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Embrittlement in Nuclear Power Plants

Embrittlement in Nuclear Power Plants

Of all the daunting tasks Joe Biden faces, especially vital is the inspection of dangerously embrittled atomic reactors still operating in the United States.

A meltdown at any one of them would threaten the health and safety of millions of people while causing major impact to an already struggling economy. The COVID-19 pandemic would complicate and add to the disaster. A nuclear power plant catastrophe would severely threaten accomplishments Biden is hoping to achieve in his presidency.

The problem of embrittlement is on the top of the list of nuclear power concerns. The “average age”—length of operation—of nuclear power plants in the U.S., the federal government’s Energy information Agency, reported in 2019 was 38 years.

Now, in 2021, the “average age” of nuclear power plants in the U.S. is 40 years—the length of time originally seen when nuclear power began in the U.S. for how long plants could operate before embrittlement set in.

That’s why the operating licenses originally issued for the plants were limited to 40 years.

Here’s how Arnold “Arnie” Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with more than 44 years of experience in the nuclear industry, who became a whistleblower and is now chief engineer at Fairewinds Associates, explains embrittlement: “When exposed to radiation, metal becomes embrittled and eventually can crack like glass. The longer the radiation exposure, the worse the embrittlement becomes.”

“A nuclear reactor is just like a pressure cooker and is a pot designed to hold the radioactive contents of the atomic chain reaction in the nuclear core,” continues Gundersen, whose experience includes being a licensed Critical Facility Reactor Operator. “And metals in reactors are exposed to radiation every day a plant operates”

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