Nuclear Newsreel, Friday, April 18, 2014

rooftopsolarIt’s Friday! Time for an abbreviated, and mostly optimistic, Nuclear Newsreel…

Department of Energy workers yesterday made it far enough into the WIPP site to reach the contaminated area, according to the Associated Press. However, the workers were unable to remain deep in the site long enough to determine what caused the February and March radiation releases. The contaminated area is believed to be “panel 7.” As AP describes it, “Waste at the plant is stored in panels, which are a series of rooms cut out of underground salt beds. Five of those panels are full and have already been sealed. Panel 6 is full but has not yet been sealed. Panel 7 is the current active storage area. Crews made it to both Panels 6 and 7, and they found the contamination in Panel 7.”

Clean Energy

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman admits he thought the idea that the wind and sun could be major energy players was “hippie-dippy wishful thinking.” No more. With solar prices plunging and renewables gaining worldwide, Krugman now says de-carbonizing the planet is a realistic goal–and, it can be done without harm to the U.S. or world’s economies. Okay, probably most GreenWorld readers already knew that; but when the concept begins reaching the mainstream (though Krugman, despite his excellent work over the years, unfortunately remains somewhat left of the mainstream), that’s when you know the concept is not only valid, it will quickly become accepted wisdom. Krugman’s entire piece here is quite optimistic on the world’s ability to avoid the worst of climate change.

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Nuclear Newsreel, Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nuclear Power

New confirmation. New study: wind, solar power is cheaper than new nuclear. A new European study confirms what by now almost everyone except the U.S. Congress and White House seem to know: renewables are cheaper than new nuclear power–20% cheaper, even if construction of natural gas backup plants were to be required. Renewables alone, according to the study, are 50% cheaper than new reactors. “Wind and solar systems will dominate the power system in increasingly more countries,” Patrick Graichen, head of Agora Energiewende [which commissioned the study], said in an e-mailed statement. “The battle for the cheapest CO2-free power mix is decided.”

Osetr whole smokedThe Entergy Corporation’s ongoing problems, chronicled well in these pages by Tim Judson on Tuesday, may not be entirely of its own making; it’s certainly not the only utility challenged by renewables and gas in the merchant electricity market. But Entergy does have a way of making things worse for itself. The latest: their idea to monitor the fish intake at the Indian Point reactors–an issue currently before the courts–by tying frozen sturgeon to the intake screens.

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Why are Entergy executives selling their stock?

Entergy's Palisades reactor has the most embrittled reactor pressure vessel in the U.S., major maintenance and equipment issues, and a very uncertain future. Photo from Wikipedia.

Entergy’s Palisades reactor has the most embrittled reactor pressure vessel in the U.S., major maintenance and equipment issues, and a very uncertain future. Photo from Wikipedia.

Over the last few months, there has been a bit of a selling spree of Entergy stock. But this sell-off isn’t coming from just anybody: these sales are by some of the corporation’s top executives. Between December and early April, five Entergy execs sold off large portions of stock they hold in their employer. On December 3, 2013, Entergy CEO Leo Denault sold more than half of his Entergy stock (55.7%, or 33,949 shares valued at $2,103,480). On February 20, the Chief Financial Officer, Andrew Marsh, sold 20.7% of his stock (2,808 shares valued at $181,902). On February 27, Senior Vice President for Federal Government, Regulatory, and Policy Affairs Kimberly Despeaux sold 20.8% of her stock (3,024 shares valued at $193,113). And most recently, on April 9, Chief Accounting Officer Alyson Mount sold 45.9% of her stock (4,929 shares valued at $347,495). Also, on December 16 and October 16, Senior VP of Human Resources and Chief Diversity Officer Donald Vinci twice sold more than 16% of his Entergy holdings.

There was nothing illegal about any of this, they are all above-board transactions properly reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission and covered in the investment press. But if the three people who know most about Entergy’s finances (the CEO, CFO and CAO) and the person in charge of the company’s government and regulatory affairs—which are central to the company’s economic future (see below)—don’t feel that Entergy stock is a better long-term investment, you have to wonder whether there’s some big news on the horizon.

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Nuclear Newsreel, Monday, April 14, 2014

Japan's Rokkasho reprocessing plant. Photo by Greenpeace

Japan’s Rokkasho reprocessing plant. Photo by Greenpeace

Nuclear Power

Babcock & Wilcox, best known for designing the Three Mile Island reactors, cuts back on its Small Modular Reactor program because it can’t find investors. Because, really, who would want one?

NRC respect for judicial process in action: the agency approved a new uranium mine in South Dakota even before a legal hearing challenging the mine was held. That may be a new low for the agency; in this editorial the Rapid City Journal notes: “By issuing the license before testimony is heard, the NRC invites cynicism in the uranium licensing process. Mining opponents can’t be faulted for believing the process has been corrupted, and that the NRC is controlled by the uranium industry that it’s supposed to regulate.”

Is Rick Perry cheerleading for a high-level radwaste dump in Texas? Apparently so. An excellent examination of the Governor’s actions in support of a new dump–and some bigtime Perry contributors–from The Texas Observer. If he’d do that to Texas, imagine what he could do to the entire country if ever elected president….

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Russia cracks down on Civil Society

The Russian invasion and takeover of Crimea has proven to be extremely popular for Vladimir Putin, and has given rise to a new–and somewhat frightening–level of Russian nationalism. While the popularity boost may be temporary: further Russian aggression, exactly the kind that began over the weekend in eastern Ukraine with armed soldiers in identical uniforms without insignia taking over government buildings in a number of cities and towns, is likely to both ultimately fail (recent polls show that even in eastern Ukraine, only about 4% of the public wants to be annexed by Russia) and cause serious damage to Russia’s economy.

50,000 marched in Moscow last month to protest Russia's invasion of Crimea.

50,000 marched in Moscow last month to protest Russia’s invasion of Crimea.

Even though apparently popular, support for Putin’s policies has hardly been unanimous. Few realize that 50,000 people protested in Moscow last month against the Crimea takeover, and yesterday 10,000 joined a new protest against both Russia’s actions toward Ukraine and the country’s shutdown of most independent media outlets.

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Nuclear Newsreel, Friday, April 11, 2014

A very abbreviated Nuclear Newsreel today as I have to run off early–my band is playing tonight. Sound checks and fast food–ah, the life of a rock and roll star…. hey, even an activist has to have a life!

Anti-nuclear protestors crash the gates at Temelin in 1996. We came back again in greater numbers the next year.

Anti-nuclear protestors crash the gates at Temelin in 1997.

It’s absolutely shameful, but the U.S. Ambassador to Prague actually issued a statement in which he says the  U.S. is “disappointed” in the end of the idea of building two new reactors at the Temelin site in the Czech Republic. This is something that should instead be celebrated, and certainly will be by Czech ratepayers and taxpayers for decades to come. For a very different perspective on the announcement, read this piece from former NIRS’ board chair Paxus Calta, who spent many years in the Eastern Europe fighting Temelin and many other proposed reactors–many of which were never built. And the people Paxus worked with, and acknowledges here, are still at it. Finally, for those with a historical interest, you can read my account of the international blockade of Temelin in 1997.

Workers sickened by toxic (radioactive?) fumes at Hanford speak out for the first time. This is a scandal in the making, but few outside KING-TV in Seattle seem to be paying much interest.

SimplyInfo.org, the best ongoing source of information on Fukushima, reports today that “the radioactive sludge leak from the H4 tank farm last August was more than three times worse than admitted.” Initially said to be 80 million becquerels of strontium 90 released, Tepco now admits the actual release was more like 280 million becquerels.

ClimateProgress has a good piece today pointing out that Japan replaced half of its lost nuclear power after Fukushima with energy efficiency programs, and asks whether the U.S. could do the same. One word answer: Yes. Expanded answer: But it takes political willpower to make it happen. That’s where you come in.

 

That nearly vertical gray line on the right? That's the price of solar power plunging to competitiveness.

That nearly vertical gray line on the right? That’s the price of solar power plunging to competitiveness.

The Solar Industry Has Been Waiting 60 Years For This To Happen — And It Finally Just Did. This graph says it all. But if it takes a moment to grasp, that’s understandable. That plunging gray line? It shows just how fast and how far solar prices have been plunging–all the way down to competitiveness with gas and coal (nuclear? wouldn’t compete with any of these…) in less than a decade. As Jefferson Airplane once said to a crowd of about 500,000 people before 7 am: It’s a new dawn….

Have a great weekend, we’ll see you Monday.

Michael Mariotte

April 11, 2014

Permalink: http://safeenergy.org/2014/04/11/nuclear-newsreel-friday-april-11-2014/

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Nuclear Newsreel, Thursday, April 10, 2014

Nuclear Power

No new reactors will be added to the existing Temelin site. Photo by Michael Mariotte.

No new reactors will be added to the existing Temelin site. Photo by Michael Mariotte.

Another one bites the dust: Czech utility CEZ cancels new reactors at Temelin; utility’s stock immediately rises more than three percent. CEZ had planned to build two new reactors at its long-controversial Temelin site, but wanted government subsidies to do so. Czech president President Milos Zeman refused to provide such subsidies and instead told CEZ to revoke its existing tender and try again to get an offer to build the reactors that wouldn’t require government support. CEZ knew that was impossible, and gave up on the idea entirely.

New York Times: Japan still wants to open reprocessing plant, stockpile more plutonium despite proliferation risks. It looks to us like Japan’s much-ballyhooed announcement last month about returning some plutonium to the U.S. wasn’t about proliferation concerns. Rather, we suspect Japan just wanted to unload some of its radioactive waste on the U.S., since Japan is even further behind than the U.S. on a disposal site.

People and elected officials on Cape Cod are not at all happy about NRC’s rejection yesterday of NIRS’ petition to expand emergency planning zones.  Meanwhile, in nearby Vermont, Entergy wants to end emergency planning entirely once its Vermont Yankee reactor shuts down later this year, even though the reactor’s high-level radioactive waste will remain onsite for the foreseeable future. That idea is not likely to play well in Vermont, though it’s not clear what recourse the state may have. The NRC is actively working to make it easier for utilities with shutdown reactors to get exemptions from emergency planning requirements.

China’s nuclear program is beginning to look a lot like the failure of the U.S. nuclear “renaissance.” China is still rejecting inland nuclear reactors. As noted in GreenWorld earlier this week, nuclear’s share of Chinese generation capacity is at only 1.2% (it’s about 19% in the U.S.). While China’s nuclear construction program remains far more ambitious than anything in the West, it is dwarfed by China’s spending on renewables and nuclear is still unlikely to ever provide a significant share of the country’s electricity.

More delays are likely for the Summer nuclear project in South Carolina, according to a new report from state regulators. Note, the dollar amounts in this article are only for SCANA’s share of the project, not the full cost, which is far higher.

How to get away with almost anything. Essay in Bulletin of Atomic Scientists pointing out that in many developing countries–the focus here is on Pakistan–the nuclear industry is still a secret industry and that leads to lower safety standards and greater risk of disaster.

Publics indoctrinated in the virtues of nuclear weapons let their nations’ atomic energy establishments get away with almost anything. Public subsidies are dispensed for nuclear power, but hidden for secrecy reasons, and are thus excluded from the real costs of electricity. Nuclear establishments need not reveal their plans for disaster management, prove these plans’ adequacy, develop environmental impact mitigation schemes, or educate the population about radiation hazards. These establishments, operating almost unchallenged, feel little need to make the case for nuclear power over alternative energy technologies. Bureaucracies, shrouded in layer after layer of secrecy and relying on official secrecy acts, can continue to hide from the public gaze their appalling inefficiency and incompetence.

Here’s a hoot–and an exercise in self-delusion. Or maybe there’s just a desire to boost graduate school enrollment figures. In any case, a manager at Southern Company told a nuclear engineering graduate school gathering in Tennessee yesterday that 130,000 new workers will be needed to build the next 30 nuclear reactors in the U.S. Sounds like an echo of John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and the idea of 30 new reactors in the U.S. inevitably will follow the same fate as that campaign. But we do feel sorry for any students who believe such a fantasy and spend tens of thousands of dollars on a grad school curriculum that is not very likely to have the future its backers claim.

Clean Energy

A California county has become the first in the nation to be grid positive: it produces 152% of the energy it uses from solar.

Also in California, utility-scale solar power topped five percent of the state’s electricity needs in March, a new record. Renewables generally provided more than 22% of the state’s power. And those figures don’t count rooftop solar, which doesn’t show up in such estimates because for utilities it’s power they aren’t providing. But with 2.2 Gigawatts of rooftop solar already installed in California, solar would have bumped up a point or two.

Goldman Sachs plans to invest $40 Billion in renewable energy over the next ten years. That’s serious money from just one investment company. Stuart Bernstein, the head of Sachs’ clean energy group, says we are already in a period of rapid transition to clean energy but says Sach’s belief is that this will be a 20-year process.

Inside Washington

 

The entrance to Mount Ronald Reagan?

The entrance to Mount Ronald Reagan?

A Nevada Republican, Rep. Joe Heck, wants to name part of Frenchman Mountain in the state after former President Ronald Reagan–as if they weren’t already enough things named after him. But some members of the House Natural Resources Committee had a more appropriate idea: Rep. Peter DeFazio suggested naming the now-abandoned Yucca Mountain radioactive waste dump after Reagan. Said DeFazio, “If we were going to name something after the president, it ought to be something that actually had to do with the president’s service in office, and something the president supported that was extraordinarily significant to the state of Nevada.” The committee ended up approving Heck’s request, knowing that it is highly unlikely to get to the Senate floor controlled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Sometimes it’s not worth rooting for either side, but if anyone had doubts about how difficult this Congress is, read on. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz continued to push his inane “all of the above” energy strategy on Capitol Hill yesterday, and said DOE needs more money to implement the strategy. House Republicans countered that the administration is too biased against fossil fuels and is waging a war on coal. The chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), complained that the Obama White House has continually proposed spending three to six times as much on investments in alternative energy sources, including wind and solar power, as on fossil fuels. “It certainly appears to me to be a not-balanced approach—not an ‘all of the above’ approach by this administration,” Smith said. Neither side appears to have noticed the changes taking place in the electricity sector, which is pushing away coal at least as fast as nuclear power, although Moniz did support the idea of new coal with carbon capture technology, which so far has proven remarkably expensive and ineffective.

Meanwhile, CNBC, which appears to be on a relentless pro-nuclear promotional campaign, touted an appearance by Moniz, in which he spoke favorably about small modular reactors and pushed the department’s existing loan guarantee programs, as a sign of a hopeful future for nuclear power. Never mind that the nuclear side of the loan guarantee program hasn’t been able to give away more than $10 billion it has remaining after the one loan–for the Vogtle reactors in Georgia–that it managed to eke out four years after announcing its approval. We have no idea if CNBC’s investment advice is any more accurate or in-depth than its reporting, but for the sake of its viewers we sure hope so.

Michael Mariotte

April 10, 2014

Permalink: http://safeenergy.org/2014/04/10/nuclear-newsreel-thursday-april-10-2014/

You can now support GreenWorld with your tax-deductible contribution on our new donation page here. We gratefully appreciate every donation of any size–your support is what makes our work possible.

Comments are welcome on all GreenWorld posts! Say your piece above. Start a discussion. Don’t be shy; this blog is for you.

If you like GreenWorld, you can help us reach more people. Just use the icons below to “like” our posts and to share them on the various social networking sites you use. And if you don’t like GreenWorld, please let us know that too. Send an e-mail with your comments/complaints/compliments to nirsnet@nirs.org. Thank you!

Note: If you’d like to receive GreenWorld via e-mail daily, send your name and e-mail address to nirsnet@nirs.org and we’ll send you an invitation. Note that the invitation will come from a GreenWorld@wordpress.com address and not a nirs.org address, so watch for it.