Union of Concerned Scientists’ nuclear expert in Michigan to discuss Palisades

Apr 11, 2013

The director of the nuclear safety project for the Union of Concerned Scientists is in Michigan to talk about the Palisades nuclear power plant.

David Lochbaum is critical of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in his latest report on nuclear safety released in March.

Lochbaum says the NRC should have fined Entergy, the company that owns Palisades, over a water leak last summer.

Over a 30 day period, up to 10,000 gallons of radioactive water leaked from the vessel that holds the nuclear reactor. That water was contained, so the NRC says it never posed a risk to the public.

When pressed on the issue of fining Entergy at Palisades’ annual review meeting earlier this month, the NRC noted since enforcement rules changed in the 1990s it can only issue fines if a plant owner “willfully violates” the rules.

“But the owner didn’t accidentally run that plant for 30 days. They knew they had a leak. They willfully chose to operate for 30 days until they shut down to see where it was coming from,” Lochbaum said.

Palisades continued to operate the plant while the leak source was unidentified. Entergy says it shut the plant down before the unidentified leak got big enough to require a shutdown.

Eventually, Entergy determined it was a pressure boundary leak. Under NRC rules plants aren’t allowed to operate with this type of leak. The NRC is still investigating this leak. 

Lochbaum says it’s not acceptable the NRC allowed Palisades to continue to operate during those 30 days just because it wasn’t clear what kind of leak was going on.  

“If I took the speedometer out of my car and went down the road at a hundred miles an hour and get pulled over by a traffic cop I can’t say, ‘well look officer, I didn’t know I was exceeding, I don’t have a speedometer,” Lochabaum said.

He says issuing Entergy fines for the leak isn’t about collecting money, it's about sending a message that “this behavior pattern is unacceptable.”

The leak came from a mechanism in the reactor vessel that has leaked in the past. The mechanisms were replaced in 2001.

“The fact that it keeps going on suggests that they don’t really know what’s causing the problem and therefore their solutions, while in good faith and with best intentions, haven’t successfully stopped the problem,” Lochbaum said.

Lochbaum will speak at two events Thursday; at noon in Kalamazoo at WMU’s Bernhard Center and at 7 p.m. at the Beach Haven event center in South Haven. He'll also discuss the D.C. Cook reactor in southwest Michigan and the "state of U.S. nuclear power two years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster."