Nuclear Newsreel, Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Nuclear “renaissance” in Indiana lasts less than 2 weeks; Senator withdraws bill to encourage new nukes. The chair of the state’s Senate Utilities Committee, James Merritt (R-Indianapolis), introduced a bill that would have put Indiana on par with Georgia and South Carolina by requiring ratepayers to pay in advance for any nuclear reactor a utility decided to build–a policy known as CWIP (Construction Work in Progress). But most states are moving in the opposite direction: the Iowa legislature rejected such a proposal last session and in Florida legislators reformed their CWIP law and some are still seeking to end it entirely. In deregulated states–the majority of states–CWIP is not even an option. In any case, Merritt must have received a lot of feedback he hadn’t expected; perhaps even from Indiana utilities, which have shown little interest in building new reactors since the expensive collapse of projects at Bailly in northern Indiana and Marble Hill in southern Indiana in the early 1980s.

Nuclear industry & regulators overlooking effects of climate change on reactor safety. This is an issue that just hasn’t received the kind of attention in the mainstream media it deserves: climate change negatively affects the operation of nuclear reactors. Advocating for nuclear power as a solution to climate change simply ignores the reality that reactors are more vulnerable than clean energy sources to the effects of climate change. Reactors need vast amount of cold water; which may not be there and/or may not be cold enough: both factors have shut down reactors from Alabama to central France in recent years. And severe weather events can be cataclysmic. The article concludes with this warning: “We learned that they (the region’s nuclear power plants) just barely made it through safely during [Hurricane] Sandy,” Klaus Jacob, a seismologist at Columbia University, told Climate Central after the storm, “but that does not imply that future storms, when combined with continued SLR (sea level rise), could not cause serious problems.”

Nuclear industry worries that legions of anti-nuke jellyfish intent on closing reactors are growing. Okay, maybe jellyfish don’t actually have an opinion on energy options. But large jellyfish swarms already have shut down reactors in various parts of the world, and this industry blog is concerned that jellyfish populations are growing and the problem is only going to get worse.

The International Uranium Film Festival is coming to Washington DC and New York City in February. If you live near either city, don’t miss it. More than 60 films on nuclear power and weapons will be screened. Details, dates and schedules here.

Very interesting (and very long) piece from the Huffington Post last summer on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), especially on his decades-long ties to the recently-shuttered Paducah uranium enrichment plant and its owner USEC–which survives entirely on taxpayer support and says it will declare bankruptcy any day now. It includes a lengthy and chilling description of the effects of radiation from the plant on workers and local residents–problems McConnell ignored for years. But this Obamacare hater finally did work to enact legislation to provide free health care for the poisoned workers. The cost to taxpayers for this health care: $9.5 Billion. The cost to USEC: zero. And residents who weren’t plant workers received nothing at all. But, the article says, speaking of the political ramifications of the legislation, “McConnell had spun a political liability into gold, going from potential goat to savior.” This piece, largely overlooked at the time of publication, is still highly relevant given McConnell’s current re-election campaign.

Renewables and Efficiency

Energy efficiency is about to get a $200 Million jolt From Wall Street. Two different investment firms are setting up $100 million funds to aggregate and finance energy efficiency projects, especially those aimed at homeowners. Electrical demand in the U.S. still has not returned to pre-2007 levels, and on a per-capita basis demand continues to fall. Improving energy efficiency nationwide, and thus encouraging continued per-capita demand reduction, is a key element of building a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system.

Sometimes the enthusiasm for solar energy’s prospects smack of boosterism, but that enthusiasm is relentless, infectious and constant. Today, Deutsche Bank predicts a new solar gold rush over the next two years that will result in 100GW+ of new solar capacity worldwide. If anything, one research firm is even more optimistic, predicting that the global solar market will reach $75.2 Billion by 2016, nearly doubling 2013’s investment. We note that at current nuclear costs, that level of investment would result in about 9 Gigawatts of new nuclear capacity; in this case the firm MarketsandMarkets predicts it will result in 227 Gigawatts of new solar capacity. Even if that’s overstated, and even accounting for solar’s lower capacity factor, new solar power is now far more cost-effective than new nuclear power. Speaking of capacity factor, a solar industry executive explains why capacity factor of utility-scale solar power plants is not as relevant as is sometimes argued.

If you like solar power (and who doesn’t?) EcoWatch says that National Solar Shout Out Day, which is Friday, January 24, is gaining momentum. Find out more and join in here.

A few years ago, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger caused a big stir in environmental circles by writing–and distributing widely to environmental funders–an article charging that the environmental movement, especially the big green groups, has done just about everything wrong over the past decades. Well, there may have been some truths in that piece–few could argue the movement has done everything right, and from a grassroots perspective, the big groups often seem to be far more willing to compromise at the Congressional level than they are in doing the hard work of actually building a movement that might make such compromise unnecessary and perhaps even force meaningful change. But we do recognize that even among the big green groups, resources are limited–especially compared to the seemingly limitless resources available to their (and our) foes in the nuclear and fossil fuel industries. In any case, Nordhaus and Shellenberger weren’t really interested in an effective environmental movement; they soon revealed themselves at their Breakthrough Institute as faux environmentalists–the kind that use enviro language in support of more nuclear power and less renewables. Today, they take issue with the growing interest in distributed generation, arguing that just because everyone from cleantech companies to utility execs recognize that distributed generation is growing and is going to vastly change the utility landscape, doesn’t mean anything will happen. They argue, incorrectly, that rooftop solar is still “much more costly” than centralized power generation of any type. And they seem to argue that because solar power currently provides only a small percentage of electricity generation anywhere, even in Germany, that that will always be the case. One thing they don’t get is the rate of growth of rooftop solar and other distributed generation, which is phenomenal. In the U.S. alone, a new rooftop PV system is installed every 4 minutes. Within two years, that will be every 90 seconds. That’s the kind of growth that delivers an impact. That’s why traditional utilities are beginning to fight back against solar and other small-scale generation technologies–because they perceive, correctly, that it’s a threat to their business model. And it’s why other more forward looking utilities, like NRG Energy, are embracing distributed generation and figuring out how to make it their business model.

Breakthrough, as usual, gets it wrong, while implicitly siding with the tired old “baseload power” model of the 20th century. The alleged need for “baseload power” is one of the nuclear industry’s last selling point arguments, and the growth of distributed generation is undercutting that alleged need at, well, breakthrough speed. For more perspective on these issues, see my post on DailyKos from September 2013 on the collapse of the U.S. nuclear power industry.

Michael Mariotte

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