utilities have been using power uprates since the 1970s as a way to increase the power output of their nuclear plants. To increase the power output of a reactor, typically more highly enriched uranium fuel and/or more fresh fuel is used. This enables the reactor to produce more thermal energy and therefore more steam, driving a turbine generator to produce electricity. In order to accomplish this, components such as pipes, valves, pumps, heat exchangers, electrical transformers and generators, must be able to accommodate the conditions that would exist at the higher power level. For example, a higher power level usually involves higher steam and water flow through the systems used in converting the thermal power into electric power. These systems must be capable of accommodating the higher flows.” (Emphasis added) http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/licensing/power-uprates/about-power.html

We are not only concerned about the “Fukushima-like” nuclear reactors, discussed in the following article, but about the pressurized nuclear reactors due to high operating pressures.

Bowling for Nuclear Meltdowns (and Throwing Gas on the Fire)
Published on Friday, October 31, 2014 by Common Dreams, by John LaForge

Weakening radiation standards; a cap on accident liability; reactor propaganda vs improvements; old units running past expiration dates; revving the engines beyond design specs …. You’d think we were itching for a meltdown.

The Environmental Protection Agency has recommended increased radiation exposure limits following major releases. It would save the industry a bundle to permit large human exposures then, rather than shut down rickety reactors now.

The EPA proposal is a knock-off prompted by Fukushima, because after the triple meltdown started three years ago, Japan increased — by 20 times — the allowable radiation exposures deemed tolerable for humans. (http://www.epa.gov/radiation/rert/pags.html) Prior to the meltdowns of March 2011, Japan allowed only 1 milliSievert of radiation per year in an individual’s personal space. Now, the limit is 20 milliSieverts per year. This is not safe, it’s just allowable, or, rather, affordable, since the cost of decontaminating 1,000 square miles of Japan to the stricter standard could bust the bank.

The Price Anderson Act provides US reactor owners with a liability cap and a tax-payer bailout in the event of serious accidents or attacks. The law relieves utilities of hundreds of billions in financial risk posed by our ongoing meltdown roulette game. The owners won’t be bankrupted by the next loss-of-coolant disaster, but the US might.

Fukushima has spewed more long-lived radioactive chemicals to the air, the soil and the ocean than any catastrophe in history. But the chant heard round the world is: “The dose is low, there’s no immediate danger.” Promoters of nuclear power repeat this mantra at every opportunity, hoping to dodge Germany’s answer to Fukushima — a permanent reactor phase-out — and it has nearly drowned out all warnings of radiation’s health and environmental effects.

Have you heard of PSR’s March 2011 “Health risks of the releases of radioactivity from the Fukushima reactors: Are they a concern for residents of the US?”; or IPPNW’s June 2014 “Critical Analysis of the UNSCEAR Report”; or the Nov. 2012 “Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health within the context of the nuclear accident at Fukushima”; or Greenpeace’s two major reports, “Lessons from Fukushima,” and “Fukushima Fallout”? No, the feds would rather you read the UN Scientific Committee’s exec. summary which claims Fukushima’s effects are “unlikely to be observable.” This conclusion was made before any research was done.

The chances of radiation disasters will increase further if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows US reactors to run for 80 years. This is what Duke Power, Dominion Power and Exelon suggest for seven of their 40-year-old rattle traps now operating in Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina.

These seven reactors were designed and licensed to be shut down in the current decade. However, since 1991 the nuclear industry has been granted 70 “license extensions” that have generally added 20 years. Now the owners want to push their units an extra 40 years.

Former NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis wasn’t apoplectic when the commission considered the idea, but, according to the New York Times, he said, “I don’t know how we would explain to the public that these designs, 90-year-old designs, 100-year-old designs, are still safe to operate.” The NRC has yet to rule on the 80-year option, but it’s never denied a single license extension request.

Gunning old Fukushima-type engines

Captured by the industry it’s supposed to govern, the NRC has approved 149 reactor “power uprate” applications and has denied exactly one. Power uprates boost the output of old reactors beyond what their original licenses permit. It’s done by packing reactor cores with extra fuel rods and, feeling lucky, running them harder.

Chillingly, 23 operating US reactors are duplicates of the Fukushima-type General Electric Mark 1. Fifteen of these clunkers have been granted power uprates, and seven of these 15 have been granted a second power uprate. (See chart) Susquehanna’s two 31-year-old Fukushima clones in Pennsylvania were granted a hair-raising threepower uprates.

With the radiation industry and the NRC working to deny or delay post-Fukushima safety improvements, how do you feel about reactor operators stomping the accelerator while they run their geriatric uranium jalopies toward the cliff?” This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License, by John LaForge who is on the Nukewatch staff and edits its Quarterly http://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/10/31/bowling-nuclear-meltdowns-and-throwing-gas-fire (Emphasis our own)

Who holds the US debt: http://www.treasury.gov/ticdata/Publish/mfh.txt
China, Japan, Belgium and others. Slick pro-nuclear brochure paid for by China, Japan, Belgium and others in the short-term; the US taxpayer in the longer term: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/sr1350/v26/sr1350v26-sec-3.pdf

Full NRC text: “Background on Power Uprates
Utilities have been using power uprates since the 1970s as a way to increase the power output of their nuclear plants. To increase the power output of a reactor, typically more highly enriched uranium fuel and/or more fresh fuel is used. This enables the reactor to produce more thermal energy and therefore more steam, driving a turbine generator to produce electricity. In order to accomplish this, components such as pipes, valves, pumps, heat exchangers, electrical transformers and generators, must be able to accommodate the conditions that would exist at the higher power level. For example, a higher power level usually involves higher steam and water flow through the systems used in converting the thermal power into electric power. These systems must be capable of accommodating the higher flows.
In some instances, licensees will modify and/or replace components in order to accommodate a higher power level. Depending on the desired increase in power level and original equipment design, this can involve major and costly modifications to the plant such as the replacement of main turbines. All of these factors must be analyzed by the licensee as part of a request for a power uprate, which is accomplished by amending the plant’s operating license. The analyses must demonstrate that the proposed new configuration remains safe and that measures continue to be in place to protect the health and safety of the public. These analyses, which span many technical disciplines and may be complex, are reviewed by the NRC’s technical and legal staffs and NRC management before a request for a power uprate is approved.
Page Last Reviewed/Updated Thursday, October 23, 2014
http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/licensing/power-uprates/about-power.html

NRC: “Types of Power Uprates
The three categories of power uprates are —
measurement uncertainty recapture power uprates
stretch power uprates
extended power uprates
Measurement uncertainty recapture power uprates are less than 2 percent and are achieved by implementing enhanced techniques for calculating reactor power. This involves the use of state-of-the-art feedwater flow measurement devices to more precisely measure feedwater flow, which is used to calculate reactor power. More precise measurements reduce the degree of uncertainty in the power level, which is used by analysts to predict the ability of the reactor to be safely shutdown under postulated accident conditions.
Stretch power uprates are typically up to 7 percent and are within the design capacity of the plant. The actual value for percentage increase in power a plant can achieve and stay within the stretch power uprate category is plant-specific and depends on the operating margins included in the design of a particular plant. Stretch power uprates usually involve changes to instrumentation setpoints but do not involve major plant modifications.
Extended power uprates are greater than stretch power uprates and have been approved for increases as high as 20 percent. These uprates require significant modifications to major balance-of-plant equipment such as the high pressure turbines, condensate pumps and motors, main generators, and/or transformers.
Page Last Reviewed/Updated Thursday, October 23, 2014
http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/licensing/power-uprates/type-power.html

[1] “Carom racer just off the start at SIR, drag strip 13km outside of Saskatoon, SK. Wheelie indicates increased weight transfer, which aids in traction for maximum acceleration. Note Beaumarchais altered in right lane. Shot 23 Aug 2008“, CC-BY-SA 3.0 by Philtre

[2] The 2015 Ford Mustang, 29 January 2014, 20:39:24, A. Bailey, CC-BY-SA 3.0

Other car images Public Domain from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Mustang http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Consul

Of interest: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stress_corrosion_cracking