Nuclear Newsreel, Tuesday, January 21, 2014

When nuclear reactors operate, they usually run flat out, at full power. The problem for the nuclear industry is that as reactors age, they increasingly don’t run at all. In North Carolina over the weekend, smoke from a transformer shut down the Shearon Harris reactor for the third time in less than a year. And, as the article indicates, area residents are beginning to question the standard utility line after a reactor shutdown of: ‘no radiation released, no one injured’. Seems they’ve heard that line so often, it’s just not that believable anymore. Meanwhile, things weren’t any better in Minnesota, where a failed heat exchanger shut down the Monticello reactor, just six months after Xcel Energy completed a major upgrade that ended up costing double the utility’s projections.

After 20 years of wrangling, the federal government still can’t decide about cleanup of Park Township (PA) radwaste dump. Years after beginning clean-up of the old Apollo site–a relic of the Cold War–the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found Uranium-235 and -233 at this mess of a site. And the Corps still refuses to say how much of these fissionable materials they have found. But it’s clear clean-up would cost about half a billion dollars, and equally clear that the Corps, which Congress told to take over the project in 2002, doesn’t know what to do about the site. Tepco’s explanation of new radioactive water leak at Fukushima doesn’t add up. The new leak was discovered at Unit-3, the most damaged reactor at the site, over the weekend. Extremely high radiation levels have prevented pinpointing the source of the leak, but, which follows Fukushima issues closely, finds that Tepco’s initial explanations don’t hold water (literally and metaphorically).

Like nuclear industry advocates just about everywhere, Japan’s Prime Minister Abe wants to speed up the nation’s high-level radioactive waste program. But, as is the case just about everywhere, that’s a lot easier said than done. Add in the trauma and problems caused by the Fukushima disaster, and the public isn’t buying the government’s plans. The Japan Times says limiting radioactive waste production should be the highest priority, and bringing the public into the process is a necessity. Wise words that should be a mantra in the U.S. as well, and words that the nuclear industry and its backers ignore at their own peril.

The problem of “low-level” radioactive waste has been out of the headlines for many years following the complete collapse of the government’s “compact” program in the late 1990s. Matt Wald of the New York Times looks at one of the few operating dumps taking “low-level” waste, in this case the Waste Control Specialists dump in west Texas, which currently can take waste only from Texas and Vermont, but has ambitions to be the waste dump for the entire nation. WCS was founded by the extreme right-wing “Swift Boat” funder Harold Simmons, who died late last year. But his company and its policies live on. As old nuclear reactors retire, a radioactive waste company looks to cash in.

The New York Public Service Commission in late December began a regulatory overhaul to support clean energy goals, especially energy efficiency. This is bad news for New York’s nuclear reactors (and fossil fuel plants). Various studies already have demonstrated that New York has ample renewable energy and energy efficiency capability to meet its power needs; this overhaul is intended to set up the regulatory framework to implement that capability. Article includes a link to the PSC’s order.

Entergy Corp. did manage to avoid one problem at its Indian Point reactors, as it reached an agreement with labor unions to avoid a threatened strike there.

In renewable energy news, a new study from DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory finds that rather than being a problem for the grid–as anti-renewable forces constantly contend–wind power actually will help manage grid stability. And now, even you can invest in solar power–it doesn’t take millions of dollars. SolarCity has opened the door to investors large and small who want to invest directly in its fast-growing rooftop solar business.

And two useful articles on the extremely positive trends for solar power. SFGate reports on the explosive growth for California’s surviving solar companies (e.g., just about every company not named Solyndra). And Grist has a fun article summarizing some of the achievements and new developments in the solar industry over the past year.

For those, especially outside the U.S., who were expecting the Nuclear Newsreel yesterday, we note that it was Martin Luther King Day in the U.S.–and that’s one holiday we at NIRS celebrate.

Michael Mariotte



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