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Archive for the ‘Nuclear’ Category

On July 19, 1989, United Airlines Flight 232, a DC-10, crash-landed on a runway at the Sioux City, Iowa airport.

According to the subsequent report by the National Transportation Safety Board, the accident was triggered by a titanium fan disc that was part of the plane’s No. 2 engine. That titanium disc, which of course spins at a very high speed, had a microscopic manufacturing defect that had, over time, created a hairline crack. That crack eventually caused the disc to break apart in mid-flight, and pieces of the disc spun out like shrapnel and cut through all three of the plane’s hydraulic systems, destroying them. On small planes, parts such as rudders, stabilizers and ailerons on the wings may be controlled by cables and mechanical connections directly to the pilot’s steering yoke, foot pedals, or other cockpit controls. But on a commercial jet like a DC-10, those surfaces are so large, and the forces exerted on them so great, that hydraulics are necessary to move them. When pieces of the fan disc cut through all the hydraulic lines, the pilots could no longer control the airplane by means of ailerons, rudder and stabilizers. Still, in a truly remarkable feat, the pilots, using only the engine throttles, managed to steer the crippled plane onto a runway at Sioux City airport. Of the 296 persons aboard, including the crew, 185 survived.

The Flight 232 disaster is an example of how the failure of one complex system (turbines) can interfere with or even completely disable one or more other complex systems (hydraulics) with catastrophic effect.

On February 9, 2022, the Inspector General of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission released a report (NRC Inspector General’s Special Inquiry Into Counterfeit Fraudulent and Suspect Items in Operating Nuclear Power Plants, or the “Report”) stating that:

• The NRC lowered its oversight standards for ensuring that counterfeit, fraudulent and suspect parts were not used in U.S. nuclear power plants;
• Fake parts are present in most, if not all, U.S. nuclear power plants;
• Persons within the industry informed the NRC about the use of these fake parts; and
• The NRC failed to appropriately address this problem.

The Report states that the IG is “aware that the NRC staff does not have a direct role in identifying counterfeit parts and preventing their use in a nuclear power plant.” (Report, pg. I). Well, if not the NRC, then who does that job?

But wait, it gets better (i.e., worse). Counterfeit parts are tracked only on a voluntary basis, if at all, and the NRC doesn’t require nuke plants to report use of counterfeit parts “…unless a situation rises to the level of being a significant condition adverse to quality, or a reportable issue” under applicable regulations. (Report, id.) Stated differently, don’t bother the NRC until something bad happens.

The Report also states that “[counterfeit parts are safety and security concerns that could have serious consequences in critical power plant equipment required to perform a safety function.” (Report, at ii).

Gee, do you really think so? That sentence could have been lifted out of the Chernobyl or Three Mile Island autopsies.

The NRC has an “Allegation Manual” and a process for reports about counterfeit parts through its Allegation Review Board.

According to the NRC’s own Management Directive (MD) 8.8, Management of Allegations, “anyone should feel free to communicate any safety concern to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.” (Report, pg. 9). This manual contains procedures for handling such allegations.

Oh, well, that ought to do it, right?

Wrong. The Report goes on to state that although allegations about counterfeit parts in nuke stations had been made for the past ten (yes, 10) years, “…the NRC did not investigate or pursue any substantive actions regarding [the allegations about counterfeit parts],” and classified [these] concerns about counterfeit parts as “non-allegations.” (Report, id., pg. I , emphasis added).

Holy Terminology, Batman! What is a non-allegation? That’s a tough question, so let’s begin with an easier one. What is an “allegation”?

MD 8.8 defines an “allegation” as:

a declaration, statement, or assertion of impropriety or inadequacy associated with NRC-regulated activities, the validity of which has not been established. (Emphasis added.)

Report, pg. 9

That sounds more or less reasonable. But that’s not really how it works at the good ol’ NRC. What the alleger may have thought was an allegation doesn’t actually become an allegation until whatever was alleged goes through a multi-level initial consultation process by NRC staff to determine that whatever was alleged is the real McCoy, an allegation allegation.

If you think that’s confusing, try this tour de force of sanctimonious bureaucratic phraseology, drawn from the NRC’s Allegation Manual:

If, after this initial consultation, it is unclear whether information provided by the concerned individual constitutes an allegation, it is appropriate to discuss the information at an ARB [Allegation Review Board] to obtain a decision. If the ARB cannot reach a conclusion as to whether the concern in question should be processed as an allegation, the [agency allegation advisor] should be consulted. Some regions/offices assign an allegation number to such issues and then recode the item in the AMS [Allegation Management System] database as a non-allegation if the ARB determines that the issue is not an allegation. Some regions/offices document the issue on allegation process forms but withhold assigning an allegation number until the ARB has reached a conclusion. Either approach is acceptable.”

(Report, pgs. 9-10; emphasis added).

So even though an “allegation” is still an “allegation” if its validity has not been established, the NRC’s own procedures describe how it sweeps uninvestigated allegations under the rug.

The Report goes on to describe one case in which an alleger notified NRC staff about counterfeit part concerns at a specific nuke plant (Seabrook Station in New Hampshire) by letters, emails, phone calls, and even discussions at public meetings, all over the course of ten (10) years.

The NRC determined that the alleger’s allegations were not really “allegations.” It classified the allegations as “non-allegations” and did nothing.

So, if you think that the NRC is supposed to be protecting the public by ensuring the safe operation of nuclear plants, you might be surprised to find that it has borrowed its policy toward fake and counterfeit equipment in U.S. nuclear plants from Alfred E. Neuman of Mad Magazine fame: “What, me worry?”

NRC Chairman Alfred E. Neuman

A nuclear generating station has millions of parts that make up different complex systems that enable it to function as designed. An accident caused by a counterfeit part in one system at that station might be confined to that system, and it could be something from which a fast recovery is possible. For example, if the pieces of the disintegrating fan disc on United Airlines Flight 232 had been contained within the cowl of Engine No. 2, its own system, the hydraulics would not have been cut and the airplane might well have landed safely and without any loss of life.

But an accident due to a counterfeit part in one system at a nuke station could affect one or more other systems, a cascading effect that results in a grave disaster. Given that an accident at a nuke station could render a populated area in the U.S. uninhabitable by humans for more than 10,000 years, one might be forgiven for thinking that the NRC should take counterfeit part allegations more seriously.

For starters, the NRC might want to re-read the story about United Airlines Flight 232.

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On August 18, 2020, I had the pleasure of speaking with Will Stephens, the host of Radio Station WXAN, regarding the recently filed civil RICO class action against Madigan, ComEd et al., filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The link appears below:

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AOC

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY, 14th Dist.)

There’s a lot to digest in the Green New Deal Resolution introduced by New York Representative Ocasio-Cortez.

First, though, I have to hand it to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. Being referred to just by your initials is a mark of high achievement in American politics. Exactly what it means can be debated, but there can be no doubt that it implies some degree of general recognition among the public. We had FDR. We had JFK. Then came LBJ. Eisenhower was called Ike, of course, but he never ascended to the heights DDE. That was probably better for him since those initials are uncomfortably close to DDT. Reagan was never RR. These instances could be multiplied.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has been in office for just over a month and she’s already earned her initials: AOC. Whether or not you like her or her views, she’s gained recognition, and some popularity, because she’s correctly viewed as putting the demos back in (little “d”) democracy. Democracy is not equivalent to populism, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Back to the Green New Deal. Section (2)(C) of the GND Resolution calls for meeting 100 percent of the power demand of the United States through “clean, renewable and zero-emission sources…” That could portend some problems for AOC’s supporters because “renewable” and “zero-emission” are not the same. As Voltaire said, “if you wish to debate with me, define your terms.”

Exelon views nuclear generation as zero-emission. Is nuclear generation “clean”? If you formerly lived near Three Mile Island, Chernobyl or Fukushima, your answer is probably a resounding “no!” Likewise, as people who live (or used to live) in those three places will tell you, nuclear power is zero-emission…until it isn’t.

That’s not to say that nuclear should not be part of a balanced power generation portfolio, but, as  I’ve discussed in the Sparkspread over the last several years, two major problems in nuclear generation have to be addressed: spent fuel disposition and regulatory capture. Dealing with those two issues will go a long way to clearing various energy-related poisons from the American political bloodstream. Unfortunately, there has been thus far insufficient political will to deal with either of these issues.

A ten-year schedule to move the U.S. to 100% renewable electricity generation is a laudable goal. But it will be far more ambitious than JFK’s end-of-the=decade moonshot goal of 1961.

If you want more renewable generation, you’ll need more transmission lines – new ones. Not everybody likes new transmission lines, especially when they come to close to their homes and farms, or affect the vistas of nature in America.

Renewables are generation resources, and while renewable generation forecasting has improved with improved meteorology, renewables are not dispatch resources. If a coal-fired or natural gas-fired station goes down, or if its access to the transmission grid is lost for some reason, that incident may occur at a moment when sunlight or wind conditions are insufficient to enable a renewable generating station to supply power to the system.

That is not to say that renewable generation should not be developed, or that it’s worse than coal or natural gas or nuclear, or that there should be no ambitious plan to substantially expand renewable generation over the next ten years. But every form of electricity generation, just like every other discrete product of human ingenuity, has its problems. I’m a big believer in making no small plans, but at the same time don’t get too far away from the known facts.

 

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Zuckerberg

In response to the Cambridge Analytica/data-scraping crisis, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said he’s open to “the right regulation.”

You should be very afraid.

Companies as big as Facebook don’t recoil from regulation. They seek it. Regulation brings inestimable advantages, chief among which is the opportunity to capture the regulator. One need not look far to find prior examples.

In the run-up to the Great Recession of 2008, the Federal Reserve under Alan Greenspan treated the largest banks and mortgage lenders not as entities they regulated but as clients they had to help.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission would be better known as the Nuclear Plant Approval and Preservation Commission.

Nuclear regulators in Japan looked forward to employment with Tokyo Electric Power Company, which had predictable effects on their reviews of plants like Fukushima. These are just a few examples, and we haven’t even touched Big Pharma.

Creation of some new commission to regulate privacy matters on social media would provide a juicy target for cooptation by Facebook’s immense wealth. No federal agency (and presumably it would be a federal, rather than a state, agency) can compete with Facebook’s immense resources, and Zuckerberg’s friends in Congress could control its funding levels year by year. As with Fukushima, regulators would view their time at the agency as a rung on the ladder to a higher-paying job with Facebook. A new statute granting this commission jurisdiction over privacy issues in social media could insulate Facebook from class actions if such matters were reserved to the new agency’s expertise.

When Facebook talks about “the right regulation,” he has in mind a well-trained regulatory spaniel that will run and fetch the frisbee no matter how far Zuckerberg flings it.

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NYC Substation

The New York Times today reported that Russian hackers had gained access to nuclear plants and electricity grid controls, and would have been able to shut off the power in the United States at will.

That is deadly serious stuff.

More amazing still, it was the Trump Administration, that leveled the accusation against Russia. Putin may regard that as an act of disloyalty by Trump, perhaps triggering his release of kompromat on the Donald.

Perhaps he’ll announce a 25% tariff on Steele dossiers.

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S Korea Nuke plant

On Tuesday, ISO New England, which operates the electric grid for certain states in that region (other than New York), issued a report that New England’s average annual real time wholesale electricity price for 2017 at $33.94 per megawatt-hour was the second-lowest price in fifteen (15) years. ISO New England stated that these low prices were driven chiefly by low prices for natural gas, the principal fuel used for generation at the margin, as well as reduced demand levels.

As earlier stated on the Sparkspread, for several years Exelon CEO Chris Crane has played the role of Peter the Hermit in the electric utility industry’s Crusade to rescue nuclear generation fleets from the infidels of the wholesale market. That is, he wants to make sure that electricity consumers make Exelon and other nuke operators whole for any losses they suffer because, contrary to their expectations, electricity prices have been hitting record lows in a number of markets, mainly due to low natural gas prices. When prices fell, Crane and his cohort lost no time in complaining about the “flawed market” for wholesale electricity.

If things had gone the other way – if electricity prices had risen to record highs instead of fallen to record lows – you can bet that Mr. Crane and his fellow nuke CEOs would be saying that electricity consumers must simply accept the results of the perfectly self-regulating free market in electricity, and if prices rise, that’s just, as they say in Brooklyn, T.S., Elliott.

 

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Today’s edition of Utility Dive discusses our pending appeal in the Illinois Zero Emission Credit Case. You may read the article here.

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Exelon CEO Chris Crane

Exelon CEO Chris Crane

Chicago, IL February 14, 2017:  Chicago energy attorneys, Patrick N. Giordano and Paul G. Neilan, announced they filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois today against Anthony Star in his Official Capacity as Director of the Illinois Power Agency.  Village of Old Mill Creek, et al. v. Anthony Star was filed on Tuesday, February 14, 2017 at the U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois.

Attorneys Giordano and Neilan represent Plaintiffs that are governmental, residential, commercial, and industrial electricity consumers located throughout the State of Illinois. Plaintiffs claim that P.A. 99-0906, executed by Governor Rauner on December 7, 2016, violates the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, Commerce Clause, and 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause. The underlying basis for the constitutional claims is that the prices charged by electricity generating plants are subject to federal rather than state regulation. A similar case has already been filed in federal court in New York challenging that state’s subsidy of Exelon nuclear plants by the law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner, LLP, which is headed by preeminent attorney David Boies.

Among other things, P.A. 99-0906 is designed to subsidize Exelon Corp.’s Quad Cities and Clinton nuclear plants. This subsidy will be charged to all Illinois electricity consumers beginning June 1, 2017 regardless of what company supplies the consumer’s electricity. The lawsuit specifically asks that the U.S. District Court grant a permanent injunction blocking the charges from going into effect as scheduled on June 1, 2017. According to Mr. Giordano: “These additional charges will reverse twenty years of deregulation in Illinois which have given us perhaps the one advantage we have over neighboring states: relatively low electricity charges due to an effectively functioning competitive market.” Mr. Giordano also said: “We’re challenging the nuclear bailout provision of the legislation because the prices charged by electricity generators have already been established by the competitive wholesale electricity market subject to federal jurisdiction and cannot be increased by the State of Illinois.”

The estimated impact to all Illinois consumers will be about $3.3 billion over the ten years of the nuclear bailout. Mr. Neilan points out that: “This nuclear bailout is one of four rate increases to Illinois consumers this year, including increased delivery charges, increased renewable energy subsidies, increased energy efficiency subsidies, and these nuclear energy subsidies.” When the nuclear subsidies go into effect on June 1, 2017, Illinois residents and businesses can expect to see an average 3% increase in their electricity bills due to the nuclear subsidies alone.”

Giordano & Associates, Ltd. is Chicago’s first law firm devoted to energy issues. We provide clients with experienced counsel on regulatory, litigation, transactional, and legislative matters in the areas of electricity and natural gas. Pat Giordano can be reached at pgiordano@dereglaw.com.

The Law Offices of Paul G. Neilan, P.C. represents commercial, industrial and governmental energy users in disputes against public utilities, as well as in litigation and transactional matters with non-utility competitive energy suppliers.

FACT SHEET

  1. Village of Old Mill Creek, et al. v. Anthony Star was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on February 14, 2007.
  2. The Plaintiffs are: Village of Old Mill Creek, Ferrite International Company, Got it Maid, Inc., Nafisca Zotos, Robert Dillon,Richard Owens, and Robin Hawkins, both individually and d/b/a Robin’s Nest.
  3. The Defendant is Anthony Star in his official capacity as Director of the Illinois Power Agency.
  4. This case arises from unlawful Illinois legislation that invades the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) over “the sale of electric energy at wholesale in interstate commerce” pursuant to the Federal Power Act. 16 U.S.C. 824(b)(1).
  5. The unlawful legislation is contained in subsection (d-5) Zero Emission Standard of Illinois Public Act 99-0906 (“P.A. 99-0906”), which was enacted on December 7, 2016 and is available at http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/99/HB/09900HB65761v.htm.
  6. Subsection (d-5) Zero Emission Standard of P.A. 99-0906 requires the Illinois Power Agency to procure contracts for Illinois utilities Commonwealth Edison Company, which serves northern Illinois, and Ameren Illinois Company, which services central and southern Illinois, for purchases of Zero Emission Credits (“ZECs”) from nuclear-fueled generating plants.
  7. The ZEC payments will be passed through by the utilities to all Illinois consumers through automatic adjustment tariffs.
  8. A. 99-0906 is designed to provide additional revenues to the Illinois-based Quad Cities and Clinton nuclear plants.
  9. Exelon Corp. owns both the utility ComEd and Exelon Generation, which owns the Quad Cities and Clinton nuclear plants that will sell the ZECs to the utilities.
  10. Although P.A. 99-0906 has many other provisions, this case concerns only subsection (d – 5) Zero emission standard.
  11. Plaintiffs are not challenging any other provisions of P.A. 99-0906. Section 97 of P.A. 99-0906 provides that the provisions of the Act are severable under Section 1.31 of the Illinois Statute on Statutes. 5 ILCS 70/1.31.
  12. In New York, ZEC payments to Exelon nuclear plants in that state are being challenged on the same grounds set forth by Plaintiffs in Illinois. Coalition for Competitive Electricity, et al. v. Audrey Zibelman, et al. was filed in the U.S. District Court Southern District of New York on October 19, 2016.
  13. A typical residential customer using 1 mWh (1,000 kWh) per month would pay an additional $2.64 per month beginning June 1, 2017 based on the initial ZEC price established in P.A. 99-0906.
  14. A manufacturing company using 10,000 mWh per month would pay an additional $26,400 per month beginning June 1, 2017 based on the initial ZEC price established in P.A. 99-0906.

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Clinton Nuke Plant

Clinton Nuclear Plant

The history of the Big Bank Bailouts of 2008-09 is now repeating itself as farce. The 2016 tsunami of crony capitalist entitlement is scheduled to hit Illinois tomorrow in Clinton, where according to news reports Gov. Rauner will sign the Exelon Dividend Protection Act. We’ll have to more to say on the legislation, but one may read the story here.

 

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Today’s  Chicago Sun-Times discusses the Exelon Bail-Out Bill.

What began as a means of rewarding Exelon Corp. for generating “clean” nuclear energy and  keeping unprofitable plants in Clinton and the Quad Cities open has evolved into a far-reaching and  contentious revamp of state energy policy.

Check out the article here.

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