Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2013
Mexico’s two Laguna Verde (LV) reactors, on the Gulf of Mexico 40 miles north of Veracruz, operate behind a shield of fraud, bid-rigging and government secrecy, according to a May article by Talli Nauman in Counterpunch. They are owned and operated by Comisión Federal de Electricidad, the national electric company owned by the Mexican government.
The World Association of Nuclear Operators has documented inadequate personnel training, poor management and the use of obsolete equipment, and whistleblowers have reported widespread corrosion of giant condensers and pipes in the cooling system. Professor Bernardo Salas Mar, a well-known mathematician and physicist who previously worked at LV, was fired after having revealed environmental cesium and cobalt contamination — and other problems.
Rafael F. de la Garza was a manager at LV and responsible for vetting the company’s bidding on a reactor “upgrade” project, which was designed to increase the reactors’ generating capacity by 20%, from 1,365 megawatts to 1,638 mW. De la Garza hired the French company Alstom Mexico and Iberdrola Ingenería, a Spanish company that employed his son as Director. Iberdrola got the job in spite of the fact it had no expertise in reactor operations. The upgrade lasted five years and cost over $600 million.
Professor Salas Mar alleges that Iberdrola and Alstom bilked Mexicans out of the half billion and had charged that the contractors were incapable of satisfactorily carrying out the work. Current employees have also complained about the upgrade project and, in a letter sent to the presidential administration, called it “unreliable, risky and overpriced.”
Iberdrola announced completion of the upgrade on February 21, 2013, but it has been a complete bust. Not only has reactor output failed to increase, but the National Commission for Nuclear Safety and Safeguards refused to grant an upgrade license. The information came to light as a result of Salas Mar’s persistent Federal Information Access Institute requests.
The World Information Service on Energy in Amsterdam reports that 50 miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico is contaminated with effluent from the two General Electric Mark II reactors. (Three reactors that caused explosions and suffered meltdowns at Fukushima, Japan are identical models.) Releases to the sea of cobalt, strontium and other isotopes have been detected in marine life. Locals have of course been urging the government to shut down the reactors.
Investigative journalist Alex Backman reports that the Federal Commission of Electricity has suggested that a hydrogen leak last fall could have caused an uncontrolled fire. A shutdown that occurred in January 2013 may have been caused by fractures in cooling water pumps, although government confirmation has not been forthcoming. The leaks, shutdowns, and the lack of quality control and accountability has led to a civil law suit demanding that utility customers be exempt from LV’s electric bills. Up until 2010, Mexico planned to build ten new reactors, but those plans have been scrapped.
— Counterpunch & Journal Presence, May 18; MS Noticias, Alcalorpolitico.com & Informants in Red, Apr. 29; World Nuclear News, Feb. 21, 2013; Plumas Libres, Oct. 24, 2012; Bloomberg, Nov. 3; Inter Press Service, Mar. 30, 2011; WISENews Comminique, Feb. 12, 1993 — BLU