Iberdrola does not own GINNA, The FRENCH own it…sorry, wrong foreign country in charge of US Power…
Electricite de France SA said it has purchased Constellation Energy Group’s interest in a mutual subsidiary, UniStar Nuclear Energy, for $140 million. Unistar owns the land that could be used for new reactors.
Power plant operators and federal regulators stress that U.S. nuclear facilities like the Ginna station in Ontario, Wayne County, are safe. Workers from RIgging International of Alameda, Calif., construct safe housing for the spent fuel rods at Constellation Energy’s Ginna nuclear plant. Forty years worth of spent rods later would be moved from the cooling pool at the plant to these structures. Ginna is owned and operated by Constellation Energy Group, who purchased it from Rochester Gas and Electric in 2004.
Officials stress safety at Ginna nuclear plant
The focus of much of the world is on the frantic efforts to prevent a nuclear catastrophe at the disabled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan a week after a devastating earthquake and tsunami ravaged the Asian country.
But while the eyes of Rochester-area residents watch the drama being played out live through media outlets, many can’t help thinking about the safety of the nuclear power plant in their own backyard.
The Robert E. Ginna nuclear power generating station on the shores of Lake Ontario is a little more than 20 miles from downtown Rochester.
However unlikely is the possibility of a tsunami or an earthquake like the one that rocked Japan striking Rochester, there are natural and man-made disasters that could cut the power to Ginna. But plant operators and federal regulators stress that U.S. nuclear facilities are safe.
Constellation Energy Nuclear Group (CENG) operates Ginna and two other power plants, Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station near Syracuse and Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Maryland. Together, the facilities have five reactors. Mark Sullivan, a spokesman for CENG, said all the plants are designed and built to withstand a wide range of both natural and man-made disasters.
“The nuclear power industry sets extremely high standards for safety, and has a history of learning from events to improve operations and safety,” he said. “At CENG, we have multiple and redundant safety features to protect our Maryland and New York facilities.”
David Lochbaum, the director of the Union of Concerned Scientists Nuclear Safety Program, said the nuclear industry looked at what’s called station blackout, which is what the Japanese reactors faced. Station blackout is when there is a loss of electricity — from the electrical grid and by the emergency diesel generators — leaving only DC power from the batteries to run critical pumps and other systems.
“Station blackout events for many of our plants represent close to 90 percent of the risk of core damage,” Lochbaum said Tuesday at a media briefing. “Even though you don’t get into a station blackout using the same scenario of earthquake/tsunami that Japan did, our plants can get to that same station blackout condition through other mechanisms: hurricanes for the plants in the Gulf, Florida; earthquakes for the plants out in California; ice storms up in the Northeast; tornados in the Midwest; and so on.”
The Ginna station began generating electricity in 1969 from a pressurized water reactor designed by Westinghouse Electric Co. It generates 581 net megawatts and is licensed to operate until 2029.
One of the critical problems at the Japanese plant is with pools used to store and cool spent fuel rods from the reactors. When power systems failed after the tsunami, pumps feeding water into the pools to keep the spent fuel cool quit, and water levels began to fall to dangerous levels — creating a danger of the release of radioactive material into the atmosphere.
Sullivan said Ginna is not the same kind of reactor or design as the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant and that redundant backup systems are in place at all the CENG plants to help prevent a similar problem. “The spent fuel at Calvert Cliffs, Nine Mile and Ginna are stored in auxiliary buildings designed to withstand the design basis earthquake as well as all other natural phenomenon the plant was licensed to by the NRC,” he said. “As a result of enhancements implemented after Sept. 11, (2001), our sites have additional capabilities to handle beyond design basis events, including the capability to provide cooling to the spent fuel pool in the absence of electrical power. This capability includes equipment (diesel-driven pumps, hoses, valves, etc.) that has been pre-staged at the plant. Personnel are trained in their use.”
Ginna was successfully shut down in August of 2003, for example, as a precaution during a massive blackout that affected more than 10 million people in eight states in the Northeast and Midwest.
What is still unclear is what can be learned from the nuclear drama playing out in Japan. Nuclear Regulatory spokesman Eliot Brenner stressed Sunday on the agency’s website that federal regulations require that nuclear power plants be able to handle such events.
“NRC’s rigorous safety regulations ensure that U.S. nuclear facilities are designed to withstand tsunamis, earthquakes and other hazards,” he said.
The NRC has calculated the odds of an earthquake causing catastrophic failure to one of the nation’s 104 nuclear power plants. Indian Point Energy Center, in Buchanan, Westchester County, is at the top of the list with reactor No. 3 at a 1 in 10,000 chance each year. Ginna is ranked 53rd with a 1 in 76,923 chance each year.
Frank Regan, a local environmental blogger and a leader of the Sierra Club chapter in Rochester, said the lesson of the unfolding tragedy in Japan should be that nuclear power, like coal and oil, is not an acceptable option. “It’s really a matter of emphasis. We could change our ways and go with renewable energy if we went full-force toward it,” he said. “But you’re fighting big interests.”
Sullivan said it was too soon to know what lessons to take from the disaster.
“The information coming out of Japan is sketchy, but one thing is that we are 100 percent committed to is learning from whatever lessons there are and look at our operation to make sure we are where we need to be,” he said.
There is an extensive emergency plan in place in case of a problem at Ginna. In the event of an emergency, municipalities, residents, schools and business within a 10-mile zone would be notified by a warning network of sirens, emergency radio alerts and reverse 911 calls. The area includes parts of eastern Monroe County and Wayne County.
The Webster school district is one of the districts within that zone. In a case of danger, more than 10,000 students and staff would be evacuated to Monroe Community College. The district also keeps on hand doses of potassium iodide to give to students and staff to help prevent the thyroid gland from radiation contamination, said Neil Flood, the district’s supervisor of safety, security and emergency planning.
“We always review our plans to make sure that everything is ready to go,” he said. “This plan is done in conjunction with the state and the county, so that is kind of a constant process because we drill at least once or twice a year on the plan.”
Another question yet to be answered is how the potential nuclear disaster in Japan will affect the debate about expanding the number of nuclear power plants in the U.S. For its part, Constellation Energy said it does not have any plans to build reactors.
“What we are trying to do is help the people in Japan. We have a lot of friends there, a lot of family over there and what we are trying to do is provide support, whether it is technical support through our own experience and expertise or humanitarian efforts,” Sullivan said.
Includes reporting by staff writer Steve Orr.
Leak noted at Canadian plant
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission said Wednesday that the water was released from the Ontario Power Generation plant in Pickering, Ontario, 26 miles east of Toronto, around 11:30 p.m. Monday. The agency says a pump seal failure caused the leak.
Ontario Power Generation says the leak was stopped immediately and the pump seal was being replaced.
The plant says the filtered water contained trace amounts of tritium far below any regulatory limits.
— Associated Press
State hires company to audit RG&E, other Iberdrola units
The Liberty Consulting Group of Quentin, Pa., will conduct a management audit of Iberdrola S.A. and its New York affiliates, including Rochester Gas and Electric Corp. and New York State Electric & Gas Corp.
The state Public Service Commission, which made the announcement Thursday, said public service law provides for examinations of the management and operations of major electric and gas utilities.
This audit will focus on the Iberdrola companies’ construction program planning and operational efficiency, the PSC said.
On Dec. 16, the PSC authorized the issuance of a request for proposals from independent third-party consultants.
Seven management consulting firms submitted proposals for consideration, the PSC said. Liberty, which will report directly to commission staff, was selected as the most qualified based on factors such as expertise and experience, demonstrated understanding of the commission’s objectives and cost.
The total potential cost of the audit could be up to about $1.54 million, the PSC said.
Although Liberty’s focus will be on the construction program planning and operational efficiency of the New York operating utilities, “issues related to corporate governance, distant ownership and affiliate transactions add more complexity than is typically seen in management audits in New York,” the PSC said.
Additional emphasis also will be put on developing cost-benefit analyses to better ensure accountability on both the part of Liberty and the utility implementing the recommendations.
The audit is expected to take several months to complete, PSC spokesman James Denn said.
According to filings with the PSC, the other consultants that submitted proposals for the project were: River Consulting Group of Clayton, Ga.; Shaw Consultants International of Cambridge, Mass.; Blue Ridge Consulting Services of Greenville, S.C.; Vantage Energy Consulting of Cudjoe Key, Fla.; Schumaker & Co. of Ann Arbor, Mich.; and NorthStar Consulting Group of Santa Maria, Calif.
Liberty provides consulting services to utility managers, executives and regulators, according to its website.