Physical Insights

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Not your average anti-nuclear-power group.

with 4 comments

This is worth checking out.

EFMR Monitoring Group

I will quote a few sentences from the website, to show what this group is generally about.

The EFMR Monitoring Network is a non-profit, non-partisan organization which monitors Three Mile Island Unit 1 (TMI) and Peach Bottom Atomic Power Stations 2 & 3. The Group was formed out of a Settlement with GPU Nuclear in 1992 relating to Post-Defueling Monitored Storage at TMI-2. In January 1999, the new owners of TMI-1, AmerGen, (PECO Energy & British Energy) agreed to terms with EFMR through 2006. Additionally, EFMR expanded its monitoring and research activities to include Peach Bottom 2 & 3 as a result of Universal Settlement relating to the merger of PECO Energy with Commonwealth Edison.

This is not your average dogma-packed “no nukes, no nukes, no nukes” activist group. Nowhere in their mission statement does it call for or support the closure of existing, operating, safe fission power plants.

EFMR maintained five low-volume air samplers on the east and west shores of the Susquehanna River opposite of TMI from 1993-1999. Dickinson College Physics Department collected the filters and cartridges of these monitors on a weekly basis. Analyses performed included, but were not limited to, weekly gross beta and alpha measurements, monthly gamma isotopic analysis, weekly Iodine-131 analysis, and semi-annual Strontium-90 analysis. The last collection occurred in December, 1999.

In November, 2000, EFMR deployed a low-volume air sampling station at Peach Bottom.

This is a neat idea! Of course, every nuclear power plant meticulously monitors any discharge of the very small amounts of radionuclides into the atmosphere or other effluents, and these records are all meticulously filed with the NRC, and are a matter of public record.

However, if they want to provide an extra layer of data, and extra monitoring apparatus, by themselves, then so much the better.

Having such data collected by independent means, and analysed by local college physicists, has every potential to:

a) Eliminate any community distrust of nuclear utilities.

b) Dispel the myth that nuclear power plants emit any aetiologically significant amounts of radioactivity into the environment at all during their operation.

c) In the event of a severe incident such as the Three Mile Island accident, improbable as though it may be, provide independent data to confirm the true magnitude of any release of radioactivity, and dispel baseless and false speculations or claims of very large and aetiologically significant releases of radioactivity being “covered up”

e) Educating people about natural background radiation and radioactivity and its sources, including atmospheric nuclear weapons testing, cosmic radiation and fossil fuel combustion, as well as about basic radiation instrumentation and health physics.

The only potential for a problem that I can foresee with this is that controversy may be generated over very small radioactivity releases which can be detected above background by sensitive instruments, which are however not in excess of NRC and EPA regulatory limits, and are of no public health significant – just like the controversy surrounding tritium effluents at certain nuclear generating stations in the US in recent years.

PECO has also agreed not use Mixed Uranium Oxide (MOX) fuel at Peach Bottom 2 & 3, Limerick Nuclear Station Units 1 & 2, and Salem Nuclear Station 1 & 2.

Well, I must say, I don’t agree with that. What is their reasoning behind making such a demand of the utility? What’s so bad about the use of MOX? I can think of several good points to be made of the use of MOX as a fission reactor fuel.

AmerGen has ensured that its work force meets or exceeds NRC staffing requirements and has agreed to pay excess decommissioning costs for TMI-1. AmerGen also agreed not to conduct business with any company, organization or nation that the United States of America is boycotting for economic or military reasons.

Well, how can you argue with any of that? Of course, the owner pays decommissioning costs for TMI-1, just like they pay the costs of decommissioning any other unit. I don’t think this represents any shift away from the obvious, in terms of the utility’s policy – the only difference being that TMI-2 will of course cost a bit more to decommission completely than the average reactor. I see no reason to believe that the TMI-2 accident will in any way affect the decommissioning of TMI-1 at the end of its life.

Of course any nuclear utility should meet or exceed anything the NRC requires of it. (If the NRC’s requirements are thought to be inappropriate, or too strict, or too soft, or whatever, then you take that up with the NRC – but of course the utilities should be by the book.)

EFMR has on-line access to AmerGen’s Reuter-Stokes, gamma monitoring system. This sensitive system collects samples, analyzes them, and prints out data on an hourly basis from 16 separate collecting stations located within a four mile radius of Three Mile Island. EFMR continues to attend NRC meetings, and receive regular briefings and updates from AmerGen, Exelon, and PECO Energy.

To monitor radiation levels surrounding the Three Mile Island Nuclear Station and the Peach Botom Atomic Power Station so that any deviation from normal background radiation levels are immediately detected and reported. This allows for a prompt response from our citizens network to provide independent data, especially in the event of another accident or any radiological release in the area.

If abnormal levels are detected, EFMR may report the data to proper authorities including the PA Department of Environmental Protection, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and others.

The network is comprised of ordinary citizens whom each record five radiation measurements per day. Each person had been provided a geiger counter equipped with an electronic timer to measure radiation levels.

At the end of each minute, it displays the counts in a liquid crystal display window. That user then writes the count on a data sheet along with the time and weather conditions. The monthly data sheets are collected and reviewed by professional advisors.

We also utilize five stationary low-level air samplers located within a two mile radius around Three Mile Island. These monitors are able to distinguish and record Alpha and Beta radiation. The data is collected by the Dickinson College physics Department and analyzed quarterly. A control station low-level air sampler is located a Dickinson College for comparison.

EFMR has distributed 75 RadAlert radiation monitors at 50 stations in an eight county area around Three Mile Island, including numerous colleges, high schools and community-based organizations. Several additional monitors are deployed in northern Maryland close to the York County border. In addition, EFMR will deploy 30 rad alerts in close proximity to Peach Bottom as a result of its Agreement with PECO Energy.

This all sounds good to me. Of course, the data taken needs to be analysed by those who understand what they’re doing, and in the event of any unusual and potentially release of radioactivity, the NRC and authorities need to be notified so that they may determine the most safe, prudent and rational course of action – of course, the utility will almost certainly be the first to notify the NRC, in any accident scenario.

The anti-nuclear lobby, and many environmentalist groups, could do well to learn from this group.

4 Responses

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  1. It’s so called Environmentalist who have put us in this position of rising energy costs. Any solution has been shot down by propaganda. Check out this article don’t drill for oil and no nuclear power. It’s ridiculous what there doing to us.


    May 21, 2008 at 8:28 pm

  2. It’s fine as long as they don’t get hijacked from the inside out by more rabid elements. Keep in mind that the antinuclear movement itself stated as a reasonable objection to the nuclear arms race and the risk that this contest had that one of the sides would get cornered into launching a first strike. Their actions were in part responsible for the subsequent Test Ban Treaties and the SALT process. It was only after that they were co-opted by those that wanted to keep the money flowing that they began to oppose nuclear power.

    If this group can stay a ‘nuclear neighborhood watch,’ that would be fine, but if they can remains to be seen.


    May 22, 2008 at 5:11 pm

  3. MOX is at best marginally effective reactor fuel. For every three Pu239 atoms which absorb thermal neurons, only two actually fission. The third becomes Pu240, which is not fissionable in a thermal neutron environment. Only when Pu240 absorbs a second neutron, does it become fissionable Pu241. About 3 our of four Pu241 atoms will fission when they absorb yet a third neutron. Thus MOX slows down the nuclear process by absorbing many neutrons without producing fission. Burning MOX in Light Water Reactors produces a significant amount of reactor grade plutonium, thus failing to achieve the anti-proliferation goal of disposing of excess uranium. There are far better ways of exposing of Pu-239, than burning it in LWRs.

    Charles Barton

    May 27, 2008 at 5:16 pm

  4. CANDU reactors offer the best technical possibility for a practical MOX-fuel cycle, because the reactor design inherently allows for the handling of full-MOX cores and would involve less change from the usual physics of the reactor than in the case of the LWRs.

    The burn up of plutonium in the MOX fuel in CANDU reactors would meet the “spent fuel standard”, as the safeguards requirements would not differ substantially from those required for existing Canadian spent fuel.

    Using Pu-MOX fuel in current CANDU reactors can destroy (net) up to 70% of the fissile plutonium content (Pu239 + Pu241), and about half of the total plutonium content. Advanced fuel designs (Pu-SiC, Pu-Th) can destroy (net) 94% of fissile plutonium content, and about 75% of the total plutonium content. With reprocessing, 100% destruction can be achieved. The immobilization option, favoured by MOX opponents, maintains the original inventory of plutonium indefinitely.


    May 28, 2008 at 1:37 am

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