Press enter after choosing selection

Sun Expose

Sun Expose image Sun Expose image
Parent Issue
Day
14
Month
December
Year
1973
OCR Text

The New York Times and the Washington Post are ■..e!' known for tlicir exposés of a cover-up opera t ion in Washington, And now the Ann Arbor SUSjoins in the joumalistic tradition by exposing a cover-up right hete in Michigan. The cover-up involves a series ofaccidents and questionable prac tices by one of Michigan 's largest corporafions, Consumen Power Company. Consumers' Palisades nuclear plant has dumped radioactive wastes tito the environment a numher of times in the past si.x months. Nol only lias the company Jenicd most oj these accidents at their South Haven plant publicly. but the media have refused to publish information on most the leaks. even af ter theiröyh investigations confUmed the problems at Palisades. Even more serious, Consumers Power Company has been slow to report the incidents to the AECfAtomic. Energy ComrnisgtonJ and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Commissioiicr Joan Wolf e of the DNR has ca lied fora hearing on the Consumers nuclear plants (Consumers also has a plant. Big Rock, in Charlevoix), and the AEChttS begun au intensive invcsiigation into the situation. Because of its bad safety record, Palisades is one of 21 plañís across the country involvcd in a snit begun by Ralph Nader to close hese dangerous plants. Consumers had plaimed to genérate more than half its electrieity by nuclear power beginning in 1980 or '81. But thai plan is now in trouble, as the company faces problems in all its plants, even ihose nol vet built. The problems include: Another accident at Palisades last week followinga series of problems which has kept the plant closed since last August 11. The closing of Big Rock last week for minor radiation leaks, leaving Consumers with both of its nuclear plants non-operative. -A stop in construction at the Midland project, following the discovery by AEC inspectors that inadequate weiding procedures were being used in the reinforcement of the buildings foundations. The A EC has issued a show-cause order on why construct ion should continue at the $770 million project. -a hold up in the preliminary hearings on a proposed plant for Saginaw Bay until the company can provide more information. Part of the problem is the concern by the AEC over safety precautions. Nuclear power plants across the country have run into problems. A U of M physics professor, and member of the Michigan Student Environmental Societv. Dr. Mare Ross, put it this way af ter an accident at Palisades: "This event is like a hint a driver gels when awkward incidents start occurring in his driving. Thcy show him tltat he is tending to drive dangerously. This is one of the many hints the nuclear industry lias had that proper management of a reactor is much more difficult in practice than on paper. " The "energy crisis" has been instrumental in protecting the nuclear plants from criticism, as altérnate power sources must be developed to keep up with the increasing demandsfor energy. Nixon has attacked environmentalists for holding up such project s as the Alaskan oil pipe line, and it is nol the fashion of the day to triticize any energy developments, no matter wtiat their problems. But current modelsfor malear power plants are dangerous, and as Consumers officials indícate, technology can not yet solve all the problems. In addition, the closing of Palisades and Big Rock isfurther eridence that nuclear power is not yet to be relied on. The Saginaw Valley Nuclear study group, organized tofight Consumers' Midland project, has taken the post tion that the halt in construction mar actually help alleviate the energy crisis. In a press release, the group explained: "We note that the problcm of large nuclear plants that do not work is a national problem. Placing our available capita! resources into plants that hare heen proved not only dangerous and difficult to opérate, hut tliat arealso unreliablc, is closing our options to develop and build safe, clean altérnate arcas of power. " The problems of nuclear energy are documented in the folio wing story, hased on the investigative work f Pat Clawson, newsnian at WH 'NE radio in Detroit. Clawson titrned the story over to the Associated Press (AP), the United Press International (UPI), and the Detroit Free Press early in November. Each of them found an excuse for not carrying the full story, ren af ter the latest accident on December 6, and report that the DNR would hold hearings, the story was not made public. The following is the story that no one else is willing to print. The Palisades nuclear power plant has been the site of a number of nuclear accidents this year. Many have not been announced publicly and some were not properly reported to government regulatory officials. Currently under investigation by the AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) for a series of problems, the nuclear power plant has been closed since August 1 lthfor leaks in steam generator tubes. By the time the plant re-opens sometime next spring, it will have been generating electricity little more than half the time since it became operative two years ago. While closed, Palisades is costing its owner, Consumers Power Company -and eventually the rate payers - $3 million a month. A Minor Problem? The leaks in the steam generator tubes are nothing to worry about, according to Consumers vice-president Russell Youngdahl, because all power plants, nuclear or not, experience them. "I think what you've seen so far is a highly unusual situation and I certainly would not expect this to be repeated in reactors anywhere," says Youngdahl. When reminded that only nuclear power plants discharge radiation when leaks oceur, he continúes to maintain there's nothing to worry about. He says the problems will probably reoccur until the technology is perfect ed. The problem is that condenser tubes keep corroding, causing the leaks. YoungdahJ blames water chemistry at the site, and more important, the way the tubes were designed. "Pinhole leaks in condenser tubes" were the reason for the first closing of Palisades tast January, too. At that time, according to an AEC report, there were over 600 of those pinhole leaks disco vered, and Youngdalil has no estímate of how many will be Ibund this time around. I.eaks in the Air Radioactive iodine was accidentally discharged into the atmosphere during a nine dav period in Auaust. The companv notified the AEC of the incident, but made no formal public announcement. Company officials later said they thought letting the AEC know about the problem was sufficient public notue Company documents show that on August 1 5, shortly alter the plant shut down with the leak problem, technicians were trying to dry out the tubes with air to pennit inspection. The air which was used to flush out the tubes was discharged through the plant's ventilation stack. Two hours after the discharge began, a sample was taken of the radiation being released. It was found that "higher than anticipated" amounts of radioiodine were being released. Upon examination of the stack filters, company officials concluded that plant license limit s were ex.ceeded for four days on the discharge of Iodine-131 (a material which concentrates in the thyroid gland). Company health physicists later claimcd no health danger was posed, although the amount of radioiodine discharged was three times the limit permitted by the plant's license! "It shouldn't have happened, we didn't want it to happen, but our procedures are such that there was no serious problem," Youngdahl pointed out. Consumers blanied the accident on personnel fail ure: failure to pay attention to higher iodine levéis in the plant since the last shut down for generatoi leaks; failure to recognie the problem which the high radiation levéis meant; and failure to stop the discharge when high radiation levéis were noticed. According to Youngdahl, senior personnel who should have recognied the problems were on duty. Despite that, no employee was suspended, fired or even reprimanded. Leaks in the Lake Radioactive iodine wasalso dumped into Lake Michigan. Youngdahl originally denied that any liquid discharges had occured, and was joined in that denial by other company officials. No mention was made of any liquid dumps to the AEC. Since then, the company has changed its story. Roger Sinderman. health physiscist for Consumers, reports that wast es from leaking steam generators were transferred to the radioactive waste system at the plant on August 8th. Four batches of this were released from turbine sump pumps between the 1 1 th and 1 7th, with radiation at Iow levéis. Another series of liquid dumps were only discovered accidentally when AEC inspectors stumbled across them during a surprise inspection on August 1 6. Consumers claims it didn't know about the leaks until the AEC inspectors discovered them AEC regulatory chief E. J. Jordán confirms that there were continuous discharges from other plant sump pumps for eight days. He says the AEC has learned the discharges were "unmonitored and unsampled before release." Jordán said the leaks had not been reported - and that's a violation. Jordán estimates the unknown leak could have contained 30 per cent of the plant's quarterly limit for radioactive discharges. Not So Good Vibrations When Palisades shut down in August, YoungdahJ said the plant would be back in operation in mid-December. He now says the plant will start up "sometime early next year." But the AEC officials say that it may be the middle of March or longer before all the defects are repaired. The reason behind thé longer closing is that excessive damage to the fuel core of the reactor was caused by a vibration problem. Large retaining bolts were found to have snapped in two, and some metal parts of.the reactor were found to have worn down. Engineers at Palisades first noticed excessive instrument readings in September, 1972, but didn't know until mid-December of last year what significance to attach to them. Tests were made to make sure the reactor could be operated safely. However, the AEC didn't receive word from the company about the vibrations until June 12, 1973. This September, the AEC issued a violation notice against the company. "We said from December of 1972, when they first became really concerned that they had a problem, until June, 1973, when they finally reported it, that was too long," AEC spokesperson Gary Pitchford said. "They should have told us within 24 hours." Youngdahl carne to the defense of Consumers, sayina the company interpreted the regulations on reporting differently. "I think this is the current posture of the AEC, in attempting to either regain credibility or to get some teeth they think they need," said Youngdahl. Dropping a Rod Consumers also had trouble getting another report to the AEC, following an accident which led to a control rod being dropped into the reactor on the night of August 8-9. Control rods contain material which absorb neutrons, particles which continue a chain reaction of fissioning atoms. The rods regúlate the rate of nuclear reaction, and keep them at a safe level. Apparently, a rod was being inserted into the reactor core when control was lost, and the rod could not be withdrawn. The rod slowed the nuclear reaction, thus cutting the power output of the reactor from near 100 per cent to about 60 per cent, according to Edward Jordán. The AEC is concerned because Consumers failed to report the incident immediately. Jordán says he is unsure whether or not a required oral (telephone) report was made as required within 24 hours of the incident, but he knows that the company did not submit its formal written report within the required ten days. The report came August 20, twelve days after the rod öropped. Jordán says the company delayed because "it was a lack of recognition on their part that a report was required." However, he went on to say, "When the licensee fails to meet his reporting requirements, it's a violation and we cite it." When Youngdahl was first asked about the incident, he denied that any control rod problems had cropped up at Palisaides, then qualified his answer later by saying he had no knowledge of -the problem. Company documents show that Youngdahl is one of the first officials to receive notice of any incident of this type. Consumers now admits that a rod was dropped, but says the plant's generating capacity was lowered to 50 per cent. Leaks from the InsiJe The rod drop was first revealed by a former radioactive wastechemistry technician at the Palisades plant, and was confirmed only last week by the AEC. In an interview, the technician (whose identity is being kept secret) revealed a number of other in-plant accidents and problems, which the AEC is currently investigating. AEC and company officials have privately confirmed that a number of the alledged incidents haveocurred. . The technician reports that maintenance procedures are poor, and have led to low-level leaks in waste laboratories. According to the technician, radioactive-waste decay tanks in the plant's "hot lab" (radiation laboratory) frequently leaked xenon gas, causing higher than normal background radiation counts. "This would vary," he said, "dependent on just what time of day it was, which doors werè open, and things like that. But at times, it made it impossible to really analyze [discharge] samples for radioactive content, because there was so much in the background, and it was constantly changing as a different batch of air went through so there was no way you could teil how much [radioactivity] there was in your sample." Ernie Murri, a Consumers official in charge of radiation programs, says the problem really doesn't have anything to do with waste gas tanks. He went on to say that xenon leaks were noted frequently, with alarms going off, "I believe it was every couple of hours." Murri blamed the levéis on "an improperly operating ventilation system." He disputes the claim that background levéis fluctuated and made it diffïcult to accurately assess the radioactivity of discharge matter. The technician also told of the alarms going off frequently, and charged that detection limits on the monitors were adjusted so only higher amounts of radiation would trigger the alarms. Murri denies that the limits were raised, but he does say, "It finally got to a point that it was happening so frequently that we decided to disable the audible alarm after a certain period of time." Had a major radioactive release occured, technicians may not have noticed it in time because of silenced alarms. Another problem began at the plant when a new radioactive waste analysis system was installed last August without personnel being properly trained in its operation. The rucian cited numerous examples ot times when excessive or unusual instrument readings were being obtained, and how supervisory personnel spent time ing through operating manuals " trying to figure out the problem. In another charge, the technician reports that some sampling points for radioactive wastes were not being labelled as radioactive, which would be a violation of AEC rules. One sampling point "is just a pipe coming down the wall with a valve on it, no markings of any sort on it." according to the technician. "The pipe led directly onto the floor. There was no drain of any sort there, there was no protection against splattering or anything else. So whoever turned that valve on, the water would just come gushing out into a bucket - if you had a bucket - or onto the floor. That would be directly from the concéntrate waste tank which would contain very concentrated radioactive waste." The technician says he eventually refused to take further sample s from that point, for fear of becoming contaminated. He reports that severa! leaks did iccur; on one occasion, a tank of concéntrate was being filled and an overflow pipe began spewing liquid waste onto the floor. Nuclear power was originally the promised land of quick, cheap and abundant energy. Now, the economics of continued breakdowns are putting thisdream into a dubious perspective. Worse yet, technology can not yet solve all the problems. c r Ann Arbor h y Sgurifr is dead. But t 9 M..!?5_U,.. UIL, f lio I i % orp has submitted three alterr T Suoer Sewer (Water Quality Management Planning For the Mil &SM Ibjjon of South Eastern Michigan) isa pian that calis for the abarttHMMlMgage treatmentl Pl Wnd Ypsilanti and sending the sewage through a series of pipesB Houth oftheHu whB Bill be treated and the effluent (treated sewage) realeased into LakêB mld handle sewagfl BöaklaiSj flne, and Washtenaw counties. The sul Is of tl pin include the Michigan Water Resources Committee (MWRC) and the ■ l051"1 of Commissifl Ef Annïrbor is forced to particípate in the Super Sewer, it wiH be a pulitical triumpM punt y and will a R themfeonomic control over Washtenaw county. Ann a ■hich hasftvatrtid to expand its existing treatment plant since 1969. opposes the SupeJ ian for environmenta Kas economie reasons. The plan calis for the treatment plant at thejfetuth of the Hul pr ide secondarfl Bhereas if the Ana Arbor plant were expanded it would Dgarláe tertiary treatnj fery treatment usefl Itaahods to remove niest of the organic matter. Tertiaryg ■■nove eontamin LBtfepary and secölary treatment. ) With tertidB BpArbor plant wo il IHI ' drink in;j.vter. In thel HÉlÉle"l %rtÊLElant at the mouth of tbfel iver would & Bne mile out into I M c, iÉF'the year. the lake is oñlyV ;ti three feet dB Htvhich is also one The tl Ifcact Statement writlHHn the Super Sewer emphasies the results of ;■ HAnn Arbor whicfl b sewage into the Fiuron River. According to the statement, howeverV He ma in plant wo Bd what would happen if it did is ignored. A breakdown of the Super ■ Ka use the sewage fr Ban estimated 121 million gallons per day) to be dumped directly intoB Inces of all the in Hng down at the same time seenujM0junlikely. H Anoth Breton the Huron River andJI fcytnii Arbor takes its wlBJ ■m the Huron R pf it as effluent. If theJl Bfine of this water wV Bd. The decreased Wbe river will result úwfl Balready in the riveS Bng periods of ( Uk effect would be nfl Bflow of the riverW Be increased a he river would aM Ann Arbor. wluMJ Bktheir water suppl I Plus, there are tfl The p Be County wants WÊ B"1 's B Bf Arbor to help sharfl Bo the peo p Ie of W ■ could expand thfl BWwage treatmenfl ft person and still prH Anotrfl Hrbor is that they luHj during periods of kw Hhe Huron River to fl ■uice Detroit has a poffl BRuy onl a part nf M B supl Ann ArbB ■Kater f rom the river anu pffies have discovered, Ú uy all or nothing. I Bijeen included in the plaioHBSffiaraise the costs to Anjfl ■more. The rtfl H8 an' en'arëe tneir P'ant 's tnat anv sewage plans appj Bte get federal suppofl t. But the MWRC has refused to OK enlargement of the AsM Bitil Ann Arbor agreeB tfee Super Sewer has been going on since 1969. JJh K has been operatinsB interim expansión has been denied until Ann AdÉH HSewer. Once Anfl I be allowed to expand the plant to a capaflÉM Bil the Super Sewefl 2 put a ban on new sewer construction witl Bi of severe)y limitinfl f black mailing the city. In Mafl the Ann Arbor Departmeat of f '. we'll be in troublfl :n and now we are ie Kt A 2 was putting i fl Bias at times been Pe w, the excess sewaB nrítr Btgal, so no one will fl B city supposedfl it vet. So as B I Ann Arbor sewage treatnieiu B" Arbor City Coufl IIWRC. Three aliornativc palns. ,tll bafl Bruction of the Ann I ■tconsjjiJeration. Despite oppostion ti B, Wayne County ifl Bst wait until Anfl Bbor and Lake Erifl