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The University of Hartford

The return of nuclear power to CT and what you can do about it
by Mike DeRosa

   Recently I had the opportunity to interview Millstone whistleblower Don DelCore. Don was fired by Northeast Utilities years ago because he believed that safety was the first priority at a nuclear plant. He had raised one too many objections to things going on at the Millstone complex and was sent packing. Don is also one of the many people who took Northeast Utilities to court and he is one of many who won a modicum of respect for whistleblowers. He continues to raise issues related to safety at these atomic plants.
    Nuclear power stations are extremely complicated machines that are probably the most dangerous energy plants on earth. The Chernobyl accident and the Three Mile Island accident are ancient history to people today, but like the Exxon Valdez disaster they can happen any day of the year. Atomic technology is not forgiving. Ask the people who lived around the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island plants if you want the truth about nuclear power.
    In a very short time Millstone II in Waterford CT. will be reopened by the politically and morally bankrupt Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its totally corrupted chairperson Shirley Jackson. Is Millstone II ready to be opened? Atomic whistleblower Don DelCore does not think so.
    Don DelCore and others are stubborn people. It is their experience that makes them stubborn. Don has worked near many atomic reactors and inside a lot of nuclear plants and he knows what goes on inside them.
    Take for example the issue of misaligned valves("configuration control"). Nuclear power plants have automatic safeguard systems that have prearranged valve systems that are part of the plant's design and license. These automatic systems need to be aligned properly if they are to do their important job. Don says that after Millstone II comes up from its inactive mode "and they begin to use the systems, they need to line up the valves properly and as we are finding out with Millstone II they are NOT lining up the valves and the systems in accordance with their own procedures. If this involves a significant safety system they are endangering the public and the employees at the plant". Don points to misaligned valves in the fuel waste pool at Millstone III "in May 1997 that caused a 10 degree rise in the fuel pool temperature without anybody knowing about it. This was a direct result of operators at the plant not having a handle on the proper positioning of the valves in the cooling system". Don says that misaligned safety valves have recently been also found in the spent fuel pool at Millstone II after its recent refueling. DelCore says "if they misaligned valves in 1997 and in 1999 how do we know if they have more significant safety systems properly aligned?" Don also points to the fact that a N.U. independent review, by its quality assurance department, showed "83 other occurrences of valve misalignment from 1995 to May 1997. That’s a whole lot of misalignment. That’s a whole lot of mistakes." Don feels that the most recent examples of misaligned valves in the spent fuel pool raise significant concerns that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not taking seriously.
    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is supposed to regulate utilities like Northeast Utilities. Some critics feel that they operate more like lap dogs rather guard dogs. Recent disclosures that members of the NRC met privately with Northeast Utilities’ representatives without any written or taped record of these conversations raises the specter of violation of "sunshine laws" (F.O.I.) on the part of the NRC. Such private contacts without a written record of the details of such meetings are usually considered illegal and avoided by most regulators. These are especially troubling when it is discovered that about 27 contacts took place between the NRC and Northeast without any taped or written record of these "conversations" during this time. The NRC allowed individual commissioners and chairperson Shirley Jackson to meet individually with N.U. officials." Don DelCore says "we the public were not privy to the communications that took place between individual commissioners and N.U." Many of these contacts took place a critical juncture when Northeast Utilities was trying to reopen Millstone III and having serious financial problems. This was also during the same time when the leadership of both parties of the CT. General Assembly and Gov. Rowland’s office were pushing through an electric "restructuring" that will ultimately give N.U. billions of dollars in corporate welfare though fees on consumers’ electric bills. Delcore says that "because of the way the NRC conducted those meetings we are unable today to know the content and the discussions that took place in those meetings." Don and others have filed complaints with the Federal Inspector Generals Office about these meetings. Even more ominous is a proposed national rule change by the NRC that would make such secret contacts standard operating procedure.
    Don Delcore is also incensed by the secrecy around the refueling of Millstone III. Don says "they waited until the fueling was three quarters done before they announced it was taking place." He says this was in violation of assurances made by the NRC at previous public hearings committing the agency to full public disclosure and public scrutiny of the refueling and reopening of Millstone II.
    Lastly are the small issues of a fire hazard at the Millstone complex and the Y2K computer problem. A fire hazard is one of the worst accidents that can happen at a nuclear power plant. It can destroy wiring and other parts of the safety systems in the plant very quickly. A fire and the resulting smoke can drive operators out of the operating room and cause a major disaster as the reactor goes out of control.
    N.U. has harassed and fired many whistleblowers over the years. Recently, a demoted and fired whistleblower, tried to get the NRC and N.U. to look at "fire resistant" foam that is found throughout the Millstone complex. The one and three hour fire barriers give the operators of the plant time to shut the reactor down in case of a major fire at an atomic facility. The whistleblower (who over the years has lost his job, his spouse, and his house) alleged that the fire resistant foam, used to fill in gaps where pipes go through thick concrete walls in the plants, was improperly mixed, improperly cured, and improperly applied and secured. He said that the shelf life of foam had expired and recently the actual fire retardant nature of the material has been called into question by an outside laboratory. The NRC and N.U. try to discredit this individual’s concerns and denied the credibility of his allegations that he has raised since the late 1980’s. In Jan. 1999 the NRC came out with a report confirming ever one of the ex- worker’s allegations about the fire retardant foam as true!
    N.U. says in a recent insert in customer’s bills that it is 60% Y2K compliant. Since problems with the Y2K problem may begin as early as 9/9/99 one wonders whether it might be in the best interest of the environment to close down these troubled plants as soon as possible for this reason alone.
    Don says that in the future the NRC will regulate atomic plants even less. Delcore says "we need more public participation, more activity, because the NRC, NU and even the US Congress will respond to public participation and pressure. Public participation is the answer."
    If all of this makes you nervous, you are not the only one. Clearly it is time for public participation and involvement on this issue. Already a fishing organization, Fish Unlimited, has challenged the opening of the Millstone 2 nuclear power plant in state court because the plant kills young fish by sucking them into the cooling inlet pipes at the plant. The enormous heat generated by the plant also caused problems with marine life by increasing the temperatures of the water around the plant. Lastly, the emissions of dangerous chemicals by the Millstone plants has been discussed and discovered during this recent trial.

(Mike DeRosa is the producer of the New Focus radio program which can be heard on Fri. at 12noon and on Wed. at 8PM on WWUH)

Copyright©WWUH: July/August Program Guide, 1999

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