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Coalition: Design for New Nuclear Reactor Less Safe Than America's Current Fleet

Report Raises Questions Over Safety of Global Nuclear 'Renaissance'

By Stacy Feldman

Apr 23, 2010

"Answers are needed before the NRC can go forward with the AP1000 reactors in the Southeast," Gunderson said.

There is still no deadline for when the NRC will approve the Westinghouse design. The company the AP1000 to be "the safest and most economical nuclear power plant available in the worldwide commercial marketplace."

"Westinghouse disputes every conclusion put forth at the [AP1000 Oversight Group] press conference, although we are not surprised that an anti-nuclear group with an anti-nuclear bias would make such statements," Vaughn Gilbert, a spokesperson for Westinghouse, told SolveClimate by email.

"The entire design of the AP1000 has been peer reviewed by well respected universities, regulators, independent experts, our customers and others," Vaughn added. "Was the report issued by the anti nuclear group earlier peer reviewed at all?"

Vaughn said the containment vessel is built to American Society of Mechanical Engineers proven pressure vessel codes.

"The steel in question is 1.75 inches thick, manufactured and coated to preclude corrosion. In the highly unlikely event of corrosion, it would be readily identified and corrected during regular inspections well before it could in any way become an issue," Vaughn added.

This week's protest underlines the uphill battle that nuclear power advocates face in bringing about the trumpeted nuclear renaissance — and not just in the United States.

In February, the UK's nuclear watchdog voiced concerns with Westinghouse that the AP1000 may not be able to withstand severe weather or a direct airplane hit.

Meanwhile, China as adopted the AP1000 as its reactor-of-choice for its coming nuclear boom. Four are already under construction there, with up to 100 more being planned to come online in the next two decades.


See also:

Where Is Nuclear Power Really Heading?

Nuclear Power’s Cost Competitiveness Remains a Critical Question

Nuclear Energy – White Knight or Dangerous Fantasy?

Small Pickings

I could not help but notice that the report picked a part of the plant that would be affected AFTER a core melt. So far, the antis have not made any case regarding the fuel, passive safety cooling systems, etc. Sounds like AP-1000 is a pretty good design if this is the best they can do (and that is weak at best).

And not just China is building nuclear plants. South Korea, Japan, India, the UAE, and Finland (even with the issues over EPR) are all building nuclear. I am not going to say nuclear can solve all of our energy problems, but its issues have been exagerated and it is time to build some more.

Do you remember the

Do you remember the aftermath of Chernobyl? Why put human lives at risk like that when you ARE capable of making these nuclear plants safer? It's only a small thing to people who would rather cut corners to save money.

Corrosion, inspection and steel vessels

@R. I agree, and also want to point out that the issue would only be a problem if the plant is being operated by people who fail to do proper inspections over a very long period of time. It takes years to decades to completely corrode through 1.75" of high quality steel, even in the worse of conditions.

I would also hope that there are people who oppose nuclear energy without any real experience or knowledge that have a questioning attitude. If they are mystery fans, I would ask that they honestly pursue a "means, motive and opportunity" approach to solving the question - "why is there so much organized and well funded opposition to nuclear energy? Why do our organization's contributions seem to increase when we fight this technology?"

My answer to that is look to the competition. Figure out just how much money the fossil fuel industry loses when nuclear plants continue to operate or when new nuclear plants come on line.

Hint - ExxonMobil, a company that has just a 3-4% share of the fossil fuel market captured $340 billion in revenue in 2008. Half of their energy production comes from extracting natural gas, much of which is sold into the electrical power generation market. Think again why you have been sold the idea that nuclear energy is bad and natural gas is "Clean, American and Abundant" even though the "proven, potential, possible and speculative" resource base in the US would only supply our current natural gas consumption for a tiny bit longer than 100 years.

Who is trying to sell you on their product's superiority and how much money will they make by succeeding?


The claims by the anti-nuclear groups concerning the containment structure for the Westinghouse AP1000 are a distortion of the facts. This issue ererged in October 2009 and was rigorously addressed by the firm and by the NRC. Dialog about it is normal between the vendor and the regulatory agency.

More details at 'Idaho Samizdat' a blog about nuclear energy with over 100,000 readers a year.

Corrosion, inspection and steel vessels

I have read Mr. Gundersen's report. A major portion of the document is simply a listing of instances of corrosion that have been discovered on other nuclear plant containment shells. None of these instances have been serious, have exposed anyone to any danger or pose any future threat. Here is a major news flash - steel rusts.

The vessel design for the AP1000 uses thick steel with a protective coating. It has enough room between the steel containment and the shield building to allow access for inspections. Mr. Gundersen's report emphasizes that the building will be in an oxygen rich environment with available moisture; what he means is that the building will be exposed to the normal atmosphere and subject to the kinds of corrosive potential that engineers and trained technicians are quite familiar with avoiding or mitigating through inspection and corrective action.

As a former submarine officer, I often participated in inspections of a safety related steel structure exposed to high concentrations of salt water and large quantities of atmospheric air while the submarine was surfaced. We were pretty interested in making sure that our steel hull did not get any of the "pinhole" leaks described in Gundersen's report. I agree with part of Gundersen's assertion that "rust happens", but I resent the implication that it is a problem that the nuclear industry does not know how to manage.

Perhaps there is a reason why Mr. Gundersen left his job as "Corporate Officer and Senior Vice President" of a company he describes as a division of a Fortune 500 company in 1990 and decided to teach math and science in small school systems for 10 years. It can be a rewarding job to work with young people, but it is not normally a path chosen by someone who is less than 20 years into an upwardly mobile career path.

I wonder what attracted him to his new employment as an "expert" witness employed by groups organized for the sole purpose of fighting the development of the only real competition that fossil fuel suppliers face in the market for reliable energy. Could it be that being a $300 per hour consultant with a nearly 40 year old nuclear engineering degree beats his teaching salary?

I am directly involved in

I am directly involved in the design of the AP-1000 shield building. The only reason it has being redesigned is to placate fears that a 911 style attack could occur. It is not being redesigned because of a "flaw" as this hit piece disingeniously claims. Either design, from an engineering point of view, when combined with the other passive protection systems, makes this the safest nuclear reactor (for commercial use) ever designed.

As for our four plants in China currently under construction, it is how we as a country can economically compete. The PRC sells us cheap goods for Americans to buy at Walmart. We trade them nuclear plants. In all seriousness, the PRC is a true partner in this, and should be applauded for taking environmentally responsible steps to meet their growing energy needs.

if you could you already would

America can NOT compete with China.  You say "we sell to China nuclear plant" - you are moron! China can buy GE, MSFT and INTC and WalMark combined.....  If US could sell nuclear plant to China it woulod already do it.  But I think US has some kind of law which prohibits selling nuclear technology to China.  And China from buying strategically important stuff.  Meanwhile China wont wait for USA, China builds it's own nuclear plants...  Funny thing... repeats... you, an american patriot, still beleives that China produces cheap stuff for Walmart.  Stop intertaining youself with superiority disorder.... China already produces quality products and China will get only better.   REad whay US DOE said:"

The government has been very careful to ensure that Chinese workers and engineers participate in all the nuclear projects. As a result, they are building not just nuclear plants, but a highly trained, very knowledgeable work force. Government support, new technology, and a workforce benefiting from the experience of technical experts in dozens of countries are advantages that any country interested in nuclear technology would envy.

Is there a down side? Probably not,..."

You are certain a "911 style

You are certain a "911 style attack" could never occur again? You are sure the PRC, a country so devoted to saving money they killed their own people (mostly children) by cheapening milk and building grade schools without rebar (and this was only in the last 3 years), should be the world's role model? You know that recent weapons-grade nuclear technology emerging in foe-countires could have only been sold by the PRC or France? You know the Westinghouse operation in TN Valley is still missing enriched U (it was lost... "floated down the river," and nobody can account for it)? You are convinced a $2 Walmart item is a fair trade for a nuclear disaster (commercial or war)?

Failure to recognize these threats is the FLAW. You are directly involved in AP-1000 design, so I am sure the rest of us have nothing to worry about. Let's all listen to you.

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