Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Dialing Down the Alarm; Bulgarian Rectitude

kolozduy It’s interesting that the NRC, when it wants to make a point, will use the direst language it can think of:

"When training requirements vary among staff, compromised oversight of (spent fuel storage) safety inspections can occur," said the report, released by the NRC.

"Specifically, there is an increased potential that inspections will overlook discrepancies, resulting in an increased risk to public health and safety."

Has there been such an increase? No. But there could be. As a recommendation to train NRC inspectors to do more thorough inspections of dry cask storage containers, it’s exactly right and the language makes the point as clear as it can be. Of course, it also allows news ledes like this:

U.S. citizens may be at risk from radioactive waste stored near nuclear plants as better training for federal safety inspectors and more on-site checks are needed, an internal government report showed on Friday.

Well, maybe it’s not that bad if it spurs this training. But I expect everything that comes out of the safety inspections the NRC and industry are doing will be amplified into imminent peril. It’s just the mood of the day.

If I had any advice to readers, It would be to mentally dial down a lede’s alarm a notch or two and see what the rest of the story says.

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When you see a story like this about Bulgaria:

It's a grim reality for patients and families in Bulgaria, a struggling EU nation where donors are troublingly scarce, hospitals are strapped for funds and blood traders - mainly Gypsy, or Roma, men - are thriving.

- You don’t necessarily find yourself bowled over with surprise. (A good story, by the way, about a much more complex situation than it would seem.)

Bulgaria does have a nuclear plant – Kozloduy – far from a rusty tub with fuel rods.

"Complying with the highest safety standards for nuclear power has a key role in the development of the sector after the accident at Fukushima. At the same time, the requirements should not be impossible to fulfill, as they could block the technological and commercial development of nuclear energy," he said.

That, from Bulgarian Energy Minister Traicho Traikov, seems a kind of declaration that finds some echo across Europe, some disputation. But however one slices it, it seems a balanced statement.

Bulgaria launched a safety check at its nuclear power plant in Kozloduy on March 22 2011, which is not part of the stress tests to be conducted by the EU. After Brussels decides on the criteria for the Europe-wide checks, the facility will start a new stress test in June, Bulgaria's Nuclear Regulatory Agency head Sergei Tsochev said.

Good for Kozloduy. Bulgaria may have some rather grim crevices in its civil society, but nuclear energy wouldn’t seem to roost within any of them.

A little more news from Kolozduy:

A new dry spent nuclear fuel storage facility was officially launched at Bulgaria's Kozloduy by the country's PM, Boyko Borisov, and Economy and Energy Minister, Traicho Traikov.

This is meant to house used fuel from decommissioned plants around the country and essentially becomes a cross between Yucca Mountain, a centralized used fuel repository, and dry cask storage for Kozloduy itself.

The German NUKEM Technologies-GNS has been contracted by Bulgaria to build the depot, which will cost EUR 70.5 M [about $92 million]. The new facility will accommodate casks with spent fuel from the plant's four closed units, currently stored in wet pools, and will be subsequently enlarged to receive casks from the active Units 5 and 6.

Which seems a good approach. The Bulgarians are rolling right along.

Kolozduy. Like the symbols – no mistaking what kind of energy facility it is. Bulgaria gets about 17 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy, second to coal, which supplies about 19 percent

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