Energy Northwest has Radioactive Waste Disposal Privileges Revoked by WA State Again

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The Columbia Generating Station at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, WA.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 11, 2017

CONTACT: Chuck Johnson, Physicians for Social Responsibility (503) 777-2794; chuck@oregonpsr.org

Energy Northwest has Radioactive Waste Disposal Privileges Revoked by WA State Again

PORTLAND, OR - On July 26, 2017, quietly and with no reporting to the media, the State of Washington’s Department of Health found that Energy Northwest vastly under-reported the radioactivity of a July 20, 2017 low-level radioactive waste shipment. As it had after a previous similar incident in November, the Department of Health indefinitely revoked the nuclear utility’s right to ship radioactive materials to the state’s licensed disposal site.

Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station (CGS) nuclear power plant, the Northwest’s only nuclear power facility, located on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation along the Columbia River, was already under a “white finding” heightened monitoring program administered by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for repeatedly delivering incorrectly reported waste shipments to Washington’s Low-level Radioactive Waste Facility, located further inland at Hanford. Energy Northwest’s appeal of the “white finding” was denied by the NRC in June and yet, less than a month later, the utility was found guilty of the same error that had placed it into a category of additional NRC scrutiny shared by only 13 of the 99 US nuclear power reactors.

This poor performance by operators of the CGS nuclear reactor mirrors its bottom quarter performance ratings for the last two years by industry watchdog Institute for Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) – a status Energy Northwest initially tried to hide from its own board and has stopped reporting altogether, ostensibly because INPO has told them these ratings are proprietary. Energy Northwest’s INPO ratings have been charted since it began operating in 1984 and the utility only stopped reporting them in January 2016 after a whistleblower letter to the Energy Northwest board of directors revealed the deceptive presentation of the ratings to the board.

Economist Robert McCullough noted that Energy Northwest – previously known as the Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS, pronounced ‘whoops’) – has been challenged by the Bonneville Power Administration to reduce costs, due to low power prices in the region. “They have been costing the region hundreds of millions of dollars annually since 2008,” McCullough said, “and the pressure to improve its financial performance will inevitably affect areas such as completing timely repairs and operator performance.”

Bonneville, through agreement in the 1970s, is required to buy power from the Columbia Generating Station and to pay down the debt of two additional Energy Northwest reactors that were abandoned in the 1980s. Nuclear project costs make up 36% of Bonneville’s annual expenses, while supplying 10% of Bonneville’s electricity, the bulk of which comes from inexpensive hydroelectric power, to its utility customers.

“This shows that the problems of poor performance revealed by the whistleblower letter last year have not been resolved,” said John Pearson, MD, a nuclear power critic representing Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR).

National PSR board member Dr. Steven Gilbert agreed: “Given its consistently poor operation, high price, and the inherently dangerous high-level radioactive waste it generates with no permanent disposal site, we believe it is now time to replace the CGS nuclear reactor with affordable renewable energy sources, which are readily available in this region.” Using solar panels, Dr. Gilbert generates more than 100% of the electricity used annually in his family home in Seattle.

Guided by the values and expertise of medicine and public health, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility works to protect human life from the gravest threats to health and survival. More information is available at www.oregonpsr.org and twitter.com/oregonpsr.

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On August 10th, 2017 Susannah Frame of King 5 news in Washington state published an in-depth look at nuclear waste transport violations at the Columbia Generating Station near Richland, WA. Because of multiple errors in its shipping of radioactive waste, The Washington State Department of Health has suspended indefinitely the shipment of radioactive waste from the nuclear plant. Click here to read and watch the report.