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“…they lay there silently, side by side in the shadows of the dimmed turbine building, like two giant eggs out of a Mothra movie just waiting for two teeny little Japanese fairies to sing them to life.”

– Tales from the Heart of the Beast

Ah, you’ve gotta love it when things are so bad that even the most cash-flow intensive industry ever conceived by the twisted minds of men starts holding fire sales on gigantic, expensive components. Sort of makes a statement about where the rest of us must be right now, and isn’t a very good sign that things might be getting better any time soon.

I got an email request last week from Sue Sturgis, the Institute for Southern Studies reporter who wrote last April’s story about the 30th anniversary of the accident at Three Mile Island. She was asking for information about TMI-2’s generator and how reliable it might be after 30 years in “mothballs” in the middle of the Susquehanna River…

It seems that North Carolina’s Progress Energy has purchased TMI-2’s long-idle generator, and plans to install its rotor and stator in the Shearon Harris plant, located between Raleigh and Chapel Hill in New Hill, NC. The Shearon Harris plant opened in 1987 and was originally supposed to house four reactors. But gross cost overruns and “construction issues” pared that number down to a lonely one. Which in the end wound up costing North Carolina rate payers more than three times the originally projected cost of all four reactors. This sort of thing has always plagued the industry, and is the primary reason that utilities stopped buying them way back in their heady heyday BEFORE the accident at TMI. You just couldn’t trust them to be honest about anything. Including how much serious harm they cause to the people unlucky enough to live near them.

Dharma Bums who keep up with the goings-on over at the GOS have no doubt seen the sunshine and cool wind advertisements over there from Siemens, a German energy conglomerate with operations in the U.S. and elsewhere. It seems that Siemens purchased the TMI-2 generator from Ohio-based FirstEnergy, which bought Three Mile Island some years ago from its previous owners (who bought it from GPU), then turned around and sold it to Progress for the Shearon Harris plant. Which recently got a gift from the NRC, which extended its operating license from forty to sixty years, so one might think that perhaps some updating of components is wise. Yet in return, Progress will be selling its current generator – which is 23 years old and has been running for most of that time – back to Seimens, which is planning to turn back around and resell that 23 year old component back to some other U.S. nuke. Maybe even one near you!

Remember when nuclear power plants were being sold to the public with propaganda touting their engineering and components as the absolute best of the best (sparing no expense!), to result in electrical energy that would be “Clean, Safe, Too Cheap to Meter”? If so, you may be wondering like I am why all the sudden super-sales and strange switcheroos being described by Sturgis in her current ISS article,

N.C. nuclear plant gets deal on meltdown-era Three Mile Island generator.

Through the ensuing back and forth between Sturgis and her several sources it was made clear that the generator at TMI-2 was never seriously contaminated during that nasty accident so long ago. The turbine and generator were tripped to bypass at the beginning of the accident and never brought back online. But some of us questioned the wisdom of buying parts that have been sitting idle for 30+ years in a damp tomb. Then one might want to ask, if Shearon Harris’ current generator parts are good enough to be resold back to some other plant, why they don’t just keep what they have? Curiouser and curiouser…

Over the 23 years of its operation, the Shearon Harris plant hasn’t exactly earned itself a stellar reputation for following the rules. Progress’s plant has been cited for failing to install fire safety equipment meeting NRC requirements, employing a private security firm that actually encouraged its armed guards to cheat on certification tests, and ignoring malfunctioning equipment rather than doing maintenance. Typical nuclear power management stuff. Something about all this is just… unsettling.

So as yet another nagging background concern in this era of economic depression, jobless non-recoveries, future energy source uncertainties, frozen government spending, murder by corporate spreadsheet, new age eugenics by health care denial, etc., etc., etc., I’ll make a small prediction about how this crazy Nuclear Fire Sale is going to work out.

What led to the accident at Three Mile Island was the utility’s corner-cutting on quality components. They purchased a core for their brand new plant (Unit 2 began operations in January of 1979) at bargain basement price from Kerr-McGee, which happened to have it on hand because the utility (Shippingsport, I believe) for which it was made refused to take delivery due to lousy fuel rod cladding welds. It was installed at TMI and ramped up to the 90-100+% operating range, then its cladding welds predictably began to fail. This not only released fuel into the reactor coolant water, it also impeded the ability of control rods to fall into place during a shutdown scram in areas of failure, as distance tolerances in a reactor core are measured in microns. Split welds wreak havoc on that. Rather than shut the plant down immediately, report the issue to the NRC and file suit against Kerr-McGee, the TMI management instead decided to cover up increasing releases while hoping to keep the plant running at max as long as possible in order to make as much money as possible before having to replace the entire core (or at least the failed assemblies) at refueling, two years down the line.

For the three months of operation prior to the accident on March 28, 1979, reactor coolant leak rates (and isotope release rates) were falsified. After the accident former control room operator Harold Hartman, Jr. reported the falsifications to the NRC. The NRC referred the matter to the Department of Justice in April of 1980 and DoJ began a grand jury investigation. In November of 1983 DoJ indicted Met-Ed for violations of their operating license and the federal criminal code. On February 29, 1984 Metropolitan-Edison became the first utility ever convicted of criminal violation of the Atomic Energy Act.

Obviously, getting components cheap off the back lot didn’t have very good results for the utility operating Three Mile Island. I do not expect that getting components cheap from Three Mile Island is going to work out well for the utility operating Sheron Harris. Further, I certainly don’t expect the dumb utility that buys the old parts that Sheron Harris is replacing with TMI-2 parts is going to have very good luck. I plan to keep track of both Shearon Harris and whatever plant buys their used parts, because at least one of them is going to suffer a nasty accident within the next few years. Don’t expect to be honestly informed about it when it does happen, no matter how bad it is. That’s the one thing the industry DID learn from the accident at TMI-2 – no matter what, don’t tell the public about it. And the NRC, which itself was convicted of violations in regards to their oversight of the plant and recovery from the accident, is perfectly okay with that.

Shearon Harris is too close for comfort to my homestead, though thankfully we are not downwind of it. If it blows my already impoverished state is going to lose its capitol city, and the historic, beautiful city of Durham (which my great-grandmother’s family settled in the 1600s) and Chapel Hill, home to some of UNC’s most important colleges. Even the Triangle could be ruined, which represents most of the remaining scientific and high tech jobs in this state. All so Progress Energy can save a few bucks on used parts.

I’ll be hoping that the plant that gets Shearon Harris’ even more used parts isn’t anywhere upwind of you. Doing nuclear power on the cheap is going to fail big time. I can’t believe this is being allowed!


Skip to comment form

    • Joy B. on January 27, 2010 at 19:34

    …because I’m gonna need a pony to pull the wagon to town once the whole sheebang falls apart. Which is now, unfortunately, inevitable.

    • Joy B. on January 28, 2010 at 17:48

    It scrolled off unsurprisingly, what with the SOTU coming up, just wanted to highlight Sturgis’ article and report on this odd switcheroo of seriously used parts. Because corner-cutting on atom-splitting is not a good idea, and there is the accident at TMI to prove it!

    • Joy B. on January 28, 2010 at 18:01

    In Obama’s speech last night he pretty much sped over “alternatives” as if solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, etc. were entirely of secondary consideration. The energy sources he DID highlight – in order of importance to his plans, presumably – were:

    That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.  It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies.

    Nukes came in at the top of the list, a hat tip to that “Nuclear Renaissance” we’ve been hearing a lot about lately, but which America simply cannot afford. It could be argued that this is just payback to lobbyists, given that offshore leases already open haven’t been developed by any oil company (so who needs more?) and ‘everybody knows’ there’s no such thing as “clean coal.”

    But to highlight these dinosaurs instead of the real sources this country needs desperately to develop is distressing. Especially when the known to be dangerously dishonest nuclear industry is busy holding fire sales on used components just to keep themselves going. Even though they are the most expensive and most subsidized energy industry on the planet. Now that energy demand is deep into a recession and industry-vacant trough, it’s a great time to change our direction completely. Stop pouring good money after bad.

  1. This should be in the daily news stream everywhere.

    It reminds me of going to “Pick A Part”, to get a used driveshaft for one of my trucks.

    You know it`s not going to last.

    In this case though, it`s like a ring of criminals, fencing defective parts down the line at the expense of millions of lives into the future.

  2. …. it’s immortal.


    Sept 9, 2009  Generators bound for Three Mile Island will soon hit the road

    The first of two massive steam generators bound for the nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island was hauled ashore Tuesday at Tome’s Landing Marina in this quaint, Susquehanna River town.

    The second one is scheduled to arrive at the marina today.

    On Sunday, they both will begin the long, slow, 70-mile journey over land through Cecil County, Md., and the entire length of Lancaster County to the Exelon Nuclear plant in southern Dauphin County

    and now it’s spreading.

  3. minimum 240 wheels

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